Question: What were trenchers, and how were they used?
Trenchers were flat, three-day-old loaves of bread that were cut in half and used as plates during feasts. The common belief is that after the diners were finished with their food, the used trencher was given to the poor. While there is some documetation supporting this belief, it is somewhat confusing and may be open to question.
Source (Primary): Generall rule to teche euery man that is willynge for to lerne, to serve a lorde or mayster in euery thyng to his plesure, R.W. Chambers (ed.)
And when þe mete is vpe the amener shall take þe voyders wyth þe trenchors and broken brede and þe clothe also and take it to one þat stondyth aboute hym for to bere it to þe almesse vessell. Then shall the amener go to þe lordes borde and take of dyuerse metes as it may goodly be forborne and augment þer wyth þe almes dyshe, and all þis in þe lordes presence. And when it lykethe þe lorde to commonde to take vpe, þe seyde yemen shall be redy þer to awayte vppon þe amener to do in all wyse as it is seyde afore. And forthe wyth all as þe seyd mete is vpe þe voyders to be set vppon þe borde, þe laste afore þe lorde. All esquyres þen awaytynge to put in broken bred and trenchors or oþer mete, and þen þe amesse dyshe to be take away wyth a salutacoun, and set vp into a sure howse and after yevyn to one persone. Then shall þe amener take vp frute yef ony be, and þe voyders aftur þe panter, chese by it selfe and forthe wyth aftur þe salt, hole bred, hole trenchors, kervynge knyves, sponys and napkyns togeder.
Source (tertiary): Food in History, Reay Tannahill
The greedy diner wouldeat his trencher himself at the end of the meal, but it was mor often given to the poor or to the dogs. [no citation given]
Source (tertiary): A Not So Dainty Dish, Caterina de Forza d'Agro
The Book of Courtesy (1460) describes the roles of all household servants, including that of the Almoner. The Almoner not only said grace before the meal but was responsible for making sure the alms-dish was set upon the table. The Carver was responsible for placing a "cheat" (wholewheat) loaf of bread into the bowl before serving the guests and following it with the trimmed crusts from the trenchers. The Butler was directed to pour any wine left undrunk into the alms-bowl, and place there some of every meat dish served. The Almoner was charged with taking all the "broken meats," that is the variously partially served pies and dishes, plus the contents of the alms-dish along with any leftover drink, to give to the poor who waited at the gates of the rich men's houses. The alms-dish itself, holding as it did some of the best foods, was supposed to go to the poorest beggar of all. These edible leftovers and unwanted scraps of food were what are known as "orts."
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