Medieval Cyprus comes to town

The medieval cathedral of St Nicholas in Famagusta, Cyprus.
The medieval cathedral of St Nicholas in Famagusta, Cyprus.

Lucky guests at the Horsham Art Academy were treated to an early Christmas feast last Thursday (21 November) when medieval Cyprus came to Horsham.

The feast was prepared by Dr Michael Paraskos of the Cornaro Institute in Cyprus, and Lydia Sanderson, Director of the Horsham Art Academy, to accompany a talk by Dr Paraskos on the medieval Kingdom of Cyprus.

“Cyprus was one of the wealthiest countries in Europe during the middle ages,” Paraskos said. “And this was reflected in their rich food culture.”

Samples of food eaten at the royal court in Cyprus included an early version of blancmange made with chicken, a custard desert flavoured with roses called mahalepi, and an early version of Christmas pudding called kolyva. There was also smoked hams and unusual edible candles called sousouko.

Dr Paraskos also spoke about the origin of the fork on our tables. “According to some academics,’ he said, ‘the fork was brought to western Europe by King Peter I of Cyprus during a tour of European capitals in the fourteenth century. Before then using a fork to eat was actually considered dangerous.”

Despite some strange sounding dishes, according to Dr Paraskos many of the foods we stil eat at Christmas have a connection to medieval Cyprus. “The royal family in Cyprus was French and many of the spicy puddings we enjoy at Christmas today came to Europe through this connection between Cyprus and France.”

Report and picture contributed by Horsham Art Academy.