So, you’re going to a medieval-themed potluck

People having a meal, Painting by Lucas van Valckenborch, 16th century
People having a meal, Painting by Lucas van Valckenborch, 16th century

Often, for smaller events, parties and gatherings (whatever the theme), potlucks are offered, but what to bring? Not everyone knows what type of foods would fit well with a medieval theme and not everyone is going to want to research or read through books written hundreds of years ago, but we also don’t want to break the theme of the party by simply bringing our usual potluck fare.

So… what to bring?

Well the easiest thing to do is to cull your list of unknown and lesser known foods to those in medieval Europe. (yes, some of these food might be known in the 16th century and yes, some adaptations existed in various places/cultures but I am hoping to simplify to make this easier, not more complicated)
This means avoiding, as best you can: Potatoes, tomatoes, corn (as in maize), peppers (capsicum) and American squash. Also avoid baking soda and baking powder raised items such as cakes, cookies and what we generally know as soda bread.

So what’s left?

Lots of stuff really.

Salads:
People throughout the ages enjoyed salads, these were either cooked or uncooked vegetable dishes which ranged from leafy greens to cooked roots with sauces or dressings to rather complicated compilations of fruit, vegetation and even cold meats. A plate of pickled capers would be considered a salad.
Some simple dressings would be made of a combination of things such as oil, sugar and/or pepper and/or salt and some sort of souring agent such as orange juice or vinegar but a dressing did not have to include all those items, or it could have extra items.

From the Garden: 
See above, not all salads were cold.
Generally speaking however, there are lots of items to choose from and it doesn’t have to be all about cabbage and turnips either, as the renaissance grew, so did many food choices. There were carrots, parsnips, garlic, fennel, greens from beets and spinach or even stalks from chard and both greens and bulbs from onions and leeks and so on.  Artichokes, cucumbers, gourds, asparagus, peas and beans (fava) and a host of stuff we don’t even see so much any more.

While many recipe books show these items as being fancifully prepared, this was not necessarily how they were always done. Of course if your looking to impress or being of a nobler character, you may wish to use a known recipe, but if you just want to maintain a theme and bring something that isn’t glaringly modern, many of these items can be prepared much the way we still prepare them today. This is boiled, baked (being in a pie or in a casserole) or roasted… also fried… There is a lovely, and very simple, 16th century dish from Bartolomeo Scappi of new peas, still in the pod that are sauteed in oil with chopped parsley and garlic and dressed with orange juice and pepper. This is how simple a dish can be, yet still be very delicious (and travels far better than say, other types of fried foods, such as fritters and the like). Equally simple is a mushroom dish from the 14th century “Forme of Cury” which involves nothing more than chopping up mushrooms, slicing up a leek and cooking them in broth with a bit of saffron and pepper. (makes a lovely side for roast meats btw)

Roasting birds by the fire, from the Decameron, Flanders, 1432
Roasting birds by the fire, from the Decameron, Flanders, 1432

Meat! (and other animals, yes, even fish!)
Meat is probably one of the easiest things to prepare when your not sure what to bring and don’t quite know much about medieval (or renaissance) foods. This is simply because of roasting. From the earliest of times, roasted meat seems to be a thing and there isn’t much you necessarily need to know about dressing it… salt and pepper are still viable seasonings. (and yes, we can get into many variations and details about carving and so on, but for now… simple) 
As for choices of meat, well let’s just say that they prepared far more species than we generally do today.
Other, somewhat more complicated recipes can be found for boiled, baked and fried meats, not to mention sausage/force-meats, but not all need be so complicated either. Some 15th century directions for Lobster (or crab) mainly involved boiling it (like we do today) and serving it cold with vinegar.

Sweets (the finishing course)
While many meat and garden dishes can be indeed sweet, I’m talking about your standard idea of the dessert. Happily, medieval people too enjoyed a finishing course of sweet things, as well as nuts, cheeses and varying other things.
One of these easiest preparations is raw. That is, some raw fruit prepared for the table as well as cheeses and nuts, though then, as today, something a bit more prepared may be appreciated. (noting some foods were considered healthier prepared various ways)
Some simple suggestions: Fruit pies (apple being a good example), Fruit sauces (such as applesauce), cheese pies, rice pudding, sugar/spiced nuts, fruit pastes, stewed fruit… with seasonings not being far from what we still use today such as our very common sugar/cinnamon combination.

 

This, of course, is a very simplified rundown of items that are not going to stand out as being horribly modern on a sideboard full of other offerings at a Medieval-themed Potluck. (the actual variety of things to choose from are astounding in both number and variety though not all entirely suited to a Potluck setting)

tasting... from: Die Hausbucher der Nurnberger Zwolfbruderstiftungen, 16th century
tasting… from: Die Hausbucher der Nurnberger Zwolfbruderstiftungen, 16th century

Some other things to consider are food safety (being able to keep foods at needed temperatures, contamination issues and cleanliness for some examples), what makes sense to prepare on site (since some foods are better fresher than others) and how well your dish is going to travel in general. Aside from this is also keeping in mind that people have allergies and food sensitivities, as well as food choices, so the courteous thing to do is listing out all the ingredients so people can make informed decisions.
**Keeping in mind that while most of us do make efforts to not cross contaminate (you do this right?), most of us do not have fish-free or gluten-free or nut-free kitchens so there is always an amount of risk that can not be avoided at Potluck events.

 

upcoming feast…

I just recently shared this with a group of like minded folk in a social media group, it’s basically about an upcoming feast I am preparing for an SCA group at an event called “Middleground”… As per my usual blogging style, it’s just written off the cuff and not prepared like I would for a more static page type of article, but it gets some of the points/ideas across

The menu was developed after studying the menus in Opera (Bartolomeo Scappi) 1570 that is reflective of a menu that would have existed in that time during either April or May in Italy.
This meal is relatively small in number of dishes, but then some meals were much smaller than others by variety.
It is separated by cold service and a hot service (cold being served from the credenza and hot dishes coming from the kitchen). Obviously the jelly is not a “hot dish” but acceptable table fill even though it’s a kitchen service.

The reasoning for a cold service (and by “cold” we mean not hot out of the oven/spit) generally coming first meant to allow the kitchen to serve out pre-prepared dishes so to give time to have hot dishes ready.
I have seen some menus like this that offered several services (courses) from the kitchen.

Cheese shows up early in the menu, but in various writings, some dairy appears to be okay at the beginning of a meal though I typically see it consumed outside of a meal, sometimes for breakfast or at the end of a day… the meal also concludes with a fair bit dairy and nuts (often preferred at the end of a meal).

The meats include salted/prepared dishes which I thought unusual for spring eating where generally young animals (typically cooler meats) are typically consumed, but the combination does make it a well rounded meal. I could only imagine it could be a regional preference as well as something possibly left from winter stores.
I won’t be using veal however, due to price. A farming book (still published around the time as this cook book called 4 books of Husbandry) does touch on calves, yearlings, steers, heifers, cows and bulls… obviously I would be using a steer as this is the most readily available and affordable beef, so the results will be different but given modern feeding/growing, wont be the same as eating a 16th century steer either. anyhow, modern raised beef does tend to work out nicely.

The very last item of the sweet fennel, toothpicks and comfits would be served out after the table had been cleared and set clean. The toothpicks in this book seem to have been served with rosewater and along with the sweet fennel and comfits would do wonders for the diners oral hygiene (or at least help with one’s breath along with a little teeth cleaning).

(3/24/15 menu has been slightly updated to reflect some proper names of dishes and avoid confusion/mix-up/poor translation with modern dishes by the same name)

First service from the credenza:
-Asparagus salad
-Mixed Green Salad (with flowers)
-Caper Salad
-Sliced Sausage
-Prosciutto (meaning Ham in this instance) Pie
-Ricotta
-Strawberries and Cherries

First and Last Service from the Kitchen:
-Brisavoli with Orange Sauce
-Young Beans (or peas)
– Rice Dish in the Lombard Style
– Coloured Aspics

Last Service from the Credenza:
– Herboletta
– Tart of Elderflowers
– Snow and Rolled Wafers
– Damson Conserve
– Almonds
– Seasoned Chestnuts
–finished with sweet fennel alongside toothpicks (please don’t eat the toothpicks) and comfits

Ruantallan Investiture/Tir Mara Championships Dayboard, recap

For now, I’ll toss in a bit of a recap here.

Getting to do dayboard for this event was a bit of a journey in itself, originally I had to turn down cooking feast which made me very sad… booo no cooking! But Garth, who was doing dayboard had to leave, booo no Garth but yay, cooking! Figured I can sorta juggle that and other responsibilities with the help of my husband… who I could not do this without. But what to cook? I talked to the cook for the event to get an idea of how to match the dayboard and found out that she was planning to work from Pleyn Delit… ah ha, this gave me something to work with! Well… sorta… that book is a compilation of stuff but figured okay, the cook is aiming for likely 14th-15th century, I can work with that. This made my focus narrow in on 15th century (mostly) with emphasis on English (for the new Baron and Baroness and the over theme the event seemed to have) and Dutch, because well… Dutch cook 🙂

Now came the tricky guesswork, I did not want to double on dishes (so tossed in as much Dutch as I saw fit).
The original menu was to have Hichones (hedgehogs), Leche Lumbard, Stuffed Apples, Stuffed Eggs, Gouda biscuits (crackers), Apple Cake, Wafers (on a decorated iron), Venison in Broth, Quince Jelly, Puree of Peas, Fennel tarts, Beef Pies, Gingerbread, Fried Flans, Peers in Confit, Sawge Yfarcet (stuffed sage)… butter (dairy and almond), bread, water with sryups, cheeses and fruit.

What happened was that I found out was that Leche Lumbard and a Pea Soup were being served at feast… Thankfully, I had did not have the leche assembled so used the pork to make sausage and I simply ate the cost of the peas, onions that would be in the soup and the dried fruit that would have gone in the leche (it isn’t like I don’t use that stuff typically anyway). It could have been served but I feel people shouldn’t be eating too many duplicate dishes.

On top of this, we also found out that we were going to be moving soon so I was also juggling house shopping in a very limited time frame given and only having limited people able to help… this meant dropping dishes and/or changing them somewhat. … We dropped the syrups, the apple cake, did not stuff the eggs (which is fun, I love deep frying the stuff eggs, and they look so neat) and kinda simplified it, but not too much!

The month of the event, the menu for dayboard was rearranged:

  • Hicherones (Hedgehog styled pork sausage)
  • lightly Smoked Sausage (A French recipe snuck in here from “Le Menagier”)
  • Gouda Biscuits (self explanatory, much like cheese crackers)
  • Stuffed Apples (deep fried apples stuffed with pork)
  • Wafers served with Quynade (Quinade is a combination of quince paste and almond butter/cream/cheese)
  • Venison in broth (Venison stew/soup)
  • Beef Pies (beefy pies with raisins cooked up as chewits)
  • Fried Flans (fried cheese pies)
  • Pears in Confit (pears cooked with mulberries in a spiced wine syrup)
  • Fennel Tarts (apple pies with fennel seed)
  • Sawge Yfarcet (stuffed sage)
  • Rice Pottage (sweetened rice cooked in milk with saffron)
  • Gingerbread (breadcrumbs boiled in honey and then spiced and set in the shape of acorns and flowers)
  • Roffioelen (herb and cheese dumplings)
  • Roots in Pottage (garden roots being carrots and parsnips boiled and served with sweet spices)
  • Bread
  • Butter
  • Cheese (Brie, Fresh Goat and fresh soft cheese from yoghurt I made that week)
  • Hard Boiled Eggs (some I fashioned in the shape of acorns)
  • Grapes
  • Oranges (sliced)
  • Pomegranate Seeds (to eat and as a garnish)
  • Damson paste (damsons cooked to a paste that can be boxed up and sliced, I did mine up in bottles ahead of time)

The Dutch recipes came from here: http://www.coquinaria.nl/kooktekst/index.htm
with the Roffioelen from a post 15th century cookbook (1510 actually): http://users.telenet.be/willy.vancammeren/NBC/
The English recipes came from: “Two 15th century cookbooks”, Rylands MS 7,/Forme of Cury, Arundel 334/Ancient Cookery, MS Harley 5401 and I did refer to “Le Menagier de Paris” for sausage ideas as I wanted to save on egg.

Also, with all of the recipes I used, many of the items were made in a rather small form, the object (or theme even) that I utilized was to make many of everything but to have it all rather sample-like in form. Well, mostly everything.

Recipes:(at least what I can dig up from my notes atm)

Urchins [Hedgehogs]. Take the stomach of a large hog, and five or six pig stomachs. Fill them full of pork forcemeat [minced, seasoned pork mixture] and sew them tightly closed. Parboil them and remove them from the boiling water. Make small spikes of good paste (flour paste or dough] and fry them. Take these fried spikes and stick them in the stomach casing of the forcemeat so they make a dense covering, made to resemble an urchin [hedgehog] without legs. Put them on a spit and roast them, and color them with saffron, and serve them forth.

**For these, I used hog casings instead of bladders, first off I wanted them small and secondly not all stomachs are available for purchase at butcher shops, they are not even permitted to sell us bladders in this country. typically only one type of cow stomach is available.

To stuff apples. (Dutch) Take unblemished apples and cut a thin slice off the top near the stalk, and the stalk also.Then take a little iron flesh hook, sharp enough and small, to scoop out the apple without breaking the skin. Then stuff [the apple] with the afore said stuffing, take the slice with the stalk and close the apple as it was before. Fix [the slice] with a small wooden pin. Fry the apple in hot fat, and sprinkle with sugar as is right.
–Who wants to make stuffing, takes pork, lean and fat, well cooked, and hard boiled eggs, chopped together. Put it in a mortar and crush well and add good spices (?), pepper, saffron, enough spices, salt to taste. And it is also good to make white sausages and pancakes, to stuff eggs, pastries, fritters, to stuff pig’s trotters, to stuff hens and young chickens, to stuff eggs, crayfish and apples.

**I picked hundreds of little crabapples for these. First I did a test batch trying the different varieties of apples I had and chose the ones that worked best with the stuffing (pork, egg and spice based). Coring and stuffing tons a little crabapples is not for the weak lol

Dough to make pipes (Dutch)
Take cheese from Gouda and eggs. Grind together with white flour. Lay it on dry flour and make small biscuits of it.

**since I wasn’t making pipes, I just made these up as little crackers… btw, even though I made them fresh, they do keep well and are better dusted with a little salt.

Sawge yfarcet. Take pork and seeþ it wel, and grinde it smal, and medle it wiþ ayren & brede ygrated. Do þerto powdour fort and safroun wiþ pynes & salt. Take & close litull balles in foiles of sawge; wete it with a batour of ayren & fry it, & serue it forth.
–Stuffed Sage. Take pork and parboil it well [to remove some of the gamey taste], and grind it finely [with a mortar and pestle], and mix it with egg and grated fresh bread. Add powder fort and saffron with pine nuts and salt. Make little balls of the meat mixture and close them up in leaves of sage. Wet them with an egg batter and fry them and serve them forth.

**These are fab. and very much worth making. The ones I served did not have pine nuts (pine nut allergy and it was easy to exclude) but are still very good without them. Sadly I had a gluten free batch made up and packaged separately but with only one pot to fry them in and with the oil accidentally glutened, I did them all up with the flour based batter. If you want to make them gluten free, they do work just as well with rice starch but they will not hold together as nicely… if anyone ate one that just seemed to fall apart, it was likely meant to be gluten free.
**note, I have come across many period recipes that used rice or rice starches instead of wheat, this made it a very plausible option that I explore now and then.

Fried flans (Dutch)

Made of dough [and] stuffed with soft cheese ground with yolks of eggs. Stuff them and boil them in fat. Then take enough sugar and roll the pastry through it. These are fried flans.

**super easy, I have made these often!

To create a pie beef (dutch)

Take 3 pounds of beef, more than two pounds of fat, 2 pounds raisins and for every pound [meat] one lead herbs / spices, one lead mace, two lead ginger, cloves and tight a lead as much pepper

**I made these up like small chewets, which is not an implausible option and it really seems to work well in small form.

To make a fennel tart (dutch)

Take flat, thin and wide bread. Cut the apples very thin and mix with cinnamon, sugar, a little mace and a little clove. Put them over the bread, whole spread with butter. Sprinkle with fennel seeds and then cover it with a thin cover. Bake it, and eat it very warm.

**These did not get out very warm but I tried them room temperature and they were still pretty good. As you can see, they really are apple pies but made with fennel seed, being that I made them up small, I opted to crush the fennel a bit first.

Peerus in confyt. (English)

–Take perus & pare hem clene. take gode rede wyne & mulberyes. other saundres & seeth the peres ther inne. & whan they buth y sode take hem up. make a syryp of wyne greke other vernage with blaunche poudour. other whyte sugur & poudour of ginger. & do the peres ther inne. seeth hit a litul and messe hit forth.
–Take peeres and pare hem clene. take gode rede wyne & mulberes oþer saundres and seeþ þe peeres þerin & whan þei buth ysode, take hem up, make a syryp of wyne greke. oþer vernage with blaunche powdour oþer white sugur and powdour gyngur & do the peres þerin. seeþ it a lytel & messe it forth

These are two different, yet identical recipes (I would have to go back to track which is from which book which is why I list listed sources up top)

**One thing I did not use was the saunders, I have used them before and feel the only real good they would add would be for looks and they still ended up looking wonderful… what would have been better is if I still had preserved mulberries but it’s something we presently can’t get shipped in and I no longer have access to a mulberry tree.
One awesome note on these: I used all ripe, but very undergrown pears, they were all local but could not be sold for anything but seconds so also got a great price for them. This also made them very perfect for the dayboard I had planned.

Cxv – Quynade. Take Quynces, and pare hem clene, caste hem on a potte, and caste ther-to water of Rosys; do it ouer the fyre, and hele (Note: Cover) it faste, and let it boyle a gode whyle tyl they ben neysshe; and 3if they wol not ben neysshe, bray hem in a Morter smal, draw hem thorw a straynoure; take gode Mylke of Almandys, and caste in a potte and boyle it; take whyte Wyne and Vynegre, an caste ther-to the Mylke, and let it stonde a whyle; take than a clene canvas, and caste the mylke vppe-on, and with a platere stryke it of the clothe, and caste it on the potte; gedyr vppe the quynces, and caste to the creme, and do it ouer the fyre, and lat boyle; take a porcyon of pouder of Clowys, of Gyngere, of Graynys of Perys, of Euery a porcyon; take Sugre y-now, with Salt, and a party of Safroun, and alle menge to-gederys; and when thou dressyst forth, plante it with foyle of Syluer.

–Make almond cream:

Almond milk, ass white wine and vinegar (to turn it) and let it stand a while.

Spread this on a clean canvas to let it drain then scrape it up and put in a pot with the quince paste.

Cook until it boils

add: cloves, ginger, grains, [sugar, already added], salt and saffron.

Dress and plant with silver.

**Ah good intentions… I had little time to mess about with setting it so opted not to use the silver foil, which I did bring with me to the kitchen *sigh*
It actually surprised me how well it tasted, I was prepared to serve the quince and almond cream separately but the combination was a winner….

With this we served wafers

The Original Recipe for

Wafers (Dutch) basically translated to: Take grated white bread. That Temper with raw eggs and add some sugar and the fat of fresh cream.

**I could not get this to play nice on my iron, the problem being is that my iron is very fine and even very fine bread crumb will not pick up the decoration from my iron (it’s a Krumkake iron) so I switched out the crumbs for flour (2 cups), 4 eggs, 2 cups sugar, cup of butter… lots of fat makes this work better and milk or cream (I used what I had) to make it thin enough… experiment! Then I took about a spoonfull of the batter and spread it a little on the iron and when the steam seemed to settle a bit, I flipped it and cooked more until the steam again settled (play with the timings or just get a feel for it is as best as I can suggest, the wafers should be a bit golden to work) and then while it is still hot, wrap it around a wooden dowel if you like… they should set really quickly. These keep well if kept in an airtight container after they cooled a bit.

For the Venison soup:
-Roo in sene. Take flesh of a roo and pyke hit clene and parboyle hit, and then take hit up and drye hit wyth a clothe, and hewe hit on gobettes, and put it in a pot; and do thereto wyne and let it sethe, and take sage, parsel, ysope, and hewe hit smal, and put thereto pouder of pepur, and of clowes, and of canel, and colour it with blode, and let hit boyle, and serve hit forthe.

-Venyson in Broth. Take Rybbys of Venysoun, and wasshe hem clene in fayre water, an strayne the same water thorw a straynoure in-to a potte, an caste ther-to Venysoun, also Percely, Sawge, powder Pepyr, Clowys, Maces, Vynegre, and a lytyl Red wyne caste there-to; an thanne latte it boyle tyl it be y-now, and serue forth.

-Venyson in broth. Take rybbes of venyson, and wassh hem faire in Water, And streyn the Water thorgh a Streynour into a faire potte, and cast the Venyson thereto, parcely, Sauge, powder of peper, cloue3, Maces, Vinegre, salt, And late hem boile til thei be ynow, and serue it forth.

–Dutch version (said for roast game): Deer and hind, cut in pieces (?), well larded while still raw. Cook it in a lot of wine and a little water, [with] chopped bacon [and] sufficient saffron, ginger and cinnamon.

**I did not have a ton of Venison so I worked from the basic above recipes with the addition of the Dutch version with bacon and said spices. To note: I have come across later period venison pies with bacon and it’s a good combination.

Rice Pottage:

For some reason I don’t seem to write these down anymore and can’t remember which I chose to follow… but it was Rice cooked in milk with saffron and sweetened with a bit of sugar.

Roffioelen of green leaf vegetables (Dutch)

One shall take green leaf vegetables and parsley, of each the same amount. One shall chop them together very fine; then one shall blanch them or simmer them a very little. When it is cooked so one shall grind them small [in a mortar]. Then one shall take wheat flour and mix them [all the ingredients] together just like thin dough. Then one shall take English cheese* ground or crumbled very small and mix it with the dough; from this one shall make long, narrow, thin lumps and boil them thoroughly in a pan with water. When they are thoroughly boiled so one shall take them out with a fish slice. Then one shall lay them to drain. When they are drained so one shall take clean dishes and lay them therein. To wit, in each dish two or three or four. After that one shall take butter and melt it in the dishes and one shall take some [more] of that cheese and scatter it over. Then take Lombard powder; strew that also on top. You shall know that in Lombardy one customarily serves this in the evening and at noon in the place of vegetables at the beginning [of the meal] before one serves anything else.

**This ended up reminding me of Malfatti which are basically little dumplings with greens and cheese.

Pottage of Roots: This came from Rapes in Pottage recipes that explain they can also be used for paternakys and sterwytes (I still conclude that as parsnips and skirrets, but did it up as parsnips and carrots many of which were grown in my garden this past summer and consisted of a lot of white and pale yellow varieties). This is boiled and dressed with saffron and sweet spices.

**A reason I opted for cook veggies instead of raw was in some effort to bring things back to medieval thinking. Would I serve raw roots to people to dip in things (modern thinking) or would I cook them first? Typically, roots would not have been eaten raw from what contemporary literature I could find, presumably this would have a lot to do with the edibility of the roots without cooking where the cores would be so woody they were often mention as needing to be removed (excluding the turnips though those seem commonly cooked as well). There are health reasons as well, but I was not getting overly complicated with this menu.

“Gyngerbrede.–Take a quart of hony, & sethe it, & skeme it clene; take Safroun, pouder Pepir, & throw ther-on; take grayted Bred, & make it so chargeaunt that it wol be y-lechyd; then take pouder Canelle, & straw ther-on y-now; then make yt square, lyke as thou wolt leche yt; take when thou lechyst hyt, an caste Box leves a-bouyn, y-stykyd ther-on, on clowys. And if thou wolt haue it Red, coloure it with Saunderys y-now.”
To make gingerbrede.  Take goode honye & clarefie it on the fere, & take fayre paynemayn or wastrel brede & grate it, & caste it into the boylenge honey, & stere it well togyder faste with a sklyse that it tren not to the vessell.  & thanne take it down and put therein ginger, longe pepere & saundres, & tempere it up with thin handes; & than put hem to a flatt boyste & strawe theron suger, & pick therin clowes rounde aboute by the egge and in the mydes, yf it plece you, &c.

**easy to make bit of festiveness for the dayboard 🙂 I made both variants and rolled them out and cut them as tiny acorns.

There are more recipes, this is just what I could find from my horrible note taking 😛

A friend of mine, Cindi (Lady Cat of Lennox) took pictures of the dayboard… **NOTE** Not all the food was actually out at that point! There was more… so much more lol
and I did have white table cloths but thinking they may have been used elsewhere… which is cool 😛
https://www.flickr.com/photos/cindihachey/15925858002/

Tir Mara A&S and Rattan Championship-255

Tir Mara A&S and Rattan Championship-254

Tir Mara A&S and Rattan Championship-253

Tir Mara A&S and Rattan Championship-252

Thank you everyone who helped, mainly my youngest daughter, my husband (Shannon/Wolfgang), Bob/Snarfi and Garth… also Maud./Laura for getting the dishes in order!

Optimizing My Event Kitchens

Because it’s actually been a fair while since I’ve been able to cook for a larger crowd, I soon discovered that my kitchen set up (the part I can control) has not been optimized to it’s best. This is especially true considering allergies and it begins from the point that an event announcement is released.

1. My gear. While I am still somewhat uncomfortable dealing with serious allergies of common ingredients (gluten comes to mind) because of the nature of the beast of an SCA kitchen, I have come to realize that I need to build up a new stock of kitchen equipment and do special pre-cook stuff to deal with this. I no longer have my own box of kitchen equipment, most of which was compiled during my last couple of years in the area.

Next time I ever run a kitchen where we would like to offer gluten free, I would like to have some duplicate equipment specifically labelled for the task. My favourite is colour coding, last feast we even did that with the food where all the GF batter was green (the idea coming from the original recipes having various colours). But, I still worry about the contamination and confusion that can happen in an SCA kitchen so would prefer, in the future, to have any of these separate dishes prepared before going to the site kitchen, and this brings me to my next topic…

Also, I would like to have basic cooking and prep-gear accumulated of my own, this is far easier than arranging and depending on others, or the group, to have it available. I actually used to have 40 small platters and a similar amount of baskets and various kitchen items (knives, colanders, mixing bowls and so on) but I would need to prioritize with both space and quality. Time, all I have is time…

2. Make sure the event organizer includes my contact info in the event announcement. I have been noticing a steady trend, some have even called it tradition? Where people would contact the event organizer with dietary concerns, even where the cook isn’t even mentioned at all in the announcement. This needs to go away, ASAP. It is crucial that these things go directly through the cook and it is crucial that people update the cook with their needs. Even if the cook has a list of all needs and concerns, they do not necessarily know who is coming to the event or that such a list is updated properly or complete, in fact I do not like such lists or having to rely on my memory of every persons specific needs-to-know. Adjustments can be made, it’s possible a few dishes can be tweaked a bit, prior knowledge is important!

3. Pre-Cook: First feast on getting back, I did a tremendous amount of pre-cook, glad I did. Second feast, I did less, wish I did more though was also looking to take people through the process of make two chickens out of one so…. Typically I would have had them already parboiled and refrigerated the night before. But there were issues, we did not know one of the ovens was down, knowing that, I would have had a lot more pre-cook arranged. This is a tricky one where I may have to decide for or against having a learning kitchen.

4. Test dishes: There was one dish that was made a little differently than how I usually did it, did not pre-test it and wish I did as it would have saved a step… that is, knowing how I usually did it worked and that the variation really didn’t quite do the job… at all. Doh! And this is where I admit that I do get rather sure of myself and neglect such things… yes, I am good at troubleshooting and cooking with very little for resources and direction, however, this also adds time and sometimes there just isn’t any time.

5. The kitchen visit: This is a rule I often seem to flat out ignore… bad me, bad me! It’s a double bitten by fate thing, in the past I made a special trip out to see a kitchen that wasn’t open so since then I have been reluctant to make any special trips out but what I also learned is that kitchens carry surprises and they are not always good. I’ve cooked in way less than ideal kitchens, that has been my life it seems 😛 but a little knowledge goes a long way and if disaster hits, we should have a nice little talk with the event organizer to alert the people in the hall about possible changes in plans or delays in food service. Thankfully this (people being alerted) happens, but sometimes it does not and that is hardly fair to anyone.

6. Print it out and make many many copies! Something I’m getting into… in the past I would make a copy, maybe one or two more of the dishes and ingredients. Sometimes they are available for the entirety of the feast/dayboard, and other times they just simply vanish… poof! Now I make books, pages of pages, nothing left to chance…. the ingredients are there (barring weird kitchen emergencies that force us into changes *sigh*)

7. An announcer… this is pretty much a service thing and an idea that came about from talking to other people and well, I like it and would like to build on that. When the dishes come out, it would be grand to have someone announce the dish so people can both see it and hear what it is… I think this would be grand as it is being served out to head table, being paraded from the kitchen (or from the opposite end of the room) to the head table. A description (provided by the cook) of the dish following the name. I would also like the announcer to have a list of ingredients provided, not to announce but to have on hand should anyone have an inquiry.

I would also like to have handouts available at the gate as well, on the table is also a fine alternative, this is something we did at crown years ago which I think does work possibly better if the room is too large.

8. Thank you stuff… seriously, I did not have any for my first two kitchens on returning to the area and I feel dreadfully bad about that because it was something I was getting started before I left and wished to continue. I feel what happens is that it is not on my mind when there is no feast and when there is, my head is too full. This is something to think about and maybe rectify.

 

Taking a little step into the 15th century…

Well, a little step anyway… it will be for an event and I get to choose whichever era, country and so on that I want. Given the event name has “Tudor” in it and I just recently created a 16th century English style dinner for an event last month, this time I stepped a but further back… and… well, the Tudor era started in the 15th century.

Of course, I am going to have my challenges, modern kitchen equipment for one. While most dishes cooked in a pot or baked in an oven can be mimicked easily enough on a modern stove (and yes, I cooked over fire and coals before as well as in a wood fired oven), it’s a major challenge to even try to come close to anything roasted when you only have a range. A BBQ comes close, we use wood charcoal and even wood but you are getting far more superior heat and control at an indoor fireplace. Of course, it would be even better to have a fireplace with a damper but I have discovered flow can be altered without one… loose a window, open or close a door… But, again we are in a modern kitchen this weekend and we are dealing with roasting birds up on racks with frequent basting or battering and doing meatballs on spits over pans with more constant battering… not nearly as ideal as doing it before a fire. I have experimented with this before though and have managed to make roasts of peas in the past, even pears battered with the peas as a batter and a full chicken covered in layers and layers of batter forming a pastry. In short, it’s not ideal but it can be done!

On thing I kind of wished I had a modern aid for is for seed grinding. I used to have one but it worked horribly so back I went to my little mortar and pestle (I use my big one for grinding meat and big stuff) and made up a batch of Powder Fort. This I kind of wing, doing up reasonably sized batches of cubeb, grains, long pepper, pepper and adding some already powdered galangal and a little powdered cinnamon and some cloves ground into the mixture. This will be for the meat balls, got to make it somewhat strong to get through the boiling part. I remember once, way back when, I developed the rather uneducated idea that the spices should just season, and yes, they are supposed to fill that purpose but they have important roles in not just balance but display. Do I think my guests should gag on them, no, though I can’t have a 15th century feast (note: not street fare here) without giving them some notice. We also have to consider tastes and trends, while out taste buds likely have not evolved to taste differently, trends still exist be how slow or quickly they might move. Look at one of the latest modern trends, sweet and salty. It’s been around for a little while but when I was a kid I would have questioned the idea of visible salty notes in my cocoa or ice-cream but rather it’s what we would do to play a practical joke. Then I look in books like Apicius, and see a lean towards pepper and even a few dishes of sweet and peppery, it’s a good flavour btw, and we see leanings towards certain flavourings…. and I ramble *grin* But this is my thinking when it comes to spices and flavourings. A mixture should develop into a flavour of it’s own, if a recipe asked for powder fort and cinnamon, I’m thinking there is a lean towards more cinnamon but I still do not completely mask everything with it but I am using more spicery than I once did.

making powder fort
making powder fort

Hopefully, come the weekend, I will actually remember to bring my camera and have a few opportunities to snap a few pictures of the food. It maybe considered more of an SCA-style feast, the tables won’t be loaded as for a period feast but I’m attempting to bring things up a notch a little through decent ordering of dishes and well… choosing recipes from period resources but that’s a given.

Here is a sneak peek… again, it is an SCA-style feast with an extra/optional dish (by request) that isn’t regional to the feast but at least it’s from the same time period.

 

SCA a tale of two dinners

Recently I have been involved in putting together a dinner purely focused on “What might have been expected in the period” and the more “What would people like now”. This reminded me about how some people judge an period meal, the realm between service and arts. Now we could keep them very separate where one school would justify a purely modern meal as something that at least everyone would enjoy (of course that would be unlikely, but it’s a common fallacy as people are picky about modern foods as well) and the other school looking at it as an extension of it being very much a part of remaking the middle ages and authenticity is vital.

I might have to admit to falling in the other school of thought yet I pull myself back into reality fairly often 😉 The reality being is that regardless of effort, on the larger scale people expect a certain amount of service that does not always coincide with authenticity. We expect an equality that was not always present in the period we choose to play with and on listening to discussions about food I am convinced that modern conceptions are still quite strong… that rice that is supposed to be pasty may seem as wrong, eggs or that custard might seem out of place at a meal… It is considered a good thing to switch out something in a dish to “make it taste better” which is often more familiar. I too have gotten in the trap of making something period fit my more modern mind frame, I have argued that bad tasting food was bad no matter when… BUT, and though that is true, food trends did exist as they still do today and liking a food is not only about flavour but also texture, heat, cold, dry, wet… many variables and some that will seem strange to us that may have been common enough at another time that it would have at least been acceptable. How many people today have a taste for a Posset? It curdles where we tend to want smooth when we think of something like custards, in fact I find most things curdled revolting to the mouth.

In the SCA then, it would behoove us to remember that what we get at a larger event is what we demand, that is a meal with samples of either attempts at authentic dishes or variations of medieval inspired foods, especially with the need to mix in vegetarian, gluten-free, no dairy, no nuts and so on. While I am in no way stating that creating such a menu is wrong, in fact it is quite right for the crowd, we still can not, and should not, assume any period-ness from the venture. This is the bridging of the gap between period and service where each takes each other into consideration and I shall admit that I like doing both bridged style meals (that I hope nobody ever uses as a gauge for what a period meal would look like) and meals that strive more for authenticity (purely A&S related for which some events may fit). I also hope that I can continue to keep this in mind when looking at people’s feasts… and yes, enjoying them.

Looking back…

Sometimes feasts flop, sometimes they do real well, and oftentimes they tend to fall somewhere in between, but the worst thing that could ever happen is that we walk away from the experience learning absolutely nothing. My nightmare feast was crown back in 2008 and not a year has gone by where I have not looked back to see what I could have done different.

This was the feast full of unexpected surprises… we went earlier in the year to specifically see the kitchen but it was locked, then we found out it had no cooking appliances days before the event but that we could use a kitchen across the parking lot… then we found out that we had to share that kitchen with another group… and hours, I kid you not, before the event we find out that we were only going to have immediate access to stuff like steamers and boilers… fried or baked? That had to wait and yeah, hours! Kids, this is the stuff nightmares are made of. And sure, I could toss blame at the event organizer, who I can assure you was as much in the dark about some of these issues as we were and who sounded pretty frazzled when he phoned us during prep-night to let us in on the news. He was probably scared we were going to serve him for dinner… no, we are a much tamer bunch than that 😉 But there you have it, and what did we do? We made do… a carefully planned feast pretty much turned on it’s side. What have I learned? Plenty!

  • The biggest being that things can change when you least expect it
  • There is no shame in changing up the menu, shit happens
  • and it probably wouldn’t be a terrible idea to let the hungry masses know what’s up because as much as it would be spectacular and heroic to say “look what we did and you didn’t even know things were amiss”, a better approach… and this is years after the fact and much reflection, would be to say look, our kitchen got moved and we lost precious hours of kitchen time but we will do our best to make something wonderful happen. This would have taken off a lot of pressure from the staff and allowed us to pull something amazing out of that mess am sure and the guests would have had a different outlook.

Over all though, we had few complaints, though I know of a few… isn’t there always really and that is another lesson, not everyone is going to like what is there because food is a subjective thing, especially when dealing with different dishes than some would be accustomed to having. Pretty easy to do when cooking from pre-1600 books.

So, what would have been some of my do-overs?

  • The beef was slowly roasted to temperature the night before and only needed a little time in the oven… we had no access to the ovens at all when it was time for it to go out, it went in the steamer 🙁 This, of course, ruined the beef. The rice had enough time with people being stuck between buildings that it got ruined… the rest was re-batched in the steamer… I hate steamers! Then the chicken was not cooking enough and mostly could not go out, why… because the ovens were only available near the end and much was planned for time in the ovens. Solution: I would have changed up the menu, said goodbye to some of the research put into the choices and went with stewing and frying, two things we did have available much earlier.
  • Number of dishes… there was 3 courses, I only intended Two! I really do feel two is plenty for a modern crowd and not wholly unusual for a period meal in many instances. Many added dishes were peer pressure… as in diners having various requirements, people suggesting not enough of this or that and expectations over all. I gave in, completely. What I was proud of however, is that I was at least able to document the additions for a German meal (This was my theme) of that period.
  • I hate steamers… I would like to make that flash with little sparklies surrounding it with sound effects. A meal based on frying, baking and roasting should not be cooked with steamers! Well, it seems I have developed a grudge here… hmmm

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But that was 2008, it was a long time ago, and I am actually a bit proud of how we pulled through that, really I am… considering. The meal was also fairly researched, my technique could have used some improvement however, but unfortunately what came out of the kitchen was not a result of my still improving technique at all (steamers, need I say more?). To create the menu though, I did depend heavily on Rumpolt and even more so on Eberhard since I wan’t to stick with a German idea of healthful eating given the time of year and to some degree, the general type of guests that would be present. In the menu there was salt cured meat, there was sausage (sadly not of my own making at that point), quails (that were roasted in grape leaves), lentils prepared according to Eberhard’s suggestion and I tried to have the nice green ones too (the lentils were something I was encouraged to include), a soup inspired by a menu but built up from looking at other people’s ideas of what the Germans would have for soup which had rabbit and small birds… (period sources but still extrapolated), the beef was to appease the royalty and if it had been able to be prepared as I intended, it would have been done according to their liking as mentioned on their website (this is why it was chosen really), spinach pies were made for vegetarians… they came out late and after much of the feast (pies just can’t be cooked in a steamer lol)… There were other things but this was a while ago. The two soups were supposed to go out at the same time (did not happen however), one was vegetarian apricot soup and the other was the one I mentioned earlier. Oh… which reminded me of one other thing I learned… well… working on! Ingredient lists! These have been my bane… I always bring them! and about 6 times out of 10, something happens to them, people walk off with them or put them somewhere really weird or something ends up going amiss despite the fact something was done up before hand. Even at my last dinner, a friend took the trouble to put labels dishes and stuff still got confused. I really do need to work on that. Bulletin boards maybe.

But, I really felt that I needed to go back and write about this one, it was that mixed message feast, it was the one I got my burdened tyger (SCA award) for and it will probably always be that one feast that I think helped me to be where I am today! and… eventually I will get that one feast that works out with the right hall, right table placement, great kitchen situation, trained service (note: do make a handout for servers before events as well), trained kitchen staff (working on it *grin*) and all that stuff but the journey is an amazing ride!

 

More on Finchcocks (SCA high persona feast)

While I intended to write up a very detailed paper on this with all my research, apparently much of that went by the wayside thanks to my computer going into it’s death throws earlier this month (and before the feast itself), taking with it, a good chunk of the notes I managed to organize into clear, readable, thought. The good news is that I still have all my notes and research that was written on paper and the document I sent to my kitchen help before the event… and… the feast did happen, despite losing the original hall space, despite having to work with a different table placement than originally planned for, despite having to skip on some items due to food availability, despite that our event organizer got sick prior to the event… Do these things ever not come with changing variables? It happened, and from the beginning, we were not going for perfect but testing out some new-to-us ideas and seeing how we could make it work and using this opportunity to create a pretty fine event while we were at it… again, Is there any other way? 🙂

Here are some pictures from the event taken by Cindi Hachey: Finchcock’s Court, an Elizabethan Dinner

This a little document reflecting on the Dinner of Finchcock’s Court (off site)

And this is a page I started on Setting up an Elizabethan era Feast which is based on some of the ideas we used for the dinner at Finchcock’s Court

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photo by Cindi Hachey

Preparing for Finchcocks Court…

So, there I was, preparing a salt, fennel and pepper mixture for my sausages when the reality of “It has begun” settled in, yes… the main pre-cook has begun for Finchcocks court. This is something of a test run of a meal I would someday love to prepare, but for now, this may be the closest to authentic a meal I might produce for some time. This is not because there is a lack of information available but rather the difficulty of assembling an audience for such a meal as it does not readily fit in with how we create a menu or feasting environment within the SCA. There is little fair, by modern standards, about the seating, the food choices or the food options as presented though there are great positives as well. Scrambling to find seating is not an issue, table linens are not something the diner has to worry about and there is a selection of something for everyone even though not everyone shall enjoy the same selection.

It was not easy, however, trying to figure out how a table should be set during the 1590s or why it was set this way, well… at least it was not easy without looking beyond cookery sources for information. It is one thing to dig up 17th century sources and make presumptions but I really wanted to be able to back up my decisions somewhat. To do this, I do owe a lot to many 16th century fictional pieces that took the time to describe in varying detail the English feast and banquet, though probably slightly exaggerated, this is backed up in reference to feasts on writing about things from philosophy, to politics to.. well, food. What we are seeing in this time, is an apparent tendency for English hosts and diners alike, to partake in a scene of excess and gluttony, or at least the appearance thereof, but not without censure. It is almost as though the battle of feast and lent were taking place on the tables of England where moral disapproval was strong but the desire to show wealth and importance may very well have reigned.

Over all, on deciding the type of food selections that should come to table as well as it’s placement and time of serving, I relied heavily on such texts such as: “A Health to the Gentlemanly Profession of Servingmen”, 1598, “Castle of Health” (early 16th), “Health’s Improvement” 17th century publication by Muffet (1553-1604, noting there were additions on time of publication), “The English Housewife” (early part of the 17th century, Markham), “A Perfect School of Instructions for the Officers of the Mouth”, 1682 and “The Boke of Nurture”, 1577 and am no doubt missing more, but this gives a good idea of a few works I been drawing from.

As for the recipes themselves, I also took from the health books mentioned above as well as from several cookery books such as the “Good Huswife’s Jewell” books one and two, “A Book of Cookrye” (A.W.), “Good Huswife’s Handmaide”, “Italian Banquet” (published in England), “Proper New Book of Cookery”… again, the goal was to stick to recipes from pre-1600 sources while providing the types of foods that would show up at a smaller, but still very impressive dinner seasonal in England for the month of February. This could not have been accomplished from using the recipe books alone.

Amusing tidbit, aka: learn something new so very often, I kept stumbling on this dish, most appropriately served this time of year… the Red Herring! Really? Well, no doubt with the numerous mention, the red herring is indeed real and far from misleading 😉 In fact, it is a dish that should be served with mustard. This is good, I had to make up a pot of mustard to go with the Brawn… but what about this red herring?  Well some food research comes in the most amusing of places… here is an excerpt from “A Looking Glass for London and England” by Lodge and Green where the clown asks Adam what the matter is and Adam replies “Why, seeing I have provided the Ale, who is the purveyor for the wenches? for masters, take this of me, a cup of Ale without a wench, why alasse tis like an egge without salt, or a red herring without mustard!” But knowing how to serve something is not the same as knowing what it is. So, I take a gamble and search 17th century dictionaries after drawing a few blanks and presto, I come across entries that describe dried red herrings then another that says it is smoked and then other books that allude to the smell of red herrings. My conclusion, it is a smoked herring of course, but not the fleshy type that requires cooking but rather the smoke-dried type which, incidentally, turns red-ish. Mystery solved!

Well, I suppose I typed enough for now, there’s far more prep needed, food to be acquired and yes… breaks to be had 🙂

 

Vigil Take-Away Bags

This weekend past, I had the honour to make up some take-away bags for the Vigil of Elinor Strangewayes as she joined the Order of the Laurel in the SCA. The tricky parts were that it was taking place at Market day at Birka so I could not have the food simply placed out in the open for people to pick and choose from (this would be ideal) so Mistress Bess came up with the neat idea of making them into take-away boxes, which I think worked. The other tricky part is that I generally do not do a whole lot of Roman cookery, but wished to do some justice to Elinor’s newly developing persona.

Roman Meal

Over all, I really enjoyed the food and even had a little bit left-over to incorporate into a dinner for the family and the boy was seriously happy to see the left-over Roman sweets! Being that they are a bit intensive in production to make, he probably won’t get to have them for a long while.

Roman Sweet

The documentation for this and other projects can be found on my SCA Projects page