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

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.

 

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 🙂