Monday, July 11, 2016

A story, Isabella of York

Prior to coronation I met with a friend, she happened to be the event steward as well. We started talking as we sometimes do about the SCA as a whole. Our experiences and other random things. This day we touched on a the subject of influences. People who made statements and influenced us along the way, either immediately or later on in our "career" paths. So I will relate my story, don't worry it is short.

I had been in the SCA at least 5 years, I am not sure how long or when this was but I was at an event and had the chance to speak with a laurel about her beautiful garb. She wore exquisite Elizabethan. The event I was at was Pennisc a 2 week camping event where the mud and dust can and will stain your clothes. I asked her about her garb, was she not worried about ruining it under such conditions. I had seen her in fine silks, rich velvets and stunning but expensive brocades all week long. Her answer was simple but stuck with me and in recent years has filtered into my own SCA life. Her answer was, "Do you think they worried about such things? These are clothing, not costumes."  It took years for me to truly understand. It took until I found a style that i feel is clothing for me and not a costume i put on and now I wear silk to cook in a kitchen for 40+ people at a time.

Thank you Isabella of York, this small conversation. This small bit of time and advice given to me has changed me. You may not ever remember this, but I do and will be in your debt until I have changed someone the way yo have changed me.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Vegetarians are people too

I have always tried my best to accommodate people with dietary restrictions. Having 2 of my own I know what it is like to show up to a feast and find that 2/3 of what is served to everyone else will either make me sick or kill me. To be offered a "substitute" of more bread or starch instead of a protein like everyone else. I used to carry "emergency" food with me to events because I could never guarantee that there would be enough for me despite warning the cook and despite paying full price. I was never one to complain, I have never expected catered service but what I did expect was communication and consideration. 

The last 3 events I have cooked at (and all the others as well) I have tried very hard to be in constant contact with those who have dietary issues. Emails for clarifications and private messages to check on details. I have only ever once needed to tell someone I could not accommodate them. If it had been a smaller event I would have been able to do something but one of 150 people makes it impossible.

Anyway, the last 3 events my personal accomplishment has been the compliments from those that needed "special" attention. After KWDS I was complimented by a young woman with gluten issues. After AiA I was paid a very high compliment. She said that for the first time ever I managed to provide for her and she did not feel left out or hungry at the event. After this last event I had not one but 2 compliments from the vegetarians, praising me for making them feel included in the full feast experience. One was surprised (she is from out of region) about the attention I gave to the vegetarian menu substituting protein for protein and not just giving an extra helping of starch. She was much appreciated thanked me several times. This attention was not only paid to feast but to lunch as well where she was again surprised. Feast though is where it is most noticeable where one is "different" or apart from the others and to be told that they didn't notice this and they felt included and comfortable. This is an achievement I am most proud of. It was my privilege to be able to serve them and make them at ease.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Redacting on the fly

Sometimes it just has to be done. either you forget part of the recipe or you run out of time or sometimes you just want the challenge.No matter why we do it, it sometimes needs to get done. Coronation was no exception.

What was redacted on site? Quite a bit bt specifically I am referring to the chicken. Or more so the "marinade" of the chicken.

Page 199 recipe 126 Various ways to sauté a capon

More than half cook the capon in salted water, quarter it, and let it sit for eight hours in a mixture of white wine, vinegar, must syrup, pepper, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, ground coriander, and crushed garlic cloves. Take it out, flour it and fry it in melted rendered fat. When it is done, serve it hot, dressed with a sauce of the same seasoning.

After it has been taken out of the mixture, you can also finish off cooking it on a grill without flouring it. 

The recipe itself is straightforward enough. It was just a matter of enough marinade and getting the taste right, so we began. Wine, vinegar and spices all into the pot. We tasted and stirred and tasted some more. Our results were thus.

2 liters of white wine
500 ml of red wine vinegar
1 liter of mst syrup (4 liters of grape juice boiled down to 1 liter)
3 Tbsp ground cinnamon
1 Tbsp ground cloves
4 tsp Ground nutmeg
1 Tbsp Coriander
About a dozen whole cloves
and then garlic, I believe about 2 heads. Oddly it didn't get written down.

Stir let rest, stir again. We placed it over the warm boiled chicken and then set it aside overnight.

Due to illness, instead of grilling the chicken it was done in the oven. It still tasted lovely! I think grilled it will spectacular. Quite tender and juicy. I have even tried it cold from my fridge and it is wonderful. We served it with the rest of the garlic sauce on the side. I am quite happy with the way this turned out.

Side note: we used this amount on about 100 chicken pieces. We could have made more marinade to cover them completely but they were "turned" in the morning to get coverage. I think 1/2 again to double the recipe would have been sufficient.

A menu for a Coronation

as mentioned this last weekend I did some cooking. It was a coronation feast to celebrate the up stepping of our new King and Queen, Morales and Agnes.

Shortly after they were secured as the heirs to the black dragon throne I reached out to speak with them (via her Highness) as to what their wishes, wants and restrictions might be when it comes to the food for their big day. I was given some rough guidelines and ran with it from there.

I started with a list of nearly 100 dishes planning for hot weather or cold weather and trying to plan seasonal things in there as well. The weather leading up to the event delayed the ability to acquire more of a requested item... Mushrooms, but I did manage one mushroom dish. As well as squash (zucchini).  I aimed for plenty of meat and so there were two main meats and the vegetable dishes also contained meat or meat broth. Of my 8 items on the menu, one, did not have meat or meat broth in it. No worries, my vegetarians were covered by dishes created just for them.

So follows the final menu, all recipes from The Opera of Bartolomeo Scappi (1570)

Eggs in Garlic sauce
Veal in Pastry
A sop of Mushrooms
A sop of Peas
Chicken ( various ways to saute chicken)
Pasta (done as lasagne with cheese and cinnamon sugar)
A sop of fresh squash
Crema (milk pies)

The food was well received, I got good feedback on it and what was returned to the kitchen was not large quantities. I did notice and speak with a few people that next time I have 3 dishes that have meat, not to mix the meats but do a single meat for each dish. Something I thought about but only after I had begin the meat mix and match :)

The two big hit items seem to have been the Eggs at the start and the Crema for dessert,

Sunday, July 3, 2016

All quiet on the western front... or not.

So, while things have been busy for me personally they are nothing of interest for my blog. On the other hand... I have cooked for 2 events in the last couple of months. Arts in April, in April and Coronation this past weekend! Vivant to our new King and Queen, Morales and Agnes!

Both weekends were successful in terms of cooking and I will detail more on that later. For now... I wanted to say hi! I'm not dead and I will have recipes and thoughts for you shortly :)

Tuesday, February 16, 2016


I figured I would make a list of the books I use on a regular basis to hunt up the recipes I use and redact. This list will be incomplete and I will update it as I find my books (they are spread everywhere right now!).

The Good Housewife's Jewel, Thomas Dawson
To The King's Taste, Lorna Sass
The Medieval Cookbook, Maggie Black
Platina's On Right Pleasure and Good Health, Mary Ella Milham, Pegasus Press
The Neapolitan Collection, Terrence Scully
The Forme of Cury, Samuel Pegge
The Opera of Bartolomeo Scappi (1570), Terrence Scully
Turkey Legs and Scotch Eggs, International Wenches Guild Local 24, This is a cookbook put together by a group of people for a fundraiser. The end section has "medieval" recipes and those I have used that have sources I have hunted down.
To The Queen's Taste, Lorna Sass

Ouveture de Cuisine 1604 Master Lancelot de Casteau Montios PDF (French)
Libre del Coch 1529 Ruperto de Nola PDF (Spanish)
Libro di Cucina/ Libro per Cuoco 14th/15th century Anonimo Veneziano Translated by Helwyse de Birkstead PDF (Italian)
Koge Bog 1616 Salomone Sartorio PDF (Danish)

I also source great deal of stuff from online when I can in order to properly document things.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Postulation - spices

     I mentioned postulation in my last post and that often I find myself at odds with "popular" opinion. One such place is the idea that spices were less potent in period due to the time it took for them to travel to their destination.

     I admit caravan and cargo shipping were slow but was it really that much slower that modern methods? I mean the process is very much the same; pick / harvest the spice, dry the spice, package the spice and ship the spice. Modernly we use trucks or trains to transport things and this does make it faster in that respect but when shipping in bulk we still very much use cargo which is still a slow process. What difference does a month make to the spices? Also the modern process of getting spices will also include warehousing for indeterminate amounts of time and likely more than once.

     Packaging has changed greatly instead of wooden containers or cloth sacks we plastic wrap things but which is really better for preserving the product? Plastic can promote mold growth if there is any moisture at all introduced to the product while wooden containers and cloth bags can keep keep air circulation going.

     Modernly we tend to process things as far as they can go for the convenience of the consumer exposing a greater surface area to air even if it is in a plastic bag. In period spices were shipped whole and processed mostly by the consumer.This would, in my opinion, preserve the spices better and keep them fresher. Grinding what you need when you need it the outer area exposed to air would be potentially reduced in flavor but the innermost area would still be quite fresh and potent.

     My overall point being that I do not believe that heavily spiced (in terms of amounts used if given a quantity in a recipe) foods were a product of lackluster spices that had sat around for a long time losing their potency. Spices were a way to show off wealth and at times it was all about conspicuous consumption. Another thing to consider is that spices in large quantity usually take on a different flavor than when used more sparingly. Cinnamon, what we associate with sweets becomes spicy and peppery in large quantities, and sage in larges amounts tastes like pine bubble bath. It could be the large quantities used were to draw on that changed flavor.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

What does my way of research look like.. and what have I been learning

     A recent discussion has gotten me thinking about a good many things, like what does a person interested in cooking's research look like, and while I can not speak for others I can speak for myself. To me my research entails a good many things, first of course is my primary sources (even in translation), second discussion, third postulation (I guess also part of the second) and fourth trial and error. 

Primary sources:
     To me it is not enough to have skimmed the recipes but to have read all the little bits as well. Since I work primarily in late period there is usually a lot of "notes" in the sources I have. Small tidbits that help me understand the circumstances in which dishes were cooked. I also like to read all the recipes, just like you would a regular book. This gives me a good foundation on the process of cooking the foods, when they deviated for something "special" and when it was just cooking as usual. Having a breadth of primary sources has really helped me understand the spectrum and evolution of how food was prepared. Multiple sources from the same time period but different cultures gives a good glimpse into how food, like fashion, moved through europe. As well as the spices,ingredients, and methods of preparation. All important aspects when one is redacting.

Discussion and Postulation:
     It always helps to speak with others on a subject if you want a wider view of opinion and as all redactions are a matter of conjecture, it is best to gather as much information as possible. Postulation is important to me as there is too much given and taken as "Gospel". We do not learn and do not grow unless we question the status quo. This may mean forming opinions that people will not like but do not be afraid of this but instead try to embrace it to learn and educate at the same time.

Trial and error:
     This is what this blog was originally designed to be for. My experimentation and musings on redacting recipes to modern form. While many of my redactions have been "on" (in my opinion) with only one or two tries, I have had some that took me many attempts (soup of chickpeas I am looking at you!) and some that I am still not really sure if I am happy with. This is a culmination of many of the above factors. By reading about and discussing methods, ingredients, success and failures, I have been able to learn and adapt my own cooking before I have even laid my hands on ingredients. My background in modern cooking helps I am sure as well. I have been cooking since I could see of the pot. Placed on a stepstool and asked to stir, I was always welcome in the kitchen as an observer or an extra set of hands when I was little and encouraged to experiment on my own when I reached the age to be able to do so. While I have no formal training on a high school class in "culinary arts" behind me I have a desire to learn and try new things.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Long time no see...

Normally I don't make personal posts... I have.. at times... and this is one of them. I will be back to the grindstone after having taken a much needed break to get some personal matters taken care of. This doesn't mean I have been doing nothing... just nothing I have been posting about. I have been refining some of my old recipes and reading, lots of reading; I will get back to practical work shortly though.

What is behind is behind and what is ahead is cooking for 2 events :)

First will be a small event that my shire hosts Arts in April. Limited to 40 people due to the size of the site it is a single trach arts and sciences focused event. Teachers come and teach on various topics. There is enough space to either attend the class or hang out and talk about other things elsewhere in the small building. Small and intimate and lovely, despite great interest in the event we have no desire to change it's format or location. We feel part of its appeal is the small nature and intimate of the event.

Second is food for Summer Coronation. Feast is capped at 80 people (in the hall). I have far too many ideas at this time but may list them in a further post to get them out in the open to start fiddling with them as more complete ideas.

Also ahead is desire. I have the desire to cook and present in 2 fashions. One is to host an all day grand feast, complete with entertainment and such between courses, or at least be able to devote a good 4-6 hours to such a structure. The other is to hold a gourmet feast. Local foods as organic as I can get them. This would likely be a small affair of maybe 20 or so people and would be more expensive than your average event. Someday I will get to these things, in the mean time I will dream :)

It will be good to be back in the kitchen and moving around. I look forward to telling you of my findings and adventures... until then...