Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Harvest Days 2008 - Feast Report

I guess I've recovered enough from the whole thing, so it's time to post my thoughts before I forget them.

The Menu
No big surprises here. Everything was reasonably well liked, with one exception - the Gelye de Chare. No surprise here, but most people just can't cope with meat-flavored jelly. I really didn't expect people to eat much of it, which is why I only made half a cup per table of 6. I don't think I'd serve the Boiled Sallet or the Frutours at another feast as they both need to be cooked just before serving, and therefore cause logistics troubles.

I did have one good-sized hitch here. The sotlties between the courses were all centered around a piece of food-art created by Wulfwen Atte Belle (Hi Wulfie!). Sadly, her car died early Saturday morning, which meant that the aforementioned piece of food-art was stuck some 5 hours' drive away from the feast. Without it, none of the other sotlties would make sense, so I decided to scrap them and just stick with serving food.

Planning and Prep
Here's where I really fell down on the job. Things have been really nuts for me the past month or so, and I didn't get things planned out as well as I should have. As a result, a lot of food prep that could have been done in advance was left for the day of the feast. If I didn't have the help of my apprentices and a bunch of amazing volunteers, this feast would have been a fiasco.

In specific: I should have had all the bread cooked (was 3 batches short), the needed eggs separated and stored frozen, the turnips roasted and peeled, the Leche Lumbard and Chardwarden made.

The other major planning problem rested with my lack of organization. When I got to the site on Saturday morning, I realized that I'd left the bread in the freezer at home. This meant I had to drive back home and return - an almost 2 hour trip - just to pick it up. I ended up finally getting to the kitchen and getting to work around 1:00 p.m. Again, if it hadn't been for my apprentices taking charge in my absence (and making good use of the Brain Book) things would have gone very badly.

Hall Setup and Service
The hall steward did an excellent job at setting things up and wrangling the servers. There was one issue though that caused continued problems. I had planned the feast to serve 100 (plus head table), but the total number of feasters was actually 90. If I had the presence of mind (or had built it into some sort of checklist) it might have occurred to me to drop two tables from the hall setup. That way instead of having 18 tables that were partly filled, I would have 16 tables that were almost completely filled (each table could seat 6). My failure to realize this meant that we had to dish up 2 extra platters of food for every dish and still have too much food at every table. Obviously I need a "Hall Setup" page for the Brain Book.

Gritty Details

The bread, cheese, and preserves were set out before the feast started. No problems here.

The first course had a couple of hectic parts. The beef in pevorade and blancmanger were pretty straightforward - apparently there were several people who really liked the blancmanger. I had the pety pernauntes made as individual tartlets, which caused some minor issues because of the seating, but it all worked out. The boiled sallet was a real pain though. It had to be cooked right before serving in table-sized batches. Zophia (second apprentice) did an excellent job of making sure this got done.

The second course was where things really started to go haywire. The jelly was sent out first while I plated the venison and frumenty. With the full kitchen staff preoccupied, the servers began taking the venison out while it was still being plated. This made it really hard to keep track of how many plates had been done. The leche lumbard went out sometime around here, but I missed it. Then Avelyn (first apprentice) plated the great pies - which looked really cool - and we sent them out. Life was good. Little did we know ... (insert ominous music here).

Finally, while Zophia was frying apple fritters as quickly as she could (the other pain-in-the-butt dish) and I was plating them, the Chardwarden went out. The fritters followed shortly.

It was then, while we were looking around with an eye to starting the cleanup and saying to ourselves something like, "Wow, we're done!" that someone noticed two big steamer pans. We'd (I'd) forgotten to serve the turnips. The diners were still seated and the servers were just coming back, so we grabbed some bowls and a big spoon and sent the stuff out. Apparently the feasters were amused to receive turnips for dessert. Then again, there is medieval documentation for serving turnips and cheese last at a feast.

Avelyn suggested that I make a huge copy of the menu to post on the wall for next time, so we can cross off dishes as they go out and prevent this sort of thing from happening. I thing that's a great idea, but I don't want to think about a "next time" just yet.

On the whole, I'd say the feast was a success. The food looked and tasted good, and people got fed to the gills. There were some behind-the-scenes problems, but (other than the out-of-place turnips) none of it was apparent in the feast hall. I can live with that.


Lady D. said...

Wow - loads of respect to you for even tackling such an under-taking! Despite the few difficulties it sounds like you did really well!!!

It makes you appreciate how medieval kitchens coped with less modern appliances, doesn't it?

Looking forward to the 'next' outing ;-)

Steph said...

Congratulations on pulling it off beautifully! I'm sure everyone had a lovely time. :)

Would it be okay for me to post a link to your blog?

Doc said...

Steph, please do. That's what the web is all about.

I'm definitely taking a year or so off from cooking big feasts - takes too much out of me. I've got bunches of other projects to keep me busy though, and a couple of apprentices who will be doing the whole feast thing (one of them already has two feasts scheduled before spring).