Wednesday, February 24, 2010


Having had some success with changing our diet a bit in order to get a sense of the medieval European diet, this year Cindy and I decided to skip meats for lent.

Many modern Catholics eat fish instead of (terrestrial) meat on Fridays during lent. During the medieval period though, the common practice was much more restrictive. Aside from meats, dairy and eggs were also off the menu. There were some typical substitutions for the wealthy - almond milk, almond cream, almond butter - but for the most part it was nothing but fish and plants for 40 days.

The reasons for these restrictions (other than theological) are unclear. I've heard that at this time of year poultry would have been laying few eggs, so not eating eggs makes sense. Also, I assume that any animals that one didn't intend to keep through the winter would have already been slaughtered in the late autumn, so not eating meat also makes sense. But dairy?

I suppose (caveat lector: I am not a dairy farmer) that milking cows over winter when there is limited feed would stress them further and reduce their chances of reaching spring in a healthy state. By not milking them they'd require less fodder, and even though they'd dry up, when they calved in the spring the milk would start flowing again.

At any rate, we'll be splitting the difference between the modern and medieval Lenten diet. No terrestrial meats on any day, but I'm granting us an indulgence for dairy and eggs. I don't expect it'll be too difficult for us given that we were primarily vegetarian for a couple of years a long while back, but for our children it's a new experience (especially for Alex, who often says things like "Animals are yummy!"). Next year maybe we'll go completely medieval.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Ceilidh Feast 2010 - Menu

I've been asked to cook the feast for an upcoming SCA event here in southwest Ohio, and I thought this would be a good chance to document the whole process I go through in running these things.

The first step for me is working out the menu. In this particular case I don't have much time to try out new dishes or do a lot of research, so I decided to stick with dishes I know reasonably well. Also, since I seem to have been having trouble getting my act together lately, I figured it'd be best to choose more simple, straightforward dishes - less to go wrong. I knew I wanted the whole thing to be primarily English because their feasts were much less structured than those of the French (and therefore, simpler). After a couple of days I took the time to sit down and - with Kristen's input - settled on the following menu:

A Supper for a Meat Day
On Table:
manchet bread
soft cheese
fruit preserves
First Course:
Pegions Stewed (stewed chicken)
Onion and Parsley Salad
Chervis (carrots and parsnips)
Second Course:
Cormarye (roast pork)
Wortes (cabbage)
Rice Lombard
Third Course:
Apple Muse (with Snowe)

Ok, so right off the bat I'll point out one major factual error. The title, "A Supper for a Meat Day", is in all truth incorrect. In the medieval religious calendar, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays were meatless days, so properly I should have a fish-based menu. However the problems with doing so are numerous, but the biggest ones are that a lot of people around here don't like fish and that they really like meat. If I did an all-fish feast I would probably be feeding 20 instead of 120.

The bread, cheese, and preserves are all pretty dull and straightforward. For this event I've got someone else to make the bread (thanks Amari!), so that's one less thing for me to do ahead of time.

Pegions Stewed is a simple recipe. I'll be using chicken legs and thighs instead of using pigeons both to save costs and because they're more acceptable to the locals. Of course once I've got that on the menu then the onion and parsley salad is a natural accompaniment.

Chervis is essentially a variation and simplification of a recipe from Menagier de Paris. Really it's just cooked carrots and parsnips with spices.

Cormarye is an old standby for me. Pork is plentiful and inexpensive here - sometimes cheaper than chicken, and this is one of those recipes that is really hard to mess up. If things go well then I'll thicken the juices from the roasting pans with some bread to make a sauce.

The recipe for Wortes is one of Kristen's. One of the VIPs apparently has an intense dislike for cabbage, so I'll have to do a separate dish for head table.

Rice Lombard is a new dish for me, but it's really just rice cooked in meat broth with spices.

Finally in the last course are wafers, walnuts (which will be sugared if there's time), and apple muse topped with snowe.

The apple muse gave me pause though. The most common recipes for it call for almond milk and honey, which adds a lot of effort and expense for such a simple dish - especially when cooking for so many. What I'd like to have is something more like Chardwarden, which is thickened with egg yolks and sweetened with sugar. After some serious digging, I did find a couple medieval variants of the recipe that did call for eggs and sugar, so that's what I'm going to use. Apparently I'm incapable of doing even a simple feast without researching at least one new recipe.

With the menu settled, the next step will be to work out the shopping list.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Kalendarium Hortense - February

The Kalendarium Hortense was published by John Evelyn in 1683. It contains instructions for what a gardener should do throughout the year. The excerpt below is the section titled "Fruits in Prime, or yet lasting" for the month of February.

Kentish, Kirton, Russet, Holland Pepins; Deux-ans, Winter Queening, Harvey sometimes, Pome-water, Pome-roy, Golden-Doucet, Reineting, Lones Pearmain, Winter Pearmain, &c.

Bon-Chrestien of Winter, Winter Poppering, Little Dagobert, &c.