Monday, September 29, 2008

Items of Note

Miscellaneous - Catalan Festa Calendar

A short article about the modern Catalan calendar of religious holidays. While some of these holidays are new, and some have moved around a bit since the middle ages, it still provides a bit of perspective on medieval practices.

Blog Entry - A Compound Salad

An easy recipe for a very mixed salad. (England, 17th c.)

Music - Wolgemut
Maryland Renaissance Festival, Annapolis, Maryland
October 4 & 5, 2008

"Wolgemut draws on a wide range of performers who come from various artistic backgrounds. This leads to a distinctive sound and feeling for the group. Music, dance, theatre, classical music, folk music and musicology are just a few of the areas covered by their combined experience and education. "

Music - Vince Conaway
King Richard's Renaissance Faire, Carver, Massachusetts
October 4 & 5, 2008

"Vince is an interactive performer, believing that the audience should not be separated from the show but instead be a part of it. One of few dulcimer players to converse while performing, he also brings a bit of cultural and historical perspective to every performance. Whether performing Living History, at a bookstore, or busking on the street he holds to his guiding principles of musicianship, showmanship, and professionalism."

Friday, September 26, 2008

To buy, or not to buy ...

Book Cover  

The Book of Sent Soví
Joan Santanach (ed.)
Robin Vogelzang (trans.)
Tamesis Books
ISBN: 1855661640

I'm torn. I don't do Spanish or Catalan cooking and can't read either language. What's more, there's already enough information available on medieval English and French cooking to keep me busy for the next hundred years or so.

On the other hand, the cuisines of England and France weren't completely isolated from the rest of Europe. There's considerable overlap with contemporary German and Italian sources, so there might be some interesting and useful bits of knowledge in this source. Further it's a source from the early 14th century, which means it could also provide insight into the cooking methods of that time period, spice consumption and availability, etc.

Dang, looks like I'm going to buy it.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Forme of Cury

Fantastic news! An article from the Guardian says that the University of Manchester will be digitally photographing their manuscript of Forme of Cury and making the images freely available on the Internet.

Photograph: University of Manchester John Rylands University Library

Forme of Cury, a recipe book compiled by King Richard II's master cooks in 1390, details around 205 dishes cooked in the royal household and sheds light on a little-studied element of life in the Dark Ages.

The text of Forme of Cury is already available online, but the existing transcriptions do have some errors. Being able to compare transcribed text to the original is incredibly helpful in working out recipes. This will also allow others to make their own transcriptions.

The work, which will be carried out using a state-of-the-art high-definition camera, will begin next month and is due to be completed by late 2009.

Oooh! I hate waiting!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Food Related Painting of the Week

The Marriage at Cana
Gerard David
ca. 1500

The Marriage at Cana, Oil on wood, Musée du Louvre, Paris
(from the Web Gallery of Art)

A busy painting from the late medieval period, this one is unusual in that it has a lot of food detail for a religious-themed artwork (if you look at the paintings titled "The Last Supper", you'll find that nothing was being served other than bread).

The first thing that catches my eye in this one is (of course) the pie being brought in at the left. The perspective is a bit squashed, but this is a nice example of the geometrically perfect, cylindrical medieval pie - I'll post other paintings with such pies in the future. My gaze then travels across the table to the right, noting the bread, knife, and beaker-shaped glass just in the foreground of Jesus. Just right of center a server is carving a piece of meat. The resolution here isn't good enough to make out what's on the platter next to him. There's a nice salt cellar next to that.

Something else worth noting, in this painting the diners are seated all around the table instead of only along one side as is the case in most feast scenes. This makes me wonder if the seating arrangements in all the other paintings are wrong (set up so you could see all the figures), or if it's this one that doesn't represent how feasters sat, or perhaps even if both arrangements were common. Something I'll have to check into.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Items of Note

The Dering Roll, the oldest extant English roll of arms, dating from c. 1270-1280, has been acquired by the British Library following a successful fundraising campaign. The Roll depicts 324 coats of arms, approximately a quarter of the entire English baronage during the reign of King Edward I, making it a vital record for the study of knighthood in medieval England.

Event - Coronation (SCA)
Edgewood, Kentucky
September 27, 2008

From the head cook: "Recipes prepared in Scandinavian cultures during the Viking Era are far and few between. Dining information can be gleaned from reading the Sagas and archeological digs to get a broad view of the types of food that were eaten and how they were prepared. I used those sources to assemble my version of nattmal. An additional source used for the meal is “On the observance of foods” written by Anthimus in 6th century AD written as a health treatise for the Frankish court."

(Feast will be prepared by Baroness Artimesia Grimaldi)

Brief commentary and a link to a video of Chef Chris Cosentino preparing a pig head to make Porchetta di Testa. It's not medieval, but some of it (removing the fur, hair, & bristles) is relevant.

Music - Wolgemut
Maryland Renaissance Festival, Annapolis, Maryland
October 4 & 5, 2008

Gates open at 10:00 am; Several performances daily, please see daily schedule for times and stages.

Music - Vince Conaway
King Richard's Renaissance Faire, Carver, Massachusetts
October 4 & 5, 2008

"Vince is an interactive performer, believing that the audience should not be separated from the show but instead be a part of it. One of few dulcimer players to converse while performing, he also brings a bit of cultural and historical perspective to every performance. Whether performing Living History, at a bookstore, or busking on the street he holds to his guiding principles of musicianship, showmanship, and professionalism."

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Food Related Painting of the Week

Christ in the House of Mary and Martha
Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velázquez
ca. 1620

Christ in the House of Mary and Martha, Oil on canvas, National Gallery, London
(from the Web Gallery of Art)

Yet another painting that is a bit too late (1620) to be considered properly medieval. This is one of those odd "inside-out" paintings where the title refers to what's going on in the background. Of course, I prefer it this way - those pesky important figures don't get in the way of the detail.

The young woman in the foreground is preparing some kind of fish dish, which features garlic and eggs. She's grinding the garlic or some unpictured spice in a mortar. It's worth noting that medieval cooks would have covered the top of the mortar with a tied piece of cloth if they were grinding a spice that would make a lot of dust, so my guess is the garlic.

What's really interesting in this painting though is the presence of a dried chili pepper just in front of the bowl of fish. This may be the earliest depiction of a capsicum pepper in European art (I haven't found anything earlier).

Monday, September 15, 2008

Items of Note

Event - Medieval Festival
Manhattan’s Fort Tryon Park, NY
September 28, 2008

Manhattan’s Fort Tryon Park is transformed into a medieval market town decorated with bright banners, processional flags and costumed performers and guests. Visitors are greeted by authentic medieval music, dance and magic as well as jugglers and jesters. The afternoon is concluded with a thrilling joust between four knights on horseback. Costumed vendors will be on hand to demonstrate and sell a wide variety of medieval crafts as well as food and drink. For more information call (212) 795-1600.

Event - Hearth Night (Regia Anglorum)
Danville, Illinois USA
11-12 October, 2008

Micel Folcland, Inc., the Wisconsin-Indiana-Illinois branch of Regia Anglorum, will be holding Hearth Night at Forest Glen Preserve on 11-12 October. Forest Glen is near Danville, Illinois, and we will again have use of the log cabin. There will be plenty of room to sleep in the cabin or to camp beside it (period tents are not required). We have access to the Gannett Center for restrooms, showers, refrigeration and to sleep if the cabin gets too cold.

The event is free, and no costume is required for attendance. Activities will include arrow-making, textiles, combat and cooking, among others. Anyone interested in the serious reenacting of British culture from 950 to 1066 ce is invited. Nonmembers may attend up to two MF events--shows or hearth nights--without joining. People may
start showing up on Friday after noon.

Taste: The Story of Britain Through Its Cooking
Kate Colquhoun
Bloomsbury USA (October 30, 2007)
ISBN: 1596914106

"Colquhoun comes into her own when the written record starts to include recipes. The spices that disappeared from the British diet when the Romans left returned with the Crusaders - and were used because of their flavour, not (in the long-discredited shibboleth) to disguise tainted meat. She says: 'If so much about the European Middle Ages seems bewilderingly remote, contemporary Moroccan food, robust and subtle by degrees, broadly unchanged for centuries, offers a hint of our own culinary past.

"The most fascinating aspect of the first half of her book, though, is to do with religion and fish. Christianity brought with it fast days and their number grew and grew - all of Advent and Lent, Fridays (the Crucifixion), Wednesdays (Judas's payday), Saturdays (Sabbath Eve) - not so irrational for an island people, but with only salt to preserve fish, drearily boring. In 1541 Henry VIII allowed eggs and dairy produce on fast days and cut the number of them by three-quarters. By the time of Bloody Mary the Friday fast had to be reinstated to protect the fishing industry."

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Food Related Painting of the Week

Vincenzo Campi, Cremona, Italy
ca. 1580

Kitchen, Oil on canvas, Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan
(from the Web Gallery of Art)

This painting is one of my favorites. Being from around 1580, it's pretty late to be considered "medieval", but a lot of information relevant to medieval cooking can still be inferred from it. There are so many things here to look at that it's hard to know where to start.

In the upper center at the table, a woman is about to put the top crust on a pie. Notice the sloped sides of the pie pan? Other than it's larger size, it's pretty much the same as the average modern pan - complete with the lip around the edge. I love how she's got the dough for the crust rolled around the pin. That's how my grandmother always did it too.

Next to her to the left, another woman look like she's kneading some dough. The table surface in front of her has been floured. She could be making bread, but that was usually done earlier in the day so I'll guess that it's another pie/tart crust.

To the right of these two, the woman in green doing something to some pasties on the sideboard. I suspect that the dish visible under her right arm is a bowl of egg yolks or the like, which would mean she's painting the pasties, possibly before baking them. This would also explain why two of the pasties are golden colored and the other two are white.

In front of her, the woman in the blue apron is grating something. It could be cheese, but given the odd shape (it looks smooshy to me) I'd say it's bread.

Then there are all the other busy folk. The men are butchering/dressing a carcass - probably a calf by the look of the hoof, but it might be a sheep. The old woman is using a large mortar and pestle. The odd-looking guy on the far right is putting poultry and game birds on a spit for roasting. The woman in yellow in the foreground is happily pulling the entrails out of a chicken.

And of course, the child on the left is blowing up the bladder from the carcass behind him.

There's a lot more, of course: bowls, plates, pots, pans, knives, furniture, fire irons. Oh, and I suppose you could look at the clothing ... if you're into that sort of thing.

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.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Kalendarium Hortense - September

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 list of what is to be done in the "Orchard and Olitory1 Garden" for the month of September.

Gather now (if ripe) your Winter Fruits, as Apples, Pears, Plums, &c. to prevent their falling by the great Winds: Also gather your Wind-falls from day to day: do this work in dry weather.

Release Inoculated2 Buds, or sooner, if they pinch.

Sow Lettuce, Radish, Spinage, Parsneps, Skirrets3, &c. Caully-flowers, Cabbagges, Onions, &c. Scurvy-grass4, Anniseeds, &c.

Now may you transplant most sorts of Esculent5 or Physical Plants, &c.

Also Artichokes and Asparagus roots.

Sow also Winter Herbs and Roots, and plant Strawberries out of the Woods.

Towards the end earth up your Winter Plants and Sallad Herbs; and plant forth your Caully-flowers and Cabbages which were sown in August.

No longer now defer the taking of your Bees, strengthening the entrances of such Hives as you leave to a small passage, and continue still your hostility against Wasps, and other robbing Insects.

Cider-making continues.

1 - olitory: Of or pertaining to, or produced in, a kitchen garden.

2 - inoculate: insert a bud for propagation, cause to propagate, as by grafting or layering.

3 - Sium sisarum, a sort of water-parsnip.

4 - Cochlearia species; a.k.a. Scurvy grass, Scurvygrass, or Spoonwort.

5 -esculent: Suitable for eating; edible.