[Sca-cooks] Easter Weekend at Hampton Court

Elise Fleming alysk at ix.netcom.com
Fri Mar 28 08:02:48 PDT 2008

Greetings!  I've just returned from two weeks in London which included four
days (about 6 hours each day) in Hampton Court kitchens.  It's certainly
motivated me to try some actual cookery instead of just confections.  You
can read the cooks' blog about the Easter cookery at
http://tudorcook.blogspot.com.  There is a video of turbot being roasted on
a spit (the flash should be from my camera) and a video on the "bronzing"
of Bacchus for the top of the wax fountain which was begun a year ago at
Easter while I was visiting.

Friday and Saturday were still Lent so no meat was cooked.  The menu is
posted on the blog site for all four days.  On Saturday they were to do
"Eggs in Lent" where the contents are blown out and the shell filled with
an almond milk/sugar mixture.  Unfortunately, there wasn't time for it but
on Sunday Robin took some time to show me what he does, which is different
from how I interpret the recipe.  I had bought the cookery book ("A Noble
Boke of Cokery") that Richard compiled and had brought it with me so I
could follow the recipes.  (And get the autographs of all the cooks! <g>) 
Everyone was very patient with my questions about why this and how come
that...  I hadn't planned to attend all four days but decided that I was
learning too much and had traveled too far, so why not indulge myself with
four days there?

The kitchens were frigid!  We could see our breath when we talked and it
snowed for Easter and Monday.  The cooks kept telling people they weren't
cold because their clothes were made of wool while our modern clothes were
mostly synthetic fibers.  Even when meat cookery began on Easter Sunday the
walls and floors radiated cold.  Adrian and Dave, who were making the wax
fountain, had to immerse small sections of wax in hot water before they
could begin hand-moulding Bacchus and other items.

After watching the preparation of various dishes for several hours, I could
see some of the problems modern cooks might have when interpreting period
texts.  Their years of practice and experimentation have led to using some
techniques that aren't necessarily evident.  I'm in the midst of trying to
re-create their version of a "Tarte owt of Lent" and am trying a dough that
Robin uses.  I've made pie dough from scratch, but I've never worked in the
butter as fully as he did.  And, he cuts in the water with a knife "to
inhibit the gluten strands from forming too quickly".  I'm sure I missed
many other little things.  It was easy to get caught up in just watching
instead of taking notes or photos.

There were other little hints such as for the "perre" dish which uses peas,
Richard said that they only add the onion and parsley a half an hour before
serving so that the onion still has a bit of texture or crunch to it, and
that they also wait until the last minute before adding the vinegar and
salt.  Perre is where green peas are boiled, and when "broken" are put
through a strainer and back onto the fire with finely chopped onions and
parsley.  It's a recipe from "Two Fifteenth-Century Cookery-Books", page 83
in the Early English Text Society edition.

Another hint involved making proper custards.  One should burst the
membrane of each yolk and allow the contents to drain out and then discard
the membrane.  I can see where the membrane (and its attached little white
thingy) would make the custard less smooth, but it sure is time-consuming
if one is using lots of yolks!

For anyone who plans ahead, there are expected to be some special
activities at Hampton Court to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the
accession of Henry VIII to the throne (21 April 1509).  Easter is April 12
next year and they will be cooking from Good Friday through Easter Monday. 
The activities are tentatively planned for both Bank Holidays (May 4 and
25) with the cooking to start on the Saturday before the Monday holiday. 
Start saving pennies???

Alys Katharine

Elise Fleming
alysk at ix.netcom.com

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