[Sca-cooks] Partial feast debriefing while the massive leg cramps do their thing... LONGISH

Phil Troy / G. Tacitus Adamantius adamantius1 at verizon.net
Sun Nov 8 08:42:06 PST 2009

Hullo, the list!

As some of you may have heard, I was asked by a friend to cook a feast  
on fairly short notice, with a menu previously conceived by a separate  
researcher and the original cook, who had to give up her job due to a  
medical emergency, so I was given a menu and some recipes to work from.

I made a few changes to the menu as a conscientious SCA member and  
foodie Laurel, and there was one dish that I felt I simply wouldn't  
have time to prepare (a couple of hundred deep-fried, paper thin,  
incredibly fragile cookies whose periodicity was a bit doubtful to me  
in any case). I suggested that if they were important to the menu czar  
she could find someone to make them off site and bring them in, and  
apparently she did. There was one that I simply refused to serve  
because I didn't want my name associated with it and the implication  
that I had given it my official blessing as appropriately medieval/ 
Renaissance food.

The entire event was in an Icelandic theme, and the menu as handed to  
me was mostly traditional Icelandic foods, some of which might be  
period, some definitely not (the most egregious of these I simply  
replaced with dishes from the Harpestraeng Codex).

Did I mention there was a dayboard, too, which I also put together?  
And that we weren't allowed, for liability reasons, to actually cook  
in the site's kitchen (we could reheat and keep things warm in their  
ovens)? As a result, we had some cold dishes strategically placed on  
the menu, a propane smoking box outside for roasting, two propane  
turkey fryer burners with 60-quart pots of boiling water, and a lot of  
boiling bags, courtesy of the amazing FoodSaver Vacuum Sealer.

I discovered that the smoker box was smaller than I had been led to  
expect, contained less room and fewer racks and generally considerably  
less muscle than advertised. We solved that by placing first our red  
meat roasts (they were supposed to be lamb, but local availability and  
pricing caused me to buy one leg of lamb and four large secondary cuts  
of beef - round tips? Never dealt with those before) into the smoker,  
got them looking vaguely cooked but not nearly done, brought them into  
the inside ovens to "reheat and keep warm" for about an hour at 400  
degrees F (doesn't everybody do it that way? We were just warming them  
in the ovens; we were afraid they'd get cold). When the beef and lamb  
went indoors, we did the same thing with about fourteen chickens.

The unscheduled extra attention this situation required threw a lot of  
the other work off schedule (and then court ended early, and his  
Majesty blithely announced he was ready for dinner, with the local  
Baron in tow with frozen grin in place, knowing full well we had  
agreed on dinner at 6:30PM, not 5:45...).

Well, in the end, like all proper clusterfudges, most of the insane  
maneuverings were invisible from the outside, and to me the most  
amusing thing was the dayboard offering of salt cod balls in a quite  
rich salmon-essence cream sauce... well, people seemed unable to grasp  
the simple fact that the clearly-labelled sauce they were eating was  
not in fact a soup that I had accidentally dropped fish balls into. A  
couple of people reported some mild gastric distress, and it wasn't  
from any hygienic consideration. These were all the people who ate  
huge bowls of cream sauce, when a tablespoon or two was what was  
intended. (--That fish soup sure was good!  --Really? I'm so happy you  
liked it. What fish soup? I didn't make any fish soup... Ohmygosh you  
ate two large bowls of cream sauce that was 90% heavy cream and 5%  
butter??? <steps aside, guffawing, while other person runs to rest  

In the end, it was quite satisfying, in a way, that the few people  
that I made deathly ill did not, in fact, result from the raw salmon I  
served, or the chickens cooked in inadequate ovens (one slightly pale  
bird was sent back, I took its temperature, showed the still-above-157  
to the person who'd brought it back, swapped it for a spare that was  

Okay. So, as I recall, the dayboard consisted of rye bread, Icelandic  
cheeses and butter, quince paste (we had scads of it already purchased  
from the last time I had cooked a feast for this group), cream of kelp  
and laver soup with oats, vegan vegetable soup (fill large pot with  
shredded cabbage, soaked dried mushrooms, onion, and carrots, pour  
mushroom soaking water over all, add water to cover, simmer for about  
90 minutes, season). Salt cod (some unsalted torski/stockfish in  
there, too) balls in cream sauce with dill, and platters of whole  
apples and pears.

First course for dinner was gravlax done with juniper berries instead  
of dill, which we served on half of a large platter, with the other  
side filled with sliced, jellied pork brawn -- I used picnic  
shoulders, peeled off and reserved the rind after simmering the meat,  
then packed the boneless meat into a mold lined with the skin, pressed  
it all down, topped with the rest of the skin, and added reduced stock  
to gel when cold. It all set up into a slightly rubbery block of  
highly seasoned cold meat. No sheep's heads were harmed in the  
production. No, I did not pickle the jellied meat in   whey, per  
tradition. All served with a bowl of honey mustard dill sauce in the  
middle of the platter. White porrey of leeks and onions in thick  
almond milk sauce at one end of another large platter, mashed rutabaga  
with a little carrot in there to improve the color and reduce the  
sharpness, at the other. People apparently thought it was pumpkin  
until they tasted it. Looooots of butter in those.

We sent out an entremet of bilberry soup with cream on the side (I got  
a screaming bargain on dried bilberries), the ultra-fragile leaf  
breads made by one of the locals of the group, and some other,  
commercial multi-grain flatbreads that closely resembled the Swedish,  
potato-less version of lefse.

The second course was beef and chicken, all macerated with lots of  
fresh thyme, with the thyme stems added to the wood chips in the  
smoking box to add additional perfume to the meat. High table got lamb  
and a braised goose (semi-roasted brown on a bed of chopped mirepoix  
veg, then braised in red wine and some quince paste added at the end,  
sauce and veg pureed before serving) instead of chicken.

The only real casualty of the day was the non-appearance of the sauce  
for the chicken -- it was just about the only job I wasn't willing or  
able to leave up to someone other than myself, or take the time to  
teach the technique in detail -- I did, however, give an impromptu  
lesson in proper salmon slicing. The sauce was to have been a red wine  
and stock reduction with fried, chopped red onion, thickened like a  
custard with egg yolks. This is from one of the Harpestraeng recipes,  
and perhaps the dish on the menu that I was most looking forward to  
myself, but the oven problems took up enough my time that when the  
time came, I had to choose between staying inside and keeping an eye  
on things, and going outside to cook the sauce over a propane burner  
in the pitch blackness, I decided the chicken was actually pretty  
darned good on its own. Next time. The meats were served with a  
separate platter of rice cooked in milk with butter, a little sugar,  
and ginger (unabashedly gloopy and risotto-like -- I love a good pilaf  
but this is an SCA event, darnit, the rice is SUPPOSED to be gloopy --  
and a sweet-and-sour red cabbage.

The meal ended with skyr (a thick, yogurt-like cheese made from  
cultured skim milk) with stewed apricots and berries, and little  
marzipan tartlets (I had found about eight pounds of marzipan in the  
baron's freezer, left over from a feast I had done last Spring for  
that group, so this was a good chance to use it up).

Baron Ateno is cool. Not only is he a very old friend (I wouldn't have  
done this had anyone else asked me to), but he endeared himself even  
further to me by talking the king into eating the neck of the goose  
(which is supposed to be served to the lord), and, at a strategic  
moment, poured everybody brimming flagons (he is a brewing Laurel) of  
his special vintage of the day: the chilled whey from the skyr.

So, overall, not quite the menu I would have chosen had this been my  
project from the beginning, but we did okay, all in all. We apparently  
came in under budget, even after subtracting sub-budgets from mine for  
the imported Icelandic butter, cheeses, and a mysterious dark brown  
confection very popular in modern Iceland, but which surely comes from  
the furthest southern tip of Iceland. Say, Venezuela, maybe? Also the  
lovely dark rye bread (46 loaves, I think?) baked by one of the  
locals, and the lovely but extremely labor-intensive leaf breads  
prepared by one of the local ladies...

As per my usual, I arrived with camera in hand to get photos of the  
food, and then everything went slightly insane and I did not get a  
chance to get too many. I have a shot of the marbled/jellied pork, and  
some shots of the skyr curds setting up, and, I think, one of myself  
in kitchener-ey cap and cote of office, so to speak.

So, should I make cabbage, pea or bean soup with my gallon of extra  
rich, jellied, ham-pinky pork shoulder stock today?


"Most men worry about their own bellies, and other people's souls,  
when we all ought to worry about our own souls, and other people's  
			-- Rabbi Israel Salanter

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