Last weekend Nottingham held its fourteenth annual Robin Hood Pageant in the castle grounds. It was business as usual for my re-enactment society Regia Anglorum who were employed to provide part of the living history exhibit and acts of derring do in the main arena.
The photo to the left features members of the Nottingham branch of Regia, the Conroi de Vey.
I am on the far left of the photo and dressed down in my 'cooking frock'. Just before the photo was taken (by Sarah, also known as the Lady Nicolaa and the mum of the two little boys in the picture) I remembered to remove my by then disreputable apron!
De Vey has performed at most of the pageants, aided and abetted by other groups within Regia Anglorum's framework - Cestrefeld, de Bec, Deoraby to name but three, together with guests from other societies who share Regia's ethic for 'getting it right.' Not that the Robin Hood Pageant is an event calling for white-hot authenticity. It's a fun show where anything vaguely Medieval goes. Costumes range from Viking to fifteenth Century. Purple velvet, wench corsets, black leather and fantasy gear are well represented. Regia's dateline for this event was late 12thC and we dressed to suit.
Numerous traders have booths and stalls on the site and it's a great opportunity to do some early Christmas shopping. I picked up some Fraoch beer for my sons. www.heatherale.co.uk
Also a medieval drinking cup from www.themerchantventurer.co.uk
A while ago I blogged that I was considering what sort of food to dish up to the Regia members at the pageant, given that I'd be cooking outdoors, using a firebox and cauldrons and catering for approximately thirty people, including some vegetarians. I finally decided on a spicy beef stew for the Saturday, containing (as well as beef!) onions, ginger, cumin and black pepper. I'd tried this out before at Castleton and it had worked very well. Also it's a fairly generic, authentic medieval dish. Being as it was the Robin Hood Pageant, I could always claim that we'd stolen the spices off the sheriff's baggage cart! The vegetarians dined on a leek and onion pottage. People returned for seconds, so it was evidently a success! Sunday's main course was sweet and sour chicken (authentic Medieval again. The Museum of London cookbook has it in the Norman section, although more academic works put it later, but I assume it comes from a long tradition). Actually, when I say authentic, the meat should have been goat or rabbit, but chicken is more readily available today and user friendly. For smaller quantities I'd have used the original suggested meat. The sweet and sour was obtained using wine, wine vinegar, honey and currants. There were also onions in the dish and garlic.
We also had nibbles, including parsnip cakes - mash cooked parsnip with flour and salt and fry on the griddle in a little butter in the manner of a potato cake. Excellent! We had pear tarts and leche lumbard among other things. The latter is an interesting medieval dessert for which there are as many recipes as days in the year. My adaptation is this: Empty a bag of dates into a saucepan. Cover with white wine. Add a couple of teaspoons of mixed spice and one of ginger. A few screws of ground black pepper. Cook until it makes a squidgy mush. Then stir in breadcrumbs until you have a stiff but still moist mixture. When cool, mould into an oblong shape. It will look like a plate of poo (ahem!). People at shows who've never encountered it before will look at it askance, but once they've tried it, if they like dates, they can't stop eating it.
As always, when attending a show in kit, there was a lot to learn just by being around re-enactors and enthusiasts for a couple of days. I had a go with a hand quern (hard work, but wonderful to see grains gradually emerge after several grindings onto the boult cloth as flour.
Fun too to learn that a pine cone makes a marvellous brillo pad for a scummy cauldron!
All in all a great weekend. Good friends, good food, loads of research and a medieval atmosphere. What more could anyone want....apart from a bit less rain on the Sunday afternoon!