Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Food for thought

Last Thursday I went along to my monthly meeting with fellow members of the Nottingham branch of Regia Anglorum www.regia.org
The Nottingham group is Anglo-Norman by ethnicity and a fertile source of research for my novels. With the help of its members, I have choreographed fight scenes in Shadows And Strongholds, and confirmed that yes, it is indeed possible to get one's helm stuck on one's head and have to have it prised off (helmet, not the head) by putting oneself at the mercy of someone capable of straightening it out for you.
Anyway, we have been told that we are to provide part of the living history exhibit for this year's Robin Hood Pageant at Nottingham Castle and this will involve me in researching up a menu that is a) authentic for the late 12thC, b) suitable for both vegetarians and meat eaters c) can be prepared over an open fire in whatever weather late October in the UK decides to throw at us. d) can accommodate lots of people if necessary, who might not actually say they are coming until 12hrs before the event - that's re-enactors for you!

At the moment, these dishes are on my short longlist! Beef and cumin stew for meat eaters, bean and cumin stew for the veggies. Parsnip cakes - like potato cakes, but rather obviously made with parsnips! I've done these before on the griddle and they were a huge success. Thick barley and vegetable pottage - comes out rather like risotto. Chicken in verjuice, (should have verjuice off our greenhouse grape vine later this summer), meatballs (to be researched), bread, cheese, honey, blackberry and plum compote, leche lumbard (sticky date slice), rosewater tart. I am also going to be trawling my Medieval cookery books for more ideas, plus lists of accounts. Perhaps a salmon...then again perhaps not. I'd do sweet and sour rabbit, but too many people are wussy about eating bunny. I simply have to do stuffed mushrooms as I know William Marshal was fond of them!
Once I've finalised my thoughts, I'll perhaps post again with the final list and perhaps some recipes.
The photo is of a feasting scene, late 12thC at Pembroke Castle


Carla said...

Please do! Recipes especially would be fascinating. I make blackberry and plum compote in season, and a barley and vegetable pottage, and it would be fascinating to see how a genuine medieval dish compares.

I've read that dishes using parsnips were often adapted to use potatoes instead, when the potato was introduced from N America. Do you think that was the case? It seems reasonably logical to me, because parsnips are quite starchy, but I don't know of any evidence for it.

(Blogger seems to have eaten my comment on your earlier post, so congratulations again on the success of TGK, and long may it continue!).

Sarah Cuthbertson said...

Would love to see your final list and recipes, especially the leche lumbard, parsnip cakes, sweet and sour rabbit and, well, everything really!

I once helped at a Roman cooking demo. I did oatcakes and a lentil-and-veg-pottagy sort of thing. A certain other blogger will probably recall that I was responsible for the firebox on which to cook - and managed to forget to bring it. We had to improvise. Everyone was very nice about it, though ;-(

Are members of the public allowed to sample the goodies? If I remember rightly, they weren't at this demo. Does it depend on the policy of the re-enactment group?

Speaking of Robin Hood, I see from today's paper that the Beeb is showing a new Robin Hood series in the Saturday Dr Who slot this autumn. A newcomer called Jason Armstrong is Robin Hood and Keith Allen (nasty Jonas in the BBC's Martin Chuzzlewit) should make a suitably nasty Sheriff of Nottingham. Not as good (or bad) as Alan Rickman, though. I confess to remembering that Alan Wheatley played that part in the 50s TV series with Richard Greene, which I adored. That was the era of Ivanhoe (Roger Moore), Champion the Wonder Horse and The Lone Ranger. They don't make 'em... etc, etc.

Kemberlee said...

Oh, that meal sounds fabulous so far. Can't wait to see what else you come up with. Last summer in Cork City there was a "slow food" festival (as apposed to fast food) and one stall was selling medieval rosewater cake. I tried it. Not bad. It was more like a fruit cake or heavy fruited bread made with rosewater or rose essence. They said it came from an 800 year old recipe. Could that be possible, or was it a selling gimick? If it was the latter, it worked. I bought a loaf =-) Which books will you be reading for your recipes?
~ Kemberlee, who also loves mushrooms and would have eaten well with Sir William!

Elizabeth Chadwick said...

Carla, some of it will be based on genuine recipes, as much as possible will be based on research, but some with the best will in the world will be of the 'they had this available, so they quite probably did that with it.' This is true of the parsnip cakes which are composed of only parsnips, flour and seasoning cooked on the griddle. Parsnips are known and mentioned in cookery, but in what form is one of my research briefs. I have read it up before, but as usual my memory has not retained all of the necessary details. Cumin seems to have been used a heck of a lot. You see it all over the place in largish quantities in Medieval supply lists, and I know there are several recipes knocking about for basic stews flavoured with the spice - could almost be Chilli con carne!

Sarah, I will post the recipes as I decide, or perhaps even earlier as a lazy blog. LOL the firebox. I am still in the act of getting round to having one made, although I shall use the group firebox and cauldrons at the pageant. I do have a small cauldron of my own, but it only serves about 8, and I may be looking at feeding 5 times that number.
Members of the public aren't allowed to sample the goods due to health and safety issues and insurance issues, but they always want to peer into the cauldron to see what you're making, and then ask such priceless questions as 'Did they have vegetables in those days?'
I had heard about the Robin Hood episodes. Might be interesting to watch although I suspect will have to bind and gag the part of myself that goes ballistic at inaccuracy!

Hi Kemberlee!
I think the rosewater cake might be authentic in principal, but probably somewhat adapted. I haven't come across it before, but then I'm not a food expert, more of an enthusiastic amateur. A slow food festival sounds wonderful though!
Books I will be using for research include Pleyn Delit by Constance Hieatt and others: Medieval cookery for Modern Cooks, Ann Hagen's two books on Anglo Saxon food - not recipe books but books about how food was produced and consumed, The Medieval Kitchen; recipes from France and Italy (includes some English ones too) by Redon, Sabban and Serventi, Medieval Arabic Cookery (due to returning crusaders!) by Rodinson,Arberry and Perry, Food in England by Dorothy Hartley, Traditional Foods of Britain (part of the EU survey of local produce. Food and Eating in Medieval Europe by Carlin and Rosenthal, The British Museum Cookbook by Maggie Black and the Readers Digest Book of Farmhouse Cookery (which actually has all sorts of excellent historical recipes in it). Also various household lists and some online sources. Plus a very dear friend is a Medieval cookery expert par excellence and teaches it at Suite 101, so should I get stuck, I will e-mail in her direction. Phew!

Gabriele Campbell said...

Do you mean the Arab cumin (which I suppose was too expensive for commoners) or caraway seed? The latter is still used in some traditional German dishes - and I don't like it. :-( I'm fine with cumin, though.

Watching people cook and not being allowed to eat ... I'm not going there. I wanna eat the stuff. *grin*

Elizabeth Chadwick said...

Hi Gabriele,
Yes, I do mean the Arab cumin, not caraway. Certainly noble households seemed to use a lot of it in cooking - there's a pipe roll of King John knocking about with it ordered in massive quantities when compared to the next nearest poundage of spice, which was pepper. More research to do, but it looks as if more than just the high table were eating it...or that the high table liked it a serious lot!
I like caraway myself, but it is a taste I think you either love or loathe. My husband is of the loathe school, so we never have seed cake or caraway bread - too much of a faff for one.

Gabriele Campbell said...

Spices in history is an interesting subject. I didn't know cumin was that popular.

When King Alaric besieged Rome for the first time in 408 AD, the senate bought him off with gold, grain and pepper. Seems the Visigoths liked their stew hot. :)

Carla said...

When Bede was dying in 731 he distributed his few personal possessions - pepper, incense and handkerchiefs - among his friends. So there's another culture 300 years after Alaric that also valued pepper highly.
We take pepper so much for granted now that it doesn't even feature in modern recipes, it's just assumed that you 'season to taste' with salt and pepper. But it must have been a wonderful thing for adding a bit of flavour to bland dishes like, say, barley pottage.
Doesn't a pepper warehouse play a crucial plot role in Lindsey Davis' The Silver Pigs? I forget what, exactly.