The evening of 12th Night, 2013, just as the site was closing and the last of the staff were cleaning the site — I was thanking everyone for staying and helping, as a Baroness will do. We were just finishing up in the kitchen where I was contemplating the wondrous feast that head chef Renaude had presented that very evening. I said to him, “Renaude, when I’m done with this Baroness gig…I want you to teach me how to cook period feasts. In fact, I want to be your #2 person in the kitchen the next time you cook.” He looked at me and smiled. And then….he outwardly said “NO.” Of course, then he chuckled – and said, “You get yourself a feast to cook…and I’ll be YOUR #2!” And so that….we did. Naturally, best laid plans and all, it didn’t quite go off exactly as we had originally envisioned.
Late summer 2014, at the event where our successors to the Baronial Thrones of Cynnabar were announced, I set in play my “retirement” plan and volunteered to cook for my first feast — Cynnabar was to host the coming Spring Crown Tournament 2015, and the kitchen, would be mine! (Muh-ha-ha-ha.) Thinking things would be mostly settled in my life by then (what was that I said about best laid plans., again!?!) Renaude and I spend several Sunday afternoons meeting during fight practices to review the beginnings of my research and menu planning. One of his first suggestions was to pick a theme. Choosing a theme helps make decisions and limit menu planning and makes everything a little more focused. I started with the idea of “NEW” since the event would be held in spring, and we’d have new heirs to the thrones so they would also be ‘new’. I wanted fresh produce, food items that were reminiscent of spring time and in season, and to play on items are actually new — like eggs or baby greens. In locating recipes, I found a period feast called “Festum Sancte Trinitatis In Cena” — or the Feast of the Holy Trinity — a documented feast from 1450 England. (Full menu of this feast can be found here.) This feast day is the celebration of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity and marks the end of Pentecost in the Catholic calendar. It occurs at the end of May or the first half of June, eight weeks after Easter. As it happened, our feast was scheduled for the week before that feast day on the calendar. It seemed fitting and a great place to focus.
With the theme set, we were off and running. I, of course, had my good friend Lady Ilse along for the ride on this adventure as we learned all about menu selection, plating, food service, day of cooking, pre-cooking, planning…the shopping…the storing food. THE WORKS! All with Renaude’s steady guidance and nudges back into reality. The final menu featured wonderful spring delights, cold dishes, and very fresh foods. It showed off how medieval cooks took advantage of the availability of fresh produce, tender meats, and other grocery items available during this time of the year. And, thematically, represented the new chapters beginning for Our King, Queen, and Their Heirs.
Below is the full menu. I will elaborate on each course with photos if you keep scrolling (And, I know this is a long post, so you can also skim for the photos, if you prefer!)
Spring Crown Tournament Feast
Fresh baked bread
Spring pea and onion soup
Chykonys Pygge en Sage (Cold chicken with sage and egg relish)
Salat (Fresh greens, fennel, scallions and herbs with vinaigrette)
Baked Mete (A pear and custard tart)
Roasted Kede (lamb) and Roasted Pork (rolled with onions and herbs)
Piper or Green Sauces (Pepper or herb sauce)
Pescodde (Spring peas with butter)
Makerouns (A dish of noodles and cheese)
Roast Rabbit with ginger (just to headtable)
Waffles (a lightly sweetened almond cookie)
Trinity of fresh cheeses (plain/lemon, herbed with thyme, and sweetened with candied ginger)
In recapping this feast, I should probably add something about the site where this was held. Like many other SCA groups, we’re finding that sites are becoming increasingly limited. This event was held in Saline, Mich., at what used to be a working middle school. It is now used for after-hours education and special education courses. Because the school has been essentially closed, this means their kitchens are non-working and semi-decommissioned. We did have access to the home economics classroom which had a dishwasher and two operating ovens we could use. We also had a restriction from the site in that NO actual cooking (or raw meats) could be done in the school because the building is no longer licensed. Much of the menu planning and preparation for this feast was based around those constraints. We were grateful that the spring season meant that, for the most part, people wouldn’t be bothered by being given a dish that was meant to be severed cold. It’s possible I’ll have the opportunity to do additional feasts at this location – and, if it’s in the winter months, menu item selection might be more difficult! We also had the unique experience of having the lunch tavern in the spot where we would be plating and serving feast. This gave us a very limited window to reset the room to get ready for service. Renaude was a life-saver in helping get people to assist in the move.
First Course Recap
The first course went off rather well. The soup was FANTASTIC and I’ve had several people ask for the recipe. Our only issue in serving it was to have the servers get people’s bowls as they came in to be seated and come to the kitchen to fill them rather than each table having a tureen. When we were planning the meal, Renaude counseled us that soups never get served well – and at the end of the day, he was of course right. What ended up happening was that instead of people just wandering into the feast hall after mingling a bit after court in a manageable fashion, they pretty much all came in at the same time! Learning experience, for sure. The bread and butter were at least on the table, so they could enjoy that while the soup was served.
Second Course Recap
The second course was lovely. Mostly, this course had to be plated the day of the feast. The chicken was precooked, frozen, and then had to thaw the day of the event. The egg and sage sauce was made the day of the feast in the home ec kitchen. It turned out fantastic despite a little set back of accidentally having the hard-boiled eggs freeze! (We lost a little produce, too, in that fiasco, but again – all part of the learning process!) The greens for the salad were washed, dried, and tossed with the dressing just before plating. We garnished the dish with edible flowers.
Along with the chicken and salad dish we did a semi-sweet addition of “baked mete”. The custards were made the day before a large ‘precook’ event we held at friend’s house. (I am forever grateful for the use of that kitchen!) The pears were par-boiled in honey and white wine so they would finish cooking in the custard. When we did our test feast, they didn’t cook all the way through when placed in the custards directly raw. While this was pretty labour intensive, it was well worthwhile because this dish was a big hit. It was garnished with candied violets and candied lemon peel. I’d like to note that because of the kitchen facilities, we did opt to use foil pans on some items. This helped mostly because, as mentioned above the majority of menu had to be cooked off-site and moved. It’s not the perfect aesthetic – but with the site limitations, I didn’t want to risk breaking glass.
In addition to these three items, the head table received a pork, cheese, and pine nut tart. This dish was one of those recipes that you read and think, “Hmm, I’m not sure how that will taste together?” But was oh, so amazing in flavor: gooey cheese, porky-goodness, and nutty from the pine nuts. Sticking to the spring theme, this was decorated using extra crust cut in the shapes of song birds.
Third Course Recap
The third course was meant to be the “main event” of the feast. We originally planned to do a lamb (Kede) roast with two sauces, the makerouns, and a dish of fresh peas. Just a few days prior to the event, I realized I was going to be well under budget. I have a thing about wanting to be sure that we were giving those who ate feast what they paid for — so, at the very last moment we added pork roasts as a bonus dish. The pork was trimmed and pounded flat, then rolled with herbs and fennel inside. It was cooked in roasters with broth to keep it from drying out. The serving platters were garnished hardboiled quail eggs with a simple vinaigrette dressed cabbage slaw. Two sauces were served on the side (incase people didn’t care for them). One was a black pepper sauce (Piper) which we did make on the stove top the day of the event. This is somewhat spicy and hot because of the amount of black pepper. We also made a ‘green’ sauce that was made of mostly parsley and other herbs.
Along with the roast lamb and pork, the head table received a dish of roast rabbit. Just enough to taste for the ten people who were in attendance. Again, playing on the spring theme, I felt an extra dish to the head table of a very ‘spring-themed’ meat would be a nice addition. This was braised simply with a cider and ginger sauce, very similar to the period inspiration source. It’s always fun to serve a bonus dish to the head table and show off the largess of the Crown — and, for them to received something different and possibly maybe something they’ve never tried.
The other items served with this were steams peas, garnished with some tiny new carrots that still had a little of their greenery on the ends — unfortunately, there’s no photo (If you attended and have a photo, please let me know!). We also made makerouns which is a baked cheese and noodle dish. Again, these were done in foil pans. Most of this was easily assembled onsite and then baked up in the home ec room so that the cheese would melt and we’d get a little browning on the top. I think were we to do something like this dish again, I’d bake larger portions then serve them into actual serving dishes. And I learned that you can never go wrong serving a dish of cheesy noodles at a feast — there’s rarely leftovers coming back to the kitchen!
Fourth Course Recap
The best for last, right!? One of the very first things I decided when planning this feast was the dessert! I knew that I wanted strawberries! Not only are they perfectly in season at the end of May, were incorporated in original inspiration feast, and they had the potential to tie in with the theme of Crown Tournament should someone win and become a Duke! (As it turns out, that didn’t happen — we had Heirs who had never won before, which is just as much fun!) To tie in with the fresh berries I wanted to have something simple to serve. Soft bag cheeses have always been one of my ‘go to’ things to make for vigils and feasts — so why not make them for dessert. Not to mention, it’s completely a period idea to end the meal with cheese. So, our final course included a “Trinity” (on theme!) of cheeses that were flavored three ways — one plain (using lemon as curdling agent), one with thyme (herbed), and one that was slightly sweetened and included chunks of candied ginger. The cheese and strawberries were served with some pizzelle cookies that were scented with almond extract to give them a bit more flavor and aroma. This seemed to be a perfect ending to the big feast and was, for the most part, relatively easy to plate with our sparse space restrictions. The cookies and the cheese were made in the few days before the feast and plated on site with the berries. The sweetened cheese was a huge hit in this dish for sure.
Overall, this was a great experience. I had a great time menu planning and learning. I felt very inspired trying to figure out how to up my game garnishing dishes. Of course there are a few things I’d do differently, but overall I was quite happy with the event and very, very grateful for the help. I do look forward to cooking a large feast again…in fact, I’m already planning one.
One side note to add to all of the planning and preparation for this event. I felt I should mention it here at the end so it didn’t disrupt the narrative. During our planning, Renaude was asked to cook the Coronation feast for Their incoming Majesties which was to be held only three weeks prior to the Crown feast. OHMYGOODNESS. And he said to me…so….can you help me with that?! Well of course I did, happily. He realized that we had a rather unique opportunity, in that, we had two feasts that were only three weeks apart from each other and would have very similar audiences, as the events were held only about 30 miles apart. In thinking about his menu — and knowing about the research and study for my feast — he devised a plan to have a two-part feast “event” where if you attended one, you could then attend the second as sort of a period food learning experience. Both feasts drew from the same period sources with the intention of offering two different dining experiences. His theme was the opposite of mine and focused on “endings” since we would have a Crown stepping down. This feast held all the delights of a rich winter meal with savory flavors associated with the foods available at the closing of the season. It featured pickled and roast meats with robust sauces, and focused on preserved and dried items, as well as robust flavor profiles. It was a well attended and regarded event. And, we were all happy at the end of the long day. So, as it turned out, prior to my own feast — I did get to help out in one of his kitchens! Little did we know that we’d be doing it only three weeks apart from each other.