A German Feast for 12th Night

I offered to create the 12th Night menu, and coordinate feast, nearly a year prior to the event date. I had been dreaming of doing a period German Feast since I had started the SCA more than 15 years ago — and the desire was tickled even more so after completing some research started for Mistress Genoveva’s vigil foods (see those here). The idea was discussed at Val Day in 2016 with one of my mentor chefs, TH Lord Renaud, where he  threw down the gauntlet to say that no one had recently done a period German feast “well” (in his opinion) in quite some time. Just the words to spur me on…I’d say. I love a challenge. And this feast…well…it had some serious challenges! These included a massive amount of issues with the site, a number of serious allergies at the head table, and a GIANT language barrier — but, it all worked out in the end.

To begin menu planning, I took my lessons from the Crown Tournament Feast experiences and again started with a specific theme. That theme would focus on Christmas/12th Night and German foods from the 16th century. Many of the foods, spices, and flavors that we are familiar with during the holidays historically come from period German dishes —which make 12th Night and a German-themed feast a great fit. Seemed simple enough. There are only a handful of period sources (about 8 or so) translated into English, and, as mentioned, I do not speak German. I had to rely on most of the texts which were already translated and had several offers (outside the SCA) to help with translation if needed. I started researching not only German foods — but the types of things that might have been served for holidays or special dinners during the time period in which I was looking . I also focused solely on two books to keep things somewhat congruous in time period.

The majority of this feast is a culmination of two original sources the first of which is Das Kuchbuch der Sabina Welserin, written in 1553. The Welser family were among the many “merchant” nobility of Augsburg. There are two instances of women by the name of “Sabina” during this time period — making it unclear as to which we can credit as author. The source reads more like a notebook of recipes rather than in any sort of organized format — desserts are randomly mixed in with main dishes and side dishes and so on. This was most likely a personal collection for “Sabina” who was perhaps a new bride cooking for her new home and life. It contains recipes for family favorites, several special items for holidays and feasts, as well as some of her own notes or opinions on the dishes. I like this book for its simplicity and genuineness.  (Das Kuchbuch der Sabina Welserin as translated by David D. Friedman, can be found here.)

The other main source for this feast is Marx Rumpolt’s Ein Neu Kochbüch of 1581, which has long been a favorite of Society cooks. Rumpolt was the head cook for the Elector of Mainz, Daniel Brendel von Homburg (who was, basically, the Pope in the Alps.) Like all published cookbooks for this time period, Rumpolt’s book was intended for use in only aristocratic kitchens as a teaching tool. It has been vastly studied and reissued more than seven times because of it’s usefulness, and was one of the first textbooks printed for training professional chefs — and, not surprisingly, reads much more like scholarly text than a cookbook. The book contains more than 2,000 recipes, several sample menus, notes on kitchen management, and some beautiful woodcut illustrations. Photographs are available to review in its original (1581) format and the text been translated into English multiple times. (Ein Neu Kochbüch as translated by Sharon Palmer, can be found by clicking here.)

And then, there’s the fun part of redacting the period recipe and making it work successfully — and then doing it again for X70+ people! Always my first task is experimenting with the recipe at home on my own. My dear  husband actually does appreciate being the guinea pig for many dishes — or, at least he acts like it REALLY well (We’re still technically newlyweds!) The next step for me, which I learned more even prior to my SCA experience, is to hold a “test feast” in which ALL the dishes are cooked, plated, and served in the portions expected for the actual feast. You need to be sure to invite a group of friends who have committed to giving you honest feedback. If everyone sits there and tells you ‘it’s all great’ that’s not terribly helpful.

The period gingerbread Nine Man Morris board which was axed from the feast. The game pieces were made from marzipan (for the white) and a ground nut and date mixture (for the brown).

The test feast mostly resulted in rave reviews — with a couple of things to work out, and a dish to cut. Fortunately, the dish was a period gingerbread (pictured) which would take a vast amount of honey and A LOT of advance work and sculpting. It was meant to be a subtlety centerpiece for each table and fit in with the event’s theme of period gaming. Though upon review, it was felt that the dessert course was filled  without it. I really have to hand it to my good friends Ilse and Uillec for their help in the kitchen the day of and the days prior to the test feast. Can’t do this without you guys!

And so after months of research, hours of redaction…much trial…and error…and then revision here’s the menu that was presented for 12th Night in Pentamere as hosted by our Barony of Cynnabar. (I have linked many of the recipes to the menu here. I hope to get to the rest soon!)

A German Feast for 12th Night

– First Course –

Brote und butter – Bread and butter
WurstA pork and veal sausage with herbs (Welserin)
Harte Eyer – Seasoned hard-boiled eggs (Rumpolt)
Cucummern Rettich Salat – Pickled cucumber and radish salad (Rumpolt)
Mostrich – Whole grain mustard with honey (Welserin & Rumpolt)

– Second Course –

Gruen Feldt SalatA green field salad with pomegranate seeds (Rumpolt)
Hünre und Lahs in Teyge – Pastries with salmon and chicken flavored with sage and anise (Ein Büch von Güter Speise)
Morach MachenA baked mushroom pastry with green herbs (Rheinfränkisches Kochbuch)
Bonen Frieusieren mit SpeckSautéed beans with bacon (Rumpolt)
Rindfleisch Knödel mit KirschenMeatballs made of beef, pork, raisins and spinach served in a cherry sauce (Rumpolt)

– Third Course –

Gút LembrattenSaurbraten style beef roast marinated in wine and Christmas spices (Welserin & Rumpolt)
served with spicy piper sauce or sweet ginger sauce (both on the side) (Rheinfränkisches Kochbuch)
Ain epffelbolster – Apple Pillows as a garnish – thinly sliced apple deep fried and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar (Welserin)
Gesotten Zwibelsalat – Sautéed sweet onions with currants (Rumpolt)
Rote RubenA cold relish of roasted beets pickled with horseradish and other spices (Rumpolt)
Knoedel – Dumplings browned in butter (Rumpolt)
Rot HäuptkrautBraised red cabbage with apples (Rumpolt)

– Fourth Course –

Lebkuchen – A traditional German spice cookie (Welserin)
Marzipan garnish  – A shaped candy made of almond paste (Welserin)
Torten von EpffelAn apple and raisin tart spiced with cinnamon and sugar (Welserin)
Sugared nutsSugared and spiced almonds (Rumpolt)

Recapping Each Course

This section recaps each course and includes the good things…and the challenges…as they presented themselves throughout the day. It’s meant primarily as a journal for myself — but I wouldn’t put it here if it wasn’t meant to read. And…it’s also where all the photos are…so, at least skim through those!

First course
Thinly sliced cucumbers, radishes, and onions were pickled vinegar, honey and spices to make this refreshing salad. It was the favorite dish of my test feast participants.

The first course was designed to be relatively simple to eat and I wanted it to mostly be finger food or quick bites as people came into the hall to settle. It was also meant to be easy cook as well as quick to present — so that we could move onto all the work that needed to be done for the next two courses. I made the mustard about 10 days prior to the event so that the essential oils in the seed would mellow slightly (otherwise, it’s rather hot!) The sausages were purchased at a local German butcher and were parboiled then frozen so they could be browned up and served the day of the event. I used weisswurst since they are probably the tastiest sausages they make – though are slightly out of period (17th century.) They were actually more economical to purchase than to make, believe it or not. I did locate a period recipe for wurst, though in my final documentation. The bread was all baked by two lovely friends who had wanted to help with the feast but couldn’t attend the event. And, as I have mentioned before — I am NOT a bread baker. Like all the recipes, the bread was tested in advance of the feast to create the perfect size, texture, shape, and decorative cutting. They did a great job. (Thank you to the Ladies Aeffe and Godaeth!)

Eggs and wurst as presented for our head table. Garnished with parsley and blackberries.
Second Course

The second course contained a lot of delicate items that needed to be shaped or formed and then baked the day of the feast. We mixed up the meatball mixture about a week before the event — rolling and forming all of the meatballs and flash froze them. I also did several tests with both pastries to see at what stage they would best be preserved if done in advance. In the end, we made the filling and folded them up, and again flash froze them on baking sheets to be baked off later. I thought this would be way too much work the day of the event and I was GLAD we did it beforehand. Unfortunately during baking for service, we ended up burning an entire sheet tray of pastries. We quickly cut the portions in half to compensate, and with so many other dishes going out I hope it wasn’t noticed. I will say that the happy part of cutting them was that you could see inside if you were unsure about the filling.

The very popular peppery meatball contained raisins and spinach — and was made from both beef and pork to keep it tender. It was plated with kirschen – a reduction sauce of cherries and wine.

I made the cherry sauce the day before but reheated and added more fruit to it the day of the event. It wasn’t quite thick enough without the additional fruit. We cleaned and dressed the greens onsite. The bean dish was a…pleasant accident…I will finally admit because I’ve already had 5 requests for the recipe! The period recipe probably used fava beans — which can be somewhat bitter in taste — so I wanted a substitute. I used canned butter beans in the test feast, but they became too mushy when cooked. I opted for dried beans for the main feast. But, I forgot to soak them overnight and ended up soaking them the day of — and they turned somewhat to mush. I really didn’t think people would react so well to beans so I didn’t factor in a huge portion for each table —  but I should know better because bacon was involved. Bacon always wins the day. After they soaked, we fried the beans on the flat top griddle with bacon grease and they started to mush together liked the canned version had in the test feast. When we mixed in the bacon — they became even mushier and almost like a mashed potatoes. I thought it was a fail…but the feasting populace certainly said otherwise!

Two pastries in philo dough shaped differently to identify their contents. Triangles were mushroom and the squares were chicken/salmon mixture. They were plated along with the dressed salad.
Beans with bacon. This didn’t turn out as I had expected — but I was pleased to know that people were asking for MORE and also asking for the recipe. Because, well….bacon.
Third course

The third course was the main meat course! The roast turned out lovely, full of flavor and so tender. It was marinated with spices, wine, and vinegar for four days in food safe buckets with lids in my garage.

The beef in its wine and spice bath soak!

We kept a diligent watch on the temperature in the garage and fortunately had mostly 15° days — though we were prepared with a backup plan! We had A LOT of issues all day with the power onsite, so I started the beef in roasters a little earlier so that I would be assured it was done. After it was sliced, we put it back into the roasters with some beef stock to it could coast until service. The cabbage was chopped and braised at the event. Fortunately, we had the use steam tables to keep this warm so we could keep cooking on the stovetop. Both the piper and ginger sauces were made onsite by my helpful chef extraordinaire and friend, Renaud — and they turned out even better than at the test feast. The the two side dishes served with the meat were meant to compliment the sauces. I wanted one savory (the beets) and one sweet (the onions). The onion dish was one of the first recipes I found in Welserin’s book where upon reading I thought “I MUST make this dish!” And it didn’t let me down. The onions are so sweet and when combined with the currants they make a tasty bite with a small piece of meat and, really, either variety of sauce! The beets were also a good find. A simple relish of beets and slivered horseradish root pickled in wine for a few days.

Our noodles (spätzle) cooling and drying before freezing.

The noodles (or spätzle) were made the weekend before the event on New Year’s Day, and it took…all…day. I was trying to figure a way to do it in advance and again had to make multiple test batches to see how it could be made and reserved to cook later. (Thank you to my family who perhaps were not so sure why we were eating spätzle with Christmas dinner!) In the end, we made the dough, boiled it, spread it on cookie sheets to flash freeze, and then broke it all apart and bagged it up. It was slightly defrosted and just thrown on the flattop griddle to brown in butter the day of the feast. I noticed that it didn’t have as much of the nutmeg flavor to it any longer, but I don’t think that was missed — they still had good texture.

The main course! The wine soaked beef roast in the center garnished with apple pillows (fried apples with cinnamon sugar) and dried citrus. On the side are two salads – the pickled beets with horseradish and the sauteed onions with currents. They made a savory and sweet compliment to the meat.
Our red cabbage with apple. Sweet with a touch of vinegar bite. This is was garnished with a simple green cabbage on top and a hard boiled quail egg.
Fourth course

I don’t like huge dessert courses. I mean…I’m a FAN of dessert and my sweet tooth goes like crazy after a big meal like this…but something simple is sometimes the best thing. The cookies were a tested recipe from the German vigil spread that I did in April. Those were all baked in advance of the event to save some time. I also purchased the marzipan because, Lord that would be a feat indeed to make, create, and decorate when there are so many great things out there on the market. The ones I found were from World Market and were imported from Germany, so they were rather pretty. I had really wanted to make the sugared nuts onsite because it would fill the place with wonderful aromas — but we had a severe nut allergy at headtable, so we did those the day before the event at home to be safe. The tarts were all made onsite because I had been concerned about transporting them. They turned out well though — lesson learned, they took a lot longer than I anticipated.

An egg custard – without crust – made just for head table. Totally made on the fly without testing recipe first. I was brave…and it was good!

I also made a custard that was served just to the headtable (since there was no one with a dairy allergy, actually!) It was done without a crust since there were two Royals who could not have gluten. It was spiced with anise and nutmeg and turned out well.

Apple and raisin tart garnished with cinnamon-sugar cut out stars and candied lemon and orange peel.
Lebkuchen cookies with marzipan as a garnish.

Final Notes

Overall I think the feast went very, very well. Most of the things that I might do differently only involved some technique and timing — and that can easily be worked on with more experience. As our good event steward said in her thank you to me… “I know that you have spent not hours but days in the kitchen preparing for a moment that for everyone else was 2 hours long.” So very true. It’s amazing the time and energy that goes into a feast — but I really think we do this for a love of the research more than anything else. I can not thank my devoted staff enough for all the prep work, dishwashing, serving, advice, and help throughout the past two months. It was ALL worthwhile.

It’s my hope to publish ALL of my recipes and research in a Google drive. Please check back to this page for a link to that when it’s completed.

One Comment

  1. This was a nicely detailed write up your research and the actual work that goes into a feast of this size and scope. Well done! It’s excellent that you’ve linked so many recipes. You may want to consider a special section on your web site just for recipes, categorized appropriately, so others can find them to use in the future, too. I think that would be very helpful to future cooks wishing to make historical dishes. As a server for this feast, I was impressed that you asked the servers to introduce each dish to the feast-goers by their German names. I also really liked your menu handout with some of the research you did on it, to help educate the feast-goers. It would be great if you could link that here as well!

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