Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Pies for your Eyes

 There is a certain evolution to pies, this I am sure of and part of this is how they appear. It does seem likely that they became a touch more complex with time, something hard to miss when reading texts from the 15th century through till the late 17th century, and these don't even seem to touch on some of the beautifully moulded pies to come.

 For my purposes, I really wanted to look at some really good quality paintings of English renaissance pies, namely those of the late 16th century, what I did find is an over abundance of mostly Dutch paintings throughout the 17th century. For my purpose, these will do just fine given many appear as some of the recipes I read... some are even recognisable in design from mainly 17th century instruction! Though, none of these are wildly shaped or layered and are all closed, it makes for a nice reference.

 Here are a few, I tried to credit the painter as best I could but do realize these get miss-labelled time to time

The first collage of pie should mainly be of Pieter Claesz

I do love that he shows the use of different birds and often a spoon... probably to scoop out the filling in this case...

The next batch should mostly be by William Claesz

These I especially enjoy because it they often show a plated wedge... ever wondered how to serve a pie such as these?

Now for a mish-mash of pie paintings...

The one with the butter is by Floris Gerritsz van Schooten, this time I actually found the butter more interesting because it shows an evolution of serving a large butter shape on the delft plate to serving butter shavings on the same type of plate further cementing the use of butter at the table in the 16th century as well as later.
The other two might be by Heda Gerrit Willemsz, I am pretty sure the middle one is.

Now for some really fun pies!

The first two pies with the pastry in the effect of a crown on top are by Frans Ykens, are they not lovely?
The flat pies are by Jan van Kessel and Clara Peeters (left to right), unlike the pies to either side, these have no sides and the decoration is imprinted into the pastry (the second one might be possibly stamped through). When I read a description for a floritine, I believe, as being shaped as a sun... I imagined something like this.
And... the last two pies with very similar applied decoration like the first two, are by Christian Luycks. I seem to recall reading a description about a handle on pie covers in the instructions, obviously it doesn't actually get used as one for the lid. It is, actually, my understanding that it serves more as a plug that would be put in place after adding liquid part way through the cooking process.

 Well.. there we are for another day... with much pie for the eyes and some ideas to draw upon

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Pie? Why yes please

 Had a recent conversation about food and SCA feasts, something I have far too little in my life these days, where we touched on how people's preferences and food sensitivities can change up an entire feast. Then my friend mentioned how she was thanked for not having any pie at her feast and that kind of put me off... you mean something like there being pie could bother someone? I have never thought of that and of course it was a fairly big staple of period feasts so of course people will make pie.

But then, this is not any ordinary feast, this is not about making concessions to modern diets though care can be taken to allow for enough choices. This is something that has befuddled me in the realm of SCA feasting, one does not have to plan a meal around every single dish being available to every single person, and when this happens it becomes increasingly difficult to keep it period in either menu or dish. Of course there are people who are either allergic to everything (okay, a lot of things) or they are very fussy, or sometimes both! This is why it is good to make room for non-paid (aka: off-board) seating.

This gives me another argument (even if I'm only trying to convince myself) towards a duel feast model. An even within an event as it were.
But I believe we would still have pie!

yes, Pie!

What we have to consider about many SCA events, is that pies are usually... and almost always to my experience, in store bought short paste in a disposable foil pan and intended to eat as a modern pie. Now this is not to say that a period pie was always intended to eat differently, but it could depending on the type of pie. The crusts are usually edible from all the study I made on the subject but they serve more purpose than providing a sort of flat edible dumpling on the bottom... they provide a visual aspect, they act as a casserole dish and they can be at the ready when prepared somewhat ahead (but still fresh/day old-ish) to be dished out while other food is still being prepared in the kitchen. The pastry itself serves this function but it can also be eaten and cut like a typical pie and some are even short pastes in plates or in tougher pastes meant to be held or broken while some can be opened up top and dug into (useful for those larger cuts and/or with the bone still in).... and some were not even baked in a paste but a pot to mimic it's usefulness.

Nope I could not forgo pies, part of why we provide medieval enriched things is for the educational experience... what goes in them would, however, depend on what menu and for what feast

Friday, June 1, 2012

Two dinners, one venue-ish

We have been in the throws of possibly needing to move in a years time, actually that is pretty much set but we do not know yet where... this could open up a multitude of possibilities or limit them drastically. Needless to say, various food projects have been put on hold a bit but have still been pondering on this one.

Given a good opportunity for a decent hall or building and a group of people with an interest in such geekery...

I have also decided to challenge the idea that this (a meal with basis in authenticity) would, or could, only work within a small group for that purpose. This is often where I use my SCA persona's home town example to make an unusual circumstance seem at least more plausible in the very unusual SCA groupings of people from many different time periods and places being in each others company... but it is only one option on dealing with this.

My persona option is where the event is taking place in a very busy port city, people come here via routes from both land and sea so it would not be unusual to see somewhat different looking people. It doesn't take care of all the awkwardness, but it does ease it away somewhat. This is where I can quite happily make a smaller venue or more informal venue with a middling class kick.

The other option would be to make it an occasion with disguises. This would likely be something aiming a bit high though and rather fantastical. With my limited resources, this might take rather long to pull off properly and it would be too easy to have it end up looking rather cheap on an authenticity scale if I rushed it.

That does remind me of the holding of a fair... not to be confused with "ren fair" but from the example of the Dutch Kermesse. This would be ideal for the indoor/outdoor event. Such an event could involve anything from (and on taking from period examples as portrayed in art of the time) plays (think of your mummers), merchants, parading, archery contests, street food (and drink), games... this was an event in itself. People from the nearby cities would go to these when held in small villages and it was an almost a one of a kind experience where different classes would mingle.

The Kermesse (festival), was an event I have been toying with for several years and we have made a go of the festival type event already, though with a far more relaxed approach in the guise of a camping event. I do certainly think there is room for more in the SCA and it would be an interesting, and hopefully fun, exercise to attempt to re-create/invent one as a fun learning experience where we can have events within an event, just like the period model.

For a period feast, I have two options available... Something very informal with offerings of street foot, or something more formal with dinner guests in a small hall... of course, both of these can happen at the same event and could happen at the same feast. It can also fit into an SCA format, popular in some kingdoms/groups, which is the dayboard and feast model. In this case it would be the street-fare and supper invite model (same thing, different names). With a large event however, the sit down meal would likely be easier held as an event within an event but not part of the main venue. The easiest way to determine which rout to go and plan further on, would be to take early reservations and continue planning from there. I like this idea as it is less likely to leave people out and a bit less likely to plan for too many.

This may not have been about table settings or food options, but one's venue and audience is a necessary first step in the planning process...
and that concludes my rambling for the day for this project...

Saturday, February 11, 2012

more inspiration

Yet some more inspiration

A closer detail of a previously posted image with a better look at the lovely pressed tablecloth with the double headed eagle patterned fabric. While I am quite fond of this, I don't know that I'll have anything as sumptuous.

I have also noticed many pictures with lovely large roasts, getting the roasts would be much less of a problem than finding enough good, and willing, carvers...
Lovely silver in this picture, as well as the handsome salt cellars

Friday, February 10, 2012


Part of this project requires a certain amount of practice

I have been practicing pastry and jelly though have only attempted one soused brawn, of course, I don't know that I shall being having a winter meal or not. Season would be of great importance. Regardless, practice does not go to waste, so am considering picking up a few more pig heads in order to practice de-boning them without mangling the face. Should I end up doing a winter feast, I would very much love to display a beautiful boar's head that didn't take me all day just to get it off the bones.

This, I find, is one of those great difficult things with learning to prepare food somewhat differently than most of us do now. This being the fact that we are somewhat unprepared and can not always reproduce things easily on a larger scale. The other issue is finding enough people to staff a kitchen who can work on their own. Being pretty much separated from the opportunity to practice and learn with other cooks that may be able to, or wish to, work with me on such a project, creates challenges from the beginning! This prematurely takes me from head cook to acting as master cook, only I am left to try and master my art on my own and separated from much of the SCA community.

So practice I must, and even more so. Of course, the reward is knowledge and that's far more than just being able to pull off this project. I even considered writing about it all but in a not so modern, or SCA, typical style but also re-creating a contemporary time piece

seeing if I can find a snapshot I took of a cover I dreamed up (about a year old, I think, so may tweak it further, dunno)

obviously I could not fit the whole cover in when I took the snapshot

it sounds a bit grand and pompous, but it was just how things were written, it would be wrong to inject modesty I think in this case...

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Making some decisions

Been trying to make decisions on setting for this feast...
Thus far have only really settled on making it English and towards the later part of our period (the SCA notion of our period ending at 1600 that is, regardless of other interpretations), so that would narrow things to around the 1590s. This will create some challenges in research as I wish to be careful to avoid any trends, or fashions, that may have been put aside by this time. Of course there is also the limitations on available material, at least to me at this time, so may have to do a little educated guesswork.

Other things I am at least semi settled on are the meal times and resources of the household. This will also prove as a logistical nightmare as you will see... That is, I'm considering a dinner and this would require the assembly of an early meal. The question would then remain is if there will be a supper (the late night meal)? No doubt that would cause confusion since most people in the SCA are accustomed, in places where food is served midday, that the late night meal is the important meal and the earlier one being usually informal and often overlooked. Another additional problem is the ambiance that people in the SCA have grown accustomed to having, that is a dark room lit with candlelight rather than a naturally lit room where food, which also serves as a visual entertainment, can be well viewed.

A possible conclusion to the daytime feast issue:
Focus on having a hall worth viewing, or at least creating a hall worth viewing. A part of the reason we choose to darken our halls is to create an ambiance due to the fact most of our surroundings are quite modern and candlelight is an easy/logical solution.
There is still the issue with tradition however, and SCA tradition and expectations can trump historic practice. I really think this part will require much work. The only easy solution I can figure is dining al-fresco, though that poses it's own problems such as weather. A beautifully done up hall under natural lighting for at least the feast may be quite successful however, provided there are windows (ideal) though a dark hall would at least keep familiar surroundings for feast, even if not ideal.

I am also leaning towards this being a higher scale effort among a rising class household. Something I read lately, and indeed wish I read earlier, was about how some households would sustain themselves on fairly meager offerings so that they may spend more on their outward appearance... after all, the suit is thought to make the man. This, in itself, I find an amusing concept to consider while designing a feast.

Some things I still have yet to think about is the why. Feasts, grand dinners, stuff like that were made for special reason... this I shall stew on and consider a while. What appears to be most commonly written about were wedding feasts...

Logistics in setting up:
Along with the inspiring images, I've been reading up on dining... again... and will probably end up on settling for dining plates in pewter, maybe some pieces in silver... or will try an close approximation thereof. This will be the grandest expense, but I would only be able to fund how-ever many I plan on having for my own collection... this is problematic as it would depend on other help. Glass would be used for drinking, and this may prove easier to at least match somewhat in style, as well, I already have a small semi-suitable collection. I also hope, at this time to have enough spoons cast and white linen made up so that it can be pressed and used.
Back to plates/trenchers, I am actually only suggesting for only one area to have pewter/silver and for reasons of ease, am likely to chose a round model of a nice moderate size. Wooden fruit/dessert plates are also planned. For ease of having many people able to come, another area will be established, hopefully, but may set it up with squared/rectangular wood plates/trenchers and wooden spoons.
I seriously need to do more reading here, but I agree some compromise is, and will be, needed so am going to try my best to make equal offerings on both sides, only presentation will show much by way of difference.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

An old seed for my new project

Last year I did up a meal created for an Englishman, it was a fun exercise and has since encouraged me to do even better... but it was a great precursor to creating a more authentic styled meal

Sadly, all I can provide is pictures without taking the time to re-print it all, included are some pages from the intro as well as the recipes along with a few food pictures.
I'm basically looking at this simply as more inspiration by way of what I wish to do with this new project and what I would like to avoid.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Inspirational Images

These are snippet views of tables, or cloths, set up for dining, either partially or fully
The majority of the images range in the later half of the 16th century and most are Dutch, followed by English (there is also German and possibly Italian)

German meal on a table outside

a bit oop, English with sideboard in back

Dutch, plates/trenchers... pottery? probably wood and drinking glass

Possibly English or French, first half of the 16th century
square metal trenchers

Dutch, second half of 16th century, shows small, painted, wooden dessert plates. These are often associated with English tradition. Drinking glass,
Wooden spoons?

Dutch, squared wooden trenchers, lots of  drinking glass , also knives (16th century)

presuming these are pancakes in the middle. Round plates, possibly pewter? (Dutch, 16th century)

later 16th century, Dutch, cloth set outside with many round plates

Late 16th century Dutch, possibly pewter?

mid 16th? Flemish/Dutch, square wooden trenchers, drinking glass

late 16th, round metal (silver or pewter), knives

mid 16th, Dutch, squared metal trenchers, also knives and drinking glass (not shown here)

early 16th?, German, strange colours, probably not very useful as painter may have taken liberties
Candle on table (far right)

OOP, oyster dinner, round pewter? and knives

Poor Dutch family, sometime in 16th century, bowls... wood?

Wedding banquet, later half of 16th century, man carrying a large pastry to the left

later half of 16th century, these diners are separated from larger table which is set farthest from the kitchen. As these diners are closer to the kitchen they may be less important. Table set with platters and bread but not much for detail

Dutch, 16th century, wooden trenchers... wood or pottery platter

Late 16th, nice visual of pressed tablecloth. Many of the tablecloths can be seen pressed in a similar manner in and post period.

Late 16th, Dutch, not set for a meal but shows the table carpet covered partially in white linen so that some food may be presented on the table.

English? late 16th, set with small platters

Before Execution

It could take a lifetime trying to execute such a thing, though with enough people and resources, that time can be cut down significantly. However, there are likely to be some sacrifices made to authenticity. 

The very basics I'm looking at are:

  • Time Frame and Region: (I am presently favouring late 16th century England, this is to do with the fact that I have ignored English cooking, or only lightly dabbled with it, in the past so have been concentrating on it for the past 5 or so years) I haven't really narrowed it down very much yet
  • Reason and Meal type: People just didn't up and decide to have a really large feast for no occasion what-so-ever, nor was it very plausible that they were have an occasion to celebrate and feast with many on a mere couple meat cuts, some pudding and wine. This also includes time of day the meal is to be taken, if I'm doing English, will it be dinner or supper (it would unlikely be breakfast for this purpose). Also, what is the standing of the person in society who is hosting the meal?
  • Time of year: Before planning the menu, time of year is important not just for those who wish to use the study of the humours but also to determine what was available fresh or likely to be eaten from storage. 
  • Menu: Carefully planned from the information given above as well as what order it should be brought out. This would likely be planned out in 3 courses and not just because of preference but due to being more plausible. 
  • Dishes: These should be well practiced and understood within our limitations. Here some sacrifices are likely to be made via modern kitchens and limited resources. 
Some compromises I see happening in the face of limited resources would be things pertaining to service. Can we get tables properly fitted? Can we get people working in service trained on their roles, can enough even be found to participate? Will there be enough in regards to furnishings and can we separate diners appropriately without injuring modern senses... how do we educate, as this should be both pleasurable as well as an educational experience? 

Other areas of concern are how people may react to an event focused on a specific time and place in an organization such as the SCA? Obviously it is doable, and has been done, but how would we wish to deal with it and would we make any changes? 

Another item not to be forgotten would be entertainment, which can include the food itself as well as food like items and other play and if there would be any other activity attached to the feast. I guess that would depend on the reason for the feast in the first place. 


It seems over a decade ago, and it probably was, that I hit that moment of inspiration seeing what we were doing and knowing we could do better. That was when my local group at the time, was working hard on a feast with servants holding particular roles, hands being washed and almost unheard of pomp and ceremony. That was before it became nearly common to see "royalty" every year.

This had perked my curiosity about things such as service, manners, order of foods and how they were served. Of course, questions tend to lead to even more, such as timings, how food was served, different and somewhat opposing schools on the humours, dining arrangements and what people really did (as opposed to what they were told they should do).

All these things fill my mind whenever reading a new book or paper, perusing through a contemporary recollection or recipe book and often art as well.

Taking this to the next step was something I have been toying with for at least 4 years now, though obviously the idea was half there before that point. Of course I have not reached the next step due to not only the fact that I have been finding more and more information but that I have been practicing and learning in a more practical sense, often on stuff best not practiced for a regular event feast. For example, in the past few years I have made jellies from animal feet and other parts, I have soused a brawn that I did cut from a real pigs head, I have worked on standing pies both using moulds and without with varying degrees of success, I have made basic cheeses as well as almond cheese, made bread from period instruction and tried many dishes I would not normally choose to feed people in an SCA setting, such as pigs trotters. This is about year 3 for food heavy experimenting, however real life circumstances has kept me only semi active on the SCA front.

While waiting for an opportunity to throw on a feast to such a caliber as my imagination is allowing, I have noticed a fair bit of authenticity driven feasts happening throughout the SCA with the last one I noticed being a "perfectly period feast". I could not find a webpage but do know there are plenty to be found about it. This in itself is inspiring beyond no end as it is wonderful to know that other people and groups have successfully pulled something like this off and are continually upping the game.