A 14th century French Feast
My 1st challenge in preparing this feast; to find medieval French recipes. I can’t read French, much less Medieval French.
My 2nd challenge; to serve medieval food, appetizing to the modern palate.
My 3rd challenge; to produce it all at a primitive site with only a minimal kitchen.
3 medieval French manuscripts were available to me:
Menagier de Paris- (14th c.) a book of instructions from a husband to his new wife, on how to run a home. This book ends with a collection of recipes, some of which appear to be taken word for word from the Viandier of Taillevent.
Viandier de Taillevent- (late 14th c.)Many versions of this manuscript exist, but only one is attributed to a specific author. Chef Guillaume Tirel, cook for King Charles V, took most of the manuscript from earlier versions, added his own knowledge and attached his name to the work.
Chiquart’s Du fait de Cuisine- (1420)Master Chiquart, chief cook for the Duke of Savoy, dictated what Terence Scully calls “Europe’s first true cookbook” (Scully) to one of the Duke’s secretaries. It’s a collection of 81 recipes, culinary techniques, and instructions on preparing banquets for huge numbers of guests over the course of several days.
I was helped considerably by the book “Early French Cookery” by D. Eleanor Scully and Terence Scully. The Scullys not only translated recipes from all 3 manuscripts but they also tested many of them and produced a collection of dishes appealing to the modern palate. I also used translations of the 3 manuscripts I found on-line.
Elizabeth Cook’s Tranlation of the beginning of “Du fait de cuisine”.
James Prescott’s translation of the Viandier:
Janet Hinson’s Translation of the Menagier:
And finally when medieval sources weren’t quite enough I relied on “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” by Julia child, Lousette Bertolle, and Simone Beck.
I am a member of Chez Robear, a cooking household in the SCA. My household has pulled together a breathtaking functional kitchen on wheels. For this event we had available Lord Galen’s giant grill, 2 3-burner propane stoves, the site’s refrigerator, and freezer. We could roast and cook on the stove top, but we could not really bake. We also had some trouble keeping things hot after they were cooked. In the future I will work harder on that aspect. We probably could have figured it out with the equipment available. I think that serving food at the right temperature is half of what makes food taste good.
The Recipes- I left out the amounts for most of these. Honestly after getting a general idea of how I want a dish to taste, I wing it. Trust your own judgment. Keep tasting it and it will turn out delicious.
Poiree- a cider of pears
I thought a pear drink would be a nice change of pace from the usual lemonade and sekanjabin. I found a reference for it on pg. 36 of early French Cookery. Of course I couldn’t serve a fermented drink, but I bet the finished product, if left to sit would have fermented quite nicely.
Canned pears in juice, crushed
Celestial Seasonings Pear and white tea bags
Celestial Seasonings Apple Cinnamon Herbal Tea
A little salt
Combine all the ingredients together. Let sit for at least 4 hours. It can also be cooked down to a syrup and refrigerated for later. Just add more water and voila!
Saulce Lampree de Lomblos de Beuf (Du Fait de Cuisine)–
I chose this recipe because it most resembled the Beuf Bourguignon dish I grew up with. An excellent example of which can be found in Mastering the Art of French Cooking By Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle, and Simone Beck.
Incidentally the sauce does not contain lamprey eel but was in fact originally supposed to go ON lamprey eel.
Beef cut in to stew chunks
Sweet Red Wine
Chop the bacon fine Cook until crispy. Remove the bacon. Fry the beef in bacon fat. Remove. Fry the onions and garlic, remove. Finally cook the mushrooms. Place all the ingredients in a big pot. Deglaze the frying pan with a little wine. Add this to the pot. Add enough flour to the mixture to thoroughly coat the meat. Add enough wine and broth in equal parts to cover the mixture. Add 2 Tablespoons red wine vinegar for every lb of beef. Add bay leaves and a pinch of cinnamon. Cook this on simmer until the meat begins to fall apart. Add more wine if the sauce reduces too much. Add salt and pepper.
We served this over fresh bread.
Most of the bread was a buttermilk freeform loaf recipe I use for everyday bread. We also used a couple of loaves of store-bought bread. It helps if the bread is dense and cut thick.
Saumon Frez (Viandier)
There are a couple of references to roasted salmon in the Viandier. I thought it would be nice to add a sauce. Most of the fish sauces contained cinnamon, a flavor that did not inspire me, so instead I decided to cook beurre blanc, a wine and butter sauce. I did not find any specifically period sources for this sauce. To be honest I was running out of time and didn’t look very hard. There are two basic methods to cooking a period feast; using period recipes translated as accurately as possible, and using period ingredients without a recipe and using period cooking styles. I usually end up doing a combination of these in my feasts.
Salmon (4.oz steaks)
We actually poached the salmon rather than grilled it. I was worried about overcooking it on the grill because we had so much of it. As it turned out the Salmon was still quite dry. Next time I will seal it more thoroughly with tinfoil before cooking it.
White wine vinegar
This sauce is made by making a reduction of a small amount of wine, vinegar, onions and butter, then slowly adding more butter to it at a low temperature, stirring continuously, until it is a creamy slightly tart sauce. I panicked a bit on this. In the future I think I will stick to cooking this for fifty people or less. One hundred people made it too hard to get the consistency right and we had to serve it cold. It’s really best warm. For detailed instructions use the version in Mastering the Art of French Cooking. It’s as good a description as I’ve ever seen.
Orengue de Pouchins (Menagier)
This recipe originally called for poaching the chicken in the sauce. I chose to roast it, partially because the cooking equipment available would have made it hard to poach two dishes, but also because this dish just tastes better roasted.
White grape juice2 c. per chicken
White wine vinegar 4 Tablespoons per chicken
White wine 2 c. per chicken
Ginger 2 tsp per chicken
Whole Oranges Crushed. 3 per chicken
Whole lemons, crushed. 1 per chicken
1st I combined the ingredients, skins and all in a pot and brought it to a boil. Let it cool. Then carefully scoop out all of the fruit and half of the liquid. Let what is left simmer on the stove until it’s reduced by half.
Take the part you scooped out and submerge the chicken in it. Stuff the chicken with the orange and lemon skins. Marinate for at least 3 hours. Then roast according to the size of the chicken. We left the orange and lemon stuffing in and that seemed to work out well.
Serve the chicken with the sauce on it as well as on the side.
Salat de Herbes
This was pretty straight-forward. We mixed spring mix, fresh basil, sage, and time, baby spinach. The flowers were, sage flowers, lavender, violas, and rose petals. Be sure to use flowers from your garden that do not have pesticides.
The dressing was made from two large jars of marinated artichoke hearts. We chopped up the artichokes, combined it with white wine vinegar to taste. Then we mixed all together.
Petite Pois et Poireaux
This was also pretty straightforward. Frozen peas (they taste fresher than canned) boiled with green onions, mint, and salt. We also added a butter/wine reduction to this.
The original recipe is a nine day process involving soaking in water, changing it every day, and then boiling it in honey. The Scullys took it down to a one day process. Most modern recipes are even less complicated.
Use a vegetable peeler to remove the outer skin, being careful to avoid as much of the white layer as possible. Boil the peels in water for 10 min. Let them dry completely.
Put the peels in honey, bring them to a slow boil. When the temperature reaches 230 degrees remove and spread on parchment paper. Sprinkle with powdered ginger.
Confiture de Noiz
Again, another nine day process done in the period way.
I used about a tsp. of each spice per 3 lbs. of nuts. Boil the nuts in honey for 10 minutes. Spread out on parchment paper to dry.
Tarte aux Fraises
This is a modern recipe using a slightly sweet piecrust. I baked the shells in mini muffin pans.
The filling was made with fresh strawberries stewed in sugar, with a little cinnamon and lemon juice. The leftovers are going to great on ice-cream!