- Feast Documents
- Discussion of the Feast
- Napkin Soteltie & Folded Napkins
- The Queen's Dragon
- Bread, Butter, & Salt on Tables
- Primo Servitio di Credenza (First Service from the Sideboard)
- Primo Servitio di Cucina (First Service from the Kitchen)
- Secondo Servitio di Credenza (Second Service from the Sideboard)
- Secondo Servitio di Cucina (Second Service from the Kitchen)
- Terzo Servitio di Credenza (Third Service from the Sideboard)
- Quattro Servitio di Credenza (Fourth Service from the Sideboard)
- Attachment of actual feast working document (original recipes, feast ingredients, cooking instructions)
This year I was privileged to be able to cook the feast at Canterbury Faire, with the aid of an awesome team from Ildhafn and many, many kitchen hands and dishwashers, mostly from the Crescent Isles, with a smattering of people from over the ditch. I said it in person, but I'll say it again - thank you to all those that helped, I really appreciated what each and every one of you did as this feast would not have worked as well or gone as smoothly without your help.
For those interested in feast planning, the Ildhafn crew kept notes on how the service and plating would work, what was happening during the feast, and who was helping with what. This was a working document, so changed constantly as we all updated it with more information. It's not a complete reflection of what we did, as we also met at Canterbury Faire and on the day of the feast and made some final decisions about what was happening then.
The menu of what was served can be found here. This is fairly accurate as I updated it every time I tinkered with the menu - which happened a lot! Attached to this page is the document that I put together for kitchen use on the day. The document is of course tailored specifically to the Canterbury Faire feast. The feast was for 12 tables of eight people (96), plus whoever was sitting at high table. We weren't sure whether this would be eight or, at one point, 14, so I allowed two platings of everything for high table. We ended up with 12 at high table. This only deals with recipes that required preparation by the kitchen staff - so information like "drain olives" and "wash cherries" isn't included. Preparing this document was really worthwhile (if somewhat time consuming). It meant that I didn't have to take all the cook books/original recipes with me. The ingredients list correlated exactly to my shopping list, so I knew exactly what I'd allowed for each recipe (of course for last minute changes I had to remember, but this was a great starting point). My instructions for preparation were clearly written out ahead of time, when I had the brain space to think about it - rather than relying on managing it on the day. This made it really easy for me to settle someone to a task, and give them a copy of what it was they were doing.
Those that were confident went ahead and worked through the recipe, those that were less confident asked - but I knew what they were doing, because they had a copy of the instructions. This was actually really useful, as at the busiest time of the day I had over 10 people in the kitchen, all working on separate things, and all asking questions (which felt like it was simultaneously). I actually couldn't remember things like what it was we wanted grated ginger for, because I'd been thinking about peas for the soup and what the next step in the filling for the date & almond pies was. The other really useful thing was the forethought of making TWO copies of all the instructions - they got wet, and mucky, and mangled, and misplaced - but that second copy meant we kept functioning. Also having a copy of the menu on hand and ticking off items as they were completed worked really well.
By the time the feast started at 7pm, we had every single item on the menu ready to go, barring the tortellini which were ready but uncooked as they could only be done at the last minute. Have I mentioned how awesome all my kitchen helpers were? They all worked fantastically and without complaint, even when the next step was "this 4kg of dates, they need to be chopped lengthwise, because Messisbugo specifies that so it's important", and "I'm sorry, I think it's really important to have the pepper freshly ground, here's a mortar and pestle", or from time to time "actually, what we could really do with now is some dish washing". Funnily enough, all the chocolate and pomegranate cordial disappeared over the course of the afternoon....
I used quite a few sources in planning this feast. I'm enjoying the depth of research that I'm able to get into with a broad spectrum of authors available over the course of a century, as well as making use of secondary sources to expand my knowledge on feasting practices.
Of course, I've continued to rely a lot on Bartolomeo Scappi's Opera. I've been working with both Terence Scully's 2008 translation, and a facsimile of the original.
Recipe-wise, I also used Christoforo di Messisbugo's Banchetti composizioni di vivande e apparecchio generale - the facsimile is from 1610, however, the work was originally published not long after his death in 1548. Additionally I made use of Giovanne Rosselli's Epulario: qual tratta del modo di cucinare ogni carne, vccelli, pesci, & ultra qualita di viuande of 1596. As both are facsimiles of the originals, I translated all the recipes that I used myself. I'm gradually adding to my translations, and they can be found here.
I also made use of Giacomo Castelvetro's work, The Fruit, Herbs & Vegetables of Italy (originally published 1614, I used the English translation by Gillian Riley). As an Italian who travelled extensively throughout Europe in the late 16th century, when he was finally settled in England he wrote this volume, mostly deploring how badly everyone except the Italians cooks and eats their fruit, herbs and vegetables. More on that later....
I was initially inclined to base the service/course order on Scappi. However, having been reading Vittorio Lancelotti's Lo Scalco Prattico (published 1627, this is a book of menus that he served, cooked between about 1600-1620), I made use of this to enhance my concepts of Italian course structure & serving practice - and I also borrowed some "easy" food options, such as the sliced peaches in wine on snow.
For the candies, I used my own translations of Michel Nostradamus' 1555 volume, Excellent & moulte utile Opuseule à toute necessaire, qui desirent auoir cognoissance de plusieurs exquises Receptes, diuisé en deux parties, as well as information available on Stefan's Florilegium, most notably this article & this other article by Dame Alys Katherine, as well as this more general piece with multiple contributors. I also found Laura Mason's Sugar-Plums and Sherbet - The Prehistory of Sweets to be both useful and interesting background reading.
Finally, I had been doing some secondary source reading about feast structure and presentation, elements of which were incorporated into the feast. These were Ken Albala's The Banquet and Roy Strong's Feast, both of which contained multiple primary source references to actual feasts that provided a lot of inspiration about just what it's possible to do with service and presentation.
I'm only going to discuss things briefly here, but if you have questions or would like to talk to me more about the feast (or Italian cooking, or planning for a feast, or something else entirely), please feel free to email me.
Service-wise, Mistress Katherina Weyssin and Master William de Cameron were in charge. As I was reading about things that happened in real feasts, I kept telling them about these. A feast is not just about the food, is about the spectacle and it should be a very special occasion. In fact, the food was often the least important element of a feast. While incorporating the same level of pageant and spectacle that people in the 16th century went for, I was keen to try and incorporate some elements to really make the magic happen and bring the feast to life. Fortunately for me, Katherina and William were very willing to try and incorporate these ideas - in a realistic fashion.
While we opted not to go with having each course lowered through the ceiling on preset tables, then removed through the floor afterwards , when I mentioned that I'd read about a feast served by twenty dancing boys, I was absolutely thrilled to find out a couple of months later that they'd been practicing dancing with plates, and were planning on serving the high table that way for one course. I also discovered just how important and integral music was to a feast. It seems that it was a common practice to have each course "sounded in" with music - often trumpets, and then to have different music playing in the background throughout each course. Finding enough musicians to play throughout the duration of the feast in different arrangements seemed unlikely, and even managing to have someone play throughout the serving process is a bit much to ask. However, Katherina & William got in touch with Don Gregory Tourtouse de Slowellye - who happens to play the trumpet - and asked him very nicely to play to open the service for each course, which he did. Combined with the announcement of the herald of what the next course would be, I think that this would have added nicely to the ceremony.
Katherina and William were very flexible about the service of the feast. Initially, we had thought that the food would be served with each dish being taken out to all the tables in turn. We had also been thinking of using the credenza (side table) format, of serving the credenza courses to side tables set up in the hall, and allowing people to get up and take selections from there. However, as I've been doing more reading, I'm beginning to think it more likely that even the credenza courses were still served to table, as the naming of the course as a "credenza" course seems merely to indicate that it came from that kitchen rather than from the main kitchen. In a way it was a shame to lose this opportunity for mingling and activity as part of the feast, however, I think it was more accurate to do so. Also, I felt it was important that all the items for a course be served to table as quickly and closely together as possible. Given the limited number of servers, we obviously couldn't have allocated one or two servers to each table. So, the compromise was made that service would start with high table, and once they had received all their dishes, would proceed down the room bringing all dishes to each table in turn. This of course meant that those at the bottom of the hall had to wait longest and got the coolest food - but that plays in to the concept of seating and serving by rank (even though in this case everyone chose their own seats rather than being seated in order of precedence). I decided that the candies at the end of the fast could be served on less trays, and passed around by servers rather than served to each table. This was on the basis that some surviving feast menus record specific quantities of candies per table - but others just specify "in good quantity". So, at the moment I think that these may have been served somewhat more casually, as the grouping is non-specific.
Additionally, Katherina and William also ewered high table at the start of the feast, and at the end of the feast performed the ceremonial removal of the tablecloth, prior to the confits coming out. This latter is a really important part of an Italian feast, as it shows up on the majority of extant menus as a specific, listed item.
I wanted to include some sort of entertainment relevant to the subject of feasting. Initially I had been inclined towards a brief disputation at the start of the evening about whether one is better to abstain from drinking, or to drink (and the several options for how one could do so). However, this would have involved quite a lot more research on my part, as well as writing something appropriate, then finding a willing party or parties to perform the disputation.
I had a couple of other ideas, but then realised that I already had something highly pertinent and pre-written that would be perfect. As I was following Castelvetro's instructions on how to correctly make a salad, I thought it would be quite fitting at the start of the salad course to have his passage on salad making read out. A passionate man, it's a really interesting piece to read. Master Bartholomew Baskin was obliging enough to agree to read this for me, and I believe it went down quite well as an introduction to the salad course.
Additionally, the King had also requested Donna Silfren to sing two songs; also between courses some strange hopping men appeared in the hall to the delight of all. And finally one of my helpers was lifted bodily by four knights into the hall to be presented with an award for service (very well-deserved!).
In one of the secondary sources I was reading, I came across reference to period napkin folding. Sure enough, when I checked in Messisbugo, he does indeed make reference to napkins "starched & folded in all their usual shapes". The use of the term "usual" would indicate that this was a practice that was pretty common. Sadly, however, he doesn't enlighten us as to what these shapes are - so it's something for me to keep looking for as I continue reading. Were there butterflies, birds and animals - or soldiers and cannon - or something else entirely? A bit more digging revealed the earliest extant instruction manual on napkin folding, which is actually from 1639 - but barring better information is an excellent starting point. Excited by the concept, I immediately though of Alan from Darton, who makes lovely folded origami animals. I emailed him to find out if he would be interested in putting something together for the feast, and he took the idea and ran with it - producing a fantastic folded ship and tower, as well as many folded napkins in a variety of shapes for each person at the feast (with a number being folded by those attending his class on the subject). I was really glad that he was so keen to take the idea and run with it, and the end result was really superb. Hopefully there will be more napkin sculptures in the future!
About 4pm on the day of the feast, Master William de Cameron came into the kitchen to say that the visiting Queen of Caid had been taking part in the archery and was very pleased to have shot a dragon, and wouldn't it be lovely if they could have dragon at the feast that night? The archers had a small request of the kitchen....
Fortunately, we were in the throes of making meatballs at that point in time. Young Eric Bruni made a start on sculpting a dragon, but when he was called away I asked Lady Berna if she would be willing to have a go. She said she would, but she wasn't sure what the end result would be like. 15 minutes later, the most perfect meat paste dragon with orange peel spine was ready to go in the oven - and he held his shape beautifully when baked. At that point in time, Berna mentioned that she happened to be a potter. Who mostly sculpted dragons. But she hadn't wanted to say anything earlier because she'd never tried making one out of meat paste before so she wasn't sure if it would work. Well, it was really lovely - and I believe the Queen was very happy with it.
I think that the butter and salt made it onto the tables, but in the midst of preparing things the bread got ferried out in baskets at the very start of the feast. It's quite common in 16th century paintings to find bread placed on the table, and Messisbugo makes reference to the practice. It makes sense to accompany this with bread so that there is something there for people to nibble on if they're peckish while they wait. And providing the salt to table for people to add to their meal is a very longstanding practice - although this would often have been done in much fancier dishes than ours. I've since done a little bit of looking at period salt cellars, and will honestly try and get around to publishing the results some time soonish. I've also found a project for the beginner's pottery evening class I'm going to soon.
This first course is often a course made of lighter foods, often with that nibbly, finger-food type feel to it. A few people commented that after a full day of activity they would have liked the feast to have a more substantial start, however, I don't know that I could reasonably have done this and still provided the feel of meal flow that you would have experienced in a 16th century Italian feast. Obviously actual 16th century feasts contained more menu items in each course - typically 10-15 items - however, this required scaling for a modern feast to reflect what people could realistically be expected to eat , and what could be produced by a kitchen with limited staff (albeit with modern technology on our side). It would be possible to "stack" this course so that it had more in it than the following courses, but my concerns there would be that it would give the overall arc of the feast an unbalanced tone, and also mean that people filled up faster and were less interested in trying some of the dishes later in the feast that I'd worked harder to recreate.
In fact I deliberately packed this course with some of the easiest options available, that still accurately reflected the types of food that would have been seen in this portion of the menu. This was done so that we could head into the feast knowing that there was very little to be done in the kitchen for this course, and this entire course could effectively be ready to go. Prosciutto is a main stay of the first credenza course of just about any surviving Italian menu; cheese, nuts and fruit are also good candidates to show up at this point. The fruit I deliberately included as a reminder that the concept of distinguishing courses by whether they are wholly sweet or savoury is not one that exists in period, although I think perhaps I could have better done this by serving a sweet pie or somesuch as part of this course . It would have been nice to serve olives as part of this course, as this was also fairly common, however in the end I opted with only one serving of olives as part of the second credenza course - even though it would have been totally plausible to have them appearing twice.
I did make fried bread balls for this course, as it's normal for the first credenza course to include some sort of bread-based item (I often use biscotti, but felt like something different). These were pan fried in a fairly deep layer of beef fat, but because of the very thin frying pan they browned really quickly. This would have been fine, as they were to be served rolled in sugar. Unfortunately it turned out that the bag I'd handed to Anna was salt, not sugar, and they were rendered inedible. So, a quick removal from the platters and replacement with watermelon from the final credenza course took place. Incidentally, I'd tested this recipe by frying in beef fat (as the recipe calls for), as well as baking and dusting with sugar (a variant option in the recipe), and frying in butter to make them vegetarian-friendly. The butter-fried balls were actually the favourites, possibly because the butter had a little salt in it so added extra flavour to the balls, which are otherwise pretty bland.
The other dish I made for this course was the white dish (mangiar bianco). This is such an extremely common menu item in this section of the feast that it would be hard to serve an Italian feast without it. I studied all the extant recipes for it (translating as neccessary, my translations are online already), before finally settling on one of Rosselli's, on the basis that it had the least amount of sugar in it so was most likely to appeal to a modern palate. My testing ahead of the event showed that the sugar was just enough to add flavour to the dish, without overly sweetening it - but it would have taken very little additional sugar to make it too sweet for most people. On the day, I think that the dish could have done with more breadcrumbs to thicken it (I only used two of the three loaves of bread). However, the end result was very palateable and I was quite pleased with it.
The only item which I would have liked to include in this course but didn't, was a dish of meat paste shaped into some object or other. This is about as common at this point in the feast as the white dish, and for a while I struggled with the concept of not serving it. Admittedly I had meatballs down for later in the feast, and could have moved them, but they were serving as the main meat dish of the course they were in, and I especially wanted them to go with the rice and cheese dish. Unfortunately the budget didn't stretch to allow for a meat paste dish here as well, and I sacrificed it based on the inclusion of the white dish as another very common element, and the presence of meat balls later in the feast.
I was very happy with how this course went.
Early in the afternoon, I'd set Gordon of Darton to preparing the lamb, which he did far more competently than I had previously. Since he seemed happy in what he was doing and more than capable of doing it, I left him to it on the basis that it's best not to interrupt someone doing good work and he'd ask for help when needed (actually, he just checked in at each stage that stuff looked like what I expected). I used beef fat instead of pork fat in the stuffing as we had someone at the feast who wouldn't eat pork, and this was an easy enough substitution.
The tortellini would technically have been served "over" or "around" the lamb (depending on who's menu you were reading), as this was a common way of serving such things over any meat dish. However, given the presence of vegetarians at the feast we decided to serve the tortellini on the same tray as the lamb, but in their own bowl to segregate them from any meat juices.
The eggplants unfortunately decided they were less keen on staying in slice formation, which mostly made them a bit tricky to serve, but they fried up nice and crispily so should have tasted good. I used rice flour on these as Scappi just calls for "flour" without specifying the variety, and this made them neatly gluten free.
The pea soup was the one of only two recipes I hadn't tried ahead of time (the other was the eggs), but since it really was very straightforward I was quite happy to just go ahead with it on the day. What actually happened is that I spent half the day walking around the kitchen muttering about getting the pea soup on, while being distracted constantly by fantastic helpers asking what I wanted them to do next. But it eventually got cooked. I had initially only allowed 2kg of peas for this, but upped the measure to 4kg since I wasn't working with dried peas. One of the things that attracted me to this recipe (apart from it actually being completely vegan with no adaptation) was the fact that it specified that the peas should be "fresh". Most recipes rely on dried legumes, and I had read a comment somewhere about the use of fresh modern peas in cooking being a relatively late thing. For this feast I just used our modern frozen peas, but I would be interested at some point to look further into exactly what type of pea plant they would have been growing, and therefore whether the peas really would be like our ones - or at least, close enough to.
At this point I should probably briefly mention the feast structure. Previously, I've worked with Scappi's typical format. That is, credenza courses in equal quantities sandwiching however many kitchen courses you like, finished off with the raising of the tablecloth and serving of the candies. So, you could have credenza-cucina-cucina-credenza, or equally credenza-credenza-cucina-cucina-cucina-credenza-credenza - but the structure is always balanced. What I moved to for this feast is the structure of Lancelotti, who was active from about 1600. His structure is typically credenza courses alternating with kitchen courses, always commencing and finishing with a credenza course. It's interesting to note also that the final serving of candies is often done under the label of "final credenza course", outside of the rest of the feast structure. Firstly, I think that he is probably showing the full evolution of the Italian feast style. Secondly, this format appealed to me as a way of easing up the pressure on the kitchen staff and platers as technically it could have all been plated ahead of time (except we didn't have enough service equipment to do this). Thirdly, it seemed like a nice way to provide some lighter food in between the somewhat heavier kitchen courses. And finally, I thought that having a credenza course consisting of salads (which was quite common, albeit with more items along the lines of ox tongue salad) would be a nice thing to do for a feast in the middle of summer.
The salad of cucumbers and onions was a nice palate-cleansing option for this course. We ended up using Telegraph cucumbers, because this is what the produce shop sent. From Castelvetro's description, I think that the cucumbers they would have used would at the least have been like the shorter Lebanese cucumbers, but in fact are more likely to have been like the very small "gourmet" or "snack" cucumbers that you can buy at great expense from the supermarket.
The lettuce salad I wanted to serve because it was a good summer option, and Castelvetro's rant intrigued me. Having tested it already, I had come to the conclusion that preparing it the way he does actually does make a difference to palateability, because I'll actually eat it (I don't normally eat salad).
At one point I had a green bean salad in this course, but I wasn't quite convinced about whether modern runner beans were a reasonable choice so shifted the olives from the first credenza course to here instead, as this was also an appropriate place for them to show up.
The eggs with garlic sauce was the other dish that I didn't try ahead of the feast. I was reasonably confident that it would come out okay though. Initially I had allowed a whole egg per person, but reflected on the amount of food I was expecting people to eat and allowed half an egg per person instead. This made it moderately trickier to serve as egg yolks are wont to try and separate themselves from the whites in such cases, but it meant that the portions were far more reasonable. I also used rice flour on the eggs to make them gluten free. The flour was somewhat unkeen to stick to the eggs: possibly a coating of oil first or something would help, possibly it was the rice flour and I shall try them again with wheat flour just to check. I think mostly, eggs are slippery but not necessarily sticky when cooked. This meant that the end result when fried was a little patchy. I thought the garlic sauce would also go down well as this particular one was made with cooked rather than raw garlic, so would probably appeal to more taste buds. In fact it really was quite tasty, and several people asked if they could please have the leftovers of this.
I tend to think of this course as being the "heaviest" in the feast as it certainly contained the richest, fattiest food. So possibly swapping the first and second kitchen courses around would have worked to satisfy those that wanted more sustenance earlier in the meal, although then it might have meant that people would be less inclined to eat the lamb which really was the "feature" meat of the feast.
The pork meatballs went off without a hitch, although as Lady Berna noticed it did pay to work with cold, wet hands when working them. Cooking the meatballs in orange juice really does work to make them succulent and rich, but not overwhelmingly so. The meatball mixture was also the ideal substance for creating the dragon, as previously discussed.
The rice and cheese would possibly have been better off being made in two pots, as when it is made in great volume it turns out to be extremely difficult to stir and we nearly broke the wooden spoons trying until we found the largest one possible. In spite of this, I don't think it stuck to the base of the pot very much (but I can't be sure as I meant to check once the pot was empty but forgot). I used solely Tasty cheese for the feast version of this dish, although I had previously trialled it with a combination of this and Parmesan. However, that would have blown the budget fairly neatly given that there was 7kg of cheese in the dish. Messisbugo calls for a fatty meat broth and I again susbstituted vegetable stock to make it vegetarian-friendly. I decided that, given the amount of cheese and eggs, on the whole I wasn't all that worried about using a lean versus fatty stock for this and didn't think anyone would notice. I do think that making it with meat stock would make it that little bit richer though.
The stuffed lettuce worked just fine. I've previously made this several times using the cabbage option instead, but was keen on using lettuce for this as I was using lettuce elsewhere in the feast, and also originally had a lettuce soup on the menu that would only have used the lettuce ribs. Rather than stuff the stuffing in between the leaves, I again went with my preferred method of making a solid ball of the mixture and wrapping it in the leaves, tying them on to cook and then sitting the end product in a bowl with more leaves under to look like small whole lettuces. This uses less lettuce, places less demand on the attendees to eat such a huge amount of the stuffed lettuce, and makes it easy to slice the stuffing.
Having translated most of the recipes for Hungarian Soup that weren't already in English, I'd intended to try out more of them ahead of the feast and see whether they could be converted into pie format as Scappi's could. However, I ran out of time and only ended up trialling Scappi's versions ahead of the feast, and used the most successful of these - which was his first variant; the second took ages longer to cook for an inferior result (although that may reflect more on my patience than the recipe). When I trialled the recipe I had been using glass pie dishes, but for the feast was using the smaller foil ones. This made quite a difference in terms of pastry: I needed to make slightly less than half the volume of pastry to fill all the pie tins. The dough recipe is pretty close to my standard modern short crust recipe for when I make fruit mince pies. Incidentally, Mum helped me with making the shells on the Saturday before CF and I was really glad that we'd prepared these ahead as between this recipe and the pie shells for the date & almond tarts it took us about eight hours. The advantage was that we got much better at working with this pastry by the end of it. Rolling the pastry between two sheets of gladwrap made a significant improvement to the sheets of pastry staying intact. Although this was a sweet pie recipe, I wanted to serve it as part of the kitchen course as another reminder that sweet dishes were often included as part of what we modernly would consider as "savoury" courses.
The sliced artichokes were an "easy" option, that's also totally appropriate as part of the final credenza course. Scappi in particular appears to especially like them, as this is how he often served them in the equivalent course for his feasts. He often also served them them cooked alongside these, but I thought that one type of artichoke was probably enough, and given that they were already preserved (being tinned), the cold option seemed the best bet.
The zuccarini I made ahead of the feast. I just really like these, so nearly always include them. They're easy and satisfying to make, and a decadent but light inclusion for this end of the meal.
I studied all the extant Italian recipes for date and almond pies (translating as necessary of course), and trialled several. I ended up settling on one of Messisbugo's, because taste testing revealed it to be the preferred option. I admit I was intrigued by it because of the presence of fish stock as part of the recipe, although I ended up substituting in vegetable stock. I also found it interesting that Messisbugo so carefully specifies that the almonds, dates, and some of the raisins are to be cut lengthwise. My prior testing had identified that this does alter the overall texture of the pie, so was something that I did for the feast also. Sadly this meant it took much longer to prepare all the ingredients, but the resulting pie was definitely superior. Incidentally while all the date & almond torte recipes are for lean days, beyond this and the inclusion of dates and almonds as part of the recipe they have very little in common - but I'll write that up as a separate side study later.
Clotted cream was not only a perfect accompaniment for the fruit pies, it was also an essential item on any menu at this part of a feast - it's really hard to overstate just how necessary it is as a feature of 16th century Italian fine dining. I don't know whether they served it to accompany other dishes as we do, or whether it was considered an item in its own right - given the renaissance Italian penchant for rich food, this could well be the case. It took a bit of hunting, but I did find a supplier in NZ. I also came across some recipes for making it in NZ, but given the time it takes and the volume of cream/milk required I decided that buying it was the way to go. I also served fresh cream to give people more options and because the clotted cream was comparatively expensive that I could only buy a relatively small amount.
Even putting watermelon into the first credenza course, there was still enough to serve at this end of the feast. Unfortunately the produce supplier only sent one other type of melon (honeydew or rock melon, I can't remember which) as they were obviously out of stock of the other. I like the Italian habit of serving fresh fruit at the end of the meal, and think it particularly fitting to a summer feast. It's also easy to prepare. To dress it up a bit, I served it as I had read in Lancelotti, "on snow", or in this case, beaten ice. The boys seemed to take quite a lot of joy in crushing the ice with rolling pins.
I also used it under the peaches. The peaches came straight off one of Lancelotti's menus, where he describes them as "sliced, in wine, on ice". Again, very simple, effective, and refreshing. I used a cask wine that I knew to be very sweet to soak the peaches in, as I thought the sweetness in this case would do no harm.
The candy course started out quite ambitiously with just about everything under the sun on the list. What happened is that this gradually because whittled down as experiments didn't work quite right so more experimentation was needed, and I ran out of time. I think in the end what was served represented about 50-60 hours of preparation time, done over some months. Still, this was a reasonable scaled-down version of what would have been served at real 16th century Italian feasts.
Notes from my candy making class may also be of interest in relation to this course.
The candied lemon and orange peel I made over several months in multiple small batches. I think that this really is the one candy that everyone knows about or associates at all with the middle ages and renaissance. After much experimentation, I've found that I do prefer to soak the peel for at least a few days prior to cooking, changing the water twice daily. Doing multiple small batches is a good way to build up a decent supply over time, and has the added bonus of not killing your wrists with all that peeling. Previously I've strained the peel once it's fully prepared and put it in individual pieces on waxed paper to store until required, before dusting with caster sugar. This time, we strained on the day and dumped the whole lot in a bowl full of caster sugar before carefully working it through by hand. The former method is definitely superior, the latter saves an enormous amount of time.
The candied almonds were interesting to make, and having made several batches entirely put me off making batches of smaler nuts (pine nuts and pistachios were common) for this particular feast. Unfortunately I discovered that storing the candied almonds in glass was not good, as they all developed large green spots and wasted about six hours of work. I was quite pleased with my progress at making them though, and think I'm on my way to becmoing expert at them. I think the home made ones are definitely superior to the modern store bought ones you can get.
The candied ginger was actually preserved two ways: some in honey, as per Nostradamus' instructions, and some in sugar syrup. I prefer the honey version, but the jury is definitely out on this as having asked about a dozen people to try the two types and give me feedback they all equally liked different ones, or both, for equally valid reasons. My candied ginger prepared with sugar syrup, while tasty, is still definitely an inferior product and could do with a lot more work before I'm happy with it. I'm really good at leaving the syrup on a little too long to cook the second or third time, and it crystallises far too much. Clearly I'll have to keep practicing at it until I get a result I'm satisfied with.
The candied seeds I am most happy with the evolution of my technique for, although I still think that more practice would make me better. Having a variety of seeds on offer was important to me as none of the menus mention only one type of candied seed being served. Quite often, each type will be listed individually, with the quantity that was served - and if they're not, then they're listed as "di piu sorte à beneplacito" - "many in good will". The volumes that were served are quite astonishing, and while I don't think that we could ever achieve these amounts, I do think that this is a very, very easy and achievable way to make a feast that touch more authentic.
The fresh fennel bulbs mentioned so readily in Scappi's menus had intrigued me for a long time, and we had already concluded that they must have been used as a breath freshener. However, it was enormously satisfying to find on my first read through of Castelvetro that this is exactly what they were used for. Chewing on a bit of fresh fennel works wonders for freshening the breath - and is perhaps more dentist-friendly than the candied seeds (well, maybe not in terms of financial gain for them). Again, a very easy way to make a feast that little bit more authentic. Now the key is to educate people about what this is so that they accept them readily when proffered rather than looking at you quizzically....
Funnily enough, it's been much easier to convince people to use the over-sized Italian toothpicks. The biggest problem is actually sourcing suitable sticks (they used to sell wide kebab sticks, but they no longer seem to), and sharpening them. I like the habit of soaking them in rose water, for that added touch of luxury.
1 I did attempt to do this myself, but continually got way laid by questions. On reflection, however, I'm looking at buying an electric grinder that can do large(ish) quantities of pepper at once.
2 I live in hope.
3 Remember that leftover food in period was normally redistributed to the poor.
4 At one point the Hungarian Pie was to be served in this course, but got relocated as part of my ongoing menu shuffling and refinement.
Dame Alys Katherine, Historic Comfits Using Modern Equipment, http://www.florilegium.org/?http%3A//www.florilegium.org/files/FOOD-SWEE...
Dame Alys Katherine, The Candying Process, http://www.florilegium.org/files/FOOD-SWEETS/Candying-art.html
Ivan Day, Sugar-Plums and Comfits on Historic Food - http://www.historicfood.com/Comfits.htm
Ken Albala, The Banquet (Urbana & Chicago, University of Illinois Press, 2007)
Giacomo Castelvetro, Gillian Riley (trans.), The fruit, Herbs & Vegetables of Italy (London, Viking, 1989)
Vittorio Lancellotti, Lo Scalco Prattico (Rome, Francesco Corbelletti, 1627 - facsimile)
Laura Mason, Sugar-plums and Sherbet The Prehistory of Sweets (Prospect Books, Devon, 2004)
Cristoforo Messisbugo, Banchetti composizioni di vivande e apparecchio generale (Venice, Lucio Spineda, 1610)
Michel Nostradamus, Excellent & moulte utile Opuseule à toute necessaire, qui desirent auoir cognoissance de plusieurs exquises Receptes, diuisé en deux parties (Lyon, Antoine Volant, 1555)
Giovanne Rosselli, Epulario: qual tratta del modo di cucinare ogni carne, vccelli, pesci, & ultra qualita di viuande (Vinegia, Altobello Salicato, 1596 - facsimile)
Bartolomeo Scappi, Terence Scully (trans.), The Opera of Bartolomeo Scappi (1570): L'arte et prudenza d'un maestro cuoco (Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 2008)
Bartolomeo Scappi, Opera di M. Bartolomeo Scappi, cuoco secreto di Papa Pio V. (Venice, Michel Tramezzino, 1570 - facsimile)
Roy Strong, Feast (London, Pimlico, 2003)
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