Dame Alys in England, Part Two

Dame Alys Katharine, from the Middle Kingdom, was one of several lucky SCAdians who recently attended "The Extravagances of the Edwardian Table" in England, at the same church used for the main hall scenes in the Harry Potter films. The culinary achievements on display were extraordinary, and Her Excellency was kind enough to share her experiences in this two-part SCAtoday.net feature story and photo album.


Four SCAdians - Susan Sackett (Guillane de Vaux), Johnna Holloway (Johnnae llyn Lewis), Devra Langsam (Devra the Baker) and myself (Alys Katharine) - attended several workshops and cookery sessions in England during April 2006 with a non-SCAdian, Susan McClellan Plaisted, who is an historical food interpreter.

We started out in York at the 21st Leeds Food History Symposium on Food with this year's topic of "molded foods". The Leeds Symposium attracts some 75-85 attendees each year with most from Britain. Periodically, Prospect Books publishes some of the proceedings in books on a particular topic, Banquetting Stuffe being one that some SCAdians might have read.

Molded cheeses date back at least to 1477 when an Italian wrote of his amazement at the variety of English cheeses, stamped or molded with figures of animals, letters, flowers, etc., and shipped to Brittany, Spain, Catalonia, Germany and France. The speaker, Ivan Day, showed us butter swan with a piece of iron embedded in its foot. The swan was placed in a shallow dish of water and then made to glide across as if by magic by a magnet hidden in a piece of bread! Molded fruit pastes and wafers were frequently of religious images which were replaced after the Reformation by purely decorative designs.

Laura Mason told us that molded sweet butter was for immediate consumption and that salted butter was not molded since it was meant for preserving and transporting. Wooden moulds were used for butter since it sticks to other materials. "Scotch hands", wooden paddles scored with lines, were used to form the butter since working butter with one's hands resulted in lower quality butter. Edwardians molded butter into peapods (with tiny peas of butter!), flowers and carrots. Some of Laura's vegetables of butter were served at our communal lunch.

Peter Brears spoke on the use and distribution of ceramic moulds. We saw first hand (and then ate!) a pink cone of a type of jelly which had amazing wiggling properties. The top portion and tip moved in all directions like the midsection of a Middle Eastern dancer! While multi-colored jellies graced Elizabethan banquets, the truly fancy, molded ones became popular in the 1700s through in Edwardian times and went into decline by the end of World War II.

Robin Weir detailed the rise of ice cream in England which is first mentioned on a feast menu in 1671. We saw a painting from 1807 which clearly indicates a woman eating from a cone.

Part of every Leeds Symposium is a "pot luck" lunch and an afternoon tea which usually includes some dishes inspired by the topic of the day. This year included a molded medieval meat pie, a Turk's Head marchpane, that wiggly pink thing, the molded butters, an elderflower custard of Elizabethan inspiration, several types of Elizabethan and Stuart gingerbreads and more!

The next day all five of us traveled into the Lake District of Cumbria to attend one of Ivan Day's workshops on Tudor and early Stuart Cookery. (See the information on http://www.historicfood.com/.) Because Ivan invited a descendent of Gervase Markham (The English Housewife, 1615) for dinner at the end of the first day, we focused on preparing foods from that book. We larded a piece of venison and roasted it over an open fire in preparation for our lunch. Then Ivan had us set the table following medieval court procedures. We continued with making a galantine sauce and "furmenty" (a barley or wheat pottage often served with game and sometimes spelled "frumenty"). Our pottage was of barley since wheat wasn't grown in Cumbria.

After lunch we worked on two items - a rice pudding stuffed into a sausage casing and a "pippin" (apple) paste since quinces weren't in season yet. (Both can be found in the recipe section of Ivan Day's website, above.) While both Susans, Devra and Johnna attempted using an antique funnel (its sharp metal edge tended to tear the casing!), I began peeling the apples until joined by Susan S. and Johnna.

We peeled, cored and diced the apples, boiling them with sugar until "it was enow", then poured the hot paste onto a wooden mould. Unfortunately, it wasn't "enow" and the paste didn't set properly. However, the paste was thick enough to roll out into knots and "jumbals" which we practiced. When the session was finished, I stayed behind to re-boil the recalcitrant pippin paste and try to get it to a proper consistency for molding. Ivan worked on preparing the rest of the dishes for the evening's dinner with Markham's namesake, Canon Gervase Markham, an alert, active 95-year-old. It was a treat to be able to browse through some of the centuries-old Markham books that he brought with him.

Dinner included a pottage of herbs in mutton broth, a roast of beef (roasted on the open hearth) from an ancient white, long-horned breed which has been re-established in Cumbria; a "grand sallet" from The English Housewife, artistically and colorfully arranged; the rice pudding sausages; and manchets.

The next day we practiced splinting a fish with hazel wands before spitting it and roasting it over the open fire for our lunch. We made a hot water (intentionally inedible) pastry for practicing hand-raising "coffins" and chewitts. Due to time constraints, we also used the pastry to shape a custard tart (recipe also on Ivan's website). Time still chasing us, we couldn't bake the pies and chewitts with a filling but needed something to stabilize the sides so that we could add a lid. Behold! A tea towel crumpled up served admirably and we made several tea towel pies.

From our cooking date of 1615, Johnna and Susan S. went back in time to around 1530 and Henry Tudor at Hampton Court (http://www.hrp.org.uk/) where the historical cooks were re-creating the cookery of the time. More on Hampton Court later.

Meanwhile, Susan P., Devra and I went to Christ Church College for the "Extravagances of the Edwardian Table", reflecting the foods from the late Victorian era (after the death of Prince Albert) into the early 1900s. We learned the schedule for a four-day house party and what lies behind the "green baize door" of the servants' quarters. Interestingly, the area set aside for the servants and the supporting activities was often larger than the area for the family's use. While the details might not be pertinent to SCA's time period, the general overtones reflect some of the same attitudes — a separation of status and station, the steady codifying of behaviors regarding "one-upmanship", using food to express one's power, and the layout of the servants' and master's quarters. All have their counterparts in the medieval and Renaissance times,

We ate samples of Edwardian ices and admired the Christ Church College silver from the 1800s. We even had a tea tasting session with four rare teas to sample and evaluate!

The culmination of the Edwardian adventure was an Edwardian banquet held in Hall, a wood-paneled room hung with myriad portraits of former deans and famous graduates. (It was used as the inspiration for the Hogwarts dining hall in the Harry Potter films.) Head table, on its dais, had a full, crisp, white linen tablecloth while our long tables had strips of white linen on which the silver and plates were set. Small lamps illumined the place settings and the pieces of college silver set out for decoration. Six forks lay to the left of the service plate while six knives and three spoons were on the right, the spoons mixed in with the knives in the order in which they would be needed. Four wine glasses (one for champagne and one for port) plus a water glass sat above along with a menu booklet for each guest. Did I mention that this was black tie for men and formal or cocktail dress for women? There were seven courses interspersed with wine (white, red and champagne) starting with a smoked salmon mousse. This was followed by an artichoke soup, a poached fish with lobster sauce, thin slices of foie gras topped with a slice of black truffle, a roast of mutton with caper sauce, new potatoes, broccoli with almonds and braised celery, a kirsch sorbet for a palate cleanser, roast quail with a pea puree sauce, an ice cream "bombe" with cheese straws, fruits and nuts, house port and coffee. Ufff! That was a banquet!

When the weekend ended, Susan S. went back to the U.S., and Devra and I continued in England, finally visiting Hampton Court ourselves. The cooks, most of whom appear in the book All the King's Cooks by Peter Brears, re-create various time periods in the kitchens, from Tudor through Georgian, which represent the eras that Hampton Court prepared food for one royal court or another. This year the cooks were back to re-creating the early years of Henry VIII's reign. They use recipes from cookery books that would have been available in English as that time. Unfortunately for visitors, they are not allowed to give samples to anyone and instead consume the food themselves with "leftovers" going to the people who work at Hampton Court.

Each morning the cooks begin preparing a simple breakfast for themselves while at the same time prepping foods for the mid-day meal. Meats were finely chopped with a "rocker knife" for sausages or meat pies. It was amazing to see how fine a simple knife could cut. Custards are prepared and pie dough, usually edible, is shaped to contain it all. The meat, usually beef but sometimes pork or mutton, is spitted and then roasted over the fire in the one remaining, huge, usable roasting fireplace. The spit "boy" hand turns the spit with occasional assistance from the watching public.

The cooks welcome questions and will explain the spicing, preparation methods, and just about anything else. People wander through the three rooms of kitchens (but not behind the working tables). Shortly before 3 p.m. two cooks set the main table for their dinner. Once the table is set, there is an explanation of the items on the table, the manners that are used, and the customs surrounding eating in Tudor times. Food comes to the table, the cooks eat and people pepper them with more questions. It is a fascinating and interactive use of an historic site.

We were fortunate this year to be able to combine four different cooking-related activities from three different centuries. The molded foods from the Leeds Symposium were reflected in some of the molds of the Elizabethan and Stuart cookery at Ivan's house. The raised pies we made in Ivan's course were identical to the raised pies being made and on display at Hampton Court. Proper table manners from Tudor times were still proper manners during the Edwardian era, albeit with fancier table settings. This was an exciting journey for all of us!

Related Links

Click the "original article" link below to see the photo album from Alys' trip.

Part One of this two-part feature is at http://scatoday.net/node/6247. Her personal web site (separate from the photo album) is at http://home.netcom.com/~alysk/. SCAtoday.net published a link to a modern-world news story about the event at http://scatoday.net/node/6115.