The Hitchhiker's Guide to Ancient Cookery

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Alexandre Lerot d'Avigné
Jeff Berry
(Number 20 in the Series, August 2003)

Planning for Yule

Well, Pennsic is over and it's time to start thinking about the event in December. The theme is French, 12th Century and Yule. As is my wont, I will immediately begin to cheat. I have a newish (to me, at least) copy of "The Vivendier", in Scully's translation, and I've been poking through it desultorily looking for ideas, so some of the recipes are going to come from there. I also purchased a copy of La Varenne at Pennsic, so I'll be hitting that too, despite it being much later period.

First, though, let me back up a hair. The feast fee is $9/head, and I'm looking at perhaps 50 people without very many comps. These are the numbers to bear in mind at all times.

That means, for instance, I need something like 40-50 pounds of meat in total, and if I make soup, 7 gallons or so. With veggies and accompaniments, that should work out to plenty of food.

On now, to recipe ideas. For this one, I'm thinking a pretty simple meal, maybe two courses. I need some of it to be prepared in advance since cooking space is limited. One recipe which has caught my eye is [8. Pour farsir oes] - farsed or stuffed eggs. The upfront prep time is high, but they could be served cold. This might be fun to experiment with.

La Varenne has some great looking soups, including "1-4. Potage of Ducks with Turnips." Heating 7 or 8 gallons of soup can be tricky, though. So, I'll have to think about this one some more. In fact, I'll look especially for stuff which can be served cold now.

"5-4. Pasty of Gammon" looks promising. Basically bacon in a hard crust, with a note to serve it in slices cold. That sounds most promising, since it could be done ahead of time. I think we have a winner.

Enough! Enjoyable as this fussing about with recipe books is, it's time to make some decisions about what needs to be done. I have a single smallish apartment kitchen to work with, plus whatever can be done ahead of time. Given that, I don't think full courses (and always "courses" never "remove," which is far too late a term), is going to work. Instead, I'll just try to keep dishes going out more or less constantly in an order that makes sense and keeps my kitchen working effectively. So ...

To start with as a first course:

All the above are ready to go out with no real cooking time. The meat is cooked ahead, and the rest just goes out.


The soup will be taking up the entire stove top, or at least half of it. So whatever comes next can't come off the top. The soup should go out shortly after the first cold course is set out. On the heels of, even. It will take a little while to serve, which lets us prepare ... The exact recipes here will need to be found, but I know the ballpark I'm looking for. The meat may have been pre-cooked and warmed in the oven, but with the size of this feast, it should be possible to do it all day of. Beef is probably a better choice here since it can go out rare. Chicken is possible, too, but it would have to have been pre-cooked and just re-warmed.

My range-top has been free for a while, so something should have been done on top of it. A starch, perhaps, or another veggie, or even an egg dish. Let's say it's a starch. Not rice or noodles or anything that involves large quantities of boiling water, though, unless the range is large enough to have had the water going while the soup was still heating.

Now the oven has been free for a little bit. So we could be reheating something, although there probably isn't enough time to actually cook. If beef was second, then chicken could go here, but there's a problem with it being too dry. Perhaps ... meat pies. They don't actually take a long time to cook, so they might work. I don't know what goes here, but something will. Then a course of cold desserts can go out and we're done.

That gives me: a cold meat, a hot meat, gammon pasty (cold) and maybe another meat, with a total meat quantity of around 1 pound/person. I have: dried fruits and cold sallet, with maybe a starchy veggie. Soup: with starchy veggie and some duck.

That sounds workable for a first pass. Now, to find some exact recipes and focus in. But that's an article for next time.

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Comments are welcome.
Alexandre Lerot d'Avigné, Jeff Berry,

Copyright Jeff Berry
Originally webbed 3 September 2003
Last modified 3 September 2003