Monday, 28 January 2008

There's The Rub!

Bit of a delay since the last post I'm afraid.....some concerted work on the chocolate talk (which has grown to a bit of a monster) and the fact that it's that wonderful time of year when budgets rear their ugly head, have conspired to occupy most of my time!

Doc sent a comment in the other day which really deserves more than just a reply in the standard fashion as i believe that it touches on some quite pertinent issues.

He said:

While beef in galentyne is an interesting experiment - and I'm all for experimenting with food - I'm a bit concerned with it being presented as authentic medieval cooking. There are a bunch of recipes for galentyne sauce, but the galentyne recipes which specify a meat always seem to specify pork, pike, or lampreys. This leads me to think that there is something about the recipe which lends itself to those particular meats - kind of like how one generally doesn't see chicken or pork stroganoff in modern cookbooks. I'm sure it would be ok, and I know it can be done, but it's not representative of what is done.

Why not use the beef in something like bukkenade, which is easily shown to have been made with a wide variety of meats (including beef)?

Oh, and you're quite right that it's a great recipe!

So where to start........hmm........Well first off I suppose, we try not to present the information as 'how it was' but rather 'how we think it could have been' (or at least that's the aim anyway). In fact, get chatting to the chaps when cooking and their/our failings are very apparent very quickly. It could be argued (and it is quite often!) that anyone that only looks but doesn't talk to us must go away with a different impression, perhaps that what they see is 'exactly how it was in the past' and to some extent, the recent qualitative exit survey would seem to back this up. In it by far and away the majority of those surveyed said that because they were seeing something interpreted at an Historic Royal Palaces site it 'must be how it was in the past'

It's a tricky one to answer really and as Robert said to me in an email on this very subject, it's a big problem with any costumed interpretation, as in essence you tend to take the interpreters word for it that what they're doing is accurate and if you don't ask what it is that's going on or you only get to see pictures of an interpretation then you have to make your own mind up as to what it is you're looking at, which in our case would be pots boiling, ingredients lying about and finished dishes....all of which you probably wouldn't be quite sure of what they may be. It's one of the problems with wearing the history clothes as it kind of blinds people to the experimental part of what we're trying to and moreover are employed to do......all they see is the men in the funny clothes pretending to be Henry VIII and that's one reason I'm keen to do as much work in modern chefs whites as in costume....but thats for another time.

This leads me to think that there is something about the recipe which lends itself to those particular meats - kind of like how one generally doesn't see chicken or pork stroganoff in modern cookbooks. I'm sure it would be ok, and I know it can be done, but it's not representative of what is done.

What is it about those recipes? Why do they only appear with those meats? It's questions like those that tend to be asked by visitors to the kitchens who look through the recipe books.......and so it's part of our job to be able to answer those questions not simply with a 'because they didn't do that' but with a more reasoned answer, more often than not with some practical knowledge behind it.

As for this not being representative, that's a really tricky one as 10 guys in a kitchen staffed by 200 isn't particularly representative either, or Henry VIII and 10 people representing the entire court in the Great Hall (but I digress!).......back to the do we know? A couple of years ago I'd have been right there with you and that comment, but the recipes aren't sacrosanct. If people only cooked the recipes that we have in surviving recipe books then that comment would be true and they'd have had a remarkably limited diet, but they didn't, lists of foodstuffs issued to the court under Henry VIII include many things that do not appear in recipes of the time and vice versa.....we can only say with any degree of certainty that they possibly didn't do this or that and there, as the post heading the rub!

We can only show what may have happened in the past and hopefully that's what we do. I'd like to think that we get to experiment a come up with some 'answers', but a lot less of that goes on than I'd like (perhaps this year will be better) Many more people across the world do much cleverer things with history food than we do, we just have the advantage of a budget and a Palace to try things out in. I suppose that's also one of our limitations as well........when it's your job, you find other things to do when you're not at work, I don't 'live and breathe' food history!?!.........yes, it may come as quite a shock, but many of us have real lives that don't necessarily involve food! As such I don't think we get to put in as much time on the subject as a lot of people do.
From what I have seen, by far and away the best work in experimental food history is being done by 'hobbyists' across the world.....and that's not meant in ANY derogatory way , I just mean those people whose job is nothing to do with food history but for whom it's an all consuming (no pun intended) passion......if that makes sense??

So another rambling pile of tosh eh! I hope it's answered some questions, but possibly not........budget meetings all day tomorrow so hopefully we'll have a better idea of what 2008 brings later this week, then of course this weekend is cookery. Apart from anything else this weekend will see Robert back into modern 'whites' with camera and thermometer in hand, so hopefully a good spread of pictures will be one of the results of these two days if nothing else. I aim to take some more video, though at this moment I don't know what of........any suggestions then do let me know, the same goes if you'd like to see a picture of something that we haven't provided yet.....all comments gratefully received (and taken on board as well!)


Elise Fleming said...

What type of videos, you ask? How about videos of techniques (such as the one of the hand-raised pie)? While there may be different ways to mince onions (or meat), your techniques might be interesting to record. Or, making and stuffing a sausage. Or, pricking the skin of a yolk to extract just the yolk? Or, grinding and applying coloring agents? Or, the "simple" task of applying batter to those pommees dorees? It might even be interesting to compile all these short videos into a longer one for sale... Hah! A short video might accompany a pamphlet on the topic of pies/endoring/etc.

Doc said...


Thanks for the answer - I think I understand where you're coming from on this.

As one of those "hobbyists" (and I don't take offense at that label), I'm aware that my passion for the history sometimes leads me to be overly obsessive, and it's good to be reminded that other approaches are equally valid for other purposes.

Let us know how the beef galantyne turns out. I'm really curious now as to how compares to the pork version (which also means that I may now have to try it myself - as you said, "why?" is an interesting question in itself).

Tudor Cook said...

Thanks, I'll bear all those suggestions in mind over the comming weekends.

I hope that the rambling made sense! I too was spectacularly obsessive about the recipes for a very long time (just ask any of the other guys if you ever get the chance), in fact for some occasions I still hold to very similar views to those that you expressed ......however, I've managed to 'chill' more and more over the years and as you say can now see these sorts of things from many different views, all of which I would hope can help us come to more and more valid conclusions about food from the past........who knows, it may well just taste awful!

All in all there are many questions that get asked, both by ourselves, our bosses and our public and we have to find various ways of being able to answer them.......sometimes by using what could well seem to be unorthodox means.

Anyway, well be able to let you know pretty soon.

Helen said...

Hey Doc

I've not tried beef galentyne as yet, but have used lamb, mutton and pork. Lamb and mutton have worked just as well as pork and all three were very tasty. And I didn't specifically plan on lamb and mutton. I had left over roast so it made good sense. I shall try beef next time I roast some, and I'm sure it will work.

Re working in chef's whites, I reckon a good idea. I had started writing a comment last week (but had second thoughts and ditched it) to say that I reckoned it would be interesting to have one of you in whites, cooking on the portable gas burners that you used when doing WWII recipes. You could choose to use, eg ready ground almonds vs those prepared by Barry/Jorge, and maybe food processors to mince meat etc etc.

There are many visitors who ask if it's possible to cook the dishes at home and if the same recipe was being prepared side by side, old vs new methods, more people WILL go home and have a go!

As an aside, how about cooking a dish using goat? Or have you done so in the distant past? I'm picking some up from Dales on Saturday so plan having a go this weekend. I’m going to try a Buknade, which I know should really be kid but I’ll have to cook it for longer initially. Fingers crossed!

Your posts aren’t instantaneous. Nothing there when I looked Monday or yesterday. Yet today, the post is there and dated Monday! That’s technology for you!

See you Saturday.


Kiriel du Papillon said...

As a passionate cook and definite amateur cooking historian, I can sometimes be as crazily anal about my redactions* as any michelin chef is about his star recipe.

That said, I believe, unlike some, that fundamentally people's tastes haven't changed. What tasted good back then tastes good now, and what tastes good now, would have tasted good to people back then.

People then, like now, eat the food that is readily available, cheap, in season etc. Then, as now, foods had their fashions. (like the eating of pork in renaissance Spain for example!)

So maybe there is no extant documentation for beef galentyne. That doesn't mean it didn't exist, it simply means we don't know. Ultimately we have to use the wealth of knowledge and understanding we develop over the years to make educated assessments and judgement calls, just as we do for every recipe we redact.

I think you do have to do accurate redactions to get as close to the truth of a recipe as possible. But after that, use those recipes just as we use a modern one - adjust to taste.


*For any pedants reading... Yes I know that the use of the word redaction in this way is not true to the dictionary definition, but language is living, and redaction is now becoming an accepted word to describe this process. Deal. (grin)