Friday, 26 September 2008

Delayed Reaction.....

......or a new opportunity has arisen hence the delay in posting and now this explanation!

So plans for the next weekend of cookery (October 4th and 5th) were progressing nicely, in fact I'd planned a cracking weekend of fun, interest, learning and experimentation......BUT then came the message to effectively shelve all plans and postpone them for a little while!

Why? Well Historic Royal Palaces press and media department is gearing up ready for next years celebratory Henry 500 events by producing new and better resources for journalists and media companies. One specific item being worked on is a DVD of some of the interpretation at Hampton Court so that we can issue our own controlled 'stock footage' for T.V. and so that journalists can see and get a feel for the work 'we' all do without necessarily travelling to Hampton Court itself....I actually think it's a great idea as it will undoubtedly help in cutting down confusion and will be ideal for all of the interviews that are done over the phone as now both parties will have a common resource to talk about.

This next cookery weekend, well the Saturday at least has been set aside for recording the kitchens at work so that there is footage of a full working kitchen as there would be for a special event like Christmas, rather than one of our more 'way out' experimental events. So this next cookery Saturday if you visit you'll be able to see the team construct a 7 dish (probably, but not for certain at the moment) menu which will then be served as a meal and eaten to display table setting and dining manners....just like we would do at Christmas or one of the holiday weekend events. Sunday.....hmmmm I'm not too sure at the moment, but it will probably be talking about using up leftovers, recycling ingredients or something along those lines......I'll have a better idea when I actually think about it rather than just type ideas willy nilly on the keyboard!

Anyhow, that's what has caused the delay in posting stuff as to be honest it rather confused me as to what we were going to do and that's my feeble excuse. A good long chat with Robin and Marc H today has sorted out a lot of plans now all that's left to do is fill in the details and put together the shopping list.

More info' when I know what it is and fingers crossed more pictures and blaah about last month soon.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Making Free With Lesche Frees

Yes, it's hard to believe but we actually did more 'new stuff' than just the chekyns in sauce!?! This recipe...

¶For to make lesche frees.

¶To make lesche frees. take wardons & costardes boyled & bete them in a morter & drawe theym vp with malmsy & take harde yolkes & nesshe chese & bray them togeder & alay them with nesshe[?] yolk in the betynge & drawe it vp with malmsy & put it to the fruyte and put therto suger and pouder of canell & colour it with sanders & medle it wel togedr thanne couche thy comande in smale coffyns / and sette theym in an ouen to bake and when they be ressyn serue theym.

also saw the light of day.....and damned tasty it was too. Once again, there are larger versions of the pictures below over at Flickr for you to see, should you want a better look.

Reading through the recipe before the weekend, it looked like it was going to be a sort of cheesecake I suppose. The biggest problem was going to be the cheese though. With only a 2 day event we wouldn't have enough time to make the cheese from scratch so we'd have to make do with getting it from the supermarket along with some of the other ingredients we use.
In future, I'd like to try this recipe again but with a 'home made' (insert Palace for home here!) cheese rather than a commercial one.....but on this occasion beggars couldn't be choosers so we plumped for a soft cheese to try first...probably not an ideal choice, but I think the best we could hope to make under the circumstances.

The cheese sorted out and the rest of the ingredients not proving as problematic, we cracked on (by we, once again I mean Robin and Jorge whilst I lounged around taking pictures)

. take wardons & costardes boyled & bete them in a morter

So, taking pears, conference in this case and apples (from Robins tree)....varieties were not top priority for this attempt as this was more a 'proof of concept' recipe I suppose (also, Robin doesn't know the variety of apple tree he has as it came with the house when he bought it)...

paring the pears apples

They were peeled and cut up to speed up the cooking, then plopped into the pot and cooked until soft before placing them into the mortar and giving them a beating they'll not soon forget.

cooking the fruit stewing fruit

beaten to a pulp!

Once beaten to a pulp, some malmsey was added....a nice slug of Madeira had to suffice here (well ok, a little more than a slug) and the fruit mix was then set aside whilst the mortar was cleaned out ready for the next stage.

take harde yolkes & nesshe chese & bray them togeder & alay them with nesshe[?] yolk in the betynge & drawe it vp with malmsy & put it to the fruyte

While the mortar was being cleaned some eggs were put on to hard boil

eggs for boiling

The eagle eyed amongst you will spot the modern stamps all over the eggs (a legal requirement for egg sellers today and one that proves to be a constant source of amusement to visitors.....'Didn't know old 'Enry had an ink jet to print on his eggs back then' and so on, you get the idea!)
Fist, the cheese was 'ground' up, then the hard yolks added and ground smooth...

grinding cheese hard eggs

Then more malmsey and some raw egg yolks were added...

add the raw egg and the booze next

This is where it went a little wrong....nothing too drastic, just not enough raw egg was used so the end result was a little looser than it could have been...still, plenty of opportunities to try again and as I said earlier...more a 'proof of concept' than a finished dish, it was after all the first time we'd ever tried it and the first time that Robin and Jorge had ever seen the recipe!!
The next step was to add the cheese mix to the fruit.....

mix the fruit and cheese together

and then....

and put therto suger and pouder of canell & colour it with sanders & medle it wel togedr

add sugar and cassia to sweeten and spice the mix, which we did although it didn't need a whole lot of sugar to be honest..

add the spices

When it came to adding the colour, that I'm afraid was a bit of a failure....we just couldn't get any colour out of the saunders that we have, so we left that bit out (and have started to work on extracting a decent colour from saunders as a side project).

thanne couche thy comande in smale coffyns / and sette theym in an ouen to bake and when they be ressyn serue theym.

The fruity cheesy mix was poured into some blind baked cases and slammed in the oven until they had risen and taken on some colour....sorry, can't recall how long they were cooking for, but probably not too long (I know, I'm no help am I?)

fill up the cases the finished lesche frees

As I said they could probably have done with more raw egg in as the finished filling wasn't that much firmer than the raw mix before it went into the oven, but that can easily be remedied next time.
The taste? Great.....strangely enough it had a really familiar taste that reminded me of French pastries, but that was probably the Madeira combined with the fruit. Is it worth trying again....hell yes, we had problems keeping the guys from eating the raw mix as it was that it worth you all trying.....definitely!

That's all for now, more later on in the week I hope.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Whilst We're On The Subject.....

Right guys and gals, many thanks for the recent comments.....keep 'em fact you've all got me thinking so here's a question for you.

'Why do we assume that the sauce for the Chekyns in Sauce needs cooking?'

I know that when Robin, Jorge & I were chatting about it we all instantly thought 'but what about the cooking? Where's the heating instruction?' Then we thought do the vinegar and wine in the mix chemically cook the egg and finally..... does it matter? Why do we instantly think about cooking the egg? Are we applying modern recipe thinking here?

All comments gratefully received.

Friday, 12 September 2008

Well I'll Be Damned......We Did Some Interpretation!

Yep, we actually did some real interpretation work over the last weekend......not to demean what we normally do, but this was genuinely new ground.

We worked on several recipes we've never done before, all from the Pynsons 'The boke of cokery'. I've put a load of pictures up on Flickr that illustrate this recipe...

¶For to make Chekyns in sauce.

¶To make Chekyns in sauce / take chekyns and choppe theym for commons / but for a lorde take hole chekyns and boyle theym in swete brothe of beef with a quantyte of wyne / and whan they be nygh ynough take oute the chekyns and bete egges in a morter with sage and percely and alay it with wyne & drawe it through a streyner & put therto pouder of clowes an unce of suger an unce of canelle / & a lytell vynegre & colour it with saffron and salte it than couche the chekyns in dishes and put the syrupe aboue and serue it. can pop there to see them a little larger than they are here in the blog.

Having 'forced' Robert to write out the recipe

handwritten recipe

Jorge and Robin could then crack on with working out how to cook it leaving me to take the recording pictures (as always when I post Roberts pictures you'll spot that they are worlds apart from my 'snappy camera' images)

¶To make Chekyns in sauce / take chekyns and choppe theym for commons / but for a lorde take hole chekyns and boyle theym in swete brothe of beef with a quantyte of wyne / and whan they be nygh ynough take oute the chekyns

Given that this really was the first time that we'd cooked the recipe a halfway house was agreed on the quantity of chicken to use, so half a chicken left in one piece was duly plopped into a 9 inch skillet containing a mixture of beef broth and white wine.....why white and not red? It was all we had to hand!

cutting up the chicken heating the stock

in goes the chicken

and bete egges in a morter with sage and percely and alay it with wyne & drawe it through a streyner & put therto pouder of clowes an unce of suger an unce of canelle / & a lytell vynegre & colour it with saffron and salte it

At first we rushed off to weigh out the sugar and cassia as it says in the ounce of each were then duly ground into a nice fine powder..

ready for grinding grinding away

the ground up spices

but after Jorge went through all the effort of grinding the cassia bark into a nice fine powder it sort of struck us.....what's the point in having quantities for the spices when there aren't any for any other ingredients!!
How many chickens is the recipe for? If it's for one chicken then that's a hell of a lot of cassia.....what if it's 5 chickens? So at that point we were sort of stumped and opted to add equal quantities of each in an amount that would seem suitable to flavour but not destroy the dish.

So all the other ingredients went into the mortar for grinding

eggs and herbs straining into a bowl

adding the spices in goes wine vinegar

and add the saffron the final sauce

then the sauce was completed and another 'problem' arose....was it cooked or not?
The taste was pretty good, very 'complex' but the texture was a bit thin and be honest it felt in the mouth like it either needed cooking or an awful lot more egg yolk in it. Robin's idea was to pour it directly onto the chicken as soon as it came out of the stock and wine mix, to see if there was enough heat in it to cook off the we gave that a go..

pouring on the sauce the final dish

As you can probably see in this close up

close up of the dish

it didn't make a lot of difference....although it must be said that the sauce that stayed on the actual chicken itself did thicken up.....slightly.....well very slightly actually. Had we made more of the sauce, we could have tried cooking it separately first....but as Robin said that's not what the recipe calls for.....The question is though was that assumed by the writer or not?

What did it taste like I hear you ask.....difficult to describe really. The chicken tasted of chicken and beef, sort of and the sauce......hmmmm very complicated...sweet, spiced, sour from the vinegar...all in all probably not to my taste, but I reckon there's plenty more work to be done with this recipe.

Any how, that's enough for the moment....more along similar lines in the near future.....

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Doctor Doctor, I Feel Like..........

.....showing you some pictures, so there a 9 of this weekends photographs now up at Flickr for you all to see.
There are 3 more that show the progress of the dig in Base Court....the holes are getting bigger and deeper..

base court dig

They've even found some 'features' in the courtyard..

base court feature

....don't ask what it is in the picture as I'm afraid I haven't got a clue!! Perhaps I'll be able to let you all know in the future.
You can also see how the latest 'thing' that Dave has been working on is progressing...

golden tent

It's a wax model of the golden tent from the 'Field of the Cloth of Gold' painting's getting pretty good, but Dave's not got the eyesight that he used to have as a younger man, so the detail work is taking a fair amount of time to put on, still he's in it for the long haul so I'm sure it will all look fantastic when he's finished with it.

As I mentioned before, Pick and Carter had planned to talk about food and medicine and that was indeed what they did all weekend.....once again, who'd have believed that it would have been so popular with the visitors.....

the doctor will see you now!

and who would have believed that so many people would have thought that Pick was a real doctor!?!? At least 3 visitors were convinced that he was a real doctor and kept asking for advice on subjects ranging from a gammy hip to suspected diabetes! Fortunately he was able to correct their assumption and after telling them all about food and medicine in the Tudor period, he happily convinced them all to seek genuine medical well as indicating what they may have been prescribed in the Tudor period.

What else did we do? Well quite a bit untried recipes, cross cultural comparisons and some work with real cooks!! Sounds interesting doesn't it....but for all the details you'll just have to wait until later in the week!

Monday, 8 September 2008

(N)Ill Communication!

Not long back in the real world after a cracking weekend, but one with no access to communications technology I'm afraid........probably lots to say and hundreds (literally) of pictures to sort through......but I'm sorry to say you'll have to wait until later as I'm absolutely shattered and all you'd get now is gibberish.

So tune in later for the next exiting episode......

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Clarification, Correction And Connection

Thanks for the note Elise, that's what I get for not posting for so long........the brain runs much faster than the fingers and I miss stuff out I meant to put in!

What meant to say was although there are many examples of cross cultural influence, quite often we can mistake convergent evolution of dishes in differing cultures as evidence that there must have been dissemination of information between the stands to reason doesn't it?

As human beings we love to see connections and patterns, quite often where they don't exist! There certainly are recipes that share a common heritage, but there are also those that look like they must do, but probably don't. Two excellent papers that illustrate this can be found in 'Medieval Arab Cookery' by Maxine Rodinson, A.J. Arberry & Charles Perry, Prospect books 2006....'Romania and other Arabic Words in Italian' by Maxine Rodinson concisely puts the case for linguistic connections between Eastern and Western recipes, where Western recipes can be seen to have originated in the Arab world. Charles Perry's essay 'Isfidhabaj, Blancmanger and no Almonds' shows the other side of the coin though. Here the similarities between Arab and European recipes is so striking as to lead one to the obvious conclusion that one must be descended from the other....virtually the same ingredients, virtually the same outcome.....even sharing names that mean roughly 'white food'.
However closer study shows that this particular Arab recipe is only one of many variations for the same dish.....and the only one of them to vaguely resemble the western dish blancmanger; it just so happens that it is the only recipe of the group of Arabic ones to have been translated into English by A.J. Arberry in the 'Baghdad Cookery Book' in 1939 and thus the only version available for to most Western food historians to compare to (let's face it, most of us don't have as good a grasp of Arabic as Charles does, so we use the sources available to us).

I suppose all of this rambling is just to say that we really do have to be careful with making connections that may not be there and as someone who tries to put across information to the public in the way that we do at Hampton Court it's worth reminding myself of this from time to time. After all it can be hard enough explaining the basics of what we're doing to people as it is, without all of this sort of discussion ; I've lost count of the times that we've tried to explain to people 'just because there's beef and apples next to the cream and eggs that I'm using to make custard with doesn't mean that the beef and apples will be going in the custard.....they are for different dishes!'.......connections, people make 'em all the time.

As My Friend Bob Said To Me.......


Yep, nearly a month has passed since I last posted anything and that time included a cookery weekend......What's going on I hear you ask.......and yes, I do hear, regularly eh No.1 Fan!!
Well August sees the school holidays descend upon us and some time spent with the family, you know, doing real life stuff....not work related! That combined with another healthy (or should that be un-healthy?) dollop of 'can't be bothered', some mild health issues and a score of other insignificant things has lead to the dearth of postings here at the blog......sorry, no no I really am.

The other thing that has lead to this lack of writing is the new direction that my research has taken. Now that I'm spending much less time on the recipes there really isn't much to report to you all. The work I'm doing at the moment involves reading through lots of lists and letters and compiling more lists of documents to see in the Public Record Office or at the British Library. I've also got lots of lists of names and wages, goods and prices to work through, but only when the initial reading and compiling is done.....all in all it's really quite fascinating stuff, but there's not a lot to tell at the moment.....sorry, but that's the way of these things.

I suppose as a panacea I can offer the only 2 decent pictures that I took over the last weekend.....of the work progressing in Base Court.....

base court dig base court dig 2

Neither Robert or I took any other pictures over the weekend as it really wasn't that sort of weekend...much more a 'by the numbers' affair, 2 meals made each day, served at 10.00 a.m. and 4.00 problems, no surprises.....apart from the number of visitors.....well over 2500 each day and I'm pretty sure that on Saturday I spoke to all of them, as by 1 o'clock my brain was empty and I had to leave for a sit down in a darkened room for 10 minutes !

This weekend should be a bit more experimental, in fact much more so than usual as Saturday should see us try 4 or 5 recipes from the Pynson book of cookery for the first time and Sunday should provide a wealth of interest for us.....some of which was prompted by Doc's last comment (which I apologise for only just having uploaded).
Robin and Jorge will be making poumes again (the veal meatballs that look like apples) so that some of the team from Heston Blumenthals Fat Duck can see how we make this recipe. Carter and Pick will be talking to the public about the humourol properties of food and Marc H and myself will be working on the 'chicken toffee' recipe Pynade again. This time as well as the pynade we will also be cooking Fustaqiya from al-Baghdadis Kitab al-Tabikh, a recipe that is remarkably similar but which uses pistachio nuts instead of pine nuts. There are also a handful of other similar chicken and sugar/honey recipes that use almonds that we may try as well if time allows.
Whilst it is by no means certain that the Western medieval cookery tradition copied recipes from the Arab world what is obvious is that many recipes bear remarkable similarities from one culture to another......copies or coincidence? Well I can't say that we'll be able to answer that question but it should prove interesting for the public to watch.....and fingers crossed us to eat!
I'm inclined to agree with Marc on this one......he's certain that the chicken isn't a 'typo' but is there to add to the 'umami' flavour....hopefully we'll be trying the dish several times with differing amounts of chicken in it to see what difference it makes.

Fingers crossed it should be a profitable weekend for us with plenty of pictures to show you all.......and hopefully this time I'll get the chance to post over the weekend unlike last time when technology wasn't playing ball for me!!?!