Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Cooking The Cokentryce.....

or Blue Peter part the second.

So where were we? OK, after a quick re-read of what I wrote last time to get back up to speed it's now time to deal with what we did with the beast after it was constructed I suppose. Before we get there though we need a brief re-cap and a moment of scene setting to get us all in the mood that I was in for the next evening of filming... a lousy one!
As I said in the last post on the subject and without wanting to break my self imposed 'house rule' of being fairly positive about all the work that we do (within reason) I was being asked to re-hash the same tired old myths and clich├ęs about the past....they didn't drink water because they knew it was 'dodgy' so they all drank beer and wine*....Henry VIII held massive lavish feasts all the time with tables groaning with tons of complicated dishes, all that sort of thing. As I said before, there was a brief chat with the director and the HRP press department representative to put forward my corrections....all of which were pretty much dismissed by comments such as 'I read it in a book, you must be wrong', 'that's not what they teach in the national curriculum' and the crowning glory...'we've already had a graphic created to illustrate that and it cost a lot of money so you'll just have to say it!'...so after a pretty dire drive home and a little thinking time, coupled with the work already done and the PR for the Palace, the decision was made....'prostitute yerself for the cash and get it done with as quick as you can!!'...hence any reticence in the tweet about transmission times...it'll look good, but will be full of the sort of tosh that we aim to eradicate with the work that we do....it's done, so let's make the best of it with the pictures that we've got.

*this idea that people knew that water was bad or contained illness causing 'things' is only something that was discovered in the late 19th century, before then people were pretty sure it was bad air that made you ill, beer was drunk for it's food content, the calories it contained, it was a liquid food....besides bad water=bad beer. This is just one of the really stupid myths about the past that perpetuate due to poor logic and even poorer thinking...like saying they disguised the taste of rotten meat with really expensive spices! It stems from an attitude that in the past people must have been worse off that we are today, less educated....why is it still difficult for people to conceive that in the past they liked spiced food, just like we do?!?!?

Thursday was spent, mostly in a meeting about stuff that I'm not currently at liberty to divulge, whilst I left Robin to put together a haslet of fruit so that there was one to have made earlier...making the cokentryce was really the side project for this gig, the haslet was the main deal as this was what was to be the 'have a go at home' make of the show...and to be fair they had done a pretty good job with their version, wrapping the string of fruit and nuts around a bamboo skewer and suspending it in/on a deep baking tray to cook in the oven and baste with batter....which was where there were a few subtle problems, but I'll come to them a little later...you will though find that the cokentryce was the more interesting for Robert to photograph, so there are lots of shots of that and not so many of the haslet, after all how often do we get the chance to play at being Baron Frankenstein?

When we left on Wednesday, the beast looked like this...

another shot of the finished animal

and after one or two shots for publicity and the like which were taken whilst the crew were setting up their gear

gissa kiss

we got on with the process of sticking the beast onto the spit. Now I really need to point out a couple of things at this time, firstly although Robert was rapidly 'employed' as the official photographer for the shoot and snapped away like a demon, he was limited to when he could shoot because of the noise of the camera shutter, so certain stages were unfortunately missed out. It also is important to understand that the crew weren't interested in the beast being cooked properly, just looking like it was cooked...in other words, slightly coloured from the heat of the fire and covered in the green batter, specifically to hide the join as that was a major part of their script, it wasn't to be eaten, but fortunately was to be taken away with them for more shooting, so we didn't have to work out how to dispose of it...hooray!?!
Getting it onto the spit wasn't too hard, just keeping it there was though...so we dragged out one of our oldest spits which has the forked dogs made to fit it and used that one....shame it weighs a ton!

adjusting on the spit

We then stuck it in front of the heat and tried to 'cook' it as best we could so that it could get to a stage with which to batter it....see how much I love this job...

see how I love this job

Turning the spit is something that I find detestable at the best of times and this was no exception.
Quite shockingly all of the wiring stood up to the job and the neck and head remained where they were supposed to be

on the spit

I think that what was even more surprising was that the head didn't over cook, being that much closer to the fire we were sure that it would burn, but how wrong we were...in fact it all started to cook quite nicely, which was a shame because it meant that the fat started to pour out of the animal, mostly from the front end because the skin was thinnest and this was cooking quickest....fat that meant that we were now turning a massive non-stick turkey-pig beast which it was obvious batter would never stick to! All the while this was happening, the director was sorting out the shooting order and the crew and HRP team was setting up the other room by the charcoal stoves ready for later on and the haslet.
The director was keen to press on and kept pushing for an answer as to when it would be ready....should they re light this area later and do the haslet make first or what?...it was also obvious by now that I was less than popular with her and that Robin was being groomed for the spotlight with the cokentryce whilst I would have the haslet to work with....no biggie as we're a team and neither of us is fussed about being in front of the camera, but the sudden change of plans from what was arranged earlier in the week seemed to be a direct result of the night before and the slight set to we'd had.

Robin discusses the plans

When it was obvious that there wasn't going to be a 'good' time to start the basting, Robin set to and wrapped up as protection against the heat before he began pouring the batter on

basting the cokentryce 1

Interestingly in that shot, the red dot on the beast is the laser centering mark from the IR thermometer we have...shame I can't remember the temperature though, not that it was important as there was no way that anything was anywhere near to being cooked.

basting the cokentryce 3

basting the cokentryce 5

basting the cokentryce 7

As luck or perhaps skill would have it, Robin had knocked up just enough batter for one coat...which began to cook nicely and cover the join before promptly starting to fall off into the drip tray!
Some speedy setting up by the camera guys and a swap around from me to the presenter (Joel I think his name is) meant that the snippet could be had with the beast looking suitably 'the part'

sorting the script

finally starting shooting

Shockingly Joel was pretty damn good as a turn broach...payed attention to the instructions about speed and such like and cooked it like he'd been doing it for years.
This all went without a hitch and when the shot was done we had to take the spit off from the fire to stop it cooking too much because they wanted to come back to it later on when the haslet of fruit was ready to put onto the spit.

Having set the table up with all the ingredients needed, all in TV friendly little bowls and ready to roll, we then had the interesting discussion about the recipe..

discussing the plan for the haslet slot

in which it became very clear why their haslet looked a little odd

the Blue Peter haslet of fruit

They had decided to do the recipe research themselves and had made a literal version of the recipe...just like you would with a modern one, no room for interpretation, no taking into account missing ingredients and the subtle nuances of early recipes...so no eggs in their batter...no beer come to mention it either, they had substituted apple juice....and for our segment could we not use beer either please....so water it was then, hmmm yummy.
After a little more script checking

more script checking

The subject of 'idiot boards' was brought into sharp focus....read the 'facts' off the board please and try not to ad lib anything...thank you very much....at this point things were made much worse by the presenter (Helen)

smile you're on telly

who kept telling me that I should be excited....why I asked...'cos you're gonna be on telly!!...well pardon me if I let out a woop de do...as if that was somehow the pinnacle of things...I've been on telly, it's overrated and like most things in life, unless you are stupefyingly lucky or really really really good at your job, you're going nowhere on the telly, it's not a passport to fame and riches and I wouldn't want it to be either...but I digress.

Doing my best to perform like a trained monkey and both read the boards and point to the ingredients whilst not straying away from the scripted answers...

I seem to be adjusting the volume of an invisible telly!!

I struggled on manfully, thinking about the cash!
It really felt like they may as well have not bothered with having me there, at least Robin got to answer his questions how he chose to (again within reason, but pretty much his own words)...they could have just had one of their people read the boards instead of trying to validate their programme by using the staff at Hampton Court...can you tell how miffed I was yet?

guess what I'm thinking

how about now?
Still, we struggled through and got the shot done for them

you're on tv, be excited man!

more behind the scenes

and that was pretty much the end of our involvement on screen. After we stuck the beast back in front of the fire for them, we offered to show them how to put the haslet onto the spit, but they knew best thank you so we sloped off to do a bit of the clearing up as they first of all draped the string of fruit and nuts onto the spit so that it resembled a Christmas garland on a mantle piece, then managed to wind it on in such a way that whichever way the spit was turned it unwound from one end or the other!?! Still, in the end they got their shots and that's what was important for them.

By the time it came to do some shots for the programme trailer

the face says it all

and the ubiquitous team shot

The presenters

Things were all sweetness and light again. All that was left to do was to wrap the animal up for them so that they could take it away.
Once they had packed up and left we were left with the washing up and putting away of all the stuff that we had used...a mighty cup of tea and then another tedious drive home and that was that.

As I tweeted earlier, transmission is set for Thursday 3rd June at 4.35 p.m. then it will be on the BBC iplayer for the next 7 days...don't expect much, I'm not. I was going to say don't blame me, but on reflection, do. I deserve any and all criticism that it gets, but at the time, I'm afraid I was just thinking of the cash.

There'll probably be another post before we crack on with this coming bank holiday weekend of cookery and cavorting...I'd forgotten to say earlier but there's a joust happening at the Palace over the weekend too; but it does need a little bit of an explanation so stay tuned for the next post (probably tomorrow) and some details of what to expect from the weekend at the Palace...it's my turn to do the recording this weekend as Robert gets a go at cooking, so fingers crossed I should be able to tweet 'n go much more regularly, with possibly a blog post as well during the day, but at the moment I'm promising nothing.

All of the pictures from the BP shoot that I uploaded to Flickr are now unlocked for your viewing pleasure....enjoy, you know that I didn't.



terrylove said...

I wonder if the Blue Peter of my youth, (Christopher Trace & Val Singleton), were just as much "entertainment only, stuff the education", as the current one sounds to be.

"We read it in a book" of course proves it MUST be true, books once written fix "facts" forever and are never superseded by subsequent discoveries, (or theories).

Ahhh, dear old aunty Beeb, how your standards have fallen and really you are just a grumpy old woman who tells lies.

Elise Fleming/Alys K. said...

Sorry to hear that UK presenters can be twits as much as TV hosts in the US. I'm curious as to why the batter was green instead of primarily yellow. The period recipes seem to say that the cokentryce should be "gilded", either with egg yolks or with gold or silver foil.

Harleian 279 gilds with egg yolks, saffron and parsley juice as does Douce 55. Forme of Cury uses egg yolks and saffron, then gold and silver foil. Was it too expensive to use lots of eggs?

Tudor Cook said...

to be fair, it's not just the Beeb, they're all at it!
I'm not sure if 'dumbing down' is the right phrase, but certainly we live in a time where the shortened sound bite rules and this extends into all facets of life I'm afraid. One of the other reasons I wasn't 'allowed' to say my piece was because the answers were 'too long' and (admittedly) too complex given the rest of the shows content level.
Over the last number of years information levels presented by TV have declined but so it seems has the audiences capacity to absorb this information...you just have to look at how Horizon or Timewatch changed over their respective runs to see that....and I genuinely think that the two parts create each other...less info' provided leads to less info' expected and so it continues!

That isn't to say that I hanker after the 'good old days'...I'm certainly not so stupid to get wound up that Britain isn't like it was in the 1950's or 60's or even 70's like some people I know, I'm all for progress and change, it's just that sometimes that change isn't always for the best...or perhaps that's just my opinion (well a few more people than just me, but possibly not the majority view)...or more likely it's just not best for me!

Still, what's done is done and it's yet another thing to chalk up to experience....hopefully next time we'll get to change things...just a little

Tudor Cook said...

H279 says to "dore hem with yolkys of Eyroun, & pouder Gyngere & Safroun, thenne wyth the Ius of Percely with-owte'

They read it and wanted it green...simple as that.

terrylove said...

I must admit I've just about stopped watching TV, I hated watching shows that lasted an hour but had maybe 20 minutes of information, dragged out and often repeated, (on commercial channels usually before and after commercials so you could pick up the thread again).

Science and technology shows, even on Discovery Channel, are painful and appear to me to be written for, at best, 12 - 14 year old science classes. I despair, where's the meaty stuff I can sink my mental teeth into, that forces me to go do further reading, find books, Google facts and figures... My brain is rotting away for lack of "food".

OK, I'm a dinosaur on my way to extinction, I wonder what sort of creature is evolving to follow.

Anonymous said...

Is there any chance, should you have time, you could write up a post about some of the more common misconceptions and myths you hear and truth behind them?

I'm sure many of your readers, including myself, that are historical interpreters would greatly benefit from hearing the historical reality behind the nonsense that we often get from visitors.

Anonymous said...

It was 98*C