Sunday, September 14, 2014

A Roman Feast

I had not intended this to become a cooking blog, but cooking is just about the only creative/expressive thing I get to do these days aside from reading "Moo, Ba, La La La," which, while fun, is not original or creative... though you'd be amazed at how creative you can get re-reading the same paragraph over & over.


I was asked to be feastocrat for Hunter's Moon, and the event was yesterday.  It was exciting, interesting, painful, frustrating, exciting, frustrating, infuriating, and ultimately worth doing because that was a fabulous meal.  I planned for 60 but we seated 30, so I had chicken and pies left, but not much else.  We only threw out about 1 head of lettuce (salad) and the rest got distributed among the guests.  I cooked the left-over chicken today & put it up in the freezer for future Shire events.  Unfortunately I didn't take pictures, I was busy cooking (sorry!).

Preparation took several days/weeks and a lot of help.  I made up the liquimen, garum & pork forcemeat way ahead of time.
The custard was cooked on Thursday, the chicken marinated then too.
Chicken was stuffed on Friday, grapes picked & carrots/parsnips cut up and marinated. 
Everything else was cooked on location that day.

Here is the menu plan, and below you will find the original recipes with my changes & instructions.  I took nearly everything from Apicius (various translations) and I'm honestly not sure which part was my favorite.  I tried to choose recipes that had a progression of flavors without everything tasting the same, and a good balance of nutrients without too much fat/salt/whatever.  I wanted a colorful meal, and I admit I also wanted to avoid boiled meat at all costs.

I had an original budget of $400, which got upped to $500, but I came in under $400 in the end.




Sideboard: *(this is the snack table, when it runs out, it's gone.)
Bread – Wegmans, various white & wheat *(one rye, not period). 5 loaves *(should have gotten more).
Cheese – 1st platter: soft cheese (goat), bree (goat), salted hard cheese (sheep), Gouda *(should have gotten more)
2nd platter: cheddar, swiss, monteray jack, Munster
Fruit – grapes *(store green seedless, wine grapes from arbor - these were a hit BTW), dates, figs *(dates didn't go over well)
boiled eggs – 40, *have 3 left

Beverages:
Vinegar Water  *(this is close to an electrolyte drink and very tasty) 
Water                           1 gal
Apple cider vinegar       3 tbsp  *(the guys wanted a lot more)
Honey                          3 tbsp  *(again, a lot more, like 1/3 c.)

Preparation: dissolve honey into warm vinegar.  Mix into water, taste, add more water or honey/vinegar until it's good.  Serve at room temperature or cool.  
*We actually ended up serving this slightly warm as it was a chilly day.
*Refill as necessary.



Faux Spiced Wine
Based on recipe in The Classical Cookbook, p. 101
White grape juice                                         2 gal
honey                                                           ¾ c.
ground black pepper                                     ½ tsp.
bay leaf                                                         1
saffron powder                                              1 pinch  (~1/8 tsp)
Put 2/3 cup of the juice in a saucepan with the honey and bring it to a boil. Skim if necessary. Repeat and remove from the heat. Add the seasonings while it is hot: this speeds up the flavouring process. When it is cold, add the rest of the juice and allow to stand overnight. To serve, strain through a fine sieve or muslin. 

*We didn't strain it, just took out the bay leaf & left the saffron.  We watered it by 1/3 so everyone could have 2 glasses.
This may well have been my favorite thing at the feast.  It tastes exactly like a good white wine without the drunk that goes with alcohol.


Coffee & tea
Obviously not part of a Roman feast, but a necessary component of any American gathering.  Brew a big pot.  Have milk, sugar & sugar substitute.  You don't have to like it, you still have to do it.

Special: 

 

Salad:

[109] ENDIVES AND LETTUCE INTUBA ET LACTUCÆ
ENDIVES [are dressed] WITH BRINE, A LITTLE OIL AND CHOPPED ONION, INSTEAD OF THE REAL LETTUCE [1] IN WINTER TIME THE ENDIVES ARE TAKEN OUT OF THE PICKLE [2] [and are dressed] WITH HONEY OR VINEGAR.
[1] Hum. pro lactucis uere; Tor. p. l. accipint; G.-V. p. l. vero (separated by period)—all indicating that endives are a substitute for lettuce when this is not available.

Ingredients:
lettuce                          7 lbs total
endive heads                 3 lbs
Red onion                     1-2 onions
Liquimen                      1 c.
Olive oil                        1 c.
Honey                          ½ c.
Salt                              2 tsp.

Dressing: Mix olive oil, liquimen, salt & honey together.  Put in containers so guests can use as they wish.
*We ended up pouring the dressing on the salad due to a lack of containers. 


Preparation:
Cut lettuce & endives into pleasant size pieces.  Put in serving bowl.  Chop onion fine and add a little to each bowl
* We sliced the onions so people could easily pull them off.

 Special:
"Don't kill the king" dressing:
1/4 c. olive oil
1/4 c. vinegar
1/8 c. white wine
3 tbsp honey
1/4 tsp black pepper
Whisk together, bottle & let the king pour his own dressing.  Motto of the feast "don't kill the king."

*I did not get to try the salad.  However, when tasting the dressings I preferred the one I whipped up for Tindal (no fish sauce) to the one everyone else got, though both are very good.  The downside to the first dressing is that it is not very good after a few days, so it's a make & use kind of thing.




Side Dishes:

[72] ASPARAGUS ASPARAGOS
ASPARAGUS [Tor. IN ORDER TO HAVE IT MOST AGREEABLE TO THE PALATE] MUST BE [peeled, washed and] DRIED [1] AND IMMERSED IN BOILING WATER BACKWARDS [2] [3].

Ingredients:
Asparagus                    200 stalks (8 bunches)
Water                           several gal.
Salt                              1 c.
Olive Oil                       1 c.
Liquimen                      ½ c.
Black Pepper               3 tbsp

Cut tough ends off asparagus (if small), peel tough skin (if large - use a knife, the peelers gum up, yes it makes a difference, yes it takes a lot of time).  Reassemble in bunches of like sizes & tie with butcher’s twine.  Stand upright in a pan of boiling salt water reaching 1/3 – ½ way up the stalks & cover.  Remove when tender 10-20 minutes (thinner is less time, fatter is more time, they are done when the heads wilt over - don't let them sit).  Drain, lay on serving tray and sprinkle with dressing.
*I got smalls, so I just tied the bunches, then removed the rubber bands & boom, done.

Dressing:
Mix olive oil and liquimen, sprinkle with black pepper.

Special:
 "Don't kill the king"
Tindal got olive oil & black pepper on his asparagus.  

People who said "I don't like asparagus" liked this.  It was kind of amazing, though I honestly prefer the baked asparagus my husband makes.  This fit the meal though.


CARROTS OR PARSNIPS ARE FRIED [and served] WITH A WINE SAUCE.

Carrots                         12 lbs
Parsnips                       8 lbs
Olive Oil                       2 c. (reserve 1)
Cooking Wine              1 c.
Liquimen                      ½ c.

Preparation:  Peel & slice carrots & parsnips into coins, marinate in wine sauce.
Sauce: Mix ½ olive oil, wine & liquimen together.  Marinate carrots & parsnips overnight or a few hours in bags or bowls. 
Cook in hot skillet with remaining olive oil. 
*I ended up changing the wine to grape juice only because we couldn't find the cork screw that night.

Special:
"Don't kill the King" ended up being olive oil & wine.


These are good warm or cold.  We had some for dinner today & they were quite delicious even without being re-heated.



Main Course:
[396] STUFFED DORMOUSE [1] GLIRES

IS STUFFED WITH A FORCEMEAT OF PORK AND SMALL PIECES OF DORMOUSE MEAT TRIMMINGS, ALL POUNDED WITH PEPPER, NUTS, LASER, BROTH. PUT THE DORMOUSE THUS STUFFED IN AN EARTHEN CASSEROLE, ROAST IT IN THE OVEN, OR BOIL IT IN THE STOCK POT.

Ingredients:
Chicken breasts                                    60 – 70 breasts
Ground pork                                        6 lbs
fennel                                                   1 lb
Pine nuts                                               1 lb
Ground chicken                                     ~2 lbs
Black pepper                                        ¼ c.
Garlic cloves, crushed                           ~2 bulbs
Olive oil                                                (as needed)
White wine, reduced                               1 qt. (as needed)

Forcemeat: Mix ground pork, fennel, pine nuts, black pepper, garlic and chicken broth/wine into a fine sausage-like mixture.   Chicken trimmings can be added now or later.  Refridgerate overnight or freeze until ready to use.  *(I skipped the wine/broth, and all the chicken went into its own forcemeat).

Stuffed Chicken Breasts: Trim chicken breasts so there is a fat end (the back of the dormouse) and a pointed end (the nose).  Add trimmings to the forcemeat.  Slit the least attractive side with a knife & add forcemeat.  Tie the chicken breast closed with butcher’s twine *(I used a plug of chicken meat vs. tying, it turned out fine & cut down on plate-time).

Baking:
Add a little broth & olive oil to the roasting pan, set breasts inside.  Cover roasting pan & bake until done.  May have to baste with chicken broth to keep from drying out.
350F for 25-30 min (note: longer cooking time for more meat, don't squeeze things in a pan, give them room to cook).  Use a thermometer to know when it's done.  120F is technically done, 160F is done-done and on the verge of drying out; any higher & it's Dry Chicken City.

Garnishing:
Add cloves or raisins for eyes and nose, and chives or other herbs for whiskers.  *(they got set on lettuce leaves on pretty plates - no eyes/nose/whiskers.

Note: I had to use a cheaper chicken breast than I had planned, so marinating it overnight was necessary.  This turned out to be a FANTASTIC decision.  4 c. grape juice, 3/4 c. salt, heat to dissolve salt, marinate breasts in bags, top off with water. 

 Special:
We baked 4 chicken breasts with chicken forcemeat so the "no piggies" contingent had a lovely meal too (plus, I had 2 lbs of chicken trimmings left).



Dessert: 

ROMAN CUSTARD

Take sufficient milk for the size of the cake pan. Mix the milk with honey just as if you were making milk food. Then put in five eggs to a pint of the honey-milk mixture, or three eggs to half a pint. Dissolve the eggs into the milk so that the resulting mixture is smooth. Strain into a clay vessel and cook over a slow fire. When the custard is firm, sprinkle with pepper and serve. (Apicius Book 7, XI-7)

Ingredients:
milk                              1 cup
cream                           1 cup
honey                           3 tbsp
eggs                             4 lg / 5 med.
Liquimen                      1 tsp
Black pepper                ~3 tbsp

Flour                            2 cups
Lard                             2/3 c.
Salt                              ½ tsp
COLD Water               4-6 tbsp

Filling; Mix milk and cream.  Heat to just warm in the microwave or on a stovetop.  Add honey slowly while whisking quickly. Beat eggs and liquimen in a separate bowl until frothy. Combine the eggs & milk mixtures and beat again. Pour into prepared crusts, sprinkle pepper on, cover with foil and cook in slow oven at 350F for about an hour

Crust: Mix flour & salt.  Cut in lard until crumbs form.  Add cold water 1 tbsp at a time until moist enough to roll out.  Roll to ¼” thick, put in pie plates.  Fill with custard & then roll the crust in & DOWN to just above the level of the custard.
*Don't use Crisco, it's too sweet and clashes with the custard.  If you don't want to cook with lard, just skip the crust.

 Note: there is no mention of a crust on the original recipe, but in order to serve that many people it makes it easy to cut & plate. 
Note: A deep dish is better than a pie plate.  It has a much better jiggle when it's a thick slice v. a thin one.

Special:
"Don't kill the king"
As above, except I baked it in a proper deep dish, without crust (didn't bring the flour to the site) and I replaced the liquimen with the faux wine. 

This tastes like a typical custard pie, but with a subtle twist.




Please feel free to use these recipes as you choose.  Obviously most of them are for ridiculous numbers of people, and I vastly underestimated the amount of asparagus people would eat, so if you do that & really have 60, you need 16 bunches, not 8.  We could have stretched the carrots & parsnips to feed 60, but I really only had a little left over, so personally I'd rather have everyone leave happy and full than wanting more for fear of waste.

- Please, for the love of all that is good manners, don't ask me to adjust the recipes for you.  You have a brain, you figure it out.  I have every confidence in your ability to reduce/substitute/estimate/etc.  Google has a great conversion tool as well.
- MY GOD DON'T EAT IT IF YOU ARE ALLERGIC TO IT!!!  I made substitutions for Tindal on the fly because I found out that morning that he's allergic to fish, not just shellfish; and if I can do it, so can you.
- Don't ask me about the calories.  Since they refuse to scream if I burn them or not, I'd prefer they just come & go quietly.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

There's Always Room For Jell-O (or the great green grape frappe flop)


The Great Green Grape Frappe Flop

As most of you know, I’ve been participating in the Historical Food Fortnightly Challenges and this one is #7 “the best thing since sliced bread.”  
The mission was to ‘Create a food item that reflects historical food improvements. Showcase a new discovery in food preparation, a different way of using food, or a different way of serving it. Make sure to include your documentation!’

It was a toss-up for me between one of the original breakfast cereals by my sorta-relatives or Jell-O.  I wanted something local, something simple (ha) and something to do with prepackaged foods and marketing, at least loosely.  Anyway, Jell-O won because I don't think there is another food on the face of this planet with more "different ways of serving it."

It all started in LeRoy NY, just a hop skip & jump over the river, but way back in 1900.  The story really begins in 1845 when Peter Cooper invented the stuff, then sold it to
Pearle Wait whose wife May named it Jell-O, who then sold it to Orator Frank Woodward who then (1900 by now) sold it to Sam Nico (for $35 with some swear words) who popularized the product with a really good marketing campaign starting in 1904.  He published recipe booklets, had popular artists paint pictures featuring Jell-O and took out ads in popular magazines across the country.  You can read more about the history of Jell-O here: http://www.jellogallery.org/history.html
You can also pick up original Jell-O recipe packets at almost any antique shop in Livingston County, or at least the ones on Main St. in Mt. Morris. 
You can also visit the Jell-O Museum in LeRoy NY  http://www.jellogallery.org/

As to this recipe, it comes from a 1905 booklet.  It is the first recipe listed, and I had a heck of a time with it.  I dumped the first batch down the sink (there went the Lemon). I made the second with lime jell-o, which wasn’t invented until much later (hey, it's what I had left).  The second attempt was slightly more successful, but still a funny, watery, unstable mess.   I have video of the whole thing collapsing into a weird green, quivering heap.

The directions read:
Grape Frappe
Number 1
Dissolve one package of Lemon Jell-O in one-half pint boiling water (that’s 1 cup).  Add one-half pint grape juice and stir thoroughly.  Set away to cool, stirring occasionally.  Beat the whites of three eggs to a stiff froth and when Jell-O mixture begins to thicken, add gradually to the beaten whites, beating with a Dover egg beater all the time.  When it is light and stiff enough to keep its shape, pile in a mold and serve with whipped cream.

So, here’s how it went:
Dissolve one package of Lemon (lime) Jell-O in 1 c. boiling water.  Check. 

(do this for 2 minutes, not 30 seconds or all your ‘jell’ will remain on the bottom of the bowl) Add one-half pint grape juice and stir thoroughly.  Check  
It must jiggle or its not ready.
Set away to cool, stirring occasionally.  Yeah.  They mean for like an hour.  Stir every 15 minutes with a whisk.  If it’s NOT starting to jell it won’t incorporate into your meringue and you’ll have a horrible watery nasty mess.  Ask me how I know that.

Beat it!
Beat the whites of 3 eggs to a stiff froth and when jell-o mixture begins to thicken… AFTER the jell-o has gone all slurpy jiggly, then go ahead & beat your egg whites.  This takes a while, let’s say 15 minutes.  Note: Chill the egg beating bowl in the freezer when you set the jello away so the bowl is cool, and what the heck, put the jello mold in there too.  Note: use a BIG bowl to mix this in, the medium size mixing bowl was not quite large enough once that froth got going.  You’ll need a mold that holds 4 cups, or 2 smaller molds.

A tiny bit at a time...
add gradually to the beaten whites… they mean that.




Now do this FOREVER
beating with a Dover egg beater all the time.   I have one!  I used it!  It works!  (OK, it's a different brand, but it's still the same tool)  It adds more fluffy air than a whisk and helps to incorporate the jelled jello into the meringue better than the whisk, though I used both.   It’s far less splattering than a modern mixer, so in this case stick with the hand tools.

More like poured after pure exhaustion.
When it is light and stiff enough to keep its shape, pile in a mold.  Yeah.  Right.  I beat this sucker for 40 minutes and called it good when it was still runny and about to overflow the bowl (here’s a vote for electric).  I probably should have kept going, but it was late, I was tired & I just wanted it done.  Spoon the first bits into the mold, then pour the rest gently.  There should not be any liquid, it should all be incorporated.  If there is liquid, you need to just keep beating or throw the whole darn thing out because you didn’t wait for it to cool and it’ll never ever, ever set up.  You could probably toss it in the freezer for a few minutes to re-cool if necessary.
  Note: do not grease the mold!  I'm serious.  Don't do it.

serve with whipped cream.  Whoa there me buckaroo!  First you need to chill that puppy overnight.  Maybe a little more than that, but not much more.  To release from the mold, run a knife along the top edges, then set the mold in hot water for a few seconds to melt just the outer bits of the jello, then put the serving plate over the top, turn the whole thing over, and gently lift, jiggle, shake, SPLAT onto the serving plate.  Hope it comes out clean.  Mine almost did.

 
Time:  Let’s not even think about it.  I’ll say 15 min. prep, 40 minutes of beating stuff (whipped cream not included), chilled overnight, then 5 minutes of getting stuff ready & unmolding it the next day.  Add time for laughing & some serious mess-ups.

Cost:  The ingredients were around $5. 
Let’s not discuss the $32 I coughed up for the antique jell-o mold from the ONLY shop that had molds in the entirety of Livingston County.  After 6 antique shops, 3 regular stores & actually calling around to several supermarkets, some of whom had no clue what I was even talking about I was exhausted, frustrated & apparently my brain had turned to jell-o.  It was a darn expensive flop.  Fortunately that mold is lovely & reusable.   Note on Jell-O molds: don’t grease them, no matter what Mother’s friend says.  Just don’t.  Use hot water to loosen it like you are supposed to. 

I suppose going from 'useless goop'
to 'almost-dessert' is a success, right?
Success:  After an amazing failure... Not.  Or kinda.  But still not really.The taste wasn’t bad, even though I hate lime jell-o.  It had a lovely meringue flavor, and you could easily make a meringue dessert topping this way; but as a stand-alone, not so much.  It would be delightful with whipped cream.  In the future, I’ll stick with Knox gelatin and do my own flavors, which are much cleaner & don’t have horrible migraine-inducing dyes in them.  Needless to say, I did not make the whipped cream.  It was collapsing as I looked and when we cut it it went ‘splurk/fizz’ into a flattened pile on the plate.  It was rather funny.
 
Accuracy:  Only sorta.  The Jell-O recipe has changed over the years, the packet is actually smaller and so I’d recommend using less liquid than the directions say to do, maybe ¼ c. less as I ended up with an unstable dessert.  Cut back on the water not the juice or the egg whites.
I did use the hand crank egg beater to mix this, so I could see how the tools act differently.  The whisk didn’t add quite as much air, though it did the job.
I also used an early-ish mold, at least the earliest that Highway Robbery Antiques had to offer (they are very nice & extremely knowledgeable, but ouch! My pocket book… and the kicker was that my mother brought home 2 molds from a thrift shop in the one place I didn’t call for $2 each - I could die).
  If I were to do this recipe again I would use a solid mold vs. the one with the bunt-style hole.
Chilled in a modern fridge, which is not substantially different from an old ice box considering the fridge in question. Be aware that this recipe uses raw eggs.  I used raw eggs.

Overall, I wouldn’t make this again unless I needed a twist on a meringue recipe.  Clearly not my favorite.
It might be awesome on Key Lime Pie, or Lime-Meringue.  
Don't forget the whipped cream.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Verjuice

Gail has a temper tantrum & hacks weeds to relieve stress.
A little while ago (one week to be precise) I had a snit fit and decided to take it out on the burdock bushes by the grape arbor.  This turned into a great adventure in making Verjus/verjuice/(ver-ZHOO)... any way you say or spell it, it's vinegar made from unripe white wine grapes, though I can't promise no Concords got in the mix.  This happily met my Fortnightly Food Challenge #6, Seasonal Foods.

There is much mention of verjuice in Medieval French cooking, but no mention of how to make the stuff.  The Good Wife's Guide, A Medieval Household Book has a bazillion recipes that require it, and even a recipe about how to fake it, but I think they probably just purchased it vs. putting it up themselves.  There is a later recipe from 1600's England that uses crab apples, but I chose to ignore that in favor of just assuming that the unripe grapes were simply pressed, fermented for 24-48 hrs (because that's how long they ferment naturally) and then bottled.  Because that seems to work.  I'm taking a big chance on being wrong here.  One thing that the Goodman of Paris does mention is that new verjus is too "new" to be used, and one should mix the old with the new for a good flavor.  Other food historians have said that it mellows with age, and I take that to mean it becomes more like grape juice, and no longer has that startling sour tartness.

The overabundance of unripe grapes in the thing called "the arbor."
I made two batches.  The first was highly successful, even with the mistake of the Foley Food Mill (don't do that, just let it drain).  The second had mold in both large jars, but thankfully none in the small jar (I also had "help" from start to finish, so I was not as careful as I was with the first batch).   This illustrates the importance of using perfect fruit, least an imperfect fruit spoil the whole batch; and of not mixing your batches, least that imperfect fruit spoil all batches.

The crate-o-grapes


So, basically verjuice is made from unripe white wine grapes that are culled from the vine with the ultimate goal of improving the final grape harvest for wine.  But what to do with the waste grapes?  No pigs or chickens?  Make Verjuice!  You can use it anywhere you would normally use apple cider vinegar in cooking, or citrus juice.  It is very very sour; like Major Pucker Power!  My kid loved the stuff.  He likes to bite lemons too, so if that gives you any idea...  It has a very pleasant sour flavor though.  Used sparingly in recipes it should go well with wine, unlike citrus which can clash (so I'm told).  Since I'm not a big alcohol person, you could not prove this by me.  But there it is.

15 lbs of unripe grapes, give or take.
This basin holds about 15 lbs of grapes.  I had to be very selective to make sure there was no mold, as we had a mold problem in the arbor.

Washed grapes into the blender. 
Double check on your quality before you grind things up.







Now, this is obviously not how it was done historically, but impulse projects sometimes require modern concessions.  The blender made this project possible. 

One colander of  grapes, washed & blended was about the right amount to drain in the sieve at a time.

One "how to" suggestion was to not wash the grapes.  I had intended to follow this advice in the second batch, but for reasons that will become evident below, washed them anyway (which didn't work as it grew mold anyway).

Pulse or chop the grapes a little, just so they are juicy, not so they are totally liquid.  You want some chunks left, but no whole grapes.  No seed grain... I hope that is helpful.  So blend enough to get the liquid without chopping up the seeds.

Hint: drain the mush again for more juice. 
It'll all be brown anyway, so don't worry about that.
Next, into the sieve to drain.  You can also use cheese cloth here.  Both work well.  But you will have to do one pass through a coffee filter or paper towel if you don't use the cheese cloth.
Hint: cheese cloth can be thrown out, a sieve has to be scrubbed with a brush & takes more water than even a Western NY girl is comfortable using to wash the little bugger.

I also used the Foley Food Mill for the 1st batch, which did come out very green to start, but most of that was sediment which I strained off after.

food mill mush vs. drained juice
Here is the bowl of dripped juice, and the bowl of Food Mill juice.  The dripped is very clear in comparison to the mash of the food mill.  Note that the clean juice is NOT green.  It's a golden brown color.  Oddly enough every jar came out a slightly different color.  After heating most of them have come to the same amber/clear liquid.



Unripe grape mush
Straining out the liquid mush from the food mill. 
It took a bit of stirring, and I ended up putting the drippings from this through a paper towel to get the final bits & pieces, and still had a lot of residue in the final jars... but, on the other hand, I got an entire jar more juice than I did from the other (molded) batch.  So it might be worth doing anyway.

I swear my son cried when I threw this sour mush away vs. putting it in a go-go squeeze packet for him.




 

The raw verjuice, fermenting happily.
The jars are left to happily (hopefully) ferment on their own for 24-48 hours.  Big jars are better as it ferments well, but pints are fine too.  Leave the caps on lightly so if they need to burp they can, but don't leave them off because they won't ferment as well.  Once those lovely bubbles go away, and if no mold has formed, either suck up the clearish juice with a suction bulb (like a turkey baster) or pour out the juice into a sieve lined with a paper towel to get rid of the sediment.  Don't try pouring it off the top, it's too fine & just clouds up again.  Then you can get ready to pasturize (heat) it and either can or bottle the stuff.  I chose to can it.   Since canning obviously wasn't invented in the 14th c. this is not how it was done.  It was probably bottled like wine, though that is a guess.  I'm not sure how vinegar was kept them, but it may have been put up in a similar fashion.

I used a hot water bath canning method.  Steralize the jars, put them all in a big canner pot & cover with water, heat water as you heat the lids & rings in another pot.  Start cooking the juice (one batch at a time) just until it simmers, then keep it hot for 10-15 minutes.  Can it by pouring out the water from the jars in the canner, pour in the hot juice, put the hot lids on & sink the jars into the hot water in the canner until they are covered by at least 1" of water.  Boil for 15-60 minutes (this will depend on your preferred method of canning, it's not exactly written in stone - I'm guessing).  Set finished jars on a towel in a warm place, cover with another towel & let cool overnight.  Hopefully everything will seal.  All of mine did.  I'll post a pic of this in a later edit, but they are all labeled & not showing any signs of mold.  I'll put them away in a few days as long as they still look good.  It should last for a year unopened, and 6-8 weeks in the fridge after opening.  Since you will only use a little in any given recipe, I suggest putting it up in small jars.

Helping Mommy make Verjuice.
Now, the fun part.  When I decided to use the rest of the grapes in the 2nd batch, it was a few days after picking them.  Some had ripened a lot, some had molded or started to raisin up & some were fine... BUT, I had a helper then too.  So I was not as careful as I had been the first time, and not as choosey because I was busy making sure The Wonderful Boy didn't put more than 5 grapes in his mouth at a time.  He thought it was The Best Thing Ever to stomp on the grapes.  That is, after all, is how you make grape juice, right Mama?  Yes Dear, it is.
I almost gave up.  Then I remembered that my little helper will be helping me for the next 12 yrs, so I just accepted his help & there it is. 
We had a blast & even if there is only one bottle of Baby Toe Jam Verjuice it's a treasure to be savored.  Yum.  So worth the memory of him smiling up at me with 5 major choking hazards in his little cheeks (I swear I have another gray streak from this project).  I was thinking he had spit most of them out, but it later became apparent that he did, in fact, eat a lot of grapes.  Many, many grapes.  I'm amazed he didn't have a tummy ache.

Ah yes... Jilly helped too.

All the helpers.



PS.  Raccoons do not eat grapes.  They eat cat poo, but not grapes.  Go figure.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Medieval Nursing Dresses

My kiddo is still on the boobajuice, and Pennsic is fast approaching.  Up to this point I've been wearing the same, sad outfit to every SCA event we've been day-tripping to.  Unfortunately for me, that will not be possible at Pennsic without becoming very stinky very quickly... so more nursing dresses. 

Which means, more research into HOW medieval women nursed their children.  Even today Boob Access is an issue, though you'd never guess it from our advertising world.  I say "if I can get a breast out, it's a nursing top" and that is pretty much true.  There seem to be several ways our ancestresses handled this particular life-stage, and I get the feeling that dress seams got split & re-sewn on a regular basis.

The main one seems to be the front slit, which goes from early representations in the 900's up through to today.  The slit depth has to depend on breast height, and methinks some artists took a bit of liberty in anatomy and fashion to accomplish these illustrations. 
1170 Huntarian Psalter, Psalm 71.
Aside from her breasts coming from her neck you can see a lined dress & chemise both slit in the center and a veil/wimple combo. 
Do my eyes deceive me, or does that monk have a handlebar mustache?  For those of you not in the know, this is likely Charity, who feeds "the world" from her own body.  Usually 2 men or 2 toddler boys are the ones nursing. 
1450 Jean Foquet's Lactating Mary (probably Virgin Enthroned but whatever)
OK, since I've nursed a kid, I can tell you this is totally possible.  It's reality People.  No joke.  She's just missing the leakage on the other side.  He doesn't look hungry.  I sympathize with her.
I love this gown, but I'm not sure my kiddo will sit patiently long enough for me to unlace to feed him.  You can see that the chemise has a wide enough neckline that the breast goes over it vs. having a slit.


Then there is the Front Slit with Sidless Surcote combo, which is what's been keeping us going.  I just leave the front of the dress unlaced, which is covered by the surcote and then pull the outer to the center & the under to the side & a little impatience from my kid makes a meal on the go.  This method (so far) is the most modest to modern eyes.  Most people don't even know I'm nursing unless they scare him out of his food trance & he bites me.  Good for 1100's-late 1300's

The next is a button front gown.  This is on the To-Do list just because they are so lovely and I wants one.  This gown can have both side lacing and front buttons, but I'll be honest, it looks odd in real life.
1380, Lady de la Pole and her husband Sir John de la Pole, Essex (as it happens my father's family was from Essex about the same time).  Me needs a goffered veil.
I have a tippet dress, but it's side lacing.  Was great while pregnant.  Now I want one that buttons so I can nurse.  And BUTTONS!  When I do this, I will do it with raglan sleeves and possibly a binding strip at the neckline. 
Please note, I am not this thin, and never will be.  But the style suits larger figures quite well.
Next up is the "over the neckline" nursing dress.  The necklines here are cut down far enough to allow the dress to be pulled down just a bit, so kiddo can nurse.  Usually worn in combination with a partlet of some kind or a veil, making it incredibly frustrating for costume historians to decode the exact dress construction.


Roger Van der Weyden was kind enough to give us "St. Luke Drawing the Virgin" 1435-40
The neckline is low enough that she can just lift out, nurse & put back without much fuss. 
I used to think his expression was unrealistic until my own kid did that.

 


Last are the chest slit fashions, mostly from Italy in the early 1500's, but some as early as the 1200's in Western Europe.  Some show lacing, but most are just gathered material that close over the bust when not in use.  I cannot see this ending well for me, so we'll skip that particular fashion.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Mincemeat Pie, Bilbo's Pantry and Chaos... Total Chaos

Long time no write Dear Readers!  Babies are time sinks.  Delightfully so, but wow.
Here's a bit of chaos, and to my grief the last piece was eaten yesterday.

Amazing Mincemeat pie, with cheese.



The Challenge: 
1. Literary Foods  June 1 - June 14
Food is described in great detail in much of the literature of the past. Make a dish that has been mentioned in a work of literature, based on historical documentation about that food item.

I knew I was going to use The Hobbit by JRR Tolkein for this challenge, and while Dwarf Jelly was quite enticing, I had difficulty deciding which meat to substitute for Dwarf as that is harder to find than dragon these days.  When my husband requested chicken I knew this dish would not happen, just as it didn’t happen in the book. 

After tossing around the idea of making Beorn’s honey cakes, a sort of hard-tack; I threw it all away and went for Bofur’s mincemeat pie and cheese in honor of the FDA not banning artisanal cheesemakers from using wooden boards.  I purchased a nice aged sharp cheddar and some rye bread, several half-chickens (musn’t forget Gandalf’s cold chicken & pickles), and then everything to make mincemeat pies.  The grocery bill wasn’t pretty, but thankfully it’s a lot of pie filling and the rest is going towards our dish to pass at an event.

The Recipe:
From Buckeye Cookery 1877.  It is an American recipe, not an English one, though it shares many elements with the English versions. 

Mince Meat
Two bowls chopped apples, one of chopped meat, with one-fourth pound suet, grated rind and juice of one lemon, two tea-cups molasses, one large tea-spoon each of cinnamon and cloves, one nutmeg, one pound raisins, half pound currants, one-fourth pound citron cut fine, one quart cider, and sugar and salt to taste.--Mrs. J. R. Wilcox, New Haven, Connecticut.

My Interpretation of the original:
9-12 lg. Apples, chopped
1 lb. chopped meat, beef brisket or neck
¼ lb suet, frozen and grated (1/2 c. veggie suit or butter or lard)
1 lemon, grated & juiced
2 c. molasses
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cloves
1 grated nutmeg
1 lb raisins
½ lb currants
¼ lb citron cut fine (substituted diced lemon peel)
1 qt. Cider (4 cups)
Sugar to taste (1/4 c.)
Salt to taste (1 tsp)

Chop meat while frozen, as small as you can.
Put meat in a skillet on med-low heat and cook slowly until just brown.  Turn off & set aside.
Grate lemon, orange or other fruit rind.  Set aside.
Grate frozen suet & set aside.
Peel & chop apples until you have roughly 2x as many apples as there was raw meat.
In a large pot, combine all ingredients and simmer 30 minutes or more.
Pack away in jars or freeze in 2-4 c. amounts.
Let sit overnight for best flavor (refridgerated) before baking.
Bake in a double pie crust or tarts: 425F for 15 minutes, down to 350 for another 30 minutes.
Makes 2 pies & a large tart.

Date, Year & Region:
Buckeye Cookery was printed in 1877, and the recipe was adapted from  Mrs. J. R. Wilcox of  New Haven, Connecticut’s contribution.  The Hobbit came out in 1937.  I chose an older recipe because the “feel” of the people in the Shire is much more old-world.  I’d put them somewhere between the late 18th c. and rural 1870’s.  With all the ingredients this mincemeat has a lot of Hobbit Appeal. 

Time to Complete:
1.5 hrs of prep for the mincemeat filling (less if you use a food processor).
30 minutes of cooking the mix on the stove.
15 minutes to make the pie crust 
45 minutes to bake.

Total Cost:
$43.00
breakdown:
$4 apples (had leftovers)
$5.75 cheese
$3.00 apple cider (1/2 left)
1.24 suet (a lot left, so can use for another recipe)
17.24 brisket (used 1 of 4 lbs)
unfortunately the specialty food store didn’t give me a receipt & the prices were not on the bags.  I believe it was $25 for everything.  I have some molasses left over.


How Successful was it?
My father says “excellent”
My husband says “it was good”
My mother says “it was delicious, yummy yummy yummy” (talking to grandkid)
I say “fabulous with the cheese; on the 2nd day it’s even better.”
My son did grabby-hands for more, but dislikes lemon peel & spit that out.

How Accurate is it?

Pretty accurate in terms of ingredients.  Substitutions were listed as suggestions in the instructions for a larger recipe; orange rind & lemon peel in place of citron, which would have been a 100 mile drive to obtain.  I was able to get everything else from the butcher (Grizzly Custom Cutting), a specialty food shop in the next town (Jane’s Pantry) & the local grocery store.
I did use modern equipment; gas stove, cutting board, bowls, etc., but cut everything by hand, which made the prep time longer. 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Copyright & A Baby

My friend Carol has suggested that I do a blog post a day just to keep my mind sharp while I numb it through breastfeeding, (no really, it's all that oxytocin, your mind is in this happy fog of motherhood... pretty awesome when you think about it).  I'm not that ambitious, but a few things have been rattling around in my head other than rattles, and while the munchkin sleeps in my lap I'll take the opportunity to babble to y'all.

First: Copyright on the Internet.
My friend Bea has gone on quite a rant about it. Here is her polite blog post with links to resources about copyright.  (Bea's blog, you'll love it)
Trystan's is also great http://trystancraft.com/costume/2012/01/18/an-introduction-to-copyright-for-bloggers-especially-costume-bloggers/

I've been considering watermarking the stuff I put on here that's actually mine.  A good bit obviously isn't, as the artists have been dead for ages, though I do try to cite when possible.  Every once in a while I even go back and correct things or update info.  I admit I'm a bit hazy on the sharing of museum owned artwork by long dead artists and Trystan addresses that...
BUT for my purposes I'm totally cool with people using my (personal) images/info for educational purposes via links, excerpts with citations or credited pictures.  This means you credit the source (me) and don't make money off my stuff without express written permission, and this is not that.  If it doesn't come through the USPS in a signed contract it's not written permission.  If you blatantly steal my stuff and put it in a $10 for sale packet I will hate you forever, call you out on your BS and if you don't immediately make it right there will be lawyers... just sayin'.  If you lift my research and turn it in to your college professor as your own without even changing my lame jokes, I will email said professor and let you wonder why you failed that course (yes, I saw that, the costume world is small and the internet is even smaller, Plagiarizers Beware)... My black little heart enjoyed that.  Anyway, I blog tutorials for free for a reason and having someone copy a blog post and then obnoxiously charge people for it is just rude. And illegal.  So don't.

Child break...

Next day... (you see how much I got done?  Amazing, isn't it?)


Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Cloth Book for Baby

Whew it's been a while! 
I've been up to my eyebrows in motherhood and my life is boob-pee-poo-play-cry-snot-boob-look.I'm.a.bed.don't.move.or.he'll.wake.up-boob-rockabyebaby-puke-ABCDEFG-TIRED-repeat for 3 glorious months.

Happy New Year!

And without further ado, here's a cloth book I made for the kid. He likes it.
He loves the dots and tries to grab them.

He's keen on the red but only cares about the lace bit of the orange.

LOVES the yellow.

Boy likes yellow.  Ducks are yellow.. I have no idea why you keep saying "blue" Mommy.

Black textures.  The silk heart on the net is acceptable, but not the favorite.
I was not particular about my stitching lines or sizes.  Approximate was good enough, Little Dude is going to gnaw on it & probably puke on it.  Cloth books from the store are generally about $15 or so, and I needed construction to stay in the time frame of THE NAP.  All told, it was about 2 hours, so my "budget" was blown, but a lot of that was my own dithering.  The next one will be faster.

Essentially you pick a theme: colors ROY G BIV (WB) in this case, nursery rhyme, animals, an activity (playing with a ball), etc. and go with it.  Keep it simple.  Don't fret.
Kids this age just basically like colors, contrast, things to touch and most importantly, things to chew on.
As long as everything is secured and there's no choking hazards it's all good.

Each panel here is cut 7x7, different fabrics, lined with cotton for more bulk (the kid loves quilting, so that's next), then stitch right sides together with a binding strip, clip the corners, turn and topstitch.  The binding strips were sewn together in nice sloppy lines.  Pin those buggers, that much fabric likes to squish and slide.

You cannot do this wrong.  Just make it washable and it's all good. 
This is the bazillionth blog post about this, so it really is that easy.
Go for it!  The kid will love it.
Nummy book.


BTW, this is John Robert.  John Robert, this is your first blog appearance.  Congrats kid.