Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Birth of Mediterranean Cuisine,Vincenzo Corrado and his Pine Nut Truffle Sauce

Vincenzo Corrado lived for 100 years. Born in 1736, he was a cultured, elegant man who gained prominence as a chef for a prince who regularly fed a virtual legion of cosmopolitan guests in the Italian city of Naples.

We know of Corrado today because he was the first to write of what we now think of as ‘Mediterranean Cuisine’ in his The Gallant Cook in 1773. The book would never have been written but for the encouragement of the Prince of Francavilla –– his flamboyant and discerning master. Francavilla wanted to share and celebrate his chef’s delicious and, as it turns out, healthy creations with the public. The book went through 6 editions from 1773 to 1806. His dishes were so ahead of their time ––– imagine shrimp on a mound of prosciutto drizzled with olive oil or squid stuffed with eel, anchovies, parsley and truffles with an olive oil lemon sauce! It’s simple, good food.

He was ahead of his time for another reason –– Corrado also wrote a book about vegetarian cooking. It was called Pitagoric Food after Pythagoras (some legends portray Pythagoras as a vegetarian who subscribed to simple eating habits for health and for spiritual reasons –– he believed in re-incarnation). In Cibo Pitagorico, Corrado preached the benefits of vegetables over meat –for their flavor and for health. Corrado included some of the first recipes for tomatoes –– in a soup and with pasta and pizza (yes, pizza). He also wrote a treatise on potatoes.

Not to say that he neglected the culinary grand architectural presentations of the day, he could create edible spectacles with the best of them.

18th century Naples

His route to his destiny was not an orthodox one. After his beginnings as a page in the court of Don Michele Imperiali, he went into the church and began studying math, astronomy and philosophy. Then he branched out to natural science and culinary arts. That’s where he found his passion. He never took his orders.

Palazzo Cellamare, Naples

The Prince of Francavilla gave him the title of "Capo dei Servizi di Bocca" – loosely translated as the ‘head of mouth services’ -- sort of the head taster or the court arbiter of taste/cuisine. He was in charge of the kitchens at the magnificent Palazzo Cellamare overlooking the bay of Naples that still stands today. This kept him busy, I would imagine. The Prince would entertain hundreds nearly every day at his rented palazzo filled with his highly valued art collection.

Giacomo Casanova (1725-98)

I discovered Giacomo Casanova’s recollections of one of these parties on the Mad Monarch’s site  "…the Prince led us to a pool beside the sea. A priest, Don Paolo Moccia, jumped stark naked into the water and without making any movement he floated like a pine plank. Next, Michele made all his pages dive into the pool together. These were boys of about 16 years old, as comely as cupids. On leaving the breasts of the waves almost simultaneously, they swam up under the public's eyes, "developing in strength and grace, and performing a thousand evolutions" It seems the Prince had an eye for the lads and these beauties were his “sweethearts”. Michele loved spectacle and set an impressive table.

Banquet at the Casa Nani alla Giudecca in Venice, 1755

For such a gargantuan operation, the kitchen was run like that of a great hotel. Corrado said of his work there, "The abundance, variety and delicacy of food, its splendor and sumptuousness of the tables required a host of men of art, wise and honest"

TABLE  illustration from Cuoco Galante --

In addition to the cooks who stewed and grilled, carved and sautéed, there were cooks for all the specialized stations of the kitchen – deployed in areas for the preparation of salads or for creating the fanciful pastries. There were also those who worked the gardens to supply the kitchens, people who cleaned it all up as well as an army of servers to present the feast to the guests.

 Small table in an illustration from Cuoco Galante --

Corrado wrote a good deal about his lavish presentations decorated with porcelain characters, vases of flowers, crystal and silver presentation dishes of 3 to 4 tiers overflowing with fruits and vegetables. There were bird cages full of chirping birds, and frames of flowers and fruit with tiny porcelain gardeners working at their citrus trees, complemented by priceless tableware – silver, china and crystal - the book gives suggestions on how to recreate some of his presentations for your own banquets

TABLE for 16

Corrado was fond of his patron and expressed a reverential deference for the lords and ladies that dined at his tables. The effulgent style of his master was no doubt influenced by his Spanish heritage that thrived under Neapolitan skies. The lord encouraged his kitchen artist to aspire to greatness, and Corrado was terribly grateful for the opportunity.

In the foreword he offers thanks to his beloved patron:

"Questi due libri che del buon gusto trattano, con la guida e norma scrissi, e pur mercé la tua generosità mandai alle stampe, e Tu di propria mano ne segnasti il titolo il -Cuoco Galante- l'uno e il -Credenziere del Buon Gusto- l'altro, tutti e due a te li porgo come frutto di un albero dalla mano piantato... Mio Scopo egli è di richiamare alla memoria dei nobili uomini dei quali Tu fosti la gloria l'ornamento alla memoria e la lode. Ah? Ma qual Tu fosti non basterebbe di dire di cento e mille lingue, per cui io stimo meglio il tacere e con il silenzio benedire gli anni che ti fu appresso."

"These two books that deal with good taste, I wrote with guidance and the way I normally wrote and also thanks to your generosity I sent them to the printer and you with your own hand suggested the title "The - Gallant Cook" - the one and the "Purveyor of Good Taste" - the other, I offer both of them to you as the fruit of a tree planted by purpose is to bring noble men back to memory among whom you were the glory, the ornament to memory and the praise. Ah? What you were one hundred tongues or one thousand would not suffice, therefore I better regard my silence and with the silence to bless the years that I spent close to you."

What better way to introduce you to the delights of Corrado than his passage and recipes for truffles.  As you can see, they are not recipes as we think of them, more suggestions of ingredient combinations:

"I Tartufi sono di due specie bianchi, e neri; gli uni, e gli altri sono ottimi purché siano odoroti e fodi. Questi sono di maggior gusto de' Funghi, e di maggior condimento nelle vivande. Per condimento si usano come i Funghi. Servendoli soli si cuocono con oilio; pressemolo, aglio, pepe, acciughe, late di pignoli, e sugo di limone; o pure con butirro, pressemolo trito, e spezie, legati con parmegiano grattato e gialli d'uova. Si servono cotti in vino di Sciampagna e butirro sopra croste de pane fritto. Si fanno cuocere intieri sotto le ceneri calde, netti ed involti nella carta, e si servono in fette con butirro, olio, sale, pepe, e sugo di limone, o pure con salsa d'acciughe all'olio, Si conservano o in fette secche, o pure intieri nell'olio."

"There are two species of truffles, white and black. Both are excellent provided that they are fragrant and firm. Truffles taste better than mushrooms and provide better seasoning in cooking. For seasoning they are used like mushrooms. When served by themselves they are cooked in oil, parsley, pepper, anchovies, pine nut milk and lemon juice; or with butter, chopped parsley and spices, bound with grated parmigiano and egg yolk. They are served cooked in champagne and butter over crusts of fried bread. They are cooked whole under warm ashes, clean and wrapped in paper and they are served sliced with butter, oil, salt, pepper and lemon juice or with an oil-based anchovy sauce. They are kept (preserved) either sliced and dry or whole under oil."

I decided I would make the first sauce with pine nut milk, a brilliant ingredient I have never had before. If you are lucky enough to have a few truffles, you can make this on its own – a glorious plate of sliced truffles with a divine sauce.  I had one from D'Artagnan and decided that it would be spectacular with asparagus – and it was. If you haven’t got truffles lying around, may I suggest sautéing the asparagus with truffle butter or oil and enjoying the sauce that way? You will thank chef Corrado most effusively for his inspired combination and wonder why you haven’t had it before.

Truffles with Pine Nut Sauce on Asparagus

Sautéed sliced Truffles (available from Dartagnan - summer or winter depending on season)
Pine nut sauce
Asparagus, steamed, roasted or sautéed

¼ c pine nuts
3-4 T water
2 T chopped parsley
½ t anchovies, chopped fine to taste
2-3 t lemon juice to taste
½ t pepper
salt to taste

sliced truffles
oil or butter
good gray salt


Soak the pine nuts in water for a few hours or overnight. Drain and rinse and put in a blender with 2 T water, process, then add more till you get a creamy consistency.

Add the rest of the ingredients. Add the lemon juice and anchovies to taste.

Steam your asparagus for 6-7 minutes (or bake them at 400º for 10 minutes).

Warm the butter or oil, gently sauté the truffles for a few minutes and add the salt.

Place the asparagus on the plate, scatter the truffles over them and pour on the sauce.
The flavors are so modern – belying the recipe’s centuries-old provenance.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Victoria, Francatelli, Crockford's Club and Quail à la Sefton

Victoria and Albert Wedding

Have you been watching,  the PBS series, Victoria ?

The real Victoria and Albert wedding, 1840

It is a real treat for the eyes with astonishing locations, voluptuous set dressing and costumes to die for. It’s a decent script with a now ubiquitous upstairs/downstairs story that includes a famous chef – Charles Elmé Francatelli (1805-76), in a fanciful, romantic below-stairs subplot.

chocolate covered ice cream bombe

Francatelli and Skerrett

Illustration from Francatelli’s The Modern Cook 1859

The fictional Francatelli (played by Ben Kingsley’s handsome son) is forever conjuring up faultlessly executed sugar confections for the royals and delicacies to impress Miss Skerrett, the ladies’ maid with the solid gold palate he is courting (the chocolate bombe scene is charming).

Francatelli (whose recipes I recreated HERE, HERE and HERE), was an English-born chef who studied in France. Although most of us are only familiar with him because of his association with Victoria, the truth is he only lasted at the palace for 2 years (a battle of wills with castle staff shortened his tenure there). 

Before his royal appointment, he gained his reputation by cooking at Crockford’s –– a gambling club famous for the amount of money that it siphoned from the upper classes and for its fine food that was almost as legendary for it’s quality and novelty—no one had done club food well until then. The whole environment was, at least in its first decade, nonpareil – the best customers, staff, appointments and food.

I must admit, I had no memory of Crockfords - it had slipped by me completely. I knew the Reform Club well –– both Soyer and Francatelli manned the stoves at that venerable institution, but not Crockfords. As I began to research the club, I was astonished how famous the place had been for the 20 years of its existence (1828-48).

Rees Howell Gronow

Thanks to an article about it in the Smithsonian Magazine, I discovered a remarkable chronicler of the early 19th century.  Rees Howell Gronow (1794-1865) was a Welsh Grenadier, a crack shot, a well-dressed dandy and an Etonian classmate of Shelley. His 2 volume Reminiscences and Recollections of Captain Gronow written in 1862, is rich with tales of all the celebrities and royals of the day (they are a fun read and there are 2 other recollections of London and Paris if you want a full, 19th century immersion). He shares their adventures as well as their stories and witticisms. His chapter on Crockfords began:

William Crockford, 1828 (1775- 1844)

“In the reign of George IV, a new star rose upon the horizon in the person of Mr. William Crockford  …. He built the well-known palace in St James’s Street, where a club was established and play organized on a scale of magnificence and liberality hitherto unknown in Europe. One may safely say, without exaggeration, that Crockford won the whole of the ready money of the then existing generation…in a few years, twelve hundred thousand pounds were swept away by the fortunate fishmonger.”

Crockford  gaming room

At one point Crockford was worth the equivalent of $160 million in today’s currency earned through a preternatural skill at calculating odds and the brilliant manipulation of his patron's financially fatal hubris. He developed an ingenious human inventory with an inheritance calendar noting the moment young aristocrats came into their fortune. From that moment, the mark would be expertly lured to Crockford's tables (usually to play the dice game called Hazard). He would often soak much of their new money away before they knew what hit them. He liked his patrons young, rich and bored or war weary and in need of excitement. It has been said families are still recovering from the damage to the family fortune wrought at Crockfords.

Crockford gaming room

Gronow continued: “The members of the club included all the celebrities of England… and at the gay and festive board, which was constantly replenished from midnight to early dawn, the most brilliant sallies of wit, the most agreeable conversation, the most interesting anecdotes, interspersed with grave political discussions and acute logical reasoning on every conceivable subject, proceeded from the soldiers, scholars, statesmen, poets and men of pleasure, who, when … balls and parties at an end, delighted to finish the evening with a little supper and a good deal of hazard at old Crockey’s. The tone of the club was excellent. A most gentleman-like feeling prevailed, and none of the rudeness, familiarity, and ill-breeding which disgrace some of the minor clubs of the present day, would have been tolerated for a moment.”

But it wasn’t just the gambling. Where most gambling clubs of the day served gray plates of boiled meat and pallid cheeses to fortify the gamblers as they played through the night, in 1828 Crockford hired Louis Eustace Ude (who had cooked for Louis XVI, for the 2nd Earl of Sefton and the Duke of York) to ply his well-healed clientele with the finest French food for an astronomical £2,000 a year (when a good cook made perhaps £20 a year). 

Louis Eustace Ude

Eustace Ude’s The French Cook, 1822 – a lavish table setting

Regency Mahagony wine cooler

The gamblers could eat and drink all they wished all night long for free (giant tubs of French champagne were always at the ready -"not in bottles but in dozens ... the pride of Rheims and Epernay" -- the wine cellar held tens of thousands of bottles). Ude continued there for 10 years, at which time Francatelli took the reins for 2 years before his appointment to Queen Victoria’s kitchen.

Henry Luttrell

In 1827, poet and renowned wit Henry Luttrell wrote a 112 page poem in two cantos entitled Crockford House, A Rhapsody. In it, he waxed poetic about the food – for many, many lines -- this is the beginning:

“Eyes were pleased, but Crockford, knew
Stomachs claim their pleasures too;
And that nine, at least, in ten,
Dully polled, of moral men
Think, no mater what the treat,
‘Tis but fudge – unless they eat.

Hastening, having bribed the sight,
To engage the appetite,
First, he turned his conjuring book
For a spell to raise a cook.
Thrice invoked, an artist came,
Not unworthy of the name;

One who with a hand of fire
Struck the culinary lyre,
And through all its compass ran”
Taste and judgment marked the man:
Ever various, ever new,
Was this heav’n-born Cordon Bleu.

Next, he waved his golden wand.
Earth and sea, at this command,
Gave their choicest treasures up,
That his customers might sup,
And his judgment was, in this
Clearly not so much amiss:

Thirst and hunger, as they say,
Being mortal foes of Play.
But as high celestial blood
Reckons on ambrosial food,
Every luxury was there
Deemed (to borrow from Voltaire)
Superflu si necessaire…”

Earl of Sefton

Ude and then Francatelli set groaning boards of ever changing delights from midnight on to the early hours to stoke the player’s fires to play and spend. How to choose from such wonders?  In the end, I decided to go to the last of my quails  to make Ude’s Fillets à la Sefton to honor his generous patron (upon Sefton’s death, Ude received a bequest of 100 guineas p.a. – a bit over £100 a year, even though he hadn't worked for him for many years).

Ude honored Sefton well with this recipe.  It is a very elegant dish and terribly good. This makes a wonderfully luxurious dinner and a fun presentation. Since it’s so rich, I think one full breast is fine per person, but you can double it if you want a lot more meat. I even found an early 19th century dish to serve them in to give you the flavor of the day. You can see why everyone thought life at Crockfords was heaven when you bite into this – and you don’t have to worry about gambling a fortune away to taste it!

Fillets of Quail à la Sefton

2  Dartagnan French quail, breasts removed – either 2 bone-in or 4 boneless pieces (save the rest of the bird and bones for stock)
2 T Dartagnan black truffle butter
1 black truffle from Dartagnan, sliced and notched – reserving trimmings
Sauce à la Lucullus

Sauce à la Lucullus

2 ½ c stock (either game stock made from bones or chicken stock)
1 slice of ham
2 sprigs of parsley
pinch of mace
1 clove
½ t thyme
2 berries or ½ t allspice
truffle trimmings
2 mushrooms, chopped
2 green onions
small bay leaf
truffle trimmings

2 T Dartagnan black truffle butter
2 T flour
1/3 c cream

Make the sauce by adding the seasoning to the stock and cook for 20 minutes then strain.

Take 1 cup and reduce it to a glaze and reserve (your should have around 3-4 T).

Put the butter in the pan and add the flour. Slowly add 2 c of the hot stock, stirring all the while. Add the cream. Cook over low heat for about 20 minutes to ½ an hour (this does make a difference – I always used to make a velouté quickly but this adds more flavor and texture).

Cook the quail breasts in 2 T truffle butter till browned and cooked through. I left them on the bone but you can also make 4 – half breasts. Remove them and make a deep slice in each for the truffles. Keep warm in a warmed serving dish.

Put the truffles in the pan the quail was cooked in for a moment – don’t make them too thin or they will disintegrate.

Dip the truffles in the reserved glaze and place some in the cut in the quail. I then brushed the quail in the remaining glaze.

Pour the sauce around the quails and lay the other truffle slices in the dish.

Friday, February 3, 2017

The Country Housewife, Richard Bradley and Crisp Fried Quail

While noodling around on the Thomas Gloning antique cookbook site looking for a recipe,  I discovered Richard Bradley and his book, The Country Housewife and Lady´s Director (1728 -32).  It had many invaluable tips on food, housekeeping, health and gardening –– I loved it.

A Gentleman of the 1720’s – there is no image of Bradley I could find

But once I started reading about Bradley, I couldn’t stop – such a fascinating man. My first stop was a piece on a wonderful site called British Food in America. It began as an article about Bradley’s unorthodox red bean ketchup but flowered into a lengthy tale about Mr. Bradley. The author must have been caught unawares as I was and just had to do more than the required cursory mention of the recipe’s author. After reading the article, I too wanted more. I read contemporary letters, articles and academic papers about him and was intrigued. The recipes are a blast too.

From the History of the Royal Society w. Francis Bacon and King Charles, 1660

What sets him apart from the cookbook authors of the day is that he wasn’t a cook at all. No, he was a botanist! In the first years of the 18th century, botany was a favorite hobby of the upper classes with money enough for the education, travel and experimentation necessary to indulge their botanical pursuits. Poor Mr. Bradley was not rich but he was an inspired observer. He couldn’t afford a university education and found himself rather unfairly pilloried –– his fine accomplishments mocked by his lofty peers who thought it gauche that he had to make a living. It was thought a man without a proper education couldn’t best one that did – period. The Sloane Letters quoted the Royal Society about Bradley, complaining that, “… his ignorance of Latin and Greek and his failure to perform his duties caused great scandal”

Fortunately, Bradley had a few esteemed patrons who admired his natural gifts and gave him helping hands that went so far as to arrange his acceptance into the Royal Society at 24 (extremely rare for an uneducated man). Men like collector James Petiver helped him to travel to the Netherlands with an introduction to a pioneer in the field of microbiology, Antonie van Leeuwenhoek  (a trip Bradley helped pay for by drawing bugs and pretending to be a physician), and the royal physician and owner of the vast collection that began the British Museum, Hans Sloane. Sloane got him a prestigious if unpaid posting to Cambridge University as the first professor of botany at the age of 36. Poor Bradley had to publish or perish and was, at the best of times, just a short scratch ahead of penury (he was forever borrowing money from his patrons and publishers - one of his letters began, “Since the Unfortunate Affair in Kensington whereby I lost all my Substance, My Expectations and my friends”).

Publish he did, and Bradley came up with some fine work – most especially the theory that tiny “microscopic agents” transmitted disease in man, beast and plant. In 1721, Bradley wrote, “we may learn, that all Pestilential Distempers, whether in animals or plants, are occasion’d by poisonous insects.” It was revolutionary to postulate that the afflictions of all living things in the natural world were caused by microbes. The author of the British Food in America piece concluded, “In the estimation of the Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America, “he was an enterprising, open-minded naturalist who succeeded in disseminating his many and diverse thoughts on how plants and animals live and interact.”

It’s sad that John Martyn, a distinctly Salieri-like successor to Bradley's Botany chair at Cambridge, successfully destroyed Bradley’s reputation (this information comes from Raymond Williamson’s, “John Martyn’) The slander was published in the infamous Grub-Street Journal - written mostly by hack writers of low character – like Martyn). Less talented but full of envy and vitriol, John Martyn penned numerous scurrilous tracts for the "Grub Street Journal" and took every opportunity to condemn Bradley’s work. Martyn accused Bradley of not teaching his classes, being too modern and not respecting the classics and especially not getting a botanic garden planted at Cambridge – making it hard for Martyn to teach botany properly. No mind that Bradley died young (only teaching for 6 years), or that during that time, Bradley diligently but unsuccessfully tried to secure private funds when the money for the garden he had been promised by Cambridge was not forthcoming. Martyn had money and taught for 29 years and didn’t get a garden built either – it was still all Bradley’s fault as far as he was concerned!

Illustration of Bradley’s Kaleidoscope at work 

Bradley accomplished much in his short life.  He was an inventor  (he came up with a simple kaleidoscope that was like a book that could be placed on a drawing and create marvelous designs – perfect for the baroque garden),  he founded the first British horticultural periodical,  "The General Treatise of Husbandry and Gardening" (1721-23), he was a pioneering epidemiologist and was one of  the earliest subscribers to the concept of connectedness of nature, revealing “ all Bodies have some Dependence upon one another; and that every distinct Part of Nature’s Works is necessary for the support of the Rest; and that if any one was wanting, all the Rest must be out of Order.” For instance, he realized birds were friends to farmers, not pests as they ate the insects that ate the crops. He realized that that cover crops like clover can restore soil fertility.  He thought about managing forests and believed in the concept of ecological diversity before there was a name for it. His way of thinking paved the way for the field of ecology.

Country Housewife Frontispiece 

This holistic approach came across in The Country Housewife. Part I is devoted to seasonal foods and recipes but also had observations on farming and animals –– the book was addressed to the women of the house: 

"The Reason which induces me to address the falling Piece to the Fair Sex, is, because the principal Matters contained in it are within the Liberty of the Province, The Art of Oeconomy is divided as Xenophon tells us, between the Men and the Women; the Men have the most dangerous and laborious Share of it in the Fields, and without doors, and the Women have the Care and Management of every Business within doors, and to see after the good ordering of whatever is belonging to the house."

Part II had more new reader’s suggestions for more recipes. He gives advice on planting and even bees but his recipes for “flesh, fish, fowl, fruit and Herbs, which are the Productions of a Farm, or from any Foreign Parts” are quite something. He also explains “the other Reason which as induced me to publish this Piece is, the Difficulties I have undergone in my Travels, when I have met with good provisions, in many Places in England, which have been murder’d in the dressing”. He hoped that it would “improve the Ignorant, and remind the Learned how and when to make the best of every thing: which may be a means of providing every one with a tolerable Entertainment founded upon practice and Fashion; which can never fail of Followers, and of making us fare much better upon the Roads in the Country than we were used to do.” See, he was also quite modern in his belief that you should not adulterate a quality ingredient and that foods had optimal seasons that varied from place to place.

The book begins with January and a treatise on the physical characteristics of all varieties of pigeons from Barbary to Carrier to Turbit and concludes with some fine recipes for the little birds. February is about the fowl and bird eggs and what to do with them but then gives soup recipes and even one for orange wine.  March is fish but also includes a long piece on brewing. You get the idea. Bradley was a polymath with varied interests that he felt would instruct and inform a susceptible lady of the house (and the man of the house as well). The book is 428 pages long and I recommend it for things like marigold or sage cheese, gooseberry wine, Usquebaugh, spirit of lily of the valley, beet-green tart and dozens of recipes for game birds.

Although I don’t have a pigeon today, I do have D’Artagnan’s French Quails and I wanted to make one of Bradley's many bird recipes –– one stuck out particularly. 

After poaching in aromatic stock, the bird is breaded and fried -- it's a great dish. The meat is tender and juicy and so flavorful and that poaching stock is just heaven. Do yourself a favor and look through his book -- you will be surprised by how many fine recipes reside there. For you gardeners, his other books are available online and are interesting reading. 

Another Way of Dressing Quail, serves 2

2  French quail
1 piece bacon, chopped
a sprig of parsley
a sprig of basil
3 sprigs marjoram
a few slices of onion about the size of your thumb
4 cloves
4 c stock (I saved up my game bird carcasses and made a small batch of stock -- it is superb)
1 T verjuice or 1 t of vinegar or more to taste – it’s just a suggestion not sour.
Egg, beaten
Bread crumbs (about 1 c)
Lard or duck fat  (you can deep-fry if you have enough fat, otherwise, a 6 tablespoons should do it.
Parsley for frying

Take the quail, stuff them with the bacon and herbs and the onion stuck with cloves and salt and pepper the bird inside and out Truss the legs to keep them together. Add the verjuice to the stock and heat to a low boil. Put the quail in and cover. Cook at a medium low heat for about 20 minutes covered (internal temperature around 150º or so.

Remove when done and allow to cool somewhat. Strain the stock and while the birds fry, reduce it somewhat to use for dipping – it is excellent. Heat the oil till hot – around 350º. Roll in the birds in the egg and then bread crumbs (I would roll in flour first, then egg then crumbs to make it adhere better). 

 Place the birds in the fat. Cook, turning till brown (if deep-frying, make sure the top is covered or turn in the fat. Remove from the fat and drain on paper towels. Serve the birds with fried parsley and the reserved and reduced cooking stock for dipping.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Gawain and the Green Knight and Canelyne Beef Pie

Winter ‘tis the season most in need of myth and merriment (this year more than ever –– 2016, annus horribilis). What better way to celebrate it than with the seasonal tale of Gawain and the Green Knight – you have magic, castles, handsome knights, beautiful ladies to cheer you up.

The tale was written at the end of the 14th century by an unknown author who became known as the ‘Pearl Poet’ or ‘Gawain Poet’ (the original Cotton Nero A.x. manuscript is kept in the British Library, part of the remarkable Robert Cotton Collection  –– the notations refer to the placement of the works in Cotton’s original library). Gawain was a particular favorite of J.R.R. Tolkien who worked on the manuscript and put out his own edition in the 1920’s (he was a professor of Anglo-Saxon after all at Oxford).

King Arthur at his round table,14th c

The story commences at Christmastime in Camelot where the court is giving gifts and awaiting the feast that is to come (we discover the Christmas party lasts for 15 days from Christmas Eve through mid-January). We already know of the round table that was created to keep the knights on equal footing with the king so there were no cheap seats, but what might Camelot have looked like at the time of Arthur, or the time of the author of Gawain for that matter.

Burgh Castle 

Portchester Castle
Buildings of 400-500 AD are few and far between in Great Britain (one story says the search for the Grail had to begin 453 years after the resurrection of Jesus so that puts Arthur right around the end of the 5th century). Many buildings just crumbled into dust or were cannibalized – serving as quarries for newer structures. Most remain as ruins that have been absorbed by newer construction. Burgh Castle and Portchester Castle have 12th century additions on Roman walls but retain a lot of the character of the earlier buildings.

Arthur tapestry,14th c

One can imagine that Arthur’s castle must have resembled these structures with the round towers and Roman stonework although they could have had wooden structures within stone walls at that point. Since Arthurian legend was not developed until 500 years or more after Arthur was long in his tomb,  I imagine the descriptions of the French Vulgate Cycle  romances most likely resemble the author's own contemporary structures as they tell Arthur’s story –– many Medieval and Renaissance works of art depicting ancient times have the characters wearing contemporary dress in contemporary surroundings. As described, Camelot's towers, bridges and gates, a main courtyard, bedrooms and feasting chambers would have been familiar to 14th century readers.

When I think of real Medieval English castles, I always think of the 12th century's Dover Castle. A great English block of a building – made to withstand centuries of assaults, it was built on an earlier Roman fort (an 80’ tall Roman lighthouse still stands on the property). This feels like a good set for my Gawain.

Dover Castle 

Dover Castle 

Dover Castle Huebner photo 

Dover Castle

Its rooms give a clue as to what Arthur’s castle may have looked like on the inside with stonewalls covered in recreations of period tapestries and hangings (the rooms were redone in 2009 at a cost of £2.5 million pounds and the work of 140 artists who made furniture, textiles and over 400 feet of wall hangings with some success).

Dover Castle Huebner photo

After an introduction that speaks of Troy and the beginning of Britain, Gawain and the Green Knight begins to spin the tale – see if you can read the original:

Þis kyng lay at Camylot vpon Krystmasse
With mony luflych lorde, ledez of þe best,
Rekenly of þe Rounde Table alle þo rich breþer,
With rych reuel oryȝt and rechles merþes.
Þer tournayed tulkes by tymez ful mony,
Justed ful jolilé þise gentyle kniȝtes,
Syþen kayred to þe court caroles to make.
For þer þe fest watz ilyche ful fiften dayes,
With alle þe mete and þe mirþe þat men couþe avyse;
Such glaum ande gle glorious to here,
Dere dyn vpon day, daunsyng on nyȝtes,
Al watz hap vpon heȝe in hallez and chambrez
With lordez and ladies, as leuest him þoȝt.
With all þe wele of þe worlde þay woned þer samen,
Þe most kyd knyȝtez vnder Krystes seluen,
And þe louelokkest ladies þat euer lif haden,
And he þe comlokest kyng þat þe court haldes;
For al watz þis fayre folk in her first age,
on sille,
Þe hapnest vnder heuen,
Kyng hyȝest mon of wylle;
Hit were now gret nye to neuen
So hardy a here on hille.
(Original text Cotton manuscript)

This king lay at Camelot nigh on Christmas
with many lovely lords, of leaders the best,
reckoning of the Round Table all the rich brethren,
with right ripe revel and reckless mirth.
There tourneyed tykes by times full many,
jousted full jollily these gentle knights,
then carried to court, their carols to make.
For there the feast was alike full fifteen days,
with all the meat and mirth men could devise:
such clamour and glee glorious to hear,
dear din in the daylight, dancing of nights;
all was happiness high in halls and chambers
with lords and ladies, as liked them all best.
With all that’s well in the world were they together,
the knights best known under the Christ Himself,
and the loveliest ladies that ever life honoured,
and he the comeliest king that the court rules.
For all were fair folk and in their first age
the happiest under heaven,
king noblest in his will;
that it were hard to reckon
so hardy a host on hill."  (A.S. Kline translation)

In the midst of a Christmas party, a green knight appears and challenges the knights:

“…there hales in at the hall door a dreadful man,
the most in the world’s mould of measure high,
from the nape to the waist so swart and so thick,
and his loins and his limbs so long and so great
half giant on earth I think now that he was;
but the most of man anyway I mean him to be,
and that the finest in his greatness that might ride,
for of back and breast though his body was strong,
both his belly and waist were worthily small,
and his features all followed his form made
and clean.

Wonder at his hue men displayed,
set in his semblance seen;
he fared as a giant were made,
and over all deepest green.”

He is beautifully dressed yet with no armor, carrying a giant ax and a holly bough and is leading a “green as the grass and greener” horse. He comes to the party requesting a Christmas gift. He will not fight the assembly because they are all too young and not a match for his prowess and strength but instead proposes someone use his ax to strike him and then be ready to accept the same fate 1 year later. Gawain accepts and cuts the knight’s head off in one blow-- but the knight does not die!!

The headless knight from original manuscript

The green knight picks his own head up, mounts his green horse and his disconnected head mouths the words reminding Gawain of their bargain -- they must meet in the Green Chapel in a year.

Gawaine from original manuscript

When a year has past, Gawain dutifully begins his journey to the chapel to fulfill his promise to the Green Knight. After many adventures along the way, he stops at a castle of Lord Bertilak and his wife and an elderly lady who live close to the chapel. He convinces Gawain to stay for a few days. Bertilak says that he will go out hunting and whatever he gets he will give to Gawain in exchange for whatever Gawain has received that day in his house. It is an odd bargain but Gawain agrees – and it gets curiouser and curiouser.

Gawain and Lady Bertilak from the original manuscript

Bertilak’s wife tries to seduce him for three nights, and each time he politely refuses, allowing only one kiss the first night, then two the second which Gawain dutifully gives Sir Bertilak upon his return to the house. On the 3rd day however, the lady gives 3 kisses and a belt that she says will protect Gawain from harm. Gawain gives Bertilak the kisses but keeps the belt.

Dover Castle bedchamber,Huebner photo

Gawain goes to the chapel with the magic belt and the green knight feints his ax blow twice to test Gawain who flinches the first time but then steels himself. The green knight then strikes Gawain but only slightly wounds him.

The Green Knight from the original manuscript

It is then he reveals he is really Lord Bertilak de Hautdesert and the old lady was in fact Arthur’s magical sister, Morgan le Fay. It is she who has enchanted Bertilak, devising the adventure to frighten Guinevere. Both men part cordially and Gawain keeps the belt to remind him to be honest and not to cheat on a promise to save his neck. It’s a good lesson for an honorable knight and a fitting ending to a chivalric quest tale.

Now that the tale is told, you may ask, how did they eat??? Gawain’s meal at Bertilak’s castle is sumptuous:

“And he sat on that settle seemly and rich,
and chafed himself closely, and then his cheer mended.
Straightway a table on trestles was set up full fair,
clad with a clean cloth that clear white showed,
the salt-cellars, napkins and silvered spoons.
The knight washed at his will, and went to his meat.
Servants him served seemly enough
with several soups, seasoned of the best,
double bowlfuls, as fitting, and all kinds of fish,
some baked in bread, some browned on the coals,
some seethed, some in stews savoured with spices,
and sauces ever so subtle that the knight liked.”

Sadly, I have discovered that there is a dearth of knowledge about dining in England before the Norman Conquest. What we know of European recipes of the time isn’t much better but thanks to the Apician collection of recipes and a bit from Anthimus (a Byzantine in the court of Theodoric in the 6th century),  we know that the Roman traditions lived on past the fall of the Roman Empire in Europe. We can imagine the Roman recipes lived on in England as well, up to a point. When we once again find real recipes in collections like the late 14th century Forme of Cury, we can have a pretty splendid idea how the author of Gawain and the Green Knight might have eaten if he had a bit of gold in his purse.

I was recently given a charming book on Medieval food called Fabulous Feasts by Madeleine Pelner Cosman.  It’s a fun read and covers the pomp and ceremony of Medieval dining as well as its food. It is also scrupulously researched with 12 pages of readings covering enormous ground (everything from records of food legislation to coroner’s rolls). The author lists original manuscripts as well as scholarly publications but notes they are a fraction of the total that she poured over (she said she looked at 800 recipes just for one chapter). It’s a lovely book but I do wish she gave the originals or at least the original source (she lists the manuscripts at the end but the recipes aren’t connected). I would like to see if there are any exotic ingredients that were left out (the book is 18 years old and resources have improved dramatically). As it is, salt and pepper aren’t mentioned and I put them in. I also increased the amount of liquid… it wasn’t enough for the sauce which was too thick as written – even if it was very good.

Dover Castle Kitchen gives you an idea of a medieval kitchen – you can imagine the feast being prepared here.

Dover Castle Privy Kitchen, Huebner photo 

Dover castle’s guest hall is set up to much like the description in the poem (although I wonder that a table would be set directly in front of a fire in winter – they would have been well done at the end of the meal).

Dover Castle Guest hall Photo by Michael Garlick

How and with what was the table set? Cosman describes the traditional table quite precisely in her book:

“Upon the table a white cloth, covered with and overcloth called a sanap, was background for few table adornments and less cutlery. A salt, an open embellished container, stood before the seat of the most honored – thus the others sat “below the salt”.

“One type of saltcellar more popular on the continent than in England was the boat-shaped nef whose often elaborate rigging and jewel encrusted boat made it more ornament than utensil.”

French Nefs (salt cellars) 1400

“Table fountains, either on the main tables or more centrally situated in the hall, spouted wines of fragrant waters. The more complex their pipings, the more varieties of drinks they served front their turrets, spigots and sculptured terminals.”

1320 table fountain (only about 12” high, it would have had a large basin beneath it).

“Goblets or tankards made of glass or metal, or double cups called hanaps – in which the cup’s cover itself was another cup –– were used for drinking. So too was transparent crystal stemware. Mazers were bowls, sometime footed, used as drinking vessels. Wooden, porcelain, glass or metal, the mazers often had elaborate rim embellishments. Both open and covered pitchers and flagons with decorated finials and handles were used to pour wine, ale, and mulled ciders…. “

 13th c cup
 1225 standing cup, Belgian 
 1450 hanup 
500-1000 golden mazer 

Medieval wooden Mazer 

“Silver or gold spoons and a few sharp knives completed the table settings. Guests often carried their own knives, encased with other necessaries such as a pair or scissors or a file, in a chatelaine….”

15c belt and pouch 

14th c silver spoon

“Individual plates at place settings were only rarely used. Food conveyed from kitchen to table on serving platters called chargers –– such as the 12 silver dishes set before Sir Gawain – were selected by guests and then placed before them upon large slices of bread, round in shape or, more usually, square, called trenchers. Often colored and spices green with parsley, or yellow with saffron, or pink with saunders, trenchers serve as edible platters.”

Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry Janvier, 1412-16

After much deliberation over which of the book’s recipes to make (parsley bread, chicken stuffed with lentils and cherries or stuffed with cardamom-scented nuts, raisins and apples and gilded with saffron-colored egg, a stuffed date dessert and a brie tart), I decided on a pie. This Canelyn pie is remarkable – I loved the cranberry base of the pie. I made a small version and halved the ingredients. Since I couldn’t see the original, I made a few changes. I would advise a bit more liquid inside the pie (8-10 T instead of 7). I also thought this could be great with leftovers with a few changes – cook the beef trimmings to get the flavor and for browning for the sauce, remove them and then toss the rare cubed cooked beef left-over from a roast in the dish – or start from scratch as in the original. The pie isn’t bad as a cold snack, btw – a kind of mincemeat but with cranberries.

Canelyne Beef Pie

1 pound lean beef cut in small cubes (anything from beef tenderloin to stew meat – but marbled is best because it doesn’t have a long cooking time)**
2 T oil
2/3 c boiling water (I think 1 cup is better for enough sauce)
1 T cinnamon
½ t nutmeg
¼ t thyme
¼ t sage
9’ pastry shell and lid
1 c raw bogberries (a close relative to cranberries which is what I used)
2 T honey
2/3 c currants

(although the recipe did not mention salt or pepper, I added a both to taste)


“Cinnamon sugar” (1 t sugar to ½ t cinnamon)


½ c ground almonds
½ c dry white wine (again, you might want a bit more – the almonds really soak up the liquid)

Sauté meat in the oil till somewhat browned.

Dissolve cinnamon nutmeg, thyme and sage in boiling water. Add to meat and simmer slowly for 15 minutes. Remove meat and reserve liquid.

Preheat oven to 425º 

Line the pastry shell with cranberries and drizzle honey over them and sprinkle with currants. Put meat pieces over the top and add 7 T of the reserved cooking liquid (I think a bit more is good).

Cover with the lid and pierce top. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar and bake at 375º for 35-40 minutes

Add almonds and white wine to remaining cinnamon meat broth and simmer very gently 7 minutes – you may want to add a bit more water or wine as the sauce thickens considerably to a paste. Serve with pie.

*** If you are using leftover beef, I recommend saving the trimmings and sautéing them for color and simmering them for flavor for the sauce, then removing them -- quickly tossing cubed leftover beef in the liquid and proceeding with the recipe.

Fabulous Feasts: Mediaeval Cookery and Ceremony (Medieval Cookery and Ceremony) by Madeleine Pelner Cosman (1-Jan-1999) Paperback