Monday, June 24, 2013

Coronation Dinner De-brief

Ok, this is something I posted on Facebook last summer, and I'm moving it over here so that people who have not succumbed to Zuckerberg's empire can see it. Cheers!

The Coronation Dinner de-brief

First off: We did it! I am still alive!

There had been much planning, research, buying of serving dishes. Re-construction of notes (lost my notebook on the way to Investiture- disastrous!) and cross-checking on stuff happened.

And then I cut part of my finger off.

Only a little- the tip of the pad on my left index, WHERE ALL THE NERVE ENDINGS ARE. We couldn't get it to stop bleeding, and ended up in ER. This was of course the weekend before the big dinner. This was the beginning of prep week, of course.

Also had interesting challenges: two of the diners were both lactose and gluten intolerant. That cut down my options significantly. I dealt with it.

Sources and research:

Well, there aren't any extant Carolingian cookbooks. So I've had to work from a number of things, and sort of triangulate from there.

We do have Anthimus, a diplomat and doctor who wrote his little book on food about two centuries before my time. (I'm shooting for 780-800.) He doesn't really offer recipes per se, but somewhat oblique instructions on how he thinks food should be cooked. But he's a bit odd. He says that the Franks are very healthy because they eat their bacon raw, but then turns around and says it's not good to eat.

We have archeological soureces, which have accounts on what is found in the middens, etc. If there's fish bones in the trash, you can be sure someone ate the fish. Bonnie Effros in particular has some good information.

We also have the Capitularies- documents that Charlemagne sent out to the managers of his various estates. He detailed what cereals were to be grown in the fields, what vegetables were to be grown in the gardens, what animals to raise, even what sort of bedding should be there when he visited. These documents give us detailed information on what foods were available- very solid info for determining their diet.

We also have the later Roman cookbooks. The Franks weren't a whole lot later than teh Romans, and much of France in particular was heavily Romanized. The Roman cookbooks were still in circulation (the doctors in Charles' court were known to have some) but we don't know how much they might have used them.

The foods I tried to keep to things we know were grown on Frankish lands, or readily accessible by trade. I also tried to keep to what was available seasonally, or kept in storage in a cold cellar.

Diners were:

TRMs Vik and Astrid
TAH Telisia, of the Summits
THs Gemma and Steinn of Tir Righ
THs Ogedei and Ifatayo of Avacal

Staff were:

Serving and some kitchen help- Malcolm and Yseult, with a little help from the young Gryphon.
Kitchen help- Idonia, Ursel, Katrine, Ulric, Diedre.
Cleanup- Ulric and Diedre, Gerard, Idonia.
Comic relief- Amalric.

And my staff got noshes too.


We were pretty sure that court would be late, so we planned for the first course to be things that could probably wait, and the second course to be cooked while the first was being served.

First off, there was formal hand-washing. I seated the diners all on one side of the table, and we did the handwashing from the front (as well as the service). First the sanap was laid over the dishes, then the water and towel were offered, and the sanap removed. This proceeded according to precedence, with TRMs first, TAH Summits next, the Avacal and Tir Righ.

The hors d'oeuvres were trays of fruits, nuts, cheese and olives. Fresh apricots, cherries, salted almonds, an assortment of kalamata and green olives, some Dubliner and havarti with dill. I almost hated to send them out, they were so pretty.

And we served a cabbage soup made with beer, beef broth, and caraway. I found a gluten-free beer, thanks to a tip from Malcolm. We also served this beer with dinner, as well as a sparkling white wine. I didn't get to the red we had for the second course, and I completely forgot about the pear cider.

The First Course:

Pork roast, marinaded with vinegar and wine, a little olive oil, lots of garlic, salt and pepper. The leftover marinade was boiled, and with a little more wine, turned into a sauce to drizzle over the pork.

Plum sauce, made of plums from our tree out back, red wine, and powder fort.

Rainbow trout, roasted with lemon slices stuffed in the cavity, and served with a drizzle of lemon and some capers.

Black-eyed peas, boiled with a little chicken broth and some smoked pork neck bones.

Carrots and parsnips cooked with a little chicken broth, white wine, drained, and tossed with white wine vinegar and a little honey.


Salad, dressed with vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper, and a few raspberries tossed in with the greens.

Roasted pears, cut in eighths, half of which had the centers filled with goat cheese and drizzled with a raspberry goo, the other half filled with an almond paste and topped with candied ginger. (I wanted one of the raspberry ones and I'm still peeved that there were none left!)

The Second Course:

Chicken with fennel (very tasty!).

Sweet and Sour Beef (sort of borked off of Anthimus, but much simpler), the sauce was more subtle than I'd planned, mostly because I ran out of vinegar and honey, but it was very nice that way.

Lentils with cumin (always a real hit- I had to squirrel some away so I could have it later!).

Leeks simmered in chicken broth and white wine, salt, and pepper.

I know I used a bunch of parsley, but can't remember on what.

Dessert: Tarts- one filled with almond paste and Morello cherries, the other with mascarpone and peaches. I made gluten-free crusts by making basically graham-cracker crusts, using almond meal in place of the crumbs. I'm not entirely happy with how these worked- in particular the cheese didn't work- the combination was too fatty, and the crust burned on the bottom. The almond and cherry one was very tasty but was gummy. I'd worked on the crust earlier in the week, but hadn't tried it with the filling. Note for next time- try the whole thing.Wrap-up:

I was REALLY happy with it on the overall. The diners were happy and went away stuffed. The staff was happy and got noshes, I was happy. We worked hard, but I felt prepared and didn't feel rushed or anxious. The only disaster was dropping a bowl of leeks I'd reserved for the beef. I managed to not hurt myself, we had enough food, and the leftovers are not vast.

Have I learned anything? Yup! For one thing, I'm learning to ask for and accept help. And I'm learning who I can rely on. And I've learned just how much I can do when I'm prepared.

Would I do it again? In a heartbeat. Well, after my bank account recovers. Ow.