Sunday, April 30, 2017

I Aten't Ded

Hey kids, let's put on a picnic!

Wow, it's been awhile, hasn't it?

I haven't been idle these past four weeks; quite the opposite[1].  It is usually a hand-waving and slightly contemptible excuse to say "wah too busy to blog/time track/update my projects", but truthfully I have a certain methodology for posting, and the pattern of my recent activities has prorogued that.  

So, what've I been up to?

The first weekend, I went to an embroidery academy way out in Pennsylvania, that I had agreed to teach at.  It's a full weekend thing, with everyone crashing in the camp's bunkrooms[2], which gives a lot more scope for more in-depth and hands-on classes.  I learned Bayeux stitch, and I started a canvas-work Elizabethan floral slip (which class incidentally also had hands-on instruction in prick-and-pounce for tracing your pattern; something I'm happy to have in my toolkit).  They also had a lovely touch of everyone bringing relevant books and pooling them into a library/research space; and I encountered a new book unfamiliar to me, which may have the only artistic representation I have ever seen of a laurel wreath in the high medieval era.  That is, you see laurel trees in manuscripts, e.g. the Tacuinum Sanitatis; but, unlike grapevines, oak branches, acanthus, etc. you never (hardly ever) see laurel used as borders the way we like to use them for Laurel regalia in the SCA.  

Also includes neat animal pictures!
NB: This is not Notre-Dame in Paris, but in a town
in the foothills of the Pyrenees.
For the Pel-Laurels out there

So a great event, though exhausting, and I recommend future iterations to all my embroidery peeps.

I spent the following weekend creating our Household Great Wardrobe Account; a spreadsheet of all our clothes (not accessories yet, but I'll get to it), the current state of each...including fit...and any repairs needed.  I then used that information to build a Trello board of sewing tasks.  I can unpack this more in another post if there seems interested; but briefly, each "card" on the board represents a piece of work to be done, whether large or small, but each an individual task, whether it's a mending job or for new construction.  E.g., for the work still remaining on the pourpoint, one card is "rip out the lower sleeves" and another is "cut out new lower sleeves" and yet a third is "quilt new lower sleeves".  I've also color-tagged them by project, and where applicable, included due dates, so I can prioritize.  The idea here is that I can come home from work, and even if I'm awfully fried and have no reasoning capability left--which is regrettably common right now--, just pick one discrete task to work on.  So far, this is working tolerably well.  For instance, I don't think I would have finished the little Bayeux stitch project and gotten it onto its final destination without this; it would have been yet another half-finished blorp taking up space in my project basket.
PSA: it's a royal pain to
appliqué something onto
an already-made book

There's a collaborative project I'm engaged in and have spent a deal of time on, but it is S3KR1T so you won't hear about it until later.   

Last weekend, my college BFF came to visit, and we Marched for Science and had great conversations and stuff.  She is also in the Arts Scene, but in a different kingdom and as a performance artist (you could say that she wrote the book on commedia dell'arte) (that should be a link to Compleat Anachronist #173, but someone at Milpitas has not updated the page in a year, ahem), so it was really interesting to compare notes about How Things Work for each of us.  

And, oh yes, my honorable colleague and I put on an event this weekend!  We've been trying for years--and I use that word quite literally--to drum up a small event within the boundaries of the subway system. This is a difficult thing, because space in NYC is so outrageously expensive, even for non-profits, so we thought hmm, what about in a public park, since a parks permit is only $25?  The problem here, and why it took years, is that the people in charge of permits make the Keystone Kops look like NASA.  I will not weary you with our series of disappointments--other than mentioning that last year, we had the permit in hand and everything was going swimmingly until three weeks before the event, when they suddenly called us up to say oh, oops, they double-booked the permit, so ours was revoked.  >:-/    BUT!  This year it finally worked!  The weather cooperated, we had about 26 people, and there was live music and dancing and hanging out and lots of food.  Also, we weirded the day for many of the good people of Brooklyn.

In addition to being co-event-steward, however, I was seized with the compulsion to have my contribution to the potluck be something defensibly medieval.  Thus, for the past two-three weeks, I have been mumbling over medieval pie recipes and foisting test versions on unwary passers-by.  

So, pies are A Thing in medieval cookery; indeed even hand-pies (in the general vein of the Cornish pasty) were known to exist; but the pies we have recipes for are, chiefly, items for lordly tables, and super-fussy and in many cases not very convenient to eat, particularly at a picnic.  I also wanted to have a broad spectrum of choices for different dietary restrictions.  So, I made one of the classic stalwarts, the Tart in Ymbre Day from Forme of Cury (this is from the court of Richard II, about 1390):

Tart in ymbre day. Take and perboile oynouns & erbis & presse out þe water & hewe hem smale. Take grene chese [brede AB] & bray it in a morter, and temper it vp with ayren. Do þerto butter, saffroun & salt, & raisons corauns, & a litel sugur with powdour douce, & bake it in a trap, & serue it forth.

A lot of people interpret "erbis" as "herbs", which I think isn't right; there's no reason to parboil herbs. "erbe" in French refers to grasses and leafy ground plants, so I think it's much more likely to refer to Dark Leafy Green Veg, which you might indeed want to parboil.   So I parboiled yellow onions & kale, squeezed the water out as best I could, and blitzed them in the food processor because I was on the clock; added queso fresco & butter, and rubbed them in with my hands as you do with fat in a pie crust; and stirred in eggs, currants, and the spices as noted.  

Now, on my test run, I turned them into little empanada-sized hand pies and it worked well; but on the production run, it was too liquid and this wasn't working at all, so I just tipped it into a regular pie crust and called it a day.  

A meat pie was trickier; a lot of the recipes are less filling-ish as we know them, and I didn't see them working in this context.  So I decided to go off the reservation a little, and work from rissole recipes instead.  Rissoles are little filled dough/pastry pockets--think of them in the pierogi or ravioli line--which were deep-fried; but there is one reference to baking them instead, so that was good enough for me.  

I started with Scully's redaction of Chiquart's meat rissoles:

Again, rissoles: and to give understanding to him who will make them, according to the quantity of them which he will make let him take a quantity of fresh pork and cut up into fair and clean pieces and put to cook, and salt therein; and when his meat is cooked let him draw it out onto fair and clean tables and remove the skin and all the bones, and then chop it very small. And arrange that you have figs, prunes, dates, pine nuts, and candied raisins; remove the stems from the raisins, and the shells from the pine nuts, and all other things which are not clean; and then wash all this very well one or two or three times in good white wine and then put them to drain on fair and clean boards; and then cut the figs and prunes and dates all into small dice and mix them with your filling. And then arrange that you have the best cheese which can be made, and then take a great quantity of parsley which should have the leaves taken off the stems, and wash it very well and chop it very well in with your cheese; and then mix this very well with your filling, and eggs also; and take your spices: white ginger, grains of paradise--and not too much, saffron, and a great deal of sugar according to the quantity which you are making. And then deliver your filling to your pastry-cook, and let him be prepared to make his fair leaves of pastry to make gold-colored crusts(?); and when they are made, let him bring them to you and you should have fair white pork lard to fry them; and when they are fried, you should have gold leaf: for each gold-colored crust(?) which there is, have one little leaf of gold to put on top. And when this comes to the sideboard arrange them on fair serving dishes and then throw sugar on top.  [tr. Elizabeth Cook]

...which redaction started with ground pork, for convenience, and I really think that's the wrong way to go about it; but I made it up and it worked well enough, but it was reeeeeeeally sweet.  This is no doubt because Chiquart, as the master chef of the Duke of Savoy, was making expensive and very very fancy food, and sugar is a great expression of wealth; but it was not at all picnic food.  So I took it down several levels of society, and went with our friend the Menagier de Paris:

RISSOLES ON A MEAT DAY are seasonable from St. Remy's Day (October 1). Take a pork thigh, and remove all the fat so that none is left, then put the lean meat in a pot with plenty of salt: and when it is almost cooked, take it out and have hard-cooked eggs, and chop the whites and yolks, and elsewhere chop up your meat very small, then mix eggs and meat together, and sprinkle powdered spices on it, then put in pastry and fry in its own grease. And note that this is a proper stuffing for pig; and any time the cooks shop at the butcher's for pig-stuffing : but always, when stuffing pigs, it is good to add old good cheese.  [tr. Janet Hinson]

It occurred to me to use beef instead of pork for a public contribution, because more people have pork restrictions than not; so I went to get a braising cut of beef to cook in the same way, but had an idiot braino and got an eye of round instead, which is All Wrong.  So I ended up having to use ground beef instead, grumble.  But it's simple; I browned the beef, mixed in chopped hard-boiled eggs, spiced it, and filled my wee pies.  The first round was really too bland, so I lashed in the long pepper with a will, and I think the production round went well.  

I had meant to make the Menagier's fruit versions as well--

Item, on ordinary days, they can be made of figs, grapes, chopped apples and shelled nuts to mimic pignon nuts, and powdered spices: and the dough should be very well saffroned, then fry them in oil. If you need a liaison, starch binds and so does rice.  [tr. Janet Hinson]

...and I did make a test run of those, which were quite nice--very like mince pie, actually; but for the production run I was entirely out of spoons and could no more that night.  Well, there was plenty of food, anyways. 

A word on crust: we don't have much in the way of actual medieval pie crust recipes, because as you see in Chiquart's version, the pastry cook was a completely different person (and different guild maybe?) and if any of them recorded their work, it hasn't survived.  It's likely that many crusts were just flour and water (no fat), as we see later and all the way into the 19th century, and were acting as tough containers rather than foodstuffs themselves. But we do have some recipes for tarts anyways which include butter, eggs, sugar, and other ingredients.  In this case, I just made my standard pie crust recipe.   If you want to know more, someone's broken out a whole bunch of references according to type.

So. Yes.  Some things happened.  And now, the summer sewing season.  *flail*

[1] well, I admit I spent three days just playing Assassin's Creed:Brotherhood right after the pourpoint test launch.


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