Posted by: wrmcnutt | May 12, 2009

What I Did This Weekend -or- Dinner for 96

For the uninitiated, I am in the Society for Creative Anachronism.  Briefly, we are a medieval re-creation society composed of several thousand folks world-wide who selectively re-create parts of the middle ages.  Although our fighting simulation, heavy combat, is the most dynamic and visually apparent part of our hobby, we re-create many other aspects of the middle ages.  One of my favorite aspect is the feast.  Saturday night my partner and I, together with four helpers,  cooked a three course meal for 96 people.   Here’s a detailed menu.

Planning started about a year and a half ago. Here in Tennessee, you can have venison for free, if you plan far enough in advance.  You just have to shoot it yourself, or find an avid hunter who takes his limit every season.  Countess Calleja’s father falls into the latter category, and who provided us with forty pounds of skinned, boned, and butchered roasts well in advance.  Calleja and Drac delivered them, too. Very considerate. (A brief aside:  It was Velma Palmer McNutt, my Grandmother, who left me her deep freeze.  It’s noisy, energy inefficient, and rusty.  But it freezes really, really, well.  Thanks Minnie!) 

Thematically, we decided to do a feast in honor of Robin Hood.  We had a Saxon course, a Norman course, and an English course.

Enter: Magestra Rosemounde of Mercia, research and cooking Laurel.  About a year and a half ago, she invited me to head up this year’s feast for the Tournament of May, here in the Barony of Thor’s Mountain, in the Kingdom of Meridies.  On board for Zero Day were our apprentices, Francesca, Bianca, Randalyn, and Olrun.  All six of us cook to a greater or lesser degree, but Roz is the best logician among us.  She handled most of the planning. She ran it all in front of my nose, but I didn’t spot any problems.  And very few came up.  Her planning-fu is strong.

[iframe width=”1″ height=”1″ src=”″%5DLogistically, Roz divided our feast into three parts:  that which could be farmed out to other cooks, that which could be cooked ahead of time, and that which had to be cooked on site.  We only farmed out our baking.  Breads were baked by Mistress Solveig, Lady Allesaundra and Lady Gellis.  All of them did a great job and produced delicious medieval breads to match the theme of each course. 

Roz and I met two weeks out to pre-cook our barley pottage and our peas porridge.   The process went extremely smoothly, although it took longer than I had expected.  I did learn that you grant the wish of every beauty contest participant when making peas porridge in a food processor. 

With every batch you get:  whirled peas.  *ahem*

During the same day we made the candied lemon peels.  Here’s a trick – in making lemon peel:  using a filleting knife allows you to avoid peeling off pith.  If you can peel it carefully enough, you can skip the “and then scrape the pith” stage.  Also – always pack your candied lemon peels away as soon as they are dry enough.  They need to be out of your fellow cooks reach. I got yelled at for pinching lemon peels and sugared candied almonds.  Several times.

The cook-in-advance scam only works for certain foods.  When you freeze food, ice crystals form and in the process, puncture the cellular walls of your chow.  It dramatically changes the texture.  The worst offender is fruit.  Have you ever successfully eaten fresh-frozen fruit?  It turns to mush. You can only freeze fruit when you’re planning to cook it to mush anyway.  For example, fresh frozen cherries and blackberries make perfectly fine pies.  Just don’t try to use them for a bowl of fresh fruit.  So, because the peas porridge and the barley pottage were going to be mush anyway, it was okay to freeze them.

Meats hold up better, but should only be frozen once. You can, for example, cook a roast, freeze it, and then thaw it out, re-heat, and serve.  And it will serve.  But not well.  It’s better to freeze raw, thaw, cook, and serve, and that’s what we did with our venison.  As May is not deer season, I had to collect our venison and get it in the deep freeze last fall.  Our pig and chicken were bought fresh on Friday to be served on Saturday.

Key to our success was Roz’ timetable. She had a written list of when every dish had to be started in order to finish on time. We made a couple of errors, and they played out almost exactly the way you would expect them to. We had a dish that did not make it out: cucumbers in broth. You see, we were supposed to be simmering the chicken in milk and honey on the stove, but two of the burners did not work. We had to have the burners for the peas porridge andthey were too close together to effectively use large pots. Rather than use the electric “Nesco” cookers that are such a pain to clean, we opted for disposable steam tray liners. (Yeah – I know, Gaia weeps. When she shows up to clean the Nesco’s so that I’m not doin’ it after 10:00 PM when I’ve been cooking all day, I’ll be more worried about her weeping.) Four of those went into the oven. The steam table liners held over 20 chicken thighs and 2 gallons of liquid each. Nobody else could lift them but me. When it was time to start the cucumber dish, it was also time to turn the chicken, so I had to literally “man”-handle those trays of bird out and back into the oven. By the time we were done, it had taken 20 minutes. And sure enough, the cuke dish was ready to serve 20 minutes after it should have gone out.

Oh – FYI:  calling pork roast “Wilbur,” chicken “chicken little,” and venison “Bambi’s mom” will irk some kitchen staff who like cute things.



  1. Technically you can freeze meat twice, but only once at each stage of preparation ie: raw and cooked. You can freeze a meat, thaw and cook it, and then re-freeze the leftovers with little loss of quality. But you can only freeze it once raw and once cooked.

    I always arrange to have 1 or 2 Turkey Fryer type propane rigs show up at site for the burner issue. Bringing a large amount of liquid up to boil takes forever if you do not have some pretty hefty heat source. If they go home unused – well no biggie.


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