Christmas cometh

On Sunday, we had a trial for some of the dishes we’re serving at our Medieval Christmas in July fundraiser for the not-for-profit Goulburn Club. The tasting panel was our wwoofers Alice, Sean and Pat, our guest Sarah, our friend Jane and her friend Ilyas. We tried our Scots Chicken Pot (a tasty chicken soupy-stew in the second course) as well as a Fish and Berry Pie and a traditional boiled christmas pudding. We also did a walnut tart and some dates stuffed with marzipan, but they were always going to work.

The fish and berry pie tasted good, though the berries turned the fish a grey-purple colour which was not so appealing. Should be fine by candlelight. We cut out heraldic dolphins in pastry on the top of the pies, which looked great. We had some issues with side-splatter in the casserole dishes — Jane suggested some vents cut in the pastry, which we’ll do next time.

Our cloth pudding technology is not all that good, so we were experimenting a bit. My grandmothers probably knew how to do these, but the art has been lost. We made two puddings, with different bag and tie arrangements. One was a failure, and other got a pass mark. Our conclusion is that we need to flour the pudding cloth on both sides, and to tie the bag more tightly though not super-tightly. We may go for one more prototype before the big event (which is 11 July) though that may not be a good proposition for my waistline.

Nobody knows what a medieval festive pudding would have been like. The early documented puddings were haggis-like things made with whatever they could get, even porpoise on special occasions.

Pottages were boiled concoctions, usually made with dried starchy peas, with ground-up vegetables and bits of meat. In the 1400s they made “standing” (dried) pottages including dried fruit to preserve them. These could be taken on long trips and military campaigns, and rehydrated somehow before use. I have found no written evidence of this, but I would not be surprised to find that these were carried around in linen or hempen bags, and boiled in the bags in the same pots used for boiling salted pork.

I expect that the longest-keeping puddings would be those that had honey or sugar to help preserve them, and just the more solid animal fats like suet. In military campaigns, I expect that boiled puddings would have been an expensive and rare relief from salted pork and hard biscuit. Our recipe includes lots of dried fruit, some carrot and apple, and beer. And it’s quite yummy. Sarah flamed our pudding with brandy, which provides a wonderful ceremony for the pudding, so we’ll do that at the feast too.

If anyone’s interested, the final menu for Medieval Christmas in July is:

Mulled wine
Venyson cofyns (individual venison pies)
Roast pork
Appelmoy (apple sauce with ground almonds)
Rosted onions and betes  (roast onions and beets)
Carrots with verjuice (verjuice is a piquant sauce from unripe grapes)
Walnut tarte (a quiche)
Salat (medieval salad with fresh herbs and dried figs)
Burrebread (shortbread)
Swetemeats (fruit and nut delicacies)

Scots chicken pot (a chicken stew with raisins)
Mushrooms with cheese
Fish and berry pie
An Elizabethan christmas pudding with custard
Berry foole (berries and whipped cream with meringue pieces)
Comfits (candied fennel and coriander seeds)

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