A Late Antique Feast

Today, I finally have a little time to write about one of the things that kept me so busy I could not post daily recipes this month. It is a bit of a war story, so if you would rather not read all of that, you can cut straight to the recipes here.

As some of you may know, I am active in a medieval society, the Society for Creative Anachronism, in Germany. Most of what I do there is cook approximately historic food for events, traditionally in the form of evening feasts on Saturday. A few months ago, the queen of Drachenwald – that translates into normal English broadly as the chairperson of our European branch – announced she would be in Southern Germany the third weekend of December and would anyone care to meet. I replied that if there was a social get-together, I would be happy to come down and cook for it. Things snowballed from there, and we ended up renting a local shooting club’s premises for an event for forty people with archery, armoured fighting, arts classes, and a feast. That part was my job.

Ofellas garatas, honey-roast pork, with must bread in the background

The queen eats neither meat nor fish, so I started looking into options that would give her a satisfactory meal. Most medieval Lenten food relies on fish, so that was not an option. However, one reasonably well documented culinary tradition that does not treat meatless food as a penance is the Roman one. I had done Roman food before and also had good experiences with Late Antique recipes. Some of the research translated into a cooking session this autumn which is also documented on my blog. By then, the menu had taken on a viable shape.

Date and olive patina, meatless, but rich

As the number of participants grew and more and more armoured fighters registered attendance, I expanded the feast to include more meat. Thanks to a donation of venison, I was able to include two more dishes, which meant pork, beef, and deer for anyone who wanted it. at the same time, replacing the Roman fish sauce garum with vegan soy sauce made the rest of the feast suitable for vegetarians. I was happy with that solution.

Beef stew, rich and spicy

By that time, preparations for the event were well under way. I had recruited a second in command (always important in case the primary cook falls ill) and serving and cleanup coordinators and was writing ingredient lists and menu cards when the cold season of 2022 struck. While I was recovered enough to be able to cook on the 17th, my writing had fallen far behind. In the end, I only finished the ingredient list on the train Friday evening and e-mailed it to the event coordinator who printed out ten copies for posting in the hall and distributing on tables. We do this to ensure everyone can check for allergens and intolerances.

Potluck Lunch – hair-raising, but ultimately delicious

Cooking began inauspiciously. Over the course of the week, I learned that my kirtchen staff had all fallen ill and I would be working with temporary volunteers. Once in the kitchen, the stove refused to light. We were able to get it working (a valve had frozen), but it took a nerve-racking hour and we found that the main oven had no bottom heat. A quick rearrangement of plans worked around this problem, but then shortly before lunch someone observed that the crockpots the stews were in had been plugged into a dead outlet. With an hour to go, we transferred their content to the main gas range and got everything ready.

Apicius’ beetroot salad

The rest of the day went smoothly. I had a series of volunteers cycle through the kitchen who proved skilled and dedicated, and there were no more equipment failures. We did find that the ingredient list printouts had disappeared, but one volunteer transcribed the list by hand three times from the screen of my laptop before the battery ran out, a truly medieval experience. In the end, we served the feast in time as an enthusiastic team of volunteers coordinated by a head server with just one of the handwritten lists for instruction worked miracles.

I am very proud of everybody who pitched in to make this happen. The result was delicious: We started out with honey mustard, horseradish sauce, epityrum olive relish and must bread on the tables. The main course consisted of honey-roast pork, beef stew, venison stew, an asparagus frittata and one of dates and olives, lentils with chestnut puree, beetroots in a mustard-vinegar sauce, and carrots in cumin sauce with barley polenta. For dessert, we had dairy fritters, honey-glazed dates, white cheese with honey, quince bread, nuts, and fruit.

The menu card and ingredient list that should have been available to the feasters as well as the cooking instructions that I forwarded to my kitchen staff are now available online. I wish I had been able to have all of it available on the weekend – it would have made things so much easier – but at least it is here now. I hope some of you will enjoy cooking some of the recipes yourself.

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One Response to A Late Antique Feast

  1. Inga Frank says:

    Wow, you and your crew rock!

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