FUN AT THE HEARTH – FINALLY!
I say “finally” as this is the fourth time we have rescheduled the workshop for the girls at Moffatt Ladd. This winter has been brutal, as you all know, and as much as we all like to be at the hearth on a snowy day, we like to do it in the safety of our own homes. So we waited, and the day of sun arrived.
The ladies of the museum had a few requests for our meal, LAMB AND A COFFIN, so we have combined them. Now being that this was April and spring has arrived, I thought we should include a GRAND SALAD.
The first mention of salad that I know of is in the book, The Form of Cury, 1390. It is a tiny salad with many fresh herbs and dressed with oil and vinegar. The word salad meant many things to the English and included vegetables both raw, boiled and pickled. Many Grand Salads were works of art and presented as such. Gervase Markham’s The English Housewife, 1615, instructed “housewife’s to pay attention to the presentation of her compound sallets.” She was making an edible centerpiece.
Springtime salads were greeted with enthusiasm. The first shoots of asparagus, fiddlehead ferns, strawberry leaves, wild onions and violets found their way into a salad. These fresh greens were long awaited after the boredom of pickled and dried foods. So, should you read that the English did not eat vegetables, look further into the source.
Our meal has a centerpiece of a coffin, surrounded with the Grand Sallet. A coffin, or coffyn as it was spelled during the medieval time and earlier, meant basket or box. It was made of a tough dough that made a container. It holds food to be eaten right away, when cooked, and it also helps baked foods last longer when stored by excluding air from its host. It help preserve the fillings of meat or vegetables. The coffin was also used as an entertainment. In the 16th century translation of the Italian Epulario 1598 we find the following:
“To Make Pie That the Birds May Be Alive In them and Flie Out When It Is Cut Up – Make the coffin of a great pie or pastry, in the bottome thereof make a hole as big as your fist, or bigger if you will, let the sides of the coffin bee somwhat higher then ordinary pies, which done put it full of flouer and bake it, and being baked, open the hole in the bottome, and take out the flouer. Then having a pie of the bigness of the hole in the bottome of the coffin aforesaid, you shal put it into the coffin, withall put into the said coffin round about the aforesaid pie as many small live birds as the empty coffin will hold, besides the pie aforesaid. And this is to be at such time as you send the pie to the table, and set before the guests: where uncovering or cutting up the lid of the great pie, all the birds will flie out, which is to delight and pleasure shew to the company.
Four and twenty blackbirds anyone? Our centerpiece was definitely not going to be filled with birds however, it did hold a lamb; however, the lamb was cooked.
Sherry started off right away on the hot paste for the standing crust of the coffin. She is hoping that this experience will help her make a fake one for the museum.
We also needed a regular crust for the decorations and top. Marsha was in charge of that. The receipt for basic pie crust has not changed since mankind began to make flour into dough, to bake into a crust and put stuff inside it. We are using our crust for decorations on the coffin.
The English Art of Cookery, According to the Present Practice…. Richard Briggs, 1788
With the coffin standing tall, Marsha whipped up the egg wash and I helped to apply the decorative side to the coffin.
Lisa and Linda began the receipt for the coffin filling. Mushroom, carrots, garlic, shallots and scallions were washed, cut, and sliced ready for the filling.
The meat needed to be cut into bite-sized pieces, salted and floured. Pieces of bacon were put into a bit of olive oil to render, then taken out. The floured lamb was browned on all sides. Carrots, garlic, scallions, shallots, mushrooms and the rendered bacon were then added. A dash of sherry, a sprig of rosemary and some beef broth went in to simmer for a while. The rosemary was removed later, and a piece of floured butter, heavy cream, parsley, tarragon, and peas were then mixed in.
With the coffin decorated, and the lamb mixture ready, the lamb was removed from the pan with a slotted spoon, and Linda filled the coffin.
Marsha placed her decorated top on the coffin and crimped the edges.
I was not sure if anyone would be brave enough to eat the coffin dough, so I decided it would be a good idea to have some rolls made. Nothing smells better than hot rolls out of the bake oven and they do go so well with a salad. I picked my favorite cheese loaf receipt from – W.M. The Compleat Cook, 1658, with the addition of King Arthur’s 7 Grains. After the first rise, Linda reformed the dough into the rolls and gave it one more rise.
Rolls have a surprisingly long history, having been found in the tombs of ancient Egyptians. Bread is one of the oldest prepared foods. We know of the English manchet, a yeast roll popular with the Tudor Court, of which there are many variations. I did a bit of research to see when I could find the word roll being used in association with bread. I found this interesting information. In 1542 – Andrew Boorde, an English monk and physician, wrote a book called, Compendyous Regyment, or a Dyetary of Health. He discusses food he felt appropriate for Lords and good Englishman. When he expounded on BREAD he said,
“But the bread of rolls made for the Romans, I praise it not.”
I’m sure the word was used earlier I just have not come across an earlier reference as yet.
For our dessert we had a receipt for Portugal Cakes, or as we often call them, Madeleines. The history of this little sponge cake is that it may have been named for the use of orange flower water or sack that came from Portugal Madeleines, which was made of a similar ingredients and has its origin in France. When, is the question. Some say Louis XV of France first tasted them in 1755. Others say a baker made them for his love Madeleine Paulmier in the 18th century while working for the Duke of Lorraine. When they came to England is a total mystery. However, we all think of them as being served on the English tea table. Hannah Glasse knew of them and we used her receipt. Whatever their history, they are tasty, and ours will be anointed with chocolate and spring mint.
So you say tomato and I say tomaato, but let’s not call the whole thing off, I want little cakes.
Lisa creamed the butter and sugar then added the rest of the ingredients for the batter, and spooned it into the French Madeleine tins.
Into the bake oven goes the coffin and Portugal cakes. The rolls were baked in the kettle on the hearth.
Time to prepare all the pieces for our Grand Salad.
To Make a Grand Sallet
John Murrell, The Second Booke of Cookery and Carving, 1638
Take the buds of all kind of good Hearbes and a hanfull of French Capers, seven or eight Dates cut in long slices, a hanfull of Raisins of the Sun, the stones being pickt out, a handfull of Almonds blancht, a handfull of Curans, five or six Figs sliced, a preserved orenge cut in slices; mingle all these together with a handful of Sugar, then take a faire Dish fit for a shoulder of Mutton, set a standard of paste in the midst of it, put your aforesaid sallet about this standard, set upon your sallet four half Lemmons, with the flat ends downward, right over against one another, halfs way betwixt your standard and the dishes side, pricke in every one of these Lemmons a branch of Rosemary and hang upon the Rosemary preserued cherries, or cherries fresh from the tree; set foure halfe Egges, being roasted hard, betwaene your Lemons, the flat ends downward, prick upon your Egges sliced Dates and Almonds: then you may lay another garnish betweene the brim of the Dish and the Sallet, of quarters of hard Egges and round slices of Lemmons: then you may garnish up the brim of the Dish with a preserued Orenge, in long slices and betwixt every slice of orenge, a little heap of French Capers. If you have not a standard to serue it in, then take halfe a Lemmon, and a faire branch of Rosemary.
The eggs were put in a pot to boil and the asparagus blanched. Both were put in cool water to stop the cooking. Leaves of tarragon, marjoram, parsley, and mint were prepared. Figs and dates were julienned, while the slivered almonds were toasted. Capers were drained and lemons sliced. All of these ingredients would be used in the Grand Salad.
Lisa cut the lemons in half and speared a grape onto the top of the rosemary and stuck the spear into a lemon. Linda took the sliced dates and almonds and stuck them into the eggs. We love the look of these and they were just a part of our garnishes for the grand salad.
Sherry cut oranges, with the peel, into slices early in the morning and then cut them into triangle, blanched them, patted them dry and sprinkled Darmara sugar on them. They were then put in the electric oven for three hours to dry. This was just the beginning of all the ingredients used for the Grand Salad.
Other items for the salad included, pickled cornichons, pickled beets, pea pod leaves, mint, dates, figs, sunflower seeds, raisin of the sun, various herbs and spices.
With the coffin and rolls ready, it was time to assemble our centerpiece.
The Portugal cakes were the first item to come out of the bake oven. When they were cooled, melted chocolate helped finish the dessert, and Lisa chopped fresh mint for the tips.
The coffin was placed on the plate and the grand salad was begun. Some of the items were put in a bowl and sprinkled with the Demerara sugar. A handful of mixed spring greens and the wonderful pea pod greens went around the coffin. The lemons with rosemary, the eggs with almonds and dates, asparagus, and other items were all artfully arranged on this. This was the fun part, making it a work of art, fit for a king or queen.
Gervase Markham, The English House- wife, 1683, suggests you serve your sallet up to the table with oyl, vinegar, pepper and sugar. We all decided that the dressing was way too oily for such a delicate spring salad so we substituted good old Brianna’s Blush Wine Vinaigrette. Not 18th century but really good. The table was set and we were all ready to sit down after a busy morning and noon assembling all the parts for what looks like a simple meal. We “housewife’s paid attention to the presentation of our compound sallet,” as Markham suggested.
The Grand Salad with a standard of a Lamb Coffin and Cheese Rolls with Grains
Linda and Lisa did the honors and took the top off the coffin
BEHOLD A LUSCIOUS LAMB COFFIN AND GRAND SALAD EXTRAORDINAIRE
In this picture we are missing Sherry. Unfortunately, she was feeling a bit unwell and left early. We shared a toast to a job well done, and we also toasted Sherry, for her wonderful coffin case and candied oranges for the Grand Salad. We packed up a doggie bag for her and Marsha will make sure she gets it.
With the meal over and the Portugal Cakes eaten, we cleaned up, and everyone packed a goodie bag to take home for dinner.
So the season comes to an end, and all that is left is to put away all the washed dishes, and utensils we used, and season all the iron that might go into storage for the coming months. And I will think of the wonderful meals cooked, and of meeting so many interesting friends with whom I have been lucky enough to share my hearth. I’m looking forward to next fall and having several workshops. Stay tuned for the notices.
Enjoy the Summer!
Eating is not merely a material pleasure. Eating well gives a spectacular joy to life and contributes immensely to goodwill and happy companionship. It is a great importance to the morale.