And the hot oven!
What a difference a year makes. Last winter it snowed almost every Saturday, and the workshops were always being rescheduled. So far this year we have had wonderful weather, even though it has been below freezing a few days. Our workshop day dawned sunny and 22 degrees outside, with wind gusts up to 15 miles an hour. Perfect day to cook over the fire!
One of the dishes we were making was a stuffed pumpkin. I bought several pumpkins in the fall to see how they would keep over the winter. I was just at Old Sturbridge Village at the Freeman farm house and Victoria, who was working there that day, told me how their pumpkins have not fared well, being that the house is so cold. I stored mine under the sink in the panty. We keep this door open on very cold nights so the pipes won’t freeze. The pumpkins survived in wonderful shape with the exception of one that we fed to the deer outside.
The pumpkin was of a good size and I started it early in the morning. When Cathy and Sherry arrived filled the pumpkin with a stuffing of apples, raisins, brown sugar, cubed bread, butter and spices. This would need to be turned every 20 minutes or so.
Natalie and Kathy started right in on the quail coffin. Their marble pasty board was covered in cling wrap to keep it clean while they worked on the meat. The birds would be fried brown, cooled and picked of their meat. Four legs would be save intact to stick out of the top of the coffin. A version of, “Crustardes of Flesh,” from the Form of Curry 1390.
Sherry and Cathy read the receipt from Robert Smiths , ” A Venifon Pie” and the modern version that they plan to use. With the venison cut into cubes, Sherry renders some salt pork in the pan.
Kathy and Natalie place the cut quail pieces in the oiled pan. After it browned at bit, they added garlic, anchovies, capers, red wine, and stock. A bouquet garni of fresh rosemary and oregano went into the simmering pan.
With the salt pork rendered, Sherry added the cut venison and browned it on all sides.
The filling for the venison coffin has onions, garlic, celery, carrots, potato, wine, spices and butter. When everything was cut, it was all put into the pan with the venison, and simmered along with some broth. Hanging on the crane is a pot with eggs boiling for the Lumber pie.
Four quail legs were set aside and the picked meat was mixed with raisins. The braising liquid from the pan and some red wine was thickened with corn flour then poured over the torn meat. This was set aside in a cool place. The cling wrap was removed; the dough was made. After kneading it for 10 minutes it was placed in a linen cloth and twisted and set aside to help the flour absorbed the fat evenly.
To make our coffin dough we used a medieval receipt from c 1465 Konzil von Konstanz (ÖNB 3044, fol. 48v). It is a hot water crust dough which is mainly flour, water butter, lard and a pinch of salt. The trick is to make sure you knead it well then tie it in a cloth.
Now I’m lucky that I have such a handy husband who has a wood lathe. He made me three coffin forms. I’m not sure when wooden forms started to be used. I do know that they existed.
Robert Deeley, The Caildron, The Spit and the Fire, shows a picture of an 19c coffin form.
Delia Smith who wrote Food in England in 1954 has a wonder article on pork pies being cook in coffyn or coffer, i.e., little box or enclosure; it lent itself to elaborate traditional decorations, on top and sides. She says these forms were made of hot pasty and molded, or raised, round wooden molds.
And this might be the best YouTube I’ve seen of making meat pie with a wooden form.
Cathy flours the forms really well, and Natalie takes a piece of the warm dough and makes a small bowl shape with it. The inside gets floured and is put on the floured form and made into a coffin. Allan made two small forms on the wood lathe. This way we can make individual coffins. Kathy and Natalie were very excited with this, they want to do small coffins for the Deacon Graves House Museum dinner one day in Madison, CT.
Next the quail filling goes in with the reserved leg in the middle. A top is then placed on with a hole for the leg. The sides and top edge were washed with beaten egg. Once they are pinched together they should hold in the filling nicely.
Susan was in charge of Robert Mays’ 1660 “Lumber Pie” receipt. While she cuts all the suet, mushrooms, shallots, and marrow, I peel the eggs.
I had some barberries in my spice box and even though the venison receipt did not call for it I ask the ladies if they would like to try it. Susan, a superb venison cook, suggested we grind three berry’s and add it to the mix and everyone agreed. The meat for the Lumber pie was made into little sausages and were then wrapped in caul to hold them together.
The sausages were browned in batches. I had made a beef gravy previously and we warmed it up with a bit of verjuice for pouring on the top of the filled coffin.
Sherry and Cathy worked on their coffin. They were using the large wooden mold. And, yes, we went through a lot of flour, with three different coffins being made it’s not surprising.
With their coffin made the venison filling was poured in. Cathy rolled out a lid and after brushing things with the beaten egg, she crimped it together. Their coffin was not raised very high, however, it would hold a goodly amount and serve four easily.
Susan started to make her coffin on the large form. The wood was floured very well and she was able to make it very tall.
Susan used a wooden noodle roller to make a great outside cover. Brushed with mixed egg, she applied the design.
Now came the layering of the grapes, figs , eggs, mushrooms and meat sausages in the coffin. The gravy was poured on last.
With the top pinched all round she cut more designs for the top. It was definitely decorating time and everyone was busy putting on the finishing touches of their coffins.
Susan put leaves on top of her coffin, Sherry and Cathy put hearts, Natalie and Kathy use a combination of designs.
After all Valentine’s Day was only one day away. Coffins were ready for the oven.
Because of the stretch of cold days Allan felt the bricks of the chimney and bake oven would take a long time to heat up. He kept testing the bake oven with the Laser Infrared Thermometer. It just would not get up to heat so he added more wood. Finally, he said it was 500 degrees and falling, so in went the coffins.
While the coffins baked away, Cathy prepared the lovely golden and red beets she had boiled and then sliced into rounds. She melted a stick of butter in a pan, added a little roux and stirred in the chopped parsley. scallions, garlic, vinegar, salt and pepper and sautéed them lightly. The beets were added and simmered until the sauce thickened.
NOW HERE IS WHERE THE BEST LAID PLANS OF MICE AND MEN GO WRONG.
So it was time to check the bake oven. First thing that someone noticed was that there was smoke pouring out of the back of the wooden door. It was smoking and I mean really smoking. So we tossed it in the sink and poured water on it. Next we looked at the coffins. Yikes! The Lumber Pie was way in the back and BLACK. We took it out and cut off the top and found that the inside was fine. Perhaps this is why they never eat the coffin dough . (Only kidding)
The Venison pie did not look too bad and the small coffins were about the same. The dough was cooked, but a tad over brown!
Fredrick Nutt’s The Complete Confectioner, 1790, and his Chocolate Drops.
The chocolate was put in a brass kettle and confectionery sugar added. Sherry put it over coals and started stirring and stirring and stirring until her arm was almost baked. At this point, it was removed to the stove and it took some doing, but the chocolate and sugar melted together.
Now the chocolate was dropped by a spoon onto a piece of parchment and sprinkled with nonpareils. When the parchment was filled, the edges were picked up, and the bottom was tapped on the marble to flatten out the chocolate. In theory, this would work. However, that would be to good to be true. What we made was glass, pretty glass, but GLASS.
All in all the meal was enjoyable and showed off the coffin-making skills of the cooks.
Each coffin had its own distinctive taste. The capers and rosemary in the quail coffin added a nice bright taste. Putting the barberries in the venison was a great idea; you could taste them in the background. Next time I’d add more. The lumbar pie had many layers of flavors with the fruit adding sweet moisture to the gravy.
The red and golden beets with a hint of lemon and the apple pumpkin brown betty was superb.
As we sat eating, there was lots of discussion of what went wrong with the candy. The beginning of the receipt says “Take one pound and a half of chocolate, put it on your pewter sheet or plate, put it in the oven just to warm the chocolate,….” (Our chocolate was sitting by the fire all day and was very soft.) “then put it into a copper stew pan, with three quarters of a pound of powdered sugar, mix well………” So, Cathy thought this sounded like a double boiler type process; other disagreed. What do you think? We would all be interested to know. One thing for sure we went way past the candy stage of warming the chocolate.
Here’s our group ready to feast on three coffins, a medley of beets, and apple-stuffed pumpkin
Later that night, as Allan and I sat waiting for the fire to die down, he picked up the Laser Infrared Thermometer. Guess what? It has two settings, Fahrenheit and Celsius. It seems Allan was dealing with Celsius and didn’t know it. After all, he had it in his mind that the temperature outdoors had been so bitter cold that the brick stack would be cold. WRONG.
500 degrees Celsius is 800 degrees Fahrenheit – it’s a wonder the coffins didn’t burst into flames!
“…no one is born a great cook; one learns by doing.”
̶ Julia Childs, My Life in France
PS: Coffin Workshop Two ̶ check the laser.