There were six people in the workshop and all wanted to learn how to make coffins. It does seem to be a popular form of pie-making these days. This day we would go a step beyond the normal and make a coffins and a ‘subteltie’ or eye-catching centerpiece.
– A castle with a keep, three towers and a center.
First thing that needed to be done was make the fillings for the coffins. Veronica made the mushroom and onion filling while Matt added bread crumbs and spices to beef to make a forced meat mixture.
Nancy made two fillings. Both needed constant watchfulness and stirring. A rice filing hung over the fire, made with milk, could easily scorch, while the spinach sweating in a large spider over coals had to be carefully tended. Kate was done with her venison sausage filling, and she and Matt started on the Orange Fool. Veronica put the finishing touches on the mushrooms and onions.
Kate lends a hand to Nancy and places the spinach in a cloth-lined bowl to remove the last vestige of moisture.
Susan made a paste of shredded chicken breast, eggs and cream then picked all the meat off of the boiled quail. This would all go in her coffin with wild mushrooms, dates, fresh figs, and spices.
Kevin took the receipt for Cucumber a la Forced. He cut a small piece off the end of the cucumber and using a marrow spoon he removed all the seeds. Next he made a forced meat of bread cubes, eggs, melted butter and many fresh spices. This forced meat was stuffed into the center of the cucumber and the little end also. Susan made a leer for her quail coffin over the fire with a roux. Leers are like our modern gravies, made for pouring in the coffins and enjoying as a side. One of the interesting things about this roux is most of us put the butter in the pan add the flour and mix it together. Early receipts call for mixing the flour and butter together in your hand and then put it into the liquid, a very different concept for us.
Now back to Kevin and the cucumber. The small end needed to be sewn back on. I did a brief demonstration for him and he was on his way to resembling three forced cucumbers. Susan watched the surgery.
Veronica beat the egg whites for the Orange Fool. This was folded into the juice, sugar, and rinds, and thickened on the hearth by Matt.
Nancy grated the mozzarella for the spinach filling and mixed it with parmesan, whole eggs and spices. Kate was done with her venison sausage filling and she and Matt, working as a team, strained the orange peels from the sauce for the Orange Fool.
With all the fillings ready to go, we made our coffins. Everyone took turns pouring the hot water crust liquid into their flour. You must stir it with a spoon first and wait until you can touch it. When that time comes, you need to work fast to get the flour to mix with the liquid.
Once the flour will keep its shape as a ball, out on the work surface it goes. Ten minutes of kneading and then 10 minutes of rest and you have a ball that feels much like play dough. Using a coffin form, Susan starts on her large coffin.
Coffin forms are mentioned in early 19th century cookbooks. I have not seen any evidence, of their existence, in the previous centuries, however, they do make the work easier, and I’ll keep looking for proof.
Turning the form upside down helps to raise a nice tall coffin. Then in went the quail mixture.
Nancy used a smaller form for her spinach filling and a tall one for the rice. Kate’s venison would go in a taller form. The spinach would be the center and the rest would become part of the castle towers.
Veronica and Matt made the flanking towers.
Susan rolled out hot water crust to make the top for her coffin; she did a wonderful edge on the side. Kevin mentioned that she is an excellent pie maker. This edge showed off her skills. Kevin was pretty good with a basting brush, and applied the egg wash all over the coffin.
Matt really gets down making his tower tall, it would become the castle keep. Kevin does the honors of positioning the quail coffin into the back side of the beehive oven.
With the center, towers, and castle keep filled, the tops were placed on and the embattlements cut out. Then they were stuck together to form a castle Richard II would be proud.
Into the beehive they went, and after an hour they came out.
While the coffins cooked, Kevin simmered his forced cucumber in chicken stock. In the kettle, the leers that were made were kept warm.
With flags flying on the castle towers, Matt take it to the table. The tops was cut off to reveal, rice pudding, venison sausage, beef forced meat, mushroom and onions and a center of spinach. All worthy of a medieval feast.
We think of creating “subteltie” as being only in the medieval times, however, even Mrs. Beeton, in 1890, did a game pie with a stuffed pheasant on top.
Susan’s quail pie baked perfectly and was exceptionally good with the fruit, giving it an enjoyable tang .
Everyone around the table thought the spinach tasted much like spanakopita. The venison sausage was terrific, the rice pudding slightly sweet and creamy, the mushrooms and onions delightful and the ground cloves in the forced meat was a wonderful surprise. The forced cucumbers were interesting ranging in ratings from, “glad I had it once” to “it’s not bad.”
Everyone loved the Orange Fool. It was such a popular dessert in the 1800s that Hanna Glasse had at least four receipts for it. Topped with a bit of blueberry sauce it was a perfect ending to the meal.
Another coffin workshop behind me, and so glad to have shared the day with such wonderful and interesting friends.
“Food . . . can look beautiful, taste exquisite, smell wonderful, make people feel good, bring them together . . . At its most basic, it is fuel for a hungry machine . . . “
Rosamond Richardson, English cookery author