Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Something Different: A Culinary Symposium

My kitchen does not exist right now.  It is four walls with new electrical work and lights but no cabinets, counters, or appliances.  The remodel is moving along well!  For this post, I thought it would be fun to tell you about the culinary symposium I attended last March.

The West Coast Culinary Symposium is an event put on by the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA).  Their web page promised "a chance for like-minded and enthusiastic people to get together and share their love and knowledge of pre-1600 period cooking and practices and share the tasty results.  It is also a time to gather as friends, make new ones, share ideas, and teach our skills to others hoping to learn."  All this came true and then some!  Excited historical cooks from all over the United States and some international travelers attended.

First, the Food 

The arrival evening was a "Traveler's Potluck" where we all brought something to share and the symposium supplied a variety of soups.  What an opportunity for showing off our skills! I brought my Deviled Eggs for Dessert, An Illusion Food which I posted on this blog on March 15, 2014.  But oh, the other offerings:  homemade cheeses, meat pies, pickled vegetables, artisan breads and spreads, fruit pies, Roman era gingerbread, and more.  Even taking small portions of these temptations didn't leave me enough room to taste all I wanted to try.

Asparagus Omelet
Onion Relish and Herbed Cheese Spread with pear slices
Meat Pie!  With pork, beef, chicken, and onions.
Meat Pie, the interior
Compost -- a medieval chutney

The groaning table
We also were served breakfast, lunch, dinner, and breakfast over the next two days.  These were cooked onsite by different groups and they all did fabulous jobs.  
Breakfast:  eggs, cheese, bacon, bread, apricot jam with rosewater, grapes, stewed greens
Lunch:  Porridge, cheese, red cabbage, sausages, onion relish, cheese, fruit, shortbread, various sauces
The lunch table:  I like how they served spreads in goblets
The dinner was particularly exciting as it was attended by the King and Queen of the kingdom.  Everyone went all out with the menu!

Elderberry cheesecake -- yum!
Meat pie as a peacock -- a subtlety
A meat stew subtlety, too
Homemade cheeses
One of my servings  : )  The chicken was baked with bacon and there is a nice spinach dish, too
You might have noticed that some dishes ended up being offered at two meals -- a very efficient way to use the leftovers.  But what was particularly nice was having leftover elderberry cheesecake for breakfast the next morning!
A good morning start
Oatmeal with stewed fruit
Next:  The Food Classes

I took three classes but got the benefit of a fourth in that they shared their food creations. 

In the Ottoman Turk cooking class we made several dishes, all tasty!  Most of the time my hands were busy helping out so I don't have a lot of pictures showing the preparation steps.  Also, with the construction going on, I can't find my notes.  Once I do, I'll update this post.

One recipe involved eggplants and gourds.  They were hollowed out, stuffed with a lamb and mint mixture, then steamed.  For serving they were sliced and adorned with a yogurt sauce and chopped mint.

Eggplant sliced open lengthwise and hollowed out
The hollowed gourd
Getting ready to steam
Slicing in anticipation of serving
What a lovely presentation! 
We also used a lamb and mint stuffing to fill up grape leaves.  A special addition to the mixture was "Golden Prunes" which are dried and have a lovely tart taste.  It added a zing to the mixture that I liked very much.  The stuffed leaves were steamed at the same time as the eggplant and gourds.

Stuffed, rolled, and ready for steaming
Steamed and ready for eating!
Another dish, absolutely yummy and a surprising combination of foods, contained cooked chicken that was deboned and shredded then mixed with noodles, grapes, and almonds.  I can't recall the sauce but will look it up later.
The noodles, uncooked
The finished dish
We also made a sweet treat, a type of folded pastry filled with an almond mixture.  There was a professional pastry chef in the class who assisted in the rolling, cutting, and closing the treats.
The dough for the treats
Aren't they cute?
The finished product.  YUM!  Hard to save some for others.
The afternoon class was about outdoor cooking.  The instructor had a neat portable fire pit that assembles from boards and uses sand and bricks to insulate the wood from the fire.  A metal structure fitted around it to provide a place to hang pots and spits.  The advantage of it coming apart is that the otherwise very heavy pit can be broken into easily carried pieces.

The ceramic pots are used as cloches
Notice the spitted roast is off to the side of the fire and has a drip pan beneath it.  The sand you see is only a few inches deep.
There was also a portable all metal fire pit that was fun to look at.  The ceramic pot is being used to help heat the charcoal faster and also to warm the pot up before it is placed over cooking food.

Love the medieval styling
The warmed cloche will go over the chicken, making a little oven and cooking the meat faster and more evenly
The class next door on Roman Empire cooking generously shared the results of their cooking.  I got to try some food items that were entirely new to me!  One item I didn't get a picture of was fried pig's ears.  Yes, you read that right.  They were sliced into strips and fried until they were chewy, tasty treats.  Not exciting from my point of view but certainly fun to try and tell people about.

Another surprise was the grilled pig nipples.  They were marinated in some lovely sauce and then we helped to grill them.  They, too, were chewy but I liked the bacon-y flavor and would definitely try them again.

Heading to the grill.  The specks are seeds in the marinade
Cooking up nicely.
I don't want you to think the pig nipples were the big surprise, though.  No, that honor belongs to the dish containing leeks, pine nuts, and ... wait for it ... pig uterus.  That's right:  sow's womb.  The sauce on the dish really brought the flavors together and made my tastebuds sing:  a taste of olive oil and spices.  The uteri made me think of slightly chewy macaroni, which is what they looked like, too.  In all seriousness, I would eat this dish again.  If I couldn't get uteri, I would use macaroni. 
Very, very tasty!
My last class was on subtleties and illusion foods.  These are foods designed to "fool the eye" into thinking it is something it is not.  The instructor was very knowledgeable, experienced, and creative.  She had brought pictures of some of her past creations and also taught us how to work with sugar paste using a store-bought gum paste mixture and rosewater.

The carrots are made of meat loaf mixture and the shrimp are really marzipan.
This is made of sugar paste!
Adorable hard-boiled egg mice
Tools of the sugar paste sculpting trade
Mixing the gum paste with rosewater to make a smooth dough
More creations
Food Related Fun

The days were packed with good food, good learning, and good people!  We also had a keynote speaker and two competitions.  One was called "Mortal Peril" and consisted of categories with answers to which we had to provide the questions.  Anyone could participate in the first round and the top three winners went on to the final round.  Great fun!  The other competition was a spice identification challenge, where about 30 spices were put in numbered glass containers and the competitors were given a paper listing all the spice names.  We could look at, sniff, and taste the spices to identify them.  It was quite a challenge!  I was pleased with how many I got right.  

The Verdict

Overall it was exhausting, exhilarating, and worth every minute.  I'm so glad I was able to go!  Along with all the knowledge I got from the classes, I learned that I love elderberry cheesecake and anything with rosewater in it.  I came home with cookbooks, spices, a two-hundred year old sourdough starter, a ceramic alembic, and a strong desire to sculpt in sugar paste.  I met a lot of nice and interesting people, had conversations about all sorts of cooking styles and methods, enjoyed the mountain setting, and filled my stomach with tasty and exotic foods.  I am not a member of the SCA but everyone was friendly and welcoming and accommodated my lack of SCA social skills.  

This event has my hearty recommendation!

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