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So this recipe is a bit of history copulation of several research papers I’ve done in the past and a really good recipe that makes use of ALL the research done.  If you’ve read the papers, just skip to the recipe.

Roman Cooking and making of a “Peacock” Pie

By

Honorable Lady Sosha Lyon’s O’Rourke

 

 

Intro to Roman Cooking:

Roman cooking spans several centuries with a rich collection of recipes.  Manuscripts depicting the Roman table are rare due to the age, delicacy of these scrolls and the plundering of the Roman Empire.  However there have been a few manuscripts and letters that have survived and translated that bring us a better understanding of what a Roman table is like, from dinning styles and dishes, to foods and sumptuary laws.  (Grant, Vehling)

Kitchen:

Joan Liversidge writes in The Roman Cookery book,  that most of what is known in modern day about the Roman kitchen comes from ruins with the best preserved kitchens to have been from the excavation from Pompeii that were in use during the eruption of Vesuvius in A.D. 79.

“…the hearth, which consists of a raised platform of masonry faced on top with tiles, sometimes edged with a curb, and with a coating of opus singiunum  (paint?) along the front. Arched openings in the front of the platform nearer the floor-level lead to fuel bins that were roughly constructed of rubble and tile.  Arrangements for providing water for cooking and washing-up are also sometimes found, as are the supports for the stone or wooden tables used for the preparation of food.” (Flower, pg. 29)

This description leads one to think that the more wealthy homes had better cooking accommodations i.e. raised platforms, wash areas and stone tables while the poor kitchens did without these amenities and used buckets for washing and cheap wood tables. (Flower, pp. 32, 33)

(http://www.the-romans.co.uk/food.htm)

Here is a Roman kitchen with the original counters and murals.  This kitchen is in the Teton Village of Italy and still in use.  The counters are marble with the original brick walls, cobble stone floors and wood storage areas.  This looks huge!  And definitely makes me envious of the cooks who worked in such a lovely kitchen.

There were several methods for cooking in a Roman house.  The stove one part of a roman kitchen called a focus, square structure usually between 1.10 cm and 1.30 cm high and 1.20 m deep.  Some stoves were smaller or larger but this seemed to be the average sized compiled from the intact stoves of Pompeii. (Faas, pp. 131)  Faas and Flowers discuss that the stove had various ways to cook, either with high flames for searing or roasting of animals.  If the animal was small enough then whole such as rabbit, kid or piglet but if the focus was large enough goat, pig, deer might be added to the list of whole animal.

Another type of cooking structure found in the rubble of Pompeii, per, seemed to be smaller in then the focus. These were made of rubble and tiles in the form of beehives, low to the ground.   There was an opening in the front for fuel with a drought for air.  These ovens could use both wood or charcoal depending on the dish(es) brought for preparation.  In the excavation of Pompeii, small rectangular ovens were discovered standing on the hearth of a kitchen in the House of Dioscuri.  One theory is that these small nonstandard ovens were used for pastries as a pastry mould was found near.  The pastry dishes were not described, unfortunately.

The oven, not to be confused with a stove, called a furnus or a fronax.  This was a square or dome-shaped hollow made from brick stone.  The floor of the oven was laid with granite.  The exception to this rule were those oven floors that were lined with lava.  (Faas, pp. 132.)

Another method was to cook directly over a fire on spits called veru (Faas, pp. 131) or in coals on fire pits or “ovens”, this is talked about by Liversidge, and to slightly less extent Grant.  They both speak, sometimes in great detail, on how much of the Roman cooking was done on iron tripods and gridirons (referred to by Apicius as craticula) over burning charcoal on the raised hearths.

Spits were used for larger animals i.e. boar which were roasted over fire.   Some recipes are specific on how dishes are to be cooked with the comments of “Brown it’s fat on a glowing hot brazier” (cooking dish suspended over coals) while another dish is “…heated in a brass vessel over a fire of dry sticks”. (Flower, pg. 31) Even though the Romans mainly used iron tripods, some dishes were to be placed directly into the ashes or coals.

Smoke free charcoal seems to have been the preferred heating method (Faas, pp. 130) though wood was used not just for heating but also for flavoring as some dishes are referred to as being smoked.

In today’s kitchen a mortar and pestle is used more decoratively then for actual practicality.  In Roman times, according to Faas, the mortar held a spot of extreme importance.  Spices, herbs, meat and emulsifying were all accomplished in this one kitchen utensil.  The theory fis that spices were used first (as they were dry) then working through progressively wetter ingredients.  The implication being that there was only one pestle per kitchen in use.

I am not sure I completely agree with this idea.  I can see a Roman house hold having a smaller mortar used for spices and emulsifying and a larger pestle used for vegetables and meat, but I cannot see that only one pestle per household could accomplish all this for one meal.  The logistics of both size and quantity of ingredients used seem to imply that more than one, not just one large or even medium sized pestle, would be needed.

I have not seen any mention of drawers being used or even available in the kitchen during this time, while shelves and hooks seem to be the most commonly mentioned methods of storing.  A well-stocked kitchen could include, the ubiquitous knife or knives and “…choppers, meat forks, soup spoons, sieves, graters, spits, tongs, cheese-slicers, nutcrackers, measuring jugs, pate moulds…” (Faas, 132).  The pots and pans were just as numerous as the slicing and dicing accoutrements.  There were stewing pots, pultarius, simmering pots, caccaubs, shallow pans, padella, oval dishes, patina, and square dishes called angulis.  (Faas, pp. 133, 134)  The pans and pots could be made from either pottery or metal (Flower, pp. 32, 33) depending on the economic status of the individual house hold as seen in excavations.  A well-stocked Roman kitchen could rival that of any gourmet kitchen in modern times.

Period Roman Cooking vs. Modern Roman Cooking:

For true Roman cooking I would need stove made from cement or clay and an oven lined with granite. Various pots, pans, and utensils made from wood, clay, or metal.  I would use either smokeless charcoal or wood.  If my house were truly well to do I would have kitchen slaves to do the chopping and grinding for a meal preparation as well as serving once all the food had been prepared.  If I were really well to do, I would have a cook to do all my cooking for me.

Unfortunately, modern times mean a slightly more modern approach.  My oven is gas lit, needing neither wood nor charcoal.  My spoons are made of wood (spoons and serving utensils) while my pots are made of clay.  These pots are lead free and not done in the period style unfortunately.  They are readily available but not on the same level as those in period.  Clay pots and utensils seem, from various archeological digs, to be as prevalent as the modern paper plate or plastic spoons.  My pans are made of metal, just not copper lined with tin.

I do own a mortar and pestle for grinding spices though I do not grind nearly as many spices as a Roman household would.  I do buy my some spices pre-ground.  I am sure that there were merchants who had these pre-ground spices on hand for pre mixed seasonings, though bulk spices would be better for a fresher stronger taste.  This is just my observation on spice tasting and the variety of cooking done at home. Not all of my vegetables come from my garden nor do I have a hive for honey.  That I can even grow even a few vegetables to cook with is a modern luxury instead of a necessity.  My wheat for bread is ground for me and is usually very pure wheat flour instead of having some traces of other flours, as a wheat mill was not cleaned between grinds in period.

I do not own chickens for eggs or meat on the table.  Cows are right out due to city ordinances.  I have hopes to own a few chickens at some point or even rabbits but for now I have to rely on knowing those who raise rabbits for meat then sell to me and are willing to raise chickens ducks purchased by me to split at slaughter time.

Modern times have made meat farms economically feasible while in period farms and animal husbandry were very dependent on weather conditions for growth and survivability.  This makes meat inexpensive and choice easily available instead of the poorest subsisting on a crust of bread, the less poor on vegetables and the tongue of a sheep or cow, possibly just cocks combs for protein. The wealthier could afford sheep forelegs or even tripe, perhaps even the taste of the fatty brisket meat.  The very wealthiest could afford the prime cuts along with delicacies of humming bird tongue and peacock.  The wealthier a Roman was, the better stocked with both utensils and ingredients their kitchen was.  Modern times have given even the poorest person, at least in first world countries, access to cheap meat, breads and vegetables not only from their country of origin but from around the world.

 Dinning Styles:

Faas (pp. 70-72) lists five different styles of dining.  These styles are suggested from both frescos and surviving letters or notations in manuscripts.

The first style is that of a buffet, brought in by servants/slaves while each guest helped themselves to a dish or dishes from artfully arranged works of edible art.  Another style of dining is in which each guest is brought a plate with portions already cut and arranged.  We see this today in a restaurant.

The following letter highlights the complaint against this style thought.

“…Hagias said: “We invite one another out for dinner, it seems to me, not so much for the sake of eating and drinking, but in order to eat and drink together.  Such rationing is unsociable…’ (Plut. 642/Faas 71)

The next style of dinning would be the roast.  The roast was brought in whole and carved with the guests helping themselves.  Though my own thoughts are that this would be more of a center piece, for any of the listed “Dinning Styles” then it’s own as each person would still either help themselves or have a slave bringing them choice tidbits.

The fourth style of dining is said to be seen on frescos In which each dinner is given their own table while reclining.  Each table would look the same as the others. Each table had a slave accompanying for refilling of plate or bowl.

(www.the-romans.co.uk/food.htm)

The Athenian way of dining, the fifth style, is thought to be a little of all four above. Each person having their own set of delicacies, not a buffet but not quantified by one plate, while a central themed roast or spectacular dish displayed and carved for a dinner’s delight.  (Faas, pp.70)

From this research every region had their own style of eating.  Not always a happy situation but one in which the host could sometimes be swayed for a more appealing style.

Utensils:

The utensils excavated range the gamete of common pottery to iron or bronze with some being made of more precious metals.  This is true of all cooking utensils and most of the spoons, knives etc.  One can imagine that wooden spoons were also used but probably did not survive being preserved as did the metal and pottery items.  The handles were made of bronze, wood or bone. (Flower, pp. 32)

Apicius in one comment to a cook tells them to take a clean pan or pot which is presumed to be pottery even though the word patella (bronze pan or pot) is used.  This is assumed due to the readily available and inexpensiveness of pottery pot or pan.  At this point in history a bronze pots would be cost prohibitive to replace regularly while a pottery pan is very inexpensive.  Cleaning of the different utensils is described as sea or dessert sand for bronze while pottery would need soap.  Once the course pottery dishes were so caked with foods as to be unusable a new pan or pot could be gotten relatively quickly for very little.  Bronze pots from several excavation sites have been found with bronze patches and show hard use. (Flower, pp. 17, 27, 29, 32 ,33)

The fretale or sartago refer to a frying pan type of utensil that is identified with certainty, while all other utensils, not being labeled are not so easily identifiable per Liversidge’s commentary.  Educated guesses can be made to the names of different types of vessels with the discoveries made from the Pompeii excavations as well as the Roman legionary fortress at Newstead.  (Flower, pp. 32)

An interesting notation is that cauldrons or cook pots were passed to others.  From one excavation site of a Roman military camp one cauldron has inscriptions carved on the side.  These inscriptions are the name of the first owner “the first century of Attilius Severus” then the cauldron was passed on to the century of Aprilis. (Flower, pg. 33)  No reason is stated or guessed at the reason for the change in ownership.  In a regular household there is no mention if these pots and pans were considered part of a dowry or if the eldest son inherited.  There is an assumption that bronze pots and pans would be passed down to family members though.

There was a style of utensils and dishes thought to be in the Athenian style of eating due to their size and utilization.  Silver trays, tripods with plates, very small bowls and egg cups.  A quote from one dinner’s letter (Ath, 132) suggest that these items were for individual eating, on serving trays with their own tables, then either reclining and being served or the style of a buffed.

“…The cook puts down a try with five little plates on it.  One holds some garlic, the next two sea urchins.  Yet another contains a sweet cake, or tell little shellfish, and finally a piece of sturgeon…  (Faas, pp72)

This dinner’s commentary actually is against being served on small plates as it seemed to do no more than smear his lips not fill his belly.  Possibly even the lack of camaraderie with each their own table.

Food:

The list of foods available to the Romans is extensive, with both cultivation and the vast trading routes available.  Very little was not attainable, albeit sometimes costly, in the Roman market places.  It is noted that citrus was not available, other than lemons and citrons, as oranges were not introduced until the tenth century by the Arabs, possibly about the same time as eggplant.  (Giacosa, pp. 12)      Citrons were prized for their skins for the extreme smell of citrus but not for their very dry fruit. (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Citron).

Examples of some items imported were peaches were imported from Persia, malum persicum, apricots, malum aremniacum or praecox or praecoquium, from Armenia.  Dates were imported from Ethiopia.  Home grown items included figs, grapes, watermelon, muskmelon, walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds and pine nuts. (Giacosa, pg. 14).

Vegetables were enjoyed, with a profusion of choices available, both fresh and preserved.  (Grant, pp. 21)  Meat, though readily available, as were fish of all varieties, these were expensive items.

“The emperor Diocletian published his Decree on Maximum Prices in an attempt to stop the rampant inflation that was ruining the economy…have the merit of showing the comparative prices of various foodstuffs.  Twelve denarii would buy a pound of pork, venison or best quality freshwater fish.” (Grant, pg. 20).

The common Romans seemed to have a very bread heavy diet with fruit and vegetables on the side with cheese and eggs for protein.  These breads included white and black bread (based on the type of flour used).  There was also leavened bread and flat breads (noted used by sailors but not common fare to any other population stratus of Roman households).  Flavored breads incorporated different seeds such as poppy, anise, fennel, celery and caraway seeds. (Giacosa, pg. 16) Those with expansive purses could indulge in the wider variety of culinary experiences.

There was a book written on vegetarianism by Plutarch, called On the Eating of Meat.  Plutarch referenced many other references that did not include meat in the recipes.  It is unknown if these books were for just the common man or for aristocrats as well. (Grant, pg 20)

Pasta, tomatoes, butter and corn were not used or available till much later.  Butter, while known, was not used extensively though cheese was very popular and common with goat and sheep milk cheeses being the main types found in the market place.  (Giacosa, pg. 13).  Some cow cheese probably found their way into the market place but would have been seen as a novelty item not a staple.

An interesting note on garum, a fish sauce used by the Romans, which is mentioned in every translation of Roman cookbook (Grant, Flower, Apicus, Giacosa, Faas); the recipes and theories about the different ways to make this liquid seasoning are varied while the use was much like ketchup is today.  Used sparingly garum does not over power merely adding a hint of something exotic and a slightly salty note to a dish.  The best bet, unless one wanted to spend 2-3 months in the hot summer sun turning urns with fish bones and fish guts with other spices, is to use a store bought fish sauce found in oriental markets.          

Food Exceptions and substitutions:

Grant gives the quote:

“Roman cooks were used to substituting ingredients, as Apicius’ illustrations show: ‘To which you should add the reduced juice of quinces, further reduced to the consistency of honey by exposure to a blazing sun.  If you do not have reduced quince juice, you should use the reduced juice of dried figs, which the Roman’s call “colour”.’ Anthimus was also familiar with the problem of availability: ‘Although cucumbers at present cannot be procured here, when they are available the seeds that are inside them may be eaten.’” (pg. 27)

In cooking Roman recipes’ substitution is not only expected but in some cases encouraged to use different ingredients, after noting down the original translations, for the most part in SCA redactions.  Cooks may need to use variations, due to either the lack of availability or because a better period substitute could be used i.e. goat cheese as opposed to cheddar cheese.

The Romans were exceptional cooks in the art of preparing dishes that disguise the original ingredients i.e. faux anchovy pie where no anchovies are present.  One comment by Platus’ Pseudolus (I, 810 ff.) was:

“I don’t season a dinner the way other cooks do, who serve you up whole pickled meadows in their patinae – men who make cows their messmates, who thrust herbs at you, then proceed to season these herbs with other herbs…when they season their dinners they don’t use condiments for seasoning, but screech-owls, which eat out the intestines of the guests alive.”  (Flower, pg. 29)

While Platus was not so into disguising what his food was about, it seems that the main cooking in Roman for the more elegant tables was bent on disguising flavors with more flavor of unusual herbs.

 

 

 

Peacock Pie:

“Grind chopped meat with the center of fine white bread that has been soaked in wine.  Grind together pepper, garum and pitted myrtle berries if desired.  Form small patties, putting in pine nuts and pepper.  Wrap in omentum and cook slowly in caroenum.”  (Giacosa, pp. 90)

The ground meat patties of peacock have first place, if they are fried so that they remain tender… (Apicius, 54/Giacosa, pp. 90).

On a side note, the peacock was so expensive (roughly 50 denarii a bird) that some peacocks were stripped of their skin then cooked (roasted) in aromatic resinous substances until the meat was effectively mummified. Afterwards it was redressed and reserved at another banquet later that week or month without fear of rotting. (Toussaint-Samat, pp. 38)

This recipe, for ground patties, was probably used for peahens past their reproductive cycle, and at 50 denarii per bird, this would still be a very expensive and luxuriant dish to serve to nobility and emperors.

Romans were also very fond of pork.  Going so far as to breed a special type of pig just for the best dining experience possible. The Roman Empire had two types of pigs; the normal mast fed opportunistic type of pig that was considered tasty with long legs and a narrow body

 

http://www.sophialambert.com/PORK-HAM-AND-BACON.htm

and a second heavier meatier fatter pig that was white with short legs and round body with heavily marbled meat.

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suovetaurilia

In the second relief, note the rounded shoulders and heavy jowls of the pig in the lower right portion.  This pig was the product of selective breeding and happy feeding.  No opportunistic boars need apply for the stud job on this farm!

There were a few in Rome who commented on the desirable qualities for pig and how to feed them.

Columella advised “Not to rely on acorn foraging alone but to make use of legumes for fattening as well.  He also advised breeding for a new type of pig more suitable for rapid weight gain than for ranging in the woods. “Pigs should be sought whose bodies are exceedingly wide, but squarish rather than long or round, with protruding belly and large rump rather than tall legs or hooves, a broad glandulous neck, and a short upturned snout.” (Carlton)

However when the Roman Empire fell, this pig type was lost as farms were thrown into chaos.  The mast fed pigs from feral stock could outrun the hungry wolf or human while the shorter fatter pig, not so much.  Remember it’s not that a pig has to be the fastest just faster than the slowest…and the slowest were always eaten.

Then there is the issue of the Roman chicken.  Lots to discuss but we’re only going to cover a couple of basic feathered facts.  Columella next discusses the breeding habits of chickens as well as cross breeding types for the best in both eating and temperament. The breeds Tanagrian, Rhodic, Chalkidic and Median (Melian) should only be used for cockfighting while the native Roman chickens either by themselves or hens crossed with Greek cocks.   These breeds do not show up in modern times; however the breed names for these period chickens seem to be based on the origin city or region and not upon any specific type or defining characteristic.  And example would be Tanagrian, which was a Greek district between Thebes and Chalcis. (UChicago)

Ingredients:

Pie:

1 peacock      1lb ground pork  1 cup ground bread crumbs        1 tsp ground pepper

½ red wine (pinot)     1 tsb fish sauce        ½ cup pine nuts          ½ lb bacon strips

Crust:

Redaction:

Originally when I started making this dish, my thought was to make a subtlety using the main meat filling (using ground pork instead of duck or peacock) and a peacock as the main meat covering under a butter crust.

I can hear you now…that’s not the period recipe!!  You’re right.  To a point.  Remember this quote earlier…

“Roman cooks were used to substituting ingredients, as Apicius’ illustrations show: ‘To which you should add the reduced juice of quinces, further reduced to the consistency of honey by exposure to a blazing sun.  If you do not have reduced quince juice, you should use the reduced juice of dried figs, which the Roman’s call “colour”.’ Anthimus was also familiar with the problem of availability: ‘Although cucumbers at present cannot be procured here, when they are available the seeds that are inside them may be eaten.’” (pg. 27)

Yes…I made sure to include this about Roman’s and their love for changing things up.  I’m changing things up.

First you start with a peacock.

This is a peahen.  A female pea.  I was out of cock.

The next step is to start de-feathering the bird.

Now here is where things get interesting.  In my first inception of this dish, the peahen was deboned.

The peahen meat and skin is put over the pork mixture.

Pork mixture?  Oh, right, forgot to add a step.  Take all the other ingredients other than the peahen…

Make a tasty mess.

Cover this with bacon.

Drape the ground pork mixture with peahen and wrap with in bacon.

 

So as you can see…I don’t really have a subtlety, I have a football.  This form really wasn’t acceptable.  In fact this is driving me up the wall.  Think Redneck Girlfriend saying “Oh HELL no!” when she finds out the boyfriend is buying the cheap beer and spending the night with his boys.  That is the level of unacceptable this is.  Just…no!

So that leaves me with peahen wrapped around tasty pork goodness.  So I made a pie.  A tasty tasty butter crust wrapped pie.

However that is not the pie being served today.  Why not?! You ask.  That is a very good question!  And the answer is…I ran out of peahen and no cocks were available.  So I had to switch to the other white meat. Chicken.

So all the steps are the same, except using a debone chicken instead.  Chicken is easier to acquire unless you have a peahen supplier.  And remember, Romans used other food to mimic the dish they were claiming to serve!  Its period to substitute and that is what we are doing today.

Here you’ll note the use of dates along the rim of the pie.  My pork wrapped chicken over pork pie tastiness pulled away from the butter crust forming this unseemly empty space.  To hide that slight cooking issue, I used dates to stuff the crust keeping the viewing pleasure.

 

References

http://www.ancientworldalive.com/#!Ancient-meals-and-eating-habits-Part-2-Romans/c16ee/555085d40cf248741723ecb3

http://encyclopedia.farlex.com/Brittany

http://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/f/figcom12.html

http://perseus.uchicago.edu/perseus-cgi/citequery3.pl?dbname=GreekTexts&query=Str.%209.2.13&getid=1

www.the-romans.co.uk/food.htm

http://thecoolchickenreturns.blogspot.com/2006/05/chickens-in-ancient-rome.html

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Citron

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asafoetida

http://www.treesofjoy.com/fig-varieties-collection

Apicius, (1977). Cookery and Dining in Imperial Rome; Edited and Translated by Joseph Dommers Veling. Dover publication.

Apicus.  (1958). The Roman Cookery Book. Translated by B. Flower and E. Rosenbaum. Harrap London

Faas, P., (1994). Around the Roman Table. University of Chicago Press.

Giacosa, I., (1992). A Taste of Ancient Rome; by Ilaria Gozzini Giacosa, Translated by Anna Herklotz. University of Chicago Press.

Grant., M. (1999). Roman Cookery, Bristish Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data.

The Opera of Bartolomeo Scappi (1570).  Translation by Scully. T., (2008). The Lorenzo Da Ponte Italian Library.

Toussaint-Samat, M., (1992). History of Food. Barnes & Nobles

 

 

March 27, 2017 | No comments

Peacock Subtlety: Part 2

Peacock Dora and more 054

The first time I wrote about peacock on the table of kings and the very well-to-do, the cooking was completely theoretical, with stand-in stunt ducks and a preserved skin.  http://roxalanasredactions.com/?s=peacock

This portion covers the messy, gory cooking parts of actually turning a freshly killed peacock into a dish once served to kings.

Part 1: The Bird

Peacock Dora and more 030

This is the freshly killed peacock (not by me).  Short story, I went to a farmer’s house to pick up a couple of wild peahens, with fertilized eggs and baby chicks dancing through my head.  When we got to the Middle of Nowhere, Texas my daughter and I were greeted with the sounds of gunfire — a bit disconcerting.  We took a look around, staying on the polite side of fences, and saw the peahens and goose we were originally after.  While we were petting said friendly goose and his love interest, contemplating which recipe he would best be served in, up comes the Farmer Lady with a gorgeous and dead Indian Blue Peacock. She announced, “Here’s your cock!” I couldn’t do much more than say thank you and pay the lady for her magnificent cock and the two hens.  Sorry, the goose wasn’t going to fit in the car once I had the peacock with his tail in my car.  It’s not that big a car!

I did ask about how she could sell her birds so cheaply.  Seems the peacocks were let loose in the wild 20 some years ago and have flourished in the tropics of Texas — so much so that the resulting multiple flocks have become a nuisance for the ranchers and not just the beautiful lawn and table ornaments they were originally destined to be.  My win, their loss.

            An apropos poem for this bird handed to me, the cook.

“Peacock: you admire him, often he spreads his jewel-encrusted tail.  How can you, unfeeling man, hand this creature over to the cook?” (Mart.XIII-1XX/Faas, pp. 295)

During the time of Henry VIII, this bird would have incredibly expensive due to their breeding habits.  Based on my searches, a live bird’s pricing from a reputable breeder is usually on the order of $600.  The scarcity of peacocks caused the pricing to be such that only nobility could afford such a rare beauty for their yard or table.  So what I paid for this magnificent bird was a fluke, due to the nuisance the random flocks had become, rather than the norm.  This bird: much more affordable.

The peacock, unlike the chicken, was not a common bird.  (thecoolchickenreturns.com) Unlike the chicken, a peahen will only lay 3-9 eggs a year while a single chicken might lay up to 200 eggs each year.  (Damerow).  This cuts down on the number of pea chicks born and raised to maturity in any given clutch or year.  Low numbers with great beauty, much like gold or rubies, raises the price of the peacock out of the common man’s reach.

A quick bit of history on the eating of peacock.  Peacocks were valued throughout history, not only for their feathers but for their flesh.  Poems and songs were written about these gorgeous feathered fowls and their likeness graced plates, vases and even thrones.  They represented different ecclesiastic values to different religions.  This bird, with its jeweled-eyed tail, was coveted for both the look and symbolism represented in its display.  From a throne in India to the tables of rich Romans to paintings and vases in Persian Empire; even to the table of English royalty, many used this favored bird in recipes and decoration.

“Such subtle creations could be comprised of just the edible, or as the more elaborate a set up became, a combination of paper mache and lumber to support a larger and even grander display.  These decorative subtleties were for powerful displays and less about eating, with the production being undertaken by carpenters, metals smiths and painters and very little with chefs.” (Martins)

This is a research paper on cooking a beautiful period dish served to royalty . It covers the trials and tribulations of making this display happen in today’s modern world, which lacks an abundance of peacocks, as well as the “workarounds” needed to display the dish in a mostly period manner.

Part 2: Skinning

           With the bird in hand and period recipes dancing through my head, the first hurdle for this kingly presentation presented itself.

The Romans, French and English all agreed that the peacock’s skin and feathers should be saved to redress the dish(s).

Roman:

Cure the skin with coarse sea salt, so that it dries out a little, and wash it off just before you dress the roast bird in it…” (Faas, pp. 297).

French:

And when it is cooked, it must be re-clothed in its skin and let the neck be nice and straight or flat; and let it be eaten with yellow pepper. (Goodman, M-30)

English:

“Take and flay off the skin with feathers and tail, leaving the neck and crest still upon the bird, and preserving the glory of his crest from injury when roasting by wrapping it in a linen bandage.  Then take the skin with all the feathers upon it and spread it out on the table and sprinkle thereon ground cinnamon… Then take and sew him again into his skin and all his feathers, and remove the bandage from his crest.  Brush the feathers carefully and dust upon them and his comb gilding to enhance his beauty.  After a while, set him upon a golden platter, garnish with rosemary and other green leaves, and serve him forthwith as if he were alive and with great ceremony.” (Craig, pp. 157)

Yeah, the skinning part wasn’t quite as easy as these books made the undressing of the bird sound.   So here are my step by step pictures and running dialogue.  Let the messiness begin!

Peacock Dora and more 035            This is the messy part.  There is no other way to say this than ewww!  If you’re squeamish stop right here because the pictures just increase in gore factor.  Now, I’ve skinned and plucked more than a few feathers.  I raise period birds for eggs and meat.  Getting a bird ready for the oven is nothing new; however, trying to preserve the skin of a peacock with a 5 foot tail while your child and cat are trying to “help” is…exceptional.  I’m pretty sure period cooks didn’t have this issue.  The cats would know better than to be under foot.

So the first thing I learned is that this bird had some opalescent scales on the skin.

Peacock Dora and more 034A better picture when some of the scales flaked off while I was attempting to cut the skin.

Peacock Dora and more 033            I don’t know if this is normal, never having cut into the skin of a peacock before; however, I can say that these scaly flakes were gorgeous but made the first few attempts to cut into the skin a real bitch.

Once the initial cut was made, progress was made on separating the belly and leg skin from the bird.

Peacock Dora and more 036The feather portion of the skin ended at the peacock’s knees where the normal heavy-duty scaly legs started.

Those legs were almost as long as my forearm and had wicked claws.  I can see how these things are able to fend off both raccoons and foxes.  The peacock was only a couple pounds lighter than the period Spanish Black turkey I raised to make a Kraken subtlety.  That turkey managed to survive the Great Flock Killing of 2015 (by a couple of damn raccoons).  So yes, these birds can and do survive quite well with their natural defenses.

Back to the skin.  The skin had to be cut around the knee joint in a circle then sliced open.  Trust me, there was no way I was going to be able to pull the leg through and I didn’t want those clawed feet anywhere in the final cooked dish.  I disjointed the bird at the knees to make removing the lower legs easier.

The wings I left on the bird skin.  I attempted to take the skin off the wings but realized it was too fragile there for the amount of force needed to pull the many tendons/ligaments away from small bones.  Here I disjointed the wings and cut them at the inner breast joint.

Peacock Dora and more 037            As you can see the blood is pooling close to the neck where it was shot.  I had to drain the blood off a few times as I was making the cuts.  This is where I say either wear clothes you don’t mind getting bloody or skin in the buff so you can jump in the shower when it’s done.

Also note this bird is not covered in what we would consider a tasty amount of fat, as seen on modern day factory farm chickens.  This bird was wild.  It has a healthy amount of flesh and just enough fat along the skin and tail, yet the bird would never be considered as factory raised.

The skin from the back was actually the hardest to peel off.  I had to use my hands and a very small sharp knife to get into this area without slicing up the skin.   This portion of the deskinning was the hardest.  This skin felt thinner, though it really wasn’t, and the fat levels almost non-existent as I separated the skin and flesh.

A portion of the neck and head were left on.  All the period recipes say to leave the head on with feathers.  I couldn’t keep a pig’s ears from burning when I did a period pig head (http://roxalanasredactions.com/stuffed-boars-head/), so I was not about to risk the head of a peacock to the oven and my “linen bandaging” skills (which are nonexistent).  I had to do a quick improvisation.  2 inches under the head remained intact in the skin while I took out the rest of the neck.  The meat portion of the neck in the cooking had skewers to keep it upright for when the remaining neck and head were placed on top of the cooked portion.

Part 3: Cooking

             Most cooks have had the chance to work with their meat of choice before starting a major project.  Peacocks are as rare as hen’s teeth here so I had to adjust on the fly. I started with the period recipes for the Romans:

Roman:

Sometimes the peacock…were roasted. (Faas, pp. 297).

Another good Roman recipe; unfortunately this one does not include the redressing:

Grind chopped meat with the center of fine white bread that has been soaked in wine.  Grind together pepper, garum and pitted myrtle berries if desired.  Form small patties, putting in pine nuts and pepper.  Wrap in omentum and cook slowly in caroenum.”  (Giacosa, pp. 90)

French:

Peacock/Swan “Kill it like goose, leave the head and tail, lard or bard it, roast it golden, and it with fine salt.  It lasts at least a month after it is cooked.  If it becomes mouldy on top, remove the mould and you will find it white, good and solid underneath.” (Taillevent, pp. 23)

Or

Re-clothed Swan (substituting Peacock) “…in its skin with all the feathers.  Take it and split it between the shoulders, and cut it along the stomach; then take off the skin from the neck cut at the shoulders, holding the body by the feet; then put it on the spit, and skewer it and gild it.  And when it is cooked, it must be re-clothed in its skin and let the neck be nice and straight or flat; and let it be eaten with yellow pepper. (Goodman, M-30)

Italian:

If you want to roast a peacock on a spit, get an old one between October and February.  After it has been killed let it hang for eight days without plucking it and without drawing it; then pluck it dry…When it is plucked draw it…..put one end of a hot iron bar into the carcass through the hole by which it was eviscerated being careful not to touch the flesh: that is done to remove its moistness and bad smell.  To stuff it use the mixture outlined in Recipe 115, or else sprinkle it with salt, fennel flour, pepper, cloves and cinnamon; into the carcass put panicles of dry fennel and pieces of pork fat that is not rancid, studded with whole cloves or whole pieces of fine saveloy.  Blanch it in water or sear it on the coals.  Stud the breast with whole cloves. (The breast can also be larded or wrapped in slice of pork fat as is done with the pheasant in Recipe 135).  Roast it over a low fire, preserving the neck with its feathers as is done with the pheasant.  Serve it hot or cold as you wish, with various sauces … (Scappi, pp. 207)

The Opera of Bartolomeo Scappi, recipe #139 suggested for pheasant or peacock.

If you want to roast the small ones on a spit, as soon as they are caught pluck them dry and draw them; leave their head and feet on.  Stuff them with a little beaten pork fat, fresh fennel, beaten common herbs, raw egg yolks and common spices – which is done to keep them from drying out.  Sew up the hole and arrange their wings and thighs so they are snug.  Sear them on coals.  Wrap them, sprinkled with salt and cloves, in a calf or wether caul, or else in slices of pork fat with paper around them…When they are done serve them hot. (Scappi, pp. 206)

English:

Take a peacock, break his neck, and cut his throat, and flay him.  The skin and the feathers together, and the head still to the skin of the neck, and keep the skin and the feathers whole together; draw him as a hen, and keep the bone to the neck whole, and roast him, and set the bone of the neck above the broach (spit), as he was wont to sit alive; and above the legs to the body, as he was wont to sit alive; and when he is roasted enough take him off, and let him cool; and then wind the skin with the feathers and tail about the body, and serve him forth as he were alive; or else pluck him clean and roast him, and serve him as though do a hen. (Renfrow, pp. 572).

“Take and flay off the skin with feathers and tail, leaving the neck and crest still upon the bird, and preserving the glory of his crest from injury when roasting by wrapping it in a linen bandage.  Then take the skin with all the feathers upon it and spread it out on the table and sprinkle thereon ground cinnamon.  Now roast the peacocke and endore him with the yolkes of many eggs, and when he is roasted remove him from the fire and let him cool for a while.  Then take and sew him again into his skin and all his feathers, and remove the bandage from his crest.  Brush the feathers carefully and dust upon them and his comb gilding to enhance his beauty.  After a while, set him upon a golden platter, garnish with rosemary and other green leaves, and serve him forthwith as if he were alive and with great ceremony.” (Craig, pp. 157)

“A peacock may also have the skin and feathers removed as described above when it may be stuffed with spices and sweet herbs, and finely chopped savory meats, and roasted as described in the foregoing recipe.  Then replace the skin and feathers when it should be “served…”…with the tail of the peacock was covered with leaf of gold, and a piece of cotton dipped in spirits was put in its beak.  This was set fire to as the bird was brought in Royal procession to the table with musical honours.”  (Craig, pp. 157-158)

That’s quite a few ways to cook a peacock; however, most of the recipes had a few common elements:  the peacock, larding and salt while roasting.  Clove is mentioned, as is roasting on a spit.  I went with ‘less is more’ for this ad hoc project.

The body, freed from the skin, had to be rinsed to remove various bits of feather and blood before I could start to dress it in bacon.  As you can see, there is a good amount of meat on the bird.  This peacock was only a few pounds shy of what a wild turkey would dress out as.

Peacock Dora and more 038So here was a quandary:  if I wanted to redress the bird it had to be butt side up, yet as a cook I wanted the breast side up.  Argh!  Either way, this bird had to be covered in bacon.

I dithered for about 3 minutes, trying to visualize redressing with the skin.  I went with the easier task and put the bird butt side up, wrapping it all in bacon.

Now when I said I had no preparation for this, I meant it.  I had 30 seconds warning I would be coming home with a peacock for cooking and no time to prep prior.  I was lucky to have a side of bacon on hand in the freezer to start the wrapping project.  That was the good news.  The bad news was that the bacon was thin and not anything like the thick cut bacon (2lbs would have been the amount needed) that I really would have preferred.  You live, you cook, you learn.

Peacock Dora and more 046           Butt side up and the breast still needs to be covered in bacon.  Note the toothpicks.  This is what was holding the bacon to the downward facing breast.  Pull those out when you have finished cooking.  Trust me.  I forgot this part and had to pull everything off before restarting to redress the bird.  The neck was being held “Upward” by long wooden skewers.  Metal skewers would have worked as well.  I grabbed what I had on hand while trying not to panic over the time the skinning took me to get this bird prepped for the oven.

On reviewing the recipes, I see that I missed the ‘sprinkle with cloves’ portion of the recipe.  Depending on the recipe, the bird would have been studded with whole cloves or sprinkled with salt and ground cloves, then wrapped in calf caul (organ fat) or larded with bacon.  I missed the clove portion.  I was a tad flustered.  Next time though!

This is how the bird looked coming out of the oven.

Peacock Dora and more 049           I made sure it was well covered in bacon as I wanted a juicy bird.  Once you go bacon you’ll never go back.  Bacon-wrapped makes the best, juiciest bird(s) I’ve ever tasted and I was really hoping this would be the case here.  I was trusting Scappi to know his shit on the period cooking.  (That’s Bartholomew Scappi, the period Italian cook to the popes.  Read the first research paper here (http://roxalanasredactions.com/?s=peacock)  with the recipes.)

4th Part: The Skin

Now we get down to the fastest but oddest part to this dish.  The skin.  Most people like eating crispy skin from their fowl.  This dish would rather show the skin and the feathers off than cook it without the feathers.  I can see this…and was able to implement this with a bit of kitchen magic.  In period when a swan or peacock was skinned salt or cinnamon was used to keep the skin from going bad.  (Craig)

Peacock Dora and more 044            Here is the unprepared skin.  It’s still red and gooey.  I had no idea how else to do this, though I suspect more time should have gone into cleaning out the blood and flesh, then wiping down with a damp cloth to clean up the leftover bits and blood.  This was a huge learning curve.  Going with the flow here.

Here I’ve coated the skin in sea salt as done in period. (Faas, Giacosa, Apicius, Taillevent, Goodman, Scappi). Salt deters bacteria in an exceptional way.  Cinnamon has some of the same properties but not in the same “dry everything out so it dies screaming in agony” way.  So, salt is what I used to keep the skin from going bad on me (no one wants salmonella!).  The skin was then left out until the peacock was done.

I pulled out thread and needle for when the time came to attach the skin back over the bird.

Peacock Dora and more 048            I wanted a fairly strong thread, so went with the quilting thread.  Nope, I did not have silk or linen thread on hand for this.  Again the “30 seconds choice of taking a peacock home” came into play and there was a lot of ad-libbing to be done.

It turned out I wouldn’t need these items — but more on that in the next section.

Part 5: Redressing and Serving Forth

So here we are at the final scene to this hastily-prepared dish. The peacock is placed butt-up on a nice hand thrown pottery plate.  The actual type of dish this would be served on is not mentioned; however, it would be safe to say that the higher on the table the dish went, the better quality and metal the plate for the peacock.   I did not have a silver or gold tray quite big enough to fit this magnificent bird so I used a hand-thrown pottery plate.

Peacock Dora and more 049

This is sooo looking like a snail at the moment.  (I may consider doing a chicken dressed as a snail for a subtlety at some point, but not today).  We’re about to fix this look.  Yank out all the toothpicks but keep the skewers in place.  You’ll need the skewers to keep the neck skin in in place and hold the head up.  Yanking out the toothpicks keeps the keeps the skin from being pierced.  Now in period, a subtlety could and would have metal or wooden pieces in and around to keep the illusion going.   Subtleties could consist of just the edible or, as the setup became more elaborate, a combination of papier-mâché and lumber to support a larger and even grander display.  These decorative subtleties were for powerful displays more than about eating, with the production being done by carpenters, metals smiths and painters and very little by chefs. (www.reference.com/browse/subtlety).

Peacock Dora and more 050            Here I purposely change how the re-dressing goes.  In period the skin would be put over the dish.  The bloody fleshy very salted raw skin over the cooked body.  That’s a great way to give someone food poisoning.  I think I’ll pass on that as I’m the one eating this bird tonight! As you can see I’ve covered the peacock in foil.  You could use parchment paper (a closer period alternative) however I had this on hand (Notice a theme here?).

Once the bird is wrapped for your protection, slip the skin over the body with the neck and head going over the cooked neck portion.

Peacock Dora and more 051         My shy peacock is gorgeous!  The skin did not have to be sewn as I thought it would.  The skinning opened the flesh enough that it draped like a perfectly fitted dress over the body.  The tail feathers are long enough that propping them against the wall works to display his regal tail.  However the tail portion of the cooked body will need to be covered by silk or a cloth as the skin won’t fit all the way over the butt while the neck and main body are covered.  In period, not just in my kitchen, they would have used a wire form to hold the tail in place, probably wrapped around the cooked peacock, hiding under the skin but with a wire “fan” to press against the tail and hold it up for a glorious display.  That’s how I would have done it if I were presenting this dish to a head table.

Once the peacock has been displayed, take it back to the kitchen and slice the meat onto a plate for serving.

Peacock Dora and more 064

The reasoning is that you don’t want to yank off a salty bloody skin over food that someone is going to have to eat.  No one really wants to see that side of the dish.  Remember this is FOOD MAGIC, a dish of awe and inspiration.  No need to let the populace (or the king) see how this surprise is really done.

Part 6: Conclusion

Monarchs put feasts to good use as ways to make a vivid point, like inducing guests to pledge allegiance to a planned crusade.  An example of this was when Philip the Fair, at the Feast of the Pheasant, showcased a giant Saracen entering the feasting hall leading an elephant (there is some question about the edibility of said pachyderm), with a knight (Oliver de La Marche) playing the role of the captive Eastern church. (Wheaton, pg. 8/Martins)  Another example of the royal use of subtleties involved Henry VIII.  George Cavendish wrote about a feast sponsored by the great Tudor king in such waxing enthusiasm for the feast “…I do both lack wit in my gross old head and cunning in my bowels to declare the wondrous and curious imaginations in the same invented and devised.” (Henisch, pp. 236/Martins).  The feasting was a display to move men and women into wondrous thoughts, glossing over a harsh reality of court life: a grand and compelling gesture.

A subtlety could be a simple item such as a redressed peacock on proud display or stuffed fowl riding roast piglets, or as elaborate as a full pastry castle with trees containing candied fruit, with mythical beasts glazed and stuffed, as well as musicians playing music from the limbs of the trees.  Allegorical scenes were not uncommon.  Some scenes could be “Castle of Love” or “Lady of the Unicorn”.  (Martins).  Taste wise.  I was terrified that this bird was going to be tough and nasty.  Wild caught game is allowed to “age” for a reason.  Aging a bird (including chickens) gives the flesh the opportunity to mellow and break down for a more tender and tasty bite.  The peacock had to be done as soon as I walked through the door.  There was no chance to age the meat (the skin wasn’t going to fit into my freezer at all with that gorgeous tail intact).  When I took the first bite I was pleasantly surprised.  There was a slight gamey taste but not overwhelming or nasty.  The meat was a bit chewy but not jerky tough.  Honestly, I expected rooster tough as this was a full grown male in his prime.  The meat was tasty and juicy, which I think can be attributed to the bacon wrapping.

I find this to be a dish best made and served on site if it were for an event.  The skin would be hard to keep from going bad unless frozen (not sure that would work) in a chest freezer as my upright was too small for this skin and tail feathers.  As for being able to replicate this on demand, I can’t.  Unless there are male peacocks on hand the day of an event AND the steward and cook are willing for me to kill, skin and gut a peacock in their kitchen while working around a 5 foot tail this isn’t going to happen at an event either.  This was a onetime shot or at the whim of the Farmer Lady when she shoot another peacock.  I learned a lot, but realize that the hardest part is knowing the limitations on what is possible in the future for a display.

There was a bit of ad-libbing on my part for this whole dish, with a steep learning curve on how to skin and redress.  Overall though, I’m pretty damn pleased with the recreated period presentation.  The skin came out magnificently and I had the main ingredients to keep the dish (mostly) true to the original.

 

References:

 

Craig, E., (1953). English Royal Cookbook. Andre Deutsch Limited, London.

 

Damerow, G., (2010). Raising Chickens. Storey Publishing.

 

Fass, P., (1994). Around the Roman Table. University of Chicago Press, Chicago. 1994.

 

Giacosa, I., (1994).  A taste of Ancient Rome. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

 

Good man of Paris.(1395). Le Managier De Paris.

 

Renfrow, C., (1998). Take a

 

 

 

 

February 13, 2017 | No comments

Roman table to a King’s table: How it was done and the ways to recreate the look and taste.

By

Honorable Lady Sosha Lyon’s O’Rourke

 

IslamPeaC

 Peacock

A dish to grace the table of Kings

By

Honorable Lady Sosha Lyon’s O’Rourke

“Peacock: you admire him, often he spreads his jewel-encrusted tail.  How can you, unfeeling man, hand this creature over to the cook?” (Mart.XIII-1XX/Faas, pp. 295)

 

Peacocks were valued throughout history; not only for their feathers nor for their flesh.  Poems and songs were written about these gorgeous feather fowls and their likeness graced plates, vases and even thrones.  They represented different ecclesiastic values to different religions.  This one bird, with its jeweled eyed tail, was coveted for both the look and symbolism represented in the display of this majestic fowl.  From a throne in India to the table of rich Romans to the Persian Empire decorating paintings and vases; even to the table of English royalty, each used this favored bird in recipes and decoration.

“Such subtle creations could be comprised of just the edible, or as the more elaborate a set up became, a combination of paper mache and lumber to support a larger and even grander display.  These decorative subtleties were for powerful displays and less about eating, with the production being undertaken by carpenters, metals smiths and painters and very little with chefs.” (www.reference.com/browse/subtlety)

This is a research paper on cooking a beautiful period dish served to royalty. It covers the trials and tribulations needed to make this display happen in today’s modern world, which lacks an availability of peacocks, as well as the “work-arounds” needed to display the dish in a mostly period manner.

Display:

 800px-Vœu_du_faisan

(http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:V%C5%93u_du_faisan.jpg)

           Toussaint-Samat recounts how the noble peacock was served at the Banquet of the Pheasant held in 1453.  As per tradition of the time, when the peacock was served in all of its glory, the hero of the feast was to make a vow.  The hero for this particular feast was Duke Phillip the Good.  His vow was to challenge the Sultan to single combat.  The commentary went on to say that while the vow was made solemnly it was not take seriously. (pp. 84).

Another display was “[w]hen the peacock was all arrayed in his pride, royal trumpeters blowing on silver horns or other musicians making “Sweet Musick” [sic], led the way to the banqueting hall followed by the First Lady carrying the peacock and then by a bevy of maidens clad in white…The platter on which it rested could either be of gold or silver…” (Craig, pp. 158).

As mentioned, the peacock was forced back into as natural a form as possible during cooking.  Gilding of the feathers, feet and beak were done.  Some gilding was done in actual gold while others were in a flour paste colored with saffron, depending on the host’s monetary status. (Toussaint-Samat, pp. 84).   For displaying the dish I have run into a few unique issues, the first being the cost of the actual peacock.  While researching how to cook and serve peacocks, I came to the horrible realization that full grown peacocks are EXPENSIVE.  I cannot stress this reality enough.  One male peacock can be priced as low as $150 (if they are very young, i.e.8-9 months or younger and without plumage) or can run up to $600 for a full grown fowl with plumage.  Peahens can cost $150 for a young bird. These prices are for live birds.  If the meat were desired, skinned and dressed without feathers, the body runs $300 at regular price and $200 on sale.  This is without the skin and feathers.  In today’s market, purchasing an actual peacock becomes difficult.

My choice, if I decided on a live bird, would have been to pay for a young bird and raise it (barring any wildlife getting tasty thoughts of their own about my peacock), then skinning and dressing it for the table.  Assuming I did not damage the skin while skinning or ruin the meat by piercing the gall bladder (rendering the meat bitter and useless) while dressing out the bird, I would have had a viable solution.  Unfortunately, while I have helped slaughter chickens for the table quite a few years ago, skinning and dressing were left to my dad, amid comments about not wanting to let a kid ruin dinner or something similar.

This left me inadequately skilled for raising, skinning, and dressing out a very expensive peacock.  With that in mind, I have followed the Roman mindset that meat could be dressed as another meat and served forth as a “Faux Peacock”.  I wanted an uncommon bird, but something well within the affordable range that could be purchased without having to special order.  After weighing my options, I decided to use duck.  Duck is not a lean meat with the skin on.  However, the selling point, unlike a chicken, is that the duck is about the same amount of dark meat per body while commercial chickens are more breast heavy than any peacock could ever be.  Duck can be rendered less fatty by the removal of the skin and can still be considered an uncommon dinner dish by most standards today.  Duck was, for me, the logical substitute in my meat portion of the cooking.

Chicken was never an option, which left me with fewer choices than expected for modern dark meat.  Pigeon could have been an option; however, having no hunting license pigeon and quail (being much too small to start with) were not viable substitutes.  Pheasant could have been used.  There were two issues for using the actual cousin of the peacock.  Pheasants, for decent pricing, require a hunting license and a lease to hunt on.  I have neither the weapon nor the skill to shoot.  Pheasant is also not an easily attainable meat which makes pricing difficult.  Each option was weighed with pros and cons, and the most viable choice again was duck.  What I would pay for one pheasant, I could purchase four ducks.  Duck is an all dark meat.  Without its skin, the flesh can be suitably larded to imitate (not in flavor) the look of peacock dark meat.

 Dressing a Peacock:

 Dressing of a peacock usually comes after the cooking. The meat and cooking part was easily worked through, though the display was a bit of an issue, hence the dressing before the cooking.

See above for the cost of a live male peacock in full feathered display, making the idea of raising a peacock un doable at this time, meaning a skin would have to be purchased.  I was able to find a company that dealt exotic skins; however there was a catch to the peacock skin. The skin would only be available if and only if someone brought one in and then it was a three month waiting period while the skin was treated.  The price associated with obtaining a skin this way was almost unbelievable. I was able to negotiate the purchase of a skin after the seller asked what I would be using it for.  The caveat by the seller was that the skin was missing a head.  I didn’t have any other options or sellers at this point so the answer was a resounding “Yep!  I can work with a headless peacock skin.”  I did not mention my desperation at this point for any skin with feathers that could be painted to look like a peacock if I had to.

Period-wise I would have had a skin and body that would not need such subtlety in body forming or a wood carver who could shape a block of would in a simulation worthy of Henry the VIII’s table.

The skin arrived, headless as advertised and cured in such a way I would shudder dressing any bird meat in it.

just skin feathers up

 The skin was beautiful, but not useful for an edible concoction due to the preservation techniques on the underside.

 underside of skin

 

This abolished any idea of redressing a duck with the peacock skin and gilding the duck bill.  Nor would I be able to re-stuff the skin with small birds or savory meats.  (Toussaint-Samat). I thought of making a cloth body with a batting neck before realizing that sagging would take this proud bird skin and turn it into a saggy pillow of pretty feathers.  Nor did I trust my carving skills (I am totally deficient in this area) for making a peacock body and head out of wood.  I had to resort to artisans skilled in this area modernly.

With this new hurdle, I researched different ways in which a peacock could be displayed.  The best modern equivalent I could find was from a taxidermy form.  This took some work as not every taxidermy shop is considered equal no matter how much they talk about exotic birds in their bio line.  The form arrived in pieces minus the head.  Luckily for me the head arrived the next day.

peacock pieces

Peacocks do not like giving up their heads even in resin form!  This jigsaw of body, neck and eventually head had to be metal tabbed and glued together.  Insert neck B into resin body A and no up or down listed on the body on where pieces went.  Once the pieces were attached in the correct body part, glue was used to keep them from drooping or falling off.   I couldn’t have the peacock losing its head again!

The head was attached to the neck with metal and glue after drilling a small hole into the head.  The head was of a different and much harder material then the neck and could not have the metal bar section of the neck inserted as the neck’s lower tab was inserted into the body.  That would have made life way to easy!

The next step was to wipe the form clean of dust and apply the gilding.  Gold leaf would have been used or a flour paste colored with saffron depending on the serving nobilities’ financial means. (Toussaint-Samat, pp. 84)  My first attempt with gold leaf was a disaster.  Uneven, splotchy, and just ugly are the words I would use to describe this decorating application.  After removing my gold leaf disaster, I moved on to gold paint as I was obviously not the deft period artisan needed to apply the gilding.

 

 form together w head painted

 Once the head was attached and liberally applied with gilding, I outlined the eyes in kohl,

  peacock kohl

 then added faux glass “rubies” were glued into the eye sockets.

  peacock eyes

 Feathers were attached to the head for a crest.

 

 peacock crest

 This gives the overall presentation a richer, more finished look and I believe closer to a period cooked peacock.

Finally the time had come to sew the skin onto the form.  This presented a new problem.  The skin was not the full skin of a peacock, just the neck, back with wings and the tail.  I had not noticed this detail till I put the skin over the peacock form.

skin on form not fitting

This means the form, I had ready for the skin to be stitched onto, was too large and the skin to small.  This left me with several bad options.  The first would have been to not use the form and just lay the skin out as a side note.  I did not like this idea as it lacked grace and style. The second was to form a cloth covering to which the skin might be sewn onto then having the cloth covering sewn onto the form.  I attempted this, going so far as to actually making a body covering drape pattern.  The third idea, which is the one I went with, was to ribbon the skin and tie it to the body form.  This idea presented the best idea overall as the form can be arranged then have the skin draped with minimal damage to the skin and feathers while shifting from one angle to the next on display

            Once I realized I could not fit the skin over the peacock form, my plan was to sew ribbon on to the skin to form a tied collar.  Unfortunately the way the skin was cured, it has started to flake and tear along stress lines making sewing impossible.  I attached ribbon to the neck via glue.  Not period glue but glue none the less.

glue ribbon to skin

This affixed the ribbon while stabilizing the stress areas along the neck of the skin.

tipopits finished

Once the ribbons were attached I sewed on metal tippets with faux pearls.

front peacock w cloak

This is non-standard; however as this display, if the standard recipe had been achievable would have been served on the high table, the idea is to make the overall look as rich and elegant as possible.   The peacock is now painted, dressed and ready for displaying.

 Recipes:

 The edibility of the flesh of a peacock varied from cook to cook.  Scappi, cook for the Popes of Rome in the 1500s, is quoted on peacock taste as saying, “[t]heir flesh is black, but more tasty then all other fowl.” (pp. 206).  Augustine conducted experiments on the antiseptic quality of peacock flesh.  He found that the flesh shriveled but did not rot.  (Sparknotes/ bestiary).  Medieval bestiary states “the flesh of a peacock is so hard that it does not rot, and can hardly be cooked in fire or digested by the liver…” (bestiary)    Even with such unenthusiastic endorsements, this did not stop the consumption of this fantastic fowl.

Roman Recipes

“Some times the peacock…were roasted then had their plumage restored to them…to prepare a bird in this fashion, take off the feathers with the skin.  Cure the skin with coarse sea salt, so that it dries out a little, and wash it off just before you dress the roast bird in it…” (Faas, pp. 297).

On a side note, the peacock was so expensive (roughly 50 denarii a bird) that some peacocks were stripped of their skin then cooked (roasted) in aromatic resinous substances until the meat was effectively mummified. Afterwards it was redressed and reserved at another banquet later that week or month without fear of rotting. (Toussaint-Samat, pp. 38)

Another great recipe was…

“Grind chopped meat with the center of fine white bread that has been soaked in wine.  Grind together pepper, garum and pitted myrtle berries if desired.  Form small patties, putting in pine nuts and pepper.  Wrap in omentum and cook slowly in caroenum.”  (Giacosa, pp. 90)

The ground meat patties of peacock have first place, if they are fried so that they remain tender… (Apicius, 54/Giacosa, pp. 90).  This recipe, for ground patties, was probably used for peahens past their reproductive cycle, and at 50 denarii per bird, this would still be a very expensive and luxuriant dish to serve to nobility and emperors.

French Recipes

Peacock/Swan “Kill it like goose, leave the head and tail, lard or bard it, roast it golden, and it with fine salt.  It lasts at least a month after it is cooked.  If it becomes mouldy on top, remove the mould and you will find it white, good and solid underneath.” (Taillevent, pp. 23)

Reclothed Swan (substituting Peacock) “…in its skin with all the feathers.  Take it and split it between the shoulders, and cut it along the stomach; then take off the skin from the neck cut at the shoulders, holding the body by the feet; then put it on the spit, and skewer it and gild it.  And when it is cooked, it must be reclothed in its skin and let the neck be nice and straight or flat; and let it be eaten with yellow pepper. (Goodman, M-30)

Italian Recipes

“if you want to roast a peacock on a spit, get an old one between October and February.  After it has been killed let it hang for eight days without plucking it and without drawing it; then pluck it dry…When it is plucked draw it…..put one end of a hot iron bar into the carcass through the hole by which it was eviscerated being careful not to touch the flesh: that is done to remove its moistness and bad smell.  To stuff it use the mixture outlined in Recipe 115, or else sprinkle it with salt, fennel flour, pepper, cloves and cinnamon; into the carcass put panicles of dry fennel and pieces of pork fat that is not rancid, studded with whole cloves or whole pieces of fine saveloy.  Blanch it in water or sear it on the coals.  Stud the breast with whole cloves. (The breast can also be larded or wrapped in slice of pork fat as is done with the pheasant in Recipe 135).  Roast it over a low fire, preserving the neck with its feathers as is done with the pheasant.  Serve it hot or cold as you wish, with various sauces …(Scappi, pp. 207)

The Opera of Bartolomeo Scappi, recipe #139 suggested for pheasant or peacock.

“If you want to roast the small ones on a spit, as soon as they are caught pluck them dry and draw them; leave their head and feet on.  Stuff them with a little beaten pork fat, fresh fennel, beaten common herbs, raw egg yolks and common spices – which is done to keep them from drying out.  Sew up the hole and arrange their wings and thighs so they are snug.  Sear them on coals.  Wrap them, sprinkled with salt and cloves, in a calf or wether caul, or else in slices of pork fat with paper around them…When they are done serve them hot. (Scappi, pp. 206)

English Recipes

“Take a peacock, break his neck, and cut his throat, and flay him.  The skin and the feathers together, and the head still to the skin of the neck, and keep the skin and the feathers whole together; draw him as a hen, and keep the bone to the neck whole, and roast him, and set the bone of the neck above the broach (spit), as he was wont to sit alive; and above the legs to the body, as he was wont to sit alive; and when he is roasted enough take him off, and let him cool; and then wind the skin with the feathers and tail about the body, and serve him forth as he were alive; or else pluck him clean and roast him, and serve him as though do a hen. (Renfrow, pp. 572).

“Take and flay off the skin with feathers and tail, leaving the neck and crest still upon the bird, and preserving the glory of his crest from injury when roasting by wrapping it in a linen bandage.  Then take the skin with all the feathers upon it and spread it out on the table and sprinkle thereon ground cinnamon.  Now roast the peacocke and endore him with the yolkes of many eggs, and when he is roasted remove him from the fire and let him cool for awhile.  Then take and sew him again into his skin and all his feathers, and remove the bandage from his crest.  Brush the feathers carefully and dust upon them and his comb gilding to enhance his beauty.  After a while, set him upon a golden platter, garnish with rosemary and other green leaves, and serve him forthwith as if he were alive and with great ceremony.” (Craig, pp. 157)

“A peacock may also have the skin and feathers removed as described above when it may be stuffed with spices and sweet herbs, and finely chopped savory meats, and roasted as described in the foregoing recipe.  Then replace the skin and feathers when it should be “served…”…with the tail of the peacock was covered with leaf of gold, and a piece of cotton dipped in spirits was put in its beak.  This was set fire to as the bird was brought in Royal procession to the table with musical honours.”  (Craig, pp. 157-158)

The Elements in Common:

Each of these recipes discusses the various ways in which the peacock could be cooked.  Peacock, other than the Roman mummification recipe, mostly dealt with removing the skin with feathers, then roasting the meat.  After removal of the skin with feathers on, it was laid to the side and sprinkled with either salt or cinnamon for drying out and, unbeknownst at the time, bacterial retardation that could cause food poisoning.

In several of the recipes the bird is larded or wrapped in bacon, to preserve the moisture of the meat due to the low fat content of the flesh, with various herbs along with bacon and eggs used for stuffing.  This would produce a more robust flavoring with lots of added fat content and juices.

Only one recipe (Roman) actually suggests grinding the meat into patties for frying and not serving whole.  Further research shows that the recipe for ground poultry meat has spices and nuts mixed in before frying into patties.  As the male peafowl was valued for their brilliant feathers, I wonder if this recipe was used on peahens that had out lived their egg laying/brooding days.

Two recipes suggest using other types of meat to stuff the skin back into the form of the original bird with either savory meats such as pork and beef or the meat/bodies of small birds and herbs.  This is a variation of “this is not the bird you think it is.” subtlety seen at grand banquets where the flesh of one animal or multiple animals or fowl were shaped or sculpted into the form of another. (Faas, pp. 68)

Ingredients:

Peacock (or edible bird substitute)

4 egg yolks

1 fennel

1 ½ lbs of bacon (6-8 Bacon strips and ½ lb bacon pieces)

1/2 tbs salt

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground cloves

2 tbs flour

Or

1 peacock

1 cup ground bread crumbs

1 tsp ground pepper

½ red wine (pinot)

1 tsb fish sauce

½ cup pine nuts

½ lb bacon

Or

1 peacock

2 lbs bacon

Salt to taste

 

Redactions:

 

Prepping:

Before any cooking of the duck can be done, the bacon has to be made.  My research turned up little in the actual making of bacon.  Bacon use is ubiquitous in a variety of cultures as an edible tasty larding or just wonderful tasty addition to any recipe.  The making seems to have been so common that recipes for making were deemed unnecessary. You just knew how to make bacon.  With that being said, I am using the wonderful research done by Sir Master Gunther and his bacon making class.  I chose the French style for my experimentation in this new pork medium.  However my attempt to make bacon did not yield enough quality bacon to use for this display.  The bacon was too salty and I could not get the slices thin enough to actually wrap around a duck.

  bacon pieces

 The slices were either chunks or short thin slices.  Not much in between.  I believe I will need to work on the recipe and slicing technique before I can use my own home made bacon.  Loved the research Sir Master Gunther did, will definitely have another go at making bacon another time!

Italian Peacock #1

For the fennel stuffed duck the majority of prep work is getting the stuffing made.  First I gathered all the spices together.

 Italian duck spices

 The bacon and fennel were cut into small pieces, with the egg yolk and spices added next.

italian duck spices in bowl

Everything was mixed together as evenly as possible coating the fennel and bacon with the finer spices and egg yolk.

italian duck spices mixed

The young duck, without neck or head attachment,

 

young duck no head

was skinned ready for stuffing.  Yes this gets very messy!

 skinned duck no head

 The mixture was then stuffed into the duck.

 raw stuffed duck

 

The duck after being stuffed was wrapped in bacon slices.  I had to affix the bacon with skewers.  Toothpicks would have worked; however I was out of those.

 

 raw bacon wrapped stuffed duck

 This duck is not being suggestive, merely showing all the yummy stuff just waiting to happen.

The duck was then placed on a rack in the oven for an hour and a half.

  Italian cooked duck

 

This is a very tasty way to eat duck.  The bacon and fennel contemplate each other with the egg yolks.  The skewers were determined to stay in, more then I was willing to yank the cooked duck apart.

I have done this recipe using ducks with their heads.

skinned duck

The duck can be “formed” to have an upright look using skewers down the throat and pinning the neck to the chest.

scewered duck neck
This method is messy and irritating.  I preferred cooking without the neck and head attached.  However I know realize why and how the metal skewers were used for maximum effect when cooking peacocks.  Bamboo or even wooden skewers do not curve or bend in natural ways to get the best effect

 duck and pieces

 This duck just looks very unhappy and not nearly as appealing as the non-headed duck dish.  In period, as previously described, the eyes would have been replaced with something nicer like rubies.

 

Roman Peacock #2

Here, after gathering the spices together in one spot,

Roman duck spices

Pour about 1/3 of the wine into the bread crumbs and grind up the pepper corns.

ground pepper w wine soaked bread crumbs

I took the lovely dark duck meat,

raw duck breast meat

 

stripped the meat from the bones, including some skin and fat then ground everything together.

one raw duck in blender

 

This is one duck’s worth of meat in a Cuisenaire.  Roughly about four maybe five cups worth of meat.

The duck meat is ground fairly fine with this method.  In period, Romans would use a mortar and pestle for pounding their meat for dishes such as this.  (Faas, pp. 135)

ground raw duck w spices

The meat was then combined with the spices, pine nuts, and garum.  Next spices and breadcrumbs with wine were mixed with the ground duck, looking to overspill the bowl.

raw mixed duck w spices

 

This may look like period meatloaf but this is forming into something so much tastier and will never need ketchup.

I formed small patties, roughly about the size of my palm.  These will be very rich, so do not make them full sized.

duck patti w bacon one

 

The next step was to wrapped the patties in bacon instead of pork caul as no pork caul was to be had at any of my usual meat shops.  This being the case bacon makes a good secondary choice.

duck patty w bacon two

 

Duck meat patty was placed on bacon, and then wrapped in the bacon in the start of something very tasty.

duck patty w bacon three

 

 

Next the duck patties were placed in the cooking dish that had been prepped with wine in the individual “cups”.

cooking roman dish w wine

 

Next came the patties for cooking.

 

duck patties w bacon in wine dish

These were then slow cooked in a sweet red wine.  Till the bacon was crisp and the duck well cooked.

 

cooked roman patties in pan

After trying one of the “extras”, I have to say I really love this recipe.  This has to be one of my favorite Roman dishes now.

 

A closer look at a cooked bacon wrapped duck patty.

Roman cooked patti

 

The fat to meat ratio was as close to 80/20 as I could using only some of the skin and only a little of the fat stripped from the body.  The meat to fat ratio, I have read on a couple of cooking websites to be the ideal for both flavor and the happy mouth feel for rich meat.

Roman meat was pounded for a ground meat instead of cut/chopped (Giacosa/Faas) as we do in modern day.  Lacking a bevy of kitchen slaves or servants, I have chosen to use the modern day equivalent called a food processor.   After the meat reached a chopped state, I incorporated spices, bread crumbs, wine and nuts. The mixture was formed into patties and fried in olive oil.

I felt that while this was not a dish which would have been redressed in its own skin, the taste is worth trying as another alternative to the manifold roast recipes.  In my opinion, this dish likely came about when a peahen was past her prime laying stage and the Roman owner did not want to let the bird go to waste.  Since the peahen is rather drab in comparison to her more colorful counterpart, she would not have been mummified and displayed, but the meat would never be wasted.

 

French Peacock #3

 

This was the simplest of the three dishes.  The duck was stripped of its skin and salted, then wrapped in bacon.

 

rear of bacon wrapping in duckThis is to show how the duck is laid out then wrapped.  I hadn’t actually gotten to the stripping of the skin.  One of those “Ooops!” photos.  Strip skin then lay naked duck on bacon, not lay duck on bacon then strip off skin.  Things just get messy at that point!

Once the bird had been redressed in a pork covering, it was roasted for an hour or more, until done.

Cooked duck in bacon

This style of faux “peacock” does not match the taste of the other two dishes.  A skin covering would definitely needed to dress this bird up.  The taste is excellent and easier to cook though I would say the taste is not quite up to par with the other two dishes.

Period vs. Modern Techniques:

If a peacock were to be redressed in its own skin and served there were a few steps that were done.  In period a cook would have gone down to the market, Roman, Italian or English (if not to the livestock area where the fowl were hanging out) and purchased a bird of quality with feathers.  The purchase, like today would have been a princely sum.  The bird would then have been carefully skinned, with the skin being set aside and either salted or heavily sprinkled with cinnamon.  (Renfrow, pp. 572/Faas. Pp. 297) The body would have had iron skewers inserted into the body to give the proper curvatures while roasting on a spit.  (Scappi, pp. 207).  Once the body had finished cooking, the beak, feet and neck were gilded with gold or a flour paste colored with saffron.  (Craig, pp. 157).  This is if the bird were to be served whole as a main display.

Other recipes called for roasting either in an oven or a spit, Sometimes even ground and formed into patties. (Faas/Craig/Scappie/Renfrow)  This noble fowl was not just a one trick show peacock.

Modernly, I had to improvise throughout the whole cooking process.  The first issue being I could not get my hands on a reasonably priced peacock fully grown with feathers.  This required a substituted bird of good flavor and modest pricing.  Duck to the rescue!  Using store bought duck (not even the farmer markets in Austin carried ducks with skin and feathers attached).  Next not having a spit or a wood fired oven, I had to resort to a gas powered oven.  The no neck and head negated the need for spits though I have used wooden skewers in test cooking to give the ducks with heads a more lively appearance.  They came out of the oven, not smiling…more screaming as the muscles around their mouth contracted opening their beaks and causing the tongue to extrude.  At this point I decided that was far more realistic then any one should have to see and attempt to eat and went for the headless option.  In period, I am sure the peacock’s beak would have been wound shut with wire or strong linen threads.

The body display differences came from not having a fresh peacock skin but one that had been preserved for display.  The skin I had purchased was not a full skin, just the back and wings with only partial neck.  This negated any attempted to actually dress up a duck like a peacock.  The preserved skin would have been damaged and the duck would have tasted horrible!  Instead I decided to enlist a description of how Romans found the peacock display a beautiful center piece.  So much so that they would mummify the bird and the “handlers” would take the bird from banquet to banquet as a non-edible center piece.  (Toussaint-Samat, pp. 38) I purchased body parts in plastic molding.  In period a mold would have been carved from wood, possibly wax or even stone (though to be honest they might have rented the mummified bird instead of throwing a skin over a form as quicker and cheaper.  I say this after having built, glued and gilded one preformed form).  The gilding I have is in sheets of non-edible gild (a cost issue of faux gold vs. real gold).  I could have used the period flour and saffron.  Yet neither my faux gild nor the flour faux gild sheets looked good.  So I went with the faux gold paint.  There was gold gild paint seen in manuscripts, again a cost issue if I had been able to buy the real gold gild, hence faux gold gild.

The actual food ingredients were as period as possible i.e. organic where possible.  The dishes used to cook the birds in were as period as possible in ceramic/pottery roasting dishes.

To have done this in a truly period manner, I would have needed to access to a market with peacocks in season, raise my own bird(s), have a wood fired oven.  The metal spits could have been optional depending on which recipe I decided to serve.  Modern substitutes were done when period items could not be obtained.

Conclusion:

This work represents a desire to attempt an in period impressive dinner subtlety, something that is not seen at most feasts in the modern world.  I spent more time attempting to find peacocks at a reasonable price and already slaughtered, than revising my ideas to a more modest approach of buying a skin and working from a different angle with an affordable dark meat bird.

What I have found is that unlike a stuffed Boar’s Head, peacocks are hard to find at a reasonable price and buying just a skin whole or partial is still pricy and difficult to find.  Once purchased, a live bird would need a very strong coop to keep out the opossums, raccoons and foxes that roam my back yard, which I do not own, as well as feed…  The final hurdle in purchasing a live bird was that while I could have purchased the bird to skin and dress, I lack even the most basic skills that would have been necessary to skin and dress a bird in period fashion.

While this project was not as time intensive in the area of cooking as building a period castle subtlety, the search for an acceptable meat, again within price range, took several mental gear shifts.

I have enjoyed almost every step, immersing myself in the various techniques for raising, cooking and dressing a peacock in various period ways.  This project has given me both great enjoyment and horrifying nightmares.  I am not sure if I would attempt this again.  I think I would want to wait another year to forget about some of the more harrowing minute details that were overlooked, unexpected or completely out of left field.  I would have to say this project is not for the faint of heart.  Each person has to know their limitations ability wise, in and out of the kitchen.  I feel that I have risen to the challenge for a rare cooking research project in both perspective and display.

References:

 

Craig, E., (1953). English Royal Cookbook. Andre Deutsch Limited, London.

 

Damerow, G., (2010). Raising Chickens. Storey Publishing.

 

Fass, P., (1994). Around the Roman Table. University of Chicago Press, Chicago. 1994.

 

Giacosa, I., (1994).  A taste of Ancient Rome. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

 

Good man of Paris.(1395). Le Managier De Paris.

 

Refrow, C., (1998). Take a Thousand Eggs or More.

 

Scappi, B., (2008). The Opera of Bartolomeo Scappi (1570). University of Toronto Press Incorporated 2008.

 

Taillevent. (1989) le Viandier de Taillevent. 14th Century Cookery. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data.

 

Toussaint-Samat, M., (1992). History of Food. Barns & Noble Inc.

 

The Viandier of Taillevent , ed. Terence Scully,(University of Ottawa Press, 1988).  As present by http://www.reference.com/browse/subtlety and by Patrick Martins, nyu

 

http://www.angelfire.com/mi4/polcrt/Peacocks.html

 

http://bestiary.ca/beasts/beast257.htm

 

http://www.khandro.net/animal_bird_peacock.htm

 

http://www.peacockday.com/peahens.html

 

http://www.sparknotes.com/philosophy/augustine/section2.rhtml

 

http://thecoolchickenreturns.blogspot.com/2006/05/chickens-in-ancient-rome.html

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peacock

 APPENDIX I

 Peacock Breed Information.

The Indian peafowl is a part of the pheasant family with the Latin name Pavo Crisatus.  They are native to Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan, and the Himalayas where they are considered an ornamental bird and not wild or a game type of bird. (anglefire.com). The Indian peafowl has iridescent green or blue-green colored plumage and an upright crest.  There is also the Green Peafowl, Pavo Muticus, that ranges from Burma to Java.  There is also the Congo Peafowl, Afropavo Congensis. (Wikipedia).   White peafowl do occur in nature but are rarely seen due to lack of survival coloration. (peacockday.com)

This august bird traveled from India to the Middle East, from Alexandria to Greece and Rome.  From the Mediterranean the peafowl traveled upwards into Europe.  (anglefire)  Here the bird was reared and considered not a game bird, even though it was imported, rather a domesticated fowl that went straight to the lords table. (Toussaint-Samat, pp. 83)

The peacock, unlike the chicken, was not a common bird.  (thecoolchickenreturns.com)  Unlike the chicken a peahen will only lay 3-9 eggs a year while a single chicken could lay up to 200 eggs each year.  (Damerow).  This cuts down on the number of chicks born and raised to maturity in any given clutch or year.  Low numbers with great beauty, much like gold or rubies, raises the price of the peacock out of the common man’s reach.  This scarcity of peacocks, caused the pricing to be such that only nobility could afford such a rare beauty for their yard or table.  This holds true in modern times as well.  The peacock is, to this day, raised sparingly and only by dedicated lovers and breeders of this beautiful bird, raising the price beyond the grasp of the casual observer.

  APPENDIX II

 An Historic Overview.

There are various mythologies associated with the peacock. Such myths include stories of their magnificent round tails with the many seeing “eyes” for the Greek goddess Hera.  There were myths about the peacock and the Roman Goddess Juno as well as the guardians of paradise from Islamic folklore.  (anglefire)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

http://www.khandro.net/animal_bird_peacock.htm

 

Several other mythic symbolisms are the psychic duality of man with peacocks standing on either side of the tree of life for the Persians.  Peacocks represented in Christianity’s mythos of the soul in Medieval Europe as immortality and incorruptibility to some sects.  (Khandro)

 

 

August 22, 2013 | No comments

Now that Gulf Wars is over and all the laundry has been done, I have a moment for more postings!  This next recipe was done for Kingdom A&S (one of three) for a Peacock recipe using duck for an alternative meat.  This recipe is my favorite.  I’ve made the patties with beef but duck beat out the beef hands down.  So if you have the time, use duck!

Roman Duck Sliders (Faux Peacock)

“Grind chopped meat with the center of fine white bread that has been soaked in wine.  Grind together pepper, garum and pitted myrtle berries if desired.  Form small patties, putting in pine nuts and pepper.  Wrap in omentum and cook slowly in caroenum.”  (Giacosa, pp. 90)

The ground meat patties of peacock have first place, if they are fried so that they remain tender… (Apicius, 54/Giacosa, pp. 90).

On a side note, the peacock was so expensive (roughly 50 denarii a bird) that some peacocks were stripped of their skin then cooked (roasted) in aromatic resinous substances until the meat was effectively mummified. Afterwards it was redressed and reserved at another banquet later that week or month without fear of rotting. (Toussaint-Samat, pp. 38)

This recipe, for ground patties, was probably used for peahens past their reproductive cycle, and at 50 denarii per bird, this would still be a very expensive and luxuriant dish to serve to nobility and emperors.

Ingredients:

1 peacock        1 cup ground bread crumbs        1 tsp ground pepper        ½ red wine (pinot)

1 tsb fish sauce        ½ cup pine nuts          ½ lb bacon strips

Redaction:

First cut as much meat off the thawed duck as possible with a bit of skin.

This is the start of the meat cutting.  Even though a young duck doesn’t look like it has a lot of meat there should be enough after everything blended you should have roughly 8 patties, so don’t worry unless you are making dinner for 20.  Then you have your work cut out for you!

Place all the meat with some of the skin into a Cuisinart and hit grind.

I know…not very appetizing but the dish does get better!

Gather all your spices into one spot.

First add a little of the wine to the bread crumbs with out making a soup.  2-3 TBS should do it.  Next mix in the pepper.

Then mix the spices into the ground duck meat.

Here we have a Roman meatloaf, but we aren’t done yet!

Form patties from the duck mixture, roughly the size of your palm.  If you have really large hands, you will want to trim the patties down a little.  If your hands are a bit small you will want to add to the patties so they are a bit larger.

Here I managed to get 8 patties roughly 3 inches in diameter.

Take the patties and wrap them in a slice of bacon.

Step one…place pattie on top of the bacon.

Next cover with the bacon.  You shouldn’t need a tooth pick.  The bacon grips pretty well to it’s self.

Finally for the cooking portion, place the bacon wrapped pattie in a pan with red wine.

Here you can’t see the wine, as the patties are on top.  The wine should come almost all the way to the top of the patties not just cup the bottom of the patties as seen here.  So when in doubt…add more wine!  This is a Roman dish after all.

Then put the pan in the oven at 350 for roughly 25-30 minutes.

As seen the bacon held to the pattie and the pattie is thoroughly cooked.

Here is a single pattie.

Oh my!  This is soo tasty.  The duck is a wonderful rich meat with the wine and pine nuts.  The bacon a great salty meaty counter point to the sweet wine the meats are cooked in.  This is a definite must for the Roman cook to try at least once!

 

Normally I would try to actually use the main ingredient listed.  This time, not so much.  Peacock is, unless you raise the birds your self, EXPENSIVE!!  So a good substitute needs to be found.  You could use pheasant…but they to are a bit expensive.  I went with skinned duck.  A good dark meat fowl that is in the affordable range and once the skin is stripped fairly lean.

Peacock done in the Italian Style

Original:

“If you want to roast the small ones on a spit, as soon as they are caught pluck them dry and draw them; leave their head and feet on.  Stuff them with a little beaten pork fat, fresh fennel, beaten common herbs, raw egg yolks and common spices – which is done to keep them from drying out.  Sew up the hole and arrange their wings and thighs so they are snug.  Sear them on coals.  Wrap them, sprinkled with salt and cloves, in a calf or wether caul, or else in slices of pork fat with paper around them…When they are done serve them hot. (Scappi, pp. 206)

Ingredients:

Peacock (or edible bird substitute)

4 egg yolks

1 fennel

1 ½ lbs of bacon (6-8 Bacon strips and ½ lb bacon pieces)

1/2 tbs salt

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground cloves

2 tbs flour

Redaction:

Italian Peacock #1

For the fennel stuffed duck the majority of prep work is getting the stuffing made.  First I gathered all the spices together.

The bacon and fennel were cut into small pieces, with the egg yolk and spices added next.

 

Everything was mixed together as evenly as possible coating the fennel and bacon with the finer spices and egg yolk.

The young duck, with out neck or head attachment,

 

was skinned ready for stuffing.  Yes this gets very messy!

The mixture was then stuffed into the duck.

 

The duck after being stuffed was wrapped in bacon slices.  I had to affix the bacon with skewers.  Toothpicks would have worked; however I was out of those.

This duck is not being suggestive, merely showing all the yummy stuff just waiting to happen.

The duck was then placed on a rack in the oven for an hour and a half.

This is a very tasty way to eat duck.  The bacon and fennel contemplate each other with the egg yolks.  The skewers were determined to stay in, more then I was willing to yank the cooked duck apart.

I have done this recipe using ducks with their heads.

The duck can be “formed” to have an upright look using skewers down the throat and pinning the neck to the chest.

This method is messy and irritating.  I preferred cooking with out the neck and head attached.  However I know realize why and how the metal skewers were used for maximum effect when cooking peacocks.  Bamboo or even wooden skewers do not curve or bend in natural ways to get the best effect

However cooked duck with a head attached just looks very unhappy and not nearly as appealing as the non-headed duck dish.  In period, as previously described, the eyes would have been replaced with some thing nicer like rubies.

 

 

So the two major A&S display events will be done by this weekend, so it’s time to post some of the recipes worked on.  The next 3 recipes will be devoted to “Peacock” and how to cook them.  Well “Faux” peacock as I really couldn’t afford to cook a real peacock.  I’ll post that paper which explains why.

Original Translation:

Peacock/Swan “Kill it like goose, leave the head and tail, lard or bard it, roast it golden, and it with fine salt.  It lasts at least a month after it is cooked.  If it becomes mouldy on top, remove the mould and you will find it white, good and solid underneath.” (Taillevent, pp. 23)

Ingredients:

1 Duck

1 lb bacon slices

salt

Redaction:

This was the simplest of the three dishes.  The duck was stripped of its skin and salted, then wrapped in bacon.

 

Once the bird had been redressed in a pork covering, it was roasted for an hour or more, until done.

And that’s it.

This style of faux “peacock” does not match the taste of the other two dishes.  A skin covering would definitely needed to dress this bird up.  The taste is excellent and easier to cook though I would say the taste is not quite up to par with the other two dishes.

So I made this dish a month or so back and really did it all wrong!  How you may ask?  Well for one, I used pomegranate molasses, because I had it on hand, instead of the juice.  Do NOT do this.  For the love of your taste buds…really do not do this.  Pomegranate molasses is great in some dishes but very tart.  Suck your face in through your cheeks tart.  So spend the time crushing and straining pomegranate seeds OR buy the juice (just juice nothing else in the juice!)

Tabikh Habb Rumman:

A cooked dish of pomegranate seeds

 Peacock and chicken with pomagranate 037

Translation:

Finely pound pomegranate seeds and strain.  Thicken with shelled almonds.  Add sugar, mint, cinnamon, and mastic, allowing it to congeal over the fire.  Mix with chicken which has been boiled and baked.  Boil it.  If you want to put pumpkin with it, do so.  (Ibn al-‘Adim Kitab al-Wuslah/Salloum, pp. 98)

 

Ingredients:

Whole chicken or 6 chicken thighs

1.5 C pomegranate juice

1 C shelled almonds (I used slivered…had ‘em on hand)

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon and ground mastic

1 tsp. sugar

2 tsp mint

 

Redaction:

Gather your items up.  Takes just a moment.

Peacock and chicken with pomagranate 010

I placed the chicken thighs in water to boil.

Peacock and chicken with pomagranate 033Ok, so this is the after boil picture.  The thighs had cooked about 10 minutes with me skimming the foam.  Hush…a novelty for sure!

The thighs were then placed in a baking dish to cook for 35 minutes at 350.

Peacock and chicken with pomagranate 018Fresh from the oven and roasting.  Personally, I can’t tell the difference of boiling then roasting instead of just roasting.  Perhaps it keeps the meat moist; however if you pay attention you can do this with roasting as well.  I’m sure somewhere, someone did this as a roast or just a boil and not both steps at once; however this time, we do both steps!

A quick note: Mastic smells a bit like pine resin yet has a slight almost lemon taste.  Don’t use a lot of this.  A little goes a loooong way.  This is more to perfume the dish then to add actual flavor.

The pomegranate juice was mixed with the almonds and spices.  The mixture is stirred till thickened.  The sauce smells amazing.  I can not emphasis how wonderful the aroma is.  Just beautiful.  I don’t normally wax enthusiastically about a smell over the taste, but the first thing you notice when cooking is just how gorgeous this sauce smells.  Take the time and take a few deep breaths; enjoying each inhale!

Peacock and chicken with pomagranate 032Yep, I went the easy buy the juice way.  It felt awesome!!  I highly recommend this.

I decided against pumpkin.  It is a period item but not one I had on hand easily today.  If you’re going to use pumpkin don’t use the orange ones!!  Those are modern and for show, being bred for size not taste.  Get a heritage pumpkin and roast that with just a touch of oil on the inside (after scooping out the seeds).

Pull the chicken out of the oven and place in the pot with the pomegranate mix.

Peacock and chicken with pomagranate 034

You can leave the pieces whole or shred.  Mix with the pomegranate sauce and serve over rice.   I do suggest leaving the chicken in the sauce till the meat is almost falling off the bone.  A long slow simmer of 30 minutes.

Peacock and chicken with pomagranate 037

 

January 31, 2017 | No comments

I had gone to Pennsic last year and picked up a small booklet of recipes.  Spanish.  “A Brief Overview of Early Spanish Cuisine”  As a side note: The full book has the only recipe for cooked cat.  Not that I would ever eat a cat; however the idea someone was hungry enough to actually make a recipe of said animal speaks a lot of the times.

Bake to tastier cooking though.  Mushrooms!  This is a sauce, though the taste of this dish could be a stand alone side.

Which speaks of making saucer of Mushrooms

Peacock Dora and more 015

Translation:

If you want to make sauce of mushrooms, parboil them well, and when they are parboiled take them and sauté them with oil.  And then make the sauce this way: have onions and parsley and cilantro, and mince them and distemper them with spices and with vinegar and a little fat.  And then make pieces of mushrooms; and when they are sautéed put them in this sauce.  Or give them cooked  on the coals with salt and oil.

 

Translation copyright Eden Rain (Sent Sovi. Catalan transcription copyright Rudolph Grewe) From: A brief Overview of Early Spanish Cuisine. Pg. 20.

 

Ingredients:

2 C Mushrooms

2 Tbs vinegar

1/2 onion chopped

1 handful ea. Parsley and cilantro

Salt to taste

 

Redaction:

Boil the mushrooms for 2 minutes.

Peacock Dora and more 003

Drain and slice once cool enough to handle.

Peacock Dora and more 010

Chop your cilantro and parsley (here I used flat leaf parsley).  Both Cilantro and Parsley came from my garden, store bought is good too!  I used roughly a half cup of olive oil though bacon fat/chicken fat/duck fat/beef lard etc. would work as well.

Sauté the onion, then the greens.

Peacock Dora and more 014

Add the mushrooms with salt to taste.  Finally drizzle in your vinegar.

Peacock Dora and more 015

 

January 28, 2017 | No comments

What happens when you have a cocky rooster who attacks small children?  Dinner.  This rooster got to age for 2 days in the fridge and was fork tender after roasting but I needed the perfect sauce.  Something sweet.  Something sour.  Something best served hot.  I had just the right new recipe to try out on the damn cock who went out with a squawk.

Limonada – Lemon Sauce

Peacock Dora and more 026Translation:

First make broth of chickens and the broth should be well cooked and flavorful.  And then make of it milk of peeled and minced almonds.  And put this to cook in a good pot, with spices, much ginger, saffron, and lots of white sugar and juice of lemons.   And make it to boil a lot.  And if you wish to enhance it, put in a chicken wing well minced, so that it disappears.  And this sauce should be well colored, and you should give with chickens from the spit or the pot.  And you should have much sugar and juice of lemons, in the stew that the one pull the flavor of the other.  And flavor it with salt and with spice, of sour and of sweet.  And if for chance you don’t want to make it with sugar put in of good honey.

From the 14th c. Sent Sovi.  Translation copyright Edan Rain. From: A Brief Overview of Early Spanish Cuisine. Pg. 30.

Ingredients:

1 tsp ginger

1 pinch saffron

1 Tbsp. sugar or honey

1 C lemon juice

1 C almond milk

1 whole roasted chicken

1 C chicken broth

 

Redactions:

Roast a whole chicken.

Peacock Dora and more 001

This rooster will offend no more.  So fresh if I squeezed he’d still be crowing.  Gather up your ingredients.  I had to wait till the chicken was roasted for the drippings.  That’ll teach me to get ahead of the recipe!

Peacock Dora and more 017Take the juice from the roasted chicken and pour into a pot.

Peacock Dora and more 018This came straight from the roasting pan of the above rooster.  I would suggest saving the drippings from any future chickens just in case you have a period sauce you want to make.  They used a LOT of what we would consider wastage now…i.e. the roasted juice and fat of a fresh cock.

Add the almond milk,

Peacock Dora and more 019

with spices with lemon juice,

Peacock Dora and more 022

and add the sugar.

Peacock Dora and more 021

Give everything a stir till blended then boil.

Peacock Dora and more 024

Once the sauce has thickened and reduced by 1/3, take the chicken and quarter it.  Place on a plate and pour the sauce over.

Peacock Dora and more 026I had to add a bit of honey because the lemon juice I used was organic, so it was NOT a mellow lemon flavor.  This juice had bite.  So be sure to taste this before you serve over the hot chicken.  My daughter was delighted with the taste of the sauce and her former pet rooster.  The circle of life was had this night!

March 30, 2016 | No comments

The Kraken

An Original Subtlety

By Honorable Lady Sosha Lyon’s O’Rourke

The Kraken

http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2013/09/carta-marina/#slideid-412001

Kraken crawling

Dining in the Tudor and Elizabethan era was a time of great merriment and fabulous feasting, which sought to display a host’s wealth and dining creativity.  I have undertaken an original subtlety depicting the great ocean monster “The Kraken”.  This subtlety is based on historic president where subtleties could be great works from rolling pachyderm to re-skinned peacocks.

It is the nature of this creature to swallow men and ships, and even whales and everything else within reach. It stays submerged for days, then rears its head and nostrils above surface and stays that way at least until the change of tide. Now, that sound we just sailed through was the space between its jaws, and its nostrils and lower jaw were those rocks that appeared in the sea, while the lyngbakr was the island we saw sinking down. However, Ogmund Tussock has sent these creatures to you by means of his magic to cause the death of you and all your men. He thought more men would have gone the same way as those that had already drowned and he expected that the hafgufa would have swallowed us all.  (Orvar – Oddr)

I.  A History of Subtleties

Subtleties are works of art in food and story telling.  A subtlety should be, per Hunter, an intermission with in a meal between courses that entertains while heavily disguising the origins of the main ingredients.  Fooling, or tricking the eye into seeing the unusual and mythical, while using every day food items in unique ways, subtleties promoted thought and good will towards the host.

 Hunter notes the coinciding of the change of venue for the banquet course (to another room) to promote conversation in the fifteenth century with the publication in the vernacular of Platos Symposium (defined as a meeting to exchange ideas after a meal… The qualities of wit and wisdom associated with the literary …appear to metamorphose sotil into the more modern sense of subtle through association with the sweetmeat course (Hunter 1986:38,39). Witty conversation was to work with the sweetmeats or confectionery subtleties to help the diner digest physically and mentally. Once the effects of wonder wear off, the need for quick wit, humor and subtle sayings represent the transfer of ingenuity from the chef to the guests. The subtlety is creative and prompts creativity; if the chef can make it, the guest should be able to comment on it. Unlike with many other performance genres, the subtlety relies on ingenuity from both the audience and the director in order to be successful. It also depends on a unique form of ingenuity: playing with nature. (Martins)

 An early example, written by an Egyptian caliph in the eleventh century describes from one Islamic feast day a hundred and fifty seven figures and seven table sized palaces made of sugar.   Another set of notations of subtleties, occurring from the book Satyricon, by Petronius, wrote that a Roman feast dinner included a rabbit that had been made to look like the mythological winged horse Pegasus.  From the 1300 through 1500, subtleties, also known as sotelite in English and an entremet in French, became popular for royal and noble displays as stiff competition between England and France developed during the fourteenth and fifteenth century.  (The Renaissance cornered the market on subtleties; art work in food started much earlier).  (Mintz, pp. 88/Martins. p 12)

These feats of food were put on by the nobility and very wealthy. These fleeting art works were for display and thought not for a monetary gain at first sight or taste.

The intention of a subtlety is to create an experience rather than something that can be given as a gift or sold.  Unlike permanent displays of power, the subtlety it not durable, it spoils, it has a fixed life-span that ends when it is eaten. The subtlety also enters the dining hall in motion: the set itself is wheeled in, fire blazes out of the mouths of beasts and the actors are put into life-like poses intended to be animated by other performers or the imagination. (Martins)

Monarchs put the feasts to good use as ways to make a vivid point, i.e. the inducing of guests to pledge allegiance to a planned crusade.  An example of this was when Philip the Fair, at the Feast of the Pheasant, showcased a giant Saracen entering the feasting hall leading an elephant (there is question about the edibility of said pachyderm), with a knight (Oliver de La Marche) playing the role of the captive Eastern church. (Wheaton, pg. 8/Martins).  Another example of the royal use of subtleties was by Henry VIII.  George Cavendish wrote about a feast sponsored by the great Tudor king in such waxing enthusiasm for the feast “…I do both lack wit in my gross old head and cunning in my bowels to declare the wondrous and curious imaginations in the same invented and devised.” (Henisch, pp. 236/Martins)  The feasting was a display to move men and women into wondrous thoughts, glossing over a harsh reality of court life or a grand and compelling gesture.

A subtlety could be simple items such as a redressed peacock on proud display or stuffed fowl riding roast piglets; or as elaborate as a full pastry castle with trees containing candied fruit, glazed and stuffed mythical beasts, and musicians.  Allegorical scenes were not uncommon, with themes like “Castle of Love” or “Lady of the Unicorn”.  A subtlety could made of just the edible, such as a re-skinned peacock, or as a combination of paper machie and lumber to accent the food in the display.  These decorative subtleties were for powerful displays and less about eating, with the production being done by carpenters, metals smiths and painters and very little with chefs. Horace Warpole describes a banquet given in honor of the birth of Duke of Burgundy, where the centerpiece was of wax figures moved by clock work at the end of the feast to represent the labor of the Dauphiness and the happy birth of the heir to the monarchy. (Martins, pp 2/Craig, pp. 17)

Creating a display:

Creating a display seem to rely heavily on allegorical content from myth, fantasy or biblical content, such as the Pegasus from myth at the Roman table (Scully, pp. 107) or Lady of the Unicorn.  Part of the thought process that goes behind making a display was how each animal was viewed in allegorical terms.

“…the horns of an antelope might get caught in a bush in

the same way humans might get caught in a life of sin. The nightingale represented love, the elephant implied chastity, the ape, ludeness and lust and the peacock, the purity of someone who never turns to sin.” (Martins)

The main display item, per these views, should play upon the strength of the subjects or as humorous joke on the subject presented.

Menu:

The menu for adding a subtlety could be during the end of a course or at the end of a meal.  One menu described a 5 course meal with a crown subtlety at the end.

“…At each end, outside the green lawn, was an enormous pie, surmounted with smaller pies, which formed a crown. The crust of the large ones was silvered all round and gilt at the top; each contained a whole roe-deer, a gosling, three capons, six chickens, ten pigeons, one young rabbit…

To serve as seasoning or stuffing, a minced loin of veal, two pounds of fat, and twenty-six hard-boiled eggs, covered with saffron and flavoured with cloves.

(www.elizabethan-era.org.uk)

This display put on for an honored guest shows the detail and extravaganza that went into each dish and for the visual delight for the guests, not only for the bodily need of food but also for the intellectual delight and discussion by the guests long after the meal had been consumed.

II. The Kraken Subtlety

This subtlety is done in the style of the Elizabethan subtlety.  I fell in love with the subtleties listed in the medieval cookbooks describing how a the front of a chicken was married with the back of a fish forming a cockatrice.

The Amphisien Cockatrice looks much like a cock with a long serpent-like tail ending with a second head. It is a rare charge in heraldic achievements.

June 2015 038

When I decided on the Kraken, I wanted something both medieval and original.  Some that combined several different foods that would not normally be touching let alone combined into one dish to create a spectacle type of food.

The Kraken, whose name derives from the Norse Draken, is an ancient maritime creature ranging from the cold northern coast of Norse legend to the warm seas of Greece.  The Kraken could be a sea dragon or a serpent with many legs, possibly even resembling an island, which could plunge to great deeps without warning and drag a large ship down. In the tales of the Kraken, ships were dragged into the sea by arms as long and massive as a ships mast.).  The Kraken has also been described as a crab-like creature that caused whirlpools when sinking to the depths. (Orvar-Oddr, pp 1/ancient-origins/mythicalrealm)

Erik Pontoppidan, the Bishop of Bergen and renowned naturalist, insisted that the Kraken was “the largest and most surprising of all the animal creation” lending credence that this creature actually existed and not the imagination of ship wrecked sailors with water starved fevered imagination. (mythicalrealm)

Aspects of the legends in common are that the creature was huge, huge enough to pull down a full sized ship with a complete and armed crew. Roughly, the size of an island, there could be tentacles that resembled those of a squid and possibly legs of a crab or a sea serpent.  All in all, a combination to give nightmares when sailing the briny sea.

My subject choice is fairly unique.  I chose the Kraken, not on whim but on sight.  Let me explain.  I saw this incredible unique dish and had a period epiphany on what might have been served as a subtlety dish.  I was moved and possessed to see this project completed to perfection both in looks and in taste.  I had the cooking skill and knew where to gather the ingredients.  The paper came together through various research projects and books.

 

Period Ingredients:

If this subtlety was served in England, the Turkey breed would be the Black Spanish (Spanish turkey) or a Black Norfolk (English Turkey).   (Albc-usa)  The squid, which would be more common around the English Channel and SW of England and parts of Scotland, could have been used in period being far more common then the cuttlefish. (bristishseafishing.co.uk) The brown crab would have been used for their legs, instead of the smaller crabs which are both period and abundant but do not match the size of the common brown. (bristishseafishing.co.uk) For the shrimp portion, an English cook would have used the common prawn (Palaemon serratus) or their near kin Palaemon elegans, adspersus and longirostris also would have been used.  These prawns are differentiated only by small external details such as different segments or leg paddle shape.  These prawns and shrimp live in the same areas around England and are devoured with great appetite. (bristishseafishing.co.uk)

Each portion of the Kraken subtlety was cooked separately except the turkey, bacon then assembled into the creature before you.

 

Kitchen:

An Elizabethan kitchen included whole spits from which to turn oxen and pigs in as well as a host of chefs and underling to present a note worthy subtlety for the royal courts pleasure. This varies greatly from a modern kitchen, which is lucky to be able to roast a piglet in…one at a time.  Trying to prepare a feast is a multi-week task for cooking of many animals where on a feast day many animals could be cooked at one time in these huge roasting pits.

Redon insists that the first part of an evolved kitchen is the knife.  The knife is the first line in slicing, cutting, and chopping the variety of items necessary to prepare a feast.  Modern knives are less likely to go dull with the serrated edges, making the process of cutting and chopping easier then in period where a kitchen knife would need to be sharpened periodically.

Next was the mortar and pestle for grinding up spices, herbs, breads and meats for measured inclusions into a chef’s careful creative dish. (Redon)  Personally I prefer to use a mortal and pestle for small items; however due to the fact there is only me and not a kitchen of help I find a small coffee grinder or a small cuisinart helps with the items that require more then a tablespoon.

I have used both hand ground and machine ground spices for various cooking projects.  I find the hand ground spices are usually a little larger and rougher, than their machine ground counter part, but only marginally, depending on the grinding determination of the cook.

The plates for serving dinner on were of baked bread (trenchers) during Henry VIII and prior ages. During Elizabeth’s reign, her plates were of silver instead of bread trenchers, showing a higher level of dinnerware than previous kings.  I used metal pots and pans, trying to duplicate the temperature range of medieval cooking oven and stove with my modern gas stove.

 

Spices: 

Spices included but were not limited to ginger, cinnamon, cloves, grains of paradise, long pepper, aspic, round pepper, cassia buds, saffron, nutmeg, bay leaves, galingale, mace, cumin, sugar, garlic, onions, shallots and scallions (Taillevent, pp, 230)  Spices not only add flavor and color but were also testaments to the wealth of the host adding to the sumptuousness of any given dish.  This dish will be relatively light in spices due to the recipes used.  This does not negate the importance of spices, but will place an emphasis on the natural flavors of the meat and aquatic items used.

 

Color:

Some times the color was more desirable then the flavor and the spicing used would over power the dish so much so as to be less sumptuous than a less colorful dish. Vivid colors, Wheaton explains, were highly prized and were often achieved at the expense of flavor.  Taillevent also suggested more common spices for green coloring such as parsley, sorrel and winter wheat still green.  Gold and silver leaf was brushed onto the surfaces of food i.e pastries for a greater visual impact. (Wheaton, pp. 15/Martins pp. 5)

 

III. Making of the Subtlety

The overall idea for the subtlety is a gorgeous piece of edible artwork meant to invoke the awe and terror of the sea.  As I attempted each section, I realized that there were cooking steps within the main cooking dishes, which had to be done such as cooking squid separately from the turkey wrapped in bacon therefore each item is a separate cooking experiment.

With this rough and varied description, I have assembled a subtlety that could have been served at a medieval feast with a nautical theme.   The body of the “beast” would have to be from a creature that was very large but still portable and a delicacy.  This to my mind could be a turkey brought forth from the New World on a very long and arduous voyage across the sea.  To denote the scary but mighty tentacles, I have opted to stuff the arse end of the turkey with octopus, as if the mouth were covered in large tentacles out of a sailor’s nightmare.  The legs I made from snow crab for both a tasty treat and scary mobility.   The back is covered in bacon to represent the island for which it might lure sailors onto its back before plunging into the depths drowning them.  Olives were used for multiple eyes to finish off the truly magnificent and scary of watery beasts.

Rosemary was used to mimic the seaweed and kelp of the deep ocean.  Salt was used at the bas to represent the sand and display the wealth of the nobility for whom the subtlety was created by.

 

The Kraken Recipe:

I have taken the liberty of combining a couple of excellent period recipes to build the Kraken.  I used the Scappi’s American Peacock recipe and the Roman Octopus recipe combined to form this very tasty and scary subtlety.

I took a turkey and wrapped it in bacon, weaving it tightly over the breast and legs to form a second skin that is not only allegorical but locks in the juices and flavor.

 

 wrapping turkey for kraken

 

I decided to incorporate shrimp for the eyebrows.  Unfortunately, the first round of eyebrows became exceedingly crispy after spending the same amount of time in the oven as the turkey.  I had to switch out the original “eyebrows” for less well-done bacon wrapped shrimp.  For the eyes I used oil cured black olives, which is another Italian food item.

While the turkey was cooking I went to work on the octopus and squid.  I was unsure how I wanted to use and display the squid but I didn’t want to use whole squid or whole octopus.  I would have preferred to have gotten a much much larger octopus or octopi, however there were no shops selling anything other then baby octopus.  I bought them knowing the octopus were to small for my imagined display but hoping to put them to use.  I did decide to get squid as they had longer tentacles which would be useful for the “mouth” of the Kraken.  I pulled out the beak of the squid opening them up and took off the heads of the octopus and the squid.

 

split squid

 

These were then dunked into boiling water.  This had the effect of curling both the squid and the octopi into much smaller and chewier bits with much stiffer arms.

IMG_0699

 

The crab legs were also dunked into boiling water so that they would be come edible.

The crab legs were placed on the plate.  The bacon wrapped turkey was then placed on top of the legs.  The olives were pinned into place with toothpicks and the squid arms formed both the lower portion of the Kraken mouth and an upper mustache on the turkey.

 

IMG_0701

 

IV. Period vs Modern

Period wise, the turkey would have been roasted in a large wood-fired oven instead of a gas stove either in a pottery or metal pan.  I actually used a large metal pan but not one made in a period fashion.  The bacon would have been homemade or bought from a supplier who made it in their kitchen.  I tried making homemade bacon using Master Gunther’s recipe.  I could not get the slices thin enough to actually wrap or drape properly, also my bacon was seriously odd tasting and way too salty.  The squid or octopus (depending on what was a fresh catch for the day) would be cooked in a metal or pottery pan.  Again, I used a non-period metal pan for this.  The same for the crab legs in cooking and market freshness.  The olives would have been brined on a farm then brought to the castle or nobles house (if the farm were in conjunction with the nobility or the market place if further away).  The olives I used were bought in a store, not exactly the same as a period market, and brined somewhere else for sale.  Hopefully, in a few years my own olive trees will be producing and I can experiment with brining and tasting then.

The display plate is hand thrown pottery in a period style.

 

V. Conclusion

My overall impression is that this type of project would have been a chef’s idea of how to both amuse and surprise the nobility with a grand feast for the eyes.  The visuals would cause both unquiet, due to the nautical scary tales told, and delight at the unique edibleness of the entire display.  If this display were served in period, the Kraken would do what it was suppose to.  The display would cause the guests pause while they contemplated the nuances of what was before their eyes.

When I first gathered the ingredients together, I was really nervous putting this piece together.  I had never put pieces together in a food item to create a towering monolith of frightful proportion.  I discovered that thin bacon just does not cover the turkey very well.  Thick cut bacon is needed to keep shrinking to a minimum and maximum coverage (larding) maintained.  Once I pulled the crab legs from the pot, things were much calmer.  The crab legs fit perfectly on the plate, the turkey looked awesome straight out of the oven and the octopi and squid had boiled very well.

This project was the most fun in making any subtlety I have yet tried.  The theme is tasty, unique, and odd.  Just the way I like it!  The overall project was not difficult, nor were the ingredients (other then the squid/octopus) hard to acquire.  Overall, I would gladly do this project again.

Works Cited/Works Consulted:

Craig, E., (1953). English Royal Cookbook, Favorite Court Recipes. Hippocreen books.

Damerow, G., (2010). Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens.

Hieatt, C., Hosington, B, Butler, S. (1979). Pleyn Delit: medieval Cookery for Modern Cooks. University of Toronto Press.

Hunter, L., (1986) Sweet Secrets from Occasional Receipts to Specialized:  The Growth of a Genre; as cited in Banquetting Stuffe.  Edited by C. Anne Wilson. Edinburgh University Press.

Markham, G., (1986). The English Housewife. McGill-Queens University Press.

Martins, P. (1998). Subtleties, Power and Consumption: A Study of French and English cuisine from 1300-1500). Nyu.edu

McDonald, W., (2004). Recipes from Banquet dels Quatre Barres.

Orvar-Oddr saga

Redon, O., (1998). The Medieval Kitchen, Recipes from France and Italy. University of Chicago Press.

Renfrow, C., (1996). A Sip Through Time. Pg.113

Renfrow, C., (1998). Take a Thousand Eggs, A collection of 15th century recipes. 2nd edition.

Toussaint-Samat, M., (1992). History of Food. Barnes & Nobles.

The Four Elements of Fire, Joachim Beuckelaer 1569

The Opera of Bartolomeo Scappi (1570). Translated by Scully., T.,  University of Toronto Press.

The Viandier of Taillevent , ed. Terence Scully,(University of Ottawa Press, 1988).  As present by http://www.reference.com/browse/subtlety and by Patrick Martins, nyu

The Vianderi of Taillevent., (1998) presented in “A Collection of medieval and Renaissance Cookbooks).

The Well-Stocked Kitchen, Joachim Beuckelaer, 1566

http://media-cache-ec0.pinimg.com/736x/89/ca/80/89ca809248a0a901d1ab824dcca82b98.jpg

http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2013/09/carta-marina/#slideid-412001

http://www.angelfire.com/ia3/kraken/myth.index.html

http://www.probertencyclopaedia.com/browse/D4.HTM

http://www.mythicalrealm.com/creatures/kraken.html

http://www.ancient-origins.net/myths-legends-europe/legendary-kraken-00267

http://www.reference.com/browse/subtlety

http://www.elizabethan-era.org.uk/elizabethan-banquet-feast.htm

http://www.godecookery.com/cookies/ingred.html

http://www.albc-usa.org/

http://wiki.answers.com/Q/How_many_eggs_can_a_turkey_lay

http://thecoolchickenreturns.blogspot.com/2006/05/chickens-in-ancient-rome.html

http://britishseafishing.co.uk/crab-species/

 

Appendix 1

Recipes

 

Translation:

Turkey:

To roast turkey cock and turkey hen, which in some places in Italy are called ‘Indian Peacocks.

A turkey cock and turkey hen are much bigger in the body then an ordinary peacock; and the cock can spread its tail like the peacock….Its breast is broad…its flesh much whiter and softer then that of the common peacock and it is hung for a shorter time then any similar fowl.

If you want to spit-spit roast it, do not let it sit for more then six days in winter before being drawn or in the summer for more then two.  Pluck it dry or in hot water…If you want to stuff it, use one of the stuffings of Recipe 115…stick it with fine lardoons of pork fat, although if it is fat, an stuffed there will not be any need for larding; you will have to stud it though with a few whole cloves.  Mount it on a spit and cook it slowly, that bird cooking much more quickly that a common peacock. (Scappi, pp. 208-209)

Stuffing:

…for every four pounds of beaten pork fat get two pounds of parboiled veal or goat-kid sweetbreads…four ounces of sugar, four egg yolks, a handful of herbs, nine not-too-ripe plums or else muscatel pears…instead of sweetbreads you can use calf, kid or pig brain, parboiled. (Scappi, pp. 193-194)

Ingredients:

1 small young turkey

1 lb chopped bacon ends

1 lb bacon strips

3 Tbs sugar

4 egg yolks

Herbs –sage, rosemary, basil, thyme, bruised laurel leaves, parsley – rinsed and chopped

½ lb sweetbread

Whole cloves for studding

 

Redaction:

I have cooked turkey on many occasions; however cooking a period recipes require a slight mind shift.  The stuffing is very different as the main ingredient is pork fat not bread crumbs and there is the inclusion of sugar to counter the savory, not to mention egg yolks instead of whole eggs.

The first thing to do is try to get a heritage turkey, from either a specialty shop or raising one.  Should a heritage turkey be unattainable, go for a young turkey NOT an old turkey.  The older the turkey, the tougher the meat.  Young and sweet is what you would want to serve to the pope or visiting royalty.

 

Turkey raw

Clean out the giblets and set to the side while gathering and mixing the stuffing ingredients.

My first task was to pick herbs from the garden.  A handful of or a few stems of each of the above listed herbs were gathered then rinsed well.

Herbs in strainer

Once they were patted dry, I de-stemmed the leaves from woody stalks.  The bay laurel I left intact but bruised the leaves for maximum flavor.  Everything else was then chopped and set to the side.

 chopped herbs

The sweetbread was chopped into small chunks and set to the side as well

 

chopped sweetbread

I used bacon ends for the pork fat instead of raw pork fat.

 chopped smoked bacon

I could have used rendered pork fat but I don’t think that is what was really used.  Rendered pork fat would drip and slide with out actually staying inside the turkey for flavoring, as it has a fairly low melting temperature.

I did not have slightly tart plums on hand.  I used dried un-sugared plums with the thought that in period if plums were not in season dried plums (prunes) would have been used instead.

dried plumsI also added more then 9 as I actually like the flavor of dried plums and wanted to offset the bacon ends with a bit more sweet.

chopped dried plums

The bacon ends were placed in a bowl.  From here I added the sweetbread, herbs, sugar, egg yolks, and dried plums.

Mixed all together

Then I mixed well.

final mix herbs

 

I was now ready to stuff a turkey.

stuffed raw turkey

The turkey was stuffed to just the right amount.

endview of bacon wrapped turkey

 

Once stuffed, I laid bacon strips across the top of the turkey breast “as fine lardoons” (Scappi, pp. 193-194) .  A fat turkey is subjective and I like bacon.  Bacon is never a bad thing when it comes to meat.  So bacon it was on top of the turkey in a criss-cross decorative patterning.

 roasted turkey on platter

The bacon will shrink so lay the bacon half over the first strip when laying out your pattern.  You’ll understand once you’ve cooked the bacon on top of the turkey once.

I did not have a spit handy so had to use a gas stove oven and a rack.  From here it was 2.5 hours at 350.

The turkey is incredibly moist while the stuffing is very meaty with savory and sweet flavorings.

Modern vs. Period:

I did not have a period turkey.  I could have bought a “heritage turkey” however the packaging did not say what “heritage” and I really wanted a Black Spanish or Black Norway.  I am just going to have to raise my own I think.

The herbs came from my garden and were mostly period.  The dried plums were from California and did not designate the type which means that a period type of plum was probably not used.  The eggs were organic but the sugar was regular table sugar instead of brown or turbinado; however fine sugar was known in Italy at this point.

 

Sugar- Considered very expensive till the late 1500.  Loaf sugar given the name due to the conical shape derivded from refining into a hard and very white refined form. Caffetin or Couffin (English equivalent of “coffer” or “coffin”) named for the form, packed in plaited leaves palm and from the city shipped from called Caffa in the Crimea.    Casson a very fragile sugar also considered the ancestor to castor sugar.  Muscarrat considered the best of all sugars, reported to be made in Egypt for the Sultan of Babylon.  The Italian name mucchera denotes that it had been refined twice. (Toussaint-Samat, pg. 553-555)

 

I did not have a wood fire spit on which to roast the now stuffed turkey.  I had to rely on the modern convenience of a gas stove and a roasting pan with a rack.  This does not give the wood flavor that a smoke fire would thought the smoked bacon helps with this; however the heat was maintained at a regular temperature which precludes charred spot or raw and undercooked areas.

 

Boiled Octopus

 

Translation:

For octopus: pepper, liquamen and laser. Serve

(Faas, pp. 341)

 

Ingredients:

1 octopus

2 TBS ground pepper corns

1 Tbs fish sauce

1 tbs garlic or 1 tsp of Asafoetida

 

Redaction:

The notes say that there are several ways in which octopus was cooked.  One of the fastest being, unskinned to preserve the beautiful colors to start.  The next cooking method would be to poach for no more then 5 minutes and allow to cool slowly or cook for hours in a very low temperature in white wine, water and herbs.  Garlic or asoafoetida could have been added to the water as well.

 

I gathered the octopus with asoafoetida and peppercorns (pre grinding) next to the stove.

baby octopi w spices

Next the spices were added to a pot of boiling water.

peppercorns in simmering water

Once the water and spices were at a rolling boil, I added the octopi.  Here are the cooked octopi.  They look very different from their raw state.

 cookied ocotpi

February 11, 2014 | No comments

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