Sunday, October 22, 2006
The Tudor Kitchen Again
This course on preserving food in the 16th century was just for one day, there were eight of us again including one of the young men,Chris, who was on the Bakehouse course. I was really pleased to see him again because he was so enthusiastic and willing to have a go at things. Preserving food was far more than an engaging pastime in the 16th century, it was vital to the survival of families through the hard winter months, especially the lean months before the new seasons crops in the garden became available. The main methods were salting, smoking, pickling and using sugar to make preserves. Ruth spent some time talking to us about the various methods and also about life in general during this period, then we made a start on the practical side of things. There were three things going on at once, my partner and I were pickling shallots,another group pickled beetroot and the third lot salted and brined kale leavesand stalks. We had to prepare our spiced vinegar, deciding which spices we would use then putting it in the fire to boil up while we peeled the shallots. No measuring jugs of course so we had to decide by eye how much vinegar we would need - we got it wrong first time and had to prepare a second lot as well! By the way, when I say we put the pot of vinegar IN the fire to boil I do mean that quite literally, it isn't a typing error! These are my finished pickled shallots.
All these processes are time consuming and so by the time it was all finished it was lunch time. It was nice enough to sit outside by the lake and enjoy the sunshine and the lovely scenery. We were joined by a group of mallard anxious to assist with any leftovers!
In the afternoon we moved on to salting and drying or smoking fish, sousing a piece of pork, doing spiced beef and finally making a sweetmeat with quinces which is rather like a fruit jelly when it's finally finished.
Again we split into groups so I didn't have anything to do with the spiced beef but I gather that it is first rubbed with salt and the dry spice or spices of your choice - pepper,cinnamon and ginger were among the possibilities but it is a purely personal choice.It's then put in a bowl with a heavy weight on top to press out as much liquid as possible. While this is going on you boil the wine vinegar and then leave it to go cold. The liquid from the pressed meat is poured off, the cold vinegar poured over,weights put on again and there you are. Two of us did soused pork which is a short term method and will keep the pork for maybe two or three weeks. We prepared our spiced vinegar first(we used rosemary, thyme and ginger) and left it to go cold after it had boiled. Meantime the pork is washed in vinegar or rubbed all over with salt then put in a dish and covered and weighted down like the beef and from then on the process is the same. This is the pork just before the weights were put on.
This is cod which has been rubbed with salt and laid over sticks to drain as much liquid as possible off, eventually they will be hung in a part of the kitchen with good air flow and away from the smokiness of the fire and they will dry out completely. The finished object looks highly unappetizing!
Oily fish take smoking much better than other kinds so that is what we did with the mackerel - heads were cut off and then the backbone removed before they were put in a very strong brine to soak.
After soaking they each had a hole poked in the end and a piece of string threaded through with which they were tied onto a long stick varying the lengths so that the fish would smoke evenly without getting in each others way. Then they were strung up in the corner by the fire in the same place that bacon and hams were hung.
Large pieces of pork are salted every day for a week and left to drain, turning them each day. Then they are salted once a week for 6 weeks before eventually being put up in the rafters over the fire to smoke.
While all this was going on the quinces which we had peeled and prepared immediately after lunch were cooking away in their pot on the fire along with the peel and cores tied up in muslin. When they were done the pieces of fruit were taken out of the liquid and pounded to a paste in a huge iron mortar and pestle and the contents of the muslin bag discarded. The paste was returned to the liquid along with half the volume of water in sugar (still with me here I hope!). This is all done by eye of course - no measuring jugs in those days. This never actually got finished because of the time element but would have been boiled up again next day and finished by whoever was volunteering in the Tudor kitchen. When it's ready it is ladled out out onto boards and spread and left to cool.Then it is turned regularly over a period of time until sugar crystals form.Then it can be stored for up to 3 or 4 years or eaten straight away. It's a luxury item of course, only a rich household would be able to afford the sugar to make it and it would be kept for high days and holidays. As a matter of fact I've made this before on another course using damsons and the end result is very good.
This final photograph is at the end of the day, the jug is filled with water and weighing down the soused pork, the wooden bucket (which is very heavy)is weighing down the spiced beef and the figure to the side is Chris testing the quinces to see how they taste! Very good according to him. This was the most enjoyable course I've done yet at the Weald & Downland, I really felt I'd learnt a lot that was new to me.
Sorry the photos aren't that great, as before the low light level in the kitchen doesn't help and also I seem not to have taken many this time, must have been too occupied actually doing stuff!