Pk-Fst-Menus-art - 4/29/17
"On Rules for Feast Menus or Why No One Ever Says 'Let Them Eat Tripe'" by Ld. Daniel Raoul Le Vascon du Navarre'. Good rules for both beginners and expert head cooks.
This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set
of files, called Stefan's Florilegium.
These files are available on the Internet at:
Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author.
While the author will likely give permission for this work to be
reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first
or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.
Mark S. Harris
AKA: Stefan li Rous
stefan at florilegium.org
On Rules for Feast Menus or Why No One Ever Says 'Let Them Eat Tripe'
by Lord Daniel Raoul le Vascon du Navarre
By way of preface to the following article it should be explained that the author chose as a model both the advice of the "Goodman of Paris" to his young wife and that of Niccolo' Machiavelli to rulers as contained in "The Prince". While many might argue that two such differing sources have little in common I would argue that pragmatism in adversity is a guiding theme in both.
In my more than 10 years as a member of this good Society I have consumed, in three kingdoms, more feasts than I can remember. What I can recall are the truly excellent feasts and those which can charitably be described as gastronomic misadventures. I find myself realizing with some sadness, that my remembrances of the latter are far more vivid that the former. Thus; on the strength of my long experience in the consumption of feasts, my somewhat lesser experience in the planning and presenting of them and my occasional dabbling in the culinary arts; I am compelled, albeit with some trepidation, to take pen in hand to discourse in earnest upon the nature of excellence and the avoidance of error in deciding which dishes to consider for inclusion and which to avoid when planning feast menus.
Assuming that you have a source of period recipes suitable for the occasion and adequate facilities in which to prepare them; there are, to my mind, four cardinal principles or rules regarding the selection of dishes. I will therefore endeavor to state these principles individually in simple declarative terms so that they may be easily remembered and then explain my rationale in each instance.
Initial consideration of dishes to serve at feast should be guided by the principle of simplicity, that is that the preparation of dishes to be served should be as straight forward as possible. This does not mean that the dishes selected need be bland or unappetizing, but only that they should be relatively undemanding in their preparation. Think on the following two statements and see if you agree. The fewer steps in a dish's preparation the fewer opportunities there are for error. A dish, which requires constant attention throughout all stages of its preparation, may not get that attention in a busy feast kitchen. Never fear, all is not lost, as interesting and diverting dishes can be successfully created and served. Say, for example, you find that though the recipe you intend to use for a dish of roasted meat is simple and serviceable you are concerned that the resultant dish may be somewhat plain. Do not despair! Pray prepare a simple sauce or two to be added at the table. With adequate lead time and precautions you may even choose to prepare such sauces in advance of the occasion. Serve the meat with the sauce or sauces on the side and the populace will be happy with the choices provided and simplicity of preparation will be preserved.
Secondly; the basic ingredients of the dishes, which comprise the menu, should be economically available in the proportions required. You should thus be able to plan your feast and bring it in under budget using an acceptable cost per person based on reasonable portions and a small surplus for contingencies. To do anything less will either run the risk of short changing the people who paid for feast or bankrupting the budget.
Thirdly, the dishes chosen should be acceptable to modern tastes and sensibilities. To cite the title example; tripe is cheap, commonly available and historically appropriate. There are an abundance of period ways to serve tripe which are reportedly quite tasty. Sad to say if you serve tripe at feast I wager that most of it would come back uneaten. Thus you should strongly consider holding a small test feast to see if people will actually eat what you wish to serve. If, in your test feast, you find that people are reluctant to taste a particular dish or upon tasting it do not wish to repeat the experience; I recommend that you delete the dish from your proposed menu forthwith.
Finally, dishes to be considered for inclusion in the menu should be forgiving in their preparation and service. Thus, you should generally avoid trying to serve a dish, which must be consumed immediately upon its completion. Simply put; getting any dish out to the tables, even at a small feast, takes time and such dishes may need to be served before either your servers or your diners are ready. Additionally, feasts are themselves often delayed for a myriad of reasons. Several years ago I saw a formally trained chef reduced to tears over a court's prolonged delay of feast. The crowning dish of the primary course, normally a culinary treasure, had been reduced to a forlorn, rather leathery and nearly indigestible state by the time it was served. Dishes to be served should thus not suffer substantially if they are left overlong in the oven or on the burner. Additionally, upon its completion, you should be able to set any dish on a sideboard to wait upon its turn at the table without great concern.
Thus you have my four rules for feast menus. Bearing in mind that Saint Murphy was indeed an optimist, if you keep to dishes that are simple, economical, acceptable and forgiving you will maximize your chances for success and thus minimize your potential for error. While many additional rules and caveats could be added, I suggest that if these four are followed most others will proceed so naturally from them as to be redundant.
May you gain from my experience and survive all your feastly encounters.
Copyright 2000 by Daniel C. Phelps. 3359B Trafalgar Square, Tallahassee, Florida 32301. <phelpsd at gate.net>. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited. Addresses change, but a reasonable attempt should be made to ensure that the author is notified of the publication and if possible receives a copy.
If this article is reprinted in a publication, please place a notice in the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.