Journeys of Aodh

Life in the SCA in Ireland

19 October
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Spit-Roasted Venison

For the Althing, I cooked two pieces of venison. This post is to document what I did, and how it came out, and a few ideas on things to do next time. I wanted to cook it as Aodh, an early 11th century Dubliner, would have done.

First, the spit-roasting is limited a bit by the fireboxes I had access to. Ideally, I think what I’d like is to have a fairly strong fire burning, with the meat horizontally across from it, and be able to rotate it almost continuously. However, I don’t see much evidence for roasting in that style until quite late in the medieval period, and I think it’s entirely more likely that the 11th century Dublin Vikings would have had a fairly similar arrangement to mine. They would have had ground-level hearths or firepits, though, not my raised firebox – that’s essentially a concession to the sites where we hold events.

So the meat was on spits, about 30-40cm from the fire, and about the same height above the base of the firebox. The idea here is to cook in radiant heat. To that end, I had wood burning, not in a straight line, but in a C shape, centred on the meat, curving around a little at the ends. I supplied new timber at the “back” of the fire, away from the meat, and had the fireboxes arranged so that the wind (such as it was; it was a pretty calm day) blew the smoke and flame away from the meat, not toward it. I could probably have done both haunches on the same spit, but each one only had one built-in staple, so that the only way to make sure of even turning would have been to run one piece onto the staples, and tie or wire the other to it. This seemed, broadly, like asking for trouble, when I had two fireboxes and plenty of firewood available.

The meat itself was two mid-sized haunches of venison (4-4.5kg), which had been supplied frozen, on the bone. Lord Aedan’s local butcher had boned and rolled them for us, after they’d spent a few days defrosting in his fridge. I can’t think of anything I’d do differently about that, to be honest; the meat was excellent. Since venison is generally pretty lean – and this was no exception, I opted to baste it with butter. I gave some consideration to other fats – beef, mutton, or pork fat would all have been available in period, but since Irish cuisine was all about dairy, I decided that butter was the way to go. The application was simple; from about one third of the way through, I took thin slices of butter and laid them on top of the meat just after I’d turned it. This meant that they melted slowly, shielded from direct heat by the meat itself, and dripped down nicely.

I turned the meat 180 degrees every fifteen minutes or so (guessing at the time, not using a timepiece) for the first half of the cooking time, and then 90 degrees every ten minutes for the remainder. I started the fires on ash timber, which burns quickly and not too hot, moved on to beech for the mid part (an anachronism in and of itself; beech arrived in Ireland with the Normans), and then used hot-burning birch for the last quarter or so of the time. I keep saying “the time”, because I’m honestly not sure how long exactly it took. I went out to set up the fireboxes at about 09:30, and I carried the cooked meat into the longhouse to rest at about 17:00. I didn’t put the meat on until the fires were burning well, so I suppose that would have been about 10:30. That would give a 6.5 hour cooking time, which seems about right.

Gytha and Alays kept me supplied with food and drink, and Nessa brought me a pint of coffee in the mid-afternoon, all of which was terribly useful, so I was able to keep tweaking the fires and turning the meat all day. This kind of labour-intensive process isn’t wholly unreasonable; one can imagine an elderly Norse man or woman, not much for mobility anymore, taking on the all-day task of managing the fires. It’s pleasantly warm, and people come by to talk to you; a good way to spend a day.

The end result was excellent: cooked through, still a little pink in the middle, nicely soft, and not at all dry. There isn’t a whole lot I’d do differently next time, except that I might have the spit on the other side of the fire for a while to get a little bit more smoke into it (possibly early in the process), and Baroness Caitriona made the interesting suggestion of burning juniper wood for that purpose. The long, slow roast is absolutely essential, though – trying to speed up the process just won’t work.

19 October
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Rathlheimr Althing 2015

This past weekend saw a new Viking-themed event at a new site in Lough Devnaree. We have new events once in a while; we very rarely have new sites. And this new site is utterly gorgeous. It’s on the shore of Lough Ree, has a hall that’s somewhat suggestive of a longhouse, another building in the style of a crannóg, and a number of comfortable log cabins for accommodation. It also had outdoor space where I could set up the firebox – or fireboxes, as it turned out – and, gloriously, a rowboat we could take out to explore the nearby areas of the lake and the islands. Lough Ree is a fairly sizable lake, but it has so many inlets and islands that it’s hard to see much of it at once – which makes taking a boat out on it even more of a pleasure.

The arrangement for lunch and feast was for a potluck, along with the venison, two fine haunches procured (appropriately) by Lord Áedán Páirce Na Fia, which I spit-roasted very slowly over wood fires. We had chunks of ash to start, beech in the middle, and birch at the end, and this provided a perfect gradient of heat. I basted the venison with butter (I thought about trying to get some beef or mutton fat, but decided butter was a better guess for Viking cookery) and I reckon it came out very nearly perfect. Lord Aodhán made a buckwheat frumenty to go with it, and the end result was one of the more satisfying meals I’ve helped produce in years. From lighting the fires to having the meat on plates took about eight hours, and I enjoyed every bit of it.

It helped, of course, that where I had the fires going had Lord Eldgrimr Jonsson’s forge on one side, and the slip for the rowboat on the other, so that there were people coming and going all the time. And the site dogs, Sláinte and Daisy, made frequent visits, along with the site owner, who was happy to stand and chat while I fuelled fires and basted meat, and tell me about the history of the place.

We had Her Highness Crown Princess Isabel’s first court in the evening, in which Nessa, Sela, Cassandra and I swore fealty as part of the retinue. Nessa will be Their Majesties’ herald (or possibly Their Graces’ Herald, since Vitus is fond of the more period form), Sela will be the Queen’s Clerk, Cassandra the Mistress of the Wardobe, and I will be styled as the Queen’s Victualler. The court was held in the Crannóg, which had just enough room, and which provided a very fine space for a small court.

The following morning featured a trip out on Lough Ree on a Viking-themed cruise boat, down to Athlone and back up again between islands and reed beds, with the captain pointing out various features of interest as we went. It was one of the occasions on which I was glad of having the brát with me, as it was otherwise more than a bit on the chilly side.

The weather (sunny spells all through Saturday, and no rain) helped immensely, but even with that, the site was a delight, and the event extremely pleasing. I look forward to it happening again next year, and to the possibility of other events in the same place.

19 October
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Drachenwald Autumn Crown Tournament, October 2015

It’s actually been over a week since Crown, and there was another event over the weekend just gone. But this is really the first few minutes I’ve had since where I’m not busy, in transit from one place to another, or attempting valiantly not to cough myself unconscious due to flight-related lurgy.

Nessa and I flew into Gatwick on Thursday evening, and set out again in company of Count Vitus, Viscountess Isabel, Dame Genevieve, Alexia, and Xander on Friday afternoon in the direction of Polderslot. It was my first time through the Channel Tunnel, which was entertaining, and I’m very much in favour of travelling to events en masse like that. It made what was a long trip much more entertaining, even with traffic jams at intervals. Due to the nigh-on magical nature of Vitus & Isabel’s new vehicle, we got all the stuff for seven people, plus two bags of armour, into the storage spaces in such a way that there was nothing in the cabin but stuff we wanted for the journey.

I’ve been to the site in Polderslot once before, for a previous Crown Tournament, but in the dark, all European motorways look alike, so there was nothing familiar until we arrived at the gate. It’s a good site, with plenty of room, a huge number of beds, and a playground to keep the kids occupied. And the Polderslot folks are dedicatedly, solidly organised, so everything went smoothly. Sela had arrived ahead of us via a direct flight, giving us three of House of Green in attendance.

The morning was cool and a bit cloudy; good fighting weather. I was running the list, and there were 13 competitors, which meant that for our standard round robin tournament, we needed two list fields to get things done in a reasonable time. Dame Genevieve headed up the heralds, and kept things running efficiently, so that I had a pretty constant stream of information coming back (who had won each bout), and going out (who was to fight who in the next set of bouts in each field). Three combatants – Duke Lief, Count Vitus, and Viscount Rok – each arrived at the end of the round robin with one loss each, so semi-finals were necessary. These were fought as a mini-round robin, leaving Lief and Vitus for the final, and even through these fights, there was a palpable tension around the field. The final was fought carefully, strategically, and from my point of view, very, very slowly, despite the speed of both fighters. Eventually, however, Vitus won the day.

Much of the afternoon passed in a blur of meetings, having a go at the small forge that was set up at the front, and making some preparations for court. I’m sure there was something else in that as well, but it escapes me at this stage. Court included not just the investiture of Vitus and Isabel as Crown Prince and Princess, but also the elevation to the Laurel of Ailitha de Ainwyk, for calligraphy and illumination. Dame Genevieve, on hearing that there was a court session on Friday evening (which we missed, due to still being in transit), had guessed exactly who would be elevated. Her victory dance on this being confirmed was exultant.

Feast was, as ever for Polderslot, excellent, and I spent most of the evening chatting to people. It’s always strange to be at an event and not be in the kitchen at all, but I had stuck my head in earlier and been told that they had more hands than needed, so I didn’t feel bad about not being in there. I eventually wandered off to bed at a relatively early hour.

The trip back was a pleasure in and of itself; we had plans to lay for Vitus and Isabel’s reign, various bits of news and gossip from the event, and time enough to stop in at Antwerp on the way, get an excellent lunch, look in at the cathedral, and make our way at a gentle pace back to Calais and thence to the UK. Our flight back to Ireland was on Monday evening, so we got a day of reign planning with Her Highness Isabel before we left, and drew up a roster of people for various tasks and posts in the Royal Household.

It was a great event, a great trip, and I am looking forward greatly to the reign of Vitus II and Isabel I, and all the various events we’ll be going to as part of the royal retinue, all the way to Estrella in February of next year.

25 August
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Ffair Rhaglen XI

A retrospective on Ffair Rhaglen XI is much overdue, and I am not completely certain that this post will actually cover the necessities. I did post a “memorable moments from” thing on Facebook, which took some of the pressure off, and this will likely take a bit more. Of particular note is the fact that I am now a dependent of Dame Genevieve la flechiere de Duram, with the position of dalta. I shall write about that in a separate post, as it’s something solidly meaningful, but which is almost all inside my own head.

Otherwise: Nessa, Sal, and I camped with Nessa’s knight, Sir Vitus, his lady, Isabel, and various of his family, squires, etc, in one rather large encampment. We were at one end of this, arriving first and departing last, up on the Bowling Green. It seems to be a feature of SCA camping events that street addresses, more or less, develop, and while those at Raglan are not as steady from year to year as they might be, the Bowling Green is an actual defined area of the castle’s architecture. It’s flat and somewhat exposed, and therefore both windier and sunnier than other areas.

Within that encampment, we had six tents and one shelter, the shelter being the kitchen area. Vitus has a magnificent kitchen setup, including a large firebox, numerous cooking vessels, both metal and earthenware, several storage chests, a counter, shelves, and some wattle hurdles to hold off the worst of the wind. Were it not for the fact that there were a number of points where having our firebox along as well was useful, I’d be headed for using his alone next year – and we probably will look at some sort of combined kitchen. At the far end of the encampment from our own tent was the storage tent, which also had an awning for a dining and social space. This was a very useful thing in general, except that the tent itself was considerably taller than necessary, and therefore acted like a sail in any gust of wind that came along – and with showery weather early in the week, there were powerful downdrafting gusts a-plenty. On a few occasions we had to run to prevent it from collapsing; on one occasion it went over and had to be reconstructed.

There were many more people there than in previous years; the site hit its maximum capacity of people on the grounds overnight (120), and had something like 173 people registered. This meant that for the first time, I didn’t get to put a name to all the faces, and there were a goodly number of people I wasn’t speaking to at all. However, I did have more time this year to move around and talk to people, since I wasn’t running the food plan for twenty-some people. I did get in a good bit of cooking, all the same, in the aforementioned magnificent kitchen, and I would happily cook like that year-round if I had but time enough and space. Thoughts of erecting a semi-permanent shelter in the back garden and setting up there have been passing through my head regularly since, but I suppose it wouldn’t be as much fun in November as in February – although I’d be willing to give it a go.

Nessa and I entered the Coronet Tournament – she was fighting, I was consorting – and I therefore spent the tourney on the sidelines, helping get helm, shield, and hand protection on and off at intervals. The day was one of blazing sunshine and temperatures over 24°C, which is rather hotter than temperature to which the majority of fighters were accustomed, so there was a lot of water and salt-bearing stuff to supply. She fought magnificently, and the tournament in general was a very fine one.

Overall, I didn’t leave the site (wandering over to the Castle Café doesn’t count) from when we arrived on Friday evening until we departed on the Monday morning ten days later. I am reasonably certain I haven’t spent that long in one limited location ever before (at least not since I was very small), and it’s in stark contrast to the previous year, when I left the site every single day to go shopping. I also didn’t notice it until afterward; there was enough stimulation and interest in the castle and among the tents to keep me quite thoroughly occupied. Likewise, I barely picked up my phone (weather forecasts were pretty much everything I used it for), and the two books I brought to read were not even opened.

It’s hard to pin down the mental effects the week-and-a-bit has. It’s more of a long-lasting effect than any other holiday I’ve ever taken, or place I’ve been, with the possible exception of the few weeks in India about a decade ago. I had trouble sleeping the first night we got back, because the bed was too soft, the air too still, and I couldn’t smell woodsmoke. Even having started a new job since I got back, it’s still firmly in the forefront of the mind.

 

07 December
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Insulae Draconis Coronet Tournament & University Feast

The autumn/winter academic term has completely overcome any chance I had to write here, and indeed, most of my SCA participation. It’s the final year of the degree, though, so come next May, I’ll doing a lot more. In the meantime, my one engagement has been the feast for the Coronet/University event. The details below were sent to the sca-cooks mailing list as well, in a slightly different format, so apologies to anyone who ends up reading it twice.

This was my first time cooking Middle Eastern for a feast, but our outgoing Prince (Nasr ibn ‘Isa) has a ME persona, and I wanted to do something in his honour.

The recipes are all from al-Warraq, in so far as I could manage. I made some adjustments and compromises for budgetary purposes and allowances for allergies, dietary requirements, and so on. I could not, for the life of me, locate either rue or a reasonable substitute, so this was left out in all cases (which was, to be honest, most of the recipes). I cooked some rice for those who couldn’t have wheat (about 4 out of 60-odd people), and sourced good naan bread from a local Asian shop for everyone else. Several of the diners taste coriander as being soapy, so I cut down on or didn’t include this; it made very little difference to the end taste.

We opened with Bazmawardat in beef (very much as per al-Warraq) and chicken (much like the beef, with shredded grilled chicken instead), and also a chickpea-and-courgette version for the vegetarians. They’re rolled sandwiches – thin bread, spread with the meat mix, then some boiled eggs, rolled up like a Swiss roll, baked, and sliced. These were quite tedious to make up, but we got a sort of production line going, and since they were served cold, we were able to do them well in advance. They were well received – I only saw a very few come back into the kitchen. I felt they could have done with more salt, but several diners said they were good as they were.

The main meat was a roast of lamb. We had got a whole lamb (17kg) on a special offer from a local butcher, so I had to adjust my initial thinking to use it all. I feel this kind of adjustment was very likely in period as well. It was a very plain roast, quite deliberately; several of the diners favour plain meats, and everything else had spices in quantity. It’s very clear from al-Warraq that plain roasted meats were a common feature.

Tabahija, “um al-tabahijat” and tabahija firakh: As written, these two dishes appeared to involve effectively deep-frying slices of lamb and chicken until the oil evaporates. Initial tests showed that this produced very, very crisp shards of dry meat. I quite liked them, but I didn’t feel they were going to be a general hit. I compromised with a shallow fry at a high heat to crisp them on the edges, but still leaving some moisture and substance. I wasn’t quite happy with the lamb – in the cuts we got from the butchers, it just wasn’t possible to slice it the way I wanted, in wide flat slices, but the chicken was good. Some querying since has revealed that the deep-frying would indeed have been inaccurate, and that a very slow cooking is intended – most particularly at a low temperature. So the shallow fry wasn’t too far off.

Mulahwaja: A spiced stew of lamb, onions, leeks, and spices. I’ve cooked the mulahwaja before, and it’s gone down well. Indeed, her Majesty Queen Morrigan remembered that I’d cooked it for her before, and was pleased to find it would be included. That was rather gratifying. I also did a vegetable version, substituting beans for meat, and cooking for a shorter time, for the vegetarians, of whom there were 5. I’m never entirely happy with the vegetarian version of this; the tastes don’t seem to balance in the same way.

Barida of dressed carrots: Carrots served cold with an onion and vinegar sauce. These were much more popular than I expected. As a devoted carnivore myself, I sometimes don’t pay as much attention as I should to the vegetable sides. We had issues getting the stove in the kitchen to a sufficient boil to do carrots for 60 people, annoyingly, but the long cooking time at a not-quite-boil seemed to benefit them in the end.

Bawarid of squash: This was something of a riff on the original. Butternut squash, served cold with yoghurt, into which ground mustard seed had been stirred. This came out almost like a puree, and was a love it or hate it dish; I observed two people try it and push it away, and another walking around the hall later with a dish of it in his hand, dipping naan bread in on a regular basis and trying to persuade others to try it.

Not in al-Warraq at all was a salad of chopped cucumber and pomegranate seeds, because I got a good deal on both, and they’re plausible. Nothing further added, and praised by many.

For dessert, I sent around platters of grapes, pomegranates, dates, and almonds, and followed a little later with a platter of entirely non-period but much-enjoyed baklava, which I carried around myself.

Overall, I was happy with the production. There were a few niggling details, mostly with getting food hot to the tables, that I would seek to do differently next time, but that’s more to do with the shape of the hall and the number of people in it than the food.

I will be cooking from al-Warraq again.

13 August
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Closer To Reality: Camping in a Period Tent

We took our period tent – a medium-sized Bosworth pavilion from Heritage Tents1 – to Raglan this year. We had intended to use it as a gathering and storage tent, and to sleep in the modern tent we had also brought. However, by mid-week, there was heavy rain forecast, and the mid-section (a sort of middle porch bit; not used for anything but storage) already had some water on the groundsheet from lighter falls. So we moved ourselves up to the period tent, and slept there for the remainder of the event.

It was comfortable enough and pleasing enough that we’ll be doing that in future events. For a start, there was far more room than in the modern tent, and I could stand up from where I was sleeping, instead of having to do an awkward crouch and crawl to get out, with zips and other noises to potentially wake Nessa. Second, there are solid bits – the two central poles – in case you need something to balance on for that same process. And third, there’s room enough to stretch out and roll over without rolling into a tent wall. Modern tents seem to be built for hobbits, not humans.

In addition, we were right there by the fire for when I needed to light it in the morning, and if I wanted to take a snooze in the afternoon, I could wander in and still not be far away. Indeed, the whole thing of not being far away from the action is a good and useful one; while the modern encampment is not all that  far away, it’s enough of a distance in poorer weather or in the dark to make going back and forth discouraging.

And, you know, camping in a period tent. That’s awesomeness, right there.

There were a few more details I liked: having a lantern lit didn’t feel like a fire hazard. I didn’t even consider lighting a candle in the modern tent, either, but they were fine in the period tent. And the light coming through the tent fabric wasn’t as raw, particularly when it was in direct sunlight. It was more filtered, and therefore there was more of a sense of being inside. The night we had a really bright full moon was glorious, though.

And then there was the point that from the period tent, you could hear all the comings and goings of the site. People lighting lanterns at night, completely ordinary utterances like “anyone seen my dagger? No? How about my beer mug?”2 which genuinely give a medieval feeling to things. And the geese flying over in the mornings. And the various other birds and beasts, some recognisable, some not. And the sound of rain, which isn’t the sharp rattle of whatever modern tents are made from, but a sort of soft thud.

The only downside – and this is more one of being at the period end at all, not sleeping there – is that you get tourists ambling up at all hours of the day (at least as long as the castle is open), and asking questions. The majority of the questions, in fact, I don’t mind, but “are you really going to eat that?” seems a bit daft, and “did they have fire in historical times?” is definitely in there. I didn’t encounter “is that a real fire?” but from conversations, a few others did. These were balanced out by conversations with other re-enactment types, historians, and the like, all of whom were very interested in what was going on, and asked intelligent questions.

Next year, we’ll be better prepared to stay solely in the period tent, and have suitable furniture, internal dividers, and so forth. Indeed, I already have a mental plan for a suitable table and a couple of flat-packing stools.

[1] The Bosworth is an adaptation of a period-type tent. It’s not strictly period. It still does fine.
[2] I’m not sure who that was. One of the younger gentlemen of Thamesreach, I suspect.

12 August
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Nine Days of Cooking

Soon after Ffair Rhaglen IX, I hatched a plan to do a lot of cooking for the following year. I offered this as a possibility to people in Lough Devnaree, and a few extra adoptees who by mere accidents of geography belong to other areas. In the end, I had about 30 people (some arriving later in the week), plus a few guests here and there.

My in-persona thinking on this was that a large part of Aodh’s backstory has him travelling with a bunch of Vikings down the eastern side of Europe to Byzantium in the early to mid eleventh century, having been hired/taken on as a cook. If he/I can’t cook in arbitrary circumstances for ten days, that can’t work, and I’d have to change something. Usefully, it seems likely that some tenth-century Baghdadi dishes would have reached Constantinople by then, giving me a legitimate excuse to add al-Warraq to the in-character cooking repertoire.

The original intention was to cook from the Saturday morning through to the Sunday afternoon a week later; as it happened, the last day was wet and thundery, and we went to the café instead of having me cook leftover soup in the rain. Indeed, that morning, we’d had to resort to the small gas stoves, since the main fire could not be got to light. But all the previous days had food cooked on the camp kitchen (or bought in and served directly in the case of pies and such) which was at least plausibly medieval, and some were according to actual period recipes. Other people cooked lunch a few days – Nessa, Órlaith and Unegen, and Unegen did breakfast one day as well. Everyone seemed to be happy with the food, and I really enjoyed cooking – I’ve arrived at the end of the holiday relaxed and rested, and I think the cooking has had a lot to do with that.

There were a few elements which were more difficult. First, because I was the only one with a clear picture of how much food was needed, I had to go to the shops every day. I’d rather have given someone a list, but if the list says “3 loaves white bread”, and the grocery in Raglan has the small loaves today, not the humongous ones of the day before, then someone will be going without bread – and at the scale of cooking for 30 people, this applies to vegetables and fruit and everything. I got a lift down to the village, or to Monmouth, every day, and had company for shopping, but it was still a one-to-two-hour chunk of the day where I wasn’t on-site.

Second, I didn’t have time to do much else, including spend time with Nessa. I was up at 05:15 most mornings to get the fire going, and supervising cleaning of pots until 20:00-ish many evenings. This got better in the latter part of the week, when I deliberately took time away from the fire, but it did take that deliberate effort. I didn’t get to do much archery (in fact, I didn’t get to shoot at all, but I did marshall the Blackguard Shoot) and I was only able to attend one class. And the one evening I did get to sit down and spend some time drinking beer with Joel I had to cut short because I needed to get up the following morning.

So overall, while I was happy with the cooking I did, I won’t do the same thing next year – what cooking I do will be for household only, and much more distributed.

Some observations:

70% of the job of the camp cook is fire management. If you don’t get this right, you end up with burnt or underdone food. Fire management consists of having enough logs burning, and having them burning in the right places. This sounds very simple, but actually requires moving stuff with a poker about every few minutes if you’re using a griddle or a hot plate.

Good ingredients seemed to make a much bigger difference. I got gloriously huge pork chops from the butchers in the Raglan grocery, and grilled them, and they were wonderful. I got sausages from NS James, and they were wonderful. I got sausages from Lidl in Monmouth – which we’ve had before and considered good – and they just didn’t hit the mark the same way. Both NS James and the butchers in the grocery were very good, although I think the latter became a bit worried by me toward the end – they really weren’t set up to deal with an arbitrary demand for 5kg of diced lamb.

A rota for help and cleaning would have been useful. As it was, a few people ended up doing more than their share of kitchen work and pot-scrubbing.

I could not have done the cooking if I didn’t have good upper body and arm strength. There were numerous points when it was necessary to use a hook on the end of a poker to move full pots – probably around 10 to 11kg – one handed off the fire and hold them while I moved coals with another tool. I worried a few tourists that way.

I have a long list of improvements for the camp kitchen, which may well include not using the complex assemblage over it, and replacing that with two tripods and a crossbar – Master Thomas Flamanc has that kind of setup, and it’s far more flexible.

Overall, it was very enjoyable, and I’m glad I did it – but next year will be more varied.

10 July
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Mulahwaja

I’m cooking for Coronet in November, and I’m intending to cook an Arabic feast. To that end, I’ve acquired a couple of translations of period cookery books, those referred to as al-Warraq and al-Baghdadi. I’ve decided to work with the earlier al-Warraq for this event, though; there are more recipes, more variety, and more background available. The downside is that separate rice dishes aren’t period, so I may have to adjust a little around that.

We have a new A&S space in Dun in Mara; a room in a city centre primary school that has tables, chairs, comfortable couches, and two good sized cookers. So I can actually cook at A&S nights, and I took advantage of this last night to put together a dish called mulahwaja.

The recipe as given in al-Warraq goes like this:

Dice meat and put it in a pot. Pour oil on it. Add onion, cilantro, rue and leeks, all chopped. Let meat fry until it browns. Add to the pot coriander seeds, caraway, black pepper, a bit of murri, a bit of vinegar, cassia and galangal. When the dish is done cooking, sprinkle it with a small amount of [diluted] honey, and present it garnished with chopped cilantro.

I made a few alterations to this. Firstly, I couldn’t get rue. Secondly, one of the people I was going to serve it to is in the unfortunate group to whom cilantro (or coriander, as we know it) tastes like soap. So I left out both of those. I think that in any case, being as the sweetness of coriander would balance the bitter rue, it’s probably best to leave both out if you need to leave one. Murri was substituted with soy sauce; I have it on fairly solid authority that they taste identical, and murri isn’t available, and is very very involved to make. “Meat” is taken to be mutton – more likely goat – but I went for lamb in this case, bought from the halal butchers down the road.

I had about 500g of lamb, two onions, three leeks. About 70ml of dark soy, a splash of white wine vinegar, and then the spices. I did them by eye and guesswork, so amounts are hard to summarise, but I didn’t go easy on any of them. I also added some salt, having misread the recipe – that was unnecessary; there’s enough in the soy.

It smelt of soy and caraway, and distinctly Chinese. The taste, however, was quite different, and very complex. It definitely needed bread to cut it – I had some fresh naan from a Middle Eastern shop – and rice would work very well. The spicy edge to it became quite hot (a little too much for the more spice-averse), and I’m not completely sure where that heat came from – the pepper and the galangal, maybe, although I wouldn’t think of either of them as hot in the normal sense.

It was well received, though, and can therefore be added to the repertoire. It’s a one-pot dish, so it may see a reprise at Raglan, and it’ll definitely be a component of the feast.

17 June
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Drachenwald Summer Coronation 2014

Nessa and Sal and I went to Coronation in Bolton Castle in Yorkshire last weekend. It’s a ten-hour journey each way, by ferry and road, and not one we’d want to make all that often – particularly when we’ve only one driver, and she’s recovering from a sprained knee. I should have a driving licence soon, though, and while I find the prospect of the ferry and some of the English towns terrifying, I could at least do the motorway driving then.

Anyway. Bolton Castle is a magnificent site, with a good number of intact rooms and a working kitchen and forge. All ceremony aside, the highlight of the trip for me was the hour or so I got to spend at the forge, working the bellows and watching Alex of Derlington and Eldgrimmr working various pieces of metal. I’ll be looking to build a forge of my own in the near future – probably not strictly period on this attempt, but certainly with a manual bellows and so on.

Coronation itself went off without a hitch, and there were a number of well-deserved awards to various people. Feast was excellent, and some of it was even prepared in the period kitchen on the site. I would have liked to spend some time in there was well, but between a business meeting and getting to the forge, there just wasn’t enough time. There will almost certainly be other events in Bolton Castle, and I’ll likely get to spend some time there then.

The only problem, I think, was that the accommodation for most people, as well as breakfast, was away from the castle, at the other end of the village of Redmire, in about 14 cabins that each had three to five people. The cabins were excellent – but the distance between then and the castle (covered by a minibus shuttling back and forth) meant that leaving the main site was pretty much a final decision for the evening; there was no possibility of sitting back and relaxing until such time as you felt like going to bed, and then wandering off. Again, for the next time we’re there, I’ll be looking to arrange either a tent outside the castle, or crash space inside.

Standout moments from the event (aside from the forge) were conversations with Mistress Genevieve about recruitment and “training” in the SCA, standing with Nessa looking out over the Yorkshire dales after the sun had set and again in the morning, and a moment when I slipped out from the feast to get something, and stood at the top of the main steps listening to a cuckoo calling a few hundred yards away. The area is also gorgeous; I’d like to spend some more time exploring there at some stage.

12 June
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Upcoming Coronation

Nessa and Sal and I are off to Drachenwald’s Summer Coronation tomorrow. It’s in Bolton Castle, in the UK, so we’ve a fair bit of travelling to do to get there. I’m looking forward to it rather a lot now, because quite aside from being an event where I’m not on staff in any capacity, there are the attractions of a period kitchen and a period forge – and lessons in use of the latter. It also has the bonus of seeing people I haven’t seen since the Crown Tournament, three months ago, or in some cases even longer.

The differences between my packing for events where I’m doing stuff (read: cooking) and those where I’m not are becoming more and more stark. For Festival of Fools, we had three carloads of stuff going down (one of which went to Gytha’s place the weekend before, and was delivered by her on the day), plus a few extra odd bits that had to be retrieved on an additional trip. This time, I’ve one bag of garb, my bow and quiver. I’ll have my day to day backpack as well, but that’s just modern and therefore incidental stuff. Nessa will have another bag or two, and that’ll be it – we might not even need the back seat down. Packing for Raglan, on the other hand, is going to require convoy style travel with five people across two cars, with every available space jammed with stuff. Our new tent arrived on Monday, and it’s going to take up a chunk of packing space all by itself. I do enjoy the challenge of getting everything in, though.

There has been much discussion of late in Lough Devnaree about the idea of new branches, and the overall structure of the region over the next few years. The word “Barony” has been mentioned a few times. Dun in Mara doesn’t seem likely to see much change in the near future – if a Barony appears, we might become a canton, and otherwise continue as before – but there’s potential for a lot more localised activity across the rest of the island. I want to quiz a few people at the weekend as to what they think about expansion and the potential of a Barony within the Principality.