By Mistress Gwyneth Banfhidhleir, OL
Doing a whole Chinese-themed feast has been a big dream of mine for about 10 years. In years past, I have been able to do a single course in a feast if there was a "Silk Road" theme event nearby. Examples of these included Marco Polo's Excellent Adventure (Fenix, 1990) and Kenna's Coronation (Winged Hills, 1999).
This article is meant to chronicle the research and presentation of a feast I did for Enter the Red Dragon on October 14, 2000 in the March of Tirnewydd (Columbus, Ohio) in the Reign of King Edmund and Kateryn III. It discusses the following aspects of feast research, preparation, and management:
I've found a few sources that illustrate the cuisine that China had to offer during our time frame. To keep within a manageable scope, I have chosen the Sung through Yuan dynasties (960-1368 CE).
My sources included Michael Freeman, "Sung" in K.C. Chang, Food in Chinese Culture, Jacques Gernet Daily Life in China on the Eve of the Mongol Invasion, and Eugene N. Anderson, The Food of China. These books do not list recipes, but more extensive analysis and commentary regarding types of food during the dynastic eras, cultural anthropology, ingredients and cooking techniques. I did not use Paul Buell and Eugene N. Anderson's book A Soup for the Qan because it was on back order and I didn't receive it until 2 weeks after the feast.
I also used Elizabeth Chong, The Heritage of Chinese Cooking. Her bibliography includes both Chang and Anderson, along with other sources. The Heritage Cookbook series came out in the early 90's with Spanish and French books as well. Other books I used were Ken Hom, Chinese Technique: An Illustrated Guide to the Fundamental Techniques of Chinese Cooking, and Gloria Bley Miller,The Thousand Recipe Chinese Cookbook, which I used to base recipes and measurement estimates for some of the dishes.
Sartaq, my husband, designed a place mat using the past 12 reigns as a Chinese-style horoscope. It made for entertaining dinner conversation.
Lady Diane of Dunston, the autocrat, took pictures of the site kitchen so I knew about some of the cooking equipment I had to work with (I will cover these in more detail in the Equipment section).Armed with my references, I sat down at the computer and my MasterCook software and began creating the recipes. More specific commentary regarding each menu item is included in the recipes article.
This was the budget proposal presented to the shire.
We are providing four complimentary dinners to the King and Queen, and Baron and Baroness Middle Marches. Other guests at head table should already have a feast ticket.
We are serving feast for 104 people. 100 regular feast tokens should be provided at the Gate with 4 special tokens provided for the complimentary dinners.
There are many events in the Oaken region this fall. To attract more people to reserve early for feast, the pre-event price of the feast is $7. The price increase will be $9 as of Oct. 1.
Note: There are no price breaks on feast for children, as they take up a seat and a food serving.
The feast price covers feast costs with a marginal profit.
As of Oct. 1, there were only 29 pre-paid reservations. About 10 were sold prior to the event, and the remaining tickets were sold the day of the event. The exchequer told me that people stopped by the house the night before to pay for feast. Needless to say, I was amused.
According to the school policy, we must have a school food service employee on site while preparing, serving, and cleaning up.
Estimated duration: 12 hours (9 a.m.-9 p.m).
Kitchen Staff: 8-10
Servers: 14 (12 general service, 2 head table service)
Traditionally, servers are fed prior to serving feast for free. While I may not be able to guarantee them a full 3 course meal, they will get fed something.
After all receipts were collected, I was $55 under budget. The event itself made a modest profit, part of which will be tithed to our beloved Barony of Middle Marches (Abu!).
Several weeks prior to the event, I scouted out several grocery stores for prices of food. The MasterCook program I used printed out a shopping list for me calculated from the recipes, which was a very handy thing to use.
The meat cost was the most volatile price, so if I saw a bargain, I purchased it and was reimbursed by the shire. About a month prior to the event, I saw boneless pork loin on sale for US$1.99/pound in 8-10 pound packages at BJ's Wholesale Club. I purchased those and froze them in 3-pound roast size for easier cooking.
For some of the more exotic ingredients, Aasa investigated several Oriental grocery stores.
The following individuals assisted in the kitchen during the day:
THL Fiadnata o Glenn Alainn, CW, ODH, coordinated the cleanup activities following the feast.
The crew has worked together on feasts in various capacities for years, and I was very confident of their abilities. It's a very good thing to create a support network of cooks and prep crew in the area.
I started the shopping adventure on Thursday afternoon before the event.
Thursday I dropped off the eggs and seasonings for M. Llewellyn to make the marbled tea eggs for me.
My first stop was the Crestview Market - an Oriental Grocery store near Ohio State's campus. I spent about an hour in there, selecting the sauces (soy, hoisin, black bean), seasonings, rice, tea, noodles, and vegetables.
I must have stared at the tea shelf in the grocery store for about a half an hour, trying to pick the perfect tea. I didn't want standard Lipton™ tea or generic restaurant tea for the event, so I had posted a request for tea recommendations at the SCA-China mailing list. Most recommended a Lapsang Souchong, Oolong, or Jasmine. Lapsang Souchong is a very smoky-flavored tea and is an acquired taste, but I thought it would make a good seasoning for the tea eggs. I had some available so I gave that to Llew for the marlbed tea eggs. I went with a medium-bodied Oolong.
The next stop was picking up dinner. (What? You think I'm going to cook dinner the night before an event?? hahahahaha!) We have a very nice Barbecue place around the corner (City Barbecue), so I picked up some beef brisket, pulled pork, and corn pudding for the Friday night crew. Aasa and Francesca were coming over to hang out and get the gear ready for Saturday.
Francesca got in about 6, so we ate dinner then went off to do the rest of the shopping. We folded time and space and got the rest of the items in about 2 hours. I live in a nice suburban part of Columbus, Ohio that has several major grocery stores within 2 miles of my house, and we went to BJ's Wholesale Club, Meijer, and Kroger's.
I borrowed coolers from members of my shire, so we iced down the perishables for the next day.
I also told the staff to bring their personal gear - favorite knives, utensils, etc.
Part of my menu planning involved how I'm going to serve the food. Tirnewydd has the following equipment available:
I used my personal good serving ware for head table.
There were not going to be enough serving dishes for each course, so the servers returned dishes as they were done and we washed them for the next course. Doing this led to delay between courses.
Friday night, we defrosted the pork roasts, made the pork roast marinade, and marinated them overnight in gallon Ziploc™ bags.
Saturday morning the crew arrived on site and we began the prep. I introduced myself to the school staff, who had turned on the equipment for us. I reassured them that many of the crew had industrial kitchen experience, but if we needed help we'll call on them. They pretty much left us alone for most of the day.
I made up a large task chart on poster board, so we could cross off tasks as we completed them. I placed non-perishable ingredients and spices on a rolling cart for easy access for everyone.
Each recipe was on a separate sheet of paper, so I could easily hand off a recipe for someone to do. Delegation is a wonderful thing and I highly recommend it.
This time was dedicated to prepping all the ingredients for cooking or serving. These were the tasks:
We had lots of potsticker and dumpling filling leftover, but we had run out of wrappers. I sent Francesca and Harald out to get wrappers to make even more potstickers. I held back the leftover pork filling because I had plenty of steam buns and I didn't feel it was necessary to open up a second box of Bisquick to make a double batch. So, we made pork meatballs for the servers.
The pork roast cooked fairly quickly in the convection oven, so the temperature was turned down and we basted often so it didn't dry out. There weren't any leftovers. :)
About 1 o' clock or so, I sent Llew and Harald out to grab lunch for the crew. We had subs and drinks. Always a good thing to keep the crew fed and happy.
Court was scheduled before feast for 5 p.m. Feast was at 6:30. Part of my staff had left for court because one of them was getting a well-deserved arts award and they wanted to see it happen (i.e. Llew's apprentice Harald received his Willow!). Unfortunately, this was a very critical time for prep because that left only 4 people (Sartaq, Francesca, Rosemarian and myself) in the kitchen. This left me shorthanded for cooking the dumplings and stir-frying the chicken dish.
I didn't have enough space for both dumplings and chicken, so I made the decision to steam the dumplings instead and go ahead and take up the stove space to stir fry the chicken, make some rice, and boil the noodles. Steaming the dumplings, while an authentic preparation method, gave them a more chewy texture than I had wanted. At this point, I was really wishing for extra burners or at least a few electric skillets.
About 6 p.m. the staff returned, and I had Llew take over operations because I was just plain exhausted. The rest of the evening is a little foggy. I assisted with refilling pitchers and returning dishes to the kitchen. Aasa and Francesca were madly stir-frying chicken lo-mein while Llew and Harry plated food for each course. We also had some servers helping out as well. Sartaq did dishes, Rosemarian steamed the potstickers and pork buns. We sent out a batch for the first course, then instructed the servers to serve potstickers and steam buns as they came out.
I was shooed out of the kitchen while the cleanup crew took care of the kitchen. Feast was over by 7:45 p.m. and we had only reserved the kitchen until 9 p.m. so they had to scramble. I went back to discern personal utensils from shire and school utensils.
Being on your feet 12+ hours wears you out, and I was aching all over the next day. I told my husband the only thing he was going to get for breakfast out of me was a bowl of cold cereal, so we went out to breakfast and dinner.
Copyright © 2000 Ginny Claphan
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