Tag Archives: Corazon III

Corazon III: Post-assessment

I started drafting this post a week after the event, but then Kingdom A&S loomed large, and then, and then – suddenly it’s been two months and I still haven’t sat down to finish it.

I took part of a slow boring afternoon to rectify that. I’ve got the menu, a couple of recipes, and some other information up in their own section; this post is reflective.

This is the most ambitious feast I’ve done, by far. Over lunch on Sunday after closing out the site cleanup, my Laurel asked me, “Was it too ambitious?” I had to think about that for a minute, and then replied, “It was right on the edge.”

Right on the edge. It’s where I live. I feel odd – guilty, almost – if I’m not pushing myself to the limits of my capacity, growing my capacity, and pushing some more. There’s no question, I could not have pulled off this feast, this time last year. I’m proud of that, and yet it makes me anxious too. The reward for success is an ever-shifting goalpost.

What worked:

  • Kitchen crew! I had a solid crew, recruited in advance, and created a private Facebook group to share information and coordinate with them in advance. Kitchen ran incredibly smoothly all day and things that had to be started in advance finished at the correct times to come together for feast. And having several of the kitchen crew staying AT MY HOUSE could have been a wreck but actually worked out extremely well – we got good work done on Thursday and Friday, and had a lovely little after-revel (of the “fall about the living room and drink till our feet quit hurting” variety) on Saturday.
  • Pre-cooking/freezing EVERYTHING lunch-related. Lunch was “heat this, mix these three bags, set it out.” The only bobble was that the vent fans drew heat away from the ovens and caused their effective temperature to drop by over 50 degrees, which slowed down the rate of rotating stuff through. Once we turned off the fans, everything was fine. VERY GLAD we found that out at lunchtime and not in the leadup toward feast.
  • Hall Steward: Having someone who’s entire job is announcing dishes as they come out, rather than trying to brief servers and have them remember.
  • Pre-cooking!
  • It was awesome to have our own servingware and not have to worry about borrowing Dragonsspine’s. We need more. Working on an inventory, a “fill in the gaps wishlist”, and will be requesting funding for totes.

What didn’t work:

  • Prior to this year, we’ve always sold out and had people who still wanted feast and so were willing to serve. Since we didn’t sell out, we didn’t have that ready pool of serving volunteers. Next time: smaller reservation limit, to be raised closer to the event if we want to or kept sold out. Also, more advertising of need for servers in advance.
  • Also, because I cooked for 96 and we didn’t serve 96, lots of leftovers. I save a lot of money by shopping sales far in advance, but I could have saved MORE money by buying 2/3 to 3/4 of the food in advance and making a late decision about whether or not to buy the rest at full price just in advance. (For example, buying only 8 turkeys at .89/lb in November and making a late decision about whether I really needed the other 4 at $1.49/lb. I actually needed one or two, MAYBE.)
  • Cleanup crew: We were lucky on volunteers, especially after Garick started organizing people, but that was luck, not planning. Madhavi made an interesting suggestion of something they do in Trimaris: Hire a group (household, guild, or shire) to come in and JUST do cleanup. I will definitely be pitching this in the future.
  • I was pretty comfortable delegating longer cooking and prep tasks to kitchen crew (both pre-arranged and on-the-spot volunteers), but closer to the end, I ended up at the stove, doing the things that needed done quickly, instead of supervising the whole operation. Recruit a saucier – someone who comes in half an hour before feast is served and just runs the stove during service.
  • Could have done even more pre-cooking! I ran out of room in my own freezer (and fridge, and coolers…) but could certainly have been more organized about transferring finished pre-cooking to other people’sfreezers. And there were certain dishes that I wanted to cook fresh but would have been fine frozen in advance. FOUR DOZEN CREPES.

It’s strange to realize – after three consecutive years of “leveling up” in the complexity and scale of feasts, the next couple of cooking gigs I have lined up are far less ambitious – things I feel very confident about pulling off almost effortlessly. Maybe that’s a better approach – alternating challenging projects with ones that give me a little room to get comfortable in my own skillset and focus on details and precision rather than careening along the edge of the possible.

Some great pictures that my Laurel took and gave me permission to share:

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Corazon del Leon: ten weeks and counting

So much has happened since our last visit!

The event is ten weeks away (with Kingdom A&S, and one or possibly two projects based on this feast, a month later) and I am in the thick of it. I got an enormous amount done during my vacation:

– finished translating all of the recipes I want to test and consolidated them on individual documents by course
– built a closed Facebook group for the kitchen crew, so that we can have some advance coordination and discussion
– first-round tested the first three recipes
– hit, it seemed, half of the ethnic groceries in Denver, and found a bunch of critical ingredients for pleasantly surprising prices
– recruited a hall coordination staff in the persons of my wonderful apprentice sister and her fiance
– made the first round of “upcoming event” court announcements

Up this week:

– testing the remaining second course dishes and some first and fourth course dishes, and work up a schedule for the rest
– the remaining electronic correspondence (finishing the online flyer and getting it linked to the kingdom calendar, setting up the Facebook event page, etc)
– finish Sacred Gifts, Profane Pleasures
– make and put up one of the “kitchen staff only” dishes
– Wrap up Corazon-related sewing projects so I can focus, from here on out, on the feast pretty much exclusively.

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Corazon III: more reading, thinky thoughts, and a recipe

Following on from my post a couple of weeks ago, I have indeed received, read, and reflected on my ILL copy of William Dunmire’s extraordinary Gardens of New Spain: How Mediterranean Plants and Foods Changed America.

People, this is a treasure of a book. It’s a tome of phenomenal original scholarship, incredibly detailed – a literally year-by-year tracing of the spread of Old World foods through the Spanish colonies from Columbus to the missions of Alta California – that is not just readable but actually lovely, conversational writing, generously illustrated with drawings by the author’s wife, and a collection of short pieces on individual plants at the end of each chapter. It’s just delightful.

The big takeaway for the feast was this: by the end of the SCA period, every single food plant cultivated in Spain was being grown somewhere in the New World colonies. There were things that didn’t succeed in some areas – wheat never got established in the Carribean; the Spanish adoption of native foods there was a matter of survival, but they turned central Mexico into a breadbasket within a decade of their arrival; a combination of climate and European growers’ lobbying the Crown for monopoly rights held back olives and grapes in Mexico, although there was some success with those crops on Cortez’ properties in the central highlands, but once they reached Texas and California there was no containing them – but there was nothing that the Spanish didn’t find a niche for somewhere, so determined were they to hold on to the culinary identity and lifestyle of the mother country. If anything, hidalgo culture in the colonies adopted New World foods less quickly than Europe did*, because of their resistance to anything identified with Indian cultural practices. This was the dominant paradigm in the upper and middle classes for two hundred years.

All of which means I’m on the right track as far as the feast is concerned, with its precious imported ingredients and elite court-style recipes, but it makes me feel a little uncomfortable with the underlying premise. I’m not sure how I feel about raising up a set of cultural practices that would, within a very short time after the time period I’m working in, hone the worst of medieval conquer-and-resettle practices into fully articulated modern colonialism.

But this is history. History is what we do. We can’t recreate the arts, the food, the music, the pageantry, the beauty of the premodern world in any kind of meaningful way without also getting our hands dirty and having serious conversations about the context, the darkness, the cruelty and suffering and moral complexity of the people whose clothes and lives we wear. We give voice to the past; we have to do it with honor and honesty. I think I know the direction that the Kingdom A&S project based on this feast will take, now.

I have learned so much from this research. I have so much more to learn.

And on this Thanksgiving eve, from my house to yours, a recipe:

Alcachofas asadas.

PERDIGARAS las Alcachofas con agua y sal, cortandolas primero cerca la mitad házia las puntas, y esprimelas del agua, y echalas a cozer en caldo que ténga buena grasa, o en agua, y sal, y harta manteca de vacas, y ponlas en un hornillo, los pecones házia abaxo sobre unos pedacillos de masa, y echales détro por las puntas un poco de sal, pimienta, y azeite que sea bueno, y dales lũbre que sea moderada abaxo y arriba, y iranse calando: y quando esten asadas, sacalas, y assientalas enel plato, y echales çumo de naranja por encima: aunque parezcá que estan secas, por dedentro estaran muy tiernas y muy gustosas.

Roasted artichokes

Blanch the artichokes in salted water, cutting close the first half of the tips, and squeeze the water, and throw them to cook in broth that has good fat, or water, and salt, and butter from well-fed cows, and put them in a stove , nipples down [stems up] on little pieces of dough, and throw into the ends of them a little salt, pepper, and oil as well, and give it moderate rubbing down and up: and when they are roasted, remove them, and seat on the plate, and throw orange juice on top: although it seems they are dry, for inside are very tender and very tasty.

*although they were all about Indian agricultural practices, because they worked for the climate and the land. They used Indian agricultural practices – and Indian slaves – to raise European foods for European consumption. This is as pure a definition of exploitation and as you could ask for.

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Corazon III: a cuisine in transition

I really meant to all but liveblog the process of transcribing and translating the Motiño manuscript, but once I got into it, the work itself became an all-encompassing obsesison and there as no time for writing about it. Six weeks later, I have a complete transcription, a complete but VERY rough crib, and a nearly-fleshed-out translation of the twenty-page index. (Yes, dear reader, the INDEX is twenty pages. This is a big manuscript.)

I’m beginning to get a mental picture of the early Hidalgo cuisine landscape. My original conception of this feast had been much earlier, a Cortez-era deal like the feasts described in Bernal Diaz del Castillo, but I wasn’t able to find any good sources. Motiño is 1611, two generations later, at a time when the intercontinental fusion that became Mexican cuisine was already fairly well on its way to being realized.

But not entirely. Much of what we know of modern Mexican cuisine came later; there was a major transformation in the way people of Spanish descent integrated indigenous ingredients and dishes in the mid-eighteenth century. It’s really interesting what’s present – and missing  – in Motiño, and from other descriptions of pre-1700 colonial cuisine:

The well-to-do there ate wheat bread, drank wine, and could afford the most desirable domesticated meats, lamb and kid. They used rice and citrus fruits and almonds and saffron and seasoned their dishes with rare and expensive spices transported all the way from the East.  Tenochtitlan may have impressed the conquistadors, but the elite circles of the viceregal court and the richest convents in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries looked to the culinary traditions of southern Spain. During the Renaissance, this area had shared with the rest of western Europe a cosmopolitan courtly cookery. Printed cookbooks authored by the master chefs at the great courts were widely  distributed and often translated into a variety of different languages. The chefs themselves were equally cosmopolitan, going from court to court as their masters married or conquered or as they themselves sought out new employment. within this ambience, the cookery of the southern part of Spain reigned supreme as the finest and most sophisticated of all. (Chiles, Chocolate, and Race in New Spain: Glancing backward to Spain or looking forward to Mexico? )

– Motiño uses the word pavo, which is translated in Minsheu’s Dictionary in Spanish and English (1623) as peacock and in every other source I’ve found as turkey; I’m running with the theory, supported in both artwork and texts of the period, that turkey supplanted peacock (and then itself fell out of favor on the Continent; neither bird is significant in the cuisine today.)

– Motiño definitely uses tortilla in the Continental context of an omelette or fritatta, not in the New World sense of an unleavened flatbread. There are several different terms that are translating out to “fritter” in the rough crib, and I suspect at least one of these, as I get deeper into the full translation, will turn out to be analagous to tortillita (a small flatbread of wheat or chickpea flour with additives, like a Chinese scallion cake)

– Motiño describes a number of dishes that are heavily attested in modern Central and South American cuisine: capirotada; chicharrones; lampreados; various escabeches:

– There are many squash recipes. I have not been able to find a single recipe including tomatoes, corn, New World beans**, fresh chiles, or peanuts, and only one containing chocolate – an intriguing veal in sauce that is a clear descendent of Medieval sauces and may be the first documented true mole*. There is one recipe that may contain cassava, but I haven’t fully translated it yet. There’s no easy way to distinguish piper from capsicum in reference to “pepper” (pimienta); I’m assuming that Motiño is referring to piper but that New World cooks, working from his recipes and a Continental aesthetic but with limited quantities of imported spices, would have relied on capsicum as well, and that’s what I’m going to do in the feast.

– SO MUCH MEAT. John Super’s excellent little book Food, Conquest, and Colonization in Sixteenth-Century Spanish America describes, in great detail, the economic inversion that made meat much cheaper than bread, in dizzying variety and quantity. (Think two to five pounds of meat per day per person.) The modern American obsession with giant slabs of red meat derives from the 18th-19th century West, and is in turn derived from colonial Mexico.

The general sense of the early 17th century Hidalgo cuisine that’s emerging to me is: Heavily derived from the cuisines of Andalucia, Extremadura, and la Mancha; use of local ingredients for heavy, bulky, and very fresh ingredients, especially meat, seafood, dairy, and some vegetables; as much wheat bread as possible as a high-status food; some Old World vegetable crops (I have a copy of Dunmire’s Gardens of New Spain on order, so I hope to have more data on this area soon); imported Continental ingredients in small, flavor-dense quantities, especially spices; direct substitutions where possible (native greens for spinach and chard***; local game for Continental game or domestic meat, New World squashes for white-flowered gourd and cucumber); integration of indigenous ingredients where they represented status exotica and interesting flavor profiles (fresh fruit, chocolate); NO integration of indigenous ingredients where they were strongly identified with Native foodways.

*Most anecdotal histories of mole place its origin between 1600 and 1650, although the earliest currently known written recipes are from the early 19th century.

**no favas either, although there are a bunch of chickpea recipes.

***I’m amused that many modern Mexican dishes written for Anglo-American audiences (I’m looking at you, Rick Bayless) call for spinach in the place of such indigenous greens as quelites (lambsquarters), which are themselves local substitutions from Continental dishes calling for spinach and chard.

Next up: an outline sketch of the menu, and recipe testing.

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Corazon III: Sea change

I’ve spent the last month and a half, more or less, trying to chase down any Spanish manuscript between 1580 and 1650 in translation, to no avail. I came across a couple of references to translations of Diego Granada (Libro del Arte de Cozina, 1599) by Mistress Brighid ni Chiarain, the translator of De Nola; but they appear to be individual recipes.

On Friday, during another idle Google session (my job involves about four hours per week of work that looks like: click – cut and paste – click – wait 90 seconds – repeat; I get a lot of low-level SCA research done while working on that task) I pulled up the Google Books electronic facsimile of Francisco Martínez Montiño’s Arte de Cozina, Pasteleria, Bizcocheria y Conserveria (1611).

And discovered that I could read it.

Well. “Read” is a relatively loose term. I took three years of high school Spanish, twenty years ago, and evidently have retained the fundamentals of grammar. I have studied Spanish, Mexican, and Central American cooking for a very long time, and have quite a lot of functional Spanish culinary vocabulary. And I have handled enough 15th-17th century Spanish maps and documents (reproductions, of course!) that my brain seems to subliminally make the s/f and u/v substitutions where appropriate on words I recognize, even if the meaning doesn’t pop into my head at a conscious level. So I could get the gist of a passage, on a cold read, to about 40% – comprehending some entire sentences, losing others, picking up at least a few key concept words in most. Tables of contents of recipes, my comprehension was closer to 80-90%.

So I transcribed a couple of pages and ran them through Google Translate that evening. The machine translation leaves a lot to be desired, but it provides enough information to tell me what is and isn’t useful. And a lot of it’s useful. There’s extensive narrative about kitchen and service practices, there are New World foods, there are seasonal recipes, there is just a wealth of new and exciting material.

I’ve stepped off the cliff. Over the weekend I finished 63 pages (of 697) of transcription. My plan is to transcribe the whole thing, make a rough machine translation, and select sections I want to work with for deeper translation for this feast and Kingdom A&S 2014.  That’s all I’ll have time for if I want to be in recipe testing by Thanksgiving, which is my usual goal for this feast. The rest, I’ll poke at as I have time. I’ll add a section for the polished translation sections as they come. I’ll also be blogging about the process.

arte_de_cozina

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Corazon III: Research notes

I finished the first of my stack of research notes for Corazon III over the weekend: John Super’s exceptional little book, Food, Conquest, and Colonization in Sixteenth-Century Spanish America. It’s only 88 pages before notes, and it’s not a cook’s book – it’s far more economics-oriented. But it’s very revealing, and particularly in:

  • The Old World foods that the Spanish were most invested in bringing to the colonies, the spread of Old World foods through markets and agricultural records;
  • The New World foods that the Spanish adopted most readily, and the class and race issues around the adoption of certain foods;
  • The economics of agriculture in the colonies from 1600-1800, and how climate and landform affected the differences between what was grown in different areas (and what was grown in the colonies vs. Europe).

It’s very helpful in making educated guesses about what the fusion landscape would have been in the late 16th century, vs, say, the mid-18th century – what foods had already become what would later be the distinctively Mexican/Central American/South American cuisines, and what did not become integrated until much later. What “plausibly period” looks like in this context.

Next up: re-reading Sophie Coe’s excellent America’s First Cuisines and Charles Mann’s 1493. Both of these are background reads – Coe has some post-colonial material but basically her treatment is of pre-contact Native American foods, and I can’t remember how much Mann touches on food at all but he does talk a great deal about daily life.

First impressions:

Peanut marzipan! Goat and venison in the tasting course! SO MUCH MEAT. Fresh fruit is a GO – I worried about this; I know that fresh fruit wasn’t a thing in much of period in Europe, but no, multiple sources are clear that the arriving Europeans were dazzled and entranced by tropical fruit.  Yeasted wheat bread, not tortillas. Time to go back and re-read Diaz del Castillo.

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