Mistress Katla demonstrates how to cook rabbit
Photo by Lady Mary of Montevale
By: Mary of Montevale, Features Reporter
It was a lovely day at the Food Lab for everyone except da wabbit.
Once the charcoal in the fire pit had burned down to some very nice coals and Baroness Oddkatla Jönsdöttir larded the two-pound prepared rabbit (who’d actually met its end well before being brought on ice to the site), the rabbit was spitted and tied to the stake to prevent any premature attempts at escaping the heat. Approximately a hour and a half later, attendees at the first Food Lab class of Pennsic 43 would be sampling the finished product.
While Oddkatla waited, watched the roasting, and occasionally made adjustments for the placement of the coals and the height of the spit from the heat, Mistress Ulfhedinn her experiences raising rabbits to the class.
Now in its second year, the Food Lab in the Æthelmearc Royal Encampment is growing and expanding toward its founders’ goal: to teach foods, recipes, technologies related to cooking, and the visceral side of cooking in a primitive environment similar to a pre-14th century cooking environment.
Baron Janos Meszaros, who had worked at length to build the cooking fire on a very humid morning, explained to me some of the many reason why cooking in a primitive environment is a skill that develops only with lots and lots of practice. Open fires and period bread ovens do not behave like modern stovetops or ovens, pottery cooking pots and hand-forged metals do not share some common characteristics with modern cookware, and even recipe ingredients prepared by period methods and not purchased off a supermarket shelf can behave in ways modern cooks may not expect.
Janos wants eventually to get individuals involved in many facets of period cooking to participate in the Food Lab. Some of these aspects are animal husbandry, pottery making, metal and wood working, and Iron Age technologies. He has plans to expand the infrastructure of the Lab to include a bread oven and a hearth with a chimney. He has already built a hanging tray apparatus so he can take the Lab on the road to places where no ground fire is possible.
On Tuesday and Thursday of War Week, interested individuals are welcome to bring their own ingredient along to the Lab facility in Æthelmearc Royal and “play” with the provided tools, pots, and other cooking equipment to find out for themselves what primitive cooking is like. There will be no teaching on those days, but still plenty of opportunities to share knowledge with others.
Classes scheduled in the Lab are:
Monday morning: Cheese (a repeat of last year’s class)
Monday afternoon: Janos Shares His Library
Wednesday morning: Exploding Eggs (cooking eggs in shells)
Wednesday afternoon: Temperature Without a Thermometer (learning to judge temps by eyeballing)
Many books on the subjects of period cooking and cooking technology can be found at Poison Pen Press (space 63). The Food Lab will also take place at Known World Cooks Symposium over Labor Day weekend in Wisconsin.
Thanks are due to the Canton of Beau Fleuve (Niagara Falls, NY) for their sponsorship of this year’s lab and to Their Sylvan Majesties of Æthelmearc for allowing the use of the Royal Encampment populace space for the lab.
By the way, if you want to cook your own rabbit(s), be advised that a 4-pound rabbit vields about 2 pounds of meat, and 2 rabbits this size (known in some Shires as “a brace of coneys”) will feed 5 with a little left over.