Spring Crown this year was hosted by Dun in Mara in the territory of Glen Rathlin. As with almost all SCA projects, this feast didn’t quite hit all the things I intended. In particular, I’d been thinking of having documentation available alongside it, and of a few more dishes that didn’t make it in the end. A fermented porridge was high on that list. Next time!

Before I start talking about food, though, let me thank my kitchen crew: THL Órlaith Caomhánach, Lady Gabrielle of Dun in Mara, Noble Mallymkun Rauði, Lady Erin Volya and Cassian of Allyshia. There were a few other folk in and out of the kitchen too (THL Yda Van Boulogne did excellent work on the various flavoured butters), but these five did the bulk of the work. Lady Erin also provided lunch; cooking at Crown for 80 people as her first event cookery is notable.

The main idea here was to lean heavily on seafood, which isn’t often done in SCA feasts in my experience, and represents the food of Ireland well. I also wanted to include pork as a main meat, emphasise oats and barley, and use plain vegetables presented well. There were to be condiments on the table, hence Yda’s butters: plain, honey, mackerel and garlic-and-chive, as well as green sauce (largely Órlaith’s work, with Cass finishing it out). Condiments and the number of them available were an important aspect of Irish medieval hospitality.

I also wanted to nod to the usual progress of early Irish feasts, which started with formal services and frequently ended up so raucous and drunken that the nobility woke up the following morning on the hall floor along with everyone else. So we served to the tables to begin, and then had a less and less orderly buffet.

The first “course” was a set of pottages. The main one was pork, cabbage, onion, carrots, turnips, and barley, which had been slowly cooked down over a number of hours. There was also a version with lamb, for those who couldn’t eat pork, and this doubled as the gluten-free version, having no barley. And there was a vegetarian one, including barley, but substituting mushrooms for the meat. These were served with flatbreads, risen yeast dough having been a tough proposition in the Irish climate (and still is, really; that’s why the most Irish of breads is soda bread).

As that was consumed, we stocked the buffet with: sides of salmon (steamed then baked), mussels (boiled), monkfish and mackerel (also steamed and baked), chicken pieces (baked), hard-boiled eggs, turnips with butter, carrots with honey, samphire (new to many, most enthused about it), caramelised onions, creamed leeks, buttered cabbage with and without bacon bits, and a broth-based porridge, accompanied by a variety of flatbreads and oat pancakes. And as that all cleared, we put out fruit, some cheese, some oaten biscuits, and a “cheesecake”, of sorts.

Everything was plausibly pre-Norman Irish, with the exception of the oaten biscuits and the cheesecake base, which were egregiously modern - although I could argue for something very like them. Simple cooking techniques mean that those are broadly plausible as well - steaming may seem incongruous, but I’ll have more to say on that again.

It all seemed to go down well. A number of people said they weren’t sure about fish, and then followed with “… but that was great!”, and the green sauce, the samphire and the cheesecake were particular hits. The technique of doing a wide variety of simple things usually does well, I find; even the pickiest of eaters can usually have a few things, and the adventurous can pile their plates with a wide variety.

And I had energy enough left to wander around the party hall later offering plates of fruit, cheese and biscuits, which is one of my favourite things to do.

Reproduced with permission from Aodh’s tumblr