Tuesday, 12 July 2011

The Rest of Day Two

After lunch we returned (late) to the lecture rooms and the papers I chose to hear were all about banquets. 

The first was presented by Valerie Mars who is a social historian and lecturer specialising in 19th Century food and architecture.  We were shown lots of pictures of two different banquets which were held to promote the 1851 Great Exhibition, they were both held in 1950 - one in York and one in London.  The pictures were engravings rather than photographs of course but nonetheless were very interesting and showed how tables were decorated and menus made up of courses pre A La Russe service.  It must have been pretty difficult to reach the toothsome morsels placed beyond one's reach though.  There was an example of the hundred guinea dish which these days would probably be enough to buy a house.

The second paper was presented (are you lot impressed at how easily I have learned academic speak?) by Sarah A Milne but I cannot tell you anything about her because she has been omitted from my contacts list.  The paper was interesting in that the subject was "Dining with the Drapers" and it was an illustration of The Drapers Company 1564 Election Day Feast.  Elizabethan London still had some of the Sumptuary Laws in place and the clothes were almost as interesting as the food.  Almost.

The final paper was presented by Mairtin MacConIomaire, a lecturer in Culinary Arts - I think in Dublin but don't quote me on that.  His paper was entitled Royal Pomp: viceregal celebrations and hospitality in Georgian Dublin.  They certainly knew how to party in Georgian Dubluine - it was fascinating.  All the protocol observances in viceregal circles really made me glad I live in a more casual age.

We then broke for a cup of tea and I am ashamed to say that I missed the last session of the day - I plead exhaustion and all those wines at lunch.

We all assembled for the pre dinner drinks at 1830 and went in to a beautifully decorated dining room for the feast of The Mexican Day of the Dead.  Every place had a little sugar favour in the shape of a skull of some sort made by piping with brightly coloured icing on white sugar.  They looked more friendly than fearsome - it was announced that all two hundred and fifty had been made by Caroline Conran and Beth Coventry.  I have brought mine home and it is sitting proudly in front of the fruit bowl.   I bet none of the rest of you have a genuine piece of Conran art sitting there!  This dinner was cooked by Fernando de la Cruz, Sage and Tom Conran plus Tim Kelsey and the staff of Catz again.

We started with corn tortilla chips, freshly fried and still warm served with
several salsas; Roja, Green Tomatillo, Smoked Jalepeno and Guacamole.  Then a huge dish of tamales was brought (enough to have three each) - I am not sure that I like tamales, they are a sort of stodgy cornmeal batter smeared on banana leaves, some turkey put in the middle of that and then folded over before being steamed for a long time.  Rather stodgy and without the salsa inedible. 

The main course was a bit heavy on the carbohydrates and I was not awfully keen on the turkey enchiladas because the chocolate mole was a bit on the sweet side so I left most of it.  I had the tiniest spoon of the mashed and fried black beans which were sort of pink coloured by now and that was enough of that.  I did not even serve myself any rice because I was already filling up.  However, the rest of the main course was absolutely fabulous.  We had Pork Pibil which was a thickish pancake about three inches in diameter which was crispy and topped with meltingly soft pork shards which had been cooked with vinegar and then topped with slices of red onion.  There was a dish called Nopales en Salsa Verde al Gratin which was a sort of cactus which had been finely sliced and mixed with a green salsa , topped with cheese and grilled until golden.  The best part of the entire meal.  We had some other French style beans cooked with a red chili sauce which were also delicious.  There were large bowls of salad on the side which were heavy on the coriander (I adore coriander) and with a lime and oil dressing.

Pudding was the most wonderful sorbet made from hibiscus flowers served in scoops on top of fresh berries followed by coffee.

There was only one wine - a Semillon Blanc provided by Peter Lehmann but there were also bottles of ice cold Sol beer and wedges of lime on all the tables.  Loads and loads of them. 

Bruce Kraig sat next to me on the left, he is an expert on Mexican food and history and led me gently through all the dishes and quite understood the couple of things I disliked.  He was very pleased that I tried at least two mouthfuls before declaring my dislike though and pleased that I ate so much of everything else.  Sitting on my right was Susan Braithwaite who is the Chair of Slow Food UK and most interesting. 

During coffee Claudia Roden decided to go walkabout and approached us so I went into full gibber mode again (I blame the wine, again) and told her how wonderful I thought she was.  I happened to have in my handbag (as you do) a copy of The Book of Jewish Food and asked her if she would please sign it for me.  It is a first edition and when she realised that I had bought it when it came out she was really flattered and found a mistake in a recipe which she altered for me and initalled and then dedicated it to me and signed in the front.   So for the rest of the Symposium I did not have to lug around a very heavy tome.

My cup at that point had runneth over and I took myself off to bed, getting up only three times in the night to gloat over the dedication before going back to sleep for a bit.

More tomorrow

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