As I mentioned in the last post, Monday and Tuesday of this week were spent assisting with various Simple Day Feast prep items. While I’m technically writing this on Friday morning, it won’t post until the wee hours of Sunday morning so that people have a chance to enjoy their dinner at Simple Day before seeing where parts of their dinner came from.
That said, if you are any bit squeamish or bothered by dead animals, this is not the post for you.
Monday morning, after I got off work at 6 CDT, I rolled out to Abbott Johan’s house in the Barony of Sternfeld since it was Duck Day. When I got there, he and Liadan were already elbow deep in duck processing since they had started in the wee hours of the morning. After plucking one of the ducks sufficiently, we removed the innards from it, then bagged it and put it in the freezer to hold until we left. From there, there was one duck left to process, so I got to watch Johan kill it, the work on it.
Killing the duck was, in my opinion, done in one of the most humane ways possible. Instead of shooting it or slicing its neck open, Johan grabbed the duck from its cage by its feet, then grabbed a length of 1/2″ round stock. The duck’s head was laid down on the ground, the round stock resting on its neck, and Johan stepped on the metal rod to hold it in place. A tug up to break the neck, and the duck died. We let the nerve endings fire out the last few flaps of the wings, and then I set to first removing the down for feathers to be made into pillows by a barony member, and, then removing the pin feathers.
As I’ve mentioned several times before, I really love the concept of “farm to table” and knowing where one’s food comes from, so it was a fantastic opportunity for me to directly take part in preparing the ducks for this weekend’s feast. While Liadan and I were working on the ducks, we talked with Johan about meat processing in period for us in the SCA, guilds in period and the agreements — spoken and unspoken — between them, and a bit about animal husbandry (drakes are ruthless when it comes to mating; they essentially rape their mates — that’s why the duck below has a patch of feathers missing).
After processing the ducks as best we could (and getting assaulted by flies in the process, Liadan and I left Johan’s and headed back across town to her house by way of a couple grocery stores to pick up more items that we’d need. At some point, we started working on various things. I shelled 14 lbs. of shrimp. At some point, Master Llewellyn (Llew) and Tualaith came over to help, so we did all the things then, including cooking the shrimp and lobster tails in a fair amount of butter.
We got to a stopping point in our work and went over to a local Asian restaurant for food. I ordered crab rangoons and some sort of pork noodle dish that was very tasty and ate. Then, I started falling asleep at the table despite my best intentions and efforts to stay awake. It was a rather long day for me since I’d been up well over 24 hours and had done travel and basically 2 shifts’ worth of work between actual work and cooking. At that point, I stumbled upstairs to the room I was staying in, shirked off my clothes, and promptly passed out.
After sleeping who-knows-how-many hours, I woke up, took a shower, and headed down to help with breakfast. Breakfast squared away, we started work on making the liver paté. We clarified 7.5 lbs of butter, and fresh herbs, onions, and garlic were chopped up while I made caramel sauce for later from scratch. Like ya do. Caramel sauce done, I turned my attention to helping with the paté.
…I lost track of how many pounds of livers — both chicken and duck — went into making the paté. Before I started cooking it, though, I cut out the fresh duck livers and cleaned them out from the fibrous muscle and gristle that surrounds them. And did so gleefully. I’m weird, I know. At some point, Johan showed up with more ducks for feast, and assisted with clearing out the store bought ones of their offal packets, then headed out not too long after. Livers separated and clean, I turned to helping cook down the aromatics in some of the melted, clarified butter. Aromatics cooked down, the livers were next.
Once the livers and aromatics were all cooked down, they were combined together and cooled. Add a bit of brandy, then blend them together into a puree with 7.5 MORE pounds of butter that were chilled and chunked. Did I mention that there’s a ton of butter? There is. And the paté was delicious right out of the food processor. I can only imagine that a couple of days hanging out in the fridge made it even better!
After finishing the paté, we basically got to a stopping point until the rest of the crew came over to help. So, we had caramel sundaes.
Our crew came over, and I was put to work taking a small torch to the ducks we’d butchered the previous day to remove some more of the lingering feathers outside while folks worked inside on making gluten free bread products and bread crumbs for another recipe.
Then, more caramel sundaes, caramel coffee, and socializing with the group that was over, including an impromptu bardic session.
Once it got to a reasonable hour, I wandered upstairs to pass out early (for me) since I’d be driving back home the next day.
Ultimately, while the work was exhausting (and my sleep cycle is still suffering for it), it was an incredible experience to be part of Sternfeld’s cooking team. There is a ridiculous amount of heart, soul, and love that went into Simple Day’s feast, and I’m hoping that each person who sat and ate felt that as they were taking part in the meal.