So you want to work at the feast?

The main thing to remember when working in a kitchen is that you have to wash your hands a lot. This keeps us from contaminating the populace. Wash your hands when you start and whenever you get too messy. If you work with meat, fish, or chickens, always wash your hands and the utensils you use right afterward. Use lots of soap and VERY warm water. Sometimes, they use bleach in the water, so watch your clothes.

Now, an SCA kitchen is usually very noisy and very busy. But, if you want to help out there are always things for you to do and it is a great way to meet people. Often the cook needs or something chopped up, or mixed, or even washed. When you come into the kitchen, ask for the head cook, tell him (or her) that you want to help and tell what you can do. I'm sure you'll be put to work immediately. At the very least, you can help with the dishes.

It was the custom in medieval times for the sons of the household to act as servers, carvers, and cupbearers. They carried the food from the kitchen, down the middle of the hall to high table. There they waited for the Marshall of the Hall to ask the guests to rise in honor of the Lord of the hall. Then the guests rose and offered toasts.

At the end of this toast, the Lord of the hall would reciprocate and bid them to sit. The servers would then serve High Table first, and when they were served, would offer the food down the line. The people seated closet to the Lord of the Hall usually where politically allied with him, or were honored guests. Those seated farthest from the Lord were not as important in rank or favor.

You may be asked to serve: Here are some things the SCA server needs to know.

  1. You must be neat and clean. Make sure your hands and nails are clean.
  2. Wear something nice but not too nice in case you spill something.
  3. Congregate in a place away from the kitchen and come only when summoned. The kitchen gets crazy and you will be in the way.
  4. Take only what you can handle safely. Comeback as often as you need to.
  5. Have an apron or towels ready to handle hot items.
  6. Know what you are serving. You will be asked. Write it down if you can't remember.
HIGH TABLE:
  1. Always serve high table first. Deliver the food to the most important person at that table. Offer to serve out or carve the meat. Move to the others along the table (next, the important Lady, and down the list...)
  2. When high table is served. Stand to the side and watch. Offer to refill glasses with drinks. Take away empty platters or garbage as it happens without disturbing the diners. Do not stand in front of them, especially if there is entertainment.
  3. Be available for the next course. Continue as above.
For those not serving High table:
  1. Keep an eye out for empty pitchers. Offer to refill them as they empty.
  2. Take away empty platters or garbage as needed.
  3. Return with the courses. Continue as above.
When Service is finished:
  1. Bring platters, pitchers, bowls, and leftovers back to the kitchen for washing and storage.
  2. Find out what the cook wants you to do next. Off? Enjoy the rest of the event. Still want to work? Offer to help clean up the kitchen!!

Successful Carving

Carving is an art is both ceremonial and considered to be an important part of the presentation of a meal. Proper carving begins with good meat and proper equipment. Good knives that are razor sharp, the proper cutting surface, and knowledge of the anatomy of meat to be carved are essentials for successful carving.

Artful carving is the result of experience, knowledge, and good equipment. Slices of well-carved meat are more tender than pieces that have been hacked with a dull knife. The preferred thickness of cuts to be carved is 1/4 to 1/2-inch for each slice. Some cuts of meat are easier to carve than others.

The way meat is cooked can determine ease of carving. If a roast is cooked at a very high temperature, it may form an outer crust that will make carving extremely difficult. Yet if braised meat is overcooked, the meat will fall apart when it is carved, even if the knife is sharp.

Allowing a roast to "set" after cooking will make it firm enough to carve properly.

Poultry must be cooked properly and allowed to rest. You're probably not going to want to eat undercooked poultry, and the slices would be ragged. Overcooked poultry tends to tear and crumble. Resting gives the natural juices of the bird time to settle back into the meat. Cut into a bird right out of the oven and you end up with all the juices draining onto the carving board. Give it 15 to 20 minutes.

You should also center the roast/poultry on a carving board that is long enough to allow the carver to cut the meat without spilling on the tablecloth, and small enough to avoid having the size of the carving board make the roast look small and insignificant.

Proper equipment is essential to carve meat properly.In any first-class cutlery store you will find knives for each special kind of carving. If you have lots of money, you could outfit yourself a really good carving knife, a slicer, a jointer, a game-carver, and a pair of game-scissors. But, you will find a medium-sized meat-carver the knife best adapted to all varieties of carving. The blade should be about nine inches long and one inch and a quarter wide, slightly curved, and tapering to a point.

An inadequate carving surface and a dull knife can ruin the most beautifully cooked meat. A good carving board should have either a "well" to catch juices or it should be built on a slight slant with a lip so the juices will collect at the back of the board and not run off onto the table.

SCA blades are the WORST to use in carving meat and poultry! Knives should be made of carbon steel because they hold an edge longer (which also means they will be expensive), sharpened regularly, washed properly, and stored in a location where they will not become dull.

A well-made knifes should be balanced,have a comfortable handle, and a deep forged shoulder . A good portion portion of the blade should extend well into the handle.Look for rivets, they last longer.

How To's:

Most people find it easier to carve in a standing position. Plates on which to serve the meat should be nearby but not in the way. Determine which way the meat fibers run and where the bone is located. Anchor the meat firmly with a sturdy two-pronged carving fork. Try to avoid piercing the meat with the fork too often because juices escape each time the fork is plunged into the meat. Most meat should be sliced across the grain. Meat is not made more tender by slicing across the fibers or grain but the shorter fibers from slicing this way make the slices seem more tender.

Use a gentle sawing motion. The angle of the knife should not be changed once the slicing has begun. Make uniform slices and place them neatly to one side on the carving board if there is room, or overlap them "shingle" style on a plate. It is preferable to carve all meat for the first serving before serving anyone, so the slices can be divided evenly and you don't have to return to do it again.

Tips:

Beef roasts carve easier when cooked rare or medium. Beef roasts will carve easier if they are allowed to "set" for approximately 10 minutes after removal from the oven.

Beef Chuck Roast:
  Separate the muscles and carve each muscle separately because all fibers do not run in the same direction. Carve each muscle across the grain two or three slices 1/4-inch to 3/8-inch thick depending on size desired for each person.

Rolled Roast:
  Strings may be removed before the roast is brought to the table or, if necessary, may be removed at the table.Hold firmly in place with the fork and slice uniformly into 1/4-inch to 1/2-inch servings.

Pork Loin Roast:
  Place the roast on a platter, rib side facing the carver.Insert the fork in the top of the roast. Slice the meat by cutting closely along each side of the rib bone. One slice will contain a rib; whereas, the next slice will be boneless.

Picnic:
  Cut two or three slices from the base and turn the roast so that it rests on the surface just cut. ) Cut down to the arm bone near the elbow bone. Turn the knife and cut along the arm bone to remove boneless arm meat. Carve the boneless arm meat by making perpendicular slices. Remove meat from each side of the arm bone and slice the boneless pieces of meat.

Ham Half:
  Place the shank end on the carver's left (right-handed person) with the cushion portion of the ham on top. Cut along the top of the bone and lift off the cushion portion. Place the cushion portion on a carving board and make perpendicular slices. Cut along the leg with the knife tip to remove meat from the bone. Turn meat so that the thick side is down and continue to slice. Place on the carving board with the "face" down. Cut along the bone to remove the boneless section. Place the boneless section on the carving board and carve across the grain. Hold the remaining section with a fork and carve across the bone.Release the cut slice from the bone with the knife tip and lift it onto the platter.

Loin Steak:
  Hold the steak with the fork inserted at the left (right-handed person) and cut close around the bone. Lift the bone to the side of the platter where it will not interfere with the carving. Hold the tenderloin firmly with the fork and cut across full width of the steak, making wedge slices. A suggested procedure for carving the Porterhouse steak is to serve each muscle separately. The bone is removed and the sirloin (the large muscle) can be cut into slices or wedges. Slices can also be made from the smaller tenderloin muscle (filet).

Chicken:
  To make sure the bird will slice firmly. Be sure to let it sit for 20 to 30 minutes before slicing. This will allow the juices to settle back in the meat and firms up the flesh.Remove stuffing before slicing and only cut as much meat as necessary for the meal. This lets the rest maintain its moistness.
  To start, make sure the bird is on the cutting board breast up, with the legs to your right.You want to avoid poking the bird, which will release juices. Press the backs of the fork tines against one side of the turkey while cutting through the skin of the thigh/leg close to the body of the bird. Press the thigh outward until you locate the hip joint. Slicing through that will release the entire leg. Separate thigh from drumstick. If it resists, cut through the connecting joint to sever the leg from the body.
  When carving a chicken, do not slice the thigh or drumstick. Serve these whole to people who prefer this part.
  Insert fork into the upper part of the breast. Make a long horizontal cut above the wing joint through the breast to the rib cage. Pull the wing away with your fingers, then cut through the joint to sever it completely.To slice the breast meat, insert the fork just above where the wing was removed and slice downwards (using long smooth strokes rather than a sawing motion) toward the wing joint. Start each new slice higher up the breast. Some like to create a base cut fist by making a long deep cut above the wing joint through the breast to the frame of the bird. This way, when making the vertical cuts from the breast, the slices fall free when they reach the slice made across the wing.

Turkey:
  To start, make sure the bird is on the cutting board breast up, with the legs to your right. Insert the carving fork into the knee joint and cut around the leg between the drumstick and the thigh. Bend the drumstick down with your hand or push it free with the knife.
  Insert fork into the upper part of the breast. Make a long horizontal cut above the wing joint through the breast to the rib cage. Pull the wing away with your fingers, then cut through the joint to sever it completely.
  To slice the breast meat, insert the fork just above where the wing was removed and slice downwards (using long smooth strokes rather than a sawing motion) toward the wing joint. Start each new slice higher up the breast. Some like to create a base cut fist by making a long deep cut above the wing joint through the breast to the frame of the bird. This way, when making the vertical cuts from the breast, the slices fall free when they reach the slice made across the wing.
  For turkey Legs, hold the leg steady with the fork in your left hand, locate the joint just over the round bone with your knife and cut through to sever the thigh from the drumstick. Tilt the drumstick and cut the dark meat off in even slices while holding the thigh firmly with the fork.

Duck or Goose:
  Carve these like a turkey but don't separate the drumstick and the thigh. Save the wings to make stock as they are mostly bone.
  Small ducklings can be split in half with a carving knife. Cut starting from the neck end along the center of the breast. To carve the meat from the breast, hold the knife at a 45 angle and cut fairly thick, wedge-shaped slices

Cornish Game Hens:
  These small game birds are usually served one to a person. For easy serving, cut them in two by using a sharp knife. Cut along the breast bone, following the line all the way around the bird.

Pheasant:
  This bird differs in that instead of the legs being cut off first, you remove the wings first. Cut them off at the joint, then next cut off the legs. Separate the drumstick from the thigh by cutting through the joint. Turn the bird breast side down and carve long, even slices down to the breast bone.

Goose:
  As with the pheasant, begin with the wings. Cut through the joint between them and the body. Remove the legs by cutting through the joint between the leg and body.

Last minute notes:
  Know that any help you offer will be greatly appreciated by the event staff (sometimes it takes us a while to depressurize enough to tell you) and you are helping us to recreate the feast as it should be. I hope my class was helpful to you and please contact me if you ever need any help or support.

Lady Andrea MacIntyre
Ostgardr, East


© 2002, by Lady Andrea MacIntyre

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