Monday, 25 July 2011

Regency Dinner

Saturday saw our Regency themed Jane Austen Dinner.  The now defunct Royal Bell Hotel in Bromley (just off Market Square) is referred to in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice (Chapter 37) as Bromley was a coaching stop on way to Hastings from London.

We used this tenuous Bromley link as the excuse to create a 6 course dinner of Regency inspired dishes.

The day started with a panic - our booking system had not flagged up that we had received an additional booking during the week.  This was great as it meant the event was sold out but what was NOT great was we had therefore missed the note from the guests that let us know that they were both dairy free as well as gluten free!

Out of 10 dishes we'd planned to serve, only 2 were dairy free!  This meant a frantic dash to the shops and a LOT of extra saucepans needed!  Being very conscious of the whole allergy/contamination problem I had to rearrange all my cooking plans to ensure that there was no danger of butter or cream (for example) splashing around during the hectic moments of the evening.

One of the things we have learnt since running the supperclub is that however much you stress the start time, guests do not always turn up on time.  On Saturday however all our guests had arrived before the start time of 7pm!  I was very grateful for their understanding as the mutterings and clashing of saucepans increased from the kitchen :-)

We started off with Baked Eggs, a typical Regency dish.  I filled each glass ramekin with a gluten free crouton, topped it with country ham that had been seeped in cream along with a little of the cream, and then covered with sauteed onion and garlic.  A free range egg was then carefully cracked into each dish and they were baked in the oven.  A version was done for our dairy-free guests using soya cream to seep the ham in.

The next course was the infamous White Soup.
"As for the ball, it is quite a settled thing; and as soon as Nicholls has made white soup enough I shall send round my cards."  Charles Bingley, Pride and Prejudice
The soup is a delicate, rich soup made from veal stock and cream.  I had been rescued by Adrian at Pancake Farm when I had appealed frantically on twitter for help in sourcing fresh veal bones.  A consignment duly arrived and I spent a total of three days preparing the various stages of the soup.  The dish was one of two on the menu that were (as near as I could make them) 100% authentic to the period, made from original recipes.  Of course, the issue with a Regency recipe is that their idea of measurements include "some" and "several"... but to the best of my ability, I recreated White Soup!

A separate soup was finished off with soya cream instead of double cream for our dairy free guests.

I wanted to serve game for the main course and as wood pigeon are in season, we served Roasted Wood Pigeon along with glazed carrots (popular in the period) and mash flavoured with bone marrow.  The bone marrow gave a real creaminess to the mash as well as giving it some texture.  The sauce that we served was a celery sauce - a traditionally made bechamel sauce to which a puree was added of celery that had been braised for several hours in veal stock.  I thought the sauce was one of the tastiest things I've had in a long time and is definitely something I will make again!

Making a dairy free bechamel was a nightmare that I hope not to have to repeat in a hurry but I was very pleased that the final, dairy free version of the celery sauce was as tasty as the "normal" sauce!

Guests were given the choice to have the pigeon served whole (more in keeping with the period) or to have the breast carved and they all "gamely" (ahem!) decided to have them whole.  I served the bird pink - a bit too pink I think for some guests and a few asked to have theirs carved and sauteed further to suit their tastes better.

Following the pigeon we had a palate cleanser of a "Negus Sorbet".  In Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management, originally published in 1861, a Negus recipe was given as:

"To every pint of port wine, allow 1 quart of boiling water, 1/4 lb. of sugar, 1 lemon, grated nutmeg to taste"

It said that "this beverage is more usually drunk at children's parties than at any other" - and we all agreed that the children must have been very happy!  I chose to make a sorbet using port, lemon and a sugar syrup, basing on the proportions that I used for my Champagne Sorbet served at our Valentine's Dinner.

A cheese course followed.  Three cheeses were served all of which were traditionally made and the sort of cheeses that would have been familiar to Jane Austen's characters.  We chose Kentish Blue, Ashmore and Lincolnshire Poacher and served them with a homemade gooseberry "cheese".  The gooseberry cheese had only been drying for a week and therefore was still a little soft (eaten with a spoon rather than cut with a knife!) but it balanced very well with the cheeses and despite having served a very generous portion, very little came back on the plates!

I am not a lover of dairy free cheese so we chose to serve our dairy free guests simply with the gooseberry cheese and some gluten free/dairy free crackers.

Our Maitre d' then began to bring out the "sweetmeat" course, adding a number of desserts to the table:

  • Syllabub - a period dessert traditionally made with milk or cream lightly curdled with wine. We chose to serve a version made with a syrup of Madeira, sugar and lemon.  Sadly, soya cream does NOT whip but our dairy free guests seemed happy enough to drink their version!
  • Gingerbread - actually ginger cake! The Regents ate a lot of ginger to settle their stomachs after all the rich food that they consumed. We served a gluten free version (sadly no dairy free alternative) that was extremely light and gorgeously sticky on top
  • Marchpane - the original Old English word that later got replaced by the German "Marzipan".  This gluten free (and dairy free!) dessert was made with a paste of ground almonds, icing sugar and rose water, baked with a topping of syrup made with more sugar and rosewater. This was served with sugared mimosa flowers
  • Pineapple - a symbol of hospitality and often of wealth, showing that you cared enough for your guests to provide them with exotic fruits from far off lands. We served it with sugared mint leaves
  • Jelly - another very popular Regency dish (sweet or savoury).  We served a shot glass layered with three jellies - jasmine at the bottom, clementine in the middle, and topped with a ginger jelly
We then held our free prize draw and one lucky guest drew the "I Win!" piece of paper and took home an autographed copy of Lynn Shepherd's "Murder at Mansfield Park"  which had been generously donated to Annie's by the authoress.

With coffee we served a chocolate and orange truffle.  I had made this to an 18th century recipe and was so impressed with it (which I wasn't expecting!) that I shall most certainly be using it in the future.

We had one "regular" at the table and nine newcomers, all of whom seemed to enjoy both the food and each other's company.  The guestbook comments read:

"Thank you so much for a wonderful evening, an excellent host, great food & company"
"Really enjoyed the evening.  Food was fantastic. Recommend to all!"
"Thank you for the lovely evening. The opportunity to try something new!"
 "What a great night, thanks"
"Fantastic food and a wonderful atmosphere. Thank you for being so accomodating with our lack of dairy :)  We will no doubt be back!"
"Amazing food.  Full of flavour and different textures.  A real pleasant change!"

Guests left by 10.30pm and we managed to get everything cleared, washed and dried up thanks to some help from my two eldest boys.  We thoroughly enjoyed our evening and look forward to our next event, our "Celebrating Seafood" dinner on Saturday 6th August.  Click here to book now!

1 comment:

  1. well you richly deserve the comments an enormous amount of work and technique iam overwhelmed and humbled re my efforts!! mind you i cnat cook anything is uphill for me..what a feast.i am busy trying my own cream tea..on 6th august but good wishes for that samssecret supper club