It’s a new year, so let’s kick it off with confession: I find it hard to focus on history. I am a functioning, grown-up human who sometimes acts like a tween on a field trip. I shut down when touring ruins and authors’ homes; my eyes blur over at informative plaques. It’s embarrassing, frankly, to have a job that depends on curiosity and knowledge acquisition. I have a major blind spot.
But sometimes you just need some sweetness to make the medicine go down easy. I recently had the chance to attend a historical meal re-creation — a seven-course Tudor feast, staged in Bushwick. It was one of the periodic dinners set up by Edible History, and it was a blast.
The intimate dinner was staged over three hours at Café Ghia, prepared by Chef Jay Reifel (a veteran of New York’s underground supper clubs). But really, the focus was not on the location or the chef — sorry Jay — a refreshing departure from the norm. Instead, it was all about the history. Each elaborate course was accompanied by lively narration from Edible History co-founder Victoria Flexner.
A historian by trade, Flexner’s survey of the Tudor era was riveting. It helped that this time frame was drenched in murder, intrigue and class struggle, and that food was the lens for our explorations. Each course gave something tangible and delicious to illustrate Flexner’s lessons, preventing a Philistine like myself from shooting bored spitballs.
The food was largely unfamiliar yet not alien. Take the medallions of rare roast venison, served in a sweet/tart sauce of vinegar, verjuice and cinnamon. While not so outlandish on face, the flavors were unusual and evocative; it was like eating the ancestor of something I knew. Same with the Fritters of Spinnedge (sounds like a fearsome clan) — you could picture wolfing down these beer-battered spinach fritters at a gastropub. But the flavors of ginger, currants, pepper and long pepper were exotic enough to give pause.
Of course the feast’s centerpiece was the cockenthrice, made by sewing the front end of a pig to the back end of a turkey (I refuse to mention the dish here that rhymes with shmershmucken). Reifel and his helpers paraded this unholy beast around the room so diners could take weird photos — here’s mine. Flexner speculated this may have been the first time cockenthrice was prepared in Brooklyn. Verdict: insanely tasty, especially the savory sausage tucked within.
Let me strongly encourage you to attend one of Edible History’s historical dinners. They cost about $135 with tax, so it’s not an everyday affair. Still, you get seven tasty courses, endless wine pours and you’re filled with facts to wow your plebe friends. Sign up here so you don’t miss any upcoming events (still kind of bummed I missed this one). Flexner said there may even be a second Tudor feast in the coming weeks…