Furmenty and venison
Almost universally all of the late 14th/early 15th century menus I looked at included venison with furmenty in the first course. I was determined to be able to serve that. It just seemed right for a feast where the theme was “Hunt and Harvest”.
Very early in the year I contacted my parents to see if they could get a deer for me for the feast. They said they’d try. Mom called after Thanksgiving to say that she’d “climbed up on the roof of the house” but had been unable to hit any of the deer on their property (Mom&Dad have 47 acre ranch/farm on the Yellowstone River in Montana).
We ended up buying four 5 lb bags of “venison stew meat” ($5.95/lb) from Polarica. Edith drove into SF on Friday and picked up the meat. On the day of the feast the meat still hadn’t thawed so we floated it in water early in the day and then microwaved it later in the day.
My wonderful kitchen help(Hilary and Dianora I think) cut the chunks up into smaller pieces. These were cooked in a pan on top of the gridle. We purposefully crowded the pan so that the meat would generate a good gravy. The cooking when much faster after we covered the pan with a cookie sheet. Anna Sara added a flour/water slurry to thicken the gravy.
I tested out the furmenty recipe about a week before the feast.
1/2 cup hulled wheat berries
1/2-3/4 cup milk
1/3-1/2 tsp salt
2 egg yolks
Boil wheat berries in water until they burst (about 1 hour). This takes a lot of water. The wheat berries expanded from 1/2 cup to 1 1/2 cup cooked berries. When some of the berries are done (a few burst, the rest just -taste- done), drain any excess water (I found that cheesecloth in a collander worked great). Add back to pan. Add milk, salt, saffron. When milk is warm, use that to temper the egg yolks. Add tempered egg yolks to wheat berries.
For the feast we multiplied the above recipe by 12 (we were expecting 12 tables, ended up with 14 but the recipe stretched well).
In the test we used the saffron threads whole. This wasn’t bad but we decided to grind the saffron up for the feast. The feast furmenty was more “saffron-y” than the test furmenty. Not a bad thing if you like saffron.
In the test we used 1 cup milk and found this to be too much. At the feast we used about 1/2 cup/recipe. Some people at the feast thought that 1/2 tsp of salt per recipe was too salty. I liked it but in future I’ll probably use 1/3 tsp/recipe.