The Making of a Journeyman

Colonial Williamsburg offers a very unique and historically accurate Apprentice program as part of Historic Trades. Apprentices are required to complete a series of projects and research in order to attain status of Journeyman, including Historic Foodways. Our apprentice program is made up of five levels, with each level requiring us to prepare twenty five different recipes, a minimum of five times, or until they were deemed correct. Over the course of those five levels that equates to a 125 different recipes, with a minimum total of 625 individual dishes. Not all of the recipes are a dish that is placed on display, but are condiments such as English ketchup or a strong stock called a cullis, which are vital to our cooking.   There is also required reading, research projects, special event planning and participation, presentations and lectures, in-house and Foundation wide training for staff, and a research paper.   The capstone project is a twenty five dish dinner, which is then served to 10 guests of our choosing, and have 8 hours in which to prepare this meal, with the help of two assistants. Guests then are treated to a real 18th century style dinning experience under the direction of Master of Historic Foodways Frank Clark.  Guests must then critique the food based on presentation, complexity and taste.

My dinner was held on Friday, April 21, 2017. It was literally four years in the making. Each level of my Apprenticeship taught me skills that built one upon the other until I had ability to create a complex and well prepared meal.  The dinner was not simply a test of my cooking skills, but how well I could design a menu, manage a kitchen, delegate work, organize, preparation work and interpretation.

The first step was planning the menu. Without question, the dishes prepared should highlight  all types of ingredients (vegetable, fruit, meat, fish, dairy) as well as all types of cooking techniques (baking, broiling, frying, roasting, boiling).  In addition, the meal was to be split up into three courses (first, second and dessert). Each course should be balanced in number and recipe selection. For example, it would be bad form to have two fish on the first course and none on the second.

Then came the guest list. I invited guests from across the Foundation:  actors, collections, research librarians, tradesmen, tavern staff, interpreters, management, volunteers and operations. I wanted each of them to experience what it was like to dine and socialize in a setting where they many have never had the chance before.

The next step was starting the preparation work. This began as early as February.  Items such as ketchup, lemon pickle, candied items and jellies had to be prepared in season and ahead of time in order to make sure they would be available. I conferred with our Intern Alan Welsh, to create a sugar garden display which he began working on several weeks in advance.  A few days before pantry stores were checked, a detailed list of what was to go into each dish made, equipment needed, and grocery items that may be needed (such as pistachios). The day before the dinner a list of vegetables needed from the gardens was created, and the dining table was set with the proper table cloths, napkins, plates, period cutlery and glasses.  Side tables were set up for the dishes and beverages.

The morning of the dinner Journeyman Barbara Shearer and I arrived at 7:00 a.m. to begin heating the oven and initial prep. A list of dishes on the first, second and dessert course was hung on the wall to ensure everything made it to the table at the appropriate time, and was color coded to ensure we had choice and variety. A list of what dishes needed to be finished when, and who was to work on them was taped to the table.  Our “Cook Maid”, Roving Trades Interpreter Sarah Gould and our “Scullery Maid”, Jr. Interpreter Anna arrived at 9:00 a.m.  and for the first time ever a Livestream video was set up so that visitors could watch our crew create the dinner. I got to chat with visitors, answer questions, and offer a chance to see something that is done once every four or five years, and not seen at all by the visiting public.

My finial menu included:

First Course

French Rolls (inside napkins)

Roasted Beef with roasted potatoes and gravy

Asparagus soup

Chicken in the French Way

Eel in white sauce

Broccoli dressed

Fried sweetbreads

Cheesecakes to fly light as the wind

Lobster Pasties

Salad with mustard dressing on the side

Savoy Cake

 

Second Course

Peas Francoise

Roasted forced pork with Sauce of a Thick Consistency

Rolled rabbit with pistachio nuts with

Fried oysters

Eggs in paper cases

Rice omelet

Shropshire Pie

Lemon Cheesecake

Pickled peaches

 

Dessert Course

Quince paste

Chocolate almonds

Pistachio Creams

Candied pineapple

Puff Cakes

Molded and colored fruit baskets made of sugar

The Dessert was displayed in the center of our Sugar Garden

 

So, what did I learn through this entire experience? First and foremost I came away with a profound respect for the men and women who, day after day, year after year, created this type of meal, without question, breaks and labor laws.  They created the most beautiful food in the harshest of environments (did I mention it was 91 degrees that day?) and I am awed by the strength it took to do the job of a Principal Cook in the 18th century.  I also found Livestreaming to be fun and a great way to connect with visitors who may not get here as often as they like, and perhaps encourage a new group to come for a visit (more Livestreaming plans are in the works!).  Creating this meal also gave me a sense of pride knowing I walked in the footsteps of those who came before me, and my skills and knowledge are worthy of the kitchen I cook in five days a week here in the 21st century.

But most of all I learned there is simply no way a dinner of this size could be done with just one person doing all the work. I assigned each person certain jobs/dishes which they were responsible for:  Barbara roasted the meat and kept everyone on task, Sarah prepped and completed dishes, and cooked a vegetable dish, Apprentice Tiffany Fisk prepared the sweetbreads, cleaned veggies, and worked in the Wythe kitchen, Apprentice Tyler Wilson made forcemeat, helped with the serving and monitored the Livestream, Intern Alan Welsh  created the sugar garden and served the meal, while also working in the Wythe kitchen, Anna tirelessly washed dishes, ran things back and forth between the dining room and the kitchen, and did all the grunt work, Master Frank Clark made pastry dough and hosted the dinner. There is no way I could have done it without the full support and dedication of all these people.  We acted like the team Historic Foodways is, and what did in the end was nothing short of spectacular.

The final step of my journey was to research and write a thirty page scholarly paper on a food related subject of my choice. The paper, entitled A Most Shocking Spectacle: Debunking the Myth of the Burning Petticoat, was finished in June.  The paper focuses on the myth that one of the leading causes of death for women was a result of their petticoats catching light and thus burning to death. During the year and a half that I read newspaper accounts I found that there were indeed deaths from textiles/clothing catching fire, but the cases are infinitesimal when compared to other burning deaths, and not one of them was a woman cooking at a hearth. This first papers is just a preliminary finding, and will be a part of a bigger study once I have included the database. It should be complete in 2018.

With all my requirements finished, Master of Historic Foodways Frank Clark approved my status, and I received the rank of Journeyman, Historic Foodways on June 28, 2017. One to never stop learning, trying and experimenting, I look forward to all the lovely dishes and programs that are ahead of me.  Many thanks from me, and our staff, for your continued support of Historic Foodways.

With Regards,

 

Kimberly Costa

Journeyman, Historic Foodways

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4 Responses to “The Making of a Journeyman”

  1. September 14th, 2017

    Theresa Hanna says:

    I was able to watch the Livestream of this amazing journey! I am in awe of the effort and efficiency that went into the preparations and productions of that day!
    It was mesmerizing, I only wish I could have smelled the wonderful fragrances that I am sure were being created!

  2. September 19th, 2017

    Malyson says:

    Thank you for sharing this. What a fascinating journey! As a person who enjoys making period recipes and demonstrating historic cooking techniques myself, I appreciate the time, focus, and organization skills it took to create this impressive feast. Could you please share some photos of the table or of your favorite dishes? Thank you!

    • October 23rd, 2017

      kcosta says:

      Hello! Thank you for the suggestion! We are going to try and get some of our personal dishes in future blog posts. As for the Apprentice dinner….Unfortunately, the photos of the food did not turn out very well. Thanks for your continued interest!

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