Food and Chaucer at the Isole Dinner Club | Bite Club

Food and Chaucer at the Isole Dinner Club


Legit stone soup: fish broth heated by a hot rock - DANA HEFFERN
  • Dana Heffern
  • Legit stone soup: fish broth heated by a hot rock
On Sunday, October 2, at the Groennfell Meadery in Colchester, a horde of people — some dressed in cloaks — shouted cheers with raised tumblers of mead, read aloud passages from Beowulf in Old English, and supped on Scandinavian cheeses, fish soup heated with rocks, and roasted bear garnished with honeycomb.

That evening, the tables were decorated with swords, animal bones and flickering candles, and the mead hall's lights were dimmed. Squinting a bit to blur out the modern brewing equipment made it easy to believe the cheerful crowd consisted of warring Geats, and that Grendel might show up at any moment to spoil our good cheer.

The dinner — the first in a series celebrating the intersection of food and literature — was put on by Isole Dinner Club, the brainchild of chef-anthropologist Richard Witting.  The second will take place on Sunday, November 20, and will celebrate Chaucer's Canterbury Tales and an ancient volume called The Forme of Cury, which was the first cookbook written in English.

The Forme of Cury (cury is an ancient word for cookery, not an alternative spelling of the yellow spice powder) dates from the 14th century. Originally a scroll put together by the Chief Master Cooks of King Richard II,  it includes recipes such as this one for rabbit: "Take hares and hewe hem to gobettes and seeþ hem with þe blode unwaisshed in broth. and whan þey buth y nowh: cast hem in colde water." (I do that all the time ... don't you?).

For each event, Witting works to keep the fare period-appropriate, related to the literature and delicious. During the Beowulf dinner, a snack plate came with pickled walnuts, homemade farmer cheese, dried fruits and honey. The final savory course was a hearty feast of lamb, ham and chicken. Dessert consisted of oatcakes — made sans vanilla or leavening agents, but with honey and spices that originally came to Europe via trade routes.

In addition to the food, the Chaucer dinner will feature a performance by the New Moon Singers, a reading by University of Vermont professor Chris Vaccaro, and the stained-glass works of Emily Stoneking — part of the décor by designer Dana Heffern.

Tickets are $85; the location will be revealed only to participants. The following dinner in the series will celebrate the works of William Shakespeare.

Disclosure: I volunteered at the Beowulf dinner and made the oatcakes.

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