Last week when perusing the merchants at the Pennsic War, I came upon a potter, Anne L. Carenbauer of Nonna's Mugs and Jugs, who had made a reproduction of a Mycenaean cooking tray of a type archaeologists speculate was used for cooking the ancient versions of souvlaki or kebabs. I've been interested in finding one to experiment with for a while and asked her the price. She replied that she had made a second one which had cracked when she used it, so she was uncomfortable selling it to me, but that I was welcome to borrow it and try using it if I would report back to her the results. I scuttled back to camp clutching my prize....
|The tray prepared and ready to go.|
I am experienced with open fire cookery in clay so I soaked the tray for about a half hour as I would with other crockery, prior to warming it slowly by the fire. I had previously started a good fire which steadily produced coals throughout the cooking time. I made a flat place in the fire pit for it to sit, however in retrospect I might have been better off having it out on the grass beside the pit, as it would have been subjected to less heat from the coal making process. We had gotten some chicken and beef for the communal dinner that night but I also bought some lamb for a first round of experimentation before the main event, just in case there was a terrible failure. FYI Pennsic shoppers, the lamb came from the Cooper's store and was from a local farm.
|The meat on one bowing skewer.|
To prepare the lamb, I cut it up into small pieces, no more that an inch square, and marinated it in a mixture of cider vinegar, red wine, salt and pepper for about a half hour. Then I put the morsels on bamboo skewers and shoveled coals into the tray. The first thing I discovered after I had put them on was that one skewer is not strong enough to support all that meat so I immediately pulled them off and inserted an additional one. Having two skewers also created stability so that the skewer of meat did not turn when it was placed over the coals. The meat cooked faster than I had expected. Although I didn't time it, I would guesstimate that it cooked in about 10 minutes. It was crispy but not burned and had a pleasant, slightly smoky flavor.
|A skewer of cooked lamb.|
|Aren't you hungry?|
The cooking continued until the lamb was all done and then I turned my attentions to the beef, which I prepared in the same manner. Between meats, I stirred the coals around and with a blowpipe blew out the ash (there wasn't very much), then I added more coals from the feeder fire. The beef cooked well, but part way through I heard the telltale 'pink' of cracking redware, then as I cooked a large crack opened up on the left side of the tray. I finished the beef and again cleaned out the tray and added more coals to cook the chicken. This gave me a chance to see what was going on, and as it turned out, the crack did not go all the way across the tray. The chicken was cooked and the meat enjoyed by all the diners.
|Note the size of the crack.|
|Ready to receive meat!|
|After a second skewer as added.|
|More lamb on the coals.|
|Raking the coals with a stick.|
|Blowing the coals with the blowpipe.|
|Note how crispy it is on the edges.|
|Cut up beef. It should be small.|
|Preparing to add chicken, note the crack.|
|Coals added for the chicken.|
|Chicken on the coals.|
|Chicken after a few minutes.|
|Detail of the crack.|
|Overall view of the tray.|