At the Skip Garden we love to celebrate the stories behind our food, weave history and tradition into our menus as well as seasonality and sustainability. All of these things featured in our February supper club, honouring the ancient festival of Lupercalia. We chose to mark the event on the same evening as a rather well know saint’s day, honouring a priest best known for conducting secret marriages.
Lupercalia superceded the even older celebration of Februa, a cleansing festival named after the Roman goddess of purification and mother of Mars who gave the month her name and her ‘febris’ or ‘fever of love.’
The Romans, who later came to bring us aquaducts, straight roads and their calendar celebrated the founding of Rome by Romulus and Remus, sons of a lupine foster mother in wolf form. They sacrificed a goat at the birth of the city. In memory of this, goat skins were used in the celebration as whips with which bare chested young men flogged festival goers, especially young women who were believed to gain fertility from a brush with a goat skin. At the skip garden we neither whip people, nor sacrifice animals. We honoured the tradition at our Lupercalia meal with goat cheese and red onion tartlets as the guests arrived amid winds howling like a wolf and rain purifying every man a beast to the skin.
Our guests were warmed with Roman wines and a first course of leek and Jerusalem artichoke rolls with mustard cress. Most commonly known as the symbol of Wales, Leeks were introduced to the British Isles by the Romans. They were an exalted, favourite food of the Romans and believed by some today to promote fertility. A popular Welsh myth is that a young woman will dream of her future husband if she sleeps with a leek under her pillow.
The taster course was followed by a starter of Chicory with hen egg, and crispy kale salt.
Eggs symbolise new life. The Saxons called the month of February ‘Sprout-kale’ and in honour of that the menu involved a variety of British brassicas such as kale and cauliflower.
As the rain continued to pour down, diners were restored with a cleansing winter broth with a solid spike of dry sherry to warm through to the bones and prepare them for their main course of whole roast cauliflower served with toasted and buttered hazelnuts, to be ceremonially carved at the table. The supporting acts were an irresponsibly rich rosemary and root vegetable gratin and seasonal greens with garlic and chilli. Cauliflowers can be a great sharing food and we invited our guests to honour the spirit of togetherness enshrined in the Valentine’s tradition. Roots symbolise the life that has been taking place underground during the cold and brutal winter months as we celebrate the Saxon ‘Solmonath’ sun month, welcoming the gradual return of the light.
We finished off the evening back in Rome with Skip garden honey cakes served with bay cream. While young Welsh woman were stuffing their beds with leeks, their Old English counterparts were instructed to sleep with five bay leaves beneath their pillow inducing dreams of a future husband. The ancient romans offered honey cakes at their temples as an act of worship. Then as now, bees were a fundamental part of the food system. At the Skip garden we have bees, brassicas, roots and shoots and we offer reverence for the wonders of nature that bring bounty to our kitchen every day. We loved celebrating the month of February in this way using stories and seasonality to enrich the event and hope to see you soon at one of our next supper clubs. All our events are listed on What's On.