Jeremy Dennis is Jeremy Day (cleanskies) wrote,
Jeremy Dennis is Jeremy Day

Reinventing the Darwin Feast

Yesterday was the birthday of the great Charles Darwin, massive procrastinator and close observer of worms. In recognition of this (and because I'd had the idea a while ago and it would not let me go until I had at least tried to bring it into reality) I decided to have some friends around for a modern Darwin Feast. A traditional Darwin Feast -- more strictly a Phylum Feast, based on a club Darwin attended at university -- involves killing and eating as many wildly different animals as possible.

Mine, as you can see below, took a different tack; I wanted to see if it was possible in a single evening to eat your way through our planet's evolutionary history. The answer seems to be yes, although we didn't stop eating until 2am!

Click through for a bigger view or go under the cut for an annotated menu, complete with preparation notes.

Cocktail : Hadean Sunrise
This sunrise mixed cocktail used blackcurrant squash and a cloudy dark red juice to suggest lava. As we were pre-organic at this point accompanying snacks either looked like stones (dried papaya) or were literally inorganic (Black Salt). I forgot the swirl of cometary dust on the cocktail (oops) and the sulphurous tang of Black Salt divided opinion!

Starter : Primordial Soup with a late heavy bombardment
Primordial Soup was uncomplicated -- Beef Consomme heated to boiling point over the fondue. We cooled it with a comet -- condiment mixes in balls of crushed ice. This had a lot more impact on the flavour of the soup than I anticipated, and as everyone had a different condiment mix there was much swapping and tasting.

Starter : Stromatolite stack with Blue-green Algae
Blinis layered with spinach omelette, the sauce was raw spinach blended with blueberry, blue curaçao and orange zest. Much discussion about Stromatolites.

Amuse : Snowball Earth and the Cambrian Explosion
A scoop of lemon sorbet with a hole poked into the middle made snowball earth. Drop Pop Rocks into the middle for the explosion. Massive fun, everyone should eat this.

Fish : Burgess Shale Canapé
Puff pastry layers with tasty treats between the layers, pretending to be fossils. I went for cockles, brown shrimp and the marvellously primitive-looking fluffy leaves from the top of fresh fennel.

Fish : The Spineless Sea
Squid, prawn, shrimp, garlic, chilli, udon, flash fried. We were drinking sparkling white with this which seemed to go quite well.

Fish : Big Fish eat Little Fish
We celebrated the arrival of vertebrate life with an arrangement of preserved fish (in size order, from Salmon to Anchovy) on a "sea" of blanched savoy cabbage.

Cocktail : Let’s not eat insects
I'd decided at the outset not to include things just for the macho/sake of it -- no snails, no frogs legs, no insects. But then I remembered Campari, and offered a cocktail for those willing to tolerate the bitterness of the beetle harvest. Campari, gin and bitter lemon, served with a sprig of rosemary, with its ancient-looking leaf arrangement.

Mammal-like reptiles : What came first, the Dinosaur or the Egg?
Here's a poser. All of these went. Nothing analogous exists today. But they laid eggs, and eggs were a very important evolutionary advance (and way less icky to celebrate than eyes) so I decided to do a stupid dish I've been wanting to try for ages - baked quails eggs in half potatoes. Served with a mini boar sausage in a nest of shredded softened lemony leeks.

Mammal-like reptiles : Boiled Glossopteris heart with Pangaean dust
All the vegetation went, too. Never mind, any excuse to eat a Globe Artichoke! Chilli Salt and Tsire Powder on the side.

Cocktail : The Permian Triassic Extinction Event
A twist on the champagne screensaver, using Red sparkling wine and Cinnamon Aftershock. Warming!

Meat : Therapod Dinosaur with Fruits of the Primeval Forest
Therapods survived, became birds, and the bird I know that most resembles a Velociraptor is a bundle of slashing claws and thrashing feathers called a Guinea Fowl. Served with the potato scoopings from an earlier course and seasoned with Ras al Hanout, Marigolds, rose petals, blueberries, dates and pomegranate seeds.

Meat : The Ascent of Mammals (and grasses)
I'd made up tiny patties of beef, lamb and pork earlier. They fried quickly enough while we debated the importance of Grasses -- which were represented by Bulgar, prepared (once again!) earlier.

Cocktail : The Ice Age
No-one was up for another cocktail, which is a shame because this one would have been lovely. Raspberry vodka and gin over lots of ice, with just enough blue curaçao to lend it a glacial hint, served with a pinch of crushed cardamom seeds. Serve very short so you can have them over and over again.

Dessert : The Paragon of Animals
Brain-shaped jelly with sugar letters floating in it, garnished with (battery powered) fairy lights and edible (rice paper) scrolls inscribed with short statements about humanity (in artificial cochineal this time -- which works surprisingly well with a dip pen). The brain was a bit flattened, but tasted good. All the scrolls were eaten.

Dessert : The Advantages of Civilisation
Cheese and chutney. There was going to be ham, too, but we were all onto token slivers of food by this stage. I still have most of the cheese and we didn't even open the chutney.

Dessert : The Advance of Technology
Machine-made biscuits, including the amazing Tuc cracker and some highly artificical-looking stuff I found at Lidl.

Afterwards : Three Pinnacles of Human Achievement
No prize! for guessing that this was chocolate, port and coffee/tea.

Many thanks to geroge, ginger_princess, oxfordhacker, tinyjo, damiancugley and of course the lovely timscience for help, advice, encouragement, cheer-leading, t-shirts, alcohol and heroic eating.

I'd also like to thank David Attenborough, whose Life on Earth was playing in the next room throughout.
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