If you ask any Grimalkin what the most important thing about clowder life is, they will always answer with the word “food.” Food, apart from being necessary for survival, is perhaps one of the most important things about life in a clowder. There are always feasts at festivals, birthdays, kittenings, rituals and even funerals. Grimalkins love food. Every important moment is celebrated or commiserated with food. When a stranger enters a Grimalkin’s home, they are offered food and drink before even asking what that stranger wants. When Grimalkins arrive from other clowders, food is laid out before them. Food is a Grimalkin’s way of saying “hello, welcome to my home. I offer you my paw in friendship,” or “I have offended you. I am sorry. Please accept my apology in the way of this meal.” Food bridges gaps and helps forge friendships. It helps mend broken hearts and broken bonds. It makes strangers into companions and adversaries into allies. Food is the glue that keeps Grimalkin society together.
Food can make love happen. For example if a tom wishes to court a queen, he will often cook for her. If it is the other way around, a queen may cook but she will often make clothes for him instead. It is true to say the way to a Grimalkin’s heart is through their stomach. If that tom is an exceptional cook, his courtship may end in divine union. Or children.
There are no strict rules about mealtimes at Grimalhame (or any other clowder). Communal mealtimes are served in the Central Council Chamber and a Grimalkin can choose to eat there, or make his or her own at home. Many like to attend the communal mealtimes just to socialise. There are four set times in which Grimalkins can eat in the chamber. Far Pavilions time is listed first in bold, then Earth time in normal typing to give you an idea of when we eat compared to human mealtimes. Don’t forget there are 30 hours in a day in our world. Breakfast (07:00 -10:00/06:00 – 09:00) – on the breakfast menu there is porridge (with a selection of toppings including fruit, jam and honey), wholemeal toast, butter and jam, crumpets, bacon, eggs (poached, fried, boiled or scrambled), sausage, grilled tomatoes, fresh forest mushrooms, a mix of sweetened cereal with honey and milk, To drink – fruit teas, spring water and fruit cordial. Lunch (14:00 – 17:00/12:00-14:00) – a selection of freshly baked wholemeal and seeded hlaf, cheese, haslet, soup (tomato, onion, vegetable, wild game, broth, carrot and kale, carrot and bean, and fish served with a trencher), wholemeal crackers with herb butter. To drink – spring water, fruit cordial, ale, wine. Dinner (19:00 – 22:00/16:00 – 18:00) – Grimalhame stew (meat with carrots, swede, leeks, peas and dumplings), roast pheasant (or whatever bird is available) with buttered vegetables, steamed/roasted/grilled fish (pike, trout, perch, with herb sauce, pot pie roast/mashed/boiled potatoes, fruit crumble with spiced custard or cream. To drink – metheglin, bragget, ale, mead, tea, fruit cordial, spring water, wine. Supper (24:00 – 27:00/20:00 – 22:00) – hot milk spiced with cinnamon and honey, posset, a selection of sweet biscuits (sweetmeal, ginger, barley). To drink – hot milk spiced with cinnamon and honey, posset, fruit tea, almond milk.
Of course, this is just a small selection of what is on offer during mealtimes. The cooks make sure there is something for everyone at the table and quite often they will just throw ingredients together and hope whatever comes out of the oven or the pot is edible.
The Grimalkin Pantry
A Grimalkin pantry is no different from the food stores in the main clowder kitchen. Here you will find jars and containers of every description. A Grimalkin’s food store is never empty, even in the lean months of winter. The Great Arcadian Forest, surrounding country, and the lakes, rivers and fish ponds provide food for the clowders and settlements all year round, especially in the autumn when the boughs are heavy with fruits and nuts.
We will often make our own jams and preserves whenever possible. Pickling is also a must during the autumn when preparing food that will last for months is essential. Onions and other vegetables such as kale, cauliflower, cabbage and gherkins are grown in the clowder gardens and out in the nearby forest and are a seasonal must for soups and casseroles. Come spring, it is not uncommon to be served last season’s pickles and preserves with every meal. We detest waste and will often foist pickles and jams on unwilling guests just to try to get rid of them.
The Clowder Kitchen
Should a Grimalkin become lost in the clowder, he would not care a jot as he or she would always be able to find their way to the clowder kitchen. If the Central Council Chamber is the heart of the clowder, then the kitchen is undoubtedly the soul. Situated on levels one and two the kitchen is divided up into three sections – the main kitchen, and the levels one and two storerooms. Because the clowder is so large, a great deal of space is reserved for the storing of food and drink. The kitchen itself is vast and accommodates ten fireplaces and sixteen ranges. Pots and pans hang from racks on the ceiling which, in turn, are hoisted up and down by a mind-boggling array of ropes and pulleys. There are shelves stacked with boxes, tins and jars of herbs, spices, pickles and oils and there are several huge wooden tables on which food is prepared.
The storerooms are divided into two sections – dry store and cold store. The walls, floor and ceiling of the cold store are marble which keeps the meat, fish, milk and butter cool. There are four large cold stores on level two. The dry stores (of which there are three) are sub-divided into sections so it is easy for the cooks to find what they are looking for. In storeroom one there are vegetables of all kinds and dried fruit (fresh fruit is kept in the cold store so it lasts longer). Storeroom two contains pulses, beans, bread, pastries and cereals. Storeroom three contains herbs, spices, jams, preserves, chutneys, oils and other condiments. Additional storage is provided for plates, bowls, cups and cutlery.
In addition to the main kitchen, there are small kitchenettes. These small rooms are equipped with a small stove, table and chair. Everyone is free to use the kitchenettes and many Grimalkins (particularly the older generation) take advantage of them should they rise before dawn (or the clowder cooks). Those who partake in breakfast in the kitchenettes do so in silence before the rest of the clowder is up and about. Grimalkins breaking their fast in the kitchenettes often greet each other with a simple nod or a touch of the paw to the forehead. Breakfasting with the rest of the clowder can be a noisy affair.
On average, around seventy per cent of clowder citizens cook in their own homes with their own food. The other thirty per cent ascend to the clowder kitchen for their first meal of the day. Breakfast in the clowder is a social event, as are all meals eaten in the Central Council Chamber (which transforms into a dining hall four times a day). Although many are able to cook their own food at home, some like the social aspect of communal mastication and frequent the chamber simply to catch up with friends and neighbours. This is especially true for the older members of the clowder who, after a lifetime of cooking for oneself and their families, opt for being catered for by the clowder cooks.
Use of the clowder kitchen increases during the winter months as Grimalkins find their food supplies running low. Even though the kitchen is free at the point of use, clowder citizens are required to contribute to the running and maintenance of the kitchen and storerooms. Those who are able are required to wash and clean up after mealtimes (which is not that great a chore as Grimalkins are obsessively clean), or to forage and/or collect vegetables from the clowder gardens. Collecting from the gardens can be a fun affair, especially when young ones eager to please their elders are involved.
Because we love food, there is no lack of volunteers for the kitchen. Occasionally a rota has to be employed because of the numbers willing to offer their services to Head Cook. I suspect there may be ulterior motives involved and many a surreptitious paw has been dipped in the custard and a sly biscuit munched while Cook has her back turned.