IT must be one of the strangest words in the English language: salmagundi. The first time I heard it, I wasn’t sure what to make of it.
Depending on the emphasis you choose to put on certain letters, it could be an obscure and ancient greeting or worse, a particularly loathsome and deadly disease of the type rampant in the Middle Ages.
Actually, it’s not a vile illness, a magical incantation or the name of an endangered amphibian...
Salmagundi is in fact the wonderfully colourful name given to a salad dish popular in the 17th and 18th Centuries.
Now a culinary obscurity, this ‘chuck everything in’ recipe is set to be revived, however, when Seaton Delaval Hall in Northumberland, throws opens its doors on June 23 to hold a Georgian masquerade ball.
This will be followed in September by a Georgian banquet when diners will be treated to authentic 18th Century food and entertainment.
It’s all part of a National Trust initiative to bring Seaton Delaval Hall and the fun-loving Delaval family to life for visitors.
The ball being held in the magnificent central hall is shaping up to be an exciting occasion – and not just because salmagundi will be on the menu to help sate the appetites of the hungry dancers.
Attendees are being invited to really get into the spirit of the occasion by donning period Georgian, Regency or formal dress, and wear a mask (masquerade balls were very popular in the 17th and 18th Centuries across Europe and were often played out like a game as guests were invited to guess each other’s identities).
There will also be the chance to learn some of the dances popular 250 years ago as historian Elizabeth Lawson will be giving an hour-long pre-ball lesson, as well as try your hand at traditional card games.
It is believed to be the first time a masquerade ball will have been held at Seaton Delaval Hall since at least the late 1700s. Everyone involved is endeavouring to ensure it is as authentic as possible, right down to the buffet-style food.
Hence, the inclusion of salmagundi on the menu. The woman charged with researching the culinary side of Seaton Delaval Hall’s history is the property’s new catering supervisor, Nicola Wilson, who runs the Stables Tea Room.
Like most other people she had never heard of salmagundi (sometimes spelt Solomon-Gundy or salamongundi) until she began looking at the types of foods that would have been served at grand events such as a ball in the 18th Century.
“I am not sure how the recipe came to be called salmagundi but it seems to have had its origins in the Elizabethan period and over the years developed into what was essentially a very grand salad that was popular in the 1600s and 1700s.
“The salmagundi would have been the grand centrepiece of a meal and would be served either in a very large shallow dish, on a big platter or in lots of individual dishes, a bit like modern-day tapas, which is how it is going to be served at the ball.
“Essentially, salmagundi is a salad made with cooked, cut meats, fish, seasonal and pickled vegetables as well as fruit and edible flowers, all layered up.
“The secret seems to be the layering of the flavours. You need to have a good mixture of sharp tastes like gherkins and capers offset by a crisp seasonal salad and meats like chicken and ham.
“There doesn’t seem to have been a hard and fast recipe as such. It was a case of using what you had as long as you got that all-important balance of flavours. I understand the grander the house and the grander the occasion the grander the salmagundi. Somewhere as magnificent as Seaton Delaval Hall would have had a larder crammed full of pickles, preserves and meats and access to a wide variety of seasonal fruits and vegetables.
“It was an ideal dish to serve at events like the masked ball on June 23; something that could be easily served.”
The focus is on ensuring guests enjoy as authentic an experience as possible at both the ball and the Georgian banquet being held at Seaton Delaval Hall on September 29.
Tickets are for sale for that with the menu set to include salmagundi garnished with edible flowers as well as green pea soup served with rustic bread, venison casserole and seasonal vegetables and apple pie, syllabub and damson tart for dessert.
Alison Forbes, Seaton Delaval Hall’s events coordinator, says both the ball and the banquet have been organised by popular demand. “When the National Trust took over Seaton Delaval Hall everyone kept asking if we were going to hold a ball here.
“While the central hall was gutted by fire in 1822, the property is still very grand and still lends itself to the sort of big-scale events that would have been held here during the Georgian and Regency periods.
“We are recreating both the fun and excitement of the balls and banquets that would have taken place 200-300 years ago.”
Seaton Delaval Hall, The Avenue, Seaton Sluice, Northumberland, NE26 4QR, 0191 237 9100, www.nationaltrust.org.uk/ seaton-delaval-hall
l The 18th Century Masked Ball takes place on June 23, 7pm to 11pm. Tickets cost £40 each and include the buffet and a pre-ball dance class. The Georgian Banquet takes place on September 29, 7pm to 11pm, and tickets cost £50 per person. Booking is essential for both events on 0191 237 9117. Discounts are available for groups of 10 or more or for those booking for both events.