ANYONE passing Government House one night next month may notice strange sounds wafting across the lawns, the dulcet strains of the lute and harp. More to the point, they may also smell the sweet scents of cinnamon, cloves and fragrant petals. On the evening of Thursday, January 20, Government House will be transported back 400 years, to a time when a person of standing would entertain in a manner as lavish as a modern royal banquet, but with food which would be baffling to us now. For instance, do you know what it is to 'slat' a pike, 'border' a pasty, 'untache' a curlew or 'dysfygure a pecake'? Michelle Garnaut does. She's been swotting up on the lifestyles of the rich and hungry in preparation for taking charge of the Governor's kitchen for a night of unbridled feasting and merriment such as might have amused old Queen Elizabeth I. It all started when Chris and Lavender Patten were having dinner at the Garnaut eatery, Michelle's At The Fringe. Ms Garnaut had long harboured the notion of staging a culinary event in a public place for her pet charity, the Heep Hong Society for handicapped children. (She had once approached the Cultural Centre with the idea of doing something, but it had no kitchen.) So she went over to the Patten table and, with true Australian forthrightness, came out with it: 'How about me cooking dinner at your placeone night?' 'What for?' she was asked. 'For the Heep Hong,' Ms Garnaut replied. It so happens that Lavender Patten is patron of the society (the name translates as Helping Hand) which for 30 years has been providing help and education for handicapped children under the age of six. 'Fine,' the Governor said, without a second thought. A date was fixed and Ms Garnaut set about formulating a theme. 'Mrs Patten wanted it to be a very special event. She doesn't want every other charity knocking on the door,' she said. 'I came up with the idea of an Elizabethan banquet. By all accounts, they were fun times, and above all this is an event that has to be fun. For only about 80 people, at $1,800 a head, it was never going to raise a lot of money. The purpose really is to raise awareness for a charity that doesn't get noticed much.' Then she had a flash of inspiration. What was the point of desperately pretending to be Elizabethans dining 400 years ago in Hampton Court Palace? It would be irrelevant to modern Hong Kong. 'So I decided to interpret, rather than reproduce. I wanted it tobe authentic but there is no way you can get all the original foods. Rather, I want it to be my interpretation of what Elizabethans would do if they were here now.' So the title became A New Elizabethan Banquet, an event to be staged in a spirit of fun. 'The danger is, because it's at Government House, that it might be too formal, but the Elizabethans were fun types; they loved to play games such as coits and having to eat your way out of a big posy of fruit. We will have all that, as well as entertainment throughout the evening not just at 'entertainment time'.' So there will be jugglers, acrobats, musicians with lutes and harps, dancers, jesters and even a fire-eater (which raised security eyebrows to such an extent that particular diversion will most likely take place outdoors). But what of the food? Ms Garnaut insists she will be serving fare that has never been tasted in Hong Kong before. 'Actually Elizabeth I was a bit of health freak, compared with her father Henry VIII. The courses of the time were smaller and they ate more vegetables.' Ms Garnaut telephoned Hampton Court Palace, the Thames-side Tudor home of the court of the time. They sent books, music and notes on games. Did you know that before he became the master of Renaissance science and art, painted the Mona Lisa and designed flying machines, teenage Leonardo da Vinci was a cook? Out of his experiences came the fascinating book, Leonardo's Kitchen Note Books, collected by the Russian Tsars in the Hermitage museum in St Petersburg. Add to that To The Queen's Taste, Elinor Fettipace's Receipt Book (first published in 1604) and Seven Hundred Years of English Cooking, and you have just about all you need to know about theElizabethan diet. Ms Garnaut has not finalised the menu for Government House next month. But her skilfully orchestrated drama of plenty and magnificence will be along the following lines: Livering, puddings. Pety pernollys - sippets and fartes. Soupes sorrye. Compound sallet. Tart de brymlent - a spinnage tart. Quelquechose. Finer jumbals, suckets, syllabubs and pyes. And to wash it all down: mead, malmesy, posset, caudles and clarets. Ah, claret! Thank goodness for something familiar. Except in those days the name claret would have been applied to a light Bordeaux which we would now classify as rose. There won't be many dishes to wash; guests will be eating from trenchers, platters made of hard bread with a small indentation on one side for salt. 'The Elizabethans ate loads of sugar,' says Ms Garnaut, 'and they cooked a lot of things in a pastry casing, known as a coffin, which they often threw away. They were nothing if not spectacular: they would make mountains of 'snow' made from tasty roots dipped in egg white like meringue. They ate figs with everything, also currants, raisins, cinnamon, ginger, pepper, nutmeg, mace, coriander, aniseed and candied flowers.' Pomanders were commonplace. These were posies made of oranges, lemons or grapefruit, punctured with cloves and rolled in cinnamon. It was believed their aroma cleansed the air and kept away the plague. Most people would hang them in doorways, but the very rich carried them around. Those who sign up for the dinner will be expected to help act out the fantasy in their appearance. Ms Garnaut is not insisting that everyone turns up decked out like Sir Walter Raleigh or Mary Queen of Scots. 'But I shall be giving dress guidelines, an indication of elements, such as brocade, velvet, hats and plumes. Fun but not formal.'' The same goes for the formalities: there will be none. No raffle, no waffle. 'I think everyone is heartily sick of the balls for 500, where hotels charge full price and everyone wonders what's in it for them,'' said Ms Garnaut. 'Everyone is donating their services for nothing, I have a dozen or so helpers and there will be 20 waiters. There will be no speeches, which Mr Patten is very relieved about, and of the $1,800 ticket price I am personally committing that $1,500 will go toHeep Hong. It's a good cause.' The society has 17 Government-funded day centres for young children suffering disabilities ranging from severe burns to autism. Independently funded, through charitable donations and activities such as this banquet, are two parent resource centres offeringcommunity support and counselling. 'Awareness must change in Hong Kong towards the plight of handicapped children and their parents,' said Ms Garnaut. 'There are far too many people here who do not believe the disabled are part of the community, that they can fit in, that they do have theiruses. They can be educated, improving their lives and everybody else's.' And if you want to drink to that, try making some mead just like Good Queen Bess might have tippled. Here's how: 4.5 kg honey. 6.7 kg raw sugar. 2 pieces of ginger. Cloves. 5 branches rosemary. 15 lemons. Yeast. 50 pints of water Method: gently warm the yeast with a little honey. Place all the ingredients in stone jars, mix and cover. Ready for bottling and drinking in three to four weeks.