Monday, March 21, 2011

The Crimson Pact

[a brief digression from the usual medieval fare.]

"In just twenty-four hours I’d killed two people,
one of them twice."

That's a line from my short story, "Shell of a Man", one of 26 stories by various authors in volume 1 of The Crimson Pact. In it I tell the tale of a junior-grade detective in 1935 who takes on his first case, only to end up facing the undead.

The anthology is now available as an ebook for the Kindle, NOOK, and many other platforms. See the Crimson Pact website for more details.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Similar, but Different

Yesterday I wanted to make a pie for dinner to celebrate Pi day, and being the sort of geek I am, I thought I'd try out something medieval.

The Medieval Cookbook Search turned up a bunch of recipes for meat pies, and I picked out one that seemed pretty straightforward - Pyes of Pairis from A Noble Boke off Cookry.

It turned out pretty well, so I wrote it up and went to post it on the website, and that's when I realized I'd had it before. Well ... sort of.

I'd never made it before, but if I'd taken a few minutes to look at my own website I would have seen the link to Kristen Wright's version of the recipe. D'oh! This made me consider not posting it after all - I don't want to seem like I'm stepping on her recipes or anything.

However, there's something interesting to be seen from comparing her interpretation to mine. Even with such a simple recipe (cook meat, add eggs and spices, bake in pie), we ended up with substantially different results. What's more, I think that both interpretations are equally valid.

This is something I've come across many times while re-creating medieval cuisine. Because of the way the recipes are written, and because our cooking culture is so much different now from what it was then, there is a lot of uncertainty packed into even the shortest and most direct recipes.

In some ways it can be frustrating, but in other ways it makes it just that much more fun.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Recommended Book - Food in Medieval England

A couple of weeks back I added this book to the page of Recommended Books, and I've been meaning to post something here about it since then.

Food in Medieval England: Diet and Nutrition
C.M. Woolgar (Editor), D. Serjeantson (Editor), T. Waldron (Editor)
Oxford University Press

This isn't a cookbook, nor is it one of those nice, easy to read books full of general information about medieval European cuisine. It's a collection of papers written by several authors, all detailing recent research into the study of the medieval diet, coming from a scientific perspective (e.g. archaeology) instead of a historical one (e.g. studying old texts).

There's a lot of neat information buried in these papers, but not all of it is easy to get to. Further, many of the papers highlight the promising work currently being done, but do not actually provide much in the way of results - mostly because the research is too new.

For example, until the 1980s or so, when animal bones were found at a medieval archaeological site, the researchers would make a note about them and then throw them away. They didn't realize the information that could be gleaned from them about animal size and age, butchering methods, dietary composition, etc. This has changed for the better, but it takes a very long time to gather enough evidence, study the remains, and to draw useful conclusions.

If the above makes it sound like this book is dry as a desert and useless to the average person with an interest in medieval history, that's certainly not the case. The nineteen papers included all provide valuable clues to what the medieval diet and lifestyle were like, making sure that it is all tied down to evidence instead of conjecture, which is what I expect from Woolgar and company.

There was however one point which made me groan loudly (thus annoying my wife as she was reading her email). In "From Cu and Sceap to Beffe and Motton", N.J. Sykes is noting the way bones were cut and suggests that it indicates the beef was used for making stew. That's all well and fine, but then he goes on to note that "... boiling would have counteracted the taste of tainted meat, ...." That's right, Sykes dropped the Moldy Meat Myth into an academic paper, and of course he provided nothing to support the (nonsensical) assertion. P'feh!

Other than that one (really bad) slip, this book is absolutely geekalicious. I'll be pulling new information out of it for months.