Friday, November 8, 2019

Starting Points: The Great Cheering Syrup

This weekly feature shows the initial steps I go through for interpreting a medieval recipe. I've been lax in posting lately, and as punishment the universe decided to push me outside of my comfort zone with this randomly selected recipe:

The Great Cheering Syrup: Way of Making It. Take half a ratl each of borage, mint, and citron leaves, cook them in water to cover until their strength comes out, then take the clean part and add it to a ratl of sugar. Then put in the bag: a spoonful each of aloe stems, Chinese rhubarb, Chinese cinnamon, cinnamon and clove flowers; pound all these coarsely, place them in a cloth, tie it well, and place it in the kettle, macerate it again and again until its substance passes out, and cook until [the liquid] takes the consistency of syrups. Take one û qiya with three of hot water. Benefits: It profits [preceding two words apparently supplied; in parentheses in printed Arabic text] weak stomachs, fortifies the liver and cheers the heart, digests foods, and lightens the constitution gently, God willing. [An Anonymous Andalusian Cookbook (Andalusia, 13th c. - Charles Perry, trans.)]

Andalusian, eh?  I'm much more comfortable with French and English sources but I'll give it a shot.

My understanding is that these kind of syrups were used for making beverages in the Arabic-speaking world and the instructions appear to confirm that - though it also sounds rather medicinal. Mix it with hot water? Are you supposed to drink it hot like tea? That's all putting the cart before the horse; we've got to make the stuff first.

First thing's first: what the heck is a ratl? A little googling tells me it was a unit of weight equal to about 437.5g (or 15.43 ounces ... which is just under a pound ... cool!). So that's a pound each of the following:

Borage (Borago officinalis):  A common garden plant across Europe. The leaves of borage were often used like spinach in pies and salads. It also has blue flowers that were used for color or decoration. So which do we use here, the leaves or flowers? If you can find it fresh I'd use whichever you can get (or both). I was going to try growing it this summer but never got around to planting the seeds. I think I have a package of the dried flowers somewhere in the depths of my pantry.

Mint (genus Mentha):  There are all sorts of mints out there. I like spearmint but my wife hates it. Go figure. I'd use whichever kind I can get fresh at the grocery.

Citron Leaves (Citrus medica):  Really?!  I wasn't aware they had culinary use. Some googling found another example so it makes sense. I have no idea where I'd get them but their strong, lemony essence would probably have a big impact on the syrup so I can't just skip it. I might be able to substitute some other kind of citrus leaves but they probably wouldn't be the same and they also wouldn't be any easier to find in Ohio. I'd have to put out the word to everyone I know from far off places.

So that's three pounds of leaves in what would have to be a really big kettle, along with enough water to cover them. Then boil it all until ... I guess until the water tastes like you want it to. Then strain out all the leaves and add a pound of sugar and a "spoonful" (a tablespoon?) of each of the following:

Aloe stems (Aloe vera):  I'm guessing this should be fresh. I'm pretty sure I can get this locally. A tablespoon of this doesn't sound like much, but then I'm not sure how much aloe I want in my beverage anyway.

Chinese Rhubarb (Rheum palmatum):  Looking up this plant I found the root has a long history of medicinal use for all sorts of ailments. It's Wikipedia page also includes a health warning.

Pregnant women should avoid all intake of the plant since it may cause uterine stimulation. If taken for an extended amount of time, adverse effects include: "hypertrophy of the liver, thyroid, and stomach, as well as nausea, griping, abdominal pain, vomiting, and diarrhea." 
Though the root of the Chinese rhubarb is a key facet of herbal medicine, its leaves can actually be poisonous if consumed in large amounts due to the oxalic acid content. Patients with "arthritis, kidney problems, inflammatory bowel disease, or intestinal obstruction" should refrain from consumption.

I don't care what it tastes like or how it would affect my re-creation; I'm leaving this stuff out.

Ok, the next two are interesting ...

Chinese cinnamon (Cinnamomum cassia):  The stuff that is sold as "Cinnamon" in the United States.

Cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum):  Real cinnamon, sometimes sold as "Ceylon Cinnamon" in the US.

This recipe is one of the rare examples that calls for both types of cinnamon. Most others will call for one or the other (or for just "cinnamon" with no real clue to which).  They do taste different but I suspect a lot of people across medieval Europe couldn't tell them apart and were happy to use whatever they could get.

Clove flowers:  Oh bother.  This is one of those tricky ones. 

They might mean clove pinks (Dianthus caryophyllus), otherwise known as carnations. Clove pinks have historically been used to treat things like upset stomach and fever. You can get these online in dried form - make sure you're getting ones that are meant for eating rather than for making soap or something. Otherwise they might have been sprayed with who knows what pesticides and such.

Alternately they might mean the actual flowers from clove plants (Syzygium aromaticum), though that seems less likely to me than them using the dried flower buds from the same plant, which are called ... cloves.

In this case I think I'd first try clove pinks. They have more of a history of medicinal use.

So the aloe stems, cinnamon, cinnamon, and clove flowers all get smushed, tied up in cheesecloth, and dropped into the kettle. Then it's boil it some more (stirring and prodding the spice sachet from time to time to make sure the flavor gets out) until it all looks like a syrup.

For the last step I finally found a reference that told me an ûqiya is 1/12 of a ratl.  That makes it about 1.5 tablespoons.  So it's 1 to 2 tablespoons in a quarter-cup of hot water.  Sounds more like medicine to me than a beverage.

If there's anyone out there reading this who has more experience with this kind of recipe, I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Monday, October 14, 2019

Starting Points: Crane Rostyd

This weekly feature shows the initial steps I go through for interpreting a medieval recipe. Today's randomly selected recipe is the following:

Crane Rostyd. Take a crane blod as thu dedyst a swan draw hym at the went fold up hys leggys cut of his whyngys at the joynte nexte the body wend the necke a boute the spite put the bylle yn his breste & reyse the whinges & the legges as of a gose & yf thu shalt sauce hym mynse hym fyrst & sauce hym with poudyr of gynger mustard & venygger & salt & serve forth with the sauce & yf thu wilt thu may sauce hym with sauce sylito. [Recipes from the Wagstaff Miscellany (England, 1460)]

Yurgh! I'm not sure I would cook a crane.  Fortunately this is more of a mental exercise, though I suppose for the actual cooking part I could substitute a goose.  But first let's get through the theoretical stuff.

The first part says to bleed the crane the same way as a swan.  The same source has specific instructions on the subject.

Cut a swan in the rofe of the mouth touward the brayn of the hede & let hym blede to deth & kepe the blod to colour the chaudon with or cut the necke & let hym dye then skald hym draw hym rost hym & serve hym forth. [Recipes from the Wagstaff Miscellany (England, 1460)]

This process sounded really bizarre to me, but I've found modern references to it so it's probably still done in places. The Humane Slaughter Association has this note on their website

Instruments that slice through a bird’s brain from inside the mouth should not be used as they are not effective, immediate or humane.

The next group of steps have to do with prepping the bird for roasting. The bird's organs are removed "at the went" (I assume that's "vent"), the legs are folded up, and the wings are removed. Then the bird is put on a spit with the neck wound around and tucked into the breast, and I assume the thing gets roasted here.

I love recipes that forget to tell you to actually cook things. I found one for squash in a modern cookbook that specifically tells you to "cook it for half the time" and has no further instructions.

Anyway, the rest of the recipe sounds like serving instructions. The wings and legs are raised ... I've seen this a number of times and I think it's to make a more impressive presentation. In this case it's a bit odd because we were told earlier to cut the wings off at the joint next to the body. I would probably just chalk this up to how medieval recipes can be formulaic.

Next it says "if you're going to serve it in sauce, mince it first."  It kind of makes sense, if you're going to serve it as a roast you keep it whole, but if you're going to serve it with sauce you chop it up.

The recipe goes on to mention two sauces. The first is ginger, mustard, vinegar, and salt.  While the instructions don't specify how to make it, I'd go with a bread-thickened sauce.  I'd mix the spices with a quarter cup of vinegar and a cup of broth, then add in three or four pieces of bread and stir it until it's all mush. Then I'd strain out and discard the solids and heat the liquid in a saucepan until it thickens.  This is a pretty standard technique for making sauces in 15th century England and France and makes for a beautifully smooth, and rather fool-proof, sauce.

The other sauce mentioned is "sylito".  I'm really glad the first sauce is there because I'm pretty stumped by this one. I can't find any medieval sauce by that name regardless of how I misspell it.

There's a "Civero of Hare" in An Anonymous Tuscan Cookery Book (Italy, ~1400) which is made from the hare's lungs and liver. I've made a similar sauce for capon, but it seems a bit of a stretch.

It could be a really mangled spelling for gauncile (a garlic and milk sauce). That seems like an even bigger stretch.

I also briefly considered the possibility that "sylito" is a spelling variation for "cilantro", but from what I can tell the word "cilantro" only dates back to the 19th century.

So, setting the butchery aspects of this recipe aside, I would try a roast goose with the ginger and mustard sauce described above.  Though to be honest I'd likely try the sauce out first with the dark meat from a chicken just to see how it tasted before spending the money on a goose.

Monday, September 30, 2019

Starting Points: Hen With Horseradish

This weekly feature shows the initial steps I go through for interpreting a medieval recipe. Today's randomly selected recipe is the following:

LXXIX - Hen with horseradish. First boil the hen in clean water so that it's nicely tender and soft. Take the horseradish and cut it in small pieces or grate it on a grater. Pound a handful of peeled almond and add that. Then make this to taste, not too thin or thick. Then put baked simle slices on a plate. Put the hen over it and then put this horseradish over it. [Koge Bog (Denmark, 1616 - Martin Forest, trans.)]

I haven't done a lot of recipes from Danish sources, but in general they seem to have more subdued spicing than what I've come to expect from medieval European cuisine. That isn't to say they don't have strong flavors - this recipe does call for horseradish after all - but they tend to use fewer spices. I suspect that this is related to Denmark's shift from Catholicism to Lutheranism in the early 16th century, paralleling England's change in both religion and cuisine.

There's not much to this recipe - essentially just chicken and horseradish. The only other recipe I've found like it is this Hungarian one:

Hen with Lippa sauce. Remove the feathers, take out the insides and do what I told you. Boil the hen or the capon in cabbage soup. Grate some horseradish onto it, and once cooked, take it out of the fire, don't let it be too hot, for that will take the power of the horseradish. Once you put it into a plate, pour some sauce onto the horseradish. Hungarians like this dish. If you can, cook a fat hen or capon.  [The Prince of Transylvania's Court Cookbook (Hungary, 16th c.)]

The first step is pretty simple, boil a chicken. While the recipe just uses water I'd be inclined to take a tip from the Hungarian recipe and add some aromatics and salt. Plain boiled chicken is just plain sad. So, the chicken would go into a big pot with some carrots, onions, and celery and a teaspoon of salt and then I'd let it boil for an hour or so until the legs pull out easily.

The next part of the recipe is a little odd. I'm ok with grating horseradish and grinding almonds, but "make this to taste, not too thin or thick" seems a bit nonsensical. Just how thin can a mix of two particulate solids be? It also sounds like it would be an unpleasantly grainy mixture. Given how gound almonds are most often used for making almond milk (or marzipan, but that's not helping) this section makes me thing they mean to make an almond-milk sauce flavored with horseradish.

With this in mind I'd grind a cup of almonds, add a tablespoon or two of grated horseradish, mix it all with two cups of hot water, and then strain out all the solids. I'd then cook the liquid in a saucepan until it thickens a bit. Ok, I'd probably add some salt here too. A little salt helps just about everything.

The serving instructions call for putting the chicken on top of some "simle" and pouring the sauce over it all. My assumption here is that "simle" is "simnel" - a loaf of bread made from fine, white flour (this morphed into a modern sort of cinnamon-raisin bread, but that's aside from things). Pouring soups and stews over slices of bread is pretty common in medieval cookbooks so it's a pretty safe bet. I'd cut the cooked chicken into pieces (or maybe shred it), put some into a bowl on top of a slice of bread (something like a dense, farmhouse white), and pour the sauce on top.

Given that it's pretty much white on white on white, I'd likely garnish it with some parsley or something just for a bit of color.

If I was really feeling brave (or bored) I'd make it exactly as written - as chicken on bread with a gritty paste on top. More likely though I'd let someone else do that part.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Starting Points: Spanish Pastries

This weekly feature shows the initial steps I go through for interpreting a medieval recipe. Today's randomly selected recipe is the following:

199 To make Spanish pastries. First prepare a firm dough with eggs and fat and roll it out very thin, as long as the table, and sprinkle ground almonds and sugar, butter or fat over it and roll it up over itself like a sausage. Afterwards cut it in pieces and close up both ends. In this manner make one after the other and turn the underside to the top. And bake it in a smooth pan, with fat in the pan. And let it bake in a weak heat, with a hot cover over the top, and serve it cold. [Das Kuchbuch der Sabina Welserin (Germany, 16th century - V. Armstrong, trans.)]

Huh. Ok, I'll start off by stating that I haven't done much cooking of pastries. Still, I will give it a shot.

A quick search for similar recipes yields ... nothing. Huh. This turns out to be a rather unique recipe. I don't have much access to Spanish sources though, so if it's really from Spain (and there's no guarantee of that just because of the name) then perhaps there are some variations there. Fortunately it's not a complicated recipe and the instructions seem pretty clear.

The first part calls for making dough with eggs and fat. There's a contemporary short crust recipe from England like that which I've used before:

To make short paest for tarte. Take fyne floure and a cursey of fayre water and a dysche of swete butter and a lyttel saffron, and the yolckes of two egges and make it thynne and as tender as ye maye.  [A Proper New Booke of Cookery (England, 1575)]

With that in mind I'd mix 1 1/2 cup flour and 1/2 tsp. salt, and then cut in 4 Tbsp. butter and the yolks of 2 eggs. Once that forms fine crumbs I'd add water a little at a time until it all sticks together.

I know that seems like a big jump. Sorry. I learned to make pie crusts from my grandmother and the method is pretty automatic for me. To get those proportions I would have started with the flour and fat ratios from the Better Homes cookbook for a single crust pie, added in the egg yolks, and then added more water or flour until the dough was right - still workable but not sticky.

As an aside for anyone who has never made a pie crust with butter instead of shortening, the butter makes for a delicate dough and you have to be more careful working with it. That said it really tastes wonderful.

With the dough made I would roll it out pretty thinly, spread it with softened butter ... or maybe melt butter and brush it on, and then sprinkle it with ground almonds and sugar. Then it would get rolled up, cut into pieces, crimp the ends, and then bake at 350°F until golden.  I'd probably try for half-inch diameter rolls cut into maybe two-inch pieces.

It would be very tempting to add a little cinnamon, almond-flavor, or rosewater to the filling, or maybe even use marzipan. As a possible time and labor saving measure on the second or third try with the recipe I'd see if it would work to mix up the filling separately and spread it on the sheets of dough.

As it turns out, Kristen Wright has an interpretation of this recipe and it looks like she ended up taking much the same route I did.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Starting Points: Stuffed Capon

This weekly feature shows the initial steps I go through for interpreting a medieval recipe. Today's randomly selected recipe is the following:

Stuffed capon. [Take] chickens boiled in water and wine. Make a stuffing of meat, eggs and herbs and put it in the body of the boiled chicken. Make a cooking liquid of pepper, saffron and other herbs, add enough wine and make it [into a] thin [sauce]. Pull it off [the fire] when it is done. [Wel ende edelike spijse (Dutch, late 15th c. - Christianne Muusers, trans.)]

This is a surprisingly unusual recipe. Stuffing birds seems to have been a thing, and the ingredients in the stuffing aren't that odd. The cooking method sounds a bit strange though. Is the capon cooked a second time after it's stuffed? It doesn't explicitly say to but multiple cookings are common in 15th century sources, especially where large pieces of meat are concerned. Meats are boiled and then roasted, or roasted and then pan-fried. Presumably this was to make sure everything got cooked all the way through.

Then there's the "cooking liquid" - is it a sauce for serving or for basting the capon during the unstated second cooking?

I found one similarly-titled (and very long) recipe from Libro di cucina / Libro per cuoco that is actually cooking a capon, chopping up the meat, adding other ingredients, and forming the mixture around the bones before cooking a second time - not quite what the Dutch recipe seemed to have in mind.

The Neapolitan Recipe Collection has a recipe for stuffing that calls for a lot more ingredients:

Stuffing for a Capon. Get marjoram and parsley and grind them up; get one or two breasts of capons and grind them with the other; get a little Parmesan cheese, two egg yolks, cinnamon, pepper, saffron and ginger, with a little lardo or cured ham, and grind everything together; stuff the capon and set it to boil or to roast; make its glazing with egg yolks and rosewater.  [The Neapolitan Recipe Collection (Italy, 15th c - T. Scully, trans.)]

Then there are these which sound a bit closer.

To fasse goos or capon tak parsly saige and isope suet and parboile it in freche brothe then tak it up and put ther to herd yolks of eggs hewene then tak grapes mynced onyons and pouder of ginger canelle peppur and salt and fers the goos or capon with it and rost them and serue them.  [A Noble Boke off Cookry (England, 1468)]
Goce or Capon farced. Take parcill, Swynes grece, or suet of shepe, and parboyle hem in faire water and fressh boyling broth; And then take yolkes of eyeron hard y-sodde, and hew hem smale, with the herbes and the salte; and caste thereto pouder of Ginger, Peper, Canell, and salte, and Grapes in tyme of yere; And in other tyme, take oynons, and boile hem; and whan they ben yboiled ynowe with the herbes and with the suet, al thes togidre, then put all in the goos, or in the Capon; And then late him roste ynogh.  [Two Fifteenth-Century Cookery-Books (England, 1430)]

That last one is notable in that it calls for hard boiled eggs in the stuffing.

So I'd start with boiling a capon in lightly salted water. If I can't get a capon then I'd use a chicken, though capons are much more tender (and expensive!). It should end up being just barely cooked through (to 165°F at the deepest part of the meat). Any more and it would start to fall apart.

Then I'd make the stuffing from four chopped, hard boiled eggs, a half pound of browned sausage, parsley, sage, hyssop, and maybe some powder douce.  This would go into the capon and the capon would go into a roasting pan.

For the sauce I'd go with yellow pepper sauce - it matches the ingredients pretty well.  I'd baste the capon with that and cook the whole thing in an oven at 400° until it starts to brown on the outside. Since all the ingredients are cooked before the roasting step there's no worry about anything being unsafe.

I'm not sure how it would turn out appearance-wise but it all should taste pretty good!

Monday, September 9, 2019

Starting Points: Rosee

I haven't had a lot of time to work on medieval recipes lately, but I realized that the issue is more one of kitchen time than the actual research. So I've decided to try at least once a week to post something that is essentially the mental prep work I go through when trying out a recipe for the first time. This would serve me (and possibly now others) as a sort of starting point. The next step would be trial and error - sometimes I get it right after the first try and sometimes it takes more.

To make things a bit more challenging, I'll be using the "Random Medieval Recipe of the Day" which shows up at the bottom of the main page of With that restriction there's no telling what I'll have to work with.

Today's recipe is Rosee

XLI - For to make Rosee. Tak the flowris of Rosys and wasch hem wel in water and after bray hem wel in a morter and than tak Almondys and temper hem and seth hem and after tak flesch of capons or of hennys and hac yt smale and than bray hem wel in a morter and than do yt in the Rose so that the flesch acorde wyth the mylk and so that the mete be charchaunt and after do yt to the fyre to boyle and do thereto sugur and safroun that yt be wel ycolowrd and rosy of levys and of the forseyde flowrys and serve yt forth. [Forme of Cury (England, 1390)]

I know there are modern interpretations of this one out there but I'm not going to peek.

On my first read through, this sounds like a sort of thick mash of chicken in rose-flavored almond milk. Grind rose petals, boiled almonds, and chopped and ground chicken. Mix it together so that it's very thick (charchaunt) and cook with some sugar and saffron.

There's the usual vagueness in the recipe though. Are the rose petals fresh or dried? Are the almonds ground? Fortunately this is a fairly common recipe so I have other versions to look at to help figure out what the original intent was.

[1] Rose. Take flour of ryse, as whyte as sylke, And hit welle, with almond mylke. Boyle hit tyl hit be chargyd, þenne Take braune of capone or elle of henne. Loke þou grynd hit wondur smalle, And sithen þou charge hit with alle. Coloure with alkenet, sawnder, or ellys with blode, Fors hit with clowes or macys gode. Seson hit with sugur grete plenté, Þis is a rose, as kokes telle me. [Liber cure cocorum]
[2] C - Roseye. Take Almaunde Mylke an flowre of Rys, and Sugre, an Safroun, an boyle hem y-fere; than take Red Rosys, an grynd fayre in a morter with Almaunde mylke; than take Loches, an toyle (Note: Rub, cover) hem withFlowre, an frye hem, and ley hem in dysshys; than take gode pouder, and do in the Sewe, and caste the Sewe a-bouyn the lochys, and serue forth. [Two Fifteenth-Century Cookery-Books]
[3] To mak rose, tak flour of ryse and temper it with almond mylk and mak it chaungynge then tak the braun of capon or of henne sodyn and grind it and charge it ther with and colour it with sanders and blod and fors it with clowes and maces and sesson it with sugur and serue it. [A Noble Boke off Cookry]
[4] Rosee. XX.II. XII. Take thyk mylke as to fore welled. cast þerto sugur a gode porcioun pynes. Dates ymynced. canel. & powdour gynger and seeþ it, and alye it with flores of white Rosis, and flour of rys, cole it, salt it & messe it forth. If þou wilt in stede of Almaunde mylke, take swete cremes of kyne. [Forme of Cury]
[5] .lj. Rosee. Tak thicke mylke as to fore wellid, cast therto suger a gode porcioun, pynes, dates, y mynced, canel & poudour ginger, & seeth hit & alye it with floures of roses white & flour of rys. cole hit, salt it, & messe hyt forth, yf thou wolt in stede of almaund mylk: tak swete cremes of kyne. [Fourme of Curye - Rylands MS 7]

Wow! That's a lot to work through. Right of the top I see that none of the other versions start with grinding rose flowers, but instead they call for rice flower.  That suggests to me a copyist error somewhere along the line.

The first three recipes also call for almond milk, which changes our recipe a bit.  The last two recipes call for pynes (pine nuts) and milk rather than almond milk, so I'm going to ignore them as being too different (either distinct recipes or odd variations).

We also seem to have a bit of a discrepancy with the meat. Recipe [1] says to grind the chicken and then boil it. Recipe [3] says to boil it and then grind it. Recipe [2] calls for a kind of fish (loches). We'll ignore the fish. My first inclination is to go with cooking the chicken first.

That leaves our recipe looking more like it starts with rice flour and a slightly jumbled set of instructions for almond milk. Then add well ground chicken, some sugar and saffron, cook until thick, and garnish with rose petals.

Now comes a tricky part - guessing at the proportions.

Let's start with one pound of chicken in the form of boneless, skinless chicken breasts. We can try dark meat and such later. Boil that in water, let it cool, then chop it finely.

Both almond milk and rice flour have a thickening effect during cooking. I'd start with a tablespoon of the rice four mixed in with the chicken (mix it first to keep it from forming lumps when liquids are added). Then I'd make up a batch of almond milk and pour it in until the chicken looks soupy.

The next thing to add is sugar and saffron. I'd grind a pinch of saffron with about a quarter teaspoon of salt - I know salt isn't called for but unsalted food can taste bland and sometimes you have to break the rules. I'd stir that into the sugar and then mix it in with the chicken goo.

Bring all this to a low boil. I'd be looking for it to act like cooking oatmeal ... blup, blup, blup. If it seems too thin I'd add more rice flour.  When it's thick then garnish with rose petals and serve.

Sweet chicken pudding with rose petals ... well, it could be good. There are some options to try out, like not boiling the chicken first or using fish, but I'd save those for later attempts.

If you make this (or have already made it) let me know what you did and how it came out!

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Gen Con 2019 Schedule

August 1 - 4, 2019

Once again I've been caught off-guard by Gen Con - It's only two weeks away!

Once again I will be part of the Writer’s Symposium. They've got me scheduled for a bunch of great panels and such - here's the list:

SEM19160166 - Alternate Reality Fiction:  It's fun to answer the "what ifs" of history. Panelists including Cherie Priest, Daniel Myers, Linda Robertson, and David Mack discuss how changing one detail can change everything. 08/01/2019 (Thursday), 11:00 AM, Marriott : Atlanta 
SEM19160183 - Cook Like a Dwarf, Eat Like a Halfling:  How do you write a cookbook for a culture that never existed but everyone knows? One of the authors (Daniel Myers) of "A Dwarven Cookbook" talks about the origins of the recipes in their cookbooks. 08/01/2018 (Thursday), 7:00 PM, Marriott : Marriott Bllrm 2
SEM19160224 - Medieval Foodways:  Fantasy novels are commonly set in medieval Europe, except the food which is usually wrong. Learn from Daniel Myers how medieval cuisine worked and how to create believable fictional foodways. 08/02/2018 (Friday), 7:00 PM, Marriott : Marriott Blrm 3 
SEM19160172 - Believable Fictional Languages:  Fictional worlds often include their own languages, but creating an entire language can be a daunting task. Daniel Myers discusses word generation, common pitfalls, and stealing from the real world. 08/03/2018 (Saturday), 7:00 PM, Marriott : Marriott Bllrm 3

To my surprise, the first two are listed as being sold out.  That said, if you're interested and have the time free try anyway - there are usually some no-shows. See you there!

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Marcon 2019 Schedule

Multiple Alternative Realities Convention
May 10 - 12
Crowne Plaza Columbus North
Worthington, Ohio

It's spring, and that means convention season has begun. This year I'm giving Marcon a try. It's been years since I've been to a smaller convention and I'm really looking forward to something a bit more relaxed than Origins and Gen Con.

I'm scheduled to do a one-hour panel about Medieval Food & Cooking on Saturday at 8:00 p.m. in Salon D.  Other than that I'll be spending my time in the dealer's room - look for the Blackspoon Press table.

If you're going to be there, stop by and say, "Hi!"

Monday, March 11, 2019

Odd Table Scene

Johnna Holloway sent me a link to the painting below and I'm going to add it to the list of Food Related Paintings on the website. It's a 16th century work by Frans Pourbus the Elder titled "The Prodigal Son Among Courtesans" and there's a lot going on here.

Source:  Wikimedia Commons

In terms of food the most notable item (for me) is the pie in the center of the table. At a guess I'd say it's a pear pie because it looks like it's got a pear rising up out of the middle. This is a total tangent but I can imagine it being something like the recipe below, which is English but from roughly the same time period.
To make a Tarte of Wardens. You must bake your Wardens first in a Pie, and then take all the wardens and cut them in foure quarters, and coare them, and put them into a Tarte pinched, with your Suger, and season them with Suger, Synamon and Ginger, and set them in the Ouen, and put no couer on them, but you must cutte a couer and laye in the Tart when it is baked, and butter the Tarte and the couer too, and endore it with suger.  [The Good Housewife's Jewell, (England, 1596)]

Ok, back to the painting - here's a closeup of the stuff on the table.

I assume the things on the plates at 12, 3, and 9 o'clock are loaves of bread.  The two similarly colored things on the platter with the pie might also be bread or maybe ... fruit?  The one to the left of the pie looks kind of like an egg.

It's hard to tell what the white stuff in the dish at around 1 o'clock. It's possibly a rice dish.

The white stuff in large bowl at 7 o'clock with a spoon is also kind of unknowable but it could be a soup like the following:
In the first instance, if you want to make a white brewet for capons or for pullets or for veal, so boil the capons or pullets or veal and take broth [from it] and set that aside. Then so peel almonds and pound them in pieces and then so temper them with the broth of the capons or veal, whichever you have. Then so put the almonds through a strainer (cloth) then shall you take white ginger powder, as much as you think good, then temper with verjuice and white wine. There you shall let it cook and then put in a good amount of sugar and look well that it be salted enough and when it has boiled a little put it in a clean pot alone. If you then wish to serve those capons or hens or veal so lay [them] in a dish and pour over them this aforesaid brewet. [Een notabel boecxken van cokeryen, (Netherlands, ca. 1510 - C. van Tets, trans.)]

The big questions though are the giant white domino at 8 o'clock and the platter of pokey red things at 4 o'clock.

The domino could be just that but there isn't any game related stuff on the table, so I don't think that's it (besides, the dots are wrong). I suppose it could also be bread carved into a brick shape but that doesn't seem right either.

There is one recipe that does come to mind though. It goes by many names such as Taylours or Lenten Slices and is essentially almond milk cooked until it's like jello which is then served in slices. As a bonus many of the variations of the recipe call for currants - which could be the spots on the pictured white brick.  Here's an English recipe from the same period:
27 - To make Leach of Almonds. Take halfe a pound of sweet Almonds, and beat them in a mortar; then strain them with a pint of sweet milke from the cow; then put to it one graine of musk, 2 spoonfuls of Rose-water, two ounces of fine sugar, the weight of 3 whole shillings of Isinglass that is very white, and so boyle them; and let all run thorow a strainer: then may you slice the same, and so serve it.  [Delights for Ladies (England, 1609)]

That just leaves the pokey red plate, and with this one I'm stumped.  Maybe a higher resolution image would help. As it is I can't tell if it's a dish of red stuff with things stuck into it or a pile of separate red things (part of my brain wants it to be Chinese barbecue chicken wings but I think that's just because I'm hungry.

Setting all of that aside, there is another question I have about this painting and it relates to the woman on the far right side.

Just what is that thing hung up on the wall and what is she doing to it. After talking with a few people about it I'm inclined to think it's a tally board and she's erasing it. But why? I'd guess it was a visual pun about erasing the (musical) "score" but, sadly, the musical connotation of "score" only goes back to 1701.

As for all the other stuff going on in the painting, I keep looking and thinking I'm missing some kind of in-joke. I'm open to suggestions.