An Tir West War Reflections

Update: I have enabled Amazon affiliate links on this blog; I figure I shill for Amazon for free, maybe it’s time to let them give me a cut! If my enthusiasm for my new camp bed persuades you, please use the links in this post so I can keep the candles lit. 

We made our annual pilgrimage to An Tir West War for the Cooks’ Playdate last week. It was our first major SCA excursion as a family of three, and all in all was a wonderful adventure. We have a new tourney vehicle — A VAN!!! — that I am very much in love with. We panicked and overpacked, but that’s a learning process too. Kiddo had a great time, and so did moms.

We stopped at some of our favorite places along the Oregon coast on the way down and back, and got to drink in some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. We also introduced the kid to tasty shellfish — he is a bay shrimp fan! — and he had his first ice cream. So fun!

Two women and a baby sitting outdoors at a table for a medieval feast
Two mom energy! Photo by Mercy Neumark

I cooked very little at the Playdate, which I anticipated because I know how much it takes to wrangle a small human. I threw together spring greens and herb salads for a couple of dinners, which were well received; I used walnut oil and white balsamic vinegar for dressing, and put some big flake salt on the side. I cooked some shelled peas from my garden with cheese rinds for flavor, and they were fine but not spectacular. I made Iron Age Celtic Glop, with beef, fresh favas and fat-hen from my garden, and oats. It was quite tasty, although I should have used whole oat groats instead of stone milled oats. I love the flavor of fat-hen, it’s got this rich earthiness that’s just amazing.

I also did some grilling experiments not anchored in research but that turned out phenomenal and that I’ll definitely repeat. At my wife’s suggestion, I grilled peach halves, then topped them with a little mint, some thinly sliced matos cheese, and a drizzle of honey. They were utterly divine. On our last day there I went a little wild trying to use up some of the excess food we had brought and wrapped various cured meats (salami, coppa, prosciutto) around pitted dates, then skewered and roasted them. If you’ve made bacon dates, you know the magic of sweet dates and salty pig. These were better than bacon dates in my opinion! So crispy and delicious. Will definitely add both of these discoveries to the regular rotation.

Cook at work, photo by Mercy Neumark
If anyone finds a grill basket like this, I need one! Photo by Mercy Neumark

 

We got some new gear for this trip that was absolutely game-changing, knowing we had the space to bring some larger things for comfort. I keep learning that the secret is to pack heavy on infrastructure and pack light on everything else. The big thing that totally made this long weekend awesome was our new camp bed from Amazon — a folding bed frame and a summer-weight futon. Most comfortable sleep I’ve ever gotten while camping! Seriously, these are so, so awesome.

The bed set up. I cannot capture how truly wonderful this was.

We also brought our fancy camping privy (and refill bags) and it made getting up to pee in the middle of the night (with a sleeping baby) much less of a production. Plus, it’s a great seat in the tent during the day with the lid closed and a sheepskin on top! The surprising hit of the weekend was our cow skin from Ikea. It was great to sit on in the grass with the kiddo, much more versatile in damp or slippery grass than a blanket. Oh, and not a large item, but I’m glad we brought a pile of folding seagrass baskets, also from Ikea, because they’re great to bring empty and then use to organize small things (like baby toys and snacks).

I came away with a better sense of what I want at events. We packed way too many snacks and brought lots of clothes and supplies for the baby that we just didn’t end up using. I didn’t wear all the garb I brought and I ended up wearing modern shoes because the ground was a little too challenging to manage when I needed to also be able to hold and chase after a kid. I came away from this event ready to get rid of a lot of SCA stuff that I think I’m just done with and streamlining / optimizing the rest of it. And I’ve accepted that I need to get some unobtrusive modern shoes.

It was great to get to see people who we don’t get to spend time with often enough. I wish I had made more time to get out of camp and be social. The people are what keep me coming back to this game.

Eventing with a kid is an adjustment for sure. I’m still having a lot of conflicting feelings and thoughts about how much time / money / effort I really want to spend on the SCA right now. But all in all, it was a good experience and we had some magical moments. Taking kiddo to see the creek, pulling him in a wagon, watching him “help” in the tent… lots of good things.

One night after the baby went to sleep, my wife and I spread out the cow skin and lay under the stars together. We watched satellites and identified constellations and talked and cuddled. Just as humans have done for as long as we’ve existed.

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Cookbook Progress Update

Since posting about the cookbook project back in January, some stuff happened that was really hard and sad and I’m still processing all of it. It definitely put a damper on my dreams of testing a recipe a week for the cookbook, but I’m finally starting to feel a little human again (ugh grief is dumb). I don’t know how many recipes I’ll be able to test and add to the cookbook, but I have managed to get a small handful together since January (and it’s not like I didn’t have lots of recipes ready to go back in January, either!)

So, there will be a cookbook, it will probably mostly look like the table of contents already posted (see link), but there will also be at least a few more recipes too! I still don’t have anything like pre-order details or even how I’ll be releasing it nailed down; I’m going to just have to take that as it comes.

Spice Mixes for an Auction, and an Announcement

When the Queen calls, you answer.

Her Majesty Sha’ya of An Tir laid a challenge on our Kingdom, and in particular upon the Laurels: produce a work to be auctioned off to benefit RAINN during the Knights Auction (all donations are sponsored by a Knight) at 12th Night.

I was moved — this is an incredible organization whose mission I believe in. I wanted to produce something worthy of auction. I found a sponsor, Sir Philip de Mantel, and proposed to put together a set of spice mixes for period cooking.

And I did make a set of spice mixes, a rather nice set if I do say so myself:

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Most of these (4/6) were made using actual period recipes. The remaining two (powder douce and powder fort) are more “generic” spice blends that I have my own versions of. You can see I found cute bottles and a cute basket and even made little labels for them.

Here are the sources for each one, and their ingredients:

  • Powder Fort: Black pepper, cubeb, cassia cinnamon, mace, clove
  • Powder Douce: Sugar, ginger, Ceylon cinnamon, nutmeg
  • Duke’s Powder (Menagier, 14th c. French): Sugar, ginger, grains of paradise, Ceylon cinnamon, nutmeg, galangal
  • Clarée Spices (Two Anglo-Norman Culinary… 13th/14th c English): Spikenard, cinnamon, ginger, mace, clove, nutmeg, fennel, anise, caraway, cardamom
  • Fine Spices 1 (Libro di Cucina, 14th/15th c. Italian): Black pepper, Ceylon cinnamon, ginger, clove, saffron
  • Fine Spices 2 (Livre Fort, 16th c. French): Ginger, Ceylon cinnamon, black pepper, long pepper, nutmeg, clove, grains of paradise, galangal

Fun, right?

But here’s the thing: I didn’t feel like it was enough. I got it into my head that spices are okay, but you need recipes to know how to use them.

So, long story short, I kind of wrote a cookbook.

No, really:

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That’s a screenshot of the cover. I wrote a cookbook, and I got a copy of it printed, and I put it and the spices together as one lot for the auction. The winning bidder currently owns the only copy of this cookbook in existence.

For now.

Yeah, soooo… I’ve given myself a year. I’m going to edit what I have and add more recipes to it if I can (my goal is 1 new tested recipe every 1-2 weeks), then I plan to release it for sale. I’m not planning a big run, and I’m planning to self-publish for a few reasons (although, um, if you work for a publishing house and want to talk me out of that and offer me $$$$ to change my mind and publish through you, let’s talk!)

To get you excited, here is the table of contents so far:

  • Preface    4
  • Brief Notes on Some Ingredients    5
    • On Salt    5
    • On Spices    5
    • On Verjus    5
    • On Vinegar    5
    • On Saba    5
    • On Almond Milk    6
    • On Rose Water    6
  • Spice Mixes for All Manner of Dishes    7
    • Powder Fort    7
    • Powder Douce    7
    • Clarée Spices    8
    • Fine Spices 1    8
    • Fine Spices 2    8
  • Beverages    9
    • Quick Mead    9
    • Hippocras / Ypocras / Clarée / Piment (Spiced Wine)    9
    • Oxymel / Posca (Vinegar/Honey Drink)    10
    • Clarée D’eau / Clarea de Agua (Water with Honey and Spices)    10
    • Rose Drink Concentrate    10
  • Finger Foods, Nibbles, and Snacks    11
    • Pescods (Peas in the pod)    11
    • To Churn Your Own Butter    11
    • Whole Pickled Onions    11
    • Pickled Onion Rings    12
    • Pickled Champignons (Mushrooms)    12
    • Fried Livers with Saba    13
    • Hais (Date and Nut Balls)    13
  • Meats, Fishes, and Their Sauces    14
    • Sour Grape Juice with Fried Summer Fish    14
    • To Dresse a Crabbe (Crab with Butter and Verjus)    14
    • Peiouns Ystewed (Stewed Pigeons)    14
    • Grilled Quail with Lemon Sauce    15
    • Good and Perfect Hens with Sumac    16
    • Roasted Chicken with Orange Sauce    16
    • Limonia (Chicken in Lemon Sauce)    16
    • To Make Stekys of Venson or Bef (Steaks of Venison or Beef)    17
    • Alows de Boef (Herbed Rolled Beef)    17
    • Fresh Lamb Sausage with Cilantro Sauce    18
    • Pork Loin with Peach Sauce    19
    • Cormarye (Spiced Pork Loin)    19
    • Salt Pork    20
    • Mustard Sauce    20
  • Egg and Pasta Dishes    21
    • Erbolat (Medieval English Frittata)    21
    • Sphoungata (Byzantine Omelettes)    21
    • Cressée of Noodles (Heraldic Chequy Noodles)    22
    • Cheese Gnocchi    22
    • Makerouns (Baked Noodles with Cheese)    23
  • Vegetables, Grains, and Legumes    24
    • A Dish of Leeks    24
    • Onion salad    24
    • Asparagus    24
    • Parsnips in Pottage    25
    • Basic Green Salad    25
    • Sprouts of Life    25
    • Carrot Puree    26
    • Chyches (Seasoned Chickpeas)    26
    • Green Chickpeas    26
    • Fresh Fava Beans    27
    • A Dish of Rice    27
    • Almond Porridge    28
    • Oatcakes    28
  • Pies of All Sorts    29
    • Basic Self-Supporting Hot Water Pastry    29
    • To Raise Coffins    29
    • Coffins Another Way    30
    • To Build a Large Coffin    30
    • General Baking Instructions for Coffins    31
    • Richer Hot Water Pastry for Molded Pies    31
    • Paest Royall    32
    • Short Paste for Tarts    32
    • A Formula for Meat Pies    33
    • Crustardes of Flessh (Birds in a Pie)    33
    • Cheshire Pork Pie    34
    • Simple Pork Pies    35
    • Une Tourte (Greens Tart)    35
    • Leche Frys of Fische Daye (Cheese Tart)    36
    • Tarte of Apples    37
    • To Bake Pippins (Elizabethan Apple Pie)    37
    • Daryols (Mini Cream Custard Tarts)    38
    • A Formula for Fruit Tarts    38
  • Sweets and Desserts    39
    • Dulcia Domestica (Candied Stuffed Dates)    39
    • Payn Ragoun (Pine Nut Candy)    39
    • Marzipan    39
    • Nucato (Honey-Nut Candy)    40
    • Suckets 1 (Candied Citron Peel)    40
    • Suckets 2 (Candied Orange Peels)    41
    • Pears in Confit (Poached Pears)    41
    • Quince Paste    42
    • Sweet Dessert Yogurt    42
    • Gingerbrede    43
    • Stamped Shortbread Cookies    43
    • A Jellied Ypocras, or, Elizabethan Jelly Shots    43
  • Assorted Useful Non-Edible Things to Make    45
    • Herb Water    45
    • Basic Lard Soap    45
    • Tooth Powder    46

Next addition will be a chapter on recreating medieval bread in a home kitchen (with a normal oven).

I look forward to posting updates as this project develops 🙂

Medieval Cooking is Complex: A Complete Recipe Annotation

During the process of creating my pie for KASC, I had to not only do a lot of test cooking, but I also had to do a ton of close reading. Reading a medieval recipe is a complex and nuanced endeavor. Here is an example of my process of interpreting a recipe.

Continue reading “Medieval Cooking is Complex: A Complete Recipe Annotation”

Introduction to Historical Food Research

This is re-published from my old blog.

In the SCA, the first piece of research advice you’ll get (well, after “don’t try to back-document a project you’ve already completed”) is that you must know the difference between a primary and a secondary source. Generally, we define a primary source as an actual historical item (or text) and a secondary source is a modern interpretation of those historical sources. So if you’re researching clothing, a primary source would be an extant historical garment while a secondary source would be a modern book about medieval clothing.

Here’s a question for you: what’s a primary source for historical cooking? You can’t go to a museum and see (much less eat) the wedding feast of Henry and Matilda. Recreating historical food will always require you to synthesize multiple research strands. That’s the fundamental purpose behind this lesson: all of these types of sources that I describe build on each other, and the strongest research makes use not only of multiple individual sources but multiple strands of research and analysis.

Continue reading “Introduction to Historical Food Research”

Just for fun: my Jas. Townsend and Sons wishlist

I’m a big fan of Jas. Townsend and Sons, in particular their historical cooking blog and their 18th cooking videos on YouTube. Although they are post-medieval, a lot of the tools they sell work well for medieval and renaissance cooking. Mostly for my own amusement, here’s my current wishlist of items I covet from their catalog: Part 1: things I really need / might actually buy in the foreseeable future:

  • Birch twig whisk — does what it says on the label
  • Linen towel (for boiled puddings!)
  • Hardwood masher which they specifically note can be used as a pie dolly! I was poking around their website and wondered if they had a pie dolly, then I discovered this, and my little heart went all a-squee.
  • Redware pie pan. It’s for pie! How do I not already own this???

Part 2: things I like, but which would be definite “splurges”

  • American Heritage Chocolate. It’s not medieval at all, but I would love to play around with some colonial chocolate recipes.
  • Redware chocolate pot. Okay, apparently in spite of my claims to the contrary I actually do like chocolate. Again, this one is post-medieval, but I have a deep affection for real hot chocolate made with milk and cocoa (or maybe grated American Heritage Chocolate!), especially when I make it with fresh almond milk and a little cinnamon and some real vanilla bean and okay now I’m drooling.
  • Redware milk pan. I think this would be wonderful for mixing things, especially with the pouring lip.
  • All of the 18th Century Cooking DVDs. YouTube is great but I love these enough that I want to watch them on my actual TV.

Part 3: things that I could only own if I won the lottery:

Hmm… all right, I think the whisk and the masher might be about to be ordered. Anyone have other favorite historical cooking equipment purveyors to share?

Edit: They now offer free shipping in the contiguous US on orders over $30, so I totes just bought myself a whisk and a masher/pie dolly. Maybe I’ll post an “unboxing” video when they arrive! (Ha ha, not really.)