Tuesday, 17 October 2006
Once again, I had some winter squash that needed using up, and I happened to recently come across a reference from the journals of Lewis and Clark about a stew they were fed by the Mandan/Hidatsa while wintering at Fort Mandan. They referred to stew of pumpkin, chokecherries, beans and dried corn. I thought that sounded good, so I gave it a try.
I added some stew beef (buffalo would have been better) and a few spices, but otherwise pretty much stuck with the basics as described. I used parched sweet corn, pinto beans, dried cherries, and butternut squash, and added some dried sage and salt and pepper, plus a dash of balsamic vinegar, as it was a bit too sweet for my taste otherwise.
I started by browning the beef, then added the dried pintos and water to cover, and simmered until the beans were nearly done, then added the dried cherries and parched corn, and cooked until the beef was starting to get tender, then added the chopped squash, and cooked it until it was soft but not mushy.
Served with green salad and cornbread, it made a nice Fall dinner.
Tuesday, 09 May 2006
The Old Foodie has a great bit about tomatoes and the law that’s a good read. I’ve often pondered the distinctions between fruit and vegetable and how we mangle them. Also how the difference and distinction are culturally based. We tend to use rhubarb (for example) mostly in sweet dished with fruit, but in Persian cooking it’s used in stews (khoresh) with beef or lamb. Which is fabulous, BTW. It’s also interesting the think that tomatoes have legal status. I wonder if that’s still true…
Friday, 17 March 2006
Since I’ve been testing out my new iPod the last couple of days, I’ve been checking out some podcasts (the new iTunes/iPod support for podcasts completely rocks), and I found one that I totally dig. It’s called “Eat Feed”, and it has all kinds of food related content, including recipes and (best of all) food history. I listened to their latest show this morning, which focuses on winter-time “comfort food” but also has an interview with author Jackie Williams, author of the very good books (I’ve read them both) Wagon Wheel Kitchens: Food on the Oregon Trail and The Way We Ate: Pacific Northwest Cooking, 1843-1900. Ms. Williams had some very interesting things to say about eating in the Northwest in the latter half of the 19th C. Very cool stuff. I had no idea that people in Washington State were exporting oysters to the California gold fields in 1850.
Anyway, if you’ve got any way of playing MP3 files (iPods included) check out the Eat Feed podcast.
Wednesday, 08 June 2005
We’re throwing a huge bash for my friend Anne’s 40th birthday over 4th of July, and I got put in charge of organizing the food. This is a new one for me, as I’ve never tried to come up with “snacks and finger food for 200 people” before. I’ve done dinner for 50, but this is a bit different. So now I’m trying to balance time/money/labor to figure out how much is too much. The biggest challenge is figuring out what can be done ahead of time, how to store it if I do, and how to keep the cost down and still have it dazzle people. Plus, as with the feast I did, it’ll be at an SCA event, so everything has to be done with camp kitchens.
I’m going to focus on Arab snack/street food. I think a lot of it can be done pretty cheaply. I found a recipe for various spice/nut powders for dipping hard boiled eggs into which sounds both easy and cheap, so I think that one’s a go. I think in the interest of cost/time/inclination we may end up with some Indian or Greek options thrown in, but hey, the Arabs were/are a pretty cosmopolitan bunch, right?
I’ll let you know how it works out. If I think of it I’d like to get some pictures too.
Scotsman.com has an article about the fact that Glaswegians (people from Glasgow, and no, it doesn’t make sense) probably ate a much healthier diet in 1405 than they do today. I think that’s probably pretty much true universally. I think most pre-industrial societies world-wide probably ate a much healthier diet than we do today, although we have access to way more/better resources. Which is pretty sad if you stop to think about it.
If you look at pre-industrial, and particularly aboriginal diets, they almost always work out to being a pretty well-balanced diet. People ate a much wider variety of things in most places than we do today, thanks to foraging, local variations and lack of monoculture. There are some exceptions to this, such as some of the earliest “city” societies who were way too dependent on grain, but I think on the whole diets were better.
Why? We are programmed to crave things that are rare in nature. Like salt, fat, and sugar. In pre-industrial societies, those were rare commodities, and our bodies are designed to take advantage of them when they are available. The problem is that now those things aren’t rare anymore, and we still crave them. Plus they all happen to be cheap now, so food companies want us to fill up on cheap crap instead of eating real, less processed, but more expensive ingredients.
The bottom line? Take back your diet (and your health) and eat like a Viking!
Friday, 25 February 2005
There’s a perennial debate in the SCA about what is “authentic” or “period” cooking. In the SCA context, “period” means “correct for the time period under study” which in my personal case is 10th Century Scandinavian. For the SCA in general that tends to mean “anything prior to 1625”. That’s a lot of food to choose from. Added to that is that fact that outside a very few documentary examples, we don’t have hardly any recipes. Particularly for “dark age” periods like mine. If only a small percentage of the population can write, they probably aren’t writing recipes.
Anyway, I’m a firm believer in the idea that you can create “period” food from two things, 1) studying the archaeological record, and 2) knowing how to cook. We have a very rich archaeological record available which for many times/places allows us to know exactly what foods were being eaten, how they were preserved, and what equipment was used to cook them. Add to those facts an understanding of food and cooking, and hey presto! you’ve got what I argue is “documentable” food. I gave a class on this subject at Estrella last week, and it seemed to be pretty well received. I had some very interesting people in my class including two practicing archaeologists, which was pretty cool.
On a (slightly) different note, there’s a debate currently raging on one of the SCA cooking lists about serving people food that they are “comfortable” with. There seem to be two broad areas of thought. One says that as an educational organization, it’s more valuable for us to introduce people to foods that they are probably unfamiliar with and thus broaden their horizons and educate them about the way our thinking about what is food have changed. The other says that what is really important is making people happy and “comfortable” and that is best achieved by picking “period” recipes that are most like familiar modern foods. This includes things like “macrows” which is essentially macaroni and cheese. While I have nothing against macaroni and cheese, I think serving only that kind of food at SCA feasts or other food gatherings is missing an educational opportunity. The education aspect of macrows is basically “the more things change
”. I’d rather make food that challenges our modern assumptions and opens people up to new possibilities.
On the other hand, what I certainly don’t advocate and wouldn’t tolerate is someone coming up with a whole menu of deliberately “challenging” foods. As in, “let’s see how weird we can be and freak everybody out”. That’s just egotistical and exclusivist. I don’t like that for the same reason that I never liked nouvelle cuisine back in the bad old 80’s. It makes people feel as if they are being left out if they don’t like it and that’s not what it should be about.
So, to try to bring that rant to some sort of reasonable conclusion, I’d advocate shooting for the middle way. Introduce people to new ideas, but don’t scare them away with stuff that’s deliberately outrageous. To pick an example from Ancient Roman cuisine, you’ll get much further with vinegared cucumbers with mint (not something many modern people would be familiar with) than you will with stuffed doormice. If you could find doormice anyway. Or stuff them.
Thursday, 06 January 2005
I have no idea how they got into my house, but I recently discovered a jar of pickled green peppercorns in my pantry, so I decided to use them.
I’ve been reading Dangerous Tastes: the story of spices by Andrew Dalby (which is a very interesting book, BTW) and he mentions that once upon a time preserved green peppercorns were very popular in Europe, but that they’ve mostly been replaced by the dried form we’re used to. Anyway, it got me interested, so I put some in a spaghetti sauce last night, which came out quite well, I thought.
I started with some onions and garlic, then added the green peppercorns, maybe a 1/2 tablespoon or so, and healthy amounts of basil, oregano, and some fennel seeds (which I love in spaghetti). Then in went some celery. When it all cooked down, I threw in some meat balls, and a few tablespoons worth of capers. It went over pretty well with the family too. Ivan even wanted some for breakfast this morning, so it couldn’t have been too bad. I’ve been using Westbrae Natural’s whole wheat spaghetti, which has a very nice texture. Their spinach spaghetti is also really good, but Gwyn tends to freak out over the green noodles, so there are days when it’s just not worth it
So if you happen to come across some pickled pepper (not pickled peppers, mind) give them a shot. They added a very nice, mellow peppery taste without much heat.
Wednesday, 08 December 2004
Tuesday, 07 September 2004
This Saturday (9/11), there's going to be an historic cooking demo/exposition at the Beaverton Farmer's Market. There are a whole series of 1/2 hour demos planned on various styles/periods/etc. I'll be playing the part of "Viking Chef" at around 9:30 I think. Come on down. There will be foods to try, cooking to watch, plus all the benefits of what I've heard is a pretty great Farmer's Market.
Monday, 19 July 2004
The feast came off really well this weekend. I think everyone had a good time, and the food came out pretty well, if I do say so myself.
It's the first time I've tried cooking for 50 people, and the two big takeaways so far are that I made WAY too much food, and that I should have done more prep work at home. Cooking for 50 over a camp stove with no electricity or running water was an interesting challenge. Also, note to self: many people seem to not like fennel. Thankfully it wasn't an integral part of the meal, since it was only in the sauce for the ham, but still, something to keep in mind. On the other hand, some people really like it. My son kept coming by for leftover fennel tops to chew on. Kids are weird.
I'm going to be posting the recipes I used and any changes I made to what was in the books I used over the next few days, so stay tuned.
Maybe next year I could try ancient Messopotamian (sp?) food. It would lead to some interesting decor, if nothing else.
Thursday, 15 July 2004
So the Roman "dinner" I'd planned turned into a "feast" for 50 people, complete with decorations, togas, triclinia, etc. Should be quite the do. I'll end up spending most of Saturday cooking, but that's usually pretty fun anyway.
The menu as planned includes:
- Ham in red wine and fennel sauce
- Chicken in "green sauce"
- fried carrots
- braised cucumbers
- chickpeas with cheese
- celery in raisin sauce
- boiled eggs with pine nut sauce
- assorted table snacks, olives, bread, cheese, almonds, etc.
I'm going to try to take some pictures (of both process and product) and I'll post them here if any turn out.
Friday, 18 June 2004
Next month I'll be organizing and cooking a Roman feast for a gang of friends. I'm already looking forward to it. I've got some good sources for Roman cooking, and there are lots of interesting recipes I've never had a chance to try out. I'm going to try to document the process (menu, cooking, final product) and post pictures etc. here as I have a chance. Stay tuned.
Wednesday, 09 June 2004
Just a few more days until this year's Cast Iron Chef competition. The secret ingredient has been finalized (still not telling) and we're hoping to get a good turnout. It looks like the weather might even be nice .
In years past I've been really impressed at how creative people can be. The first year we did onions as the ingredient, and we got some truly amazing food, including onion desserts. One team even went so far as to dye their table clothes with the onion skins prior to judging. Last year it was prunes, and again, we got some amazing entries. Everything from game hens stuffed with prunes, to some North African food, to a pie decorated yellow and white checky with a lion's head rendered in prunes (the An Tir device). I'm looking forward to seeing what people come up with this year. I'll post some of the examples next week.
Wednesday, 02 June 2004
The other book I mentioned yesterday is The Neapolitan Recipe Collection : Cuoco Napoletano. Looks pretty good so far, although I haven't had much chance to look it over yet.
I spent some time reading the Mesopotamian cooking book, and it's pretty interesting. Starts off with a brief history of Mesopotamia, then talks about the available sources. It's a little thick, but I think that's largely because it's translated from French. Good information, and an interesting look at a very old culture.
It reminds me a bit of one of my favorite cookbooks, Medieval Arab Cookery, edited by Maxime Rodinson. A great look at medieval Persian cooking, including several original texts. Well worth checking out, if you're into that kind of thing. It's a bit spendy unfortunately. And don't expect any actual Fanny Farmer style "recipes". The original texts provide guidelines and descriptions, but there hasn't been any redaction into modern-style recipes.
Tuesday, 01 June 2004
I picked up a couple of new books this weekend that look pretty interesting. One is on ancient Mesopotamian cooking, called The Oldest Cuisine in the World: Cooking in Mesopotamia. I've only read the first few pages so far, but it looks pretty interesting. It talks about the primary source material that was used, and breaks it up into digestible chunks like cooking without fire, cooking with fire, beverages, etc. Very cool.
The other was a translated collection of medieval Italian recipes whose name escapes my just now. I'll try and post info on it later. I haven't had much chance to look at it yet.
Monday, 10 May 2004
Monday, 26 April 2004
A while back I posted some quick thoughts on what to consider when trying to recreate the cuisine of the past (Viking in particular). I've since had some additional revalations, and thought I'd jot them down while I'm thinking about it. They all center around resource availability.
When we try to recreate the food of the past, one thing we tend not to think of right off hand is the effect of resource availability on cooking. We're so used to being able to hop right down to the local grocery store and buy pretty much whatever we want to eat, regardless of what time of year it is, the agricultural potential of where we live, etc.
However, when recreating historic cooking, take it into account. In the Viking case, for example, resource availability varied pretty widely depending on where in the Viking world you lived. Denmark has much more arable and grazing land than does Norway. For many people, the first thing that comes to mind if you say "Viking food" is some huge roast beast. However, for the average farmer in the Trondheim in Norway, that's simply not a possibility. There's not enough grazing land to support many cows on the fjords, and the ones that could be supported are much more useful for diary products than for meat. Plus, beef is comparatively hard to preserve (pork is much easier, but pigs like warmer weather). Taking that into account, we have to think more in terms of meat as a condiment, rather than as a central part of a meal. Things like corned beef, salt beef, salt pork, bacon, smoked fish, all lend themselves well to being used in other dished like soup, porridge (oat, barley, or peas), or vegetable dishes. On the other hand, when living on the fjord fish is probably pretty available for much of the year.
Preservation techniques make a big difference in terms of resource availability. In the south of Europe, salt is readily available, so things like salami, bacon, hard cheese etc. are pretty common, as are salted herring, salmon, and other oily fish. However, in Northern Europe, salt is much harder to come by and expensive, so many foods were more likely to be preserved with lactic acid fermentation (saurkraut, pickled herring, sour milk products) are much more practical.
So, to sum up, when recreating historic cooking in the absense of "recipes" it's important to consider the availability of foods, seasonally or in preserved form, rather than just considering whether of not X ingredient was ever eaten.
The Culinary Ithra went really well this weekend, and was a lot of fun. I taught three classes in a row, and was pretty hoarse by the end of the day, but I really enjoyed it and people were really engaged, which always makes it easier.
Best of all, I just happened to score the leftovers from one of the classes of the lovely and amazingly talented Baroness Anne-Marie d'Ailleurs for lunch. I left home in a hurry and hadn't had time to put anything together for lunch, so Anne-Marie's mushroom pie, stuffed eggs, smoked halibut, et. al. was a lovely surprise. Mmmmmm. French Medieval goodness.
Between the lovely lunch and prepping for my classes I got all fired up to try some more historic recreation cooking. If I get to it I'll post about the results.
My handout for the Viking Food class ended up pretty lame (poor preparation on my part) but I'll post what I have soon.
Sunday, 25 January 2004
Some good web resources on Viking food
Monday, 19 January 2004
I've got PDF versions of a couple of food history classes I've taught at SCA events.
The first is on “Cooking for Cultures with No Extant Recipes”. Many cultures throughout history haven't used written recipes, but I don't think that should stop us from being able to recreate their cooking. For example, we don't have an Viking “recipes”, but we do know from the archeological record what ingredients they used, and what equipment they had for cooking. We can also refer to literature to get a feel for their tastes.
The second is on the “Evolution of Food Processing Techniques”. I looked at how food processing techniques have evolved over time, and what impact they have had on daily life.
Thanks to an article in the New York Times (reg. req.) I just found Centropa. It's a project dedicated to gathering and preserving oral histories of Jews living in Central- and Eastern Europe. One of their main focuses is food, and they've gathered some pretty interesting recipes and oral histories to go with them.
Well worth checking out if you're interested in culinary history.
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