Due to the fire in Paradise, California, this blog is on temporary hiatus. Thank you for understanding.
So, we had a single-day SCA event today, a local one. Just a few miles from the house, so of course that meant we had to fill the car with stuff. Sunshade, chairs, tables, small ice chest, my Microkitchen…you know, the bare essentials.
There was also a “groaning board”…medieval-esque for a pot luck, and yes, I have a “thing” about cooking food on site. So, I planned for food I could prepare there.
First up…the Transylvanian cucumber salad. I’ve made this before, it goes down well with people who might be leery about trying “medieval food”. It’s also really easy to make with a minimal kitchen. You can see the recipe elsewhere in the blog, but it’s basically sliced cukes with salt, pepper, olive oil, wine vinegar, and finely minced garlic. Toss in a bowl, and let it sit. It’s vegan-friendly, gluten-free, fast, and cheap.
Next…well, pot lucks are often light on proteins…but I didn’t want to bring a big, heavy kitchen setup. To me this says pre-cooked meat of some sort, and a period sauce. Flipping through the Transylvanian again we get…
Fifth. (594) Sour cherry sauce.
Clean the sour cherry in a clean iron pot. Add some wine; a bit of white bread and honey, then cook it, pass it through a strainer into a plate and add some black pepper; but don’t add clove, add cinnamon instead; cook it together, but don’t make it too thick.
This followed a few recipes for bird sauce, sauces that go on spit-roasted chickens, and it certainly sounded like it would be good on a chicken, so…one quick trip to Costco for a rotisserie bird ($5 for a good-size, generically seasoned rotisserie chicken that’s already cooked? And tastes good on its own? No-brainer!). Those prior two recipes call for slicing the chicken off the bone and into the sauce, so I did slice up the chicken meat. Meanwhile, one jar of pitted morello cherries (which are decently sour), maybe a half cup of dried sour cherries (I like cherries), a cup and a half of white wine, the insides of a sandwich roll, hollowed out and hand-shredded into crumbs), a quarter cup of honey (by eye), and about a teaspoon each of ground cinnamon and black pepper. Bring to a simmer, mashing things up a bit since I wasn’t going to push it through a strainer. It did get a bit thick, so I added a half-cup of water, and did it again later as the liquid cooked down. Poured the sauce over the shredded chicken, and voila, service! Taste–delightful, will make again. I especially like the idea that this uses specifically an iron pot, as opposed to the likely more common bronze…the acidic cherries would have not done well in bronze…and thankfully, my small iron pot fits neatly on the Microkitchen stove.
Next…well, I was surrounded by demanding people and thus had to (was forced under pain of extensive whining) make Digby’s Toasted Cheese….aka Digby’s Evil Cheesy Goo. It’s a recipe from just barely after the SCA’s stated time period from The Closet of Sir Kennelm Digby, Open’d and it’s really very good, albeit high enough in calories I do not make it alone. Think terribly rich fondue made from equal parts butter, Brie, and cream cheese (so, a stick of butter, a standard wedge of Brie, and a brick of cream cheese, melted together over low heat and stirred until it all comes together.) You can add other cheeses, or things like garlic and black pepper. I kept it basic so it would appeal to as many as possible. It’s good on sliced bread, sliced tart apples, broccoli, a spoon, your fingers, an old shoe…
Last…I had several possibilities, most of them not medieval and mostly for my own gustatory pleasures. But….you remember that one little package of octopus from last week? When soaked and lye-worked it made for quite a few little tentacled buddies. There were SIX more I didn’t cook, so after their little boiling step, I ziplocked them and tossed them into the freezer for later use. And they came with me to the event. After all, there were people coming to the event that were interested in my results. So I quickly thawed them in cool water. Half of them I bundled up and impaled on skewers (the Microkitchen being well stocked)…and this time I had learned to wrap the tentacles up in the body, so it stayed as a nice, mostly neat package. Olive oil drizzle, some black pepper, and this time, a bit of salt, and a few minutes roasting over the alcohol stove burner. I had to cajole some folks into it, but no one who tried it thought it was horrible, or spat it out. So that was a win.
With the last three I wanted to try the other octopus recipe:
First. (412) How to soak octopi.
Make some holes, clean it and let it soak in lye. Once done, wash it in cold water, boil it, cook it in vinegar. It’s good to fry it with oily sauce. Make thin slices, and make a sauce with black pepper, saffron, vinegar, tree oil and honey.
Thing is, this reads to me like several different recipes. After all the rehydration stuff discussed in the second recipe, you have options. You can cook it in vinegar. You can cook it in “oily sauce”. Or you can cook it with what sort of appears to be a vinaigrette with black pepper, saffron, and honey. Oh, but there’s more. I looked up oily sauce. It’s mentioned quite often in amongst the fish. I hit the Mother Lode under dried sturgeon:
(293) Dry sturgeon with oily sauce.
There are three types of oily sauce. One of them is made from cabbage sauce, the second is made from water, oil, vinegar and onion. The third is made from wine, tree oil, honey, some grapes, apple, onion and dill. You shall find out how to cook the dry sturgeon among the beluga.
Dried sturgeon…dried (and rehydrated) octopus…So it appeared I had a choice of onion-rich cabbage broth with olive oil, the same with no cabbage, but with vinegar…and then number three…wine, olive oil, honey, grapes, apple, onion, and dill. Hey, that sounded interesting. Lots of flavors, there. So I made it. All by eye, maybe a cup of wine, half a cup of small green grapes, quarter cup of honey, a few tablespoons of olive oil, about 1/3 of a nice tart apple chopped small, and a good teaspoon and a half of dill, with a little minced onion. The Microkitchen doesn’t really encourage exact measurements. Because they were out on the table, I also added a few threads of saffron and a pinch of black pepper as flavors mentioned from the original octopus recipe. Brought that up to a simmer, chopped up the last of the octopi, and added it in.
Well. That was pretty surprisingly darned tasty. The octopi practically vanished into it taste-wise, being more texture than anything else. Added a subtle fishiness, like a hit of fish sauce or garum, but nothing huge. My main taste tester here (pictured below) REALLY liked this.
Hey, um, Siobhan, you have a little something on your lip…
By the bye, Siobhan has been testing other Transylvanian recipes and will be guest-posting them here.
But now it’s really bedtime after a long day. See you next time!
…in which our brave hero, having deciphered the cryptic manuscript, quested for and received in turn the most necessary Ingredient, and followed all the steps of the Dance Culinaire, does finally put the pieces together and assemble the Dish at Last. Well. Yeah. We did […]
Okay. I know I can be maybe a trifle obsessive when it comes to cooking medieval recipes. It’s not enough to be actually cooking dishes based on sometimes-fragmentary and unhelpful recipes that are occasionally not even in anything resembling English, but then I have to cook with handmade period equipment, over fires.
And that’s fine. That’s just who I am. But sometimes, I have to take it further. Pick a crazy recipe to go with. Pick recipes where you have to make ingredients first to make the finished product. Find truly bizarre ingredients. Do stuff that has your friends cheering you on…but only at a minimum safe distance.
That’s where I am today.
The Transylvanian Cookbook, known as the Science of Cooking, has some unusual foibles. The writer was obviously a firm nationalist, but he(?) was obviously well travelled, as he wrote about seeing the Hungarian Emperor at dinner (hey, bro, more detail would have been nice!), talks about recipes from other countries, and he uses ingredients not found in that area at all. Which brings us to the two recipes for octopus.
Octopus isn’t native to the region at all. The nearby Black Sea is too salty for them. The nearest place you might find them would be the Mediterranean or Aegean Seas, which are an uncomfortable number of hundreds of miles from Transylvania, even given that they knew about using ice to keep foods fresh, longer. So these two recipes must be truly exotic dishes to please very high class people, since you’d have to catch them, dry them thoroughly, and then ship them up to Transylvania in sufficient quantity for your feast. And, as one often finds with high class foods, you have to do a lot to them to make them even more special for your lord or prince.
Here’s what I’m working with. And all credit to my friend Tiffany, who found the dried octopus to begin with. No, credit is NOT another word for blame!
Let’s talk about octopi
(412) How to soak octopi.
Make some holes, clean it and let it soak in lye. Once done, wash it in cold water, boil it, cook it in vinegar. It’s good to fry it with oily sauce. Make thin slices, and make a sauce with black pepper, saffron, vinegar, tree oil and honey.
(413) Octopus in a different way.
Wash the octopus in three pots of water, then let it soak in clean water for two days, but change the water frequently, especially in the summer, elsewise it will go bad. Once you put it in a new pot of water, wash it. Once two days have passed, make some alkali out of ash, but don’t make it too strong, for that will devour the fish, and your lord will be angry with you. Let the alkali cool, and put it in the same pot with the octopus, let it stand for one night, then boil it in clean water, pass through a strainer the water, put it in cold water, and keep it with ice in the summer so that it will not go bad. Once you’re about to cook it, remove the black skin, put it on a skewer, roast it, paste it with tree oil. Once done, put it on a skewer and add some black pepper, then serve it while it’s hot.
Yes. This is lye-cured octopus. Octo-lutefisk, if you will. Fish-jello, with tentacles. Oh, heavens, what AM I about to do?
Okay, that first recipe? Too simple, and some details are missing, like how long you soak it. Maybe I’ll try that one if I get more octopus and recipe 413 doesn’t kill me. No, I’m going for the gusto.
So if I’m doing this, I will need to plan carefully. When you read the recipe through, one of the first things I notice is that we are talking about something that’s going to take three days, minimum, to prepare. As I have a real life outside the kitchen, this means starting it on a day when I’ll have time to follow all the steps, especially when I get to the night of the second day, and cook it on the third day. Because I can’t just do it on the stove, no. I’ll have to do this over a medieval cooking hearth, using a period heat source, and period cookware, and both of those mean time consuming.
Wait, let’s back up. Making alkali (lye) isn’t hard…it’s a matter of straining water through wood ash (preferably hardwood). So I’ll need a supply of ash. I can do that, but given the fire season, let’s do that carefully, hmmm? How strong do I make this? Since I’m no longer taking college chemistry classes, I no longer have access to a phenolphthalein titration rig (not that that would help as our cookbook author forgot to give us a nice pH for the solution).
I’m going to have to reach outside my source for this one. Some post-period references talk about making lye “strong enough to half float an egg”…in other words, the concentration of lye for a strong solution would float an egg halfway out of the water. There is a lovely analysis of the process here: Lye Making and here: More Lye Making . Okay. Traditional lutefisk has a pH of between 10.5 and 12 per Google (yikes, that’s high). Our recipe says to not make it strong so I think we should aim low–besides, with a lower pH, we can always soak it a bit longer if we have to. Too high, and the octopus will dissolve and our lord will be angry at us. Thankfully, that second link shows a means to make an easy pH testing solution and provides a color testing scale.
So, now our first step is going to be to get the lye ready in advance, testing it to make sure we have it not too strong, but not too weak, either. Then we can rehydrate the octopus for a couple of days, soak it overnight in our home made lye solution, and on the last day, peel it, put it on a skewer, season it up with some good olive oil and fresh black pepper, roast it over a fire…and taste it.
It’s too late tonight to start making ash, and I don’t have a red cabbage on hand to make the pH testing liquid. But we have a plan. Stay tuned friends, and let’s see how this works!
So, my friend Kerri was out at the Pennsic War this time around (yes, I’m jealous), and shopping is nearly as big a sport there as whacking your buddies with a stick. She came across this book, purporting to be a collection of Transylvanian recipes, […]
Yeah, now I was hitting my stride. So was everyone else. Friday at the War for the Cooks’ Camp generally means Fish Friday (so very medieval), though there’s no requirement to do it if you’re not into fish. Since dried octopus wasn’t to be found (to make Transylvanian octo-lutefisk), I elected to stay in camp and start early rather than later. Also unusually, we weren’t having our formal dinner that night…one of our regulars was having a wedding and we all didn’t want to show up with dishpan hands.
So, with an early start, and a little extra cool time, I figured this was the time to do my Bonus Project. My Bonus Projects are extra, cooking related times when I try to work out some period techniques by doing. Last year, I tried grinding grain with a stone quern, and also, with Armin’s help, tried to use a cow’s horn to stuff sausage. Before that, I used the nearby ocean to make a jar of Sel d’Guerre (the Salt of War). This time…I was going to try to tin my giant riveted cauldron.
Yeah, that’s it there. I previously cleaned it out with a wire brush on a drill. On this day, I used a nice coating of flux, and built a pretty good fire in my firebox. And there was my first problem. Unlike a real medieval tinsmith, I couldn’t build a BIG fire, or spread it out much, and every little breeze that wasn’t stopped by the walls I didn’t have took my heat with it. I was eventually able to melt the tin in the very bottom, but only by putting the cauldron right down into the coals, and then using a blowpipe to supercharge the coals.
So I tried wiping the molten tin around while simultaneously letting it cool. Not…wholly effective, I’m afraid. I even used a butane torch in my culinary toolkit (yes, I know, not medieval, so sue me) to spot heat. I ended up with the below:
Oh, well. That band around the top? Too thick, and it didn’t really bond. Hey, no biggie. It can be peeled off and remelted (tin, by the way, melts around 450F). But see that patch very vaguely like Australia below that? THAT is the way it’s supposed to be. Thin, bonded to the pot and smooth. So we’ll revisit this project in the future. People were coming out to do some cooking, and rather than drive them away with fumes from the flux, I decided to get back to real cooking too.
So, to the food! Rummaging around in my ice chest, I came up with a goodly little beef chuck roast. Therefore, time to pull up the beef recipes.
First, beef with sorrel. I confess, this one was almost too easy to do. But I was curious as to how it would taste.
Eighteenth. (17) Beef with sorrel.
Wash the sorrel and add a lot of it, it gives the meat a sour taste. When the meat is cooking, add the sorrel and add some black pepper.
Like the other recipes around it, I rinsed off the beef (our author was big on beef being clean), salted it well, then half-cooked it on the grill to get a little caramelization. I then sliced it up and put it into a pipkin with some beef broth and started that simmering. After it had been going a while, I added pepper and opened my jar of sorrel. What? Yes, well, while I had hoped to be able to use fresh sorrel leaves for this (they look a bit like baby spinach), the folks who had it weren’t able to bring it. So I had as backup, a jar of it, sort of like baby food. Since it was going to get cooked down anyway…
It’s too late to make a long story short, but that’s how you adapt. And it was pretty tasty. The beef shouldn’t have been grilled so long, and it would have been better if it was less lean, but the fresh-sour taste of the sorrel came through just fine, and flavored the beef well. A lot of folks who came through camp tried it, and no one ran screaming.
With the other half of the roast…
The seventh with beef.
(7) CHOKED ROASTED BEEF.
Wash the beef, put it into a skewer, and roast it like I said before. When it’s half-done, beat it. Be sure to catch its drippings in a pot. Cut into pieces, as many as you would want to serve.
When it’s in the pot, put a small loaf of white bread next to it; don’t peel it just clean it13, then add some juniper berries, but not too many, and do not crush them. Add some sage, and a little onion for the flavor. If it looks to you that the beef does not have enough liquid, add some beef broth. If you have lemon juice, add some; if you have none, you can use vinegar, but do not make it too vinegary. Find a lid for the pot, put it on, and then seal it well with paste , but make sure you have added some black pepper and everything else it needs because once you have sealed it you can’t open it again. When you want to serve it, put all the meat and much of the sauce on the serving dish, but do not include the loaf of bread because it does not belong there.
I wasn’t sure about beating it, but I used my meat-bat, and indeed, it gave me more meat drippings, though I still had to add plenty of beef broth. I used a lemon, about 10 juniper berries, and a dozen or so sage leaves. I did forget the onion (doh!), added the bread, and pepper, and sealed it all in a pipkin I was given to test with some flour-water dough.
Simmered it about an hour, thinking that the dough seal would help it act like one of my beloved pressure cookers. Alas, the meat didn’t end up being terribly tender (fattier would have been better), and the sauce…well, it was okay, but it wasn’t a favorite. The juniper berries reacted with the acid to make the sage leaves kind of…bitter. This was the first Transylvanian dish I didn’t really care for…though maybe the missing onion could have performed some alchemy and made it delicious. Or maybe not. The pipkin, by the way, worked way better than I thought, given how light weight it was, and unglazed.
Last dish (I SAID I was busy!) was fried raisins.
(783) Frying raisins.
Soak the raisins in wine so they will be swollen; make batter from this wine, dip the raisins into the dough, for if they weren’t wet, the dough would fall off.
I started this first to get the raisins soaking. I had about a pound of golden raisins, put them into a canister, and poured some red wine over them to cover. I bought the golden raisins because they were on special, and the bottle of red wine was already open, that’s why.
After a couple hours, the raisins were plumped up (overnight might have been better), I poured off the wine into a bowl, added an egg to the cup and a half of wine there, and stirred in flour to make a thick batter. Meanwhile, I melted butter in one of my ceramic skillets. When it was all ready, I dumped the raisins back into the batter to coat them, and scooped them up, a few at a time, to put into the hot butter.
Okay, first, the butter was a salted butter. While the first several of these were awfully salty, most everyone who tried them that way liked the contrast of the salt, the wine, and the sweet raisins. Second, honest, the butter should have been hotter. Nothing got crisp (not that it was required). Last…the red wine batter when fried…looked like lumps of raw beef. Really. That put a few people off, but honest, these made a great bar-snack, and went terribly, terribly well with Ivar’s sangria. I’ll make these again, but you know, with white wine.
And yes, Aram kept working on the oven, with help.
If you know me, or have gotten a sense of who I am from these articles, you know I am a little strange. I’m not a terribly tidy person, not really, but I DO prize order and organization. I love lists. I like to compartmentalize things, and I live for “kits”. You know, like my Microkitchen.
I mean, even right now as I was headed to a Collegium (SCA event that’s all classes on…various things), I had a tidy little note taking kit, a collection of tools for a variety of classes I might take, and so forth. But with the other stuff I had to get done this weekend, I’d wanted to work on my own Arts and Sciences Projects. So I needed something small to fill my spare minutes.
We also have, in just under a month, the West/An Tir Cooks’ Play Date, aka the W/A War (if you’re more into Ars Combat instead of Ars Cocinara). And getting ready for a solid week of medieval cooking, over fires, in period cookware takes some getting ready. For one, it’s on the coast of Oregon, so some of the stranger ingredients we might need you have to plan to bring with you…McKay’s Market is nice but if you’re after verjus or a whole free-range goat, yeah, good luck! For the second, I don’t know what you drive to go camping, but not having a teleporting multi-dimensional box that is bigger on the inside means I have to pack carefully.
So this is my newly-rebuilt and reloaded spice kit. If I want some grains of paradise, I want to be able to lay hands on them then, not when I get back home. First, the outer case is a cheap and reasonably sturdy equipment case from that lovely establishment of “fine” (cheap) hardware, Harbor Freight. Keeps everything together, has a decent handle, food latches, and also, when it’s closed, it keeps the spices all in the dark, which is good for shelf life.
The inside was a bit of a problem. Those corked glass bottles? Traditional, marginally medieval-looking, and aesthetically pleasing. I’ve been saving them from when I buy saffron at a Trader Joe’s for home use or for feasts I’ve run (head chef’s privilege). I also found more of them, in similar size, at my local health food store and a few at World Market. But here’s the problem. If I stack those little jars two high, I can’t close the lid. And I definitely need more spices than what you can see there I’m a single layer. I’m cooking from a broad range of medieval time (Roman through late medieval), and in a wide area, after all.
So I reverted. In an earlier incarnation of the spice kit I bought from Leevalley.com a set of little watchmakers tins, in a flat tray. The tins hold about as much as the jars, if not a bit more, but they have no aesthetic pleasures at all (unless, I suppose, you’re a watchmaker, or like teeny tiny beads). And the entire tray of fifteen tins fits neatly in the box under the jars. So at least they’re hidden. That seems to give me enough containers so I can add a few extras…a tiny grater for the nutmeg, cinnamon sticks, rock salt, and sugar, and the mini mortar and pestle because whole spices beat pre-ground.
Went to my local health food store, which has a surprisingly good assortment of high quality bulk spices, all organic and everything. Loaded up on the stuff I didn’t already have. The really oddball stuff, grains of paradise, saunders, hyssop and the like…I was fortunate enough to have been gifted a lovely collection from a dear friend on the occasion of my Laurelling. And the long pepper came from a local-ish East Indian Market I visit now and again. So, before you give up on making your own medieval spice collection for cooking, make sure you check out places like ethnic markets, or health food stores.
I have also tucked in there against the lid, a small blank book I was given. I have used it to write down the recipes for my period spice blends, and have plenty more pages for writing down culinary discoveries. Which is good, because I’ve found if I DON’T have something handy, I won’t write it down, and then it can just vanish away again…
But now, spice is the variety of life!
Covering recipes from over a thousand-year span, Arabic to Ireland, Portugal to Transylvania takes some sacrifices. Sure, there are some common herbs and spices (everyone used pepper, for instance), but not everyone used tarragon, or za’atar. I really wanted to leave some empty jars available, in case I found something I just had to have, but….yeah, right. So I’ve left a few things out, knowing that right NOW I’m doing some cultures and times, and not others. And right now there are a few empty bottles in case I come across something I just have to put in. And nothing rattles!
Thyme, sage, bay leaves, oregano, marjoram, black pepper, Long pepper, cubebs, Ceylon cinnamon, cassia cinnamon, savory, hyssop, Grains of Paradise, coriander, nutmeg, ginger, cardamom pods, mace, mustard seeds, cloves, galingale, caraway, tarragon, juniper berries, cumin, rock salt, sugar cones, cream of tartar (to fake verjuice), fennel, basil, rosemary, red Saunders, and of course a jar each of Powder Douce, Powder Fine, Powder Fort, and Duke’s Powder. Plus a grater and a mortar and pestle and a few empty jars.
And there we go, the temporarily finished product.
When I tell the story of how the Transylvanian Cookbook came to be, I make sure to mention the first translation of the recipe titles. Not having anyone handy who read fluent Hungarian, we fed the webpage listing all the recipe titles into Google Translate […]
So, I have a pretty decent collection of medieval cookbooks these days, and of course there are SO many more available for free access online. To the folks who read this, my question is this: What three to five SCA period cookbooks, in order, do YOU consider essential and most representational, and why? Yes, I know your choices show your particular bias in studying period food, but that’s okay. Pretend you have a tiny amount of space to pack some period cookbooks…which ones are coming with you? Please post your answer in the comments.
My top five?
- Forme of Cuyre (my first)
- Scappi’s Opera (a huge assortment of recipes, very accessible
- Taillievent (very representational of middle medieval French)
- Martino (extremely readable, great array of recipes)
- The Transylvanian cookbook (oh, come on, I HAD to).
Of course this list changes depending on mood and what I’m into at the moment. But now I want to know yours. So….go!