An electronic version of the notebook in my haversack

The Leather Notebook

The Leather Notebook

An electronic version of the notebook in my haversack

Recent Posts

How to Avoid My Blathering

How to Avoid My Blathering

So far, all of you have been very kind and not told me to “Shaddap”, because I know I can get rather long winded, especially when my “Obsession” button has been pressed. To reward you for your patience, I have here a guest poster, a […]

A Good Day Out

A Good Day Out

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 […]

Parte The Last…

Parte The Last…

…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 this. Octo-lutefisk has been made and consumed. No one died in the making of this except some cephalopods, who were already deceased before I conceived this mad notion. Let’s recap, shall we?

(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.

So, we acquired said dried octopus. We rinsed it off in three pots full of water before letting it soak in the fridge for two days, changing the water about every 8 hours. We then made lye, determining a pH of 10 or so would be a good starting point, and found happily what we made from wood-ash was about the pH we wanted, testing it with a cool hack involving red cabbage juice.

Last night, I put the rehydrated octopi in the lye, and left it in the fridge overnight. Today, I put my firebox together, assembled olive oil, black pepper, tools, and such and got to work.

Yes. A fire extinguisher is by definition medieval. Don’t argue, I live in California and it’s still fire season.

Here’s the thing. It worked -just- like the instructions said. No black skin formed until after the octopi were boiled. It rubbed off very easily. The head easily was skewered, the tentacles, not so much. Brushed on some tree oil (olive oil), ground some black pepper over it, and held it over the coals. When it looked like it was nicely heated through, off the skewer and into the mouth!

Here’s the boil…

See the little bit of “black skin”? Bit of a membrane, is all.

Watch you don’t burn the tentacles!

The whole Head of an octopus rehydrated, lye treated, boiled and roasted. Not very big, is it?

Open wide!

So, now you’re wondering, what was it like? I confess, I had imagined it would become some gelatinously mushy, meaty gel thing. It didn’t come out like that at all. The tentacles were a little chewy, not bad, mind you, but that’s where the muscles are. Nothing was jello-y at all. The head was actually rehydrated quite well for something that had the thickness of construction paper to start.

Taste? It was…rather like cod or sole…some fairly bland white fish. Royce, pictured above, and I agreed it could use a touch of salt! If I’d cooked it over the fire longer, it might have gotten a touch crispy around the edges…so a combination of fish and chips? Probably not. Longer over the fire is generally a bad idea with a lot of sea-life unless you’re going to cook it a LOOOONG time.

What did I do that wasn’t period? Primarily, I kept it in the fridge when rehydrating for safety. And the octopus had some sulphates in it that you wouldn’t find in period. I also used it as fast as I reasonably could, rather than leaving it on ice, as it says we can. If you want to go nuts, I also didn’t time days and nights at that latitude in the times octopus would have been available. But it talks about doing it in summer, and summer is just about done-ish now…good enough.

My cooking methods were as medieval as I could manage, and there is nothing a period cook would have found out of place in the preparation of lye (except trying to explain the concept of pH would be a challenge). You can see I got out my pipkins, and natural hardwood charcoal is the period cooking fuel of choice.

Was it exceptional? No. Would I refuse to eat it if it showed up on my plate? Not at all! I will say, that after trying this, the recipe before, with less detail, interests me more. It tells you to cook it in “oily sauce”. As it happens, there are three basic oily sauces given…one that basically cabbage broth with olive oil, one that shows up with a lot of dried fish which is vinegar, wine, honey, and olive oil. And one that’s the same, but with grapes, chopped apples, and dill! Those are some decently strong favors for something that is fairly bland. So, since I have some left over, and in fact a whole package that hasn’t been rehydrated yet…I might not be done with tentacles yet!

So, questions? Comments? Ready to send me off with a jacket that has sleeves in the back?

We are committed, and that’s no lye!

We are committed, and that’s no lye!

I love much about my job. Especially on days like today, because you see, I have a flex schedule, and 4 ten hour days, meaning Fridays off every week. This is relevant because when you have a big project, like doing 72-hour short ribs in […]

How far is far enough?  Scary far!

How far is far enough? Scary far!

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 […]

Learning about the past from the more recent past

Learning about the past from the more recent past

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, history, and such.

Of course, my one advantage to being not at Pennsic is I have way easier Internet access, and I was able to find the same book for less on Amazon.com. So I ordered it, and have started reading.

So far, it’s been educational, but not in the way you might think. It was written in 1984-1985, and it’s full of good reminders. First of all, fellow historical re-creationists, remember that books are not AUTOMATICALLY your friends. Just because it’s in print doesn’t make it true.

Our author here has espoused a belief that Transylvanian cooking is one of the foundational cuisines in the world. Oooookay. He’s also convinced China had an influence on early Transylvanian cooking…based entirely on the “fact” that early China and post medieval Transylvania both had a fondness for little hot peppers…and as far as I know, they’re not the same species of pepper.

And…the recipes. I’ve barely started looking at them yet, but I have spotted some things that are similar to the some of the dishes in The Science of Cooking…but it’s really important and educational to remember that in such a book “really old recipe” doesn’t mean medieval, it means from Gramma’s 3×5 cards tucked into a book somewhere.

What’s been good so far? Maps, discussion of geography, and some of the ethnic composition of the Transylvanian region. I’m hoping there’s more solid history (and, maybe, a bibliography?). More hopes…if I can see descriptions of food items that I can link to The Science of Cooking, I can maybe get more clues about items I only have vague descriptions of. Like pogasca and some of the foods identified as cakes.

Okay, got more to read. More later. And, as soon as I get the chance to try it, the octo-lutefisk!

Day Four—Saturday

Day Four—Saturday

This is also known as “Cook All The Things” Day, and it’s kind of bittersweet. No one holds back, but that’s because we have to pack down and go home the next day (actually, given the amount of sheer stuff we have, most of us […]

Day Three—Friday

Day Three—Friday

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 […]

Day Two—Thursday

Day Two—Thursday

Wait, you might cry, what happened to day one? Day one was Wednesday, aka set-up day. And when you have a large pavilion, a huge pile of gear to move from truck to ground, and from ground to where it goes, plus the bed, stuff for the outdoor kitchen space and my own personal in-pavilion kitchen space to set up, it takes a while. Plus helping out ones neighbors as one should do. Plus the four hour drive from Grant’s Pass, and getting back into town for dinner and getting a few extras at the local market. So yeah, cooking-wise, Wednesday was a bust, as it always is.

But day two, we get rolling. Sure, we have to unpack our supply of pipkins and rummage through the ice chests and dish out our recipes, but that’s why we are here!

So, here’s what I cooked on Thursday.

I first tried something not strictly period…I mean, I’m sure it is, but it’s not documented, since I was otherwise working more or less exclusively with the Transylvanian cookbook, The Science of Cooking, this time around. I had this big honking pork shoulder, bought for cheap. So I deboned it, and butterflied a section of it out, and then mixed up some sausage that was intended for dinner the night before (but we went out instead) with eggs, some spices, and some breadcrumbs. The idea was to roll the pork around the filling, tie it up, and roast it over the fire. Alas, it just never came together because the piece of meat was too small and since I was still working slowly I eventually disposed of it because it had been out too long. It probably would have been okay, but dealing in probably will get you sick at so3 point. No big loss. No picture either, which is fine because it was ugly.

Second, ah, a recipe! The Garlic Harvest Sauce is probably my favorite sauce in the whole manuscript, which is good, because it’s used so often. So, this time I did it with the remaining pork, and for the first time I did it using truly period cookware…I.e. in a Pipkin over a fire.

Twelfth. (151) Pork with harvest sauce.

Prepare the pig like I told you to. After the meat is tender, slice some onion and parsley leaves. When serving it, make harvest sauce. Don’t forget to add spices.

Not overly informative, no, but recipes (2) and (3) from the manuscript give very solid details on how to make harvest sauce. And see my earlier post on making it with beef on A Tale of Two Weekends. Since I was making a large pot of this, I made rather a lot of the sauce,and honestly, I should have grabbed two more eggs from the care basket that Tallina sent up to the War (period nut candies, unripe grapes for verjus, a dozen and a half free range chicken and duck eggs, rice flour, GOOD local olive oil…). Her eggs were great golden and tasty, but I needed a few more than I used to properly thicken the sauce. So, what I ended up using was:

3 pounds pork shoulder, sliced into smaller pieces, simmered in 6 cups water to make a pork broth with the pork cooked tender.

5 duck eggs beaten with 1/4 white wine vinegar

3 parsnips (in place of the parsley root)

Half a yellow onion

Leaves of half a bunch of parsley, chopped

Ginger, saffron, and black pepper to taste

Salt to taste

This ended up being one of my contributions to dinner that night and was enjoyed, especially by our post-dinner visitors.

Picture: I didn’t get one, darn it all.

The other thing I cooked was:

Fifth. (86) Lamb with onion sauce.

Cook the meat like I told you; once about to serve it, slice it to the pot, and do this with the sauce: peel the onion, slice it on a clean table then put it into the pot, put clean beef (broth) on top of it, cook it, and while it’s being cooked, add some vinegar, black pepper and pour it into a pot with the lamb, then serve it once both are ready.

And our author told us in the previous recipe how to cook the lamb–salt it, roast it over the fire until it was done, then hit it to knock the salt off. Now, I don’t know if the salt fell off particularly, but we did get some juices, which I dutifully put into the Pipkin with the four very large, amazingly tasty lamb loin chops (the site owner offered us his lamb for only the cost of having it butchered–an amazing deal, and talk about terroir!).

So, about two pounds of lamb, an onion and a half (diced with the lamb), about three cups of beef broth (made with Better Than Bullion…awfully convenient stuff, that!), and a quarter cup of red wine vinegar. Pepper to taste, maybe a teaspoon or so. Simmered a couple of hours and also served at dinner.

I would happily eat this again. And not share it.

Meanwhile, our resident artificer, Aram, had started working on the oven…

Been a while since I’ve posted…

Been a while since I’ve posted…

But I wouldn’t want you think I’ve been ignoring this blog. No, I’ve been getting ready for an event that’s fairly important to me, and now that the event has come and gone, I can write about it. You see, this past week (well, five […]

A King’s Ransom…okay, maybe a Baron’s

A King’s Ransom…okay, maybe a Baron’s

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 […]

Purely for the amusement value

Purely for the amusement value

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 (you did know, right, that in addition to translating word by word, you can copy/paste the URL for a particular webpage into a Google Translate and it will do its best to translate it into whatever language you select? Just make sure to give it a few seconds, it can take time).

In any case, that’s where “Grim Reaper Cow Beef Juice” came from, for the second beef recipe (“Beef with Harvest Sauce”). But Google’s translation software DOES learn, and you no longer get Grim Reaper Cow Beef Juice. It’s now “Cow milk with cow’s milk”, which in some respects is even stranger, though less evocative.

So I made sure to archive a copy of all the Google-translated titles, lest I wake some morning to find that Google has achieved perfect idiomatic translation, and the humor would be lost. That would be a shame.

Enjoy the PDF! Do you have a favorite?

Google’s Translation of the Titles

My Microkitchen

My Microkitchen

Earlier, I promised to natter on about the Microkitchen. And I’m feeling an urge to write, and I left the draft of my new cookbook I was working on at work. So, rather than waste this writing urge… Please note this has nothing specifically to […]

Poll Question for you folks…

Poll Question for you folks…

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 […]

3.0 Inbound!

3.0 Inbound!

So, what with all the SCA wonderful weirdness hitting my life this second, I felt the need to actually wrap up the 3.0 edition of the Transylvanian Cookbook. This is, realistically, probably the last major update I’m going to do. If I start doing more versions, it would be MY interpretations of the recipes, and that would defeat the purpose of having you all do your own interpretations, right?

So, this edition has an internal list of numbers for all the recipes. So we can all talk about “recipe 280”, and know we are talking about the same one. There’s also footnotes so when our author says “do this fish recipe the way I told you with the carp”, you can see which recipe he’s talking about.

The biggest and last update, though is this: While you will always be able to download the latest version for free, because that was the deal, I have now included a link to Lulu.com, where you can order a print-on-demand hardcover edition, suitable for hugging and drooling on.

These links are at the top of the blog, on the permanent page labeled “The Transylvanian Cookbook”. I’ll get the new version sent out to the other sites when it’s not so late at night.