Musk

 

Musk is noted in more medieval recipes for food and perfumes than you can shake a sword at, adding a depth and complexity to foods the same way sandalwood does.  A little goes a very long way!

Now modernly, we can get musk from whales (ambergris) also known a whale snot.

Beaver musk (castor sacks of Castor Canadensis or Castor fiber).

Civet (viverridae).

Finally ambrette musk (hibiscus ablemoschus).

Period musk is almost impossible to get.  Why you may ask?  While I was doing a bit of studying for another project (surprise, surprise), I’ve found that the original(ish) musk mentioned in period cooking came from three sources.  The Siberian musk deer (M. moschiferus), black musk deer (M. fuscus) Alpine/Himalayan musk deer (M. chrysogaster).  The glands of the musk deer were harvested (and small quantities from very small musk deer farms) by removing the scent glands of the deer.

The gland secretions would dry into small black grains that were, and are, prized for the pheromones they exude.  The description is that of a rich and earthy smell, almost heavenly.  Mostly.  Some people found it repulsive, but not so many that the deer aren’t on the verge of extinction now.

The original method for removal was to kill the deer and take the musk glands, without worry about sustainability.  This has come back to haunt those who relied on the deer’s scent gland.   Few of these animals survive, except in the most remote regions.  The price, in period is listed as being twice the weight in gold and modernly 3 to 4 times that price now.  (Nabhan, pp. 150-151).

So where does that leave the modern cook?  Up a creek for the period musk.  There is no way that musk, from the listed deer, is harvested cruelty free or without costing an arm and a leg (throw a kidney in for good measure).  There are substitutions.   There is a variety of plant based musks with beautiful earthy notes and of course synthetics.  If possible go with the plant based.  Experiment.  Try new things!  Always err on the side that more can be added but it’s going to be hard to remove what you’ve already put in!

May 2, 2017 | No comments

While doing research for another project, I ran across this random little gem of a recipe. I had Scappi’s butter pie crust on hand and fresh pears, along with spices and dried fruit.  I thought to myself, why the hell not!  Let’s see what happens!  And a taste new dish is recreated.

 

  • A Winter’s Tale Pear Pie

     

    Translation:

    “…saffron to colour the warden pies (pears).  Mace, dates, non; that’s our of my note; nutmegs, seven, a race or two of ginger, but that I may beg; four pound of prunes, and as many raisins of the sun.” The Clown in A Winter’s Tale (Milton, pp. 20)

     

    Ingredients:

    Pinch of saffron

    4 pears

    1 tsp ea. ground mace, nutmeg, ginger

    20 dates (pitted and chopped)

    20 prunes

    1 C. raisins

  • ***Quick note before we get started, this pie is being made in a single serving pie mold.  I gave instructions for a full pie. If you want to do a single pie just cut everything down to 1/4. 

    Redaction:

     

  • Gather your ingredients.  First things first!
  • Chop up your pears, dates, prunes.  Toss in the raisins and mix.
  •  

     

    Add your spices, mixing again.

  • Here I used a butter crust, because it is awesome! (and I love making it) along with the fact I had extra on hand.
  • Make a top for the pie.  I was pretty sloppy with this pie crust…a late night of cooking.   You can make a pretty pie topping with a little bit more effort.   If I were serving this to company, of course it would be much much nicer!
  •  

    An interesting note.  The Clown, in a The Winter’s Tale, didn’t ask for sugar.  The dried fruit and natural sweetness of the pear is supposed to cover the delicate flavors and natural sugars without any extra.

    Cutting into the pie…it just smells period.  That scent of spice and fruit that comes only with a real medieval cooking.

  • I hate to admit this, but I was skeptical about the no sugar thing.  Turns out the fruit pie is fabulous without.  Very tasty.

April 17, 2017 | No comments

So this recipe is a bit of history copulation of several research papers I’ve done in the past and a really good recipe that makes use of ALL the research done.  If you’ve read the papers, just skip to the recipe.

Roman Cooking and making of a “Peacock” Pie

By

Honorable Lady Sosha Lyon’s O’Rourke

 

 

Intro to Roman Cooking:

Roman cooking spans several centuries with a rich collection of recipes.  Manuscripts depicting the Roman table are rare due to the age, delicacy of these scrolls and the plundering of the Roman Empire.  However there have been a few manuscripts and letters that have survived and translated that bring us a better understanding of what a Roman table is like, from dinning styles and dishes, to foods and sumptuary laws.  (Grant, Vehling)

Kitchen:

Joan Liversidge writes in The Roman Cookery book,  that most of what is known in modern day about the Roman kitchen comes from ruins with the best preserved kitchens to have been from the excavation from Pompeii that were in use during the eruption of Vesuvius in A.D. 79.

“…the hearth, which consists of a raised platform of masonry faced on top with tiles, sometimes edged with a curb, and with a coating of opus singiunum  (paint?) along the front. Arched openings in the front of the platform nearer the floor-level lead to fuel bins that were roughly constructed of rubble and tile.  Arrangements for providing water for cooking and washing-up are also sometimes found, as are the supports for the stone or wooden tables used for the preparation of food.” (Flower, pg. 29)

This description leads one to think that the more wealthy homes had better cooking accommodations i.e. raised platforms, wash areas and stone tables while the poor kitchens did without these amenities and used buckets for washing and cheap wood tables. (Flower, pp. 32, 33)

(http://www.the-romans.co.uk/food.htm)

Here is a Roman kitchen with the original counters and murals.  This kitchen is in the Teton Village of Italy and still in use.  The counters are marble with the original brick walls, cobble stone floors and wood storage areas.  This looks huge!  And definitely makes me envious of the cooks who worked in such a lovely kitchen.

There were several methods for cooking in a Roman house.  The stove one part of a roman kitchen called a focus, square structure usually between 1.10 cm and 1.30 cm high and 1.20 m deep.  Some stoves were smaller or larger but this seemed to be the average sized compiled from the intact stoves of Pompeii. (Faas, pp. 131)  Faas and Flowers discuss that the stove had various ways to cook, either with high flames for searing or roasting of animals.  If the animal was small enough then whole such as rabbit, kid or piglet but if the focus was large enough goat, pig, deer might be added to the list of whole animal.

Another type of cooking structure found in the rubble of Pompeii, per, seemed to be smaller in then the focus. These were made of rubble and tiles in the form of beehives, low to the ground.   There was an opening in the front for fuel with a drought for air.  These ovens could use both wood or charcoal depending on the dish(es) brought for preparation.  In the excavation of Pompeii, small rectangular ovens were discovered standing on the hearth of a kitchen in the House of Dioscuri.  One theory is that these small nonstandard ovens were used for pastries as a pastry mould was found near.  The pastry dishes were not described, unfortunately.

The oven, not to be confused with a stove, called a furnus or a fronax.  This was a square or dome-shaped hollow made from brick stone.  The floor of the oven was laid with granite.  The exception to this rule were those oven floors that were lined with lava.  (Faas, pp. 132.)

Another method was to cook directly over a fire on spits called veru (Faas, pp. 131) or in coals on fire pits or “ovens”, this is talked about by Liversidge, and to slightly less extent Grant.  They both speak, sometimes in great detail, on how much of the Roman cooking was done on iron tripods and gridirons (referred to by Apicius as craticula) over burning charcoal on the raised hearths.

Spits were used for larger animals i.e. boar which were roasted over fire.   Some recipes are specific on how dishes are to be cooked with the comments of “Brown it’s fat on a glowing hot brazier” (cooking dish suspended over coals) while another dish is “…heated in a brass vessel over a fire of dry sticks”. (Flower, pg. 31) Even though the Romans mainly used iron tripods, some dishes were to be placed directly into the ashes or coals.

Smoke free charcoal seems to have been the preferred heating method (Faas, pp. 130) though wood was used not just for heating but also for flavoring as some dishes are referred to as being smoked.

In today’s kitchen a mortar and pestle is used more decoratively then for actual practicality.  In Roman times, according to Faas, the mortar held a spot of extreme importance.  Spices, herbs, meat and emulsifying were all accomplished in this one kitchen utensil.  The theory fis that spices were used first (as they were dry) then working through progressively wetter ingredients.  The implication being that there was only one pestle per kitchen in use.

I am not sure I completely agree with this idea.  I can see a Roman house hold having a smaller mortar used for spices and emulsifying and a larger pestle used for vegetables and meat, but I cannot see that only one pestle per household could accomplish all this for one meal.  The logistics of both size and quantity of ingredients used seem to imply that more than one, not just one large or even medium sized pestle, would be needed.

I have not seen any mention of drawers being used or even available in the kitchen during this time, while shelves and hooks seem to be the most commonly mentioned methods of storing.  A well-stocked kitchen could include, the ubiquitous knife or knives and “…choppers, meat forks, soup spoons, sieves, graters, spits, tongs, cheese-slicers, nutcrackers, measuring jugs, pate moulds…” (Faas, 132).  The pots and pans were just as numerous as the slicing and dicing accoutrements.  There were stewing pots, pultarius, simmering pots, caccaubs, shallow pans, padella, oval dishes, patina, and square dishes called angulis.  (Faas, pp. 133, 134)  The pans and pots could be made from either pottery or metal (Flower, pp. 32, 33) depending on the economic status of the individual house hold as seen in excavations.  A well-stocked Roman kitchen could rival that of any gourmet kitchen in modern times.

Period Roman Cooking vs. Modern Roman Cooking:

For true Roman cooking I would need stove made from cement or clay and an oven lined with granite. Various pots, pans, and utensils made from wood, clay, or metal.  I would use either smokeless charcoal or wood.  If my house were truly well to do I would have kitchen slaves to do the chopping and grinding for a meal preparation as well as serving once all the food had been prepared.  If I were really well to do, I would have a cook to do all my cooking for me.

Unfortunately, modern times mean a slightly more modern approach.  My oven is gas lit, needing neither wood nor charcoal.  My spoons are made of wood (spoons and serving utensils) while my pots are made of clay.  These pots are lead free and not done in the period style unfortunately.  They are readily available but not on the same level as those in period.  Clay pots and utensils seem, from various archeological digs, to be as prevalent as the modern paper plate or plastic spoons.  My pans are made of metal, just not copper lined with tin.

I do own a mortar and pestle for grinding spices though I do not grind nearly as many spices as a Roman household would.  I do buy my some spices pre-ground.  I am sure that there were merchants who had these pre-ground spices on hand for pre mixed seasonings, though bulk spices would be better for a fresher stronger taste.  This is just my observation on spice tasting and the variety of cooking done at home. Not all of my vegetables come from my garden nor do I have a hive for honey.  That I can even grow even a few vegetables to cook with is a modern luxury instead of a necessity.  My wheat for bread is ground for me and is usually very pure wheat flour instead of having some traces of other flours, as a wheat mill was not cleaned between grinds in period.

I do not own chickens for eggs or meat on the table.  Cows are right out due to city ordinances.  I have hopes to own a few chickens at some point or even rabbits but for now I have to rely on knowing those who raise rabbits for meat then sell to me and are willing to raise chickens ducks purchased by me to split at slaughter time.

Modern times have made meat farms economically feasible while in period farms and animal husbandry were very dependent on weather conditions for growth and survivability.  This makes meat inexpensive and choice easily available instead of the poorest subsisting on a crust of bread, the less poor on vegetables and the tongue of a sheep or cow, possibly just cocks combs for protein. The wealthier could afford sheep forelegs or even tripe, perhaps even the taste of the fatty brisket meat.  The very wealthiest could afford the prime cuts along with delicacies of humming bird tongue and peacock.  The wealthier a Roman was, the better stocked with both utensils and ingredients their kitchen was.  Modern times have given even the poorest person, at least in first world countries, access to cheap meat, breads and vegetables not only from their country of origin but from around the world.

 Dinning Styles:

Faas (pp. 70-72) lists five different styles of dining.  These styles are suggested from both frescos and surviving letters or notations in manuscripts.

The first style is that of a buffet, brought in by servants/slaves while each guest helped themselves to a dish or dishes from artfully arranged works of edible art.  Another style of dining is in which each guest is brought a plate with portions already cut and arranged.  We see this today in a restaurant.

The following letter highlights the complaint against this style thought.

“…Hagias said: “We invite one another out for dinner, it seems to me, not so much for the sake of eating and drinking, but in order to eat and drink together.  Such rationing is unsociable…’ (Plut. 642/Faas 71)

The next style of dinning would be the roast.  The roast was brought in whole and carved with the guests helping themselves.  Though my own thoughts are that this would be more of a center piece, for any of the listed “Dinning Styles” then it’s own as each person would still either help themselves or have a slave bringing them choice tidbits.

The fourth style of dining is said to be seen on frescos In which each dinner is given their own table while reclining.  Each table would look the same as the others. Each table had a slave accompanying for refilling of plate or bowl.

(www.the-romans.co.uk/food.htm)

The Athenian way of dining, the fifth style, is thought to be a little of all four above. Each person having their own set of delicacies, not a buffet but not quantified by one plate, while a central themed roast or spectacular dish displayed and carved for a dinner’s delight.  (Faas, pp.70)

From this research every region had their own style of eating.  Not always a happy situation but one in which the host could sometimes be swayed for a more appealing style.

Utensils:

The utensils excavated range the gamete of common pottery to iron or bronze with some being made of more precious metals.  This is true of all cooking utensils and most of the spoons, knives etc.  One can imagine that wooden spoons were also used but probably did not survive being preserved as did the metal and pottery items.  The handles were made of bronze, wood or bone. (Flower, pp. 32)

Apicius in one comment to a cook tells them to take a clean pan or pot which is presumed to be pottery even though the word patella (bronze pan or pot) is used.  This is assumed due to the readily available and inexpensiveness of pottery pot or pan.  At this point in history a bronze pots would be cost prohibitive to replace regularly while a pottery pan is very inexpensive.  Cleaning of the different utensils is described as sea or dessert sand for bronze while pottery would need soap.  Once the course pottery dishes were so caked with foods as to be unusable a new pan or pot could be gotten relatively quickly for very little.  Bronze pots from several excavation sites have been found with bronze patches and show hard use. (Flower, pp. 17, 27, 29, 32 ,33)

The fretale or sartago refer to a frying pan type of utensil that is identified with certainty, while all other utensils, not being labeled are not so easily identifiable per Liversidge’s commentary.  Educated guesses can be made to the names of different types of vessels with the discoveries made from the Pompeii excavations as well as the Roman legionary fortress at Newstead.  (Flower, pp. 32)

An interesting notation is that cauldrons or cook pots were passed to others.  From one excavation site of a Roman military camp one cauldron has inscriptions carved on the side.  These inscriptions are the name of the first owner “the first century of Attilius Severus” then the cauldron was passed on to the century of Aprilis. (Flower, pg. 33)  No reason is stated or guessed at the reason for the change in ownership.  In a regular household there is no mention if these pots and pans were considered part of a dowry or if the eldest son inherited.  There is an assumption that bronze pots and pans would be passed down to family members though.

There was a style of utensils and dishes thought to be in the Athenian style of eating due to their size and utilization.  Silver trays, tripods with plates, very small bowls and egg cups.  A quote from one dinner’s letter (Ath, 132) suggest that these items were for individual eating, on serving trays with their own tables, then either reclining and being served or the style of a buffed.

“…The cook puts down a try with five little plates on it.  One holds some garlic, the next two sea urchins.  Yet another contains a sweet cake, or tell little shellfish, and finally a piece of sturgeon…  (Faas, pp72)

This dinner’s commentary actually is against being served on small plates as it seemed to do no more than smear his lips not fill his belly.  Possibly even the lack of camaraderie with each their own table.

Food:

The list of foods available to the Romans is extensive, with both cultivation and the vast trading routes available.  Very little was not attainable, albeit sometimes costly, in the Roman market places.  It is noted that citrus was not available, other than lemons and citrons, as oranges were not introduced until the tenth century by the Arabs, possibly about the same time as eggplant.  (Giacosa, pp. 12)      Citrons were prized for their skins for the extreme smell of citrus but not for their very dry fruit. (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Citron).

Examples of some items imported were peaches were imported from Persia, malum persicum, apricots, malum aremniacum or praecox or praecoquium, from Armenia.  Dates were imported from Ethiopia.  Home grown items included figs, grapes, watermelon, muskmelon, walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds and pine nuts. (Giacosa, pg. 14).

Vegetables were enjoyed, with a profusion of choices available, both fresh and preserved.  (Grant, pp. 21)  Meat, though readily available, as were fish of all varieties, these were expensive items.

“The emperor Diocletian published his Decree on Maximum Prices in an attempt to stop the rampant inflation that was ruining the economy…have the merit of showing the comparative prices of various foodstuffs.  Twelve denarii would buy a pound of pork, venison or best quality freshwater fish.” (Grant, pg. 20).

The common Romans seemed to have a very bread heavy diet with fruit and vegetables on the side with cheese and eggs for protein.  These breads included white and black bread (based on the type of flour used).  There was also leavened bread and flat breads (noted used by sailors but not common fare to any other population stratus of Roman households).  Flavored breads incorporated different seeds such as poppy, anise, fennel, celery and caraway seeds. (Giacosa, pg. 16) Those with expansive purses could indulge in the wider variety of culinary experiences.

There was a book written on vegetarianism by Plutarch, called On the Eating of Meat.  Plutarch referenced many other references that did not include meat in the recipes.  It is unknown if these books were for just the common man or for aristocrats as well. (Grant, pg 20)

Pasta, tomatoes, butter and corn were not used or available till much later.  Butter, while known, was not used extensively though cheese was very popular and common with goat and sheep milk cheeses being the main types found in the market place.  (Giacosa, pg. 13).  Some cow cheese probably found their way into the market place but would have been seen as a novelty item not a staple.

An interesting note on garum, a fish sauce used by the Romans, which is mentioned in every translation of Roman cookbook (Grant, Flower, Apicus, Giacosa, Faas); the recipes and theories about the different ways to make this liquid seasoning are varied while the use was much like ketchup is today.  Used sparingly garum does not over power merely adding a hint of something exotic and a slightly salty note to a dish.  The best bet, unless one wanted to spend 2-3 months in the hot summer sun turning urns with fish bones and fish guts with other spices, is to use a store bought fish sauce found in oriental markets.          

Food Exceptions and substitutions:

Grant gives the quote:

“Roman cooks were used to substituting ingredients, as Apicius’ illustrations show: ‘To which you should add the reduced juice of quinces, further reduced to the consistency of honey by exposure to a blazing sun.  If you do not have reduced quince juice, you should use the reduced juice of dried figs, which the Roman’s call “colour”.’ Anthimus was also familiar with the problem of availability: ‘Although cucumbers at present cannot be procured here, when they are available the seeds that are inside them may be eaten.’” (pg. 27)

In cooking Roman recipes’ substitution is not only expected but in some cases encouraged to use different ingredients, after noting down the original translations, for the most part in SCA redactions.  Cooks may need to use variations, due to either the lack of availability or because a better period substitute could be used i.e. goat cheese as opposed to cheddar cheese.

The Romans were exceptional cooks in the art of preparing dishes that disguise the original ingredients i.e. faux anchovy pie where no anchovies are present.  One comment by Platus’ Pseudolus (I, 810 ff.) was:

“I don’t season a dinner the way other cooks do, who serve you up whole pickled meadows in their patinae – men who make cows their messmates, who thrust herbs at you, then proceed to season these herbs with other herbs…when they season their dinners they don’t use condiments for seasoning, but screech-owls, which eat out the intestines of the guests alive.”  (Flower, pg. 29)

While Platus was not so into disguising what his food was about, it seems that the main cooking in Roman for the more elegant tables was bent on disguising flavors with more flavor of unusual herbs.

 

 

 

Peacock Pie:

“Grind chopped meat with the center of fine white bread that has been soaked in wine.  Grind together pepper, garum and pitted myrtle berries if desired.  Form small patties, putting in pine nuts and pepper.  Wrap in omentum and cook slowly in caroenum.”  (Giacosa, pp. 90)

The ground meat patties of peacock have first place, if they are fried so that they remain tender… (Apicius, 54/Giacosa, pp. 90).

On a side note, the peacock was so expensive (roughly 50 denarii a bird) that some peacocks were stripped of their skin then cooked (roasted) in aromatic resinous substances until the meat was effectively mummified. Afterwards it was redressed and reserved at another banquet later that week or month without fear of rotting. (Toussaint-Samat, pp. 38)

This recipe, for ground patties, was probably used for peahens past their reproductive cycle, and at 50 denarii per bird, this would still be a very expensive and luxuriant dish to serve to nobility and emperors.

Romans were also very fond of pork.  Going so far as to breed a special type of pig just for the best dining experience possible. The Roman Empire had two types of pigs; the normal mast fed opportunistic type of pig that was considered tasty with long legs and a narrow body

 

http://www.sophialambert.com/PORK-HAM-AND-BACON.htm

and a second heavier meatier fatter pig that was white with short legs and round body with heavily marbled meat.

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suovetaurilia

In the second relief, note the rounded shoulders and heavy jowls of the pig in the lower right portion.  This pig was the product of selective breeding and happy feeding.  No opportunistic boars need apply for the stud job on this farm!

There were a few in Rome who commented on the desirable qualities for pig and how to feed them.

Columella advised “Not to rely on acorn foraging alone but to make use of legumes for fattening as well.  He also advised breeding for a new type of pig more suitable for rapid weight gain than for ranging in the woods. “Pigs should be sought whose bodies are exceedingly wide, but squarish rather than long or round, with protruding belly and large rump rather than tall legs or hooves, a broad glandulous neck, and a short upturned snout.” (Carlton)

However when the Roman Empire fell, this pig type was lost as farms were thrown into chaos.  The mast fed pigs from feral stock could outrun the hungry wolf or human while the shorter fatter pig, not so much.  Remember it’s not that a pig has to be the fastest just faster than the slowest…and the slowest were always eaten.

Then there is the issue of the Roman chicken.  Lots to discuss but we’re only going to cover a couple of basic feathered facts.  Columella next discusses the breeding habits of chickens as well as cross breeding types for the best in both eating and temperament. The breeds Tanagrian, Rhodic, Chalkidic and Median (Melian) should only be used for cockfighting while the native Roman chickens either by themselves or hens crossed with Greek cocks.   These breeds do not show up in modern times; however the breed names for these period chickens seem to be based on the origin city or region and not upon any specific type or defining characteristic.  And example would be Tanagrian, which was a Greek district between Thebes and Chalcis. (UChicago)

Ingredients:

Pie:

1 peacock      1lb ground pork  1 cup ground bread crumbs        1 tsp ground pepper

½ red wine (pinot)     1 tsb fish sauce        ½ cup pine nuts          ½ lb bacon strips

Crust:

Redaction:

Originally when I started making this dish, my thought was to make a subtlety using the main meat filling (using ground pork instead of duck or peacock) and a peacock as the main meat covering under a butter crust.

I can hear you now…that’s not the period recipe!!  You’re right.  To a point.  Remember this quote earlier…

“Roman cooks were used to substituting ingredients, as Apicius’ illustrations show: ‘To which you should add the reduced juice of quinces, further reduced to the consistency of honey by exposure to a blazing sun.  If you do not have reduced quince juice, you should use the reduced juice of dried figs, which the Roman’s call “colour”.’ Anthimus was also familiar with the problem of availability: ‘Although cucumbers at present cannot be procured here, when they are available the seeds that are inside them may be eaten.’” (pg. 27)

Yes…I made sure to include this about Roman’s and their love for changing things up.  I’m changing things up.

First you start with a peacock.

This is a peahen.  A female pea.  I was out of cock.

The next step is to start de-feathering the bird.

Now here is where things get interesting.  In my first inception of this dish, the peahen was deboned.

The peahen meat and skin is put over the pork mixture.

Pork mixture?  Oh, right, forgot to add a step.  Take all the other ingredients other than the peahen…

Make a tasty mess.

Cover this with bacon.

Drape the ground pork mixture with peahen and wrap with in bacon.

 

So as you can see…I don’t really have a subtlety, I have a football.  This form really wasn’t acceptable.  In fact this is driving me up the wall.  Think Redneck Girlfriend saying “Oh HELL no!” when she finds out the boyfriend is buying the cheap beer and spending the night with his boys.  That is the level of unacceptable this is.  Just…no!

So that leaves me with peahen wrapped around tasty pork goodness.  So I made a pie.  A tasty tasty butter crust wrapped pie.

However that is not the pie being served today.  Why not?! You ask.  That is a very good question!  And the answer is…I ran out of peahen and no cocks were available.  So I had to switch to the other white meat. Chicken.

So all the steps are the same, except using a debone chicken instead.  Chicken is easier to acquire unless you have a peahen supplier.  And remember, Romans used other food to mimic the dish they were claiming to serve!  Its period to substitute and that is what we are doing today.

Here you’ll note the use of dates along the rim of the pie.  My pork wrapped chicken over pork pie tastiness pulled away from the butter crust forming this unseemly empty space.  To hide that slight cooking issue, I used dates to stuff the crust keeping the viewing pleasure.

 

References

http://www.ancientworldalive.com/#!Ancient-meals-and-eating-habits-Part-2-Romans/c16ee/555085d40cf248741723ecb3

http://encyclopedia.farlex.com/Brittany

http://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/f/figcom12.html

http://perseus.uchicago.edu/perseus-cgi/citequery3.pl?dbname=GreekTexts&query=Str.%209.2.13&getid=1

www.the-romans.co.uk/food.htm

http://thecoolchickenreturns.blogspot.com/2006/05/chickens-in-ancient-rome.html

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Citron

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asafoetida

http://www.treesofjoy.com/fig-varieties-collection

Apicius, (1977). Cookery and Dining in Imperial Rome; Edited and Translated by Joseph Dommers Veling. Dover publication.

Apicus.  (1958). The Roman Cookery Book. Translated by B. Flower and E. Rosenbaum. Harrap London

Faas, P., (1994). Around the Roman Table. University of Chicago Press.

Giacosa, I., (1992). A Taste of Ancient Rome; by Ilaria Gozzini Giacosa, Translated by Anna Herklotz. University of Chicago Press.

Grant., M. (1999). Roman Cookery, Bristish Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data.

The Opera of Bartolomeo Scappi (1570).  Translation by Scully. T., (2008). The Lorenzo Da Ponte Italian Library.

Toussaint-Samat, M., (1992). History of Food. Barnes & Nobles

 

 

March 27, 2017 | No comments

As spring has rolled around, the chickens have started to lay.  Not really a surprise, I just have more eggs on hand than I know what to normally do with them!  So off to the books for a bit of eggy indulgences.  This one is, obviously, new to me.  I’ve had hard fried eggs but never fried hard boiled eggs with sugar.  So I gave it a try!

To Cook Hard-Boiled Eggs in Butter or Oil

Translation:

Book III. 272. Cooks eggs in their shells in water such that they are not to hard.  Then take them out of the hot water and put them into cold water, shell them and immediately flour them.  Fry them in melted butter or oil.  When they are done, serve them garnished with sugar and orange juice, or else cover them with garlic sauce or some other sauce.  (Scappie, pp. 376)

 

Ingredients:

Hard boiled eggs

Oil

Flour

Sugar/orange juice or garlic sauce

 

Redaction:

Pretty simple recipe.  Boil as many eggs as you think you will need.

Try for soft boiled if possible.  I think this is for a more melt in the mouth textural than a firm feel.  (My opinion only though).

Shell the eggs,

then roll them in flour.

Here I used white.  If you want try it in wheat flour or smelt flour and see which texture/taste you prefer!

 

Next fry them in oil or butter.

I used olive oil as I have LOTS on hand.

I put sugar on the side as a “dipping” sauce.

Pretty damn tasty if I do say.

March 19, 2017 | No comments

Craving sweets lately, but I don’t want to eat lots of sugar.  So I turned to my cookbooks in hopes to find something that will hit the sweet tooth without so much sugar my teeth hurt!  I found this wonderful little gem.

Rutab Murabba

(Fresh Date Preserves)

Translation:

Leave ripe dates in the sun so that they dry a little.  Remove their pits and replace them with peeled almonds, and arrange them in a glass (container), and throw skimmed honey on them and a little saffron.  It comes out excellently. (Perry, pp. 433)

Ingredients:

Enough dried dates to fit into a glass jar

Enough almonds to fit into dates

Enough honey to cover dates once in the jar

A pinch of Saffron

Redaction:

I gathered up a box of dried dates, a handful of almonds (or two), an empty glass jar and a pinch of saffron.

I removed the seeds from the dates with a chop stick.

Then replaced the seeds with almonds.

I didn’t have peeled almonds, so I used regular.  This may be a taste thing or a “We’re serving this to the king so it has to look fancy .” thing.  I used what I had because I haven’t found peeled almonds available regularly yet!

Once the almonds were de-seeded and stuffed, they were thrown into a clean empty glass jar.  Nope, our modern day jars are not what they had, obviously.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/57/Container_Umar_II_Louvre_OA7448.jpg

Something like this might, might have been used.  Decorative and useful.

Antique Bottles 392 – November – Kidlington Oxfordshire –  https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/b6/d1/ca/b6d1ca749c483afdcb2bed37c7d9d463.jpg

 

This is a simple utility jar.  Nothing fancy other than it can easily fit dates at the top and pour honey in.

No, I don’t know 100% if either jar was used for this purpose.  These are images I found for jars that meet my criteria.  They will fit the item (dates) into said jar, and the item (dates) can be fished out with ease, i.e. stuffed dates.

The first of many more to come.  Don’t fill the jar with honey first.  Dates float and if you have to much honey and keep stuffing all your dates into the jar, the honey WILL over flow onto the counter, making a horrible mess.  Do the dates first, then the honey…I promise this will keep you from having to clean or lick your counter tops off from all the spilled honey!

So once the dates are in the jar of your choice, place the pinch of saffron on top,

and pour in the honey.

I screwed on the lip, to keep small fingers and my own out of this until a later date.  Set to the side until ready to use.

 

Right now the dates are soaking up honey and a little bit of the saffron flavor.  I’m drooling already!

 

March 5, 2017 | No comments

I made yogurt the other day, which gave me 5 largish jars.  That’s a LOT of yogurt…so like anything else you have extra of on hand, you find recipes to use the extra in.  This is no different.  Other than I also get to use mastic.  Mastic is one of those rare(ish) type of ingredients that just smells divine!

Kabis

Crammed Meat

Kabis 021

Translation:

Cut up fat meat medium and put it in the pot.  When it boils, you remove its scum and throw in as many chickpeas as needed, and Chinese cinnamon sticks, mastic and bunches of dill.  Season with salt and add water, and leave it in the tannur, and seal its top for a night until the next day.  Then you put a little dry coriander, cumin and finely milled caraway on it, and you put a thurda (crumbled bread) under it.  If you want to make it sour, sprinkle finely pounded sumac on it.  If you want, put a little yoghurt and garlic (on it) before ladling it out.  Chinese cinnamon and cumin are sprinkled on its surface and us it. (Rodinson, pp. 368)

Ingredients:

Fat meat – Beef, Lamb, Camel, Chicken etc

1 C Garbanzo beans

1 cinnamon stick

.5 tsp ground Mastic

1 tsp dill

Salt to taste

1 tsp each ground cumin, coriander and caraway

2 C yoghurt (Plain thick i.e. Greek yogurt or homemade)

2-5 cloves ground garlic

1 C dough (water flour salt…this will be used.  Make it tasty!)

Redaction:

All the spices and extras, looking good!

Kabis 004So for the fat meat, I decided to go with chicken thighs.  It’s fast easy and readily available.  You can use beef, mutton or all of a chicken not just the thighs.

Kabis 001Cover your Dutch oven with water, letting this boil till scum floats to the surface.

Kabis 003Why a Dutch oven?  Because I have several with matching lids for sealing.  When we seal the lid to the pot, we are creating a double boiler low tech style.  So you have to have a pot/dish with a lid.  If you have something other than a Dutch oven with a matching lid, use that.  The pot just needs a lid that can be sealed.

Personally, I never worried about the scum however we’re following this recipe and it takes 5 seconds to scrap it off into the trash.

Add your garbanzo beans (dried or canned).  Here I used dried.

Kabis 005What I had on hand.  Add your cinnamon stick, ground mastic and dill. You can use scraped/ground cinnamon if you don’t have a stick on hand.  Once the stick is used, it’s done for.

Kabis 006Seal with the dough around the edge of the Dutch oven. (remember low tech double boiler)

Kabis 009The dough does double duty.  It seals up the dutch oven and it becomes the thurda.  The dough sealing the dutch oven, tastes pretty damn good dipped into just the juice before the rest of the spices are added.  That’s why you want to make it tasty.  This dough, is about to become your dumpling.  Trust me, this step is well worth the effort!

Place in the oven on low for 5 hours at 150 -200.  You want low slow and steady.  Yes, the recipe says overnight but that’s assuming your leaving your dish over coals.  We’re not, and most people don’t have a fire place or pit that can support this low tech level.  Just keep this in mind on why the recipe says overnight not just what you don’t have and adjust as you can.

After a few hours, pull the Dutch oven out.

Pull off the cooked dough, which will be both hard (on the outside) and slightly springy (on the inner portion that held the seal together).  Break this into bite sized pieces and add to your shredded chicken.

Kabis 015After taking off the lid, just push a wooden spoon through the chicken.  If you used whole thighs with skin and bone (highly recommended for better flavor) the meat will separate off the bone.  The meat is so tender, it will start shredding into bits and pieces as you stir.

Kabis 014At this point you want to sprinkle with the last of the spices.

Kabis 011

Yogurt and garlic next.  I added 2 cups of yogurt and 3 large cloves of garlic.  Salt to taste.

Kabis 016Now just sprinkle with a little ground cinnamon.

Kabis 019And serve!  This is excellent by itself, over rice or steamed veggies.  Oh my tasty!

Kabis 021

February 21, 2017 | No comments

Peacock Subtlety: Part 2

Peacock Dora and more 054

The first time I wrote about peacock on the table of kings and the very well-to-do, the cooking was completely theoretical, with stand-in stunt ducks and a preserved skin.  http://roxalanasredactions.com/?s=peacock

This portion covers the messy, gory cooking parts of actually turning a freshly killed peacock into a dish once served to kings.

Part 1: The Bird

Peacock Dora and more 030

This is the freshly killed peacock (not by me).  Short story, I went to a farmer’s house to pick up a couple of wild peahens, with fertilized eggs and baby chicks dancing through my head.  When we got to the Middle of Nowhere, Texas my daughter and I were greeted with the sounds of gunfire — a bit disconcerting.  We took a look around, staying on the polite side of fences, and saw the peahens and goose we were originally after.  While we were petting said friendly goose and his love interest, contemplating which recipe he would best be served in, up comes the Farmer Lady with a gorgeous and dead Indian Blue Peacock. She announced, “Here’s your cock!” I couldn’t do much more than say thank you and pay the lady for her magnificent cock and the two hens.  Sorry, the goose wasn’t going to fit in the car once I had the peacock with his tail in my car.  It’s not that big a car!

I did ask about how she could sell her birds so cheaply.  Seems the peacocks were let loose in the wild 20 some years ago and have flourished in the tropics of Texas — so much so that the resulting multiple flocks have become a nuisance for the ranchers and not just the beautiful lawn and table ornaments they were originally destined to be.  My win, their loss.

            An apropos poem for this bird handed to me, the cook.

“Peacock: you admire him, often he spreads his jewel-encrusted tail.  How can you, unfeeling man, hand this creature over to the cook?” (Mart.XIII-1XX/Faas, pp. 295)

During the time of Henry VIII, this bird would have incredibly expensive due to their breeding habits.  Based on my searches, a live bird’s pricing from a reputable breeder is usually on the order of $600.  The scarcity of peacocks caused the pricing to be such that only nobility could afford such a rare beauty for their yard or table.  So what I paid for this magnificent bird was a fluke, due to the nuisance the random flocks had become, rather than the norm.  This bird: much more affordable.

The peacock, unlike the chicken, was not a common bird.  (thecoolchickenreturns.com) Unlike the chicken, a peahen will only lay 3-9 eggs a year while a single chicken might lay up to 200 eggs each year.  (Damerow).  This cuts down on the number of pea chicks born and raised to maturity in any given clutch or year.  Low numbers with great beauty, much like gold or rubies, raises the price of the peacock out of the common man’s reach.

A quick bit of history on the eating of peacock.  Peacocks were valued throughout history, not only for their feathers but for their flesh.  Poems and songs were written about these gorgeous feathered fowls and their likeness graced plates, vases and even thrones.  They represented different ecclesiastic values to different religions.  This bird, with its jeweled-eyed tail, was coveted for both the look and symbolism represented in its display.  From a throne in India to the tables of rich Romans to paintings and vases in Persian Empire; even to the table of English royalty, many used this favored bird in recipes and decoration.

“Such subtle creations could be comprised of just the edible, or as the more elaborate a set up became, a combination of paper mache and lumber to support a larger and even grander display.  These decorative subtleties were for powerful displays and less about eating, with the production being undertaken by carpenters, metals smiths and painters and very little with chefs.” (Martins)

This is a research paper on cooking a beautiful period dish served to royalty . It covers the trials and tribulations of making this display happen in today’s modern world, which lacks an abundance of peacocks, as well as the “workarounds” needed to display the dish in a mostly period manner.

Part 2: Skinning

           With the bird in hand and period recipes dancing through my head, the first hurdle for this kingly presentation presented itself.

The Romans, French and English all agreed that the peacock’s skin and feathers should be saved to redress the dish(s).

Roman:

Cure the skin with coarse sea salt, so that it dries out a little, and wash it off just before you dress the roast bird in it…” (Faas, pp. 297).

French:

And when it is cooked, it must be re-clothed in its skin and let the neck be nice and straight or flat; and let it be eaten with yellow pepper. (Goodman, M-30)

English:

“Take and flay off the skin with feathers and tail, leaving the neck and crest still upon the bird, and preserving the glory of his crest from injury when roasting by wrapping it in a linen bandage.  Then take the skin with all the feathers upon it and spread it out on the table and sprinkle thereon ground cinnamon… Then take and sew him again into his skin and all his feathers, and remove the bandage from his crest.  Brush the feathers carefully and dust upon them and his comb gilding to enhance his beauty.  After a while, set him upon a golden platter, garnish with rosemary and other green leaves, and serve him forthwith as if he were alive and with great ceremony.” (Craig, pp. 157)

Yeah, the skinning part wasn’t quite as easy as these books made the undressing of the bird sound.   So here are my step by step pictures and running dialogue.  Let the messiness begin!

Peacock Dora and more 035            This is the messy part.  There is no other way to say this than ewww!  If you’re squeamish stop right here because the pictures just increase in gore factor.  Now, I’ve skinned and plucked more than a few feathers.  I raise period birds for eggs and meat.  Getting a bird ready for the oven is nothing new; however, trying to preserve the skin of a peacock with a 5 foot tail while your child and cat are trying to “help” is…exceptional.  I’m pretty sure period cooks didn’t have this issue.  The cats would know better than to be under foot.

So the first thing I learned is that this bird had some opalescent scales on the skin.

Peacock Dora and more 034A better picture when some of the scales flaked off while I was attempting to cut the skin.

Peacock Dora and more 033            I don’t know if this is normal, never having cut into the skin of a peacock before; however, I can say that these scaly flakes were gorgeous but made the first few attempts to cut into the skin a real bitch.

Once the initial cut was made, progress was made on separating the belly and leg skin from the bird.

Peacock Dora and more 036The feather portion of the skin ended at the peacock’s knees where the normal heavy-duty scaly legs started.

Those legs were almost as long as my forearm and had wicked claws.  I can see how these things are able to fend off both raccoons and foxes.  The peacock was only a couple pounds lighter than the period Spanish Black turkey I raised to make a Kraken subtlety.  That turkey managed to survive the Great Flock Killing of 2015 (by a couple of damn raccoons).  So yes, these birds can and do survive quite well with their natural defenses.

Back to the skin.  The skin had to be cut around the knee joint in a circle then sliced open.  Trust me, there was no way I was going to be able to pull the leg through and I didn’t want those clawed feet anywhere in the final cooked dish.  I disjointed the bird at the knees to make removing the lower legs easier.

The wings I left on the bird skin.  I attempted to take the skin off the wings but realized it was too fragile there for the amount of force needed to pull the many tendons/ligaments away from small bones.  Here I disjointed the wings and cut them at the inner breast joint.

Peacock Dora and more 037            As you can see the blood is pooling close to the neck where it was shot.  I had to drain the blood off a few times as I was making the cuts.  This is where I say either wear clothes you don’t mind getting bloody or skin in the buff so you can jump in the shower when it’s done.

Also note this bird is not covered in what we would consider a tasty amount of fat, as seen on modern day factory farm chickens.  This bird was wild.  It has a healthy amount of flesh and just enough fat along the skin and tail, yet the bird would never be considered as factory raised.

The skin from the back was actually the hardest to peel off.  I had to use my hands and a very small sharp knife to get into this area without slicing up the skin.   This portion of the deskinning was the hardest.  This skin felt thinner, though it really wasn’t, and the fat levels almost non-existent as I separated the skin and flesh.

A portion of the neck and head were left on.  All the period recipes say to leave the head on with feathers.  I couldn’t keep a pig’s ears from burning when I did a period pig head (http://roxalanasredactions.com/stuffed-boars-head/), so I was not about to risk the head of a peacock to the oven and my “linen bandaging” skills (which are nonexistent).  I had to do a quick improvisation.  2 inches under the head remained intact in the skin while I took out the rest of the neck.  The meat portion of the neck in the cooking had skewers to keep it upright for when the remaining neck and head were placed on top of the cooked portion.

Part 3: Cooking

             Most cooks have had the chance to work with their meat of choice before starting a major project.  Peacocks are as rare as hen’s teeth here so I had to adjust on the fly. I started with the period recipes for the Romans:

Roman:

Sometimes the peacock…were roasted. (Faas, pp. 297).

Another good Roman recipe; unfortunately this one does not include the redressing:

Grind chopped meat with the center of fine white bread that has been soaked in wine.  Grind together pepper, garum and pitted myrtle berries if desired.  Form small patties, putting in pine nuts and pepper.  Wrap in omentum and cook slowly in caroenum.”  (Giacosa, pp. 90)

French:

Peacock/Swan “Kill it like goose, leave the head and tail, lard or bard it, roast it golden, and it with fine salt.  It lasts at least a month after it is cooked.  If it becomes mouldy on top, remove the mould and you will find it white, good and solid underneath.” (Taillevent, pp. 23)

Or

Re-clothed Swan (substituting Peacock) “…in its skin with all the feathers.  Take it and split it between the shoulders, and cut it along the stomach; then take off the skin from the neck cut at the shoulders, holding the body by the feet; then put it on the spit, and skewer it and gild it.  And when it is cooked, it must be re-clothed in its skin and let the neck be nice and straight or flat; and let it be eaten with yellow pepper. (Goodman, M-30)

Italian:

If you want to roast a peacock on a spit, get an old one between October and February.  After it has been killed let it hang for eight days without plucking it and without drawing it; then pluck it dry…When it is plucked draw it…..put one end of a hot iron bar into the carcass through the hole by which it was eviscerated being careful not to touch the flesh: that is done to remove its moistness and bad smell.  To stuff it use the mixture outlined in Recipe 115, or else sprinkle it with salt, fennel flour, pepper, cloves and cinnamon; into the carcass put panicles of dry fennel and pieces of pork fat that is not rancid, studded with whole cloves or whole pieces of fine saveloy.  Blanch it in water or sear it on the coals.  Stud the breast with whole cloves. (The breast can also be larded or wrapped in slice of pork fat as is done with the pheasant in Recipe 135).  Roast it over a low fire, preserving the neck with its feathers as is done with the pheasant.  Serve it hot or cold as you wish, with various sauces … (Scappi, pp. 207)

The Opera of Bartolomeo Scappi, recipe #139 suggested for pheasant or peacock.

If you want to roast the small ones on a spit, as soon as they are caught pluck them dry and draw them; leave their head and feet on.  Stuff them with a little beaten pork fat, fresh fennel, beaten common herbs, raw egg yolks and common spices – which is done to keep them from drying out.  Sew up the hole and arrange their wings and thighs so they are snug.  Sear them on coals.  Wrap them, sprinkled with salt and cloves, in a calf or wether caul, or else in slices of pork fat with paper around them…When they are done serve them hot. (Scappi, pp. 206)

English:

Take a peacock, break his neck, and cut his throat, and flay him.  The skin and the feathers together, and the head still to the skin of the neck, and keep the skin and the feathers whole together; draw him as a hen, and keep the bone to the neck whole, and roast him, and set the bone of the neck above the broach (spit), as he was wont to sit alive; and above the legs to the body, as he was wont to sit alive; and when he is roasted enough take him off, and let him cool; and then wind the skin with the feathers and tail about the body, and serve him forth as he were alive; or else pluck him clean and roast him, and serve him as though do a hen. (Renfrow, pp. 572).

“Take and flay off the skin with feathers and tail, leaving the neck and crest still upon the bird, and preserving the glory of his crest from injury when roasting by wrapping it in a linen bandage.  Then take the skin with all the feathers upon it and spread it out on the table and sprinkle thereon ground cinnamon.  Now roast the peacocke and endore him with the yolkes of many eggs, and when he is roasted remove him from the fire and let him cool for a while.  Then take and sew him again into his skin and all his feathers, and remove the bandage from his crest.  Brush the feathers carefully and dust upon them and his comb gilding to enhance his beauty.  After a while, set him upon a golden platter, garnish with rosemary and other green leaves, and serve him forthwith as if he were alive and with great ceremony.” (Craig, pp. 157)

“A peacock may also have the skin and feathers removed as described above when it may be stuffed with spices and sweet herbs, and finely chopped savory meats, and roasted as described in the foregoing recipe.  Then replace the skin and feathers when it should be “served…”…with the tail of the peacock was covered with leaf of gold, and a piece of cotton dipped in spirits was put in its beak.  This was set fire to as the bird was brought in Royal procession to the table with musical honours.”  (Craig, pp. 157-158)

That’s quite a few ways to cook a peacock; however, most of the recipes had a few common elements:  the peacock, larding and salt while roasting.  Clove is mentioned, as is roasting on a spit.  I went with ‘less is more’ for this ad hoc project.

The body, freed from the skin, had to be rinsed to remove various bits of feather and blood before I could start to dress it in bacon.  As you can see, there is a good amount of meat on the bird.  This peacock was only a few pounds shy of what a wild turkey would dress out as.

Peacock Dora and more 038So here was a quandary:  if I wanted to redress the bird it had to be butt side up, yet as a cook I wanted the breast side up.  Argh!  Either way, this bird had to be covered in bacon.

I dithered for about 3 minutes, trying to visualize redressing with the skin.  I went with the easier task and put the bird butt side up, wrapping it all in bacon.

Now when I said I had no preparation for this, I meant it.  I had 30 seconds warning I would be coming home with a peacock for cooking and no time to prep prior.  I was lucky to have a side of bacon on hand in the freezer to start the wrapping project.  That was the good news.  The bad news was that the bacon was thin and not anything like the thick cut bacon (2lbs would have been the amount needed) that I really would have preferred.  You live, you cook, you learn.

Peacock Dora and more 046           Butt side up and the breast still needs to be covered in bacon.  Note the toothpicks.  This is what was holding the bacon to the downward facing breast.  Pull those out when you have finished cooking.  Trust me.  I forgot this part and had to pull everything off before restarting to redress the bird.  The neck was being held “Upward” by long wooden skewers.  Metal skewers would have worked as well.  I grabbed what I had on hand while trying not to panic over the time the skinning took me to get this bird prepped for the oven.

On reviewing the recipes, I see that I missed the ‘sprinkle with cloves’ portion of the recipe.  Depending on the recipe, the bird would have been studded with whole cloves or sprinkled with salt and ground cloves, then wrapped in calf caul (organ fat) or larded with bacon.  I missed the clove portion.  I was a tad flustered.  Next time though!

This is how the bird looked coming out of the oven.

Peacock Dora and more 049           I made sure it was well covered in bacon as I wanted a juicy bird.  Once you go bacon you’ll never go back.  Bacon-wrapped makes the best, juiciest bird(s) I’ve ever tasted and I was really hoping this would be the case here.  I was trusting Scappi to know his shit on the period cooking.  (That’s Bartholomew Scappi, the period Italian cook to the popes.  Read the first research paper here (http://roxalanasredactions.com/?s=peacock)  with the recipes.)

4th Part: The Skin

Now we get down to the fastest but oddest part to this dish.  The skin.  Most people like eating crispy skin from their fowl.  This dish would rather show the skin and the feathers off than cook it without the feathers.  I can see this…and was able to implement this with a bit of kitchen magic.  In period when a swan or peacock was skinned salt or cinnamon was used to keep the skin from going bad.  (Craig)

Peacock Dora and more 044            Here is the unprepared skin.  It’s still red and gooey.  I had no idea how else to do this, though I suspect more time should have gone into cleaning out the blood and flesh, then wiping down with a damp cloth to clean up the leftover bits and blood.  This was a huge learning curve.  Going with the flow here.

Here I’ve coated the skin in sea salt as done in period. (Faas, Giacosa, Apicius, Taillevent, Goodman, Scappi). Salt deters bacteria in an exceptional way.  Cinnamon has some of the same properties but not in the same “dry everything out so it dies screaming in agony” way.  So, salt is what I used to keep the skin from going bad on me (no one wants salmonella!).  The skin was then left out until the peacock was done.

I pulled out thread and needle for when the time came to attach the skin back over the bird.

Peacock Dora and more 048            I wanted a fairly strong thread, so went with the quilting thread.  Nope, I did not have silk or linen thread on hand for this.  Again the “30 seconds choice of taking a peacock home” came into play and there was a lot of ad-libbing to be done.

It turned out I wouldn’t need these items — but more on that in the next section.

Part 5: Redressing and Serving Forth

So here we are at the final scene to this hastily-prepared dish. The peacock is placed butt-up on a nice hand thrown pottery plate.  The actual type of dish this would be served on is not mentioned; however, it would be safe to say that the higher on the table the dish went, the better quality and metal the plate for the peacock.   I did not have a silver or gold tray quite big enough to fit this magnificent bird so I used a hand-thrown pottery plate.

Peacock Dora and more 049

This is sooo looking like a snail at the moment.  (I may consider doing a chicken dressed as a snail for a subtlety at some point, but not today).  We’re about to fix this look.  Yank out all the toothpicks but keep the skewers in place.  You’ll need the skewers to keep the neck skin in in place and hold the head up.  Yanking out the toothpicks keeps the keeps the skin from being pierced.  Now in period, a subtlety could and would have metal or wooden pieces in and around to keep the illusion going.   Subtleties could consist of just the edible or, as the setup became more elaborate, a combination of papier-mâché and lumber to support a larger and even grander display.  These decorative subtleties were for powerful displays more than about eating, with the production being done by carpenters, metals smiths and painters and very little by chefs. (www.reference.com/browse/subtlety).

Peacock Dora and more 050            Here I purposely change how the re-dressing goes.  In period the skin would be put over the dish.  The bloody fleshy very salted raw skin over the cooked body.  That’s a great way to give someone food poisoning.  I think I’ll pass on that as I’m the one eating this bird tonight! As you can see I’ve covered the peacock in foil.  You could use parchment paper (a closer period alternative) however I had this on hand (Notice a theme here?).

Once the bird is wrapped for your protection, slip the skin over the body with the neck and head going over the cooked neck portion.

Peacock Dora and more 051         My shy peacock is gorgeous!  The skin did not have to be sewn as I thought it would.  The skinning opened the flesh enough that it draped like a perfectly fitted dress over the body.  The tail feathers are long enough that propping them against the wall works to display his regal tail.  However the tail portion of the cooked body will need to be covered by silk or a cloth as the skin won’t fit all the way over the butt while the neck and main body are covered.  In period, not just in my kitchen, they would have used a wire form to hold the tail in place, probably wrapped around the cooked peacock, hiding under the skin but with a wire “fan” to press against the tail and hold it up for a glorious display.  That’s how I would have done it if I were presenting this dish to a head table.

Once the peacock has been displayed, take it back to the kitchen and slice the meat onto a plate for serving.

Peacock Dora and more 064

The reasoning is that you don’t want to yank off a salty bloody skin over food that someone is going to have to eat.  No one really wants to see that side of the dish.  Remember this is FOOD MAGIC, a dish of awe and inspiration.  No need to let the populace (or the king) see how this surprise is really done.

Part 6: Conclusion

Monarchs put feasts to good use as ways to make a vivid point, like inducing guests to pledge allegiance to a planned crusade.  An example of this was when Philip the Fair, at the Feast of the Pheasant, showcased a giant Saracen entering the feasting hall leading an elephant (there is some question about the edibility of said pachyderm), with a knight (Oliver de La Marche) playing the role of the captive Eastern church. (Wheaton, pg. 8/Martins)  Another example of the royal use of subtleties involved Henry VIII.  George Cavendish wrote about a feast sponsored by the great Tudor king in such waxing enthusiasm for the feast “…I do both lack wit in my gross old head and cunning in my bowels to declare the wondrous and curious imaginations in the same invented and devised.” (Henisch, pp. 236/Martins).  The feasting was a display to move men and women into wondrous thoughts, glossing over a harsh reality of court life: a grand and compelling gesture.

A subtlety could be a simple item such as a redressed peacock on proud display or stuffed fowl riding roast piglets, or as elaborate as a full pastry castle with trees containing candied fruit, with mythical beasts glazed and stuffed, as well as musicians playing music from the limbs of the trees.  Allegorical scenes were not uncommon.  Some scenes could be “Castle of Love” or “Lady of the Unicorn”.  (Martins).  Taste wise.  I was terrified that this bird was going to be tough and nasty.  Wild caught game is allowed to “age” for a reason.  Aging a bird (including chickens) gives the flesh the opportunity to mellow and break down for a more tender and tasty bite.  The peacock had to be done as soon as I walked through the door.  There was no chance to age the meat (the skin wasn’t going to fit into my freezer at all with that gorgeous tail intact).  When I took the first bite I was pleasantly surprised.  There was a slight gamey taste but not overwhelming or nasty.  The meat was a bit chewy but not jerky tough.  Honestly, I expected rooster tough as this was a full grown male in his prime.  The meat was tasty and juicy, which I think can be attributed to the bacon wrapping.

I find this to be a dish best made and served on site if it were for an event.  The skin would be hard to keep from going bad unless frozen (not sure that would work) in a chest freezer as my upright was too small for this skin and tail feathers.  As for being able to replicate this on demand, I can’t.  Unless there are male peacocks on hand the day of an event AND the steward and cook are willing for me to kill, skin and gut a peacock in their kitchen while working around a 5 foot tail this isn’t going to happen at an event either.  This was a onetime shot or at the whim of the Farmer Lady when she shoot another peacock.  I learned a lot, but realize that the hardest part is knowing the limitations on what is possible in the future for a display.

There was a bit of ad-libbing on my part for this whole dish, with a steep learning curve on how to skin and redress.  Overall though, I’m pretty damn pleased with the recreated period presentation.  The skin came out magnificently and I had the main ingredients to keep the dish (mostly) true to the original.

 

References:

 

Craig, E., (1953). English Royal Cookbook. Andre Deutsch Limited, London.

 

Damerow, G., (2010). Raising Chickens. Storey Publishing.

 

Fass, P., (1994). Around the Roman Table. University of Chicago Press, Chicago. 1994.

 

Giacosa, I., (1994).  A taste of Ancient Rome. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

 

Good man of Paris.(1395). Le Managier De Paris.

 

Renfrow, C., (1998). Take a

 

 

 

 

February 13, 2017 | No comments

So I made this dish a month or so back and really did it all wrong!  How you may ask?  Well for one, I used pomegranate molasses, because I had it on hand, instead of the juice.  Do NOT do this.  For the love of your taste buds…really do not do this.  Pomegranate molasses is great in some dishes but very tart.  Suck your face in through your cheeks tart.  So spend the time crushing and straining pomegranate seeds OR buy the juice (just juice nothing else in the juice!)

Tabikh Habb Rumman:

A cooked dish of pomegranate seeds

 Peacock and chicken with pomagranate 037

Translation:

Finely pound pomegranate seeds and strain.  Thicken with shelled almonds.  Add sugar, mint, cinnamon, and mastic, allowing it to congeal over the fire.  Mix with chicken which has been boiled and baked.  Boil it.  If you want to put pumpkin with it, do so.  (Ibn al-‘Adim Kitab al-Wuslah/Salloum, pp. 98)

 

Ingredients:

Whole chicken or 6 chicken thighs

1.5 C pomegranate juice

1 C shelled almonds (I used slivered…had ‘em on hand)

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon and ground mastic

1 tsp. sugar

2 tsp mint

 

Redaction:

Gather your items up.  Takes just a moment.

Peacock and chicken with pomagranate 010

I placed the chicken thighs in water to boil.

Peacock and chicken with pomagranate 033Ok, so this is the after boil picture.  The thighs had cooked about 10 minutes with me skimming the foam.  Hush…a novelty for sure!

The thighs were then placed in a baking dish to cook for 35 minutes at 350.

Peacock and chicken with pomagranate 018Fresh from the oven and roasting.  Personally, I can’t tell the difference of boiling then roasting instead of just roasting.  Perhaps it keeps the meat moist; however if you pay attention you can do this with roasting as well.  I’m sure somewhere, someone did this as a roast or just a boil and not both steps at once; however this time, we do both steps!

A quick note: Mastic smells a bit like pine resin yet has a slight almost lemon taste.  Don’t use a lot of this.  A little goes a loooong way.  This is more to perfume the dish then to add actual flavor.

The pomegranate juice was mixed with the almonds and spices.  The mixture is stirred till thickened.  The sauce smells amazing.  I can not emphasis how wonderful the aroma is.  Just beautiful.  I don’t normally wax enthusiastically about a smell over the taste, but the first thing you notice when cooking is just how gorgeous this sauce smells.  Take the time and take a few deep breaths; enjoying each inhale!

Peacock and chicken with pomagranate 032Yep, I went the easy buy the juice way.  It felt awesome!!  I highly recommend this.

I decided against pumpkin.  It is a period item but not one I had on hand easily today.  If you’re going to use pumpkin don’t use the orange ones!!  Those are modern and for show, being bred for size not taste.  Get a heritage pumpkin and roast that with just a touch of oil on the inside (after scooping out the seeds).

Pull the chicken out of the oven and place in the pot with the pomegranate mix.

Peacock and chicken with pomagranate 034

You can leave the pieces whole or shred.  Mix with the pomegranate sauce and serve over rice.   I do suggest leaving the chicken in the sauce till the meat is almost falling off the bone.  A long slow simmer of 30 minutes.

Peacock and chicken with pomagranate 037

 

January 31, 2017 | No comments

I had gone to Pennsic last year and picked up a small booklet of recipes.  Spanish.  “A Brief Overview of Early Spanish Cuisine”  As a side note: The full book has the only recipe for cooked cat.  Not that I would ever eat a cat; however the idea someone was hungry enough to actually make a recipe of said animal speaks a lot of the times.

Bake to tastier cooking though.  Mushrooms!  This is a sauce, though the taste of this dish could be a stand alone side.

Which speaks of making saucer of Mushrooms

Peacock Dora and more 015

Translation:

If you want to make sauce of mushrooms, parboil them well, and when they are parboiled take them and sauté them with oil.  And then make the sauce this way: have onions and parsley and cilantro, and mince them and distemper them with spices and with vinegar and a little fat.  And then make pieces of mushrooms; and when they are sautéed put them in this sauce.  Or give them cooked  on the coals with salt and oil.

 

Translation copyright Eden Rain (Sent Sovi. Catalan transcription copyright Rudolph Grewe) From: A brief Overview of Early Spanish Cuisine. Pg. 20.

 

Ingredients:

2 C Mushrooms

2 Tbs vinegar

1/2 onion chopped

1 handful ea. Parsley and cilantro

Salt to taste

 

Redaction:

Boil the mushrooms for 2 minutes.

Peacock Dora and more 003

Drain and slice once cool enough to handle.

Peacock Dora and more 010

Chop your cilantro and parsley (here I used flat leaf parsley).  Both Cilantro and Parsley came from my garden, store bought is good too!  I used roughly a half cup of olive oil though bacon fat/chicken fat/duck fat/beef lard etc. would work as well.

Sauté the onion, then the greens.

Peacock Dora and more 014

Add the mushrooms with salt to taste.  Finally drizzle in your vinegar.

Peacock Dora and more 015

 

January 28, 2017 | No comments

Homemade Bacon

 

Pork pictures 160818 009

 

I have attempted bacon before with both pork and beef.  My first try, with pork, was horrible!  One of the salts I used, to flavor the first side of pork, rendered the pork not only to salty but tasting of dirt.  I was mortified.  I took a year off from curing till now to retry.

I now share with you a very simple curing recipe for a well-marbled fatty bit of belly.

Ingredients:

1 Cups Kosher salt

1/2-1 Cup Sugar

1 tsp pink salt (enough for 5lb slab of meat)

1 Tbs juniper berries smooooooshed.

Redaction:

Gather your meat and salts/spices together.

bacon spices

Here I used a rough grained Kosher salt, regular table, sugar, juniper berries and pink salt.  When I originally made this, I erred on the side of too much salt.  I did a 2 to 1 of salt to sugar which is the right ratio but too much of the salt when rubbing.

Take your salts, spice and sugars and mix them together very well.

075Next rub this over your meat on both sides.

bacon with salt and spicesPlace in a large container.  Flip the meat every day or every other day.  The juice is part of the brine.

On the 7th day, rinse all the salts/sugar/spices off the meat in cool flowing water for 20 minutes.  This step is VERY important.  If you don’t rinse the salt off very well, the meat will be cooked with the salt on and rendered to salty.

Place on a very low heat smoker/grill.  I used hard wood charcoal.  It really does have a better cooking temperature, longevity and better flavor then the regular briquettes.  The grill I used is very nice…I managed to keep the temperature between 140 most of the time.  Occasionally it creeped up to 200 and I had to open the dampers up to cool it off.

The meat smoked for 5(ish) hours.

Pork pictures 160818 008

The meat cut nicely…still not store bought thin, but I didn’t need thin, I needed tasty.  The final verdict is that the outer skin was a bit salty but very tasty.

November 11, 2016 | No comments

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