Ingredients and Spices

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This post will be important.  A lot of Medieval Middle Eastern recipes do not have measurements, those that do have period measurements.  Here is a listing with modern conversions.

 

1 lb (Ratl) = 400 g

1 ounce (uqiya) = 3.3 grams

1 dinar = 4.25 grams

1 dirham = 3 grams

1 rub (a quarter of a measure called qadah = 23.5 deciliters or about 1 measuring cup (American)

1 danaq = .5 grams

(Perry, pp. 22)

 

These are the measurements used for making mead when measuring out the spices.  Ok roughly.  I used the American grams that measured more in the 3 gram ranger then then 4.25 gram range.

Let’s talk birds.  Small, medium or large.  NO feathers please!!  Unless the bird is a peacock or a pheasant with really gorgeous feathers, but that’s another post!  So back to birds.  There are a few recipes that require the whole bird, but the bones need to be removed.  Now modernly we could just use either chicken thighs, breasts or a combination with skin on.  Period wise, the whole bird was used and the bones were removed.  The bones were not trashed as we would do today but rather used to make a broth.  We’ll get to broth making another day.  Today it’s all about the bones!

Pick your bird.  I have pictures of small medium and large birds in various stages of deboning.  I started with quail.  I hate quail.  Lovely to eat…but 6 of the damn things at one time to debone just suck.

I know hunters who hate this part of the hunt as well.  It’s not because the birds aren’t yummy.  They are very very tasty.  The problem is they are SMALL!!!  This means small bones and small delicate slices needed to pull out the fragile bones from small fragile flesh.

First things first.  Remove the wings.

Then slice down along the breast bone.

Then move the meat from the sternum of the quail.

This is not a pretty picture.  If you’re squeamish you may want to ask a really really good friend to do this work.  I would suggest bribing with chocolate or a good steak dinner.  After deboning these, the friends may not want to see another bird for awhile even cooked birds!

The next step is to peel the back of the skin off the back bone.  This requires patients and a delicate touch.  You can’t just rip off the skin no matter how great the temptation.

When removing the ribcage and spine, you’ll need to break the hip socket.   The leg will still be connected just not to the back portion.

Next it’s time to slice down the leg bone.  This gets a bit messy.

This is actually a duck that I am removing the bone from.  The quail was a bit shy showing a little leg.  Once you get to this point slice through the connecting tissue.  Slice from ankle joint up to hip joint in one slice or at least in one line.  You want to keep the meat and skin portion in tact as much as possible.

Here is the quail with out bones.

As you can see this requires a delicate touch that I was not perfect with for so small a bird.

This is a deboned chicken.  This looks like some thing from a horror show but really it’s the legs and breasts folded back and the bones removed.

Deboned quail rolled over bacon (a different recipe yet to be covered).

If you are having to debone a bird for a recipe, no matter what size.  Give yourself lots and lots of time.  About 20-45 minutes depending on how much deboning has been practiced!  If you’re doing 9 birds in one sitting set aside 3 hours or a lot of bribery to really good friends.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is a simple posting for roasted hazelnuts (then candied). Hazelnuts are also known as filburt nuts.  In period the nut was produced in Turkey, Italy and Greece. (Wikipedia)  This is a very period Middle Eastern type of nut (much like the almond) and used either whole, raw, roasted, chopped or ground.  Experiment and have fun!

I first tried a hazelnut raw.  Don’t!!  They taste terrible un-roasted in my opinion.  Hazelnuts are like olives in that they need a little help to be edible.  The nut can be eaten raw, but blech!!  no really blech!!

Take a cup or three of hazelnuts and lay them on a baking sheet.  Set the oven at 350 and allow to roast till the skins start peeling back (and are black) while the nut is golden brown.  I did not add any oil to the nuts as they are naturally oiled and require not assistance in this department.

Here the nuts are fresh from the oven and the papery skin has not been rubbed off.  Simply take a handful and rub your hands together like you are washing your hands.  This will peel off the blackened skin while leaving the nuts whole.  The roasted skin is a little to gritty and burnt to add a good flavor so try to remove as much as possible before cooking with the nuts.

Here is a bowl of hand rubbed nuts.  The roasted skins and overly cooked hazelnuts are left on the baking sheet.  These take a little bit of time but are very much worth the effort!

Here I’ve candied the nuts with figs (like the almonds and figs from another candied nuts posting).  They are even better then almonds after being roasted.  I almost gobbled up the batch except this was the last round of hazelnuts on hand and I needed more nuts for a display!  You can never have to many nuts you know.  (Don’t answer that!!!)

 

 

Bone marrow while not a staple in the Medieval diet, does show up regularly especially during Lent for those of the Catholic persuasion and in Middle Easter as a primary ingredient, rarely.  Bone marrow is the tasty bit found in the round bones of mammals  i.e. leg bones.  The marrow can be removed from the bones either by roasting or boiling.  The easiest way to remove the marrow is to cut the bones in manageable size (roughly the size of the hand or slightly smaller), then cooked.   Once the bones have been cooked, the marrow can be pulled out and added to the dish of choice.  If soup stock is being made then the marrow just need to be cooked with the bones in the water and herbs for an excellent home made stock.

I am including a few pictures in the adventure of cooking marrow for a very tasty sauce used in a duck.  (no wood was used for weighing the duck!).

Raw bones:

These bones are still slightly frozen as seen by the ice crystals.  The bones are placed end up on a cookie sheet (well used cookie sheet) with out any oil or flavorings.  The oven was turned to 350 degrees until the house smelled of excellent bubbling melty marrow.

Here is the close up of roasted marrow still in the bone.

From here you insert a knife (a fork will just shred the marrow) or a spoon into the meaty bit and pull it out.

Now the next part is a little…well not pretty.  However the taste, oh my the taste!!

The marrow part should be tasted before going “YUCK!!!”  This is really good.  Modern chef’s are actually bringing this little tasty morsel back to be served in high end restaurants for the well to do.  Marrow is slathered on a bit of toasted artisanal bread and considered a delicacy.  You however can say “I learned to do this for historically accurate cooking that was being done LONG before the modern day cooks learned about this!”

 

 

 

The English ‘gherkin’,  related to the German ‘Gurke’ meaning both cucumber and gherkin refers to cucumbers though the actual gherkin is a long rough skinned type of cucumber.  (Toussaint-Samat, pp. 529).  The cucumber is very period with seeds carbon dated from 9750 B.C. from Egypt.  (Staub, pp. 212)

The ways to eat the cucumber seems to range from drinking the squeezed pulp, cooked, eaten green or eaten raw with a little salt.   Another rather interesting way to drink a cucumber was to cut the top of a ripe cucumber off, stir the innards and let sit upright for a few days.  Now personally, I’m not so sure about this but I do come from the coke generation.  My drinks were made carbonated and sugared.  If this were not the case, I am sure I would find stirred cucumber innards rather tasty too!  The cucumber was considered a very versatile vegetable for both the edible and drinkable atributes and not just by one culture!

Now that all vacation has been used (until the the great giving of gift high holidays), time can once more be resumed on important matters like cooking.

A little history on a very tasty subject first though.  Figs.  The fruit of a fig tree, I learned today, is not a fruit.  It’s a “hollow receptacle entirely lined with tiny flowers, which, in total darkness, manage to bloom and ripen seeds: that ruby or emerald flesh of which so many cultures have been so fond is actually a miniature (and nearly divine) interior carpet of spent blossoms!) (Staub, pp. 86).  This doesn’t make the “fruit” any less tasty or valued in medieval times.

The Greeks used the fruit as a preserver, fresh or dried.  A bit of cheese, bread and figs were considered a filling and nutritious meal.  However any where but the Mediterranean Basin, figs are considered a luxury.  In the Mediterranean and Middle East figs were so common that in some place figs went unpicked or unused being so very common.  (Toussaint-Samat, pp. 670-1/Rodinson, pp. 149).

Figs have been eaten with pleasure as early as 2900 BC by both the Assyrians and Sumerians.  Figs were in Crete by 1600 BC while Xerxes, King of Persia, consumed Attic figs as a reminder of his conquests that produced some thing so delectably exquisite.  (Staub, pp. 86)

With all this tastiness and enjoyment going around about a simple but unusual “fruit”, you’d think there would be more recipes dedicated to such an enjoyable item.  Unfortunately while the fig is employed IN a great many dishes; the fig is not a star player in recipes as being considered common, oh so very common.

 

A few, or many, words about the edibility of fennel; also known as Tribonella foenum-graecum.  Fennel is one of those love/hate type of edibles.  The bulb and seeds have a mild licorices flavor that not every one is fond of.  My favorite way to eat fennel, is to eat the seeds when they are fully formed but still green.  A burst of wonderful yummy licorices!

So a little historical back ground.  Consulting 75 Exceptional Herbs, Staub writes that fennel is native to southern Europe and SW Asia.  Per Toussaint-Samat the Roman’s took fennel from Rome and transplanted the edible across northern Europe and Britton.  Fennel was thought to cure anything and everything (as well as weight loss).  A rather negative proverb, from the late Elizabethan period I believe went along the lines of  “Sow fennel, sow sorrow”.   I’m not sure about the sorrow part but I do highly recommend using fennel in many types of cooking.

The Florence Fennel is the one recommended for taste though the bronze fennel comes in a close second for both looks and taste for those curious on which to plant.  The stems and seeds can be used dried but the leaves are recommended fresh only, as they become very unpleasant dried.   To harvest the seeds, let the seeds start to turn brown on the stalk, then harvest the seed head.  Place a brown paper bag over the seed head till the seeds fully ripen and dry, then shake the bag, letting gravity do the hard work of separating seed from plant.  The bulb though is the star of the plant, being able to be eaten raw or cooked. Fennel works well with a variety of different types of meat and fruit, i.e. fish, chicken, pork and oranges.  For the blanched bulbs, let the bulbs get to the size of golf balls then mound up around the bulbs from which the plant naturally blanches the bulbs and doubles in size.  Or you can let the bulbs grow with out help and harvest as if you were on the wild hills of Italy!

A couple of dishes to try on whim:

Thinly sliced fennel with orange segments and dressed with a vinaigrette.  The other would be a roasting hen surrounded by cubed fennel, sliced carrots and new potatoes with a bit of olive oil, roasted till the hen were done.

I have yet to try these two recipes.  I do have another recipe to present shortly with fennel and pork and lots and lots of wine!

Rendering Fat into Lard

Lard is the rendering of animal fat into a solid(ish) state to be used in cooking or as a base for an herbal rub such as a bruise balm.  Rendering fat into lard isn’t hard, just time consuming.

The first step is to pick the type of fat to be used.  The fat from the back or the sides of an animal are usually considered better then the fat from around the organs.  (This is not including caul fat which has different cooking properties).  The fat from the organs, I am unclear as to why, seems to be more odiferous then the melting fat from either the back or the side.  I have heard that leaf lard is the way to go (as being the fat from the back) or that you should never use leaf lard (being the fat from the organs). So the naming of the fat differs depending on where you live, hence the reference as back, side or organ fat.  The exception to this is the ball of fat found on some sheep referred to as tail fat.  The rendering method is the same, just the location is different. Note: Do not use the fat found in the organ region but the fat around the organs (caul fat) is very good.

The type of lard you want is the next step.  Pork, beef, sheep, chicken or even duck can be made into lard or just fat for chicken or duck fat.  Why the fowl get fat instead of lard for theirs I don’t know…it just is.  All have very different tastes.  Each animal imbibes the fat with a flavor.  Some flavors are stronger then other.  Tail fat for instance tastes strongly of mutton while duck tends to have a smoother flavor that is not very strong, more like a hint of duck.

Once the type of fat for rendering has been decided upon, place the fat

into a pan and cover with either a lid or foil and cook until the meat parts turn brown.  2.5 lbs take about 2.5-3 hours.  Once the meat pieces in the fat start to turn brown take the pan from the oven and allow to cool a bit.  Ladle into molds.

I used muffin molds which measure ¼ cup per muffin round.  Once the liquid has been put into molds, put the mold pan into the freezer.

This makes the lard easier to remove from the pan and the individual lard cakes can be stored in plastic bags in the freezer for up to 3 months.

The crispy pieces left over, are called crackling and can be used for other dishes.

Save these!  Very period…but also makes an excellent addition in cornbread.

Upon occasion the timing is off when cooking fat and overcooking will occur.  This can be quickly spotted when the rendered fat is an amber color instead of clear gold.

If the cracklin part is burnt, toss the fat and cracklin away.  The liquid fat, in a prior picture is actually amber and from the burnt batch and was thrown away.  The fat needs to be clear and golden in color.  Burnt fat transfer the taste of burnt ash to the fat.  There is nothing to be done at this point.

So today’s topic is every one’s favorite sweetener, Honey! There is a lot of information on honey so just a few high lights.

Per Toussaint-Samat, bees (not today’s honey bees but their ancestors) originated  in Asia, then traveled through the Middle East to arrive in Europe and Africa giving us honey.  Honey was so widely used and so popular , almost every culture that has access to honey has a myth about how honey was handed down by the gods to man.  Honey has been found in Egyptian tombs, that still retained scent and color. (http://www.touregypt.net/featurestories/yuyat.htm).

Honey is made from from bees, collecting nectar into their honey sacs or honey stomachs, mixing with the enzymes in the saliva and the gastric juices.  The quality of the nectar is directly linked to the quality of the honey, not to mention the flavor.  The sweeter the nectar the better the honey.  The bees then regurgitate the liquid honey into wax combs for storage where the honey solidifies.  Due to the low water content, honey, if stored properly will not spoil or ferment readily, thus making honey and excellent food source for bees and consumable sweetener for humans.

There is a Roman recipe where fig leaves are stuffed with wheat flour, lard, eggs and brains, cooked in a chicken or kid broth then after draining, cooked a second time in boiling honey.  (Toussant-Samat, pp. 19) I think I am going to leave that recipe for redacting another day though!

Honey was used as a sweetener, either with sugar or instead of sugar but also as a glaze or coating.  Honey bakes well, boils well and dribbles well over most foods.

I was once told that honey is one of the few items made in nature that humans have yet to figure out how to reproduce.  For some reason I find this comforting to know.

Sugar was not, historically, plentiful or abundant until the late 1500’s.  What we would consider an every day stable was used sparingly for medicinal used (improve digestion and increase appetite) to only found on the tables of the relatively wealthy.

SugarSaccharum officinarum “…considered a spice even rarer and more expensive then any other…pharmaceutical use…gives its species name of officinarum.”   Considered very expensive till the late 1500.

Loaf sugar given the name due to the conical shape derived from refining into a hard and very white refined form.

Caffetin or Couffin (English equivalent of “coffer” or “coffin”) named for the form, packed in plaited leaves palm and from the city shipped from called Caffa in the Crimea.   

Casson a very fragile sugar also considered the ancestor to Castor sugar.  Muscarrat considered the best of all sugars, reported to be made in Egypt for the Sultan of Babylon.

The Italian name mucchera denotes that it had been refined twice.

Toussaint-Samat, pg. 553-555

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