historic cooking

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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



    “…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)



    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. 



  • 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

There have been a few hurdles over the past few months that I have had to address and recover from.  However I have a new recipe to add to my list of favorite dishes.  Meat plus fire, always an excellent combination!


 (Skewered Meat)



…for the method for skewered meat: mix meat with salt onions and turmeric and boil it with whole potherbs.  Cut it into very small pieces and strain it.  Then fasten one segment of meat and one piece of onion on the skewer and rub ghee, caraway, lime juice, white ambergris, rosewater and salt on it.  Bake it well and when it is tender, wrap it in thin bread and serve it.  (Mandu, pp. 26)


2 lb cubed meat

Salt (to taste)

1 onion (finely chopped)

1 tsp turmeric

½ tsp ea. thyme, cilantro and basil

Second stage

1 onion cut into quarters


2 tsp Caraway

1 tsp lime juice

¼ tsp rosewater

Salt to taste



I am going to change this slightly.  Here instead of boiling the meat, I am placing the meat to marinade overnight in the first set of ingredients.

So first, take a good piece of meat with a bit of marbled fat for excellent flavor and cut it into cubes.

cutting up meat with onionThen mix the marinade together.

???????????????????????????????After the meat has marinated for 24 hours (or slightly longer),

???????????????????????????????I skewer all the meat.

???????????????????????????????I alternate one cube with one slice of onion, until the skewer is filled.  The onion chunks actually help with the cooking.  I did several skewers with onions and several without.  Those without onions cooked slower and the meat was still very red in between the chunks while the outside was done and slightly charred.

Once the skewers are ready to grill, I brush each one with the ghee, caraway, lime juice, rose water and salt mixture, every 5 minutes until the meat is done.


This is the raw meat grilling on a small clay pot grill.

???????????????????????????????The meat is smelling heavenly at this point but still a bit raw.

???????????????????????????????The meat is done and ready to be devoured.

The meat actually never made it into the flat bread.  We ate the cubes hot off the skewers.  It was delicious.  I regret nothing!

August 4, 2014 | No comments