The Seven Voyages of Sindbad Feast- What to Bring

Going to a feast is not the same as going to a restaurant. A feast is an experience. Part of getting into the atmosphere of the feast is trying to eat outside of your normal manners, to try something from a different culture. For this feast, I want you to eat with your fingers.

Eating with your fingers is a sensory experience. You don’t just taste your food, you feel it.

However, dirty fingers in shared bowls was a strict no-no. Washing your hands thoroughly before sitting down to eat is a must. If we get enough volunteer servers, we may have handwashing at the tables, but at such a small event it is unlikely. Since licking your fingers is also crude and unsanitary, please don’t forget your cloth napkins to wipe your fingers between courses.

Definitely bring a plate, a sharp table knife, and at least one bowl for soups and stews. Spoons are acceptable, but eating the solid foods out of your bowl and then lifting the bowl to drink the broth is also acceptable. Scooping wet foods into your mouth out with a piece of bread is encouraged. There will be several types of drinks available during the feast, some more exotic than others. I would suggest bringing two glasses- one for plain water and one for flavored drinks. The wealthy elite in 10th century Baghdad did drink wine made from grapes and other fruits, please feel free to add wine to your table if you like. Please also bring candles and candle-holders! This will be a “lights-out” feast. If you enjoy really seeing your food, bring candles for your table. Electric faux candles are lovely too!

A note about serving– please keep in mind that servers are volunteers who have probably been working and/or playing just as hard as you all day. There is often a shortage of adults volunteering to serve feast at smaller events. If this happens, then one person seated at each table will come up to the serving line at the beginning of each course to fetch the platters for each course.

The Seven Voyages of Sindbad Feast- Feast Math

The most difficult and tedious part of planning a feast is the math.

You go through the manuscript and choose a handful of recipes. Then you test the recipes, more than once if necessary, writing down every single measurement you used. Then you go shopping to find the prices for every single ingredient in every single dish at more than one store so you can make sure you’re getting the best price for that lamb/fresh mushrooms/saffron. You write down all the prices and make a giant spreadsheet.

Then the math begins. The average human can only eat so much food at one sitting. The math comes in figuring out how much of each dish to serve, coming up with a rough budget estimate based on cost of each item, and then going back and tweaking the menu until it all fits into the budget. And then the real math begins. Taking the amounts of your test recipes and then multiplying them out to feed the number of people at the feast the amount you’ve decided to give them takes time and concentration and often, loud music. When it’s time to go shopping it’s easy to start second-guessing my own math, buy too much, and then cook too much.

Seven course feasts do not happen at every event. I wanted to do a seven course feast to go along with the live telling of the Seven Voyages of Sindbad, but also for feasters to really experience the breadth and complexity of the court cuisine at the time the story of Sindbad the Sailor was written. You are going to be eating the food that the people who wrote the stories ate every day, the food that Sindbad the Sailor would have eaten in his own court.

However. As I said above, people can only eat so much at one sitting. To get everyone through seven courses of food and make sure that you will want to eat every course, the portions at this feast will not look like the portions at a regular 3-4 course feast. These portions will be very small, but there will be lots of them. Small portions add up, especially when five of the seven courses have at least one meat dish. Think of this feast as a long cocktail party with seven courses of fancy appetizers and a show. I promise, you won’t leave hungry.

 

Tarte of Almonds

Our fair Barony’s Arts & Sciences officer issued a pie challenge for our meeting this month, and I chose this pie to redact because I adore the combination of almonds and rosewater and I was intrigued by a custard-like pie filling with no eggs.

From The good Huswifes Handmaide for the Kitchin, 1594

To make a tarte of Almonds

Blanche Almonds and beat them, and straine them &c, with good thicke Creame, then put in Sugar and Rosewater, and boyle it thicke: then make your paste with Butter, fair water, and the yolks of two or three Egs, and as soone as you haue driven your paste, cast on a litle Sugar, and Rosewater, and harden your paste afore in the Ouen. Then take it out, and fill it, and set it in againe, and let it bake till it be well, and so serue it.

This redaction is absolutely for a feast, not for an artsci entry!

Tarte of Almonds

Crust
1 3/4 c unbleached pastry flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 stick of cold salted butter
1 large egg yolk
2 1/2 tbl very cold water
1 tbl lemon juice

Filling
1 8 oz. can Solo almond paste (not marzipan!)
2 c whipping cream
1/4 c sugar
8 drops Laxmi brand rosewater

Combine flour and salt in a large bowl. Cut the butter in small pieces with a knife. Rub the butter into the flour with your fingers until there are no large pieces. Combine the egg yolk, water and lemon juice in a small bowl and whip with a fork. When combined, add all at once to the flour and stir with the fork until the mixture leaves the sides of the bowl. Dump it all out on a lightly floured board and pat it all together into a lump. Wrap in paper or plastic wrap and put it in the fridge for one hour.

Take the almond paste out of the can and dice it. Combine the almond paste and cream in a small saucepan and put over LOW heat. Once the cream is hot to the touch, scrape the cream and almond paste into a blender and blend on low/mix just until smooth. Scrape back into the saucepan and heat on low until barely simmering. Stir often, it will scorch! Cook slowly until the color begins to darken and mixture thickens slightly, about 30 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Turn the oven on to 375. Roll out the chilled dough and place in a glass pie pan. Crimp the edges or decorate however you wish. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of the sugar over the bottom of the crust and poke lightly with a fork to keep it from rising. Bake for 5 minutes or until the edges are firm but not colored.

Mix the rosewater with the filling. Pour the filling into the pie shell. Sprinkle the top evenly with the rest of the sugar. Place back in the oven. Bake for 10 minutes at 375, then turn down to 350 and bake until the edges of the pie crust are nicely browned and the filling is bubbling. I was hoping that the sugar on top would caramelize but this didn’t happen in my oven… the bottom browned before the sugar on top caramelized. I would try this again at a slightly lower temperature.

The Seven Voyages of Sindbad Feast- The Land of Wheat, Vinegar and Onions

When many people think of “middle eastern cuisine”, they think of rice- biryani, pulao, mujadara. While the wealthy of Baghdad in the 10th century did have easy access to rice and did occasionally eat it, rice was considered an inferior food and poor nutrition. The few rice recipes in the Kitab al-Tabikh are all heavy, fortified dishes full of milk or yogurt, animal fat, or sugar to increase its nutritional value.

What they ate was wheat. Wheat was considered the most nutritious grain and was eaten as porridge, pasta, dumplings, cookies, cakes, and bread of every description. Wheat starch was removed and used to make all sorts of sweets and delicate pastries. Stale bread was broken up or ground and soaked in meat broth, herbs, and spices, making a dressing-like dish called tharid that was central to the cuisine. Toasted wheat was ground and mixed with sugar and water to make a nourishing drink, called sawiq, that was flavored with all kinds of fruits and spices.

Another central ingredient to this cuisine is onions. Onions were thought to induce thirst, stimulate the appetite, and was cooked with meat to “remove offending odors”. They ate almost a dozen varieties of vegetables in the onion family, and there are onions in almost every dish. In testing the dishes in this manuscript I have come to appreciate more deeply the nuances in flavor between brown onions, leeks, green onions, chives, garlic, and red onions.

Certain combinations of flavors define cuisines, and this cuisine liked their meat dishes “sharp” and “sour”. Sumac juice, citron juice, and pomegranate juice were all used to introduce sour flavors in meat dishes too, but by far the most common ingredient is vinegar. Vinegar was thought to balance out the heaviness in meat-centered dishes and to help cool the body, an important concern in a desert climate. Vinegar was used to marinate meat before cooking and added to spices and onions at the end to make a sauce. It’s added to ground mustard seed and spices to make mustard sauces. There is also an entire range of dishes that are preserved in vinegar and served cold, called barida. Barida are not pickles exactly, more like cooked vegetables marinated in spiced vinegar. Barida were an important part of every feast, cooling the body and aiding in digestion. Vinegar was often made from fruits such as apples, dates, raisins and figs, but the best vinegar was made from grape wine. I will be using red wine vinegar for the dishes calling for vinegar in this feast.

Come prepared to savor the sour, the sharp, and the piquant. In this feast I have tried to present a balance of flavors, textures, and cooking methods, but these three ingredients are impossible to avoid. If you have an onion intolerance, wheat intolerance or a wheat allergy, this may not be the feast for you.

The Seven Voyages of Sindbad- the Feast Menu

An Earring Mystery Solved

Although there is a huge amount of extant art depicting 16th century Hindu North Indian women and their clothing and ornamentation, until very recently the vast majority was only available printed at low resolutions and in black & white in books. In the past decade there has been an explosion of books with full-color, high resolution reproductions of paintings, and even better, some museums are doing high-resolution scans of paintings and putting them on the internet. Many of these paintings are causing me to review my Rajput kit with a very critical eye as I am seeing new details in clothing and jewelry.

For years I have suspected that 16th century Hindu women’s ear ornaments were more complex than the large disc-shaped lobe ornament so easily seen in paintings.

These three paintings are all from the “Freer Gallery Ramayana”, an illustrated copy of the Hindu epic Ramayana commissioned by Abd al-Rahim and completed between 1587 and 1598.

These three paintings, spanning about 40 years, show the relative stability of women’s costume during this period. There were changes- fashion is never frozen- but the overall garments and “look” are pretty stable. All of these six paintings show the range of women’s ear ornamentation. Possibly the most revealing for reconstruction purposes is the detail of the Khamsa of Nizami painting “The princesses of the seven pavilions bow in homage to Bahram Gur”. In that one paintings you can see Hindu women wearing dangling earrings with gems in their lobes, the disc-shaped earrings in lobes, rows of pearls or round studs along the edge of the ear, and almost every woman has a pointed ornament sticking straight up off the top of the helix.

That particular ornament has plagued me for years. I could see something was there but not exactly what it was. Then Margavati Bai shared a new resource- Earrings: Ornamental Identity and Beauty in India by Waltraud Ganguly. That is where I finally found the name of the ornament sitting on top of the helix of these women’s ears- the bugudi.

Called koppu in Tamil Nadu and bugudi in Karnataka, these straight earrings are worn nearly vertically in the helix, with one ornamented end on the top and another on the bottom, inside the ear, like finials. According to the author, they are modeled on clove buds.  I immediately started searching the internet to see if they are available for sale, since traditional jewelry pieces like these are often hard to find. I have found a few examples here and a gold example here. There are also several in the V&A museum.

As soon as I can figure out how to make a pair of these I will be getting my ears pierced so I can wear this style of earring. Now if we could only figure out patkas!

Xocolatl- An interpretation

Tags

Here is my interpretation of the hot bitter cacao-based Mayan drink xocolatl. I only made 2 1/2 gallons for 150 people because I didn’t think many people would like it, or even try it. I was so wrong. I should have made double the amount that I did. So while this recipe only makes about 150 3-oz servings, I would suggest doubling the serving size.

The pre-contact Mayans drank hot cacao drinks the way we drink black coffee or strong tea- as a stimulating beverage. It’s powerful, so only powerful people could drink it.

Possibly the most important part of these cacao drinks is the “broth” at the base. This isn’t the meat broth or pulse broth we’re familiar with from medieval European cooking, but chile broth. The liquid resulting from rehydrating dry chiles- of whatever kind- is a beautiful rich broth that can be used to add a subtle heat to all kinds of dishes. The chile broth added a lovely back-of-the-throat warmth to both the cacao drink and the braised turkeys. I look forward to playing with this technique more in my home cooking.

Madhavi’s Xocolatl

2 pounds of raw cacao paste
2 whole vanilla beans, slit down the length
2 teaspoons of fresh-ground achiote
1/4 c whole allspice berries
2 1/2 gallons of water
6 oz dried guajillo chiles
1-2 c honey
1 tsp + of salt

First make the chile broth. Heat the water to boiling and add the chiles. Let them steep until the water is cold.

Chop the chocolate into splinters. Strain the chile broth, use the chiles for something else. Start the chile broth heating in a wide pot over medium heat. Add the chocolate and whisk until the chocolate is completely melted. Whisk in the rest of the ingredients, including the first cup of honey, and bring the mixture almost to a boil. Turn the heat off and let everything bloom and steep for at least an hour. Taste and add more honey only if necessary. It should be bitter but not unpleasantly so. Strain through a fine wire strainer.

If you want to serve it hot, then heat back to almost boiling slowly, whisking like mad the whole time. The mixture will scorch very quickly!

I loved this drink so much more than the over-sweetened, milky “hot chocolate”. If you want to try it on a home scale, you can buy 4 oz bags of cacao nibs, which can be used in the same way. A heaping tablespoon of cacao nibs makes a big mug of Xocolatl.

MayanmasMoot Rough Menu

This is by far the most difficult feast I’ve ever done. Redacting recipes is usually easy for me… I can read the description of the dishes in most medieval manuscripts and know what the dish is going to look like and an idea of how it’s supposed to taste because I’m already familiar with those cuisines. I grew up in Florida! Not a lot of real Mexican food here. Recipe testing is taking longer than I expected and some of these are still not settled.

I did have almost the whole menu into Nahuatl… which I thought was the language of the Maya, since Sophie Coe uses a lot of Nahuatl terminology. It’s not, and the Maya languages are nowhere near as accessible as Nahuatl. So for right now, the menu is in English.

As far as I can tell, the Mayans did not serve their feasts in courses. However, dining in courses is expected in SCA feasts and serving everything at one time would take more serving dishes and room than we have so, courses it is.

First Course

Chile-flavored savory turkey broth with soft nixtamalized corn dumplings

A Selection of Tamales:

Mashed black bean, epazote, corn leaves
Venison, chile, Piper hispidum leaves
Alligator, wild onion, Poliomentha longiflora, Jatropha aconitifolia, corn leaves

Second Course

Broth of mashed sweet potato, allspice, and sweet nixtamalized corn
Broth of toasted nixtamalized corn

Third Course

Turkey braised in herbed chile broth
Tortillas
Jicama “slaw”

Three sauces:
Tomato, achiote, red chile, herbs
Tomatillo, green chile, avocado, wild onions, herbs
Tomato, squash, squash seeds, herbs

Dessert

A confection of amaranth, squash seeds and spiced honey
Fresh fruit including pineapple, sapote, papaya, guava and hog plums
Chocolate- A hot bracing drink thickened with cornmeal, sweetened with honey, and spiced with smoky chile, vanilla beans, sapote pits, and achiote

Inspiration

As many of you know, even though I joined the SCA in Trimaris, I lived in Meridies for 10 years. My Laurel, my household, and a big chunk of my heart is still in Meridies. My Laurel taught me to cook and her Laurel taught her, and I just rediscovered an article that the two of them wrote together. It’s kind of a mini-handbook for cooking a feast and hits all of the important points, and I’m not sure if there’s ever been a better one written.

The intro pretty well sums up my entire philosophy of cooking feasts:

I believe in period style feasts. This is not to say that I think anyone could or should do a “completely authentic” feast. Not only is this probably impossible, but it would also be unsanitary, unpalatable to modern tastes, and unbelievably expensive. Medieval and Renaissance feasts were extremely long and had dozens of courses or removes. There was no modern concept of a balanced diet or nutrition. Food preservation was limited, and many foods were salted, preserved in vinegar, and dried. Fresh foods were available only in the short growing season–not year round. Cooking methods frequently led to dishes that were overcooked by modern standards. There were few sweets. Furthermore, in period labor was cheap, and there were hordes of servants to help with preparation. [i]

Despite these inconvenient facts, the doughty SCA chef may forge ahead in planning and preparing a “period style” feast. By “period style” I mean using foods found in period and recipes that are derived from period sources. When possible, period cooking methods and presentation of dishes should be incorporated. The feast menu may (and should in my mind) come from a single time and place, and all recipes and foods should be documentable to that time and place. However, certain allowances for our mundaneness must be made. A balanced menu that is nutritionally sound, sanitary methods of preservation and preparation, a shorter serving time, fewer kitchen helpers, a smaller budget, and so on. The SCA chef spans the best of two worlds–a caterer with historical research skills. If this is something that interests you, read on.

Thank you again Maysun and Roz for introducing me to this crack inspiring me to cook feasts!

Maya Research Notes

Oh, the luck of the draw.  The food of the Maya was, of course, the most sparsely recorded of the 3 major central and south american cultures. It’s too bad this event isn’t “Aztec-mas”, I’d have a whole lot more sources available to me. The best source I’ve found so far is America’s First Cuisines by Sophie Coe, with Reconstructing the Ancient Maya Diet, Chocolate in Mesoamerica, and The Food of the Present-Day Maya Indians of Yucatan (1936) as back-up sources. The next set of back-up sources for Mesoamerican cooking techniques (like making tamales) are the 2 modern traditional Mexican cookbooks False Tongues and Sunday Bread and Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen.

This is probably going to be the feast where I push the most boundaries of authenticity. Gainesville, Florida does not have a sufficient population of Mexicans, Guatemalans, or Hondurans to have much in the way of Mayan specialty items. In present-day Mexico, traditional Indio/Mayan foods are considered redneck or hick food. It’s like a middle-class guy in Queens looking at traditional Appalachian food from 50 years ago. I have ordered seeds for some of the specialty herbs like epazote and Tagetes lucida to grow at home, and hoping I can get some other fresh greens shipped in.

Piztle is turning out to be an interesting puzzle. According to Coe, it’s the seed of the Calorcarpum mammosum. When I google that, it’s been renamed Pouteria sapota, which is the Mamey sapote. The fruit of which I can get right now at the corner grocery store. I started getting really excited… the seed is referenced as an important flavoring added to cacao drinks, similar to bitter almond. I would love to have that for an added flavor note. However, a couple chapters later Coe refers directly to the fruit of Pouteria sapota with no reference to the seeds at all. So tomorrow I’ll be buying a couple mameys and digging out their seeds to see if they have any discernible almond smell.  If they do then I might buy all the mameys I can right now and trying to figure out how to preserve the seeds, since I have no idea if they’ll still be available in November.

Another important Maya food is chaya/Jatropha aconitifolia, a common cooking green. The leaves were also used to wrap tamales. I have found a source for young plants here in Gainesville and I already have a space in the yard cleared and ready. I’m hoping I can grow enough chaya before the feast to use the correct leaves to wrap tamales.

A larger issue is the lack of fresh masa. The vast majority of corn grown by the Maya (and all other native American cultures) was dried, nixtamalized and then ground before being cooked. The nixtamalized and ground raw corn dough is called masa. This dough was used to make everything, all of their “bread”. Another result of not enough Mexicans in Gainesville is that no one here sells fresh masa. In larger US cities there are places that sell tamales, fresh tortillas, and fresh masa. I can get dry masa, called masa harina, and reconstitute it, but this is basically the difference between Uncle Bens converted rice and good basmati, or using packaged 50¢ ramen noodles instead of fresh rolled pasta. It’s a last resort. I’m going to have to either make a big detour to the closest city, probably Orlando, on the way to the event, or bribe someone in Orlando to buy a huge quantity of fresh masa and bring it with them.

Another fun “let’s see how far we can stretch authenticity” is going to be breakfast. Y’all know that usually ALL of the meals at my events follow the theme of the feast and are a decent balance between what we as modern Americans find acceptable as foods for dinner, breakfast and lunch and what the medieval person would have eaten in the time/place of the theme. Well, can you guess what the Maya ate for breakfast and lunch every day? They ate gruel. No, seriously. Gruel. Specifically, a wide range of gruels made from masa and mixed with countless add-ins, honey, herbs, chiles, and sometimes mashed root vegetables. Oh, and sometimes they were soured, like yogurt. Would you like some sour corn yogurt with chilis on top for breakfast? Thought not. Me either, frankly. So I think it’s going to be “dinner for breakfast”. I’ll have to get creative to not repeat the limited number of documentable dishes in breakfast and feast.

I love a challenge!

How to do the food for a Known World Party

The Known World Party at Gulf Wars 21 was a complete success. I can’t compare it against previous years since even though this is my 9th or 10th Gulf Wars I have never eaten anything at a Known World Party in the past. In fact, I don’t even remember seeing food at any previous KWP, even though I’m assured that there’s food there every year.

This is the first year that anyone has attempted period food for the Known World Party. This was HUGE. The theme Countess Larissa chose (1001 Nights) made it extremely easy since those stories were written over a huge span of time and geographic region of the medieval Muslim world. Every medieval Muslim cooking manuscript can be linked to a version or story in 1001 Nights so I had a huge range of dishes to work with. I don’t think there could be an easier theme.

I also had the best crew anyone could possibly dream of.

Ceridwen OCahercommaun
Dianna Wyndalan of Kidwelly, called Wolfmom
Anne of Blackthorne
Stefanina de Lucca
Ysabeau Durant
Thalassia Hellas
Christoffer Koch
Gzu
Tymmgard
Ari Tyrbrandr
Berric of An Crosaire
Eithne
Tatiana Heineman
Ian Larsson
Mor & Takashi
Kalika Natani
Angharad ferch Anarawd
Margavati
… and a bunch of people I never got the names of.

I’ve added two pages: one page for what worked, and a page for what didn’t. I hope to add photos soon!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 30 other followers