Foods of the Medieval New World

My next full feast is a full year from now, Martinmass 2012. The theme of the event is Mayan, of course. It’s the End of the World! We’re going to have so much fun with the whole theme. Of course, I’m doing a Mayan feast…

Wow. I know a decent amount about modern Central American food, but nothing about pre-Columbian Mayan food culture. First I had to figure out what foods they did NOT have.

No wheat. No rice. No barley, rye, spelt, emmer, or buckwheat. Only corn and a little amaranth.

No milk. No cheese, cream, buttermilk, no milk products of any kind. The Mayans had very few domesticated animals, and zero milk-producing domesticated animals.

None of the common livestock. No cows, goats, sheep, camels, oxen, or pigs. Very few large mammals in Central America. This also means no familiar animal fats, no lard or sheep tail fat for cooking in. They mostly ate wild game birds, insects, reptiles, fish, and shellfish. They did eat the tapir, which is related to the horse though it looks like a pig, and monkeys. A single source so far says they also hunted wild deer and peccaries and possibly also ate dogs. As far as I can tell, bird eggs were also not a part of their diet but they did eat iguana eggs.

It’s difficult to even conceive of a cuisine based on what foods they had available, yet they did have a cuisine. They had a wealth of fruits and vegetables, including guava, yuca, sweet potato, avocado, chili peppers, beans, tomatoes, papaya, sopadilla, and pumpkins.

Some recognizable dishes and cooking methods that will make this feast much more approachable include tortillas, tamales, pozole, pipian sauce, and pit-roasting, called pib. And the feast must include cacao, of course.

This is going to be so much fun!

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