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

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
Jicama “slaw”

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


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


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
Ari Tyrbrandr
Berric of An Crosaire
Tatiana Heineman
Ian Larsson
Mor & Takashi
Kalika Natani
Angharad ferch Anarawd
… 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!

Spinach Artichoke Melts and SCA Food Culture

This has nothing whatsoever to do with medieval food. Really.

It does however have to do with SCA food culture, which I think is plenty important, and Gulf Wars, which I can barely go 5 minutes without thinking about right now.

I love Phil’s Grill at Gulf Wars. Last year my whole family went- me, my heavy fighter husband, my heavy fighter 16 year old son, my 13 year old youth fighter son, and my 10 year old youth fighter daughter. Can you even imagine how much food these kids eat at War? Let’s just say that I’m pretty sure we spent more money buying 2 family lunches and 1 family “just a snack!” at Phil’s Grill than my entire War shopping budget. Yet I wouldn’t have missed it. I actually really like the food there, and there’s one particular dish I actually look forward to…

Phil’s Grill’s Spinach Artichoke Melt.

Part of it is just eating in the food court. There’s something so thoroughly “SCA” about eating in the food court at War. Here we are, sitting around wooden picnic tables surrounded by modern food tents, eating modern food… all in our medieval finery. It’s actually kind of cool.

You know, I started this post because I wanted to replicate the Spinach Artichoke Melt. It’s just me and my daughter going to War this year, and I’m already thinking about easy hot dinners I can make for the two of us in the evenings. Making it myself would be so much less expensive. And it might even taste better.

But it wouldn’t be the same.

I think we’ll be visiting Phil’s Grill after all.

Queen’s luncheon- final menu!

The Queen’s Luncheon Team met at our illustrious Baroness’s home yesterday for a sewing, banner painting and open-fire recipe testing day.

We tested all of the recipes that will be cooked over coals “camp kitchen” style: apple fritters, funnel cakes, pork sausage and beef meatballs. The only touchy part of “primitive” cooking is controlling the temperature. You can’t just “turn up the heat” and have it happen quickly. Oil especially takes a while to come to temperature using charcoal for heat. The funnel cakes were the least forgiving dish, but we will have plenty of other food if the funnel cakes take too long.

Here is the final menu:

Bratwurst (homemade pork sausage)- Sabina Welserin
Balls (beef and herb meatballs roasted on a spit)- Le Menagier
Pickled Tongue, Best Made in January (salted and smoked tongue, thinly sliced)- Sabina Welserin
Cress and Mint in Vinegar (salad)- Le Menagier
Manchet Rolls
Mustard- Le Menagier
Green Garlic Sauce- Le Menagier
Apple Puffs (apple fritters)- Sabina Welserin
Spritzgebackenes (funnel cakes)- Sabina Welserin
Bitter Oranges in Honey (candied orange peel)- Sabina Welserin
Molded marzipan tarts- Sabina Welserin
Possibly sour cherry tarts and some cheeses if I have any extra money.

I’m so excited! We have all of the cooking equipment we need. Now for the master shopping list, the packing lists, and the kitchen plan. And I still need some German garb!

Known World Party- Sweet Wish List

Desert woman with herd of camels from the 13th century Syrian Maqamat of al-Hariri

Desert woman with herd of camels from the 13th century Syrian "Maqamat of al-Hariri"

The previous list was for savory tidbits, and almost all are claimed! Make sure you either comment here, message me on facebook, or email me privately to claim which dish you want to make.

Here are the sweet dishes-

Another Mishash- Lady Ysabeau (An Crosaire)

(Anonymous Andalusian, p 160)
Flaky pastry cookies soaked in sugar syrup rolled in crushed walnuts and sugar

Oven Qahariyya

(Anonymous Andalusian, p 160)
Almond brittle dipped in starch and baked in the oven

Abbasid Qataif- Mistress Roslyn McLaren and Household

(Anonymous Andalusian, p 153)
Fried half-moon shaped dumplings filled with almonds and sugar dipped in rose-scented syrup


(Anonymous Andalusian, p 148)
This is the original recipe for modern Indian jalebis. They are exactly the same!  There is an excellent video for making jalebis here. Jalebi/Zulabiyya keeps very well in the fridge if tightly wrapped.

Faludhaj- Baroness Diana of Kilkenny (An Crosaire)

(Anonymous Andalusian, p 171)
Honey-almond-sesame candy

An Eastern Sweet- Baroness Jehannette de Lille (Darkwater)

(Anonymous Andalusian, p 179)
This is the medieval ancestor of modern Turkish Delight for the candy-maker, flavored with pomegranate, apple, pear or quince juice. Fun!

Hais- HL Signy (An Crosaire)

(Medieval Arab Cookery p 88- A Baghdad Cookery Book)
Round “biscuits” of breadcrumbs, dates, almonds, pistachios, sugar, and sweet sesame oil, rolled in more sugar. An SCA classic.

Lauzinaj- Baroness Ceridwen (An Crosaire)

(Medieval Arab Cookery p 418- Description of Familiar Foods)
This is, no lie, baklava rolls with almonds instead of walnuts, though walnuts would be completely okay, and so would layers instead of rolls.

Asabi Zainab (The Fingers of Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra)

(Medieval Arab Cookery p 418- Description of Familiar Foods)
Tiny cannoli tubes, dipped in syrup, then stuffed with pistachios and sugar and rosewater

Nuhud al-Adhra (Virgin’s Breasts)- Kristoff (Darkwater)

(Medieval Arab Cookery p 422- Description of Familiar Foods)
This is literally marzipan mixed with a little ghee/clarified butter, shaped like women’s breasts, and baked in the oven. Feel free to use edible food coloring to make these as realistic as possible.

Irnin- Gwenhwyvar Thredegold (Marcaster)

(Medieval Arab Cookery p 422- Description of Familiar Foods)
These are nothing more than the ancestor of ma’moul, a delicious and easy date-filled cookie.

No Cooking!

If you have no interest in cooking but would still like to contribute to the party please sign up for one or more of the following:
Figs, dried or fresh
Olives of every kind- Umble (Oldenfeld)
Feta cheese, cubed
Queso fresco or farmer’s cheese, cubed