Archive for food

Aquapatys

Posted in late medieval, veganmofo 2009 with tags , , , , , , , on October 24, 2009 by hoveringdog

Aquapatys

Yes, I fail at Vegan MoFo, but perhaps another recipe from the fourteenth-century Forme of Cury will make up for my lapse. This one is basically a fairly simple recipe for whole boiled garlic cloves. Sure, you’ll stink after this, but I promise it’ll be worth the stench. The original reads, “Aquapatys. XX.III. XV. Pill garlec and cast it in a pot with water and oile. and seeþ it, do þerto safroun, salt, and powdour fort and dresse it forth hool.” My method was to first brown the whole garlic cloves in a bit of olive oil, add water and bring to a boil, simmer until they’re tender.

The “powdour fort,” or “strong powder,” bit requires a bit more imagination. Powder forte was a blend of spices that occurred in quite a few medieval and renaissance recipes, but the exact composition is a little obscure. Samuel Pegge, the eighteenth-century editor of Forme of Cury, speculated that it was a mixture “of the warmer spices, pepper, ginger, &c. pulverized: hence we have powder-fort of gynger, other of canel [cinnamon].” It probably included also a few spices that are today a bit hard to find, such as grains of paradise, a relative of cardamom, and cubeb pepper, sometimes called Java pepper.

For this incarnation, I just blended up the warmer spices I had on hand: cardamom, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, and loads of freshly ground black pepper. I added salt and a pinch of ground saffron, tossed the boiled and drained cloves in the mix until well coated, and then ate them spread on slices of baguette. The boiling really cuts the harshness of the garlic in case you’re a bit wary of eating whole cloves, and they become nicely creamy and spreadable. Good times.

Late Night Gruel

Posted in late medieval, veganmofo 2009 with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 12, 2009 by hoveringdog

Looks disgusting, I know. But forget oil painting or the printing press, this was the best thing ever to come out of the fifteenth century, perfect for when you’re laboring late on an autumnal evening over some tome of ancient lore:Late Night Gruel

Taylours. Take almondes, and grynde hem raw in a morter, and temper hit with wyne and a litul water; And drawe hit þorgh a streynour into a goode stiff mylke into a potte; and caste thereto reysons of coraunce, and grete reysons, myced Dates, Clowes, Maces, Pouder of Peper, Canel, saffron̄ a good quantite, and salt; and sette hem ouere the fire, And lete al boyle togidre awhile; And alay hit vp with floure of Ryse, or elles grated brede, and cast there-to sugur and salt, And serue hit forth in maner of mortrewes, and caste there-on̄ pouder ginger in þe dissh. (Harleian MS 4016)

The simplified, roughly translated version? Pour some almond milk in a small saucepan, add powdered cloves, mace, pepper, cinnamon, salt, a pinch of saffron. Throw in some raisins and chopped dates, bring the whole thing to a simmer for a bit. Then stir in a little rice flour. You don’t need a lot. I’d start with a tablespoon, maybe two, let it thicken for a minute, and then add more as needed. It turns into a gummy gruel fairly quickly. Stir in some sugar, sprinkle on some powdered ginger. Consume.

The end result is somewhere between hot cereal and a big steamy bowl of spiced cookie dough. It’s great in the morning as an alternative to oatmeal or cream of wheat, or in the evening if your insomnia makes it difficult to tell your dawn from your dusk…

Purslane

Posted in miscellanea with tags , , , on September 6, 2009 by hoveringdog

So Galen wasn’t too keen on purslane. In his work De alimentorum facultatibus, he dismissed it as a fairly useless weed: “Some people use purslane as food, but what little nutrition it does provide is watery, cold, and viscous,” adding that it’s only useful property was remedying “sensitivity of the teeth through its lenitive viscosity.” In the twelfth century, Hildegarde of Bingen was even less impressed: “Purslane is cold. When eaten, it produces mucus and bile in a person. It is not beneficial for a person to eat it.” And in the twenty-first century, yours truly wrote, “STFU, old people, purslane is awesome!” Fresh Purslane

No, seriously, it’s true. Turns out that purslane is one of the best terrestrial sources of essential omega-3 fatty acids. In Queen of Fats : Why Omega-3s Were Removed from the Western Diet and What We Can Do to Replace Them, Susan Allport describes how “this ordinary plant, a weed in most of the world’s eyes, has an alpha linolenic acid content four times that of cultivated spinach,” which, I might add, is especially important for those of us who don’t eat our fishy friends.

And purslane is extra awesome because the stuff grows damn near everywhere. You may well have uprooted the edible weed from your flowerbeds or the cracks of your driveway without having known its value. Its ubiquity, in fact, made it a useful food for American frontiersmen. Ann Chandonnet in Gold Rush Grub: From Turpentine Stew to Hoochinoo describes boiled wild purslane among the foodstuffs eaten along the trail by those en route to the California gold rush. Likewise, it was also a useful food for the privileged proto-freegan and faux-frontiersmen Henry David Thoreau, as he described in Walden; or, Life in the Woods: “I learned from my two years’ experience that it would cost incredibly little trouble to obtain one’s necessary food, even in this latitude; that a man may use as simple a diet as the animals, and yet retain health and strength. I have made a satisfactory dinner, satisfactory on several accounts, simply off a dish of purslane (Portulaca oleracea) which I gathered in my cornfield, boiled and salted.”

Guess I shouldn’t criticize old Henry. My purslane was foraged from the produce aisle of the local co-op. But the pickling, that I did my own damn self, using a recipe from Linda Ziedrich’s The Joy of Pickling. I stripped the leaves and made a simple salad with olive oil and red wine vinegar, and pickled the stems with dill and garlic. The verdict? Tasted like pickles. Omega-3 awesome pickles. And now that I know what the stuff looks like, I might have to keep an eye out for it in the wilds of Olympia…

‘Shrooms

Posted in miscellanea with tags , , on May 1, 2009 by hoveringdog

An ex-girlfriend of mine described my compulsive need to find an answer to any random question that occurs to me as “Research OCD.” And it seems to me an apt enough description. It’s what made me a mediocre research student—my doctoral thesis was a painfully drawn-out affair because I got too easily distracted by other interests—but what I hope will make me a tolerably decent librarian once I’m through with my most recent reckless foray into postgraduate education.

Mushrooms

So when I discovered today that the grocery store had acquired a stock of strange and wondrous new mushrooms, including the white beech mushrooms I ultimately bought, I began to wonder about the history of fungiculture. I assumed that eating edible wild fungus dated well back into prehistory, but when did humans start cultivating ‘shrooms for themselves?

I was surprised to find that with all the food-related microhistories written in recent years on everything from cod to coffee to corn (just to name the C’s), I couldn’t find a comprehensive history of fungiculture. Hallucinogenic mushrooms, yes, and a book about truffles, but not the plain old edible ones. I did put my research skills to work, though, and found a few interesting historical tidbits.

Turns out I had assumed correctly that the consumption of mushrooms goes back quite a way: traces of puffball mushrooms have been found in Stone Age settlements. In ancient Egypt, only pharaohs were allowed to consume mushrooms, which the Egyptians regarded as “sons of the gods” sent down to earth on lighting bolts. Apparently, this wasn’t an isolated notion: Roman folklore also perpetuated the strange association of mushrooms and lightning, claiming that mushrooms sprung from the earth in places where lightning had struck.

Actual cultivation of mushrooms, however, turns out to have been a much later development, in the West at least. The technique to cultivate the common button mushroom was discovered in France by mid-seventeenth-century melon farmers. By the mid-eighteenth century, mushroom cultivators had discovered that mushrooms could be more easily grown in subterranean caverns, where the factors of temperature and humidity were less variable. The US didn’t catch on until the latter half of the nineteenth century when fungiculture was introduced to the US from England and small-scale efforts at cultivating mushrooms began in New York’s Long Island.

So anyway, today’s mushroom purchase was destined for the wok, where I stir-fried them up with some carrots and snowpeas and my own spicy miso stir-fry sauce. Here’s the formula I used, after the fold:
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Reverse Engineering the Funyun

Posted in twentieth century with tags , , on April 21, 2009 by hoveringdog

When Dungeons & Dragons co-creator Dave Arneson died earlier this month, barely a year after the other co-creator Gary Gygax passed away, I knew I had to write something. Over thirty-five years ago, when Gygax and Arneson created the game that would become known as Dungeons & Dragons, no publisher would touch it. So, instead, long before zines were cool and the DIY ethic had a name, the two decided to turn that bitch out themselves, and within the first year, sold all one-thousand hand-assembled copies from their first print run.

Reverse Engineering the Funyun

Within only a few years, D&D would become iconic for a whole generation of marginalized geeks.  By the early 80s, the game was popular enough to attract the ire of concerned parents and the nascent religious right, who claimed without evidence that the game was harming the youth. Eventually, actual sociological research (Imagine that!) would vindicate gamers, finding that teen gamers suffered no measurable harm from the game and in a number of measures were actually better adjusted socially than their non-gaming peers. In the meantime, though, the controversy did manage to produce a spectacularly shitty Tom Hanks film

Anyway, a session of D&D can easily go on for hours, during which time significant quantities of crappy snack foods are often consumed. And for some reason, the phrase “Funyuns and Mountain Dew” has become a common shorthand for gamers’ eating habits. So, in tribute to Gygax and Arneson, here’s my effort to make something at home that vaguely resembles the iconic geek snackfood. I wasn’t able to get the texture quite crispy enough, but after the fold is the formula for my first attempt. Perhaps you food fans can improve on it.

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Tots

Posted in twentieth century with tags , , , on January 28, 2009 by hoveringdog

Tots

Making homemade tots is hardly rocket science, so I can’t figure out how so many of the recipes online get it so badly wrong. Seriously, mashed potatoes? The traditional method, apparently, is to lightly steam the taters, grate them, season, press the gratings into a mold, chill, and let the potato starch do the binding. I don’t have that much patience, nor do I possess a suitable mold, so I add a bit of all-purpose flour, about a half tablespoon to a tablespoon per potato, and in lieu of a tot mold, I press them into shape by hand, using a little force to squeeze out any excess wetness. Works just fine. Fry ’em up until they’re golden—if you don’t have a deep fryer, oil in a cast-iron skillet will do the job nicely—and then bake ’em on a baking sheet until they’re crispy and suitably tot-like.

I was going to write about the history of the tot, but John Kessler at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has already written in some detail about the Tater Tot’s secret origin and the resurgent interest in tots among hipsters and foodies. And now that I’ve eaten a heaping plateful of childhood nostalgia, I’m feeling a bit like nap time is overdue…

Quince Poached in Rum

Posted in long eighteenth century with tags , , , , , on December 10, 2008 by hoveringdog

Quince

So, I poached a quince in rum with a little vanilla and all-spice. This was my first experience with quince (I’ve since incorporated them in a very expensive and tasty, but not very photogenic cobbler), and I went with something simple. The fruit themselves are interesting: far too astringent to eat raw, the uncooked fruit nonetheless gives off this tremendous aroma that can fill an enclosed space in little time at all, a scent somewhere between pineapple and pear. I’m tempted to buy another just to keep around for the aroma.

Anyway, after a bit of searching in the library, I didn’t really find much of interest on quince itself. The fruit seems to have once been more popular than it is today, now relegated to the exotic fruit section (even though the quince I bought was grown here in California). But otherwise, there wasn’t a lot I could find about the fruit’s history. So a bit about the other main ingredient here, which I had already known had a fascinating and turbulent history: rum.

Poached

Turns out English varieties of yeast didn’t do all that well in the colonies, and it wasn’t until hardier German varieties were introduced in America that the states began brewing in earnest. In the meantime, colonists still needed to get their drink on, and the demon rum, produced by fermenting the molasses imported in large quantities from the West Indies, quenched the colonists’ need to get crapulous. Apparently by 1700, the per capita consumption of rum among American colonists came out to around four gallons per year. Such was the demand for rum that British duties and taxes on molasses helped fuel the colonial unrest that eventually led to the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. The war wasn’t just about freedom; it was about the freedom to get shitfaced on a budget.

Now I doubt many of the colonists wasted good rum poaching fruit, but it didn’t turn out too shabby. I used maybe a half cup of rum, a splash of vanilla extract, and a pinch of all-spice to start, popped it in the oven, and added water as necessary to keep it from drying out. Toward the end, I sprinkled on some demerara sugar, let it sit under the broiler for a minute or two until the sugar began to brown and caramelize. Not too bad…