It’s been a while since I could do much about the blog, but I have been cooking and eating from the books.

In a couple of weeks, this corner of the web ought to go live again.

Thanks for sticking around, it’s been a long run, and I am glad to be able to prepare my return!

In my garden, I have

a morello cherry and a medlar tree (we lost all of the other fruit trees) in the storm)

4 of skirrets, 2 of lovage, 2 of rue, a bunch of turmeric (a gift) and garlic

and not much else, because I simply havent the time this year.

Today, Wystan and I picked about 8 pounds of cherries from the morello tree, and froze them.

We discussed picking more, but the birds deserve their percentage. Crows really can be the mobsters of the avian world.

 

I sometimes riff on a recipe rather than following them. I grew up cooking by theme rather than by specifics, but with historical cooking, it is somewhat more of a challenge to get into the mindset of the palate.

Lately I have been doing a lot from Apicius, and the other night I decided to just go with it.

We had a couple of turkey thighs to cook. They went into a pan with some chicken broth, some chopped up celery, a handful of coriander, a handful of oregano, and a little asafoetida. I popped  a lid on it for the first 20 minutes, then removed the lid, added salt and pepper and raised the temperature to roasting.

Another ten minutes in, I added some moscato (it’s what I am using as grape syrup right now, not perfect but it balances things well enough) and finished it with red wine vinegar.

It was pretty darned good.

In studying and trying to parse food as it was made, stored, and eaten by a culture we cannot communicate with, we come up against assumptions, presumptions, and confusions all the time. Do we whisk a sauce? Do we coddle the eggs? There’s a lot of guesswork.

A few weeks ago, I was reminded of a modern illustration of the kinds of misapprehensions we can trip over so easily.

Living in the US, I grew up with pancakes. We knew them as pancakes, but also that they could be called flapjacks, johnnycakes, and myriad other names.

Visiting the UK, we needed snacks, and found granola bars, called “flapjacks.”  I do not know how the good cooks of the UK began making granola bars and calling them flapjacks, but for some reason, they do.

Both items are “grains and liquid, placed in a pan, then cooked til done.” Very basic instructions might seem similar, but if you know you need a pancake you can make it happen, or if you don’t have a solid perception of the intended result, it might be all to easy to make a granola bar.

We are in the hobby of making good food to try to get to know our history better, but we must keep in mind that we have no corroboration on our best guesses.

 

2.4    Lucanicae
 Lucanicus similiter ut supra scriptum est

Teritur piper cuminum satureia ruta petroselinu condimentum bacae lauri, liquamen,
 et admiscetur pulpa bene tunsa ita ut denuo bene cum ipso subtrito fricetur.
 Cum liquamine admixto, pipere integro et abundanti pinguedine et nucleis inicies 
in intestinum perquam tenuatim productum, et sic ad fumum suspenditur. 

Lucanicae are made in a similar way to that written above (refers to 2.3.1, same page)
 Pound pepper with cumin, savory, rue, parsley, bay berries, (spice) and liquamen.  
Add meat which has been thoroughly pounded so that it can then be blended well with the spice mix. 
Stir in the liquameen, whole peppercorns, plenty of fat and pine nuts. Put the meat in the skins, 
draw them quite thinly, and hang them in smoke.

 Smoked sausage? What's not to love?
This is for a fresh-style sausage for immediate use.  

 Well, there are some challenges here.

 What is "condimentum"?
 I read a lot of the book, and the three seasonings that keep coming up are black pepper,
 liquamen, salt, and honey. Pepper and liquamen are explicitly mentioned here,
 but there could not be enough liquamen to season the quantity of meat. In order to properly salt the meat, 
there would have to be enough liquamen to make soup. I opted to use the “condimenti” note to add salt.
 The one I thought about, considered, and rejected, was honey. If the sausage had tasted unbalanced, 
I would have added it.

  Another challenge was the bay laurel berries. I consulted with the herbalist, trying to figure out 
how to approach the problem.
 She did some research, informing me that the flavor of the berries is listed as similar to that of the leaves, 
and that I could make an infused oil in order to extract and disperse the flavor neatly. 
I could also purchase an essential oil, but the flavor value would be uncontrollable in the proportions called for.

 I did some shopping at various ethnic markets, and found ground bay leaves to be used as a spice at a Polish market.
This is what I opted to use, taking the hint and grinding my own in order to have an organic mass rather than adding
 an oil to the product. Since then, we have also sourced the actual berries, and will be able to confirm the 
flavor comparison soon.

 Not having Rue in stock, I skipped it. I also passed on the whole peppercorns and pine nuts;
 although I have them, we discussed and opted to pass for our home usage. 
The whole peppercorns can be an unwelcome dental surprise, and we both find the flavor of pine nuts unappealing.

 I purchased custom-ground meat, laid out the seasonings, and assembled the sausage. 
 After allowing the seasoned meat to sit in the fridge overnight, I fried up a small amount, 
adjusted the salt, remixed, and began stuffing sausages.

 (a note; you don't need the fancy sausage thingy, a funnel works, a carefully cut beer bottle neck works,
 a sense of humor works)

 After stuffing, I used a stovetop smoker. It can work well, but in this case it just made the sausage steam itself. 
This was an issue I could have solved, but opted not to, as I did not wish to smoke us out of the house.
 If I had opened the lid to release steam, I would have also released smoke, effectively stopping my ability to cook.
 I opted for a short-term smoking. The goal, based on my experience with similar sausage types, was a half hour.

 A question to consider is the type of smoke. What woods would have been used in a Roman smokehouse? 
Oak (European, not the same) is available, fruitwoods are as well, chestnut is a part of the local ecosystem, 
 perhaps grape could be an option as well. I did some digging to try to find out what woods are used in similar
 sausage smoking in Lucania now, but no solid answers yet. Mesquite, hickory, and some modernly common others
 are not European, and some woods just taste less good than others.

 I opted to use cherry, as I had it to hand and it is not as assertive as the others which were available.
 I will use apple or grape next time if possible.

  Now I had the spices and the flavors in place, and it was time to go.
With a stove top smoker, a sausage stuffer, and a dishwasher, I had the equivalent of eight kitchen servants.

11.5 lbs ground pork, ground, heavy on the fat.
11 tsp ground bay leaves, sieved
11 tsp winter savory
¼1/4 tsp black pepper, ground
½1/2 tsp cumin seed, ground
11 tbs fresh parsley, minced
11 tbs salt
11 fl oz fish sauce

 an ounce of whole peppercorns soaked in wine or liquamen overnight and three ounces of toasted Italian pine 
nuts would have been added had we a taste for them.

One 5' length of thin sausage casing, soaked, inspected, and with water run through the length.

A half cup or so of smoking wood, in water, in the fridge. I put it in a zip bag and keep it in the fridge,
 if longer than a day, I toss it in the freezer.

Method

 Toss the seasonings together, pour the garum over them. Fold the meat together with the seasonings, blend completely.
 Place in a container, chill for about 20-30 minutes.
Fry a sample to taste, in order to be certain of seasonings. Adjust if needed.
 Allow to sit overnight in the fridge.

 Prepare your sausage stuffing method (pastry bag, appliance, funnel, whatever it takes)
 Fold in the peppercorns and pine nuts if you are using them.
 Stuff the sausages.
  The instructions call for them to be “stretched thin.” I used a thin casing, and considered flattening them, 
but the size of my equipment suggested I keep them as they naturally appeared.

 Prep your smoking method (weber-type grill, offset smoker, dedicated outbuilding?)
and smoke the sausages for about 30 minutes. Much longer can make them acrid unless you are skilled with the task. 
Full kielbasa-grade smoking takes a bit different effort, and salumi-style drying smoke still more finesse.
  Though the purpose of the original is for portability, the difference is in the detail of the smoking.

 When they are done with smoking, they are usually not completely cooked. 
Grill or fry them to completion. 

 I like to make them in a coil, though smaller sausages, hot-dog sized links, or what-you-will would all be perfectly nice.

I had a thought while reading the other day.

A lot of recipes call for “fat broth”. Broth with fat on it is kind of vile, to our taste. We modernly have the tradition of clear stocks and soups.

However, the Japanese have both clear broths and ramen stock, which is a stock of bones boiled hard, with salt in the water. This not only leaches calcium into the broth, but also suspends great amounts of rich fat throughout.

Many of our instructions for cooking call for “boil the hen, then roast”. We think to seethe, not *boil*, and we think to use the poaching liquid as broth.

In a large service kitchen such as these, where groups of 20 or more were regular and more than that were not rare, it is possible that the bones were tossed into a common stockpot and boiled, rather than simmered, which would give more body, thickness, richness and mouthfeel to the broth, without the slick we all dread.

It’s still challenging here, so thank you for bearing with me!
We lost about a quarter of our home to Hurricane Sandy, and had to move all of the contents of that end to the unaffected end. Construction is happening wonderfully rapidly, all things considered, but it has truly restricted our activities.
I appreciate your willingness to wait while we regroup.

Several weeks from now, I will load the car and head south, to Mississippi. While there, I will camp with some new friends and some old, and will be cooking for myself and others. This brought me to thinking about packing goods to contribute.

It’s been a habit of mine to carry sufficient goods in my pack to turn out a full meal for four or a side dish for eighty for several years. I keep dried fruits, lentils, rice, spices, fish sauce, and so on with me, and pick up meats, sausages, cheeses, and fresh vegetables at need.

In putting together my bags for the upcoming trip, I need to consider lack of refrigeration, balance of minimally used items with heavily used ones, and what types of dishes, therefore seasonings, I may be called upon to create.

In considering the types of dishes I most often make, I will be bringing the following, listed with notes by each.

1 Cinnamon
Cassia and canela are different, not as much in taste but in origin. Some are sensitive to one or the other, so know which you have.

2 Cloves
They are a huge pain to grind properly, but the pre-ground ones lack the  zing. Look for a slight oily sheen, store them out of light and preferably in the freezer, and when they are the star of the show, make certain the little ball-cap (flower bit) is still attached, as it has a lot to do with the balance of the flavor.

3 Coriander
The seed. While the whole plant and the leaves are also commonly used, I travel with the highly portable seed. The dried herb has nothing on fresh, so I do not even bother with it.

4 Black Pepper

It’s not as commonly used as now, but it is a standard ingredient. Conveniently, it is sold in portable grinders.

5 Cubebs

One of the “not pepper, used kind of like pepper” spices, it looks a little like allspice. Be certain of your vendor. It has enough of a floral aromatic flavor that it works very nicely with roasted sweet vegetables and with sauces and marinades with a slightly sweet note.

6 Grains of Paradise
hot and dry with a citrus note, it’s my favorite for a simple roast chicken. I don’t leave home without it.

7 Long Pepper
Similar to black pepper but with a bit more bite, but goes stale quite quickly. Look for glossy whole spikes.  It and black pepper are flavorwise kind of redundant.

8 Cumin
can be used whole or ground, with cheeses and sausages, in breads, and so on. It’s great for quick stewed dinners, for cabbage and sausage types of camp meals, and so on.

9 Galangal

(dried) there are two forms. The modernly common one is likely not to be the one in use in Europe during the Middle Ages. It’s known for being peppery and gingery, while the other is somewhat piney.
To use the dried form, rehydrate it for a time in hot or warm water before adding to your dish.

10 Ginger (dried)
Ginger when used with white pepper is the historical palate equivalent to chilis. Modern palates do not get the same impact from it, so don’t expect a miracle. There is a reason, after all, that the popularity of chilis took off so rapidly.

11 Mustard Seed
12 Mustard powder
At home I mainly use mustard seed, but while on the road I also bring (colemans’) powdered for convenience. I can have a nice, balanced mustard on the table in 15 minutes, by adding a little extra vinegar and applying heat to the basic recipe I am working from.

13 Nutmeg
Just one nut and a small grater ought to last for some time. I keep spare nutmegs in the freezer. They are safe there for a surprisingly long time.

14 Mace
Not as essential to keep as nutmeg, you can expect less of a numbing bite. It also has an appealing reddish tone to it.

15 Saffron
Yes, it is expensive. Yes, some people despise it. I enjoy it, I carry it. The trick is to crumble and allow it to steep in a small amount of tepid water.

16 Salt
My preference is for kosher, sea, or other non-iodized salt with some texture to it. Grey salt and white salt are to be used as they are modernly, both to season foods during preparation and as a finishing.

17 Saunders
I do not like or appreciate the use of this food coloring agent. It is the product of an endangered hardwood, and is related to some hardwoods I find too caustic to recommend to novice woodworkers. However, I do carry an ounce or so with me so as to demonstrate the qualities, and to provide the coloring where it is called for and appropriate.

18 Sugar  used as a balance rather than an overall sweetener,
I use this about as often and in as much quantity as salt.

 

Documenting and photography will be a bit longer, we are still dealing with storm damage.

 

Things I have been pondering;

Most meats were blanched or poached before roasting. This not only makes a yard bird or grass-fed working beef more predictably likely to cook through without burning, it’s also something like the Asian method of “velveting”, blanching for tenderness. The risk is in making them taste boiled. That’s not good.

 

The books I have tend to be prone to fairly repetitive seasoning suggestions. This means it’s somewhat possible to predict flavor profiles, and in some cases, build seasoning blends.