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Recipes from Teiresias’ Kin: Smoke and Shadow

Morning’s porridge
(of Ellwyn the house-slave of Marcus Ambrosius Flavius)

On the eve, fill the porridge pot three-quarters with good fresh water and bring to a strong boil. Add four handfuls of porridge-oats, a handful or two of dried currants or damsons, and a spoon of salt. Grind fine a knuckle-length of sweetbark, half that of parched fireroot and nailspice, also nutspice by proportion. Stir all through, take from the fire, set the lid on sound, and keep aside overnight. (Any man or boy fool enough to steal porridge from the pot by night will much regret it. By this method they will soon teach themselves the virtues of not thieving.)

In the morning, set out the milk and the honeypot in advance, lest the boys (or the men) seek it themselves and discover where it is kept in the cold-cellar (no good can come of this). Put the porridge-pot back over a moderate fire and add water to cook. Stir full to the pot walls, that the porridge not burn. Once it is come to the boil, continue for half a candlemark, then take from the fire again to serve.

If porridge is left (and if so, you must demand the changelings give your own boys back at a swift pace): Rub a bit of fat round a bowl and lay the porridge in smooth, then leave it in a cool place to set. Cut finger-width slices and fry them on the inner side of the pot-lid when the boys (or the men) come a-begging for sweetbits.

Modern redaction

For 4 servings

4 cups / 32 fl. oz / 950 g water (plus another cup reserved)
1/2 tsp table salt
1 cup / 6 oz / 175 g pinhead (steel-cut) oats
1/4 to 1/2 cup (around 2 oz/70 g) dried fruit
1/2 tsp cinnamon, ground
1/4 tsp ginger or galengale*
1/4 tsp cloves, ground
1/4 tsp nutmeg, ground
Honey to taste
Milk or cream to taste**

Left to right: Steel-cut oats; medium oatmeal ground from steel-cut oats; American oatmeal. Be certain to use steel-cut oats for this recipe.

The night before:
In a pot with a lid, bring 4 cups of water to a boil with the salt. Stir in the steel-cut oats, spices, and dried fruit, remove from heat, and cover. (Although non-stick pots are not period and a cast iron kettle or dutch oven would retain its heat for longer, you may feel inclined to light a candle for the patron saint of Teflon after noting the difference in cleaning times afterwards.)

The next morning:
If more water is needed to bring the porridge to a boil without sticking, add up to another cup. Once the porridge boils, cook for between 7 and 10 minutes.*** Serve with honey and milk or cream.

If left over:
Ellwyn suggests slicing pieces of cooled porridge to pan-fry in a method similar to modern treatments of polenta. (The relative ease or difficulty of this method depends on how firmly your cooled porridge has set.) With the invention of modern refrigeration and cooking devices, however, you can also refrigerate portions of the leftover porridge and microwave it for the next few days’ breakfasts.

* Even aside from questions of viable Imperial spice trade routes, in this writer’s opinion, the redactors who render “fireroot” as black or cayenne pepper fail to grant our ancestors an essential grasp of plant structure. Even our medieval kinsfolk must have been able to tell the difference between a plant’s fruit and its root.

** Though the supplies for a major invading encampment would likely have included several hundred head of cattle brought from the continent to supply the Imperial troops, the auxiliaries often bartered for sheep (in hilly areas) or goats (in urban areas) for their own use. From this end of history, we can only guess at Ellwyn’s source of milk; though, since she seems a practical-minded sort, her answer might well have been “whatever was available.”

*** The timing-marks made on candles were not yet set to the Imperial standard across the colonies, though one suspects that Flavius’ household would have had more access to Imperial time-candles than to continental or native ones.

Historian’s notes

It is unusual enough to find written recipes of this period; to find recipes attributed to a named barbarian slave-woman (identified as female by the construction of the Imperial nouns) is near unheard of. From other surviving records, however, it seems that Flavius was one of Titus Cassius Laenas’ better educated continental mercenaries. His name appears in signatory notes as the translator of several documents that were rendered not only in Imperial but also in three or four dialects spoken by the tribes who served in the auxiliary squadrons. At some point, he also began to train assistants in the work of translation and transcription. He used simple examples from his students’ everyday life as pedagogic tools; thus, the students dutifully recorded fragments of household life in their native tongue, then translated their work into Imperial and presented them for Flavius’ correction.

Some of the surviving documents attributed to Flavius’ household members are written in a trained scholar’s hand. Flavius’ own work was a study in contrasts: he had learned mastery of forum-classical rhetorical structures through the medium of the spoken language, but because he was less familiar with their written works, he was prone to occasional transcription errors with homophones and similar-sounding vowel forms, and his penmanship itself was never more than passable (if one is kind).

In contrast, Flavius’ primary student had been given the formal education of a younger-born son in a native noble family. Whether a noble family followed the old tradition of uterine primogeniture (where inheritance was determined through a man’s sister’s sons, since a child’s mother could be identified far more inarguably than its father) or the newer tradition of agnatic primogeniture (through a man’s own children, once women began to lose the relative sexual freedoms granted to them under the Goddess-religion), younger sons’ duties to the inheriting eldest brother remained similar. A younger son’s penmanship needed to be both clear and accurate to serve as his elder brother’s steward upon the passage of each generation. The student’s script-hand was graceful, fluid, and precise, but his written grammar in Imperial remained that of an island-native waelisc-speaker learning the Imperial tongue through tedious effort. The “voices” of the narrators captured by the student are far easier to discern in his waelisc-transcriptions than in his Imperial translations.

The slave Ellwyn was relatively precise in her household directions, as though she expected her words to be followed by a person unpracticed in cooking, mending, and other household skills. Whether this was because she was speaking to a (presumably male) scholar or due to her own nature, it’s made her dictation a fascinating trove of details for future historians.

Whistlecakes
(of Flavia the priestess of the bath-house)

(Prepared with graham flour. With white flour, the color will be lighter.)

Set out an egg-size part of butter and the same amount honey, four parts of flour, and half an apple minced fine, taking also of milk, flower-water, fireroot, and like herbs, grating in hartshorn as the need may be. If you have more eager mouths to feed, take these twice with an egg. Of the butter, flour, and spices, rub peasecrumbs, then stir the apples through. In another cup mix the honey with a spoon or two of milk, and make with the flour a paste stiff enough to mold. Make of the paste thin rounds and fry them each side on the bakestone. When you press the paste upon the hot stone, the apples therein may whistle and sing like small distant birds. (So also do the young sing through their teeth if they snatch the whistlecakes straight from the stone and dance them through their fingers.) Serve with butter-pats or honey-drizzles as the young wish.

Dried currants that have been soaked in hot liquid also make tasty griddle cakes, though they won’t whistle on the griddle like damp apples will.

Modern redaction

8 – 12 griddle-cakes

In the dry mixture:
1 1/4 cup (5 1/2 oz / 155 g) flour, divided*
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp non-aluminum baking powder**
1/4 tsp ginger or galengale
1/2 tsp cinnamon, optional***
1/4 tsp nutmeg, optional***
1/4 cup (1/2 stick / 2 oz / 55 g) butter, brought to room temperature and cut into small cubes
1/2 minced apple (1/2 cup / 2 oz / 55 g)

In the wet mixture:
1/4 cup (3 oz / 85 g) honey, warmed for stirring
1-2 tsp milk
1/4 tsp rosewater, lavender water, or perhaps orange-blossom water
(If you make a double batch, use 1 egg and 1/4 cup honey rather than 1/2 cup honey.)

(After mixing wets and drys together)
Milk as needed from 1/3 cup

Cut the apples into small dice, but don’t shred them. During a brief griddle-cooking, apples cut larger than a shred will retain more of their crispness and texture.

Mix the salt, spices and baking powder into one cup (125 g) of the flour, reserving the other quarter cup/30 g for later texture adjustments. Rub the finely-cut butter into the flour and spice mixture until it resembles fairly evenly mixed crumbs, then toss the apples lightly in the dry mixture. Stir together the rosewater, warmed honey, and a teaspoon or two of milk, reserving the rest as needed.

Adding a bit of the wet mixture at a time to the dry mixture, stir to form a solid mass capable of being compressed into a shape. (Depending on the humidity, you may need to adjust the dough’s texture with the reserved milk or the reserved quarter cup of flour.)

Roll into a ball and allow the dough to rest for half an hour, or refrigerate for later use. (This also helps reduce the stickiness of the dough.)

Dust your shaping surface with flour. For a rustic appearance, shape discs with your hands to about a quarter inch thick. For a more formal presentation, roll the dough out to a quarter inch and cut into shapes as desired. (Rounded shapes are less likely to acquire burned or flipping-damaged edges than pointed shapes, however.)

Heat a bakestone, heavy cast-iron skillet, or griddle to a level of heat similar to that for pancakes. (You may wish to reserve some scraps of dough or small cakes for initial griddle timing.) Melt a dab of butter on the cooking surface as needed, or else use a light neutral-flavored oil.

Cook until golden on each side (approx. 3-5 minutes per side, depending on your cooking heat), pressing down lightly with a spatula if you wish to keep the surfaces smooth (or to hear the cakes “whistle” for their name).

They’re best served straight off the griddle, though in modern times they can also be stored in an airtight container for a few days, frozen, or uncooked rounds can be reserved in the refrigerator for cooking the next day. Although sugar is not a period ingredient, a dusting of either icing sugar or table sugar on the top is a less-messy alternative to the butter and honey of the original. Jellies or jams go nicely as well.

* Stone ground whole wheat or graham flour most resembles what would have been available in an Imperial encampment of the time, though all-purpose white flour produces a more light and fluffy result for modern tastes. One can, of course, split the difference and use part of each; in that case, the cup of flour your humble redactor measured weighed in at 150 g.

** Hartshorn was used as a leavening agent before the discovery of baking powder. Nowadays, however, baking powder is much easier to find in stores.

*** Though neither cinnamon nor nutmeg are specified in the original, they are often cited as complementary in flavor to ginger (“like herbs”) and appear together in many native bakestone recipes, often in the ratio of two parts cinnamon to one part nutmeg and one part ginger.

Historian’s notes

From the extant records, one is inclined to surmise a few details about Flavius’ unnamed apprentice. We have already established that he was likely a younger son of a native noble family. From his recordings of “Flavia’s” dictation, we can add a bit of personal detail: He was either very pious, very young, or very naive (or perhaps all three).

This is a native peasant’s recipe, crafted for a griddle-stone rather than a lord’s (or an Imperial’s) baking-oven, and yet the woman providing it had been given an Imperial use-name. Since women of the Imperium were regarded as largely interchangeable household accessories, and barbarian and slave women considered even more unremarkable, one comes to the conclusion that she was given an Imperial use-name because Imperial soldiers had need of something to call her that was more pronounceable to them than the natives’ own names.

Imperial soldiers who name a woman in a bath-house are, one suspects, seeking merely an appropriate-enough handful of syllables to cry out while exceedingly distracted (as opposed to the not-as-appropriate handful of syllables of another woman’s name, with predictably distressing results). The fact that her cognomen was “Flavia” adds to this impression — Flavia, the blonde one, is likely an accurate descriptor of an islander woman, but it is also not distinctive enough to indicate any detailed notice of her as a human being. Similar coloring-names were used to identify their horses, dogs, and cattle.

So we have an islander woman who earned her coin from the soldiers who visited the bath-house expecting a native slave-woman to rub oil into their naked bodies and to provide more intimate services in exchange for certain additional gratuities. Nowadays, we have many colorful words to describe women of her sort. “Negotiable virtue” is among the politest.

Even at the time, the Goddess-temples were explicitly barred to Imperials, and indeed to anyone who failed to show reverence for the beliefs behind their sexual trades. While some mendicant priestesses did travel the lands, and the site of the fortress had once housed a well that was enshrined to the Goddess as Maiden, there was never a formal chapter-house recorded at the location.

And so Flavius’ young student encountered a native woman serving in the baths who identified herself as “Flavia.” He identifies her as the “priestess of the bath-house” with a perfectly untroubled sincerity. We will never know whether she truly claimed to be priestess of the Goddess-religion (either legitimately or with tongue in cheek) — or whether “priestess” was simply the assumption that a young scribe made when presented with a native woman who bedded many different soldiers for pay. (A pious boy would have assumed such remuneration was sent on to the Temple for their charitable works of sheltering widowed or abused women and educating children.)

Between Flavia’s pithy commentary about the shapes to be formed with sausages and oatballs, Ellwyn’s dry remarks about the pilfering nature of “men and boys,” and so forth, one imagines that the women of the encampment must have found a certain amount of pleasure in flustering Flavius’ young, innocent student.

The Pauper’s Dream
(of Flavia the priestess of the bath-house)

To make welcome the coming of gold: Take a handful of broad beans and soak overnight in fresh water. In the morn, rub the skins from the beans. Beg of the lord’s butcher fresh bones, crack them, and boil them for half the day, then pour the broth through a clean cloth to catch any shards. Take a handful of barley, and gather whatever herbs and mushrooms you may. Scrub parsnips well, and slice them into coins. While the pot simmers, in the lid fry the parsnips golden.

Modern redaction

1 cup (5 oz / 150 g) barley
1 cup (6 oz / 180 g) shelled broad beans (fava beans)
4-6 parsnips, peeled, scrubbed, and cut into coins
Vegetables to taste, such as:
Onion, minced
Mushrooms, sliced
Turnip or carrot greens, shredded cabbage, or fennel fronds
Stock to cover (1 -2 quarts — or make your own)
Salt and savory herbs to taste*

* Garlic, parsley, thyme, dill, fennel, mustard, and sage were all commonly available to the natives at the time. Although several of their herbs had come from continental traders a few centuries earlier, these varieties took avidly to the native climate. The more temperature-sensitive southern Imperial herbs such as basil, rosemary, marjoram, and oregano would not yet have been as commonly available to the natives, and (for the scavenging pauper of the recipe) they would not have survived the harsh winters of that era outside the confines of high-born and Imperial gardens with over-winter shelters.

Instructions

After preparing your beans and stock as needed (or opting for the ready-prepared modern conveniences):

Sautee any mushrooms and onions in the bottom of the pot. Add the barley, beans, and other herbs or vegetables, then cover with stock and bring to a simmer or slow boil for about 45 minutes or until the beans and barley are tender.

During the last 15-20 minutes of cooking, peel the parsnips and slice them into coin-shaped rings, then pan-fry them in a bit of oil until they’re golden on both sides. Scatter the fried parsnips over the top of the soup to serve.

Historian’s notes:

This recipe, like the one following, finds its roots in a form of representational or sympathetic magic. In meals like this, the cook is also the wish-crafter, boiling bones to remind the pot of meat and filling meatless bowls with golden parsnip ‘coins’. The fact that soup tastes richer when prepared with beef-bone or chicken-bone stock rather than unadulterated water was a pleasant benefit.

Nowadays, a slow cooker set on a low temperature for several hours will handle this recipe nicely with little attention from the cook. The parsnips can be fried just before serving. (Vegan reenactors may also appreciate this recipe when prepared with a vegetable stock at a campsite otherwise full of carnivores.)

The Virgin’s Dream
(of Flavia the priestess of the bath-house)

(Further images censored in the interest of public decency)

To make welcome the coming of men to your bed: Gather as much as you may of silk-seaweed. Boil it all the day, washing the sand out, and pot it up.

When there is a culling, take of the heart and loins of the beast and grind them in with diverse flesh, summer-herbs, and oatcakes cooked by your own hand. Shape to a goodly man’s form.

Mix together the silk-seaweed with an egg and a spoon or two of ground oat-meal, then shape to balls. Rub a piece of fat round a shot-mold and a griddle. Fry the diverse parts at once, all the while speaking in your heart the names of those who touch your desires.

Modern redaction

Serves one, for the obvious reasons.

Fresh or canned laver seaweed (or several sheets of sushi nori)
2-3 Tbsp fine cut oatmeal or oat flour
1 egg
1 sausage (*ahem* not patty-shaped)
Pinch of salt
Malt vinegar, cider vinegar, or lemon juice for serving (optional but recommended)

Instructions

If you have access to fresh or canned laver, enjoy it. For those of us further inland, an adequate substitute can be prepared by shredding several sheets of sushi nori, soaking it in hot water for 15-20 minutes, and squeezing out some of the excess liquid.

You can also grind coarse steel-cut oats to a finer grade with the assistance of a spice grinder or coffee grinder.

Once you’ve assembled your ingredients: Mix together the seaweed, egg, a pinch of salt, and a bit of oatmeal or oat flour to bind. Shape into balls and deep-fry, or (for a lower fat option) use a takoyaki or aebelskiver pan to cook small rounds. At the same time, fry the sausage in a separate skillet.

Serve hot, with cider vinegar or a twist of lemon juice to moisten.

Historian’s notes:
In another clear case of food as wish-fulfilling sympathetic magic, one begins to feel a certain amount of sympathy for the young scribe who left this record. Its purpose was clear enough that one doubts even an utter innocent of a boy could have missed the point. Certainly the taste of fried laver-and-oat balls were not a primary cause of this recipe’s development.

However, it called for symbolic ingredients that most coastal girls could acquire under their own auspices — a handful of porridge-oats one morning, a pot of cooked seaweed filched from the hours and hours of tedious preparation-work, an animal’s lights from butchering-day. The work (and the stealth) likely involved in its preparation allowed a girl a taste of control over shaping the form of her future.

…Perhaps not a very moist or palatable taste, but a taste regardless.

(Although lemons were not readily available on the island at the time, your humble redactor does most sincerely recommend the judicious application of lemon juice or vinegar.)

Fig sweets
(of Livia Vitella’s hearth-slave Electheia)

With and without walnuts, depending on the guests’ allergies

Make a flour-paste with honey and straw-wine, and bake in sea-shells. Boil together equal parts of figs and dates in honey and straw-wine until thickened. Mash them into a paste, fill the shell-crusts, and top with nut-meats and honey.

Left: Ingredients for the golden variety. Right: Ingredients for the Imperial purple.

Modern redaction

Makes 8 sweets (multiply as needed).

1/2 cup (100 g) flour
1 cup (240 ml) passum (dessert wine), or sweet red wine mixed with honey to taste
1 1/2 Tbsp honey
1/2 Tbsp olive oil
1/3 cup each:
* Chopped figs (45 g)
* Chopped dates (45 g)
* Chopped walnuts (40 g)
Honey, lemon juice, and/or baking soda to adjust sweetness and acidity as needed

Instructions

For the shells
Preheat the oven to 375 and lightly grease a madeleine tin or mini muffin tin. (Of course, if you happen to have scallop shells at hand, feel free to pursue authenticity.)

Mix the flour with 1 1/2 Tbsp honey, 1/2 Tbsp olive oil, and wine as needed up to 1/4 cup (60 ml). Chill the dough for an hour. Flour a board and roll thin; cut into rounds and shape them into your tins’ openings.

A cup slightly larger than the size of your baking tin’s wells will produce discs of the appropriate size.

Bake for 15-20 minutes or until lavender (from red wine or port) or golden (from white wine or sherry).

For the filling
Bring the remaining 3/4 cup (180 ml) wine to a boil and cook the figs and dates in it until thickened and reduced (perhaps half an hour). The spoon should leave a clear trail across the bottom of the pot.

Taste test to judge the balance of acidity and sweetness, and adjust with honey, lemon juice, and/or a small pinch of baking soda as needed.

Allow the fig reduction to cool, then pulse in a food processor (or mash in a mortar and pestle for tradition’s sake). Spoon the fig mixture into the shells and top with a sprinkle of walnuts and a drizzle of honey.

At the Imperator’s table
For a matching Imperial set of purple and gold, make a second golden batch using apricots, almonds, and white wine or sherry.

Hastier-than-usual pudding
If you’re short on time, stir a couple spoonfuls of wine into ready-made fig or apricot jam, fill pre-baked mini tart crusts or puff pastries with the mixture, and top with honey and walnuts.

Historian’s notes

Passum (straw wine) is a sweet late-harvest wine (similar to ice wine) that the Imperials made from partially dried grapes. But since Sauternes is much too expensive to cook down into syrup, modern redactors’ wallets will thank you for making a few financially oriented adjustments.

We know nothing of Electheia but the name recorded upon the manuscript page. However, this recipe must have been collected within the first generation of the invasion, from a continental-born slave who had grown to adulthood before her transportation to the island. The recipe itself is not only purely Imperial, but purely of the Hellenic coast.

Nearer to the capital, a cook would have felt compelled to add the spices that showed off their master’s status and trade connections. Olive oil, common and welcome throughout the continent’s southern coastal areas, became far more expensive after shipping overland and oversea to the island. A native-born cook would have substituted butter for the oil even before finding native substitutes for the southern fruits. Unlike oil, fruits could at least be dried to reduce their shipping weight and volume (and therefore their cost).

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