Of Food And Drink
Chapter Three of the Topic: Life In Landscape– Being, visions of the Far Place, the gors and the gallt, with notes various on flora and fauna, hunting, herding, agriculture, food and matters diverse.
‘Their food is simple, wild fruits, fresh game and curdled milk.’
On the Upland frontier, hunting, fishing and gathering are as important as farming as a source of daily food. However, these resources should not be over-emphasised: for well-established steads it could easily be half a day’s journey to the nearest hunting area.
There is little trade in foodstuffs; most steads are isolated and self-contained.
Small game, fish and grain porridge (frumenty or pottage) are the staple foods. Meat is a prestige food, (beef especially so) and is usually eaten in relatively small quantities to add flavour. A significant percentage of butchery occurs in a sacrificial context. Tubers, gourds, apples, plums, cherries, berries and nuts are plentiful. Cabbage and turnips are the staple potherbs; other staple vegetables include peas, beans, leeks, onions, garlic and chebny, a wild mountain lettuce.
Most meals are some form of stew, soup or pottage cooked in a cauldron over the central hearth of the bloodline lodge, and presided over by a delegate of the senior lodge female. Bread is baked in a clay oven or on a griddle. Flour must either be ground by hand (using a quern), or milled at the stead water mill. (While many steads have windmill-like wind towers, these are usually wards and daimon shrines).
The most common food is a variation on ‘pottage‘; a soup or stew made from barley, linseed, knotweed and other plants, grains and vegetables, thickened till it is almost solid. Meat or fish might be added, or sheep’s milk and honey to sweeten it.
‘Frumenty‘ is grain porridge. Grind some wheat, fan it out and wash it clean. Then boil until tender and brown.
‘Green porray‘ is a mash of green vegetables flavoured with herbs. ‘Peas pottage’ is made exclusively from mashed peas and salt.
‘White porray‘ is a pottage made from leeks, and is a common winter food.
Mutton stew is a common favourite, flavoured with wine, vinegar, or ale and mustard.
‘Collop‘ is bacon or pork strips with an egg batter.
Puddings are made of (pig’s) blood, stirred to stop it congealing and seasoned with flour and herbs.
White bread is rare; brown rye bread is most common. Mixed grain breads are called ‘maislin‘. Beans, peas and even (in times of famine) acorns are used to make bread. Weed seeds often get mixed with the grain, and some of these can be quite poisonous.
‘Rockwrong‘ or ‘Lunar biscuit’ is baked and dried until it is rock-hard. It is rumoured to keep for up to fifty years.
Cheese is consumed in great amounts. It is hard, strongly flavoured, and often full of hair and maggots.
In the warmer months, pike of up to 20 kg are caught regularly. Roaches average 2 kg, dace 1 kg, perch 3 kg and chub 4 kg. The entire clan takes to the mountain streams when the salmon run begins in Sea Season.
‘Stockfish‘ is salted air-dried fish. Stockfish will keep for years, but it needs to be beaten with a hammer, soaked for hours and then boiled before it can be eaten. It is only seen at the end of winter when food is becoming scarce.
Meat is most common in Fire and Earth Season, when herd culling takes place and game is most plentiful. Killing also takes place during Dark Season, depending on the depletion of winter fodder. Many kills also take place before the Orlanthi High Holy Day and Sacred Time, times of Celebration in seasons of scarcity and hunger. A clan carefully lays aside precious resources to celebrate these events.
Meat is generally preserved by drying, salting or smoking. Deliberate fattening for the table is very rare. In Dark Season, pickled pork, bacon and other salted meats are often the only meat available.
Salads are made of parsley, chebny (wild lettuce), sage, garlic, spring onions, leeks, bouage, mint, fennel, cresses, rue, purslane and rosemary.
Vegetable oils are produced from linseed and false flax.
Water is sometimes too dirty and dangerous to drink; buttermilk, milk, cider, beer or wine are the staple drinks.
Minlister is the brewer of the Storm Tribe, and his cult holds the secrets of brewing such delights as mead, strong beer and liqueurs.
Beer or Ale is usually brewed with barley and spiced with a mixture of herbs known as grout. Wheat, oats and even rye beers known, and ‘heather ale’ is a delight associated with summer crofting in the upland meadows.
Heortling ale is sweet, with a very solid texture. It provides a significant proportion of most clansfolk’s carbohydrate intake, with most adults drinking between two to four pints a day. It has a low alcohol content, especially from later washings of the mash (‘First water’ is strongest, ‘small ale’ is weakest). To strain the sediments, clansfolk wear a drinking sieve-spoon around their neck at meals and feasts: these can be highly ornate and are a common gift. Because of the lack of refrigeration, it is drunk very fresh.
(The brew is not technically beer, but rather ale, as it is top-fermented and not lagered.)
Ale does not keep well, and making ale is a weekly household activity usually undertaken by the women. Most common ales last only about a week, and are at their best a few days after manufacture, while still fermenting. After a week, most ale is fit only for pigs. Serving week old ale is a calculated insult to a guest.
True Beer uses hops, and so can be kept for longer periods of time. Hops are still unknown to most Heortling clans, but knowledge is slowly spreading from the Empire and from Sun County, and they are cultivated and used by some master Minlister brewers. Beer is an important source of winter sustenance, but requires an expert brewer, and so usually brewed only at a chief’s stead.
Cider is fermented apple or similar fruit juice. The pulp or pomace is wrapped in straw and pressed to produce “must”, which is fermented in barrels. Fermentation relies on wild yeast present in the apple and takes about three months unless ritually speeded along, so most cider made in Earth Season is ready in Storm Season, and its drinking a highlight of Sacred Time celebrations. Cider lasts well and is another source of winter carbohydrates.
Powerful berry wines and mead are produced at some steads, as is pear and apple cider. Some wine is imported from the south.
Mead is made from honey, water, and yeast, and is usually brewed by initiates of Minlister. It is a drink for the feasting hall. Requiring special brewing knowledge, it is regarded as the drink of kings and poetic inspiration,especially when spiced (with ‘metheglin‘).
Most Steads will not produce mead; it is rather the drink for the king or chief’s hall. Mead is strongly alcoholic (about 10-18%) and in the United States is classified as a wine rather than a beer. Whereas ale, beer, and cider are food, mead is a drink.
‘Crimpy’ and ‘scrumpy‘ are sweet honeyed meads. They are often flavoured with some form of herb such as meadowsweet (O.E. meduwyrt – ‘mead plant’).
‘Almond milk‘ is a Pelorian drink that is gaining in popularity; a mixture of wine, ground almonds and honey.
‘Cammy‘ is fermented mare’s milk served with lumps of butter. It is strongly associated with Elmali ceremonial.
‘Hippocras‘ is mulled spiced wine.
Several clans forbid the consumption or importation of foreign wines, believing that they sap stamina and endurance. It is not a northern custom to water wine.
Poorer families will rely largely on milk and water.
Never whistle while drinking cider; you may summon up a frivolous wind.
Favoured and Unusual Foods
Favourite foods include beef (which is usually reserved for ceremonial consumption or as a sign of special honour), roast game and venison, game birds, giant snails, wine with honey, honeybread, rivershell, roll mops, giant insects, river oysters, (imported) peaches, eggs, truffles, mushrooms, fungi, black bread, ginger and cinnamon bread, lizardfish served with roe, sticklepick, skewered locusts, cheese and curd, apple fritters, and corncake.
Spit roast joints of beef are a special treat. Mutton and pork are more common, but not highly thought of. (‘Mutton is thrall-food!’, records one Anglo-Saxon document.)
(There is considerably less saturated fat in these free range meats than in modern cuts. The animals are lean and rangey, so the proportion of protein to fat is three to one.)
Certain meat joints are reserved as the ‘thane’s portion’ to be consumed by leaders and warriors. Bone marrow is very popular and prestigious, as it contains the spiritual essence of an animal.
Poultry is also a luxury food, often reserved for the old or those recuperating from wounds or disease.
Several Tarshite Solar foods have limited acceptance. ‘Giant’ snails (about 15 cm long) are fattened on milk. Dabray Doormice are force-fed on nuts in specially made clay pots with holes.
Sticklepick or blackburn is a chunky fish sauce made from the gills, blood and intestines of fish, whole small fish, salt, herbs and vinegar. It is left to liquefy for two or three months. Sticklepick is one of Far Point’s most renowned exports.
Honey is the most valued of all foods, and with sugarbeet the only sweetener available. A good hive (a treasure!) can produce up to 40 kilos of honey per year. A lodge of 18 would require about 1.2 kilos of honey per day.
Strawberries and bilberries are a Fire Season treat.
‘Parfort‘ consists of nuts and dried fruit pressed into a round flat cake. It is popular amongst travellers.
Food is usually served on a ‘trencher’; either a wooden plate or a round flat piece of bread that serves as one. On formal occasions, one should not eat one’s trencher.
Spoons, like most domestic utensils, are carved at the steads from beech wood.
To up-end one’s trencher is a bad omen. To deliberately do this to a fellow is a deadly insult that immediately initiates a bareblade fight.
Mahome’s Gift: Butter
Butter is made in pats, and used as sheep dressing and cart grease as well as food. It can be preserved in salt, then packed into firkins or bowls for distribution. In such cases it will be washed clean before eating. Butter may also be flavoured with herbs such as garlic. A ‘butter arm’ is a strong woman. To ‘colour your butter’ (with marigold) is the Far Point expression for ‘gilding the lily’.
Pelorians call Orlanthi ‘butter-eaters’ – they prefer vegetable oils. (Most Pelorians are in fact lactose intolerant, and cannot stomach more than a cup of raw milk. As a result they are very sensitive to the ‘butter-smell’ of dairy food consumers such as the Orlanthi, a stench that habitual consumers can not sense. (This same stench permeates the bodies of Europeans and other westerners: we can’t smell it, but people from societies that don’t use dairy products certainly can! ‘Westerners stink!’ is not necessarily a political statement.)
Butter is strongly symbolic of male sexuality, and butter churning of sex. Ghee is consumed as an aphrodisiac – at clan weddings men will often consume a kilo or more. Sacred images of the gods are sometimes carved in butter as part of a sacrifice.
Rennet is also made at the stead, in blocks that weigh up to 3 kg.
The Churning Song is a minor magic feat much sought by steadwives. Final churning is a delicate process always done by hand.
Proceed to Chapter Four: Flora and Fauna …
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