Prof. Michael Fuller, St. Louis Community College, SCA - Michael of Safita
Experimental Archaeology at Pennsic, Summer 2009.

Michael Fuller, Neathery Fuller, Lynn McAdams, Rowan, and St. Phlip cooked several dishes during two days of open fire cooking experiments with SPCA (Soup Pot Cooks Association) camp at Pennsic. The Michael and Neathery focused their recipes on the recently published Annals of the Caliphs' Kitchens: Ibn Sayyar al-Warraq's Tenth-century Baghdadi Cookbook translated by Nawal Nasrallah (published in 2007 by Brill). Almost all of the pottery vessels used in the cooking were handmade by Lynn McAdams. The copper cooking vessels used were manufactured in Turkey and the Republic of Macedonia; they were retinned just before Pennsic by Archer Tinning of Chicago, Illinois.

One of the simplest recipes and also most popular is Mutajjana sadr al-dajaj "Fried, spiced breast meat of chicken" (Nasrallah 2007:172-173).

Slice chicken breasts, chop them into small pieces and fry them in olive oil. When they are almost done, add black pepper and fresh cilantro. Drizzle the dish with vinegar and murri sauce. Sprinke the dish with ground almonds and serve while still hot.

Murri takes considerable time and effort to create. We used a Byzantine murri sauce that was prepared off-site in St. Louis before we left for Pennsic. We prepared the dish with and without the murri sauce. The flavor of the dish is inceased with the murri sauce, but it is not absolutely necessary. Soy sauce would be a close parallel in flavor to Byzantine murri sauce. Of special note, we cooked the dish using a vegetarian subsitute for the chicken meat and it was delicious.

Nasrallah notes that this recipe is attributed to Ibn-al Madhi, half brother of Caliph Harun al-Rashid (ruled AD 786 to 809).

Phlip begins to cut up a whole chicken

Chicken breast meat in olive oil beginning to fry in a stoneware skillet.

Michael pokes the chicken pieces with a knife to keep them from sticking to the skillet.

Freshly ground black pepper (brought from Aswan, Egypt in 2009) and celantro is added to the chicken during the last minutes of cooking.

The fried chicken meat is plated, then we mixed the vinegar with the murri sauce and applied it as drizzled spots upon the bowl and added the crushed almonds.

So, what did we do with the rest of the chicken meat? We stewed the chicken with chickpeas in a recipe called Mutajjana by Abu Samin (Arabic, the "father of the fat one") which is attributed to the time of 9th century Caliph al-Wathiq (Nasrallah 2007:174). Here is how we prepared the dish:

First, cut up the chicken, but leave the meat on the bone. Put the chicken joints in a cooking pot and add half a cup of olive oil, an approximately half a teaspoon of rock salt and a little crushed pepper. Add a heaping handful of soaked chickpeas and enough water to cover the ingredients. Let the pot boil for an hour or more, so that the chicken meat is close to falling off the bone. Add 1 cup of wine vinegar and continue boiling. After 10 minutes add a handful of chopped fresh cilantro, a little corriander seeds, and a bunch of cultivated mint. Finally, add 4 tablespoons of good quality wine during the last minutes of cooking. Remove the chicken and chickpeas from the the cooking liquid with a spoon and place the pieces of a plate.

Chicken joints and chickpeas boiling in a stoneware cooking pot.

Fat rises while the chicken is cooking and that is skimmed off and discarded.

Plated chicken with chick peas, a spinach dish, and fresh vegetables.

One of the easiest and very tastey dishes was Hilwayn "Asparagus" with murri sauce which is attributed to Ibn Masawayh, a Nestorian Christian physician in the court of Harun al-Rashid (Nasrallah 2007:221). Ibn Sayyar al-Warraq noted that the recipe was recommended for lovemaking.

The dish is prepared by boiling asparagus until it is cooked, but still crisp. It is important not to overcook the asparagus spears.

The asparagus is removed from the boiling water, plated, and seasoned with olive oil and murri. The taste created with the murri sauce is delicious on the asparagus. The original recipe descrdibed taking the remaining liquid and flavoring it with several herbs. We did not experiment with flavoring the remaining liquid.

Another delicious vegetarian dish was Silqiyya (Chard Stew). This stew was descibed by Ibn Sayyar al-Warraq as being therapeutic for treating individuals with fevers and acute diarrhea (Nasrallah 2007:427). The dish begins with cutting the leafy portion of chard from its stem, then boiling until it is done.

The chard is drained, squeezed dry, then Neathery pounded the cooked chard into a paste.

Milk is put is a pot and heated until it boils.

The chard and chopped onion is added to the boiling milk. Other herbs added include cilantro, a bit of salt, black pepper, coriander seeds and cumin. The mixture is stirred and heated until fully cooked. We served the chard stew over toasted crumbs which absorbed the extra liquid in the stew. The beautiful blue and black glaze bowl is the work of Gina Maire Chalfant of White Swan Illuminations.

Another medicinal chard dish is a delicate stew designed for to treat people with fevers (Nasdrallah 2007:434). It begins with boiling chard,

pressing out the water and pounding it into a paste. Chopped fresh onion, chopped cilantro and rue were added to a clean pot.

We used dry rue to flavor the dish. Two cups of water were added plus a quarter cup of sesame oil, and a piece of cassia.

This mixture is brought to a boil, then the chard paste is added.

Salt is added and the mixture is cooked until the onion is done.

The stew is was thickened with the pith of bread.

Isbanakhiyyat (Spinach dish) starts with leaf spinach that is boiled in water until almost done, taken out, rinsed in cold water, and allowed to cool.

Meat was put in a clean pot with a chopped white onion, a few drops of olive oil, galangal and cassia. These ingredients are heated until the meat is browned. Water is added to the mixture and allowed to boil for approximately 10 minutes. The spinach is added to the mixture and allowed to cook for another 10 minutes.

We did not add rice or carrots though the original recipe recommended those ingredients. Yes, it was not a pretty dish, but it was tastey. The rice and carrots might have helped the look of the dish.

We prepared one sweet dish based upon Annals of the Caliphs' Kitchens: Ibn Sayyar al-Warraq's Tenth-century Baghdadi Cookbook. We peeled and cored two apples and two quinches, then diced the pieces into a combination of small and large pieces.

These pieces were put in a cooking pot with approximately a cup of water and a cup of honey. The ingredients were boil from almost a hour, then drained.

The apple and quinch pieces were returned to the cook pot and covered with honey and allowed to cook again for at least 30 minutes. A small amount of saffron was ground and put into the mixture.

The apple pieces were very soft and the quinch pieces were sweet and firm. The two textures and sweetness made for a pleasant side dish. The original recipe called for the fruits to be cooked until turning into a sauce, but we did not keep them over the fire long enough to obtain that consistency.

The blue glazed bowl was thrown and fired by Lynn Adams.

Another Middle Eastern dish that we prepared was hummus, boiled, mashed and flavored chickpeas. The Annals of the Caliphs' Kitchens: Ibn Sayyar al-Warraq's Tenth-century Baghdadi Cookbook does not contain a hummus recipe because the cookbook was compiled to describe elite food items. Yes, the elite ate hummus, but Ibn Sayyar al-Warraq did not assume that any reasonable cook needed the recipe described. We prepared the humus as we had watched it prepared in the village of Tuneinir during our years of archaeological fieldwork in Syria. The first step is to soak the chickpeas for 12 to 24 hours. Next, the chickpeas are placed in a clean cookpot with fresh water and boiled for at least an hour. Salt and cummin are added during the boiling. We added only a small amount of garlic powder even though it is a common ingredient in some versions of hummmus. The boiled chickpeas were strained, dried, then mashed in a wood mortar and pestle. Olive oil was added during the mashing process to allow the hummus to be a paste. Mashing took a good 15 to 20 minutes and the paste still had a few "chunks" of split chickpeas. The hummus was spread into a bowl, then liberally flavored with Zarta Shami, a spice mixture of roasted thyme, ground sumac, sesame seeds, and salt.

The result was delicious and very fresh tasting, but it did not the creamy consistency that we often associate with store-bought or restaurant hummus. The fluted dish used to serve the hummus is a copy of a Medieval bowl excavated at Kule Kovi in Russia; the bowl was thrown and fired by Lynn McAdams.

Lamb being browned in the butter and onions.

Beans added to the lamb.

Mushrooms and barley boiling.

Chicken stew in a three handle cookopot.

Russian bulgar flavored with the meat juice.

First feast; it was delicious.

Second feast; it was delicious.

Feast prepared for Master Kirk and served by Lady Amira Fuller.

The cooks who prepared the feast.

Lynn McAdams notes from from cooking over coals at Pennsic 2009:

Wednesday July 29, 2009 Phlip, Rowen, both Professors Fuller (Michael and Neathery), myself, Rowen's daughter, a member of The Fuller’s camp, and several members of Phlips camp all participated in the cooking. I provided several cooking pots including skillets, English cookware, a Russian cooking pot, Leicester dripping dishes, and some serving vessels for use. I made presents of the lobbed bowl and dripping dishes to the professors Fuller and to Phlip.

I had experimented with reproducing the dripping dishes from drawings in the Londonware book I have and from the pictures on the University of Leicester’s website. I found it easiest to reproduce the work by using a well compressed slab and throwing the vessel walls. I tried throwing a circular platter and then cutting out a portion of the base to make the oval shape and hand building the pieces but these were not a true match. The techniques that came closest to the drawings were the slab bottom, thrown sides and a pulled handle. I had more control of the shaping this way and the sides were more of a match for the drawings. The Lobed bowl turned out to be more round then I had wanted it to be, as I was trying to copy in some small part the icon painting in Professor Michael Fuller’s hand out from a couple of years back. I have found that 4 lobes as well as 5, 6, 8, and 10 are a great deal easier to produce then 7,9,11 etc. In my research I have found that the odd numbered of flutes were more oriental in style and the even numbered ones were more European, except when the number three is involved or when you begin to explore sub continental Indian or Vietnamese pottery.

Barley Casserole was the dish I had planned on making.

The recipe:

1 1/4 C. pearl barley

2 C. Sliced portabella Mushrooms

2 1/2 C Chicken Stock (20) oz.

3/4 C chopped Onion

4 T. Butter

In frying pan sauté barley, onions, and the mushrooms in butter until the onions are soft and the barley lightly browned.

Add to a hot pot of chicken stock, cover and simmer slowly for 40 minutes. Remove cover and cook 5 more minutes stirring gently until barley is tender and all the liquid is absorbed. Remove from the heat.

Note: Vegetables such as julienne carrots, peas, or green beans may be added. Precooked diced chicken or precooked and thoroughly drained beef may also be added. Recipe taken from page 23 of the Best of a Watched Pot Volume 2.

P.S. added 6 stems of saffron-yummy

Used an English cooking pot that had been oxidatively fired for the barley which turned out very nicely. Had two skillets crack one fired in reduction and the other in oxidation; Thermal shock did them in.

Wednesday August 5, 2009

I tried the chicken cooked in wine dish, which I consider a dismal failure. It lacked flavor even with 10 stems of saffron in it and the chicken was tough. The acid from the wine should have helped to tenderize it along with the onions; neither did.

The cook pots worked well, especially when used in conjunction with the trivets that Phlip’s students had made for us. It was easier to surround the pots with coals, add more easily and evenly, and a boil was more easily retained as well. The Oxidatively fired pots were not as pleasing next to the more used and darker colored reduction fired ones, but at least I know with careful use they will last longer. The capacity of the vessels has come under consideration this year as well, for today’s more modern uses something that will hold about a gallon of water, or a little more is preferred. The 2-3 quart capacity of period cookware does not feed a camp full of people as well.

In Conclusion: The first cooking session for me was the more successful then the second. The barley casserole was a hit, especially with one of Phlip’s campmates. I have tried to reproduce the dish at home using modern methods and have failed miserably so far. The marvelous open texture of the barley and delicate flavors which resulted from cooking on the fire are sorely lacking when prepared on the stove top. I am sill working on a baked version but have not achieved nearly the same results as I did at Pennsic, What I believe happened is the slower roasting in the skillet opened the grains of barley more then the more intense temperature in a metal pan. Couple this with the steaming effect I have seen in the past years, and with carefully maintained heat and I believe the boiled barely was steam dried/puffed as a result. More of the mushroom/herbs and flavoring were introduced into the barely kernels leaving a more subtle flavor. Attempts on the stove top produced stickier, more fatty tasting barley that lacked the subtle notes of mushroom and saffron together.

The cracking of the skillets is due entirely to lack of preparation in the fire (preheating). These pieces need to be slowly heat to temperature and heat management is critical to their survival. Since Clay is a thermal insulator and not a thermal conductor I am seriously going to have to rethink their uses. I believe that liberal use of the trivets would add to the survival rate in the skillets, the ones I have made with legs lasting a little longer then the ones without.

I have taken a different tact this year, gifting particular people with pots I have made. It is my hope that this will promote their use and allow for better education of clay’s uses. The introduction and use of the copper pots, while faster is in my mind, a deterrent to using the clay crockery. The metal needs different heat levels and really discourages the experimentation of the uses of the ceramic and why it was chosen (in some cases) for specific jobs I.e. cooking grains.

I am beginning to understand why families would save all a girl’s life to get her the metal caldron as part of her moveable goods; I also understand some of the Colonial American wisdom in not letting teenaged girls with suitors do the cooking as well.

I wish to thank everyone for putting up with me and my need to know. I can be quite trying at times and I appreciate the opportunities that these cooking sessions have given my in refining my art of pottery as well as cooking.

Webpage created 15 August 2009

Wepage updated 7 November 2009