Medieval Cooking experiments at Pennsic, Summer 2010

Friday, 6 August 2010

Michael Fuller, Neathery Fuller, Alaina Kuehne, Lynn McAdams, 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, Neathery and Alaina 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). All of the pottery vessels used in the cooking were handmade by Lynn McAdams. The copper cooking vessels used were manufactured in Turkey and Greece; they were retinned.

It took 3 hours to cook five dishes for dinner on August 6th. We started with a cold firepit and raw cooking materials (except for soaked lentils and chickpeas). We were not rushed. It could have been done by two people, but might not have been possible for one person.

Sour Beef (Arabic Sikbaj) - this dish is made up of two major components. MEAT COMPONENT: six beef steakums were cut into thumbnail size pieces, then put in a medium size cookpot and covered with 470 ml (1 pint) red wine vinegar. To this was added a stalk of rue and a handful of chopped parsley. Approximately a 300 ml. of water was added. Also added was two teaspoons of olive oil. This was allowed to boil for an hour, then a Cornish Game Hen was added (without its internal organs) whole to the pot and allowed to boil for another hour. The Cornish Game Hen was soaked in salt water for 15 minutes before adding it to the cookpot in order to buffer its gamey smell. VEGETABLE COMPONENT : a whole yellow onion was chopped and added to a medium size copper cookpot with a mixture of half water and half apple vinegar. Half of a large eggplant was peeled, cubed and added to the cookpot. Two handfuls of baby carrots (measure that amount) were chopped and added to the cookpot. This was brought to a boil, then allowed to simmer for two hours. A small amount of Saffron spice was added during the last 30 minutes of cooking. FINAL PLATING: Slices of white bread were cut to remove their crust and used to form a base in the bottom of a large, shallow bowl. Some of the brooth from the Meat Component cookpot was used to moisten the bread. The cornish game hen was removed and placed in the center of the bed of soaked bread. The pieces of beef were removed and placed on the bread in cardinal directions (North, South, East and West) from the cornish game hen. The stewed vegetables in the Vegetable Component cookpot were removed, drained and placed in the four sectors between the meat chunks. The whole plate is sprinked with parsley leaves and pieces of white cheese (feta). Half of the tasters felt the dish was too sour/tart from the vinegar, while the others found it acceptable. The presence of the cheese definitely helped buffer the sour/tartness of the dish. The tartness was even more moderated when the dish was allowed to rest for an hour. We would definitely recommend half as much vinegar and twice as much water when preparing both the meat component and the vegetable component. Note: The original recipe is found on page 252 of Annals of the Caliphs' Kitchens (Nasrallah 2007). The original recipe called for the meat of a young goat (kid), chickens, multiple quail, sparrows, and many cuts of beef. The portions that I used easily fed 8 to 10 people. The proportions and ingredients in the original recipe would have fed several dozen people at a feast.

Alaina Kuehne cut up the beef for the Sour Beef stew.

Rue added to the beef

Parsley added to Rue and beef

Michael and Neathery with the pot containing beef, rue and parsley

Beef, rue and parsley boiling over the cookfire.

Beef, rue and parsley boiling over the cookfire.

Cornish game hen added to the sour beef after half an hour of cooking.

Cornish game hen cooking in the sour beef stew.

Neathery peels eggplant.

Onions, carrots, and eggplant cooking in Apple vinegar.

Vegetables cooking in apple vinegar.

Sour Beef Stew with cornish game hen plated and ready to serve. The cheese is an essential component to balance the taste, by the way!

Sour Beef Stew with cornish game hen being served.

Lentils and Barley (Arabic, Kishk al-'ads) - A bag of lentils (450 grams) was allowed to soak overnight, then drained and washed. They were put in a ceramic cookpot in the coals with water. Approximately 200 ml of unsoaked barley was placed in the water with the lentils and allowed to come to a boil. Approximately 5 ml. of sea salt was added. This was allowed to boil, then simmer for 2 hours. Note: The original recipe is found on page 796 of Annals of the Caliphs' Kitchens (Nasrallah 2007).

Soaked lentils waiting to be cooked.

Lentils in a stoneware cookpot.

Barley added to the lentils and water.

Barley and lentils boiling.

Barley and lentils fully cooked.

Chickpeas, Rice and Spinach (Arabic, Ruz wa isfanakh) - a full bag of chickpeas (check how much) was allowed to soak overnight, then drained and washed. They were put in a large copper pot and brought to a boil along with a beef steakum patty (quarter pound of meat). This was allowed to boil for at least an hour, until the chickpeas were no longer crunchy. The meat was removed from the pot and put into a copper skillet with olive oil and browned over the fire until crispy. These were drained of the oil and set aside in the corner of the firepit to keep warm. Approximately a cup of rice was added to the chickpea brooth as well as a clove of garlic that had been cut into fine pieces. This mixture was allowed to cook uncovered for approximately 30 minutes when the rice swelled. A bag full of fresh spinach was torn into egg sized pieces and put into a copper pan to boil for 10 minutes. The chickpeas and rice was plated into a deep bowl, the crispy meat pieces were added (but not stirred in) to the deep bowl. Finally, the drained spinach was place on top of the chickpeas and rice. Note: The original recipe is found on page 128 of Medieval Cuisine of the Islamic World (Zaouali 2009).

Chickpea boiling.

Michael stirs chickpeas.

Meat boiling with Chickpeas

Chickpeas boiling in the large pot while sour beef boils in a small pot (to right) and sour vegetables boil in a small pot (to left).

Big pot of chickpeas and meat boiling.

Big pot of chickpeas and meat boiling.

Fresh spinach cooking in shallow sauce pan in water.

Meat removed from the large cookpot and browned in olive oil.

Rice added to the boiled chickpeas.

Finished dish served in a blue/black lusterware bowl.

Finished dish served in a blue/black lusterware bowl.

Beautiful blue/black lusterware bowl.

Banana Pie (Arabu Tajin muz and/or Judhaba) - We took two pieces of pita bread and tore apart into fist size pieces that were placed in the bottom of a shallow copper pan measuring approximately 40 cm. in diameter. Five ripe bananas were peeled, and cut into slivers, lengthwise. The slivers were arranged on the bed of beard pieces, then sprinkled with white sugar. The banana slivers were sprinkled with approximately 50 ml of rose water (a commercially produced rosewater manufactured in France). Two more pieces of bread were torn apart to make a "covering" for the bananas. Approximately 100 ml (a cup) of water was poured across the bread cover. The dish was set aside for an hour to allow the bread to absorb the water. The pan with bread and bananas was put on the grill with medium heat to warm the contents. It was allowed to cool for 15 minutes before serving. It was delicious to some individuals, but "too strongly flavored by the rose taste" for others. The strong taste of the rosewater was not moderated when the dish was retasted an hour later. Note: The original recipe is found on page 82 of Medieval Cuisine of the Islamic Worlds (Zaouali 2009).

Base for banana pie beginning.

Lining of the base of the banana pie.

Six bananas were used to make the banana pie.

Bananas sliced and placed on the bread base.

Rosewater used to soak the bed of bananas and bed.

Banana pie ready to serve.

All dishes plated and ready to serve.

My plate of food was delicious.

Sour Mutton Stew (Arabic, Madira) took several steps. STEP One: Chop an eggplant and use 3/4 of the product. Slice 3 zucchini squash (used because they resemble gourd squash that are called for the original recipe) into coin like slices. Remove the outer peel from 15 pearl onions (approximately 450 grams). All of these are covered with water into which is dissolved half a cup of salt to make a brine. This mixture is set aside to brine for a hour. STEP Two: Create sour milk by dissolving 1 pint (473) of whole milk into 1.4 kilograms (3 lbs.) of sour cream. We added another pint of water, but it would have been better to add more milk. The temperature was slowly raised to obtain a gentle boil without burning the sour milk. The boiled milk was allowed to cool for an hour and a small amount of solids were skimmedd from its surface at 60 minutes. STEP Three: We cut up a leg of lamb and ten lamb chops to create two containers of meat that were put into two copper cookpots (tinned) and lightly boiled. The meat was removed from the broth, submerged in cold water, and set aside to drain. Step Four: The meat was added to the boiled sour milk after the milk had rested for an hour. The stew was brought to a light boil and the brined vegetables were added. Powdered cummin was added three times to the stew. Two or three teaspoons of cummin was added to the stew [two or three times this amount would have been better]. The stew was boiled for approximately 30 minutes, then two dozen pieces of asparagus were added (top half of the vegetable only was used). The stew was lightly boiled/simmmered for another 30 minutes before being removed from the fire and served. Some tasters remarked that the stew was distinctly "mutton" flavored. My feeling was that the mutton flavor was not overwhelming and 90% of the tasters found it a good dish that they would recommend. Note: The original recipe is found on page 300 of Annals of the Caliphs' Kitchens (Nasrallah 2007).

Starting fire

Sour milk warming

Sour milk boiling.

Pieces of lamb cut and ready for cooking.

Two pots of lamb boiling in water.

Cooked lamb added to sour milk.

Vegetables added to meat and sour milk.

Asparagus still cooking with stew.

Apricot pie (Arabic, Tajin mishmish) was made is almost the same recipe as the banana pie based upon the recipe found on page 81 of Medieval Cuisin of the Islamic World (Zaoula 2009). Two medium size bags of dried apricots were soaked in water overnight to rehydrate them. Each apricot was cut into 4 to 5 mm slivers and arranged on a bed of sliced white bread. This layer of apricots was generously sprinkled with sugar and moistened with rosewater. Another layer of torn "Tannur" style bread was used to cover the apricots. The pan of bread and apricots was soaked with the water used to rehydrate the apricots. This was set aside for 2 hours, then gently warmed over the fire (we did not have an oven with roasting chicken). The apricot pie was very delicious and enjoyed by all.

Apricots soaked in water.

Apricots sliced and spread on a bread bed.

Apricot pie warming over fire.

Second meal ready and delicious.

Another view of the second meal.

Website constructed 6 August 2010

Updated 23 August 2010