Medieval Cooking experiments at Pennsic, Summer 2013

Friday, 26 July 2013

Michael of Safita, Ladyship Neathery of Safita, al-Sayyid Abu Shadi Da'ud ibn Zahir (Da'ud), Lady Genevieve, and Olaf cooked several dishes during an open fire cooking experiment in Griffin's Rest encampment at Pennsic. Michael and Neathery focused their recipes on the 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 cooking vessels used in the experiment were copper vessels manufactured in Turkey and tinned in Chicago.

It took 3 hours to cook five dishes for dinner on July 26th. We started with a cold firepit and raw cooking materials (except for soaked chickpeas). We were not rushed. It could have been done by two people, but might not have been possible for one person. The feast fed 9 people including the cooks.

Chicken stewed in quince (Arabic Zirbaja safarjal) - this dish is also called "the stomach fixer" (Arabic, muslihat al-ma'ida) - quince fruit was considered a natural remedy for stomach problems by Roman and Medieval physicians. Quinces mature during the Late Fall/Winter and would not be available during the summer. My experience is that Quinces store reasonably well for only 2 months before spoiling.

I had prepared this dish at the Lillies War (2013) using chicken and quince wine (my own manufacture). I prepared the dish at Pennsic War (2013) with quince paste. The dish was best with the wine, but acceptable with the quince paste. The recipe was published by Nasrallah (2007:275)

A dozen chicken breasts were put in the stew pot along with powdered galangal and skinned soaked chickpeas. A half bag of soaked chickpeas were skinned by Da'ud, Neathery and Genevieve.

The skin of a white onion was removed and it was placed, uncut into the stew pot.

Approximately 2 tablespoons of salt was added. The stew was allowed to cook for 90 minutes after which the onion was done; the onion was removed and discarded [it functioned basically as a timer]. The long cooking time was based upon the size of the cooking pot and amount of meat. A smaller pot and less meat would have cooked quicker.

A half cup of wine vinegar was added. The pot was returned to the fire to bowl until the vinegar was cooked. A cup of quince paste was added plus several ground herbs: coriander seeds, black pepper, and cummin - a tablespoon of each.

Approximately 2 cups of breadcrumbs were added which was about a cup too much. It did significantly thicken the stew. The stew pot was set aside to rest and served 30 minutes later. It was delicious! Alas, my only photograph is of the "last" pieces of chicken on the plate with the bread crumb and herb coating.

The meal included a side dish of dressed carrots (Arabic, jazar mahshi) adapted from a recipe published by Nasrallah (2007:228-229). I boiled sliced carrots and added black pepper, coriander seeds, caraway seeds, galangal and ginger to the water while boiling. The carrots were drained and served cold on a plate with boiled asparagus. The taste was fine, but not exceptional. The beautiful blue and black glaze bowl is the work of Gina Guardalabene Chalfant from White Swan Illuminations.

Other Middle Eastern side dishes included tabbouleh (bulgar wheat, fresh parsley, fresh cucumber, dried mint, dried onion, garlic, olive oil and fresh lemon juice) and dolma (stuffed grape leaves) that were purchased in a market.. I also served a bowl of pickled Turkish olives and a straight-forward dish of boiled okra (Arabic, bamiyah) that was seasoned with onions and cummin.

Dessert was an apricot pie (Arabic, Judhaba mishmish) published by Nasrallah (2007:374 - 375). Sweet, full ripe apricots were not available in the market, so Neathery and Genevieve diced dry apricots and rehydrated them with water for an hour.

A cast iron casserole with lid was used to the dish. A thin round of bread was placed in the bottom of the casserole. A layer of apricots were added then a layer of sugar.

Three alternating layers of bread, apricots and sugar were created. Rose water was used to drench the layered ingredients. I over cooked this dish and also added a touch too much rose water. The guests at the feast were first disappointed by its partially carmelized appearance. A small nibble proved that it was unattractive, but very delicious. The whole dish was consumed by the guests.

Neathery of Safita, Da'ud and another member of Griffin's rest.

I participated in a 3 hour cooking experiment hosted by Baron Janos Meszaros in the Ethelmark royal encampment. The other cooks prepared dishes in earthenware cookpots while I used my tinned copper pots.

My experiment was to prepare two cold vegetable dishes. I used two bundles of kale to make a cold dish (Arabic, bawarid) according to the recipe published by Nasrallah (2007:231). The leaves were washed and boiled whole for 30 minutes.

The cooked kale chopped while warm.

Plain yoghurt (from the market) was used to cover the greens.

Ground mustard seed and olive oil were added to the yoghurt topping. The dish was attractive. It made an acceptable side dish, but did not receive much praise.

I decided to make a second attempt at the dressed carrots (Arabic, jazar mahshi) dish and followed more closely the recipe published by Nasrallah (2007:228-229). I scraped fresh carrots and fresh parsnips.

I boiled the carrots and parsnips until they were fully cooked (about 40 minutes).

I chopped two fresh onions, fresh parsley and mixed with dry rue.

These ingredients were fried in olive oil. I added wine vinegar and castamonium (Latin, salty sauce made from pears). I used the castimonium instead of murri sauce which I had not prepared this year. Added to the sauce were several ground herbs: black pepper, galangal, coriander seeds, caraway seeds, ginger and cloves.

The dressing proved exceptionally tastey. There were no leftovers of this dish.

The Ethelmark cooking class produced stewed beef, a barley side dish, and my two cold dishes. It was a delicious class!

Cooks at Ethelmark class. Baron Meszaros on far right.

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