Monday, April 23, 2012

A Culinary Journey Through Time

Last week, I received the copy I ordered of A Culinary Journey Through Time, an English-language translation of a previously published book that attempts to reconstruct early European cuisines using archaeological evidence.  The Viking era lies directly in the middle of the time periods the book covers, and I was very curious to see what the authors would make of Viking era cuisine because the Viking era is of particular interest to me.

The book cites a number of ethnic and historical cookbooks with which I am familiar.  Some of those books, in fact, have been the subject of recent posts in this blog, including The British Museum Cookbook and Spirit of the Harvest. (In fact, a version of the duck hotpot recipe from The British Museum Cookbook that I've experimented with turns up in this book, but using hare instead of duck.)  But by and large, the recipes in this book are new, as is the authors' approach to communicating them.

A Culinary Journey Through Time begins with several opening sections to explain the authors' approach to their material and provide a guide to the manner in which the book is organized. Each recipe is marked with a symbol, indicating the earliest era in which all the ingredients would have been available in Northern Europe: Middle Stone Age, New Stone Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age, Roman era, Viking Age, and the medieval period. The recipes are also color-coded by the season of the year for which they would likely have been made, given the agricultural cycle: green for spring, yellow for summer, orange for autumn, blue for winter, and purple for year-round.
Reconstruction: Viking age food (from Wikimedia Commons)

Having read all the recipes, there are three things that stand out about this collection to me.

The first thing is the authors' commitment to encouraging their readers to attempt at least to make some of these dishes with the primitive equipment available to the Stone Age/Bronze Age/Iron Age/medieval cooks who made them, or at least made foods very like them.  One recipe proposes cooking eggs on a greased, stone slab. Others involve wrapping meat in leaves, or in clay, and burying the package in a firepit among hot coals to bake.  I don't plan to test these recipes using prehistoric equipment.  On the other hand, cooking mushrooms in a greased, no-stick pan and adding eggs with chopped thyme mixed in (the book's Stone Age "mushroom omelet" recipe, with the pan substituting for the stone slab) still sounds very tasty to me, and gives at least an idea of the flavors of an early dish of this type.  I will certainly try this book's rabbit version of the (medieval) barley and leek hot pot recipe I have previously made (omitting the vinegar, which I'd tried before and disliked).

The second thing is the simplicity of the dishes in this collection.  Most of the meat dishes are little more than meat roasted, or stewed with herbs, or at most with a few vegetables and a grain.  The simple salads are gathered greens, washed and tossed with the equivalent of oil and vinegar and herbs or ground seeds for flavor.  Cream and eggs, and sauces using cream, milk, butter, and/or eggs, round out the basic ingredients used to add interesting flavor to food.  In fact, the main difference between the simplicity of the recipes in A Culinary Journey Through Time and the simplicity of the American Indian recipes in Spirit of the Harvest is that the European book assumes that animal products other than meat (eggs, butter, milk, cream) were available to provide variety, while the same isn't the case of the Indian recipes for the most part.  Possibly that was the element that I found missing from the "Indian" foods in the Spirit of the Harvest.

Finally, the third thing that stands out about this book to me is that I didn't find anything it said about the ingredients available during a particular period, or the favored cooking tools and techniques, to be a surprise.  Perhaps I had managed to absorb more knowledge about early European food and cooking than I had realized.

Although some of the recipes in A Culinary Journey Through Time are complicated enough in technique that I will probably not attempt them, most seem very tasty to me. In addition to the ones above I will likely try the "leek risotto," a recipe the authors characterize as medieval, that involves cooking leeks with risotto rice and adding ham and cheese.  My husband rejected the ham and cheese but thought the same recipe with roast pork would be enjoyable, and I agree. There is also a savory (again medieval) oatmeal recipe, in which meat broth instead of milk is used as the liquid for the oatmeal and an egg is added, that I plan to try, since I'm aware that grain porridges were an early period mainstay (they were the default meal of the Roman soldier, for example).  My husband is interested in the  (Roman) "nut cake" recipe; the ingredients and instructions describe a flatbread containing roasted walnuts and pine nuts, seasoned with liquamen, honey, and a smidgen of black pepper.

Since I can't just head to my local supermarket and pick up some liquamen-- --the piquant fish-based sauce beloved by the Romans--it's fortunate that the authors also supply a proposed recipe that doesn't take weeks and that doesn't require fermenting fish.  It suggests using sardines and simmering them down along with fruit juice (grape, apple, and/or pear, according to the book) to get the requisite combination of flavors.  Since the nut cake recipe and at least one of the green salad recipes requires liquamen, I'm planning to try making some up. 

Overall, I'm pleased with the book, and I recommend it to my readers, though if you live in the U.S. the price ($25 USD for the book and $25 USD for shipping) of getting the book from the authors' website, Communicating culture, may seem a bit steep.  In case any of you wish to seek out the book from other sellers (probably not possible yet but maybe realistic in a few months) I've provided a full citation to the book below:
Karg, Sabine, Steinhauser-Zimmerman, Regula, Bauer, Irmgard.  A Culinary Journey Through Time: A Cookery Book with Recipes from the Stone Age to the Middle Ages. Communicating Culture & Museum für Urgeschichte(n) Zug (2011).
Meanwhile, reading A Culinary Journey Through Time has made me very curious to read the other "Viking" cookbook I've ordered, Viking and Slavic Cuisine:  Recipes Included, to see how and to what extent it differs and to see how many recipes from it that I will want to try.   Hopefully I will receive it and be able to post about it within the next few weeks.

13 comments:

  1. thank you for the insightful review. j

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  2. That you for the review. I had hesitated to post one myself so was relieved to read yours.

    I bought my copy through Potboiler Press in the US ( http://www.potboilerpress.com/ ) so delivery time was less than a week for me.

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  3. Hi, stitchwhich! Welcome to my blog.

    I appreciate knowing that there is a US company carrying the book! (If only I'd found that out before I ordered my copy directly from its Danish authors). :-)

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  4. Hi Cathy! (It's Hrothny, btw)
    I am looking forward to trying their liquamen recipe, as well as the 'froth the egg, honey, & fruit" ones - I admit that had not occurred to me as a possibility for a dessert so I'm curious to see what it will taste like. Or even look like.

    I noticed simularities with Jacqui Wood's recipes in "Prehistoric cooking" but given the source for the ingredients I had expected that. What I hadn't expected was no reference to her work.

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  5. For my part, I'm wondering how close to the original "liquamen" their recipe is likely to be. I'm determined to try it, though, since it seems like a simple enough recipe for me to execute.

    I'm not really surprised that there's no reference to Jacqui Wood's Prehistoric Cooking. If you look at the bibliography, you'll see that most of the books cited therein are in Danish or German; there aren't a lot of English language sources. I wouldn't be surprised if the authors were simply unaware of Ms. Wood's work. I think the similarities in the recipes lie simply in the fact that both books discuss prehistoric cooking in Northern Europe.

    By the way, the other Viking era cookbook I've discussed this month--Viking and Slavic Cuisine: Recipes Included--suggest that raw cucumber pieces dipped in a little honey is a dessert possibility. I've tried this and it's surprisingly pleasant, if you use a honey you like and just drizzle it on the cucumber pieces lightly.

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  6. Thanks so much for offering up some comments on this book. Being an out-of-the-way publication, it's not really possible to get much info on what it contains. I already own too many culinary books with only a fraction of useful information. It leads me to want to check new books out a little more before buying them, especially if obtaining them is a more involved process!
    I am wondering just what percentages of this book are spent on each time period? Obviously the leek risotto is from the much more recent end of history.
    I'd love it if eventually a Table of Contents could be found out here on the internet...

    vandy

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  7. "I am wondering just what percentages of this book are spent on each time period? Obviously the leek risotto is from the much more recent end of history. I'd love it if eventually a Table of Contents could be found out here on the internet..."

    I can try to supply some of this information later this weekend. My recollection off the top of my head is that there's roughly an equal number of recipes for each period (Stone Age, New Stone Age, Bronze Age, Roman, Iron Age, Viking Age, Medieval).

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  8. Hi Cathy
    Thanks for the review!
    I was wondering if you could tell me of a way to get a copy of the book.
    Because all i can find is reviews of it :P
    The site stitchwhich found it on does not seem to have it anymore =( At least not as far as i can see.
    Regards,
    Francien

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    1. Hi, Francien! Welcome.

      The Potboiler Press site stitchwhich mentions above lists the book on their "Imports" page, not their cookbooks page, which may be why you didn't find it; that page is here.

      I got the book directly from the authors. If you go to their webpage here, you'll find an email address you can use to contact Ms. Karg and request a copy. She charged me 25 Euros plus 25 more for shipping, but I suspect the shipping cost was so high for me because I'm in the US; if you are in Europe, shipping may be much more reasonable.

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  9. Hi Cathy,
    I'm researching a magazine article on Viking food and the people who faithfully recreate it. May I interview you? I can be reached at grammarguru@aol.com. I'd be happy to give you details about the article, my background, etc.

    Thanks!

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  10. Hi! Welcome to my blog. I will be in touch about your request.

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  11. Hi,
    I don't know if I am posting this correctly, and might have done it twice.
    I am new to your blog. I am a rotten cook but I enjoy reading about Viking cooking. I cannot find a copy of "A Culinary Journey Through Time" to buy. I followed the leads you suggested in the 2012 blog, but nothing is working. Is it still in print?
    Thank you, Jane

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    1. Hi, Jane! Welcome! I don't know whether the book is still in print, but even if it's not that doesn't automatically mean copies aren't available.

      The link in my post to the authors' website now lists two e-mail addresses you can contact re: getting a copy of the book; I'm repeating the link here: http://communicatingculture.dk/ The relevant e-mail addresses are Communicatingculture@gmail.com and Lone@Historiske-Ting.dk I suspect these are the authors' own e-mail addresses; the Communicatingculture one looks like the address I used to contact Sabine Karg for my copy. Good luck!

      I don't see it elsewhere either. Potboiler Press (small US company that sells some imported books mostly to reenactors) no longer shows it on its website, and that's the only American seller I've ever known of. I don't see it (nor do I expect to see it) on Amazon or it's UK, German, Canadian, or Australian affiliates, and it doesn't turn up on Addall (search site).

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