Monday, June 27, 2016

Eatng Medieval: Oatcakes

Dawn rose on the third day, pink rays streaming over the eastern mountains, lighting the night’s mist into a magical morning landscape. Shawn sat against a tree halfway up the slope, staring down the mountainside. He hadn’t expected anything, he told himself. 

Through days of climbing the hill, traipsing through the valley, exploring the old Roman fort at the top, and searching for anything unusual, for anything to explain Thomas the Rhymer’s disappearance, he hadn’t expected anything. The story was too ridiculous. 

And yet—he’d hoped. Images of Amy had burned before his eyes and in his heart, as he climbed each slope, and searched rocks, and followed streams, as he hunted with Niall and gathered berries and fixed more oatcakes. Thoughts of her home in the States with Rob had plagued him. That he’d never see his child, never even know if he had a son or daughter, haunted him. That they were heading into enemy territory to spy terrified him. If they both ended up in a dungeon, there was no one to rescue them this time...

~~The Water is Wide
Book Three of The Blue Bells Chronicles

Much like the American colonies fight for independence, the story of Scotland's Wars of Independence under Robert the Bruce were a David and Goliath story, as a small, poor country fought against what was then the most powerful nation on earth, larger, wealthier, with greater population and better arms.

England's knights were more likely to have armor and massive warhorses, whereas the Scots' units were more likely to be seen in leather 'armor' and quilted gambesons, using long spears--the famed schiltrons--against these warhorses.  Their cavalry often consisted of a smaller, lighter animal often called the garron.

However, a good general knows how to use everything he has.  The Scots succeeded, against these great odds, in part because they knew how to travel light.  Their garrons could maneuver their hills in ways that the English armies, with their long supply trains could not.

At least one account describes how the Scots traveled with their bags of oats under their saddles.  No chuck wagons for them, but oatcakes or bannocks.  Here are a couple options if you'd like to try making your own--after making your Cookies of Joy, of course!

#1: Traditional Oatcakes in the Oven

3-1/2 cups rolled oats (not the quick-cooking type!)
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons flour
3 tablespoons honey
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup water
fresh berries
pine nuts, chopped

Preheat oven: 350 degrees  Lightly grease a baking sheet.

  1. Mix oats, salt, flour, and honey.
  2. Rub in butter until it all has a crumby texture
  3. Add just enough water to dampen the dough
  4. Divide the mixture into two--pour half of it into a second bowl
  5. Add berries to one bowl, pine nuts to the other--mix well
  6. Form dough into rounds, no more than 1/4 inch thick
  7. Place on baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes or until they're a light brown
Serve plain, or with jam or butter.

I would think the Scots could have easily added what they liked to their oatcakes--whatever they found in the forest or along their path while traveling.

Obviously, however, they didn't carry ovens with them--especially not ones that could be pre-heated to 350 degrees!  So here's a recipe for cooking bannocks over an open fire.

#2: Bannocks over a Fire

3 cups flour
1 teaspoon of salt
2 tablespoons of baking powder
1/4 cup melted butter

1-1/4 cups water

Preheat the fire to hot coals.  I suppose this would be more like post heat?  Let it die down to hot coals?

  1. Mix the ingredients, adding the water slowly so that you get a consistency firm enough to wrap around a stick.  (Flour on your hands will help prevent the batter sticking to your hands as you shape it around the stick.)
  2. Stick edges of dough together well!
  3. 7-10 minutes over the coals, slowly rotating.
If you have one at your campfire, the bannocks can also be cooked in a frying pan or on a griddle.  Just make sure to flip them to prevent burning on either side.

As an added bonus, if you care to discuss dancing, talking, or listening--on the table or on the plane, on the street or on the plane--while you cook your oatcakes, stop by my Gaelic Word a Day blog.

A Feast of Ice & Fire by Chelsea Monroe-Cassel and Sariann Lehrer

Thursday, June 23, 2016

More on Hildegard of Bingen and Her Cookies of Joy

Hildegard von Bingen, the twelfth-century mystic, author, composer, playwright, diplomat, visionary, abbess, and author wrote a great deal on the healing properties of food.  Yesterday I gave a modern adaptation of  her "Cookies of Joy."

Today, from her Physica, I give you something closer to her original words (which would have been in twelfth-century German, which I'm guessing few of my readers are fluent in). A translation is:
Take equal amounts of nutmeg and cinnamon and some cloves and pulverize them.  With this, and  fine whole wheat flour and water, make small cakes.

She goes on to give further directions to eat these small cakes often, to calm bitterness of heart and mind, to open the heart and impaired senses, and to foster cheerfulness.

Hildegard's Physica--which contains nine 'books' and is only one of her many written works--discusses the properties of a number of plants, including herbs, spices, vegetables, classifying them according to hot and cold and discussing their benefit and harm to people.  In some cases, that benefit or harm depends on the individual person.  Radishes, for instance, will cure and cleanse a strong fat man, but will harm one who is sick and lean.  (For one who is lean but strong...?)

Of the ingredients in the Cookies of Joy (or should we call them small cakes of cheer--no, cookies of joy has a better ring to it even if it is a bit anachronistic), individual results are listed:  Cinnamon, which is very hot, increases good humors and decreases bad humors.  Nutmeg opens the heart, makes one's judgment free from obstruction, and granta s good disposition.  Cloves diminish any stuffiness in the head, cures dropsy, and stops gout from progressing.

All in all, these sound like very good things to me, and as soon as I find cloves, I'll beg my daughter to make us all some Cookies of Joy.  (Believe me, if I make them myself, nobody around here is going to be too joyful.  I'll go play medieval cantigas on my harp and forget my medieval small cakes are in the oven.)  Won't my boys be surprised when I start ordering them to eat cookies every day!  In the meantime, I'm happily downing my Bengal Spice cinnamon, ginger, and clove tea and happily sprinkling cinnamon and nutmeg on everything I eat! (Okay...not really.  That was just my, um, humor.  Hopefully good humor!)

As an interesting coincidence, Hildegard of Bingen's feast day is September 17, which happens to be the day I'll be interviewed live on AM 950's Food Freedom program, talking about medieval food, and quite likely about Hildegard herself.  Not to make a shameless plug or anything.  And also not to make a shameless plug, but since we're talking about food, I have posted In the Kitchen today at Gaelic Word a Day.

SOURCES: Hildegard von Bingen's Physica: The Complete English Translation of her Classic Work on Health and Healing by Priscilla Throop

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Eating Medieval: Cookies of Joy

The GIVEAWAY is still going.  Leave a comment on the GIVEAWAY post to enter for an 8x10 photograph of misty Glenmirril, where miracles happen.

Yes, Cookies of Joy--a medieval cookie purported to have healing properties.  Now this is my kind of cookie!

The Cookies of Joy come from Hildegard of Bingen, a Catholic mystic nun who lived from 1098 until 1179.  Hildegard--often called Saint Hildegard, though some sources say she was never formally canonized--was a remarkable woman who wrote plays, invented an alphabet, composed music, founded monasteries, wrote books on science, medicine,botany, nutrition, and theology, went on mission trips, preached, healed, and spoke with popes and emperors.  She is one of four women to be declared a Doctor of the Church, of whom there are only 34 total.  .

She is no doubt someone with whom Niall, in early 14th Century Scotland, would have been familiar.

She also had extensive ideas on food, nutrition,dietetics, and the healing properties of food.  These tied in with her four rules of life:

  1. Strenthen the soul (through prayer and meditation, by developing talents and virtues and eliminating weakness and vice).
  2. Regular detoxification through treatments designed to strengthen the body (bloodletting, fasting, purging, and more)
  3. When body, soul, and mind are equally strong, there is balance in the bodily elements.  This balance is easily upset by poor habits in eating, drinking, and 'lusts.'
  4. Sharpen the senses (live with purpose and good cheer, love life, use your senses well, and live responsibly)

Her Cookies of Joy contained foods she believed helped with this balance and good health.  The recipe* is as follows:


3/4 Cup butter (1-1/2 sticks)
1/2 Cup brown sugar
1/2 Cup of white/cane sugar
1 egg--fresh from the hen house if possible  (for me, it's not)
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1/4 teaspoon of salt
2 Cups of flour (may include part or all whole wheat or spelt)
1-1/2 teaspoons of cinnamon 
1 teaspoon of nutmeg
3/4 teaspoon of cloves
~  Add up to another teaspoon of each spice, to taste


Mix the butter and sugar until fluffy
Add egg and mix it in well
Sift the dry ingredients together and mix well

Roll the dough out to 1/4 inch thick and use a cookie cutter to cut out cookies...OR
Roll the dough into 1 inch circles, place on cookie sheet, and press flat with the bottom of a glass


375 for 10 minutes, or until the edges are just starting to turn brown

Hildegard recommended that bakers make and eat these cookies frequently to 'reduce the bad humors, enrich the blood, and fortify the nerves.'  I don't know about you, but I'm all for a prescription for eating cookies often!  I might even say it gives me joy!

And for sharpening the senses and living with joy, I recommend a composition by Hildegard of Bingen, hauntingly beautiful.


German Food: Health and Nutrition in the Middle Ages

At my other blog, Gaelic Word a Day: On the...Go  Planes, trains, and automobiles.

* Edited to Add: this is a recipe adaptated from Hildegard of Bingen's words.  More on that tomorrow!

Saturday, June 18, 2016

The Boar's Head: Excerpt

[I have a giveaway going on: Leave a comment on the giveaway post to enter.]

As I work on a 'table companion' for The Blue Bells Chronicles, this song goes through my head.  (Warning!  It may be in your head all day if you listen to it!)  As with many songs, I find this group sings this song too slowly.  It seems to me it should be a very up tempo song.  But I love the pictures that go with it.

With this upcoming book, I'll be including scenes from the Blue Bells Chronicles, and the recipes that go with it.  Here's the scene that goes with the recipe for a boar's head.  And yes, it will be in this book!  So start looking now for a place to buy one!

Picture credit below
In this excerpt, Amy has told Shawn, returned from his night in the castle ruins, suffering from a mysterious arrow wound and resulting infection, which has caused him to behave strangely, that he can take her out to dinner at the nicest place in Inverness.  She is unaware that she is not with Shawn Kleiner, modern trombonist, but with Niall Campbell, medieval Highlander:


"Having?" he repeated.

"It's a restaurant. What do you want?"

"I can...choose?" He had expected tables laden with repast, or a stream of servants bringing food as they did at the castle.

"Of course you can." She smiled. "You're paying."

"A loaf of bread, then."

"A loaf, sir?" the servant asked.

"A whole loaf?" Amy repeated.

"Soup, eel."

"Eel? Did you say eel?" the servant asked. The black-suited man hurried over. He must be the steward, Niall decided.

"Where did you find that?" Amy searched her menu.

The servant looked to the steward, who nodded furiously.

"Pigeon pie, woodcock, salmon," Niall added, thinking of all his favorite things at the Laird's table.

The waiter scribbled swiftly. Amy would certainly be pleased with him for providing this fine feast!

"Can't you make it easy and order off the menu?" Amy whispered, a little fiercely.

"Of course," Niall said obligingly. "Venison and trout would be good! And as we're celebrating, a boar's head!"

"A boar's head?" Amy asked in disbelief.

"A...boar's head, sir?" The servant swallowed.

"Anything you like, Mr. Kleiner," the steward said loudly. He nudged the servant, who scribbled, frowning.

"Aye," Niall agreed cheerfully. "And plenty of ale!" At another table, a man handed his menu back to a servant. Niall did likewise.

"I'll have the chicken salad," Amy said.


From Blue Bells of Scotland

Book One in the Blue Bells Chronicles

Stay tuned: 
Tomorrow I'll bring you some information on preparing the boar's head.

NOTE: Picture credit.