Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Eating Medieval: Bough Cake

Food was scrounged from somewhere, despite heavy rains, and placed on the tables before Bruce’s thousand men by young boys daring brave glances at the Scottish devils. The Black Douglas! they whispered. The gentle Jamie Douglas scared the English with the mere sound of his name.

Book Four, The Blue Bells Chronicles

In writing Food and Feast in the World of the Blue Bells Chronicles, I included recipes for things that aren't mentioned by name in the scenes, but things I think might likely have been eaten in those circumstances.  One of these is the bough cake.  The idea is simple: skewer any sort of dried fruit on a stick, coat it in ale batter, and fry over an open fire.

Given that the above scene takes place during military campaigns in years of famine, it seems ale, flower, and dried fruit--or berries of some sort--might have been available for the men in an army to help feed themselves.  The recipe I found for this elusive bough cake contained yeast.  I didn't really foresee the medieval Scots carrying yeast or even ale barm with them, so I determined to try it without the yeast to see what happens.

Thanks to Murphy (of Murphy's Law), and skipping all the fascinating details, I ended up this morning in a house that just so happens to have ale in it.  Well--in the refrigerator, anyway.  And now in my batter.  It's made like this.

1-1/4 C. flour
3/4 C. ale or beer
1/4 tsp saffron
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp sugar or to taste

  1. Heat 3/4 cup ale or beer to lukewarm in a pan on the stove
  2. Heat one tbsp of beer to hot and partially crush saffron into it
  3. Mix with flour, salt and sugar, until smooth and thick
  4. Set aside in a warm place to rise, 30 to 60 minutes
The next step is:

Bough Cake::

dried fruit—apricots, apples, plums, etc

  1. Thread dried fruit onto a long, thin stick—fruit shish kabob!
  2. Coat with batter and roast over an open fire
  3. Spoon more batter over fruit as it cooks, until they are covered in a thick layer
  4. Roll bough cake in honey and spices

Let's keep a few things (cough, disclaimers) in mind as I describe my experiments:

  1. I'm a doctor, Jim, not an actor!  Or, to paraphrase, I'm a musician, not a cook, and especially not a medieval warrior cook.
  2. Did I mention Murphy?  I'm down here in this ale-house (or house with ale, if you prefer) to help out a friend in the wake of surgery, drain backups, his planned help having a problem and having to cancel, and now his entire yard being dug up to repair 30 or 40 or 50 feet of drain.  Let's just say I was more than a little distracted.
  3. Although I've built campfires, I found some of the wood was damp (not surprising after the rains we've had here) and I don't think I've ever attempted to cook over one.
Disclaimers over, here's what happened after I made the batter--which was quite thick and sticky, and to which I added a little honey:

Attempt #1:

I left Chris with a bag of figs and a skewer.  He burst into laughter.  I think maybe that was the narcotics talking or laughing.  I left him there, helpless with the figs while I went to start a fire in his backyard. 

You can see the figs covered in batter.  I think I put it on way too thick and I didn't really have a stick long enough to hold over the fire properly.  I innovated--and ended up with the whole thing in the fire.  

Attempt #2:

Chris, a past instructor of survival wilderness, told me to wrap the next one in oiled foil and put it on the edge of the fire.  Foil is hardly period, but my real goal was to know how this batter works without yeast.  So I wrapped the next one in foil.  Did I mention distraction?  I forgot to put in oil.  That might have been about the time Roto-Rooter came in to inform us he'd hit a gas line.

Also, the fire seemed a bit low to just put something beside it, so I put it on top of the flames.  This one burned and stuck to the foil.  We got at some of the part that wasn't charred.  It tasted decent.

Attempt #3:

This time, I remembered to oil the foil (olive oil) and listened to the expert.  I set it beside the fire.  This one came out looking much better.  I promised Chris I wouldn't make him try it--he found this a very funny comment from a 'chef,' but then, as I said, I'm hardly a chef, let alone a medieval one.  He bravely tried it, although still somewhat full from the last one.  This one was better than the last !  We were starting to like this!

With just a little batter left, and remembering I had some dried papaya and pineapple in my work bag (yes, also not exactly period, but the point was to make sure the batter works without yeast), I decided to fry some on the stovetop.  Given Chris has not only ale, but a girdle--or a griddle as I believe he prefers it to be known!), I figured this was another way they may have done it, as they often carried 'girdles' with them.

This time, I put a much lighter coating of batter on each piece, and fried them in butter on the stove top.  We were unanimous--all two of us!--in deciding this was the best attempt yet!  This time, the batter came out just right, a nice golden brown, and a perfect accompaniment to the fruit.

Notice in all these attempts, I did not remember to roll the completed bough cake in honey and spices.  Did I mention distraction?

Notice, too, the recipe doesn't say what spices to roll it in.  This is because medieval recipes tended to be less specific than ours.  Often times, spices were specified, but in a case like this, it would have been whatever happened to be on hand.  Attempt # 5 will include cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves, because these were three popular spices in medieval times, and also because they were the spices recommended for Hildegard von Bingen's Cookies of Joy, because she believed they had properties that brought about happiness.  I'm all for a Bough Cake of Joy!

If you liked this post, you might like others with the EATING MEDIEVAL label
Medieval Cookies from a Modern Oven
Juselle Dates

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Friday, September 16, 2016

Music, Radio, Medieval Fairs, and New Books

It has become a very busy week--or month!

Go Home and Practice! released (like the hounds!)

On Friday, September 16, my new book, Go Home and Practice! came out.  It is a music record/lesson assignment book geared toward helping students and musicians practice with focus, attention to detail, and goals.  It teaches students how to practice, and gives musicians a place to record progress.

I've used this system to learn multiple instruments over many years, and have seen my students progress using it.  I believe it has really helped them understand what it takes to create music and to learn.

AM 950: Food Freedom!

Bright and early tomorrow morning, I will be at the studio of 950 AM, I'll be talking with Karen Olson Johnson and Laura Hedlund on their Food Freedom program about medieval cooking--a prelude to the release of my next book Food and Feast in the World of the Blue Bells Chronicles: a gastronomic historic poetic musical romp through thyme.

We'll find out how much I've really learned about medieval cuisine!

Here's the link to the recording of the program, as talk about medieval food in general, a couple of particular recipes, and Hildegard von Bingen, whose feast day it was.

Medieval Fair at Caponi Art Park

SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 25, 2016, 11 AM TO 4 PM.
1220 Diffley Road, Eagan, Minnesota

It so happens that Liz, who puts on the medieval fair in Eagan each September, will be calling into the program tomorrow morning.  She has invited me to spend the day at the medieval fair.  I'll be in my medieval gown, playing medieval music on harp.  I'll have my books and medieval-themed photography from Emmanuel's Light available.

I haven't been to this fair, but it sounds like a great day.  The crowd has been growing steadily over the ten years it's been held, and people are encouraged to talk to those of us medieval garb.  We will be a bit of an interactive museum!  And rest assured, I will not hesitate to tell you what I think of Angus Og...or James Douglas...or either of the Edwards in England!

Food and Feast is coming!

While I've been posting excerpts from Food and Feast, I haven't talked specifically about it.  Some time ago, I was asked to put this together by a reader who was struck by the many descriptions of food in the book.  I've been working at it for several months now, researching medieval recipes and cookbooks, and matching meals to scenes from the first four books of The Blue Bells Chronicles.  It has been a lot of fun, including trying some of these meals.

From the dust jacket:

Warning!  This is Not a Cookbook! 
Food and Feast does, however, contain over a hundred recipes--medieval recipes in their original medieval form, medieval recipes in modern terms, traditional Scottish recipes, modern midwest American, recipes for eating in the wilderness, and even exotic and slightly dangerous recipes, drawn from scenes in the acclaimed Blue Bells Chronicles.
In an eclectic mix, Food and Feast also digs into tasty morsels of history, succulent songs, meaty medieval philosophy, and medieval and Scottish poems, about food and drink.  Here be fire-breathing roasts and live bird pies alongside oatcakes cooked on the campaign trail.

I have not tested the fire-breathing roasts!  With 7 boys, I've spent enough time in the E.R. and didn't really feel like tempting fate, not even for the sake of research!

Watch for further details on the release!

To see recipes from the upcoming Food and Feast:

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New Release: Go Home and Practice

Announcing the release of Go Home and Practice, a music record book based on 40 years of playing music on nearly a dozen instruments, and 27 of teaching private lessons.

In years of teaching, I have found that many people don't really know how to practice.  This book is designed to help provide direction, focus, and long and short-term goals that help make the most use of practice time.

If you know someone just starting band or just starting lessons, this is a good way to start.  It's equally useful for more advanced musicians.

In using it with my own private students, I have found that those who use the book do progress more quickly and seem to gain a greater enthusiasm for playing, as they see the progress.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Dog Tales: Charging with Liadan

The Laird's great hunting hounds appear routinely throughout The Blue Bells Chronicles.

He only dimly heard the voices. Beneath him, the beast’s motions slowed. It tumbled to its knees, flung its head and let out a roar, a dull bass accompaniment to the baby’s high-pitched wails. Niall drove the knife in again through thick hide. His arm trembled with the effort. 
We’re coming, Niall!” 
He heard the dogs woofing. They bounded from the woods into the clearing. 
The boar’s hind legs crumpled. It swung its head, trying to reach him, before it collapsed to the forest floor, rolling onto his legs and pinning him to the ground. The dogs danced around it, darting in and out. It grunted, thrashing its tusks at them. Above him, Lachlan blotted out the rising sun, his spear raised high over his head. 
Please don’t,” Niall whispered with the last of his strength. 
The baby’s screech split the air. 
Lachlan froze. Perplexity crossed his face. 
I’m under the boar,” Niall said slowly. “Do not drive that spear through me.”

Westering Home
Book Four, The Blue Bells Chronicles
irish wolfhound, westering home, vosika, blue bells chronicles, scotland
These dogs were likely very like today's Irish Wolfhound, the world's tallest breed, although not the biggest.  Often known in ancient days as simply the Irish Hound, the breed goes back to ancient times, being used as guard dogs, and for hunting.

It was as a result of my writing that I learned about Irish Wolfhounds and began looking for one, somewhat half-heartedly as they are generally expensive dogs, found only at breeders.  However, a family in Cincinnati needed to find a new home for their then-8-month-old wolfhound.  A friend and I left Minneapolis Tuesday evening, arrived in Cincinnati Wednesday morning, and made the long drive back, getting home at about 2 a.m. Thanksgiving morning!  Liadan has been a beloved part of our family since then.

One thing I didn't count on, was how much attention she attracts when I take her out for walks.  There was that first day we were at the park, and suddenly we were surrounded!  By children!  By parents!  People snapping pictures!  Asking questions.  I was so excited!  I thought I'd finally arrived as an author!  Then I realized it was Liadan they were all excited about.  Oh, well, sigh!  Maybe another day!

At almost 2-1/2 years old now, she still weighs in under 100 pounds--a bit on the small side for a female wolfhound.  But she's still one of the biggest dogs most people in my neighborhood have seen.

I try to get her out every day for a two to four-mile walk--or rather, our daily charge, for Liadan does not walk.  Given half a chance, she charges excitedly down the street!.  Luckily, my house backs up to a big park, and beyond that are miles of charging trails.  But I have come to find out that despite her enthusiasm and willingness to run, I will generally not make our walk as quickly as I would alone because she seems to have become an ambassador of sorts.

I have come to enjoy this greatly, partly because I'm meeting lots of people, and partly because these people invariably go away smiling!

A couple of weeks ago, I met a young couple, immigrants from Nigeria, with their two sons--a little boy of about 2 and a brand new baby.  They spent a lot of time asking questions about her.  The little boy spent a lot of time reaching up to pet her, less afraid of her towering over him than his mother!  His dad took lots of pictures of them together, and they left smiling.

Today, an old man was cycling down the street.  He looked at her and started laughing!  It was a laugh of joy and happiness.

People frequently lean out of car windows, while I'm waiting to cross the street, to make comments about my 'wolf,' or to ask questions.  Today, a woman called out from her car as I was about to cross the street.  We talked at some length, and she told me how she's trained dogs for over twenty years, and is looking for someone to take over the business, as she's ready to retire.  She's very interested in meeting my 14-year-old twins, who are not only crazy about dogs, but are little entrepreneurs who have started up a number of businesses selling all sorts of things at their schools.  We both went away happy!

Nearly home, we met a young guy at the intersection, who suddenly turned and saw her, and almost jumped!  Then he got a big smile and started asking questions.

Liadan is not the great hunter spoken of in ancient sources.  In fact, she has been known to hide behind our ten-pound cat, so I don't think she plans on tangling with any wolves.  Luckily, there are none in the park behind my house.  Like all of today's Irish Wolfhounds, she is a true gentle giant--the very sweetest dogs you'll ever meet, very loyal, loving, and affectionate.  

I like to think this is what the Laird's great hunting hounds were like when they weren't saving Niall from wild boar. 

Watch for future posts on Irish Wolfhounds

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Thursday, September 8, 2016

Welcome back to Irina Shapiro, author of time travel novels--17 and counting!

We left off yesterday talking about Irina's book The Hands of Time, in which an American teacher, Valerie Crane, while in a store in England, sets the hands of an old clock to 4:05--or 16:05--and finds herself in that year, just months before the Gunpowder Plot.

How did you become interested in 1605 and the Gunpowder Plot?

I always found it fascinating that to this day Brits celebrate Bonfire night and burn the effigy of Guy Fawkes. Few events that happened throughout history still resonate into modern times in such a real and tangible way, so this was something I wanted to explore. Guy Fawkes is the British Benedict Arnold, so I thought it would be interesting to use his treachery, and that of his cohorts, as the backdrop for my book.

time travel fiction, gunpowder plot, irina shapiro, Laura Vosika

Tell us about The Wonderland Series. How do your ideas come to you?

The idea for the Wonderland Series came to me quite suddenly. I wanted to write another time travel adventure but needed it to be different from The Hands of Time. I wanted to set it in a different time period, but for some reason my mind kept returning to the seventeenth century.

This time, I focused on the Monmouth Rebellion, which is not as frequently explored in literature as some other historical events, but still very important, since it would have utterly changed the landscape of British politics had it succeeded.

What is the mode of time travel in The Wonderland Series?

My character, Neve Ashley, comes across a hidden passage in the crypt of a church in Surrey, England. The passage leads to the seventeenth century.

What leads her to the church crypt?

Neve is a location scout for a film production company and she’s searching for the perfect setting for a series about Charles II. Charles’s brother, James, secretly married a Catholic in a church crypt, so Neve is evaluating this crypt as a possible location.

Tell us about the research you do for your novels. What have you learned about these eras that has surprised you?

I have a very good memory, so I can recall all kinds of historical events and incorporate them into my narrative before I even start my research. I compose a first draft, and then once I know where my story is going and how it’s going to end, I go back and research every event that takes place in the book and the period itself. I focus on social behavior, politics, food, fashion, religion, and anything else that might be relevant.

Yes!  These are the things that bring these stories, these people to life!

I want to paint a canvas on which every inch is filled with detail and color. And, I want the reader to understand exactly why something happened and what the reasons behind it were.

Yes to this, too!  History seems dry to many people, but when we really dig in, it's the story of people, of emotions, of human behavior, of wishes and hopes--good or bad--that end up shaping what we come to call history.

People don’t always enjoy reading about political maneuvering, but it’s imperative for them to know what was happening in order to comprehend the actions of the characters in the right context.

Yes.  This makes all the difference to understanding.  Because my series also contains modern and medieval counterparts, I'm interested in your counterparts--what is their connection? Why are they counterparts?

I don’t really have any counterparts in The Hands of Time Series. My character goes back to the seventeenth century and has no way to return since the clock hasn’t been invented yet. She’s essentially trapped. Eventually, her sister figures out what happened and follows Valerie to the seventeenth century. The rest of the books are all about their adventures, and those of their children. There are many twists and turns, and the family becomes split between the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, which is something I want to rectify in the final book of the series.

In the Wonderland Series my counterparts are Hugo and Max Everly. Hugo Everly was lord of Everly Manor in the seventeenth century, and Max Everly is his modern-day descendant. Hugo was believed to have been a fervent supporter of the Duke of Monmouth, but no one knows what actually befell him since he vanished without a trace in 1685. Hugo and Max share a physical resemblance, and they come across one another several times in the series. They have a complicated relationship since their desire for Neve makes them natural enemies, but familial bonds and sense of duty prevent them from giving in to their hatred, at least some of the time.

Thank you, Irina, and if readers would like to read more, where can they find you?

Drop by my website and facebook!

If you liked this post, you may like reading about other authors of time travel fiction:

Find more at the 

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