Tonight's Author Reading AND FOOD!

In just a few hours, Genny and I will be at Magers and Quinn.  Join us for a trip through time, as Genny talks about her books, including Green Stamps to Hot Pants: Growing Up in the 50s and 60s and I talk about my books, set in medieval Scotland--in my medieval dress, of course.

Magers and Quinn, 7 pm tonight

3038 Hennepin Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN

My boys--at least, two of them--are home today with battle wounds.  Both managed to injure their legs in gym, so both have stayed home with ibuprofen and ice and crutches, but it's easy enough to take a break from resting to chop apples and grind almonds and cinnamon.  So we've had a fun day doing exactly that, as we make medieval emplumeus for tonight.  Liam, one of my twins, is on the left in blue, and John Paul, my youngest, is on the right, in red, working hard at grinding almonds and cinnamon.

Genny will be bringing a cheese roll and crackers, and there will also be wine.  If there's time (and why wouldn't there be?) I'll also pick up a bottle of mead for the full medieval experience.  Well, in truth, nowhere near the full experience, but given the medieval habit of brutal executions and plague and such, I think everyone will be okay with that.  No, this will be--forgive the pun--only a small taste.

I've posted here before about emplumeus and demonstrated it on WCCO Channel 4 last fall, here in the Twin Cities.  (Why do I always do emplumeus, you ask.  I'm glad you asked.  Because it's easy and it tastes good.  Cooking a singing pie is not easy and bannocks, while not bad, are more geared toward the campaign trail than a literary evening out.)

There's a benefit to doing the same thing a second and third time.  One thing that became abundantly clear as I researched Food and Feast is that medievals apparently regarded cooking as more of an art, while we regard it as more of a science.  Our cookbooks are full of exact measurements and sometimes even very specific brands.  The medieval cookbooks that remain to us are full of directions like: Use a goodly amount of apples.  Add some fine saffron.  Not terribly specific.

Like our cookbooks today, you'll find a number of variations on the same dish.  In my discussion of emplumeus in the book, for instance, I note two different books' recipes for it.  One contains cinnamon, while the other does not.

medieval food, medieval cooking, medieval cookbooks, apples, apple recipes, apple desserts
Almond milk, boiled apples, and almonds
So, in my repeat experiments, I am learning and trying new things.  For instance, I had never used a mortar and pestle, the first time I made this dish.  As a result, I ended up with very thin 'almond milk' that was really more like...water.  By this third time around, I've figured out that I need to grind the almonds in very small batches and grind them down to powder.  I also soaked the ground almonds far longer than the 15 minutes the recipes I found called for.  This gave me almond milk that looks like almond milk.

A second difference in this batch is that I decided to use real cinnamon sticks.  The recipe I used in the book doesn't actually call for cinnamon, but I've used it in previous batches, because cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves was a common trio of spices used in medieval times.  And if I'm going to make a medieval dessert, why not grind the cinnamon myself as they would have done.

Liam and I discovered that cinnamon is much more difficult to grind than almonds.  So, with chunks of cinnamon flying around the kitchen, we concluded we weren't going to get this entirely down to powder--at least not and still have any left in the mortar!  So I boiled the initial water with not-entirely-ground cinnamon before adding the apples.  My thought was that I would drain the water anyway, so it might give it flavor without having chunks of cinnamon.

But of course the water was used, after boiling the apples, to soak in the almonds.  One way and another, there are still chunks of cinnamon in the apples.  I expect it will taste good, even though it doesn't look quite as I planned.

So, in this third attempt, I've made a few changes.  I currently have the almonds soaking in a second batch of water, and will use it to thicken the apples some more.

One thing I am really coming to appreciate even from these few experiments is how much work things used to be.  My boys and I peeled and sliced two full bags of apples and ground two entire bags full of almonds (16 ounces total).  We spent about an hour doing all the peeling, slicing, grinding, and initial cooking, and two hours after we started, I still have it on the stove simmering and the rest of the almond milk soaking.

I'm guessing I'll keep it simmering until I leave for the reading tonight.  And for all that work--we have a pot of emplumeus. It's not much to show for that much work.

However, in addition to a tasty treat, it also gives great insight into writing about the era.  If it took us that much to make one pot--just imagine the army of boys and girls a medieval cook must have set to peeling and slicing!  Imagine a whole squadron of young girls grinding almonds by the hour, to prepare enough of this to feed the lord and his entire household!

If you're in the Twin Cities, I hope you'll stop by!  Genny will be bringing a cheese roll and crackers, we'll each be talking about our books, and there will be a giveaway.  My giveaway will be a choice of a Team Shawn or Team Angus t-shirt, or one of my books.  If I feel really energized, I might bring my harp and play a medieval song.

Team Shawn: Because no one is all good and no one is all bad.
Team Angus: Because he saved half of Scotland.

Yes, someone had fun making these shirts!  Come on by and have fun tonight!

  • February 10, 2017, 7 pm: I'll be reading and signing books at Magers and Quinn with Genny Kieley.  Complimentary wine and a medieval dessert!
  • February 12 and 19, I'll be reading on the Vehicle of Expression, part of the Art Shanty Project
  • February 25, 2017: I will co-host Food Freedom on AM 950 with Laura Hedlund and Karen Olson Johnson.  Guests: Michael Agnew, craft beer expert and Ross Fishman on Russian literature.  We'll taste Russian beer: listen to the whole program from last month.

To learn more about my books, click on the images below.

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  1. For grating cinnamon sticks, try using the finest grate on a 4-sided metal cheese grater. It'll work very quickly.

  2. emplumeus: What is it? ..cooked apples? I tried to look it up in the dictionary and Wikipedia, but nothing came up.

    1. Hi, I linked to the previous piece I wrote about emplumeus. Some links show up in blue, others in white and are not so obvious. But hover over the word emplumeus in this article to find the link.

      In short, however, it's a dish of apples boiled in almond milk.


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