Wednesday, March 25, 2020

The Battle Between Sir Carnival and Lady Lent

Hello, my fiends,

I wish to post this in honor of Lent. This is a 14th century allegory about a food fight between Carnival and Lent. This is an actual story from 14th century Spain, I did not make any of this up. This is from Jaun Ruiz's "Book of Good Love" ("El libro de buen amo"), translated by Rigo Mignani and Mario A. DiCesare. (p219-28 of the 1970 edition) which I have recently aquired.

In these troubling times, it is important to keep our spirits up, and to find something to laugh at. And if you ever read that no one in the middle ages had a sense of humor, remember that this was written by the Archpriest of Hita.

Stay safe and wash your hands after reading.

The Battle Between Sir Carnival and Lady Lent

The season sacred to the Lord was drawing near, so I returned to my own place to rest for a while. It was seven days before Lent - that time which caused fear and dread throughout the whole world. I was at home with Sir Thursday the Fat when a messenger ran in, bringing me two letters. Even though it's a long story, I will summarize for you what they contained, because after I had read these letters, I returned them to the messenger.

"From me, Lady Lent, servant of God, whom He has sent to every sinner, to all archpriests and clergy without love-salvation in Jesus Christ until Easter: You should know that I have been informed that, for almost a year, Sir Carnival, in rage and fury, has been going about pillaging my land, wreaking havoc and, what angers me most, shedding much blood. For this reason, I order you most solemnly under obedience and in pain of judgment, to challenge him with my credentials, in my name and in that of Fast and Penance. Make it perfectly clear to him that in seven days I myself and my troops shall come to do battle against him his arrogance. I do not believe that he will remain in the butcher shops. After you have read this letter, return it to the messenger to carry throughout the land without concealing it, so that his people may not say the message was not seen. Given in Castro Urdiales and received in Burgos."

The other letter which the messenger brought had a large shell hanging from it like a seal; it was the seal of the Lady. This is the message she sent to Sir Carnival: "From me, Lady Lent, Justice of the sea, Guardian of the souls that desire to be saved, to you, gluttonous Carnival, who think of nothing by gorging yourself, I send Fast to challenge you in my name. Seven days hence, you and your army shall come to do battle with me in the field. I will fight you without fail, until Holy Saturday, and you will not be able to avoid death or prison."

I read both letters and understood their meaning. I realized that the order was even stricter for me since I had no mistress and I was not in love. My guest and I were both upset. Sir Thursday, my guest, got up happily from my table - for which I am glad - and said: "I am the standard bearer against that wretch, and I will have to joust with her. Every year she makes trial with me."

He thanked me heartily for the fine repast and departed. I wrote my letters and then told Friday, "Go to Sir Carnival tomorrow and inform him of all this so that on Tuesday he will come to the fight forewarned."

When he had received the letters, the proud Sir Carnival bared his teeth, though he was really afraid. He had no desire to answer but he came, anxiously, leading a huge army, for he was a powerful man. On the appointed day he was there, the defiant Sir Carnival, surrounded on all sides with armed men: mighty Alexander himself would have been pleased with such a following. In his vanguard he had ranged excellent foot soldiers: Hens and Partridges, Rabbits and Capons, Ducks domestic and wild, and fat Geese were mustered near the embers. They bore their lances like front-line men, huge skewers of iron and wood. For shields they had platters: at any proper feast, they are the first course. After these shield-bearers came the bowmen: salted Geese, Mutton Loins, fresh Legs of Pork, and whole Hams. And following them came the knights: Beef-quarters, suckling Pigs and Kids, gamboling and squealing. Then came the squires: many Cream Cheeses that ride and spur dark wines.

A rich train of noblemen came next: Pheasants and proud Peacocks all well garnished, their banners upright, bearing frightful weapons and fierce armor. Their weapons were well wrought, well  tempered and fine: for helmets they wore pots made of pure copper; for shields, cauldrons, pans, and kettles. Certainly the Sardines do not have an army of such value. Many Deer arrived, and the great Wild Boar who said: "Sir, you must not leave me out of this battle, because I have already set to many times with Ali." I am accustomed to fighting and have always been good at it.

The Boar had hardly finished speaking when the Deer came, very swiftly. "Sir, I, your loyal servant, salute you," he said. "Am I not a hermit in order to serve you?"

The Hare came, very willing, to the muster. "Sir," she said, "I will bring a fever on that Lady; I will bring on the itch and the boils, so that she will not even remember the fight. She will want to have my skin when one of them breaks out on her."

Then came the Wild Ram, accompanied be Roe-deer and Doves, flaunting his courage and hurling about threats. "My Lord," said he, "if you throw the Lady at me, she will do you no harm for all her fish bones."

Slow and plodding, the old, loyal Ox arrived. "Sir," he said. "I am good only for pasture or the plough; I am not fit to battle on the road or in the field. But I can serve you with my meat and my hide."

Sir Bacon came in a full pot with many a Corned Beef, Rib and Pork Loin. They were all ready for the fierce battle. But the Lady knew her trade and did not show up too soon.

Since Sir Carnival is a very wealthy emperor and had lordly power over the world, the birds and animals came very humbly, but with great fear. Sir Carnival was sitting majestically at a full table on a noble dais, with jesters before him as befits a great man. A lavish feast was set before him. At his foot knelt the humble standard-bearer, one hand on the wine barrel, playing away at his trumpet. The Wine, as sergeant-at-arms, was speaking for all of them. At nightfall, long after they had all filled their bellies at the feast, they said "Goodnight" and comfortably went to sleep to rest for the battle with the Lady.

That night, the Roosters were filled with fear and kept a frightened vigil without once closing their eyes. But that is not strange, since they had lost their wives. Every noise they heard made them jump with fright.

It was midnight when the Lady Lent marched into the middle of the hall and cried, "God be our strength!" The Roosters screamed and flapped their wings, and the evil tidings reached Sir Carnival. But that good man had eaten his fill of wine at the feast, and now he was groggy with sleep. The racket was heard throughout the whole camp. Drowsy, they all stumbled to the battle, mustering their troops, and no one dared to complain. The host from the sea wielded their weapons and the two armies crashed against each other crying, "Ea!"

First to wound Sir Carnival was white-necked Leek, hurting him so badly that he spat phlegm, a fearful omen. Lady Lent thought the camp was hers. Salty Sardine came in to help and wounded fat Hen by throwing herself into her bill and choking her, and then she cracked Sir Carnival’s helmet. Great Dogfish charged the front line, while the Clams and the Cuttlefish guarded the flanks. The fighting was chaotic and confused, and many good heads were split open.

From the coast of Valencia came the Eels, marinated and cured, in large crowds; they struck Sir Carnival in mid-chest, while Trout from Alberche hit him in the jaw. Tuna fought like a fierce lion; he rushed Sir Lard and hurled insults, and if it had not been for Corned Beef, who warded off the lance, Tuna would have wounded Sir Lard through the heart. From the region of Bayona came many Sharks, killing the Partridges and castrating the Capons; from the river Henares came the Shrimp, who pitched their tents as far as the Guadalquivir. Barbels and other fish fought against wild Ducks, and Merluce cried to Pig, "Where are you? Why don't you come out? Just show yourself and you'll get what you deserve. Go lock yourself in the mosque, but don't go near a church."

Catfish added to the rout, with his tough skin barbed with hooks; he ripped into Legs and Loins, clawing them as if he were a cat. Strange groups of odd sizes rushed up from the sea, the ocean, the lakes, armed with fierce bows and crossbows. It was a worse rout than that at Alarcos. Red Lobsters flocked from Santander, emptying their heavy quivers and making Sir Carnival pay heavily. The spacious meadows were becoming too small for him.

Because the year of jubilee had been proclaimed and all were anxious to save their souls, all the creatures of the sea hurried to the joust. Herrings and Sea Breams came from Bermeo; Whale went about with a large corps of fighters, wounding and killing the carnal hosts. The valiant Shad slew the Doves and Dolphin shattered old Ox's teeth. Shad and Dace and noble Lamprey came from Seville and Alcantara to get the share. Everyone sharpened his weapons on Sir Carnival, and in vain did he try to loosen his belt.

Dogfish, a tough ruffian, went about madly, brandishing a mace slung from a belt, with which he banged Pig and Suckling in mid-forehead, and then ordered them salted down in Villenchon salt. Squid showed the Peacocks no quarter, nor allowed the Pheasants to fly away; the Kids and the Deer he tried to strangle. With his many arms, he can fight many opponents. There too, were Oysters battling against Rabbits, and harsh Crabs jousting with Hare. On both sides such tremendous blows were dealt that the ditches were running with blood and scales. Conger Eel, Count of Laredo, marinated and fresh, fought fiercely and wrought havoc on Sir Carnival, bearing down very hard on him. Sir Carnival was in despair, finding no comfort anywhere. Rallying his courage, he hoisted the spear; with renewed vigor, he turned against Salmon, who had just come up from Castro de Urdiales. That knight stood his ground, without flinching from the battle. They fought hard and long, and exchanged many wounds. Had Sir Carnival been left alone, he might have finished off Salmon, but giant Whale came at him, embraced him, and threw him down on the sand.

Most of Sir Carnival's army had perished; those who could had fled. Even so, afoot, he tried desperately to defend himself with his weak hands. Seeing the host decimated, Wild Boar and Deer fled into the mountains, and then most of the other animals abandoned him there, while those who remained were more dead than alive. Except for Corned Beef and fat Sir Lard, who had turned pale and looked like a corpse and could not fight without a bumper of wine, so fat was he, Sir Carnival was alone, beaten down and surrounded. The sea-host regrouped, then spurred forward and rushed him. But in their pity not wishing to kill him, they tied him and his followers up and brought them bound and under heavy guard before Lady Lent.

Lady Lent ordered that Sir Carnival be imprisoned. As for Lady Corned Beef and Sir Lard, she sentenced them to be hanged as high as sentries in a watchtower, and gave solemn command that no one should cut them down. They were hanged from a beech wood beam, while the executioner intoned, "This is the just punishment for their deeds."

Lady Lent set Fast to guard Sir Carnival and be his jailer, with orders that no one be allowed to see him, except the confessor if he fell ill, and that he should have only one meal a day.

Ruiz, Juan. The Book of Good Love. Translated by Mario D. Di Cesare, Mignani, Rigo. State University of New York Press, 1970.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Strange Things Found On Medieval Manuscripts

Making new friends on Facebook

This is from BL Royal MS 20 B xx, f. 80r and depicts Alexander the Great encountering the Blemmyae. The Blemmyae were a tribe of African men with their faces set upon their chests, according to ancient Greeks. They were commonly depicted in medieval bestiaries, and in the Terra Incognita illustrations of atlases, as well as on mappa mundi.

Pliny the Elder tells us:
"Ctesias writes that . . . westward from {the Red Sea coast of Africa} there are some people without necks, having eyes in their shoulders." - Natural History 7
Herodotus wrote:
"For the eastern region of Libya [i.e. North Africa], which the nomads inhabit, is low-lying and sandy as far as the Triton river; but the land west of this, where the farmers live, is exceedingly mountainous and wooded and full of wild beasts. In that country are the huge snakes and the lions, and the elephants and bears and asps, the horned asses, the Dog-Headed (Kynokephaloi) and the Headless (Akephaloi) men that have their eyes in their chests, as the Libyans say, and the wild men and women, besides many other creatures not fabulous." - Histories 4. 191. 3
Tales of headless people persisted well into the Renaissance. The Travels of Sir John Mandeville speaks of a headless tribe of people near India. Sir Walter Raleigh wrote of headless people living on the banks of the Caura River in the 16th century.

Now, the actual Blemmyae people were a nomadic tribe living in northern Nubia from 600 BCE to 300 AD, when they were wiped out by the Roman Empire. They might have acquired the myth of being headless due to the armor and tactics used in warfare: squatting with one knee on the ground, with their chins tucked close to their chest, hiding their faces under their helms to combat enemy archers. A position that would give the impression of an army of headless warriors. Another explanation is that the actual Blemmyae painted faces on their shields or on their breastplates, however, depictions of the headless Blemmyae all speak of how naked they were.  

Or, it could have just been a ministration that people just ran with. Samuel Bochart expounded that the Greek word Blemmye was derived from the Hebrew bly (without) and moach (brain). Since the brain resides in the head; if there is no brain there is no head, therefore headless. The early Hebrews could have had contact with the Blemmyae, and calling them "brainless" might have been an insult. On the face, this doesn't sound plausible; the Greeks using a derivation of a Hebrew insult to create a myth about a nomadic kingdom. But, some people, living today, firmly believe that Jews have horns because someone mistranslated a passage of Exodus (34:29) into Latin and turned "did not know his {Moses} face had become radiant" into "did not know his face had become horned." So, anything is possible. 

It could have been an insult that was taken at face value, It could have been armor or battle tactics. It could even have been a genetic thing: the Blemmyae might have been a stocky people with thick necks and hunched shoulders that were depicted in art as having no necks at all. Somehow this morphed into having no heads. 

Or, it could have been something more sinister. 

Saturday, March 21, 2020

9th Century Arabic Medicinal Jelly

This was going to be entered into the 2020 Ice Dragon A&S competition, but the event was canceled due to the state shutting down all SUNY campuses. Oh well, I will just have to eat all of this tasty jelly.


9th Century Arabic Medicinal Jelly


A medicinal jelly from the 9th Century Aqrabadhin of al-Kindi by Abu Yusuf Ya’qub ibn Ishaq al-Kindi.
Lesser, or green, cardamom
Greater, or black, cardamom
Long pepper


This is my second attempt at making this jelly. The first was in reaction to discovering that a popular SCA mead recipe was actually a jelly and not a beverage. [1] My first attempt used white grapes, which did not set fully, like a modern jelly or jam. I wanted to try this recipe with red grapes, which contain higher levels of pectin.

For this project, I used black grapes from Peru. I chose this variety (Royal Sweet) because I liked the flavor, not too sweet and with a complicated flavor, they were full of juice; the red grapes, at the grocery store, tasted bland. It is winter and could not obtain any locally grown grapes. I do not know what varieties of grapes that were available in Iraq in the 9th century.


This project is based on recipe 108 of Aqrabadhin of al-Kindi, from Martin Levey’s translation. The English translation is as follows:

108. Syrups, electuaries, and others. The best resat jellies are taken in the winter for a stiff neck. It is useful, with God’s help. Ten dawarig of the best juice and pulp of the grape is taken. A dawarig is four and a half ratls. It is cooked over a low fire until its foam disappears. The the {sic} best genuine honey is put in. The proportion is one ratl of honey for every five ratls {of grape juice}. It is boiled over a low fire until its foam also disappears. One half of it evaporates. Then one dirham each is taken of lesser cardamom, cardamom. Ceylonese cinnamon, clove, and long pepper. It is well pulverized and put into a fine linen cloth. Then it is thrown into the decoction after the froth has been removed. When the cooking is over, it is possible to introduce the hand into it. The powder is macerated into it strongly. It is taken out and three dirhams of saffron put into [the liquid]. It is put into flasks and the tops are stoppered. After a little sun is allowed on it, one may use it. The older it gets, the better, God willing. [2]

Page 271, of Levey’s book, defines resat jellies as, "In the East, resat is called faludhaj, and in the Maghrib sabuniyah (Dozy, I:525)." The Internet has recipes for modern resats, faludhaj, and sabuniyah, that are deserts. More like Chuckles(tm) candy or Turkish Delight. "Thicker puddings like khabis and  faludhaj were made with wheat starch, rice flour, or crushed almonds, and sometimes with pureed carrots, melon, apples, or quince. Sweetened with honey, they were spread on flat platters and copiously sprinkled with powdered sugar." [3]

It doesn’t give any dose size, or instructions on how to take. "...taken in the winter for a stiff neck", suggests that it is rubbed on a stiff neck. This doesn’t sound correct: the end result sounds sticky and if this were a poultice, shouldn’t it at least recommend how often to change it? Other recipes, in the text,  that call for poultices recommend how often to change them. My opinion was that "stiff neck" was a mistranslation and that it should be "sore throat". That would make more sense within the context of the recipe. Although, if the text had said, "take one spoonful as needed," it would make our job easier.

I had a conversation, about this recipe, with Baroness Sadira Bint Wassouf and she let me know that she had a few Arabic speaking students in her English as a Second Language class, and would be happy to ask one of them to take a look at the original text. I had sent her a scan of the last paragraph of the original text (the first three lines of the English text). I did not send the entire Arabic text as I did not want to take advantage of my unknown translator. The E-mail that I received back was as follows:

Dear Baron Caleb,

SO {sic} exciting to be a part of this because the translator was fascinated about how Arabic has changed. She checked and checked her translations. You were right!

Look at the three longer lines of text: the phrase at the far left of the first and third line are the same. They mean "If God wills" It is not the usual phrase "Inshallah" but one that has a similar meaning there is one very long word to the right of the first line that indicates the country of origin that was unfamiliar to the translator (names and borders of countries have changed). In the middle of the shorter (second line) is a shorter word that means "cough" or "sore throat" The whole thing basically says to take the medication for a cough or sore throat but that it is also good for other things such as "jerking" - maybe trembling, seizures, or palsy -  and that if God wills, it will work. While it mentions curing "other things" it only gives the two examples.

Your translator is Fonoun Muthana, a brilliant young woman from Yemen who is a scholar in any language. She is an amazing person with deep curiosity about any new topic. 

My own observation is that a term meaning "if God wills" is used in many food recipes as well. Everything in life is Inshallah. Although I cannot speak or read my own cultural language (Arabic), that concept is part of my very being. So Inshallah enjoy the result!

Such fun!


Lady Fonoun Muthana has by deepest respect and thanks for helping. Let us dissect the recipe, line by line, and see if we can make some sense of it.

"Ten dawarig of the best juice and pulp of the grape is taken. A dawarig is four and a half ratls."

On page 25, Martin Levey tells us that one ratl is equivalent to 406.25g, with the following caveat from the author: "The weights mentioned in the text are those of ninth-century Baghdad....Very little is known of the exact weights of the units in most periods and most areas of the medieval Islamic world. The above values must, therefore, be considered uncertain subject to further research."

1 ratl = 406.25g
45 ratls = 18281.25g
18281.25g = 40.3lbs

So, 45 ratls of grapes is about 40 pounds.

"It is cooked over a low fire until its foam disappears."

This is somewhat, self explanatory. Cooking grape pulp does produce a lot of foam. Just put your pot off-set on your burner and the foam will move to one side of the pot, making it easier to skim off.

"The the {sic} best genuine honey is put in. The proportion is one ratl of honey for every five ratls {of grape juice}. It is boiled over a low fire until its foam also disappears. "

I do not know what is meant by "genuine" honey. Surely they didn’t have HFC/honey blends. Perhaps this could mean the best honey off of the comb. Or honey that hasn’t been watered down. 

1 ratl of honey for each 5 of grapes.
45 / 5 = 9 ratls of honey
9 ratls = 3656.25g
3656.25g = 8.1lbs

"One half of it evaporates."

The recipe calls for cooking the "must" until it stops foaming up and until it is reduced by half. Reducing 48 pounds of juice, pulp, and honey by half would take a long time. The low heat would let the mixture cook down without destroying the natural pectin found in grapes. Pectin is the fruit equivalent of gluten, and allows jellies to form and hold their shape and consistency.

"Then one dirham each is taken of lesser cardamom, cardamom. Ceylonese cinnamon, clove, and long pepper. It is well pulverized and put into a fine linen cloth. Then it is thrown into the decoction after the froth has been removed."

1 dirham is 3.125g or 0.11 ounces. [4]

Take 0.11 ounces of the following:
Lesser, or green, cardamom,
Greater, or black, cardamom,
Long pepper.
Smash or coarsely grind them and put them in a cloth tea bag, or infuser ball, and drop into the liquid.

There are three varieties of cardamom: lesser, greater, and white. White cardamom, comes from China and my sources state that it lacks the sharp flavor of the other two varieties but it adds aroma. I was unable to find any reference to white cardamom in medieval Middle Eastern recipe books, so I will assume that the second cardamom required must be greater cardamom.

"When the cooking is over, it is possible to introduce the hand into it. The powder is macerated into it strongly. It is taken out and three dirhams of saffron put into [the liquid]."

I think that this was translated out of sequence. It doesn’t flow correctly. Are we to reduce the "must" by half, remove it from the heat, and then add in the spices just long enough for the "must" to cool down enough so that you wouldn’t burn your hand? To my mind, we are told to let it cool to bath temperature before adding the saffron. 0.33 ounces of saffron threads, not powder, please. But I think that the spices, in the bag, would be more effective if they were included throughout the cooking.

"It is put into flasks and the tops are stoppered. After a little sun is allowed on it, one may use it."

I read this as after the "must" cools completely, move it to containers that can be sealed. The word flask implies a narrow-necked container designed for liquids. But that would not be useful for a jelly. Any wide-necked container would work. Seal the container to keep bugs, yeast, or microbes out of it, and let it sit in the sun until the jelly firms up.

"The older it gets, the better, God willing."

People who make and preserve their own jams and jellies will tell you that jars that have been "put up" for a few months, taste better than freshly made jams and jellies.

My redaction:

Take 40 pounds of fresh squeezed grape juice and pulp and place it into a non-reactive pot over low heat. Take 8.1 pounds of honey, wildflower is fine, and add it to the grape pulp. Bring up to a low boil and skim any foam from the surface. Cook until it no longer foams up. Place the pot off center on the burner so that the foam collects to one side of the pot. Cook until it reduces by half, stirring regularly so that the sugars do not burn. While the liquid is reducing, put 0.11 ounces of the following into a spice bag or a tea ball: green cardamom seeds; black cardamom seeds, cinnamon, cloves, and long pepper: all coarsely ground or crushed. Add the spice bag into the liquid. Once the liquid has reduced by half, remove from the heat and allow to cool enough so that you can put your hand into it without burning yourself. Remove the spice bag and add in 0.33 ounces of saffron threads, the good stuff. No need for a spice bag. Move into a container, or containers, that can be stoppered shut, and place it/them in a warm area. If you have a clean, brewing carboy, that will work. Leave the container(s) for a couple of hours until the jelly firms up and sets. Move into mason jars and either park in the ‘fridge or "can" them so that they will not spoil.

48 pounds of jelly is a lot of jelly. Unless you know how to preserve, and have all of the necessary equipment, this might be a bit too much for one person to deal with.

This project:

In order to experiment with this recipe, I decided to reduce the amounts to a more manageable level. We will start out with 1/16th of the amounts mentioned in the recipe.

I used:
2.5 pounds of black, seedless grapes
0.5 pounds of wildflower honey.
1 pod of greater, or black, cardamom,
The equivalent volume of:
Lesser, or green, cardamom,
Long pepper.
A pinch of Sargol saffron.

I started off trying to figure out what 1/16th of 0.11 ounces would be. [5] I was unsuccessful. So I guessed. My container of greater cardamom was 0.5 ounces. I selected one pod and declared that to be the right amount. I then tried to match up the volume, by eye, of the other spices.

I chose to use Saigon cinnamon because I like the sweet taste of the region and the brand, I that ordered, was USDA certified organic, which not only means that the trees were grown without the use of pesticides or chemicals, but that it is certified to be Cinnamon loureiroi, and not bark from any other tree. Please use fresh spices, not pre-ground. The cloves I had in the house, nothing special about them. The saffron was a gift from family friends who brought back a lot of it from Kuwait. The cardamoms and the long pepper were purchased for this project.

Unlike my previous attempt, I toasted the spices, except for the cinnamon, in a frying pan before moving them into a spice bag. The heat amped up the flavors of the spices. The recipe does not call for this step, but it certainly is something that could have been done to enhance the flavor of the spices. And this might explain why such a small amount of spice was called for such a large amount of grapes. I was a little concerned about the amounts required: 0.11 ounces for 48 pounds of grape and honey? Surely that couldn’t be enough. But, when I roasted the spices my kitchen was filled the aroma of far away lands.  I cooked the spices just long enough to darken the exteriors.

These spices went into a linen spice bag and then struck with a hammer. I used a ball-peen hammer, but you can use any kind of hammer to crush your spices. You do not have to grind them up, since they will be contained in the spice bag, and not integrated into the puree. We just want to make it easier to extract the oils from the spices.

I was going to use wine grapes, but I wasn’t looking forward to peeling the skins off a couple of pounds of them. Then I realized that while wine grapes have thick skins, [6] grapes grown for out-of-hand snacking have thin skins. And no seeds. I saw no reason why I couldn’t throw 2.5 pounds of seedless grapes into my food processor and turn them into a puree. If I had the kitchen of my 9th century counterpart, I would have plenty of servants to de-seed, peel, and smash as many grapes as I wish. The food processor is stepping in for the kitchen staff of a noble.

I converted the grapes into a slurry, then added in the honey. The honey was pasteurized and filtered and I saw no reason to add it in only after the grape slurry stopped foaming up. I used wildflower honey because that is what I had in the house. I will not take the time, in this paper, to explain my opinion of honey farming in the middle ages, except to say that the bee industry of today, which can move hives from one field of mono-crops to another, did not exist in the SCA time period: hives were near farm lands and gardens and a variety of crops were grown simultaneously. This means that the bees, which collected nectar from every available source, produced a blend of honey, not a singular variety. Clover or wildflower honey, I feel, is closer to period honey, than buckwheat, rosemary, apple wood, sage, lavender or other specific varieties.

I turned the burner to medium-high and started stirring. My stove is electric and I do not think that, for this dish, there would be a difference between gas, electric, or an open fire. Nor do I think that my ceramic-lined steel pot adds or takes away from any period cooking vessel. After about 15 minutes, I had collected all of the foam and scum from the surface of the liquid. I then added the spice bag. I used a silicone spatula with serrations on one side; I used those serrations to measure the depth of the liquid and to tell me when I hit the half way mark.

I backed the temperature down to medium, as medium-high was causing the liquid to boil too hard. It took about 45 minutes to reduce down by half. I turned the heat off and let it sit for 15 minutes. After which I removed the spice bag and added in the saffron. I used a good, heavy pinch of saffron and dropped it right into the jelly and gave it a quick stir to integrate it.

 I let the proto-jelly sit for another 20 minutes before moving to three, clean mason jars. The jars sat on the counter for another hour, and then I moved them into the refrigerator.

When I put the proto-jelly into the jars, it had the consistency of apple sauce. After an hour, it had firmed up into a jelly, but not as firm as a store bought jelly, or a home-made one with added pectin. But, still firm enough to be scooped up with a fork and firmer than the first attempt in which I had used white grapes.

As to flavor: quite nice. It does have the consistency of chunky grape jelly, with the skins giving it a nice texture and an almost crunch. More like a home-made preserve of jam than a modern jelly. [7] The cinnamon and cardamom play well together, giving the jelly a sweet, peppery-cinnamony taste. The cloves are there, but they take a back seat to the other spices. The saffron is lost under the other spices. It is tasty off of a fork as well as spread on toast. This jelly is not as sweet as store-bought jelly, since the only sugar in it came from the honey and the grapes. It is less sweet than Welch’s No Added Sugar grape jelly, most likely because Welch’s uses a variety of high sugar content grape for their jelly.

Since no dosage is listed, I cannot tell you how much to take for a sore throat. One thing that peeked my curiosity was the size of this recipe. 2.5 pounds of grapes, and etc, filled a little more than two and half 16oz mason jars; say about 40oz of jelly. If I had used the original amounts, I would have filled about 40 mason jars. This is a lot of jelly. Particularly for a cough remedy. Was the sick person expected to eat it 3 meals a day? Or was the expectation that if one person, in the household, got sick, everyone in the household would as well, so make enough for a whole family.

Aside from coughs and sore throats, this jelly is delicious. I found very similar jelly recipes on the Internet, although none with the same mixture of spices. These types of jellies are used as the filling for a number of deserts. I found one called, "Baghdad Lasagna" which calls for a jelly made of apples, quinces, honey, saffron, sumac, and rosewater, layered between filo dough. My cough remedy would work equally well as a desert. I can report that it plays well with peanut butter and I recommend equal amounts of chunky peanut butter and this jelly on a toasted bagel.

I do not know how effective this would be as a sore-thoat aid; the cloves would provide a numbing affect and the smooth jelly base would help as well. I don’t think that this would be as effective as a cough drop, [8] but if your throat hurt so much that you had trouble swallowing food, this would be a good treatment to keep you from staving. Much like ice cream is given to kids after tonsillectomies.

[1] Ronsen, 2019
[2] p120-2
[3] Goldstein, p43.
[4] Levey, p25
[5] 0.0069 ounces
[6] You can insult them all day long and all they will do is let out a little wine.
[7] It is not silky smooth like store-bought jellies, since I scooped it into the jars and did not inject it under pressure.
[8] Of which we do have recipes from this time period.


Cooperson, Michael; Perry, Charles; Toorawa, Shawkat M. "Scents and Flavors: a Syrian Cookbook." New York University Press. New York. 2017.

Elska á Fjárfelli. "Medieval Arabic Alcoholic Honey Beverages." A most copious and exact compendium of mediaeval secretes collected by THL Elska á Fjárfelli. Posted, Thursday, January 19, 2017.

Faith Freedom International. "Mohammed’s Tipple"....,

Goldstein, Darra. "The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets." Oxford University Press, 2015.

Gordon, Bruce R. (Forester Nigel FitzMaurice) "An Arab Mead." Tournaments Illumanted. Issue 140, Fall 2011. p17-8

McGee, Harold. On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. Simon and Schuster, 2007.

The Medical Formulary, or Aqrabadhin of Al-kindi. Translated with a study of its materia medica by Martin Levey. University of Wisconsin Press. Madison, WI. 1966.

Meri, Josef W. "Medieval Islamic Civilization: An Encyclopedia, Volume 1" Psychology Press, 2006

Meyer, F. G.; Trueblood, E.E.; Heller ,J. L. , editors. The Great Herbal of Leonard Fuchs. 1542 edition. Stanford University Press, Palo Alto. CA. 1999.

Ronsen, Jeremy Caleb. "Not an Arab Mead." Not an Arab Mead, 20 Aug. 2019,

Sadira Bint Wassouf. (May 25, 2019). Personal interview.

Sadira Bint Wassouf. "Re: Arabic Text." Message to Caleb Reynolds. 7/16/19. E-mail.

Toussaint-Samat, Maguelonne. History of Food. Translated from the French by Anthea Bell. Barnes & Noble Books. 1992.

Vaughan, J. G.; Geissler, C. The New Oxford Book of Food Plants. Oxford University Press, Oxford. 1997.

Weiss Adamson, Melitta. Food in Medieval Times. Greenwood Publishing Group, 2004.

Zaouali, Lilia. "Medieval Cuisine of the Islamic World: A Concise History with 174 Recipes" Univ of California Press, Sep 14, 2009

Friday, March 20, 2020

And Then That Happened

They Will Stay Sharp, Until They Are Needed.

So, my knife sharpener died, just when I started to work on my throwing gear prior to the season starting. It was a small grinding wheel with guides for various types of blades, and I got my money's worth out of it. After a good ten years of use, the motor burned out. I was unable to find that particular kit. But a YouTube video recommended a hand-held belt sharpener:

It went on sale and had some good reviews. So, I bought one. And it is worth the money. I easily sharpened all of my thrown weapons. Then ran through my Barony's loaner gear. Not razor sharp, but sharp enough to bite into butts and to get rid of all of the burrs and divots on the blades. It took me about 20 minutes to work through all of the weapons in the picture. Good enough for throwing knifes and axes.

Then I need more to sharpen.

I went through the Hael's kitchen knives and honed all of the non-serrated blades. The sharpener will sharpen serrated blades, but they didn't need any major work, just a fine pass on the flat edge. The sharpener defiantly put a keen edge on these blades. Now, they all could slice paper beforehand; but that is not an indication of how sharp a knife is. They just needed touch ups so that they could slice through a ripe tomato as if it was butter.

But, I wasn't though. Years ago, a friend dragged me to the closing auction of the Robinson Tool and Knife factory. They made blades for a lot of companies, including RubberMaid, Ginsu and CutCo. I thought I was bidding on a box of knives.... It was a pallet. A pallet full of knives and other things. The rubber-handled knives in the Hael kitchen are from this auction. I also have a box of knives that weren't finished: they hadn't gone through the sharpening stages when the company shut down. My new sharpener ground down some of the dull blades into dangerously sharp blades.

I highly recommend this sharpener. All of our kitchen knives are ready for our Kingdom A&S Faire, next month.

Unfortunately, all of our upcoming events are canceled or on hold until the COVID19 shut down is over.

Still. The axes and knives won't get dull sitting in their respective bag and box. Thrown weapons season will open, again, and we will have an event, again. It might not be for a few months, but life will return to normal.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Mission Accomplished

It was well received.

There are times where I am so fortunate to be able to make scrolls. This scroll was for an old friend who has spent years working in kitchens with little to no recognition for all of her service. Partly because she is always in the kitchen and partly because she does not travel outside of her home group. I spent the last few years submitting award recommendation after recommendation, on our Kingdom's web site, for her with no response. I was writing her in for a Keystone, AEthelmearc's AoA level award for service.

Last year I was riding with King Timothy to the house of a dear friend in order to induct him into the Pelican.

Let me just take a moment here to let you know of the high bar of royalty: leaving an event with a caravan of people; driving two and half hours to someone's home; and holding a elevation for a dying man because His Majesty wanted to make sure that Rendel knew that he was a peer of the Society. And then driving two and half hours back to the event. It was an emotional elevation that was streamed so that people at the event could bear witness.

Anyways.... 5 hours in the truck with His Majesty. I had a chance to explain the oversight with the online recommendation and that I had been submitting the request for the last 12 reigns. I explained that Fauna doesn't travel, always cooks at local events, and has taken the lead in creating gluten- and dairy-free food that doesn't take like packing peanuts. I had convinced Him and later spoke with Her Majesty. I had volunteered to make the scroll and They accepted and asked the Kingdom Signet to make it happen.

I had promised not to make an all pun scroll, because those are only for A&S related scrolls.

I didn't say anything about alliteration.

Fauna laughs easily and tends to snort when she laughs too hard.

Let me set the stage. I had let Lord Snori, the Jewel Herald, know that Fauna would not be at court because she will be in the kitchen. When she came up in the docket, someone was sent to get her, and she walked into court without a clue of what was waiting for her. Their Majesties spoke to her and told the court about her gluten-free bread that His Majesty said was tasty. While He was speaking, Lord Snori was trying to read my chicken-scratch hand-writing. Then he noticed the wording taped to the back of the scroll, wording in easy to read in 18pt Aerial font. The he started taking in the words and the look on his face was worth the drive out to Thescorre in the snow.

What happened then was a Royal F-bomb (click here for the text) as Lord Snori read out a scroll with around 50 'F' alliterations. One 'F' after another, with everyone laughing. After reading it, Lord Snori said, "Scroll by THAT GUY! THAT GUY IS TO BLAME!" and pointed at me. At which I stood up and yelled back, "I WAS TOLD NO PUNS!"

Lady Fauna was crying and laughing and crying. Crying, because she was finally recognized for her service. Laughing because of the scroll, and crying because she was laughing so hard.

I live for moments such as these. I am so fortunate that I live in a Kingdom where I can create a unique, customized scroll for a good friend and make 100 people laugh so hard and bring joy to a dear friend.

I caught up with Lady Fauna in the kitchen, where she was still crying after being sand-bagged. "How's your day going, now?" I asked. "Now that they dropped a Royal F-bomb on you?" Which made her laugh.

Mission accomplished.

As a Baron of the Court of AEthelmearc, and as a Master of the Order of the Pelican, it is my job and my responsibility to serve. Part of that service is looking out for the forgotten and overlooked. As a Peer, I can have greater access to Royalty than someone brand new to the SCA. I use that connection for occasions such as Fauna. We should not be doing things, in the SCA, just to get a piece of paper. We should be doing things because we enjoy doing them and it makes the SCA better. However, watching others get rewarded for doing the same work, year after year, tends to disenfranchise and depress people who aren't publicly recognized. Ten years of service without a 'thank you' can drive some people away from the SCA.

All of us need to pay attention to the forgotten and overlooked. Poke your head in the kitchen and see who is there cooking and cleaning. See who stays late to mop the floors. If your Kingdom asks members of various Orders to stand when someone is being added, see who is still sitting but should be added. They don't have to be personal friends. You don't even have to know the person. Ask the local Coronets or seneschal for a name. If you have a coronet or a peerage, it is your job and responsibility to speak up for these people. We can't always have a five hour car ride with the King to talk about our friend, or make awesome scrolls, but we can carry little tokens that we can give to people who inspire us, in private. If someone really does something inspiring, we can use our rank to ask for a few minutes in a Kingdom or Baronial court and give a token and a kind word to someone in front of everyone.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Another scroll done

And It Doesn't Look That Bad.

This is a scroll for a friend. I think that it looks nice... Now that it is done. I spent so much time thinking that I was wasting my time on it 'cause it was so bad.

Here is an example of how I made it:

1) I found the image and finagled the 'L' into an 'F'
2) I traced the image using a light box. Joy levels were high. My friend will be so happy.
3) Took a break 'cause painting it will be so easy.
4) Somehow make the spit-turner look more like a troll than the original image.
5) "We'll fix it in post!"
6) Start putting paint down. "My colors aren't working. I must not know what I'm doing. This is going to look awful. Why did I choose these colors?"
7) "Why did I take such a long break from painting? I forgot everything I learned about painting. I'm barely better than a 3rd grader doing finger painting!"
8) Put everything away and build a new work bench for the basement so that I can feel what accomplishing something is like.
9) Pull everything back out and start painting again.
10) Start filling in all of the elements. "Why did I do this image? Nothing I'm doing looks like the original image. The troll looks like a mutant troll."
11) Start the shading. "Now I know I don't know what I'm doing. This looks terrible. I might as well throw it away and never do it again."
12) Finish up another scroll and take heart that perhaps I can do this.
13) 30 SECONDS LATER: start looking for another image to make a replacement scroll.
14) Power through the insecurity.
15) Start the highlighting. "You know... This doesn't look half bad. I don't know what I was worried about."
16) Make a minor mistake while doing the whitework. "AAAAHHHHHHGGGGGG!!!! I ruined it! My friend is going to hate me!"
17) Finish the piece and rationalize the experience. "I knew that I could do it. This will look great when it's handed out in court. Easy as pie. Mmmmmm, pie.....!"
18) Notice that I forgot to paint legs on the cook. Or add the fire.
19) Drop an 'F' bomb.
20) Experiment with fire on a scrap of paper.
21) Find a method that looks good-ish.
22) Make a mess with the Yellow.
23) Make is worse with the Orange.
24) Put too much water in the Red and smear the Red into the Orange and Yellow.
25) DAMN! That looks good. I'm on fire!
26) Put the brush down and walk away, thinking that I knew I could do it.
27) Grudgingly admit that it looks nice and that my friend will like it. 
28) The spit turner still looks like a mutant troll. But I'm okay with that.

This is pretty much what I go through when I make scrolls. For the most part, I'm happy with the end results but I sweat over making the scroll.