Monday, July 21, 2014

Historical Food Fortnightly: Foreign Foods

4. “Foreign Foods”July 13 - July 26
Make a dish that reflects the historical idea of “foreign” - either foods with a loose connection to foreign lands, named after faraway places, or attributed to foreigners. Real connections to actual foreign countries not necessary!

What I originally planned for this challenge changed drastically when I read that the "French Style Apple Pie" I wanted to make required Pike eggs. Having no idea where to get pike eggs (um, caviar? Around here?), I thought it best to find a different recipe. That's when I stumbled upon this one:

Florentine-Style Meat in a Baking Dish: Get veal or another meat with the bone, cut it into the pieces as small as a fist, and put them into a baking dish with a little water, a beaker of wine and another of good verjuice; if you master likes, add in a few slices of onion or, should he not like onions, use parsley, the root that is along with raisins, dried prunes, and salt; cover the meat by no more than a finger of water, and set it in the oven; when it looks half done, add a few cloves, a good lot of cinnamon, pepper and a good lot of saffron let it taste of pepper; when it is half cooked, turn it over; then take it out onto a plate with the spices and sugar on top, or else leave it in the baking dish. You can do the same with fish that is, grey mullet or ells cut into pieces four fingers in width, washed well and put into a baking dish with a little oil. Note that you can make these things sweet or tart according to our master's taste.The Neapolitan Recipe Collection, Terence Scully (trans.) Circa 15th Century

I always love reading through the Neapolitan cookbook as my persona in the SCA is from Naples and my maternal family is from the traditional area for the Kingdom of Naples. Back in the 15th C, Italy wasn't unified as it is now and there were several countries battling for control over the boot by the 16th C. Spain took over the Kingdom of Naples in the early 16th C after a bit of a conflict with France - who was always vying for more control. The Turks would try to invade a few times as well in the 16th C. Basically, the entire place was a mess because everyone wanted control of the Mediterranean trade routes as well as Rome. Although that's the 16th C, the 15th C wasn't much different.

So, the Republic of Florence was a completely different country from the Kingdom of Naples at the time this cookbook was written. This makes this dish foreign. Okay, so "foreign" in the sense that Canadian Bacon is foreign to most Americans but still, these were two different sovereign countries at the time. (It's so weird! Their bacon is round and not wavy! :-p)

I used this site's redaction of the recipe as a guideline but changed it up a bit. Really, all I kept was to cook it at 350F for a total of an hour. What struck me about this recipe was the mention of doing the same thing with fish. I've created a salmon dish many times using a mix of alcohol and water (beer in this case) with herbs. I can easily see doing this Florentine dish with salmon and white wine.

So, my recipe:

1 beef steak with bone still in it
1/2 onion
1 lemon to make verjuice
1/4 red wine
1/2 cup of water
2 teaspoons parsley
1/4 cup raisins
6 or 7 dried prunes
salt to taste
6 or 7 whole cloves
a little less than a tablespoon cinnamon
same amount of pepper
1 generous pinch of saffron
maybe 1/4 cup sugar to sprinkle across the top

I cut up the meat into pieces a couple of inches wide and threw them into the cake pan.

I then cut the lemon and squeezed it to have the lemon juice. We don't have a juice made out of sour grapes readily available anymore and the closest we seem to have that works well in these medieval recipes really is lemon juice. I mixed that with some cheap merlot and water, pouring this over the meat until it was about a 1/2 inch thick. I also chopped up half an onion, put in parsley even though it was optional with the onion there, put in raisins, prunes, and salt. I then covered it all with tin foil and threw it in the oh so period correct electric oven for a half hour at 350F.

This is what it looked like when I put it in the oven. :-)  After it had been in for a half hour, I took it out to add the cloves, cinnamon, pepper, saffron, and sugar.  I also turned the meat and threw it back in for a half hour to finish cooking.

Above is what it looked like when I took it out of the oven. Very often in medieval and Renaissance recipes, they say to serve this either over bread or rice. Since I didn't feel like cooking rice....

Bread it was!  Honestly, it's pretty good.  I think it would have tasted better over rice as I don't like soggy bread.  It's a sweet dish but I think most modern palates would be okay with it.  If you like honey BBQ, this is a bit tamer than that.

The Challenge:Foreign Foods

The Date/Year and Region: 15th Century, Naples

How Did You Make It: see above

Time to Complete: a little over an hour

Total Cost: $4 for the steak, $5 for the prunes but I didn't use them all, $3 for the raisins that I still have a ton of, 50 cents for the onion that I only used half off, $6 for the wine. Everything else, I had on hand. Maybe about $8 considering a lot of the ingredients I'll use again?

How Successful Was It?: (How did it taste? How did it look? Did it turn out like you thought it would?) Pretty good, actually. I'd really like to try it with rice. What I loved about it was the smell! If you want your entire kitchen to smell divine, cook this. Cinnamon and cloves with sugar in red wine? Yes, it smelled like Thanksgiving to me. :-)

How Accurate Is It?: Okay, so....the red wine we have today is pretty much nothing like the wine they had. Ours is bitter and way way WAY too dry. There isn't much I can do about that but it reacts well to help overcome the fact we also don't have verjuice anymore. So that kind of balances that out. (verjuice being sour grape juice) The meat is grass fed so that's pretty good. Raisins and prunes have yet to change. So, despite cooking this in an electric oven and using tin foil to cover it, I'm saying this is pretty accurate. :-)


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