If you don’t do a lot of medieval cuisine, you’ve probably never heard of poudre fort and poudre douce — literally, strong powder and sweet powder. I was first introduced to the concept when I was doing SCA regularly, via a nifty little pair of books called Take A Thousand Eggs or More, by Cindy Renfrow. They’re both spice blends, one spicy and one sweet, and there’s no standard recipe for either of them. So I’m going to share mine with you.
Now, you’re probably thinking — I don’t cook medieval cuisine, what’ll I do with these blends? Actually, they’re terrifically flexible. I use my poudre douce blend for French toast, cookies, pumpkin pie, the spices in my jam, you name it, if it’s sweet, it will go well. Poudre fort is great with pork, beef, and chicken, especially in stews and slow cooking. Of course, if you want some heat in your sweet dishes, you can use poudre fort there too.
Inspired by a production of The Knight of the Burning Pestle, wherein Master Merrythought sings,”Nutmegs and ginger, cinnamon and cloves, and that gave me this jolly red nose.” You’ll note it doesn’t scan well. Most of Master Merrythought’s songs don’t. The general consensus amongst the cast was that he was supposed to be singing poorly because he was drunk, but that’s kind of a far reach for a modern audience who doesn’t know the songs. In our production, it was switched to “cinnamon and ginger, nutmeg and cloves” … and it has been stuck in my head ever since.
- 5 parts ground cinnamon
- 3 parts ground ginger
- 2 parts ground nutmeg
- 1 part ground cloves
Combine all ingredients, mix well, and store in an airtight container.
I heavily adapted this blend from War Fare, by Bonny Feinberg and Marian Walke, which was recommended to me by a friend. “You remember Old Marian? She wrote a cookbook …” Well, that was that, I had to get a copy. (And mmm, the recipes in it are delicious.)
- 4 parts poudre douce
- 2 parts ground cubebs
- 1 part ground peppercorns
Combine all ingredients, mix well, and store in an airtight container.
I make extensive use of my library system. Mostly, this is because if I bought every book I wanted to read, my house would be overflowing with books and I’d be broke!
This week’s library food-related selections are:
- Farm To Fork, Emeril Lagasse
- Why Italians Love to Talk About Food, Elena Kostioukovitch
- The Art of Eating In, Cathy Erway, of Not Eating Out in New York
This wasn’t initially supposed to be a book review post, but what the heck. Quickie reviews.
Farm To Fork: Hey, y’know, I know people who despise Emeril. Not me. I love the way he cooks. His dishes pack a wallop of flavor, and there are a bunch of recipes in this book that I can’t wait to try out. In fact, I couldn’t wait on one of them long enough to write this review. You can see my kicked-up version of his kicked-up scones at the bottom of this post. This is really a book of recipes, though it does include some discussion on local-and-organic issues. The seafood recipes in it look delicious, but they feel tailored for an East Coast / Gulf Coast fish market, instead of a West Coast one. Lots of shrimp and shellfish recipes, and a couple for finfish that aren’t regularly available here. Which, ya know, doesn’t mean you can’t substitute. The pictures are pretty and the food, by and large, is actually pretty simple to prepare. He also includes a small section in the back on canning and preserving, which is nifty. Other recipes I want to try: Buttermilk Candy (have I mentioned I love buttermilk?); Tomato Tartare and Microgreens with Shallot Vinaigrette; Braised Apples, Roasted Acorn Squash, and Fresh Thyme; Roasted Garlic Soup; and several of his sauces.
Why Italians Love To Talk About Food: Written by a Russian in Italian, then translated into English, not only does this book cover the specialties of each region in Italy, it relates Italian cultural nuances about foods. For example, do not diss the tortellini in Emilia-Romagna. It’ll get you in trouble, especially if you’re running for office. (There’s a story there, but it’s a long one. You should go read the book. (; ) It also talks about Italian food-related phrases, like “Parla come mangi!” (speak like you eat) and “buono come il pane” (it’s as good as bread), which share similarities to English phrases like “cool as a cucumber” or “it’s a piece of cake”. After each section, there’s a wrapup that discusses typical dishes, products, and beverages of the region. Pretty cool. This is not a cookbook. This is a book about how food is an integral part of the culture in Italy. It’s really neat.
The Art of Eating In: This is a slice-of-life book about what Cathy was doing while she was doing her two-year no-eating-out challenge. It also contains recipes — a few at the end of each chapter — but to be honest, I didn’t find them as compelling as her narrative, which kept me page-turning far into the night. I hadn’t actually read her blog before finding the book, so it was an interesting overview of what had gone on with her life during the process. It’s amazing how one seemingly-small project can have a profound influence on one’s life, and her book definitely demonstrates that.
Now, on the subject of those scones. I had buttermilk in the fridge and an intense desire to bake last night, so while Uncle Pasto was writing up his Dai Smoked Chicken post, I decided to bake something. I’d initially been thinking muffins, but wasn’t finding something that fit the bill for what I wanted to make, so I decided to experiment with Emeril’s rosemary scones instead. I wanted something a bit fruitier, though, and had no oranges, and also didn’t have enough butter. (Well, I did, actually, but it was in the freezer, and my microwave does not properly defrost things.)
Well. One of the things I’ve learned is that if you’re up for a little smokiness in your baked goods, bacon drippings substitute just fine for butter. This recipe in particular looked like it’d be good with a bit more savory flavor, since it was already packed with rosemary and black pepper. I decided to upgun it by replacing 1/2 of a stick of butter with 1/4 c. bacon drippings. I also added minced dried pears that I’d picked up when we went to Bates Nut Farm this past weekend for our annual pumpkin-picking. No oranges? No problem. I had lemons, and I thought that making it a touch tarter would probably point up the savory taste as well.
Truth be told, if I’d had any actual bacon in the house, aside from just the drippings, I’d have been inclined to add that to the recipe as well. Notes on that are detailed below.
By the way, I recommend that if you need to chop up dried fruit, it’s usually much easier to do it with scissors than with a knife. Ditto things with a similar stiff-jelly texture, like candied ginger.
Rosemary-Buttermilk Scones with Pear and Pig
Adapted from Farm To Fork, by Emeril Lagasse
- 1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 c. whole-wheat flour
- 1 Tbsp. sugar
- 1 Tbsp. baking powder
- 1/2 tsp. baking soda
- pinch salt (optional if you are using bacon drippings)
- 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
- 1 Tbsp. fresh rosemary, minced (about four or five smallish sprigs)
- zest of 1 lemon, minced
- 4-6 dried pear halves, snipped with scissors into small pieces
- 1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into chunks (or 1 1/2 sticks if you are not using bacon drippings)
- 1/4 c. cold bacon drippings
- 1 c. plus 2 Tbsp. cold buttermilk
Preheat the oven to 425F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Set it aside while you make the dough.
Combine the flours, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt if using, black pepper, rosemary, and pear bits, stirring to combine. Cut the butter and bacon drippings into the flour mixture with a pastry blender or a fork until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Mix in 1 c. of the buttermilk with a fork until just moistened.
Gather the dough into a rough ball, dump it out onto a lightly floured surface, and knead lightly, about six to ten strokes. Split the dough into two balls, and pat each into a circle. Slice each circle into 6 scones and place them on the parchment-lined baking sheet.
Brush each scone with some of the remaining buttermilk and bake for 12-15 minutes, until puffy and golden.
For a more savory variation, add 3-4 strips of cooked-crisp crumbled bacon to the dough when you add the pears.
I wanted to tell you folks that I really think you should take a few hours and read Wendell Berry’s book, Bringing It To The Table.
There are really good essays in there, and I want to point you in particular at a couple which I was moved by. The first examines how we have shifted from an organic viewpoint to an industrial viewpoint over the last century or so, and how that affects not only our farming, but our food and our relationships to the people who grow it, and also the people around us. There is an excerpt of this article here: A Defense of the Family Farm. But it is only an excerpt — a chunk of the middle is cut out. I recommend you find and read the whole thing.
The part of the argument I find most striking is where he talks about how industrialization has depreciated the value of work. Because machines have made work simpler, easier, and more routine, it is less valuable now than it used to be, and many people no longer value work for work’s sake. This leads both to work being unfulfilling for many people, and also to peoples’ work being underpaid for what they do. It also leads to less of a craftsman/artist mentality about work, where people do not take pride in what they do because it is purely mechanical and no longer art. It is no longer making, but merely doing. He further argues that when human work is treated as a commodity, it degenerates into treating people themselves as commodities. It’s worth reading carefully because I believe that his words can be applied across the board, and not just to farming. It is really important to both love your work and be appreciated for the works you create, regardless of field.
The other essay I’d like to point you at is Renewing Husbandry, and unfortunately this link also does not contain the full text of the article, so again, I encourage you to seek out Berry’s book and read the full thing. I especially suggest it because the full article contains quoted material which is not present in this link, and this material is essential for understanding the emotional resonance of husbandry.
This essay ties into the previous essay in talking about how mechanical tools can lead one to look at the world in a mechanical rather than organic fashion, causing one to at the world in individual pieces rather than the sum of its parts.
This essay departs from that theme, however, and examines the act of husbandry; of saving, storing, conserving of things that are important. Husbandry is not a word that gets used a lot any more, and neither is housewifery, I think because of the implied gender role involved. But you do not need to be a man to practice husbandry — the saving and keeping of good things, practices, and culture for your household and family, and the maintenance of connections with people and the natural world. Berry argues that many of the failures in industrial agriculture are coming from attempting to farm without husbandry: without care for the complex relationships between man, earth, plant, and animal; and without care for long-term maintenance of the health and quality of these things.
It is a persuasive argument, and one that I also enjoyed reading. Berry’s writing style is crisp and accessible and personal, and at least in my experience, carries a ring of truth. My one regret with this essay is that it is purely on husbandry. Berry never addresses housewifery in this article. However, a bit of research points at a housewifery article in another of his books, The Unsettling of America.
I believe I’m about to go request that book from the library. Right now. And I encourage you, as I’ve said, to please read Bringing It To The Table.
Tags: book review
Wendell Berry’s Bringing It to the Table: On Farming and Food.
Only halfway through. Fantastic read so far, especially in how he relates how the industrial concept (bigger, better, faster, mechanized) doesn’t work when applied to human society itself. Recommended.
On a related note, given that it got mentioned in Berry’s book, do they really call home economics “family and consumer economics” now? Seriously and for real? Uh … wow, I’m not happy about that. I hate being labeled as a mere “consumer”, and I really resent the way the consumer mindset is being pushed on us constantly. I produce, dangit!
Today’s post is brought to you by the inimitable W. Park Kerr and Norma Kerr, the founders of the El Paso Chile Company, and their book, The El Paso Chile Company Texas Border Cookbook, is a book I cannot live without.
Now, it’s Texan, and the portions reflect the same. If you prefer portion sizes more like people in, say, California or New England, just eyeball the number of servings the recipe tells you, double it, and that’s what it actually serves, most of the time.
I’m strongly considering petitioning them to permit me to do a cook-through-and-review of their book, that’s how well I like it … well, that and I’ve already made something like half of the recipes in it, so it’d be easy, except for acquiring some of the game in the Tame Game chapter. Hee.
But anyway! On to the book itself. Let me rave about the soups-and-stews chapter, which produces such deliciousness as El Paso Gazpacho with Garlic-Shrimp Salad; Cream of Green Chile Soup; Caldo Tlapeno; Ham, Corn, and Red Pepper Chowder; Pueblo-Style Lamb and Green Chile Stew, and Caldillo of Smoked Brisket with Green Chiles.
My goodness, I’ve made everything in the soup chapter except for the chicken broth-with-shrimp soup and the menudo. And they’ve all been fabulous.
Speaking of the Caldillo of Smoked Brisket. The Kerrs have a fantastic indoor-brisket recipe, which we’ve made many many times. In fact, we’re making brisket this weekend for the 4th, and that’s what prompted this post. But we’re not doing the indoor brisket. We’re doing their outdoor brisket on our new charcoal-gas hybrid grill. MMMM, smoke. Their fabulous brisket recipe can also be used to make their brisket-and-veggies salad, called salpícon, and OH, that is good too, with chipotle chiles and crunchy radishes.
I use the Kerr’s recipe to make red enchilada sauce the way it was intended, no tomatoes at all. Pure chiles. And it is so good, and so fiery hot, with a long, lingering burn. I don’t serve them with the fried egg as they suggest, because I already find their cheese version very dense. But oh so good.
It being a Texas cookbook, there’s an entire chapter devoted to chili. I’ve made three of the five recipes, and they’re all wonderful, but I’m particularly fond of the chile con carne verde.
I love the Kerrs’ frijoles de olla recipe, and it’s pretty much my go-to beans recipe. Veggie types will want to leave the bacon out … but bacon and beans are just meant to go together, as far as I can tell. The blueberry cornbread is excellent. The masa biscuits are to die for, and best served with homemade jam, warm and delicious right out of the oven. And of course, it includes a recipe for sopaipillas, which I’ll admit, I haven’t gotten to yet, but it’s a thing-I-must-do as far as I’m concerned.
I absolutely recommend this book without reservation. Get yourself a copy and try out some of the delicious things in it! And I’ll be reporting on our smoked brisket, sometime after the 4th of July. (;