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Norman J. Finkelshteyn

Food and Food Related Matters
This section is intended to cover food and all things related, such as eating utensils, customs... and anything else that seems to fit.
As with all other sections, contributions of articles, recipes, fragments, are all welcome. Please contact the editor.
Cooking from Primary Sources -
Advice on interpreting and utilizing Primary Source materials in the modern reenactment setting.
Creative Medieval Cooking -
On creating original recipes that are "plausibly medieval".
Period, Ethnic, and Traditional -
On the pitfalls of using modern "ethnic" and "traditional" recipes.
Late Period and Out of Period Foodstuffs -
Examination of the viability of certain foods in a medieval context. The article is heavily Western-centric, but is nevertheless a useful guide.


A medieval Byzantine historian (Nicephor) describes a meeting of the leaders of the Khazars (or Western Turks) with the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius at the siege of Tiflis (aprox. 627 CE) as follows (after Artamonov, Istoria Khazar - full cit. here):
The Emperor embraced the chief of the Khazars, calling him son, and placing his crown on the Khazar's head. A great feast was made, after which the chief of the Khazars was gifted with all of the precious utensils used at the feast.

"Olen-Kolodetz" - A Golden Horde aristocrat's burial ...The Male Burial - The described find includes a bowl, warrior's belt, armour, and an axe.

(Meat, Salt, Wine, Milk)

7th century Gok Turks (Western Turks) and Khazars -
Account by the Agvan (a people of the Northern Caucas) representatives who entered the Turk/Khazar camp to present the Agvan surrender:
"There we saw them, squating on their knees like a caravan of burden camels, each with a bowl full of the meat of unclean animals. Before each bowl were mugs of salt water, where they dipped the meat as they ate. There also were silver chalices and drinking vesels with chaced decoration all encrusted with gold, which had been taken by them from the booty of Tiflis. Together with these, gigantic vessels for drinking - horns and wooden gourd shaped ones, with which they licked up the broth. With the same grime of meat-fat on their lips, they, in pairs and threes drank from one vessel and without any sense of temperance filled themselves passed the brim with undiluted wine or the milk of camels and horses, as if they were inflated wine-skins. They had no cup bearers, as would be dictated by ritual, nor servants at their backs, not even the prince had these, there were only warriors with a forest of spears, carefully guarding the door with shields locked in a circle."
-- translated by Norman Finkelshteyn from Russian translation of History of the Agvans (a 7th century source), as quoted in Artamonov, Istoria Khazar - full cit. here.

(Rice, Millet, Milk, and Cheese ...Herbs?)

12th century. Polovtzy/Kipchaks
The description
is from the account of the travels of Rabbi Petachia of Ratisbon, written down by his sometime companion Rabbi Judah bar Samuel. Petachia was in the "land of Kedar" (his word for the Kipchak or Polovtzy) sometime between 1170 and 1180.
(quoted in Adler, E.N., Jewish Travelers in the Middle Ages (19 Firsthand Accounts), Dover Publications, New York, 1987.)
"...They eat no bread in the land of the Kedar, but rice and millet boiled in milk, as well as milk and cheese.
...they are far-sighted and have beatiful eyes, because they eat no salt and live among fragrant plants..."


14th century. Mongol
Summarised by K.B. - Bojei Temur
From A Soup For The Qan: Chinese Dietary Medicine of the Mongol Era as Seen in Hu Szu-Hui’s Yin-Shan Cheng Yao Introduction, Translation, Commentary, and Chinese Text by Paul D. Buell & Eugene N. Anderson Copyright 2000, ISBN 0-7103-05833-4

The Yin-Shan Cheng Yao, or “Proper and Essential Things for the Emperor’s Food and Drink”, was written in 1330 by Hu Szu-Hui who had served as an imperial dietary physician in the courts of several Yuan dynasty emperors. The text includes sage advice (“Things to Avoid and Shun When Drinking Liquor”), recipes, drinks, medicines, an illustrated list of ingredients. In accordance with Chinese traditions, all foods are considered to have medical and spiritual effects. The cuisine is very cosmopolitan and reflects the Mongols attempt to create a world empire out of highly diverse areas. This fusion of cultures is reflected in the food consumed at court. The food includes dishes from China, the middle east, at least one from the Indian subcontinent, and traditional Mongolian cuisine. The Mongols consumed vast quantities of sheep and wild game and these are the most prominent ingredients in the recipes. Grains – particularly noodles – appear in many dishes. Many dishes are variations of stuffed noodle dumplings. Vegetables appear infrequently and in limited quantities. More vegetables are listed in the ingredients section than are used in the recipes.

(14th century. Chinese - Persian - Mongol)

Developed by K.B. - Bojei Temur
From Anderson, Buell A Soup For The Qan (full cit. above)

Unlike most medieval cookbooks, the Yin-Shan Cheng Yao contains some measurements using old Chinese terms. Professors Buell & Anderson provided the following:
“Note on Weights and Measures. In the translation below we have made no attempt to translate Chinese weights and measures. The following equivalents must be borne in mind when interpreting the recipes:
a ch’ien is today 3.12 g or .011 oz and is one-tenth of a liang.
Sixteen liang make a chin (about 500 g).
A sheng is today 31.5 cu in (slightly less in the fourteenth century),
and is comprised of 10 ho (each 3.17 cu inc).
Ten sheng make a tou.
Units of length relevant to the translation are the ts’un, which is 33.3 mm
and the ch’ih, ten ts’un, or about one third of a meter.”
A sheng, 31.5 cu in, is 1.964 cups – or just under 2 cups. As per their note, it would be slightly smaller in the fourteenth century.
A ho would then be .2 cups or just under ¼ cup.
Also, for ease of reference, 16 oz equals 454 grams so a chin is approximately 17 ½ oz.
One fluid ounce equals 6 teaspoons and 1 gram equals .035 ounces so (ignoring the difference between weight ounces and fluid ounces)
1 liang equals 6.552 teaspoons.

(12th century. Polovtzy)

If this doesn't inspire research in an effort to find alternatives, I can't imagine what will!
This is a little more from the description by Rabbi Petachia of Ratisbon (quoted in Adler, Jewish Travelers full cit. at fragment above - "No Bread nor Salt")
"...They also put pieces of flesh under the saddle of a horse, which they ride and, urging on the animal, cause it to sweat. The flesh getting warm, they eat it.

(12th century. Polovtzy)

"...They eat no bread in the land of the Kedar, but rice and millet boiled in milk"
(Adler, Jewish Travelers full cit. at fragment above - "No Bread nor Salt")
I have never made the millet, but the rice seems to have come down, unaltered to this day. Bar none, it was my favorite grain dish as a child growing up.
There is little to add to Petachia's description. The major thing to know when heating milk is -- if you let it overboil, it will explode out of the pot all over your kitchen (or campsite), and then taste burned. So pay close attention!
Fill a pot with milk (obviously leaving the requisite room) and start heating it.
Add raw rice.
If you stop cooking right after the rice is done and just pour off the remaining milk, you'll wind up with something akin to normal water-boiled rice but with a slight richness.
If, after rice has cooked, you continue on a low flame, the milk will evaporate and thicken the mix. Keep stirring so that the bottom does not burn.
Vary the quantity of milk you start with to vary the flavor of the product -- the more milk, the richer and "puddingier" the result.
When you pick this up at a Deli in New York today, it will likely be sprinkled with cinamon. I will leave it to others to document whether cinamon would be used by the medieval nomad. As with other such situations - when in doubt, leave it out!
I have had a Persian variation where Rosewater was added to the mix. I have no information on the dating of that recipe.

(7th century. Western Turk - Khazar)

To reduce the above fragment from "The History of the Agvans" (Eating Habits, Vessels, Food): "...a bowl full of the meat... Before each bowl were mugs of salt water, where they dipped the meat as they ate. ...Together with these, gigantic vessels for drinking ...with which they licked up the broth..." (Artamonov, Istoria Khazar - full cit. here)
Implicit in the above, seems to be that the meat was boiled (hence the broth) and then was served separately from the broth. The fact that there was a vessel of salt water, which the diners dipped their meat in, further implies that the meat was prepared without salt.
I do not know if it must be assumed that no herbs were used in the preparation.
To this day the common practice in Eastern Europe is to separate the meat from the soup and serve the soupmeat as a dish separate from the soup.
Further, it is quite proper in Eastern Europe (or at least in Russia and Romania) for an individual to chose to drink the warm chicken or beef broth from a cup rather than to take a "proper" bowl of soup.
See modern recipe with serving directions "Boiled Meat and Broth from the Caucas" below.

(Blinzes/ Crepes?)
(7th century. Western Turk - Khazar)

The History of the Agvans (a 7th century source) reports that when Catolicos Viro (the spiritual leader and representative of the Agvans) came before the leader of the Khazars, bringing the Agvan surrender, he and his companions were served a meal. At first, the Khazars offered them meat, which they refused on pretext of a vow of abstinence (see fragment above for the more accurate reason). The Khazars then offered them thin breads, fried on a skillet.
- after Artamonov, Istoria Khazar - full cit. here.
Several possibilities come to mind in trying to figure out what is meant by this "skillet fried thin bread":
The immediate impulse is to assume that this is something on the lines of Pita or Lavash type flatbread, as seems to be common in the Caucas today.
This assumption must be rejected as all of these types of bread are baked in some form of oven.
The next thing that popped into my mind was "Fried Bread", as made by Native Americans today. This is not as far fetched as it sounds, as it is identical (down to the shape) to the Russian Ponchik (for those unfamiliar, it is substantially like the Italian Zeppoli).
But this must also be rejected -- as this is deep-fried not fried on a skillet, and results in a thick, puffy pastry rather than a thin one.
I was left with the Blintz/ Blin/ Nalistnik (or, to use the French - Crepe) that is to be found in Russia, Ukraine, and Poland (and seems to have made its way into France).
This generally fulfils the requirements -- it is indeed prepared on a skillet and today cooks vie to make the thinnest sheet possible. Like bread, it is eaten as a complement to pretty close any other food, and used as a sort of utensil, for containing otherwise sloppy foods and sopping up sauces.
Moreover, I was recently refered to a Polish recipe book "Food and Drink in Medieval Poland" by Maria Dembinska where a recipe is given for "Nalesniki Postne" -- "Lenten Blintz" or "Fast Day Blintz" - the Blintz, used as in the case of the Agvan ambasadors, as a substitute when abstaining from meat.
However, I retained doubts about this theory as the Blintz is a somewhat more complex pastry than I guessed would be referenced as bread (it generaly includes milk, yeast...).
The example of the Indian Chiapatis settled my doubts substantially. This is also a "Frying Pan Bread" and also includes somewhat more in the way of ingredients than simple flour and water.

(Roast Chicken Wings)
(14th century. Chinese - Persian - Mongol)

Developed by K.B. - Bojei Temur
From Anderson, Buell A Soup For The Qan (full cit. above)
Why Chicken: K.B. - "Curlews are listed in the ingredients section with poultry and the translators make a note that this is wild game. Squab or quail are probably good alternatives to use in the USA but my grocery store only carries chickens."

The recipe comes from a Chinese-Mongol cookbook of the 14th century.
K.B. stated that the recipe is more Persian than Chinese as follows:
"The cookbook is 14th century from the court in China. The recipes are heavily influenced by The Ilkhanid - Persian - Mongol aspects. The Chinese influences are limited to certain seasonings such as ginger, sesame (the chinese version), 'sauce', and apricot kernel paste. These recipes are extremely different from those in a contemporary chinese cookbook from along the coast (even though they were written about 50 years from each other.)"
I am providing two versions of the recipe (both from K.B.).
The first is one she did from memory after reading the source but before really structuring it. The second is the detailed redaction from the original.
I chose to keep the first version on a principle that it is a plausible alternative (see Cariadoc's articles above "Cooking from Primary Sources" and "Creative Medieval Cooking")

I have prepared the first version several times with great success. When I served the results on a bed of Basmati Rice at a family affair, my father (who had lived in Samarkand as a boy) swore that he was transported back to Samarkand. Though the food of modern Uzbekistan is certainly not determinative for Medieval practice, this may, nevertheless provide some backing to K.B.'s assertion of a Persian-Mongol rather than a Chinese basis for the recipe

Unredacted Original
"Eurasian curlews (10; pluck; clean), finely ground coriander (one liang), onions (ten stalks), spices (five ch’ien).
Apply [coriander, onions and spices] uniformly [to]] ingredients and roast. One may dress the curlews in a thick flour and steam-roast until done in a cage; this is also possible. One may dress the curlews with liquid butter combined with flour, and brazier cook in a brazier; this is also possible.” pg 312
... “Eurasian Curlew [Meat]] is sweetish in flavor, neutral, and lacks poison. It supplements the center and augments ch’i. It is beneficial eaten broiled. It is very tasty.” pg 551

Version I
3 lbs of chicken wings and then cut them up into the drummette style. (I saved the tips for stock.)
Toss the chicken to coat in a mixture of
about 2 1/2 TBS of coriander seeds (finely ground) and
1 1/2 tsp. of 5 spice powder,
and 3 to 4 scallions -- finely chopped
and roast. I put them on a wire rack on a cookie sheet and
cooked them at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes."
Version II
3 lbs of chicken wings cut into pieces (with tips reserved for stock),
6 ½ tsp. of whole coriander seeds,
3 ¼ tsp of Chinese 5 spice powder,
and 10 green onions.
Thinly slice the green onions. Grind the coriander seeds and place in a bag with the 5 spice powders. Mix. Add chicken and toss to coat. Add green onions and toss to coat.
Place them on a rack on a cookie sheet and bake in a 350 degree oven until done (approximately 25 minutes.)

(Modern Caucas - Mountain Jews)

Prepared and described by Nina Nisanova.
I have tried to use her words (albeit translated to English in my own idiom) with comments from me in describing the dish. Compare with "Khazar Boiled Meat and Broth" above.
"We make lamb like this as well as chicken."
In the particular case, a single Lamb shank was used.
The amount of meat will determine the amount of the rest of the ingredients.
A 10" diameter, 5" high cooking pot was used (sorry, I have no idea what the gallon measure is - in most over the counter cooking sets, this is the largest soup pot).
Water - this is soup, fill the pot accordingly.
Salt - "When I get meat fresh from the butcher, the salt that was used to Kasher it is sufficient. Since this one was frozen and I had to wash and clean it, I added a little salt."
The end result tasted like it "needed salt". Use a very minimal amount (just enough to get things cooking right) because you will be adding sauces at eating time to "compensate" (see "to Serve and Eat" below).
Explanatory note - "Kashering" is a process after butchering of extracting blood from meat (Jewish dietary law forbids the ingestion of blood). In relevant part, generous amounts of large-grained salt are sprinkled on the meat to draw out fluid from inside. All that is then soaked and washed off.
Cook the meat until nice and soft. "I can't give cooking time -- Different meat will take different times. Fresh baby lamb will cook very quickly, this frozen leg took a long time..."
Tomato - NOTE: Tomato is a post-Columbian food and presumably reached the Caucas far later than other parts of Europe. It can not be acceptable for a medieval representation. If an experienced cook will prepare this, taste the result, and then theorise about medieval alternatives, I will be more than happy to add them here.
One large beef tomato was used, presumably a medium one would have been apropriate. "This tomato was too big for this amount of soup." (the soup had a bit more acid taste then ideal).
The tomato is cooked in the broth until it is soft enough to peel. It is then peeled and cored, then broken into pieces and thrown back in.
Remove the meat.
Pasta - Called "Hynkali" in the Caucas, these are Egg noodle squares roughly 3/4" to an inch on a side prior to cooking. "I have tried different noodles as a substitute, but the result didn't taste right. It's odd, but the shape realy affects the taste."
In New York, I found the required as - "Kemach" brand "Heimishe Egg Noodles" "large flakes" (they have several varieties - the normal long, flat noodles, "small flakes" roughly 1/4" on a side, and these).
Cook the Hynkali in the broth (after the meat is removed).
To Serve and Eat
Two side sauces (described below) are served with the dish. The bowl of soup (with the noodles and tomato inside) is served separately from a plate of meat.
Vinegar and Garlic - In a bowl, minced fresh garlic is mixed with wine vinegar (Italian Balsamic Vinegar was found to be a good aproximation of the authentic stuff).
This is served at the side and added to the soup by each individual as they eat (to taste).
Pomegranate Concentrate - This is ready made bottled stuff. "The Turkish one is too thick though it will do in a pinch, you should use the Armenian one."
This is also served at the side. Just as the vinegar, some is added to the soup. For the most part, it is used as a dipping sauce with the meat.

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