28 July 2008

How Did Our Week of Medieval Meals Finish Up?

Deliciously, of course!

But our week got really busy, I came down with some sort of a tummy bug and our Internet/email started acting up, so I've not yet posted - so I'll catch everyone up - if you were just dying to know!


...we made pretzels - did you know that delectable treat originated during the Middle Ages? I didn't, but it has always been one of my favorite stops at the mall. We've actually been making big soft pretzels here for several years - we'll use them as a light dinner, especially on hot days, eating them with mustard, cheese sauce, butter (making our own didn't work quite right, oh well), occasionally ranch dressing, and always pickles on the side. Since we were having company (friends who are leaving the country definitively in a few weeks) come for an authentic Nigerien meal of peanut sauce Wed. night, we decided a light meal should do it for Wed. lunch, hence the pretzels. We tried a new recipe this time and it was a smashing success - not only was it easier than the older one we'd been using, we actually liked it better!

We also tried curds and whey (more commonly known as cottage cheese). That wasn't such a hit. We all like the cottage cheese you can buy from a grocery store in the States, but it isn't available here, so we curdled our own milk (Bring milk to a boil, add some vinegar, let that sit a few minutes and then drain off the liquid, keeping the curds. Add some creme fraiche, a touch of salt and refrigerate until you are ready to eat.) It wasn't that it tasted so bad; the curds are much smaller and more grainy than what we are used to buying on THAT side of the water. But, it is a great substitute for ricotta cheese (not always available and terribly expensive) in lasagna, so I will keep that in mind.

Finally, we made mead to drink with the pretzels: water sweetened with honey, lots of sliced lemons and spiced with ginger and nutmeg - but NOT left to ferment as was common during the Middle Ages. While the littles weren't impressed, Tim and I, as well as Brendan thought it was quite nice - and would actually be even better warmed.


...we made meat pies (people from Michigan call them pasties) and apple tarts. The mini pies we've made this week have been favorites of all the kids. We used muffin pans to make tiny pie crusts, and I was surprised by our success at removing them from the pan without breaking them into lots of tiny pieces. they sure looked cute sitting on the table, too! This is a fun one to do - and I'm sure will become a regular treat for our family.


...we finished up leftovers - so nothing really fancy. After all, in Medieval Times, they never let any food go to waste, right?


We started off the morning trying to make marzipan - acutally, I left Nadia in charge of this recipe while I went grocery shopping. We substituted butter instead of the margarine the recipe called for - and that affected the end result - plus the fact that the Nadia and under gang did all the modeling of the figures (i.e. their end result looked nothing like this picture of marzipan that I found on Wikipedia), but they made birds, birds in nests, eggs in nests, and a few other different shapes. I think they had fun, they enjoyed eating them afterwards, and I imagine we'll try this one again one of these days.

This was, I think - it is a close toss up between this and the cabbage and dumpling soup - my favorite meal, and I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the gang's favorite dessert! We made another meat pie (next time I will add veggies to the mix, but apparently that wasn't so common back then). This time, instead of a pie crust or a bread in which the meat mixture is placed, we boiled potatoes, mashed them with butter (and our hands - Jonathan and Elsie Mae were impressed with that trick!), molded it into the casserole dish and used that for the crust. The filling was fried meat (prepared with onions, garlic, parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, of course), cheese, eggs and milk. Bake all that in the oven until the eggs are cooked and it was lovely. Ketchup was a favorite addition by many (NOT ME) at our table. And then, was the week's highlight...


This was another new thing that I learned. To entertain guests after a large meal, the cook would bake an empty pie shell. Once removed from the pan, they'd cut open a small whole in the bottom, shove in several small song birds, and place it on the serving dish. When the pie was cut open, the birds would "escape" and sing, to the delight of all watching.

We didn't use song birds, and we didn't use real black birds, but I modified a sugar cookie recipe to make chocolate sugar cookie dough, used bird-shaped cookie cutters, sprinkled the cookies with sugar and stuffed them all into an empty pie crust. Boy, were the munchkins and not so munchkin-gang delighted to find those cookies inside!

And the best bit? In making changes to that sugar cookie recipe - we ended up with a cookie that tasted almost exactly like the outside of an oreo cookie - so in the not too distant future, we'll be trying to make our own homemade oreos - and that will be a REAL treat, especially with a nice, cold glass of milk!

And the comments from the gallery regarding our "Medieval Week..."

  • Elsie Mae: "Yum, yum!" (As we had to shower her off after every meal, she was quite enthusiastic about EVERY meal!)
  • Jonathan: ...No words, just a huge grin and a shake of the head, then, "speciawully backbird pie."
  • Victoria: "It was yummy and the blackbird was the best!"
  • Anna: "Oh yeah, I liked the tarts the very best - especially the ones with the custard in them."
  • Nadia: "I liked the tarts and the quiche (meat pie) with the pie crust. The blackbird pie was fun."
  • Rebekah Joy: "My favorite was the trench bread with meat and potato stew, 'cause I got to make the bread. I also liked the cabbage stew with dumplings. The tarts were my favorite desserts, 'cause they were sweet and small and cute."
  • Brendan: "I really liked the meat pie with the potato crust best of all. And all of the desserts were good, but I liked the tarts best. But then I'm a growing boy. I eat anything!"
  • Richelle: "I agree with Brendan - I liked the meat pie with the potato crust and the cabbage stew was a close second. I think both of those will become regular features in our monthly menus! And pretzels, in my opinion, warm and dipped in butter, with pickles on the are always a delicious treat, but salty really appeals to me when I'm expecting..."
  • Tim: "It was all good (Lots of meat and potatoes with a dessert almost every meal - who can complain?), but I liked the meat pie (with the pie crust) and the custard tarts the best."


Last picture is from an art exhibit entitled "Sitting Pretty: Variations on the Chair," by Marilyn da Silva. This particular piece is called "Recipe for Blackbird Pie," 2001.

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