To celebrate a whole new year of Crispin and whatever else comes my way, I'm giving away a SIGNED audiobook of SHADOW OF THE ALCHEMIST. You can choose between the MP3 version or the CDs. Just comment on this post and a winner will be selected on January 5! You have until then.
On this holiday weekend, it is only fitting to speak of food. And, as we speak of medieval things on this blog, let us speak of medieval food. Cook books were becoming popular in King Richard II's day. Formerly, cookbooks started out life as physician's prescription books from the Middle East. Eventually, it became the thing to do for large households, including the palaces of Europe, to record the feasts and how to prepare certain special dishes. In other words, you won't find ye olde meatloaf in these books, but grander recipes for a decent table.
There was a wonderful cooking show in the late 90s in the UK called Two Fat Ladies with Clarissa Dickson Wright and Jennifer Paterson. Here I present to you some videos with "Clarissa and the King's Cookbook", talking of the Forme of Curry, one of the oldest cookbooks coming from King Richard II's court (the court from which my ficitonal detective Crispin Guest was ejected). Take a look. They are full of fun recipes and information. And below the videos, my own tried and true recipes of roasted game hens, similar to the goose recipe you will see.
A big thank you to reader Flora Hudson for bringing this to my attention!
Roasted Game Hens
How can you go wrong with a game hen? One hen per person.
Garlic cloves, 2 per hen.
Grapes, seedless (although I used our homegrown pinot noir, in honor of my Medieval Noir)
Stuff hens with sage, parsley, and grapes. Sprinkle with salt and roast in a 400 degree oven (or over the barbeque with an indirect fire or a lowered fire) for about 40 minutes to an hour. Sprinkle with fennel seeds and serve whole.
Cameline Sawse (for the game hens. I only made the allotted here and it wasn’t quite enough for four. So double the recipe. This sauce would also be good with pork or lamb.)
¾ beef broth
1 ½ Tb or more of vinegar (I used red wine. I also had fig vinegar and it was a wonderful addition. I used an extra 1/8 cup of that.)
¼ finely crumbled bread crusts
pinch of ground ginger
pinch of powdered cloves
¼ teaspoon of cinnamon
salt to taste
1/3 cup raisins
1/3 cup chopped
1. Combine all ingredients in a heavy sauce pan.
2. Simmer over low heat, stirring to blend, about 5 minutes, until raisins are plump and soft.
Hanukkah falls on Thanksgiving this year, something it hasn't done since 1888 and won't do again for another 79,043 years! Yeah, you read that right. All Jewish holidays are based on a lunar calendar and that's why I complain every year to grocery store managers that there are no Hanukkah candles because the holidays change dates every year based on the phases of the moon. You know how Easter is a different weekend every year, right? It follows Passover (According to the Roman Catholic Church, Easter falls on the first Sunday following the first full moon that occurs on or after the vernal equinox, which is the 14th day of a tabular lunation (new moon). Passover begins on the 15th day of Nisan, which is the seventh month in the Jewish calendar. It ends on the 21st of Nisan in Israel (and for Reform Jews) and on the 22nd of Nisan elsewhere else. Since Hebrew days begin and end at sundown, Passover begins at sundown on the preceding day.) Got it?
But we aren't really discussing current holidays but past ones. Medieval Hanukkah.
Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights that rolled around usually at the same time as Christmas. Yet it is a holiday with many meanings and expresses many events at once. The medieval Jew embraced it: the idea of the smaller army of Jews rising up to conquer their Gentile oppressors was irresistible. Always a popular theme with Jews in Europe when they were ousted from so many places as they had been in the Holy Land. They related. Given that this is a holiday with no biblical source (the Books of Maccabees where at least part of the Hanukkah celebrations can be found, are listed in Christian bibles, which are apocryphal to Jews and not considered part of the canon), there was a clash between those rabbis who followed oral rabbinic traditions and those that were strictly biblical. (The same clash occurs between Protestants and Catholics regarding traditions with a small "t" and Traditions with a large "T". In the Last Supper, for instance, where the gospels say that Jesus is reclining at table is a perfect example of the importance of following tradition with a small "t". Biblical commandments in Exodus have God exhorting Moses to instruct the people to eat their Passover standing up as a people in flight, ready to high-tail it when the time is right. But sometime between the time of Moses and the time of Jesus, Jewish tradition changed to the partaking of the Passover in a reclining position. As it says in the Haggadah [the prayer book used during the Passover Seder] the Egyptian Hebrews stood to eat just as a slave stands to eat in the presence of his master. But to recline is to exclaim one's freedom. Thus Jesus, as a good Jewish boy, follows Jewish tradition rather than God's biblical command.)
The source for Hanukkah, or the Dedicating of the Temple, comes from something called the Megillit Antiochus or the Scroll of Antioch, dating from somewhere between the 2nd and 5th centuries AD. The Books of Maccabees talks about a re-dedication of the Temple by Judah Maccabee, his brothers, and his army, but never specifically mentions a miracle, only that the celebration should last for eight days, which, indeed, most Jewish holidays do. (In Jewish numerology, Seven is the perfect number: seven days of creation. But the number eight--God--is beyond perfect. Eight days old a boy is circumcised and brought into the covenant. Eight days for most Jewish celebrations.) It is this scroll that gives us the story of the miracle of the oil. The Story: Around 175 BCE, Antiochus IV Epiphanes King of Greek Syria and other places, ruled over the Jews and outlawed Judaism, ordering a statue of Zeus to be erected in the temple. The Maccabees revolted, won, and worked to reconsecrate the Temple, getting all that nasty Gentile stuff out of there, building a new altar, etc. In order for the re-dedication to be complete, the menorah or candelabrum or multi-burning oil lamp was to burn for seven nights, but there was only enough consecrated oil to burn for one day and there was no time to get more. But it miraculously burned for eight days. Thus the eight day celebration.
In the Middle Ages, the Megillit Antiochus was read aloud in synagogues much as Purim was celebrated, another rabbinically declared holiday and another tale about Jews rising up against their oppressors. Jews reenacted the lighting of a menorah in the synagogues as well as in their homes. The proper way to light a menorah is to have it in a doorway. Not quite practical, so the next best thing is to have it in a window, fulfilling the rabbis decree to show the miracle to the world (which is why there are all those public displays of menorah lighting. It is NOT the Jewish answer to a public lighting of a Christmas tree. If anything, it's the other way around.)
Though for all that, Hanukkah was never a huge holiday. It was just one of many. Certainly not a High Holy Day like Rosh Hashonnah (Jewish New Year) or Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement). It was another reminder to Jews of God's miracles and His dedication to the Chosen People no matter where they found themselves and under what circumstances. The tradition of giving a gift for each day of the holiday is more a reflection of their Christian neighbors during a gift-giving season than part of any older tradition. The Eastern European tradition of eating foods cooked in oil, however, can be more gratifying if not cholesterol building. Because it is a feast of oil burning, foods such as latkes (potato pancakes) and donuts are part of the fare. Can't knock that. Playing the dreidel is supposed to be a reflection of a game that the Maccabees played while waiting to attack their enemies. It's like dice. It's a gambling game.
Incidentally, you haven't miscounted when you see a menorah and wonder why it has nine places for candles instead of only eight. The center place is for the shamash or helper candle. It merely lights the other ones.
So next time you see a menorah and hear about Hanukkah, don't do what my Christian contemporaries did when I was a child (and still hear on occasion); don't compliment the Jew on "their Christmas". After all, we had it first. Appreciate it on its own level, its ancient and varied traditions.
Another ornament. Glass stacked books from Bronners.
How about some Hogwarts Bookmarks? I actually own these and they're pretty nifty. (I should be in Slytherin). Get them here.
For the researcher in your life, these are invaluable. I use them all the time! They won't harm delicate pages and they are so thin you can leave them there. Great for marking passages you may have to refer back to. I also use them in my books when I read from them for audiences. They are called Page Nibs from Levengers, one of my favorite catalogs.
And let's not forget a Crispin tote for all those medieval mysteries you have to cart around. This is from the Crispin Store, where you can also get mugs.
Here's a keen but pricey gift basket in the shape of a book, with lovely things inside. From Amazon, of all places.
And let us not forget gift cards, gift certificates, or just plain books from some of my favorite indie bookstores: Vroman's in Pasadena (where I do my book launches); Mystery Ink in Huntington Beach; CA; Book Carnival in Orange, CA; Poisoned Pen Bookstore in Scottsdale, AZ; Book People Bookstore in Austin, TX; and Murder by the Book in Houston, TX. Click on the logos to connect to their sites.
Now that SHADOW OF THE ALCHEMIST is on the shelves, there's no need to be Crispin-starved once you've finished the book. For one, there will be a prequel released sometime in the late spring (and I'll tell you more about that as we go along). But here are some other things to keep you busy in the meantime.
CRISPIN HATH A BLOG--Did you know that? A place wherein he pens his thoughts on this and that. Like short short little stories. See it here on my website. They go in descending order, from oldest to newest.