Okay, I dyed a bit of wool in the leftovers from one of my woad preservation experiments, but it’s a start.

My first experiment was actually the third time with using the instructions at this site: http://www.woad.org.uk/html/extraction.html. The first time, it worked quite well but my son threw out the resulting woad in a fit of kitchen tidying. The second time, didn’t follow the instructions and ended up with a bit of chlorophyll at the bottom of a jar. This time, I managed to do almost everything according to the instructions. I should have waited a bit longer before cutting the leaves, and forgot to cover them in plastic overnight, and I didn’t consolidate the liquid after the first draining, but none of those errors appear to have been fatal. You can’t really tell in the picture below, but the jar has some solids settling to the bottom.

I used the leftover liquid to dye some wool. I didn’t have any Spectralite or sodium dithionite. Looking elsewhere, that didn’t appear to be a critical lack. As I had added soda ash to process the woad I assumed it was still in the liquid and didn’t add more. That may have been a mistake. I’ll try again with soda ash to see if I can get a bit more colour out of the exhaust bath. Woad.org says that there isn’t much woad in the leftover liquid, so I’m pleased with the little bit of colour I did achieve.

Finally, I made a woad ball. using these instructions: http://www.woad.org.uk/html/woad_balls.html. I followed all the instructions except for the one about wearing gloves (I could only find one, and a finger ripped off as I was putting it on the first time, so this instruction was only partly followed). Also, though it wasn’t written down, there should have been an instruction about wearing a big apron or old clothes that you don’t mind getting permanently splotched with woad juice.  I will get to use the woad ball later this summer, when my friend Eluned lets me play with her urine fermentation vat.



There aren’t a lot of specific recipes for salads, but they are mentioned everywhere. I suspect medieval people would have been quite bemused by our moderns recipe books full of detailed recipes for salads. As I have taken to eating more from my own garden, I am learning to appreciate how salads may have tasted in the past.

Weeds like sheep sorrel are really tasty (sorry neighbours – I just can’t bring myself to pull them out because they are decorative too). They have a lemony bite which I loved, even as a kid. Fat hen and purslane also get added, since I’m pulling them from the garden anyway. I still haven’t tried dandelion greens, since I have a hangover fear of bitterness from reading many years ago that only the tiniest leaves are good to eat (and I never notice my dandelions until the plants are fairly large).

This year’s unexpected success with beets has me throwing beet greens into my salad as well. Arugula, older lettuce types (like Romaine, which looks similar to Cos lettuce and those found in manuscripts), cucumbers, and whatever herbs are handy – even garlic scapes – all get tossed in too. When I have fresh strawberries, they are delicious in green salad. Now that raspberries in season, I may try adding them, assuming I can get some from the bushes into my house without eating them first.

I am still having fun with the course, though my biggest challenge is the temptation to cook all the things. Since I’m the only one who eats it, I end up with a lot of food! Last week was Elizabethan, so I made Capon with Oranges and Pea Tort. I also made thyme cordial, which was basically a lovely thyme tea with honey and lemon.

Several of my cooking buddies convinced me that I needed to do a MOOC (Massive Open On-line Course) called A History of Royal Food and Feasting (University of Reading, five weeks, through Futurelearn). Technically, they just mentioned it in passing, but I have a rubber arm and it twists easily.

The first week is based around the christening of King Edward VI, son of Henry VIII, and the lessons have lots of links to materials available from Hampton Court, the site of the christening. It’s basic history, but pretty, and I quite like the cook-along assignments and the video segments with the kitchen staff. Tonight I made fylettys en galantyne, which is basically slices of roast pork in a richly spiced gravy (pepper, cinnamon, cloves, mace) with caramelized onions and thickened with bread crumbs.

Mine didn’t turn out as pretty as the picture in the recipe, but it was very tasty.


Should I ever decide I am tired of researching and making sausage (not bloody likely!), I want to reasearch what some agricultural science folks I know call “minor vegetables”. These are vegetables that are grown for household use, may be virtually known outside the area where they are used, and often have very little status as they are eaten only by the poor.

In the medieval context, this often means potherbs – plants grown or gathered to throw into the pottage. Potherbs were a good source of nutrients, could provide filler until more traditional vegetables were available, and often had sharp flavours that could add interest to an otherwise dull pot of soup or porridge.

I had a chicken carcass that needed to be turned into soup, so I decided to play a bit with potherbs. To be clear, this was not a medieval experiment, just an experiment with some medieval things. After making my broth, I added onion, celery, carrot and potato. After the veggies were soft, I threw in a large handful of lamb’s quarters from the community garden.


Then I decided the soup needed a bit more tang. I added a large handful of wood sorrel. For the record, wood sorrel turns brown immediately when it hits hot water (but it still tastes good).

Then it just got silly: onion tops dried borage and lemon balm, then all the lovage I could grab from the garden while simultaneously handling rhubarb, green onions (for a different recipe), and my compost bucket.

The result was still a bit dull, full of green goodness. Then I added some salt. Suddenly, the flavours popped. Lunch tomorrow will be delicious.

After a very long dry spell in terms of crafting, I have had a burst of enthusiasm. First I went to an event to beg the boon for my apprentice Alais. Four hours in the car, each way, was ample time to make serious progress on a long-abandoned lace project (even taking time out for drinking tea, napping and chatting). Added to what I accomplished this weekend, I think I may finally have enough to trim my silk chemise. That’s another post, though.

This post is all about my excitement at finally figuring out how to naalbind cow and horse tail hair. This is something I have been trying to master, off and on, for at least three years. Why? That’s a very good question. Odd Nordland, in his book Primitive Scandinavian Textiles in Knotless Netting (1963), had examples of naalbinding made of hair that were used as strainers for milk, and sometimes as pot scrubbers. They were very simple naalbinding, and the strainers hung in some sort of a frame (it usually looked like the rim of a bowl that was missing its bottom). There wasn’t any dating for these strainers, and no details on what kind of hair, but I was intrigued. Who wouldn’t want pot scrubbers made using a technique used by the Vikings? Over the years, I have tried single horse hairs and twisted/coarsely spun horse hair with minimal success. I was told that cow hair might work better, and then that soaking the hair might help it hold a twist.

This weekend, at the Upper Canada Medieval Festival with the Dark Ages Recreation Company, I finally managed to make it work! I started with some horse hair from my old lesson horse Mr. Tibbs, then switched to cow hair when I ran out. I snipped off a few locks at a time (the longer the better), then soaked the hair. I experimented a bit with how many hairs to use, and exactly what stitch to use. I haven’t quite decided what I like most,but it seems easiest to use at least a half-dozen to ten hairs. Here is the result, so far:



It doesn’t look like much, but it will be better once most of the loose hairs are trimmed, and it is full size.

Here’s another picture of me working on it:



On a completely unrelated note, I am very happy with my new hood. I did not get a sunburned neck,for once.

In the background, you can see my new net bag, with a drawstring made of slyng (whipcording using big bobbins – Eluned and I worked on it together, and it’s almost like a game when the bobbins start moving through the air at relatively high speed). I also made a small piece of slyng on my own, using some brown wool and a bit of the wool I dyed with Queen Anne’s lace a few years ago.

Syrian Tharid

According to “Medieval Cuisine of the Islamic World by Lilia Zaouali (University of California Press, Berkeley: 2007), tharid was “a kind of national dish of the Arabs in the early years of Islam…. The prophet Muhammad declared it the best of all dishes, going so far as to compare its excellence to his favorite wife, Aisha.”. Tharid is basically a dish of crumbled bread soaked in meat broth, that is arranged in a pyramid with pieces of meat set around it.There are many variations of Tharid.

Ibn Sayyar al Warraq, who compiled the cookbook the Kitab al-tabikh in Baghdad in the second half of the 10th century, has a dozen versions of tharid, one of which includes sausages. No information is given about the sausages, but something like a lamb merguez would probably work well.

Syrian Tharid (from Zaouali): Take some mutton and poultry, such as chickens and capons or the like; you can also use mutton by itself of chicken by itself. Cut [the meats] into medium-size pieces, remove the entrails, discard the heads and necks, rinse, and arrange in a clean pot. Some water will be needed in which to soak some cleaned truffles overnight. Cover the meat with this liquid after having strained it. In the absence of truffles, use honey that has been darkened by boiling and the addition of a little kumakh. Add chickpeas and salt, then increase the fire under the pot. Prepare a fragrant bundle of fresh rue, Greek or Nabataean leeks, and fresh coriander [cilantro], and put it in the pot. Then you must add the crushed spices, coriander [seeds], cumin, caraway, and pepper, and fan the fire beneath the pot in order to cook the meat. Next, crumble the white bread and sprinkle it with enough broth for the bread to be soaked, then take the meat [and arrange it on the soaked bread] and garnish with sausages all around the dish.

“Annals of the Caliphs’ Kitchens” by Nawal Nasrallah (Brill, Leiden: 2010) is a newer complete translation of Ibn Sayyar al-Warraq.

A recipe for tharida Shamiyya (of the Levant): Take lamb and chicken. Alternatively, use young fowls or any other similar birds [instead of chicken]. You also have the option of using either lamb or poultry. Cut the meat into medium pieces and clean them. Remove [and discard] the entrails of the chicken and discard the heads and the necks.

Put the meat in a clean pot. Add the strained liquid of truffles, which have been washed and soaked in water overnight. Put enough of the liquid to cover the meat. If truffles are not available, boil some honey until it turns black then pour on it a small amount of ma kamakh (murri, liquid fermented sauce), and add it to the pot with a little chickpeas and salt. Light fire under the pot.

Tie into one bundle, fresh rue, leeks – either Rumi or Nabati* – and cilantro. Add this bouquet to the pot. Then add ground spices suchb as coriander, cumin, caraway, and black pepper. Continue cooking the pot until meat is done.

Break fine bread into pieces [in a big bowl] and add enough of the broth to submerge it. Put the meat pieces all over the bread and garnish the dish by arranging small sausages and tardin (thin meat patties) all around it.

* The first variety of leek is named after Byzantium. It is mountain leeks with delicate, long, slender, and pungent leaves. The other variety is indigenous to Iraq. It is the regular cultivated variety grown for its crisp and tender leaves.

A recipe for tardin (thin meat patties): Take lean meat and meat from the shoulders. Thoroughly pound them in a stone mortar. Chop onion and pound it with the meat. Moisten the mixture with egg whites as much as needed. Throw into the mixture, ground coriander seeds, cumin, black pepper, cassia, ginger, galangal, and aniseeds. Pour in a small amount of murri (fermented sauce) and a little olive oil.

Take the meat paste out of the mortar, and spread it on a sheet of papyrus or paper. Boil water [in a pot] and put the sheet in it until the meat is done.

Take the sheet out of the water and cut meat into triangles. Pour washed olive oil into a frying pan and fry the pieces until browned. Arrange them on a platter, put a small bowl of mustard in the middle, and serve the dish, God willing.

The small sausages for which there are recipes in this book are all called laqaniq, which sounds suspiciously like another version of loukanikos, or Lucanian sausage, even though the recipes are different.


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