Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Foodstuffs I

I had never intended to produce this post; the first effort that I made along these lines received all of one comment ... which at the time was sad for me, as it took a lot of hunting around and work and I wound up writing it over a period of four or five days.

But then I added the tool from blogger on the weekend that installed links for popular posts - and I found that it was actually one of the five most popular posts I've written.  Go figure.  I don't know how this fits into Cyclopeatron's assertion that blog readers don't want creative content ... can you call something which is just plain scholarship creative?  The combat simulation is much more creative (and equally time consuming), and though it doesn't generate many comments there are 20 plus people who at least vote.  On the other hand, metal and mineral descriptions are different from what most of the bloggers blog about.  So there's that.

This post (and I shudder as I start it) includes those foodstuff products which have arisen from the encyclopedia from which I get my industrial product references for my trade tables (which I haven't mentioned in months).  It does not proport to include all foodstuffs, or varieties of foodstuffs, for that would be insane.  But I wager there will be some mentioned of which the gentle reader will not have heard.  I certainly hadn't heard of some before starting this process.  The point is that everything common will be included, and uncommon things only as they happened to be mentioned by said source.

Food is any substance that is consumed to provide nutritional support for the body, which may be ingested and assimilated by the organism's cells.  I stretch the point in bits, including items which derive from animals and plants, but which would not necessarily be considered edible.  Through the post, I'll color code sections so as to make things clearer.  When the color is blue, we've returned to the main alphabetical list.  Grouped items will appear as a different color under a black heading.

BrewingThe production of beer through steeping various plant material, commonly cereals, the result of which is then fermented with yeast.  I don't know how deeply I have to get into this.  Beer has been brewed for thousands upon thousands of years, and is sometimes said to predate cooking in the technological history of man.  You can, if you wish, make beer from virtually anything, because virtually anything edible contains sugars which provide the fermentation that gives beer its purpose for being.  Most worlds insist on beer made from either grains or honey (mead), but it can be made from most vegetables and starchy plants, including tubers.  Just 'cause its interesting, the Sumerians had a god of brewing, Ninkasi, which for reasons unknown didn't get into the Deities & Demigods supplement.

CaviarCaviar is a luxury delicacy deriving from the roe, or fully ripe internal ovaries/egg masses, of - traditionally - sturgeons in the delta of the Volga river where it debouches into the Caspian Sea.  Caviar has come to refer nowadays to a wide variety of other fish sources, including salmon, steelhead, trout, lumpfish and whitefish ... all of which this particular author refuses to eat.  Even alternate forms of sturgeon, not deriving from the Caspian, are intolerable to me ... and yes, I can taste the difference.  While it sounds horrific to some, the option of including caviar as a valuable treasure has come up in my world often, though not since my party left Russia.  People asked me once about the influence of magic upon farming production - if you ask me, some Khazar mage centuries ago is certain to have invented a summon monster derivative spell that only summons Caspian sturgeon ... it would only make sense.

CiderA fermented beverage made from apple juice - in effect, beer made from apples.  While cider can be made from most any apple, its generally made now of apples specifically cultured to produce specific flavours.  A medieval apple - prior to widespread cutting and recutting to produce varieties - would have been more likely to grow wild, though of course many areas of Europe had orchards prior to the fall of Rome.  It must be remembered that Rome was subtropical, however, and not ripe with apples ... in large areas of northern Europe, cider would have been brewed long before apple orchards would have been common.  No doubt, the brew was less namby-pamby than modern cider ... and heavier on the alcohol content too.  It would not be the medieval equivalent of ordering 'milk.'


I include seven varieties of 'unusual delicacies,' some of which might not seem correctly widespread in an Earth-based world due to their western hemispherean origin ... to which I have one answer: druids.

ChocolateWe're all familiar with the old saw about chocolate originally not being sweet and being drunk as a coffee alternative in a Mayan world that did not have coffee.  The people of the Andes and Mexican highlands probably still drink the bitter brew of the Mayans, but for me that seems boring and dull.  And there are druids.  So I accept chocolate's existence in the form we know it today, because that's fun and because it makes a really different treasure type.  There's really no limitation on the portion size, either ... dungeon made of chocolate, anyone?

CandyThe Arabs had candy before the west did, and would have been most likely what we would  call 'rock candy' ... hard sucking lumps that could be carried on long journeys in a very hot and dry climate with little trouble.  The explosion of variety we're familiar with post-dates my world, so with the exception of the other confectionary listed here, I don't offer for sale anything in this category but hard candy.  I suppose if a player made an argument for some other reasonable type, I'd be willing to give ground ... but no one has.

Edible Bird's Nests
Edible Bird's Nests.  This is one of the strangest things on my list.  The taste for bird's nests is something that dirives from Southeast Asia, where gatherers risk their lives crawling down cliff faces in order to nests, consisting mostly of bird saliva with little or no plant materials.  The nests are most commonly made into soup, but not necessarily.

Glazed Fruit"The continual process of drenching the fruit in syrup ..."  Mmm, sounds good.  This is distinctly a European thing, and not easily found in North America.  Once the fruit is sugared, allowed to dry and solidify, then powdered, it can be kept in a saddle bag for many months, ready for handing out to various orc children on the journey.  Longer, if the mage has the right cantrips.

Peppermint.  Not to be confused with the naturally occurring plant, the candy's origin is non-specific.  The link says 1670, but that's only the confirmed date.  For myself, I can't think of any two things more at odds than a D&D paladin and a sack full of candy canes ... but then I like mixed up images like that.  Eh, treasure's treasure.

Perigord Truffles
Truffles, and specifically black Perigord truffles, must be the druidical contribution to the delights of man.  I wonder if plant growth allows for the creation of thousands of instant truffles - it shouldn't, since technically fungus isn't a 'plant' in the understood sense of the word.  On the other hand, medieval science didn't make modern distinctions about such things.  In the Great Chain of Being, truffles ranked somewhere just above rocks, and just below mosses.  At any rate, they're an acquired taste.  I'll stick to caviar.

Treacle.  Sort of a medieval equivalent to molasses, not as dark and not as thick, but syrupy and meant for eating with bread.  A barrel of this stuff would go for a fair price and be a real pain to roll around, since the center of gravity doesn't shift as fast as it does with water ... the barrel would have a tendency to wobble, you understand, and even 'get away.'  For reasons surpassing all understanding, treacle became known as a medical cure all ... so obviously it ought to be important to magical research, too.

CopraNote that we've returned to the main list, and left confectionary behind.  Copra is the dried meat, or kernal, of the coconut.  While it can be eaten, and even stored, it's typically dried and cleaned as the first stage in producing coconut oil, in which state it is used extensively (to be discussed later).  Copra can be used as an animal feed, and apparently - according to this - is highly combustable.  A mage with a dry cantrip and some black powder could have a field day.  Give me two druids with the ability to change into swallows and I'll destroy your field artillery in short order.


CreamStraightforward and something we're all familiar with, a very common substance that doesn't seem to occur all that often on equipment lists.  Why would it?  It is not adventure friendly.  You can't wipe out a band of roving goblins and then take their cream to market.  Goblin ranchers, sure, but not goblin rovers.

Milk.  More boring than cream.  But if I can make a comment on those bloggers who are busily calculating the number of calories that can be obtained from 30 acres of medieval yield wheat, the addition of milk or cream to the diet of your average cotter or villein deserves its due.  A single cup of whole milk contains 146 calories and 8 grams of protein ... and therefore a village cow goes a long way to increasing the health of everyone in the community.

Kumiss.  Then again, if you want to take a left turn away from sanity, you might want to consider a glass of this stuff: a fermented beverage made from the milk of a horse.  It's popular among Turks, Mongols and Hungarians - and yes, there is certainly a cultural connection there.  Any further discussion I will leave to the link.  I have yet to have a party member develop a taste for it.

Butter.  Produced through the thickening, or churning of whole milk to transform it from fat mixed into water (milk) into water mixed into fat (butter).  Obviously, I don't have to explain what butter is ... but I recommend looking into how its made, how much trouble it takes, how widely it would influence a culture that prized the substance and why your peasant women have more to do than sit on the porch greeting character travellers all day.


Ghee.  Clarified butter, or butter 'without the pulp' (hah hah, I'm just being clever).   Milk solids and water are separated from the butterfat in order to obtain a clear liquid (which, when solidified, turns opaque).  It is popular in South Asia, in part because it can be kept longer in a warmer temperature.  In North American culture, is occurs most commonly in association with seafood, such as shrimp, lobster and crab.

CheeseThe perfect marriage between bug and cow.  The coagulation of milk protein which, after allowed to get suitably moldy, hardens into a wonderful substance without which my life would be horribly empty.  As complicated as it is, cheese offers no end to possibilities for deep dungeon industrial production, since once the milk is obtained it can be manufactured virtually anywhere.  I'm afraid I don't have any 'poison' cheeses on my list today ... though one wonders what kind of cheese either yellow mold or brown mold would bring into existence, and which kind of creature would eat it.  Still, I have a list of cheeses that my world does include, as listed below.  I'm not sure how many of these reach back into the medieval age ... this is one case in which I'm ready to make exceptions.  The reader will please note that not every cheese is added here ... only those which, according to my 60-year-old encyclopedia, were worth mentioning.  Other cheeses would exist and be available in my world, but these would be the more expensive:

CamembertWith strawberries, please.  Wikipedia says it was invented in either the 18th or 19th century in Normandy, but with cheeses I just can't believe there wasn't a peasant equivalent around for centuries beforehand.  Perhaps that is just wishful thinking.  One way or another, I repeat, my world has druids.

CheddarThe association between this cheese and that called 'cheddar' in North America makes the fantasy of D&D look staggeringly scientific.  It originates from a town of the same name in west England.  I would wager that most persons in the world's western hemisphere have never actually tasted cheddar cheese ... I did once, years ago, but I can't seem to find it where I am.  I repeatedly stumble across groups swearing up and down that they make cheddar, and then it turns out that, well, they don't.  Trust me, you bastards reading this in England have my envy.  Note that the picture on the link isn't orange.

EdamNamed after the Dutch city, a total failure as cannon ammunition and still, marvelous with wine and pears.

Ewe's Milk CheeseThe encyclopedia isn't specific, except that the reference I have comes from Aveyron, France.  If any gentle reader would like to identify which ewe's milk cheese Aveyron is famous for, I wouldn't mind hearing about it.

GorgonzolaAn Italian cheese for which I have a medieval origin (AD 879, according to Wikipedia), in the town of the same name.  I have places of production including Nuara (modern Novara) and Lecco, both in the foothills of the Alps in northern Italy.  This is definitely leaning into my cheese favorites.

GoudaAn excellent cheese from Holland, the city of the same name, and for my money superior to Edam (when you can get it from a Dutch maker).  I like that "pungent, underlying bitterness."  The hardness would make it a most excellent choice for dungeoneering.


GruyereNamed after the town of the same name in Switzerland, produced throughout the low lying valleys of that country.  The French have perfected many sauces from it, making me wonder why I don't live in France.  Ah, yes, it's my lack of desire to weigh 400 lbs.
LimburgerAnd here I draw the line.  I detest Limburger cheese.  It's described as being first produced by Rudolph Benkerts in 1867, but yada yada druids yada yada.  Some people like it.  I can do without.  I'm not saying its quite the same as other evils Germany has perpetrated on the world (sauerkraut, liederhosen), but it's close.

Parmagiano.  Excessively common now, parmagiano is heavy on maintenance, takes a long time to produce and includes issues such as what fodder cattle are raised on.  It's an excellent cheese for long-distance travel, as it is hard and remains edible for literally years.  .  Ah, the best for last.  Stilton is a blue cheese, traditionally invented in the 18th century, and must be eaten to be believed.  Though I understand some do not like it.  Baffling.

Pont-l'Évêque.  Another French cheese originating in Normandy, said to date from the 12th century, and similar in texture to brie and the above-mentioned camembert.  I haven't actually tasted this, but it is very popular.  An alternate name for the cheese is 'angelot.'

Red Leicester.  This, I admit, I haven't tasted.  If anyone wants to send me a sample, I'm certainly ready for it.  Please, not aged less than six months.  Might as well be effete about it.  Leicester is a large city in central east England, for those who don't know.

Red Leicester

StiltonAh, the best for last ... a blue cheese, nominally created in the 18th century.  But since this is my favorite cheese, I'm certainly going to include it.  If you haven't had Stilton, you must try it ... though I understand some people do not like it.  Baffling.

I want to make the brief point that while there are ongoing issues with Stilton and other cheeses regarding the dangers they present in not being pasturized, none of the cheeses mentioned here would have been pasturized during the middle ages.  Perhaps a cantrip could make them safe, but certainly some people would feel that unmagicked cheese tasted better, and would be aware they were hazarding their lives in eating cheese.  But what D&D player would tolerate their 9th level fighter kicking it after a few bites of Stilton?  Unimaginable.

This is a long and grueling task, and I will continue.  Aside from a few random items, the larger categories yet to come include distilling, baking, meat, oils and wine.  About 75 more foodstuff types.


KenHR said...

I don't comment much on your blog, but that's because I rarely have anything intelligent/clever to add. But I love posts like this, so I hope you keep them coming. The last thing we need is yet another discussion about "Old School Art" or the 5000th repeat of someone's gaming manifesto.

ckutalik said...

I thought one thread that had come out of the "nobody reads content posts" discussion was that people may read them, they just don't comment on them as much--something I am trying to improve on myself.

Your minerals list, for instance, had an enormous influence on my thinking about what resources to include in my own Domain Game.

A roundabout way of saying you have an audience that appreciates these posts.

Oddbit said...

We once accidentally named our town that we adventurers forcibly, though in a friendly manner somehow, acquired Ghee. This was through random letter selections from a dictionary, just a weird side note.

As for the post, I love it. Thinking about alternate and 'mundane' forms of treasure or valuables or even goods is a wonderful practice to not only give less +1 swords and to create our own extrapolations based on fantasy universes. Aboleth caviar anyone?

As for why I don't post, I post when I have something to add, when it seems thoroughly covered by what is there, I try not to add anything.

Alan said...

Re: Ninkasi - now I know where the Oregon-based brewery got its name (very good beer as well)! http://www.ninkasibrewing.com/

It is 9:04 AM, and you have now made me suitably hungry for some good cheeses accompanied by a quality beer.

Anonymous said...

Ditto. This and the forthcoming posts, like the minerals one, will be copied and pasted into my own world notes.

Anonymous said...

Also, now have a hankering for smoked gouda and a suitably hoppy ESB.

5stonegames said...

Good material and an interesting post.

As it happens I've blogged on food myself and I've eaten most of the things on this list save truffles (way outside my price range) and kumiss which unlike most alcohol does not store well and is unavailable in the US as far as I know.

Food is an unappreciated topic in RPG which is understandable as many of us are more into the conflict portion of the game than any other part...

Keep up the good work ...

ChicagoWiz said...

It was my understanding that a small brewery did create a batch of beer based on the "Hymn to Ninkasi". I would have loved to have tried that. I haven't found any reference that any local brewery is brave enough to try it since.

Lasgunpacker said...

Excellent post.

What about other "traveling" foods? Cheese and such like are good, but what about pemmican or hardtack? Our intrepid PCs are gone traveling or dungeon delving for a long time, so they need food that lasts a while.

Arduin said...

Holy carp. That's just awesome, by which I mean it inspires awe.

Well freakin' done. Can't wait to read the next installment.

C'nor (Outermost_Toe) said...

Interesting. What about glazed flowers? Are those included, or is there some reason that they wouldn't be available?

Capcha: Audit.

richard said...

I'm trying to understand the organizing schema behind this post - is this a kind of expanded equipment list specifically tailored to your campaign? Are these the things your players might be able to buy in your markets?

I've been tempted before now to write a list for my game of "all the things that are more valuable than silver," but because my games tend to be set in expansive worlds, where lots of stuff is novel to the PCs, I figure such a list might be self-defeating.

And Pont l'Eveque's very nice, but IMHO nothing to write home about. And it doesn't keep for all that long if subjected to non-cellar temperatures.

Are you doing SEAsian spices (nutmeg, mace cloves, cinnamon)? They're involved in some really, really long transit networks.

richard said...

...the famous ewe's milk cheese of Aveyron is almost certainly Roquefort, which has been made there since the 11th century. There's also the milder Perail and a Pont l'eveque lookalike that I suspect (without evidence) is much more recent, partly because it's just called "Aveyron cheese block."

richard said...

......oh and by the way (sorry for jumping all over your comments here), the Musee du Moyen Age in Paris has a garden that purports to contain all the plants cultivated in France during the middle ages. Although exactly what dates they set for that and how they know I'm not sure. It's probably not nearly as complete or pure as they'd have you think.

Alexis said...

To explain.

This is not an equipment list. My equipment list is fabricated from these base substances (so C'nor, I'd work out a price for glazed flowers based on glazed fruit).

Thank you Richard for the suggestion of Roquefort. That will probably be the cheese that's meant.

As it happens, I have about 100 references for "cheese" from various places in the world, unspecified. In the medieval world, every local variety had its unique name ... but for pricing purposes, these individual cheeses might be the prevalent cheese on the table in that district, but an ounce of local cheese on a table in Finistere wouldn't cost any more than an ounce of local cheese on a table in Languedoc. I don't have specific references for specific cheeses from my designated source, and you have to draw the line somewhere.

All other similar products are then calculated according to these references.

Alexis said...

Oh, and I had also meant to add, in reference to nutmeg, mace, cloves and cinnamon. This is the first of three foodstuffs posts. After foodstuffs comes textiles, wood, alchemy, materials, metalworking, crops, fruits & vegetables, livestock and finally fish. A total of approximately 850 products. And I keep finding new ones. I'm researching Spain and Portugal just now, but as I move into Africa I'm sure I'll find a bushel of things I don't have mentioned at all.

Fun, eh?

Carl said...

This is great stuff, Alexis.

Anonymous said...

On the topic of butter and the labor it takes to make it- I think it was de Tocqueville in Democracy in America (unless I have this mixed up with another author) who mentioned butter in connection with the differences between states. The hardworking yankee states made butter, while the indolent southern states, despite considering it a delicacy, could rarely be troubled.

So you might only get butter in Lawful or at least industrious realms in a fantasy game.

Skydyr said...

On the raw milk cheese issue, my understanding is that the bacterial concern grows less and less important as the cheese ages, so a fresh raw milk cheese could get you sick, but after a few months to a year, it's pretty unlikely.