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Month: August 2017

On Watermelons

On Watermelons

“I wonder if I can document a watermelon cordial for A&S.”

Sometimes, we end up deep in a research hole after asking a seemingly innocent question. I had already started the cordials but thought I might poke around a bit to see what I could learn about the history of the watermelon, in the hopes of possibly being able to document a watermelon cordial. I knew the watermelon was brought to North America on slave ships from Africa, so I had long-assumed that it was a latecomer to European palates, since it was brought to the New World by people who were enslaved. Turns out, I was wildly wrong. (That National Geographic article is a fascinating read, by the way; definitely check it out.)

(Cucumeres et Cetruli)
Watermelons and Cucumbers, From the Tacuinum of Paris

The watermelon was known and cultivated in Europe during the Roman era. The first drawing of a watermelon in European documents was in one of the copies of the Tacuinum Sanitatis (a 13th-century text derived from Taqwīm as‑siḥḥah تقويم الصحة ). Watermelon was also being cultivated in India in the 7th century and in China by the 10th. (!!) I also found a 14th-century recipe book (in medieval Catalan, gods help me) with candied watermelon.

Tacuinum Sanitatis, ca. 1400 Watermellons

If we stretch our region to Northern Africa and the Levant, we can find that 5,000-year-old watermelon seeds were found in an ancient settlement in Libya. Watermelon was a fantastic way of storing water for long journeys or droughts, as the fruit last a very, very long time before going bad. They are a good choice for sea voyages or crossing the desert.

Watermelons used to be rather bitter, but that bitterness was tied to a single gene, making it easy to breed out. Interestingly, that gene also controls the color of the flesh of the melon; it turns it to the familiar red we know and love. It made it very easy tell if a watermelon was going to be sweet or not.

Watermelons were used to treat heat stroke in children; Hippocrates (you know, of the Hippocratic Oath?) recommended the rind be placed on the head of an overheated child to help cool them down. So, we now have documentable evidence that children have been wearing watermelon helmets for at least 2500 years.

Watermelons were mentioned in the Jewish Bible (Christian Old Testament). We know that watermelons reached India by the 7th century CE and China by the 10th century CE. Watermelons are often held up as examples of how humans have been manipulating plant genetics for centuries, usually by showing this painting by Giovanni Stanchi. 

Extrait d’un tableau de pasteques, by Giovanni Stanchi

We also have watermelons in illuminated manuscripts, such as seen here

Image of watermelon from the Tractatus de herbis, British Library ms. Egerton 747, which was produced in southern Italy, around the year 1300
Image of watermelon from the Tractatus de herbis, British Library ms. Egerton 747, which was produced in southern Italy, around the year 1300

While I have yet to find reference to watermelons being used in cordials, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that someone, somewhere, created one just to see how it would turn out. In a few months, we’ll see if it was a worthy experiment.

 

 

Heart of Glass

Heart of Glass

One of the things I love about the SCA is the opportunity to learn crafts that might otherwise cost significant money for lessons. In March of this year, at Gulf Wars 2017, I decided to take several lampwork glass classes. I’ve been fascinated with glasswork since I was a kid (especially glass blowing) but never had the opportunity to learn. The lampwork classes are generally pretty popular and fill up quickly, since there’s usually a maximum of 5-6 people permitted. I ended up spending a lot of time in the glass tent, making beads and working on the techniques I learned.

First lampwork class
My first beads!

My first beads were… well, first beads. I quickly began to experiment with making dots (as seen in the bottom left of the above image), swirling, and even played with putting wings on a cylinder and crimping them. It actually looks decently like a bee, although the wings are pretty fragile and one broke. Superglue is my friend.

Second bee effort

Triskelion class efforts

I started to get a feel for things and moved on to a triskelion class. I had fun learning how to manipulate colors together and even playing with some of the transparent colors.

Of course, as can happen at these sorts of things, the bug bit me and I ordered some basic equipment a few days after going home.

Home setup

 

I ended up making several rose-themed beads for a small A&S competition. It involved a few new-to-me techniques (creating micro-rods, twisting two together, and layering clear glass on solid glass on a mandrel). I made mistakes, but I also had some victories. I need to take some photos of the final products to upload here, but in the meantime, you can see one of the rose beads I made.

At King’s College of this year (2017), I took an advanced lampwork class with Mistress Bea. She encouraged me along; I ended up learning a lot and definitely stretching my skill set!

 

Hollow bead

My hollow bead was barely technically hollow, but it still counts. Two disks and careful folding create this bead.

Tiny amphora

A tiny amphora I made! I’m actually pretty pleased with this, despite it’s hilarious wonkiness. It required three new-to-me skills to make (making a disk, folding glass, and making handles).

Blown bead

And, finally, my first-ever blown bead. This requires a marble marver and a hollow mandrel. 

I’m currently in the process of unpacking all the boxes in my garage so I can (finally!) set up my lampwork station here at the new house. 

Cordially Yours

Cordially Yours

Two summers ago, I took a cordial-making class at my very first Pennsic. It was great — admittedly, at the time, it was basically an excuse to drink someone else’s booze. I barely knew what a cordial was but took a friend and was pleasantly surprised. The class itself was actually really interesting and I ended up way more engaged in it than I had expected to be. I have to admit, I liked the idea of a project that was, essentially, set-and-forget. Cordials are easy to make; they just take a long time for results, so you need patience.

I made some cordials with pears from my family’s ranch last year. I aged them five months (primarily by putting them in a closet and forgetting about them) and took them with me to Gulf Wars to pour for people. They were a pretty decent hit at Gulf Wars. The pears did not add much flavor themselves, but the spices I put in with them were a big hit.

I finally started making cordials this year in a more serious way, now that I’m back in a real city and have access to alcohol at bulk rates (thank you, Ye Olde Costco). My family’s garden is yielding some amazing fruits and veggies, too, so I have been putting those to good use.

Cherry, Blackberry, and Watermelon cordials

I’m using either vodka or brandy for most of my cordials. Brandy is generally the alcohol of choice for in-period recipes, but vodka is also quite popular as a vessel for flavor since it has no real flavor of its own.

Watermelon, cubed and in the jar.

Doing the cordials now means I can let them sit for months before A&S competitions or Inter-Kingdom Brewing Guild competitions. My hope is to bring most of these to either Gulf Wars 2018 or Pennsic 2018.

Fruits I’ve been using for the cordials:

  • Watermelon (20 lb watermelon from my family’s garden)
  • Blackberry
  • Strawberry
  • Black cherry
It's hot.
Cayenne Cordial

And since I reside in the stellar kingdom of Ansteorra, I decided to make a few… more dangerous cordials. These peppers all came from my family’s garden.

  • Cayenne
  • Poblano
  • Jalapeño 
Peppers galore

Unlike normal cordials that are allowed to stew for at least a month, if not more, peppers need to be strained about a week after being placed in the alcohol. I’ll be adding sugar water to these in a few days and start the next round of the aging process. It should be interesting.

I keep track of the recipes in my SCA notebook. These all get transferred over to a spreadsheet, which is being stored in the cloud. 

Cordial notes from my notebook

At the moment, I currently have more than six gallons of cordials working. It’s a lot of booze, but I trust my SCA family can help me dispose of it.

Fruit and Berry Cordials, hard at work.
Summer Sekanjabin

Summer Sekanjabin

I have been in the SCA for just over two years now. Pennsic was the third event I ever attended and I was fortunate enough to be able to go again last year. This summer, however, I had to choose between Pennsic or seeing the eclipse (I could take two weeks off, but not a full month). I opted for the eclipse. Pennsic will be there for me next year. In any case, in the spirit of Pennsic, I decided to make up some sekanjabin.

Sekanjabin is a shelf-stable Persian drink dating back to at least the 10th century (in Fihrist of al-Nadim). While most popularly made with mint, the only real requirements are vinegar and honey/sugar. People play with the ratios and add different things to them. I opted for flavors I already had on hand in my home — but flavors which were all found in Persia in-period.

Bottled syrup on the left and prepared drink on the right

Enjoy!

Summer Sekanjabin
A refreshing traditional drink
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Prep Time
2 min
Cook Time
10 min
Total Time
15 min
Prep Time
2 min
Cook Time
10 min
Total Time
15 min
Ingredients
  1. 2 C sugar
  2. 1¼ C water
  3. ½ C vinegar (white, white wine, or red wine)
  4. 1 C pomegranate juice
  5. 1 T rose water
  6. 3 ginger candies or 1T ginger syrup
Instructions
  1. Bring the sugar, water, and vinegar to a boil. Stir for three minutes (sugar should now be fully integrated).
  2. Add ginger candy or syrup; stir until melted. Remove from heat.
  3. Add rosewater and pomegranate juice, stir.
  4. Let cool to room temperature, then bottle.
  5. To drink: add 1 part syrup to 5-10 parts water. Can be prepared hot or cold, but I think it tastes best over ice.
Notes
  1. Sekanjabin is shelf-stable and will last a very long time. Feel free to play with the flavors and proportions of the base ingredients -- other popular flavors include mint, lavender, and quince. It's also worth noting that the different vinegars will affect the flavor of the final product.
  2. Final yield is 24 oz of syrup. That's enough to make more than 3.5 gallons of final product -- ample to keep a family hydrated for a day at an event.
  3. Ginger candies and ginger syrup can be purchased online or through your local health food store. I recommend the Ginger People's hard ginger candies or their syrup. You can, of course, make your own, but I find the cost-benefit analysis to come out in favor of purchasing.
Adapted from Historic recipes
Adapted from Historic recipes
Hextilda http://www.hextilda.com/