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Saturday, January 26, 2013

A Feast Of Ice And Fire: The Official Companion Cookbook By Chelsea Monroe-Cassel and Sarann Lehrer. London: HarperVoyager, 2012

This book is connected with George R.R. Martin's great fantasy series - the books, not the TV series. If you've been reading them, you may have noticed how often people eat! Whether it's Jon Snow and his fellow Night Watch members having a hot and hearty meal on the Wall, a seventy-seven course banquet at King Joffrey's wedding, Sansa and her lemon cakes or Arya living on what she can on the streets, characters eat - and the author describes their meals with great relish(pardon the pun). In some ways, it reminds me of all the food being consumed in TV science fiction show Babylon 5(and that, too, has a cookbook!). The book opens with an enthusiastic introduction by George R.R. Martin, whose fans presented him with baskets of IAF foods they had cooked when he went on a signing tour for the fifth book in the series. Lucky man!

The Song Of Ice And Fire series is set at least partly in a word like fifteenth century Europe and the food is accordingly period. (Well, mostly, anyway. There are some fruits and veggies that came from North America well after that era, but hey, it's GRRM's world!) The authors of this book, who run a food-connected Ice And Fire web site, Inn At The Crossroads, don't just experiment with food like that described in the novels, they research it in mostly mediaeval and Renaissance era books. So the recipes they have reproduced here are the real thing, adapted somewhat for the modern era.

The book is divided into sections based on the different settings of the books - the Wall, the north, the south, King's Landing, Dorne and "Across the Narrow Sea". There's a chapter at the start, on stocking a medieval kitchen, with some suggested substitutes for ingredients one just can't get in the supermarket, but also some of the basics, such as "poudre douce" and "poudre forte", spice mixtures which are used in a lot of medieval recipes and can be easily enough made up and popped in the pantry for when you need them.

With each recipe, there's a quote from one of the books about the particular dish, then the recipe from whichever early cookbook it came from. Then the recipe is in modern English. You are often given the choice between the medieval or a modern version. I'm rather keen to try the medieval version of apple cakes, which are, we're told, an ancestor of the doughnut, though you don't seem to need to deep fry them. There are also recipes for standard pitta bread and hummus, which appear in the novels as flatbread and chickpea paste. Well, there are a lot of foods that have been around for a while, which don't require you to research mediaeval recipes! (I once found an Ancient Greek recipe for honey pancakes which my Greek library technician told me they're still making). And one recipe, for Tyroshi honeyfingers, is taken from Apicius's Roman cookbook.

The authors are very adventurous in their cooking, but I think I might skip the honey-spiced locusts!

A wonderful, well-researched book that should be of use both to those who want to try some of the foods described in such detail in the books and to those fantasy writers who want a starting place for their own writing. I know I'm going to keep this in my own reference collection.

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