Food is probably in everyone's top ten list when it comes to good things to think about, especially when you're hungry. So what better way to get further into your favorite novel than to consider what the characters might be eating? Willand, the young hero in my mythic history – The Language of Stones, was a lad from a village background with simple tastes. For him and the other people of the Vale, the staple diet was a late medieval pottage, or thick stew, that followed the seasons. In spring and summer there was the fresh bounty of all that a green and pleasant land could provide.
In the fall, mushrooms, autumn fruits, nuts and berries, would be laid up in storage along with the harvest of new grain. In the dark depths of winter came the celebration of the solstice when cured meats were eaten, along with trout from the stream and coneys from the warrens along with the odd hare or two. Meat was not in great abundance in the Vale, being eaten perhaps only two days in seven, but there was a pleasing variety -- ducks and geese, ham and beef, and of course mutton. Eggs and all sorts of dairy produce were available also. There is a scene in The Giants' Dance (volume two) where Will and Gwydion hide in the cheese store of a great house, though they have more on their minds than food. Drink, too, was nicely various, with each village inn brewing its own beer and ale, each household making its own country wines from whatever fermentable base was available, such as quinces and medlars and the berries collected from elder trees. There were beehives in the gardens of the Vale that gave honey from which mead was made. Occasionally an enterprising peddler would bring in a flask of something more exotic by the way of fire waters from the mountains of the North.
But the Language of Stones universe, being magical, has more than peas and pottage. As with the sumptuary laws, which banned common folk from wearing certain kinds of rich cloth, there were certain foods reserved for the gentry, the aristocracy and those of royal blood. For instance, no commoner could kill a royal swan, on pain of death, and the same applied to game in the royal deer chases. Steaks cut from the haunches of gryphons, fire-drakes and the like were rare delicacies that sometimes appeared at high table on feast days, but special magical butchery was required to preserve the eater from ill. The lore of plants was a complicated business and a wide knowledge of magical herbs was maintained by specialist wizards. Plants, or "worts", were the province of Gort, the "Wortmaster," and if his spells didn't always work properly he could use his stock of dried leaves to add flavor to his dishes.
Apart from the obvious difficulties with locating such animals as gryphons, this seems like an appealing way to eat and I keep thinking I should write a companion cookbook. One day...
Thanks for stopping by to share your food for thought, Rob!
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