Rarely does my life in Chicago resemble that of the lords and ladies of Westeros. I get to wear pants and bathe as often as I please, to begin with, and come to think of it I’ve never been raised from the dead by dark magic. I have sat at table with my friends, however, and feasted on beef and bacon pie.
Earlier this summer, the two authors of Inn at the Crossroads – a food blog based on dishes mentioned in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire – published a cookbook. Using medieval cookbooks (such as A Propre New Booke of Cokery) and research into the ingredients and cooking methods of the time, they’ve compiled dozens of their recipes into A Feast of Ice and Fire.
Novelty cookbooks abound; if you’re a pop culture aficionado you can entertain like The Sopranos or bake like Aunt Bee. A Feast of Ice and Fire feels like less of a stretch. As Martin writes in his introduction to the cookbook, “My goal as a writer has always been to create an immersive vicarious experience for my readers.” If you’ve read any or all of the books in A Song of Ice and Fire, you’ve read about hundreds of meals. Martin never mentions a meal without naming all of its components. For example:
There were great joints of aurochs roasted with leeks, venison pies chunky with carrots, bacon, and mushrooms, mutton chops sauced in honey and cloves, savory duck, peppered boar, goose, skewers of pigeon and capon, beef-and-barley stew, cold fruit soup.
Of course, one is prevented from feeling totally immersed in these meal scenes when one has never had a single dish described. Yes, I feel like I’m sitting next to Tyrion at lunch, but I don’t know what lunch tastes like. Because A Feast of Ice and Fire has the potential to remedy that to some degree, I decided to have some fellow Martin-readers over for a sampling of the book’s recipes. One cornily-worded Evite later I was hosting a dinner party.
The book is full of eye-catching recipes: Quails Drowned in Butter, Pigeon Pie, Roasted Auroch (an extinct animal, but proper substitutions are suggested), Tyroshi Honeyfingers, Honey-Spiced Locusts, Lemonsweet, Apple Tarts. (It might as well be said that the book is padded with non-eye-catching recipes, like Cheese and Onion Pie, which is a quiche, or Sansa Salad, which is a spinach salad. But hey, maybe they’ve just been eating quiche forever.) The recipes are divided by the region of Westeros from which they fictitiously originate (The Wall, The North, The South, King’s Landing, Dorne, and Across the Narrow Sea), and introduced by a passage from one of the series’ books in which they are mentioned. Many have both a medieval and a modern version, if the authors found that the medieval version could use some literal spicing up.
One of the drawbacks of planning a dinner from the book was that I sought out the simplest recipes, or ones I could make ahead of time, rather than going for the most exotic. Even if I wanted to make a pastry dough, roll it out, divide it into strips, braid those strips, fry them, and then dip them in a honey glaze (and I did!), I couldn’t do that while preparing a full meal for nine people. I did want to sample from the more novel recipes, the ones I didn’t think I had ever had, and the compromise resulted in the following menu:
Roman Peaches in Honey-Cumin Sauce
Beef and Bacon Pie
Iced Blueberries in Medieval Creme Bastard
Iced Green Minty Tea
I had a realization about two hours before my guests arrived, when the blueberries were in the freezer, the beets were in the oven (with the bacon, separately), the pie dough was waiting to be kneaded, the beef was browning, the honey-cumin sauce was simmering, the tea was chilling, and I was peeling peaches: in Westeros, the people who feast aren’t the people who cook. I suppose it’s a gift of modern life that I was able to cook, host, and eat the night’s feast. It’s more likely that when book six comes out I’ll spend a good deal of time yelling at the characters to thank their chefs. At about the same time I remembered that you’re not supposed to try new recipes when you have people over, let alone five, but thankfully everything turned out well (although one of my guests noted that I wasn’t supposed to exclaim with surprise everytime something tasted good), with a few delicious highlights.
The baked peaches were my favorite dish. Roasted cumin is combined with white pepper and then simmered with honey, vinegar, and mint. The sauce is poured over sliced peaches and baked. The resulting sweet and savory and summery flavor is very much like a chutney, except you can eat it on its own. Actually, I also eat chutney on its own.
The dessert, which I chose solely because I could make it the day before, was also a pleasant surprise. You make Creme Bastard (“an early form of the word custard,” we’re told) by simmering egg whites, cream, salt, and honey, then straining it, cooling it, and marveling at how delicious it is. You will want to put it on every piece of fruit you eat for the rest of your life. Or maybe you’ll just be so happy to have reached the end of a Westeros dinner party without anyone being poisoned, stabbed, made to ride a pig, or exposed as illegitimate that anything will taste like heaven.
There is a section at the end of the book called “Feasting in Style.” I read that section and then I laughed heartily to myself as I spread a borrowed tablecloth over a card table and set it with plastic plates. On the other hand, I did make an origami rose out of my A Dance with Dragons dust jacket and wear a an Eddard Stark “Talk To The Hand” t-shirt. Even without goblets and fur, it’s a joy to dine in Westeros.