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Tiny Tarts

October 18, 2017

Last weekend I attended the Middle Kingdom Cooks’ Symposium in the Barony of Cynnabar.  This event is held every other year and travels from group to group around the kingdom.  The focus of the event is, of course, medieval cooking, and this year the list of classes included everything from the place of tea in Japanese society to cooking over an outdoor fire to carving meat in the manner used in the 14th century.

At the end of the day is typically a potluck feast in which participants are encouraged to bring a dish appropriate to the SCA period (or just something really tasty).  We had a great array of foods this year – all kinds of bread, salads, meats, grain dishes, several soups, vegetables, and many desserts.

I’m a fan of desserts, so I had a look through one of the great resources of 16th century German cooking, the Cookbook of Sabina Welserin, which dates to 1553 and has a list of nearly 200 recipes including everything from boar’s head to apple pie.

As I looked through the recipes, I started to feel some interest in the various almond tarts that are listed (six different versions) and I decided to give one of these a try for the potluck.  After looking through the different versions and considering what sounded most appealing, I settled on recipe 76: “Shell the almonds, pound them very small and strain them through a copper sieve.  Take cream or sweet milk, take five or six egg yolks and let it bake.  If you would like, you can mix rose water in with it, or else not.”

Even though this particular recipe doesn’t specify putting the almond mixture into a crust, I decided to do this to make it more tart-like and easier to serve.  I used a mini-muffin pan to make tiny tarts that could be small servings for the potluck.  This was easier to serve than a larger tart that would have to be cut into slices.

I cheated a bit by using commercial pie crust since I didn’t want to mess around with making my own, and cut the crust with a biscuit cutter that’s about 2.5 inches across, fitting each circle into one of the mini-muffin spaces.

Almond TartsThe filling mixture consisted of:
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup 2% milk
1 cup almond meal
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon almond extract

I used almond meal partly because I had it on hand and it was already ground, and partly because the recipe states to pound the almonds “very small” and then put them through a sieve.  This suggested to me that the end result was meant to be very fine, like the almond meal I used.  This mixture made enough for about 30 little tarts, filling each shell almost to the top.  The tarts were baked at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes, until the filling had puffed and set and was lightly golden brown on top.

The end result was a soft, pillowy filling that one taster even mistook for mashed potato!  This was probably related to the finely ground almonds since there wasn’t a lot of “nut” texture to the finished tarts.

As I worked on these and tasted them when they were done, I spent some time thinking about what this dish was really meant to be.  While our modern definition of a “tart” is usually something meant for dessert, I suspect that many of these tarts were meant to be served as part of the main course of a meal rather than a sweet dish at the end.  The recipes don’t all involve sugar, though several do list rose water (which I omitted because I don’t care for the flavor).  As noted above, several of the recipes do not call for a crust, also suggesting that this may have been served more as a pudding than a tart in the modern sense of the word.

Overall, the recipe was simple – one of the joys of Welserin’s book is that the recipes are pretty straightforward – and tasty.  This is something that could be made sweet or savory, depending on how it’s intended to be served, though if I were making it again as a dessert, I would add more sugar and increase the amount of almond extract (though perhaps using freshly ground almonds would give more of that “almond” flavor).


Pick-ing Up

September 29, 2017

The last couple of weeks I’ve been working on some more pick up weaving to make some bookmarks for a largesse challenge held at the Middle Kingdom Coronation.  This is an opportunity for artisans and craftspeople to showcase their work and also provide a stash of small items that the King and Queen can give out as small gifts throughout their reign.
I started with the patterns from Anne Dixon’s book, The Weaver’s Inkle Pattern Directory and built from there.  Some of the patterns I adapted from ones that come later in the book, since I set up this warp with only seven pattern threads.  One warp of my loom produced 11 bookmarks about 7 inches long each (plus fringe).  Since the challenge was “Dirty Dozen or Lucky Seven” (submit either 13 or 7 of an item) I did a second warp and made 10 more bookmarks for a total of 21.
I learned a lot in doing these patterns, especially how important it is to space the motifs correctly.  A couple of the early patterns I charted have some odd points in them because I didn’t realize yet that it was important to pay attention to whether the odd or even pattern threads were being lifted to the top of the weaving.
Overall, I’m pretty happy with the way these turned out and now I have some better experience with this technique.  I’ve spent way too much time on Pinterest as well, collecting more patterns.  This is another technique that appeals to my pattern-loving mind, so it’s satisfying to see things develop as they should.

More Blue Weaving

September 5, 2017

So I’ve got a lot of blue thread I’m trying to use up, which is why this project uses the same blue as the previous one.

This technique is one I’ve had percolating for the last couple of years but haven’t really tried.  I took a class at Pennsic last year and gave it a shot but the process didn’t really work out, though I kept thinking about it.  Finally, I got some heavier thread and watched a great tutorial video from The Compleatly Dressed Anachronist and presto – pick-up inkle weaving!

First Pick UpThe finished length is just under half an inch wide and a few inches more than 8 feet long.  This is another “pay attention” weaving method, though you do pick up the rhythm after a while.

Overall, I like the way this turned out, though I would leave a little more space between the pick-up motif and the border on future projects.  Maybe just one more row of weaving on each side would set the design off a little more.

Of course, one of our cats – Bouncer – felt the need to investigate the new thing in her space.  She always has to touch everything!

Bouncer Weaving


Pennsic Produce

August 23, 2017

Pennsic Produce used to be the name of the small fresh market that the Cooper’s Lake Campground ran in the main merchant area.  You could get fresh fruit and vegetables and a few baked goods, which was always nice.  A few years ago, the campground built a new facility that new serves as the location for many kingdom courts and other activities like the A&S Display, and also repurposed the old “Barn” structure into the Penn Market, which sells a much wider array of fresh fruit and veg as well as meats, cheeses, freshly baked goods (mmm, pepperoni and cheese rolls) and a wide variety of camping supplies.

That being said, here are two Pennsic-related projects, one from before Pennsic and one from just after.

First, the scroll I did for Middle Kingdom court – and Order of the Willow, given for accomplishment in the arts.  At some point before Pennsic, I stumbled on the website for the library of Trinity College, Cambridge.  Scribes, beware – this is a tremendous rabbit hole!  Happily, the library has digitized about 650 manuscripts from their collection, so there’s a lot to look at.  I spent a little too much time over a week or so clipping illuminated letters from the Canterbury Psalter, a mid-12th century manuscript produced at Christ Church, Canterbury.  There’s a wide selection of the alphabet here, full of lovely colors and wonderful regular patterns.
B det 2
For this scroll, I used a letter B as the main initial, with large colored capitals for the first few lines and then also later in the text for the recipient’s name.  I also used smaller colored capitals for many sentences, a common 12th century technique.

I’m pretty happy with the way this all turned out, though I need to be careful with my white lining, as usual.  While the Willow is not insignificant, for a more “advanced” award, I might also use gold leaf instead of gouache for the gold elements.


The willow device also turned out quite well and makes a dramatic contrast with the other colors of the lettering around it.

I filled in the lower part of the scroll with a simple border device also found in other 12th century examples, this one from MS Egerton 608 at the British Library.

Several people who saw the scroll when it was awarded spoke to me very kindly afterward and complemented my work, which is always nice to hear!Scroll 1
While at Pennsic, I had good intentions for several classes I thought of taking.  I made it to several of them, including a class on the Japanese art of temari – small thread-wrapped balls that have become a traditional New Year’s gift.  While we didn’t make it quite through making one of the balls in the class, there’s plenty of information available online and I was able to complete my sample at home.

Pennsic 2017This ball is based on a smooth styrofoam core that’s about 2″ in diameter.  I think the perle cotton I used for the embroidered design is perhaps a little too bulky for this size ball, but it still turned out rather well for a first attempt.  I could certainly tell which half of the design I did first – the second effort came out a lot tighter and more precise than the first!

Of course, this is another rabbit hole craft to fall down!  There are a great many temari patterns out there, and lots of beautiful color combinations to try, so I may experiment with a few more of these.  I have lots of thread around and styrofoam balls aren’t that expensive!

Last Minute Project

July 27, 2017

I’m leaving for Pennsic tomorrow, and while I didn’t make any new clothes this year, I have been working on finishing up a tablet weaving project that’s been on the loom since January.  I was determined to get this done and off the loom before I left, so this afternoon I did the last few repeats of the pattern.

This is the first of the three “S” patterns from Applesies and Fox Noses, based on a fragment of a woven band from an archaeological find dating to the Iron Age in Finland.  This is a rather broad period from about 500BC to 1150AD, and unfortunately the book doesn’t give specifics as to the estimated date of the actual find (some further research to be done when I’m not also packing).

Applsies S PatternThe pattern here is deceptively simple.  While the finished product isn’t complicated, getting there requires a fair amount of attention since this is not a basic X-turns forward/ X-turns back pattern.  Instead, different packs of cards turn forward or back on each pick every four or five picks so keeping count of each turn of the cards is important!  I also reversed the turning of the border cards every three repeats of the pattern (6 “S” shapes) to prevent the buildup of too much twist.

The finished band is 101″ long (plus fringe) and 3/8″ wide – very delicate, and I think this would look very nice done in silk or fine wool.  The bold color contrast is striking!

The Milk Jug Bag 2.0

July 18, 2017

A couple of years ago I made a post about this old Girl Scout craft, the ditty bag or camp carrier made from an empty milk jug.  When I did these in Girl Scouts we used a gallon jug, and that’s what I used for my contemporary project as well.

That carrier lasted for four years, which I think is pretty good considering that today’s plastic jugs are a lot lighter than those of the past.  Still, since we don’t cram as much into ours as I used to in my Girl Scout days, the gallon jug seemed to be a little big for our needs.

So when we got home from Pennsic last year, I saved a half-gallon jug to use for a smaller version and as I’m prepping for this year’s trip I finally got around to finishing the project.
New Ditty Bag 2
The biggest thing I learned from this new project is one of those “life hack” things the internet likes to yell about these days.  When it came to pulling the label stickers off of the jug, I was left with a lot of adhesive residue that just didn’t want to come off.  Soap and super-hot water?  Nope.  Acetone?  Kind of, but not super effective.  So I did some Google business and found a couple of suggestions.  First, rubbing alcohol.  Again, this produced a “sort of” result, but didn’t really work well.  The big winner?  Vegetable oil!  That’s right, plain old canola oil from the bottle on my pantry shelf.  Drizzle some on the adhesive, cover with a paper towel and let sit for 10-15 minutes and the adhesive rubs right off.  It was incredible!  Now you know…

Originally, I had planned to cut down the fabric top of my original bag to make it fit the New Ditty Bag 1half-gallon jug.  However, I found this would have meant cutting down a LOT (like almost half) and I didn’t really want to fuss around with it that much.  So what I ended up doing was marking the fabric at regular intervals and tacking it in place at the corners of the jug and midway along each side.  Then, as I was stitching the fabric in place, I just made a couple of small pleats across each side to take up the extra fabric.  This way, I still have a big opening at the top to reach into and a smaller container at the bottom to carry my shower supplies.  Project completed!

Scribal Friday

June 23, 2017

Now that the end of summer term is approaching, I have a little bit of a lull in the rounds of frantic grading.  I’ve actually been doing a fair amount of scribal work lately, between a couple of events and a challenge organized by a fellow scribe in the Barony of Cynnabar.  As a group, we’re working on doing a set of blanks with all of the letters of the alphabet!  I’m sure we’ll hear the cursing of the scribes to come when someone gets a blank with an X on it…

A detailIn May, I started with the letter A.  I’d already had this letter penciled in for a blank earlier in the year that had stalled once work got busy, so I had a little bit of a head start.  This letter is done in the 9th-10th century Ottonian style.  It’s fun to do the gold, and I’m getting better at doing fine lines with a brush.  I rather like the red outlining on this style.  You can also see the similarity to the later Italian White Vine Style of illumination here as well.

Talonval DH 17.2Then, for an event in June (I wanted to get an early start), I made a full scroll for someone in my local group.  Since the person’s name links him with the town of Chartres, I found a manuscript from that cathedral and used a letter O for the beginning of the scroll.  The Dragon’s Heart device fit neatly inside the letter, and I’m really happy with the way the shading of the scales turned out.  It’s always tempting to try to make this “perfect” but more often the little random touches of dark and light colors give a better effect.  The outlining here is all done with Micron pens – a modern touch, but something that gives a nice clean line.

Talonval DH 17.4I also really like the bold, colored capitals for the first few lines here.  This is a technique used frequently in 12th century manuscripts, and they were a lot of fun to do!  It’s nice to not have to be so precise sometimes, and tucking the two Ls together helps save a little space.

My second blank for the alphabet challenge was a letter U, done in an Early Medieval style common to the monasteries of the British Isles.  For this one, I also started with an introductory line since I think this gives a more cohesive look to the scroll overall.  Still working on getting the rubrication (the tiny red dots) more even, though of course the exemplars aren’t perfect either!
U detail

Blank 20Finally, for another event this past weekend, I used a blank I had done way back in 2014 (and maybe already posted somewhere here already).  This is one of the few blanks I’ve done with an award device already on it.  Usually I only include the device if I’m making a scroll for an assignment, but this was going into a competition where one of the entries had to be in support of martial activities.  The Dragon’s Barb is given for excellence and service within the archery community.  I realized as I was doing the lettering that it was going to end up looking like the archers in the castle were shooting at the names of the king and queen.  If I do one like this again, I’ll have to make sure they’re aiming somewhere else!