When Almonds Mooed

I’ve never heard almonds moo, but somewhere in the distant past, a savvy cook figured out a way to coax almonds to give up their “milk.” They’ve been doing it for thousands of years.

Almond Blossoms courtesy of aquarelabogota.org
Almond Blossoms courtesy of aquarelabogota.org

It wasn’t as hard as milking cows—you know, the hand/fingers coordination . . . thing—and it was a good substitute for cow’s milk at a time when refrigeration didn’t exist. Fresh milk had to be used immediately and no one would dream of buying milk from a vendor. It could have been contaminated, spoiled, or watered down.

Almond milk isn’t a new idea. It has a long history, and I doubt anyone could ever pinpoint the exact moment someone had a light bulb moment and realized that by soaking pulverized almonds in water, they could make almond milk. Almonds are native to North Africa, Western Asia, and the Mediterranean. The Egyptians enjoyed them and almonds were found in Tutankhamun’s tomb. The Romans thought them useful, calling them “Greek nuts” since the Greeks were cultivating them.

Tonsil Plums – Really?

The English word almond comes from the French word amande. In turn, amande is derived from an old Latin word for almond, amygdalus, which means “tonsil plum.” Hmm. That term doesn’t make almonds sound very appetizing, but it likely refers to the shape of the tonsil as it sits in the back of the mouth.

Blanced Almonds
Blanched Almonds

There are currently more than 100 varieties of almonds, many of which are grown in California, thanks to the Spanish missionaries who first brought the trees to the New World. California is currently the world’s largest supplier of almonds.

Back to medieval Europe.

As a rule, medieval adults didn’t drink cow’s milk. It was served to children, the elderly, and the sick. Today, we know that milk is rich in protein and can be consumed when meat wasn’t readily available. One thousand years ago, little was known about the nutritional breakdown of food into vitamins, minerals, proteins, etc. A typical meal for a farmer was bread and cheese with mead or ale thrown in for good measure. Cow’s milk was generally reserved for making cheese and butter, things that lasted far longer than the few days of fresh milk. For the wealthy, cream skimmed from fresh milk was used in making luscious desserts with fruits, nuts, and pungent spices.

The Catholic Church had imposed dietary rules, especially for Lent and other major holidays. There were also meatless days throughout the year. Using almond milk got around those restrictions, didn’t require refrigeration, and because almonds stored well, was available as needed.

When I started doing research for my medieval novel Forsaken, I scoured the internet

Fresh almond milk courtesy of Carrie on Living.
Fresh almond milk courtesy of Carrie on Living.

for information about what was eaten during that time as well as how food was prepared. I was surprised and delighted by how much information there is, including authentic recipes; both in the original text and transcribed into modern day English. For instance:

Source [Du fait de cuisine, Elizabeth Cook (trans.)]: 28. Take the quantity of almonds, have them well and cleanly blanched and washed and then have them very well brayed (crushed or pounded fine); and take very clean fair water and let him strain his almond milk into a bowl or a cornue (bowl or vessel with handle) which is fair and clean . . .*

You can buy almond milk at the grocery store, but making it yourself is very easy and tastes delicious. Here here are a few websites to help you get started:

Carrie on Living – easy tutorial with pictures.
Medieval Recipes – updated for the modern kitchen
A Boke of Gode Cookery – a website chock full of recipes and historical information.
Medieval Cookery – another website with recipes and historical information.
Vegan Reader – besides the basic recipe, there are other recipes for using almond milk.

* From Recreational Medievalism – a website by David Friedman

A Heroine By Any Other Name . . .

With Forsaken edited and available at online retailers, I thought it was time to answer a question that’s been asked, but one that I couldn’t answer. Until now. And the question is:

Why did I name the heroine in Forsaken MORYNHA?

I wasn’t sure how to answer it because I couldn’t locate the original information until recently and now that I’ve pieced the story together (again), I can share it with you.

Some years ago, we spent Christmas with my husband’s family at Indian Springs State Park in Georgia. Beautiful scenery. The cabins were wonderful. Crackling fire. Good food. Exceptional company. When we drove in, we noticed a stone wall enclosure with a gate, well shaded by a thick canopy of trees. Inside were headstones.

That got my attention—big time! The history buff and genealogist in me kicked into high gear and I vowed to see it before we left. When the chance came, I grabbed it! The gate was open and my husband and I went inside, not realizing that it was larger than the wall let on. It was an old cemetery and a lot of the stones were broken, some lying on the ground, others missing altogether. It was a place of whispering and quiet walking, a place to think about those who had lived in the area and now rested within the protective stone wall.

And then I saw it! Her name was Marhyna. Such an unusual name. She had been a daughter, a wife and a mother, remembered on a headstone placed by those who loved her. An idea exploded in my brain! Why not? I could do it. The name would be perfect in a story! What story? I didn’t know, but I didn’t care! We forgot the camera? What! No pencil or paper? I did my best to memorize the spelling and when we got back to the cabin, I wrote it down. Except that I wrote it wrong. I spelled it MORYNHA.

Within the last few weeks, I felt I needed to locate the original information and since I couldn’t remember where I put it, it seemed to take forever. After some intense searching, I finally found it online. Her name was Marhyna, NOT Morynha. It’s pronounced Marina and she was listed as Rena in one of the censuses. There was also a photo of the headstone.

Well, I get zero points for having a faulty memory, but I rather like the way I spelled it. Morynha – Mor-EYE-nuh. Hats off to the parents who gave their daughter a name spelled in an unusual way. I like to think, perhaps, that the real Marhyna would be proud to have been the inspiration for such a strong willed, yet loving heroine.

Forsaken is available at Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Amazon and other fine online book retailers.

Forsaken Now at Amazon!

Forsaken has been edited and is now available at Amazon

Forsaken
Forsaken

for the first time! A big thank you to my editor. If you love your Kindle and everything medieval, have I got a story for you! Knights, damsels, sword fighting, castles, royalty–you name it, Forsaken has it! It’s the perfect time of the year for a cup of your favorite hot drink, a cozy fire and a trip back to days gone by.

When Pepper Was Gold

While I was writing Forsaken, I did a lot of research.  A lot.  How the medieval world obtained pepper, salt and other spices was part of that research.  It was fascinating how something we don’t give much thought to was as costly as gold.

Dried_Peppercorns

I’ll admit it.  We love pepper…a lot of people do.  We actually wore out a Peugeot pepper mill in just two years.  Everyone has access to pepper.  Everyone buys pepper, but we never stop to think how precious a commodity it was in times past.  We run to the store and buy a tin or a plastic shaker bottle—or peppercorns if you like grinding your own.  It’s inexpensive as spices go, but that hasn’t always been the case.  It was so valuable at one time, that the desire for pepper and other spices changed the course of world history.

Originally, pepper, like other spices, made its way west by way of trading.  The grower sold it to Trader A, who took it some distance where Trader B bought it and carried it further west.  Each time it was sold, the price went up.  By the time the pepper and spices reached the ends of Western Europe, it was so expensive that only Kings and wealthy nobles could afford it.  Spices became a status symbol—the Ferraris of their day.

Pharaoh Ramses II obviously loved pepper.  He must have, otherwise he wouldn’t have had peppercorns shoved up his nose after he died.  Not a very appetizing thought (as you stand at the stove with a pepper mill in your hand), but it did show that the Egyptians revered the little black peppercorn we generally take for granted.

The Greeks and Romans used pepper, too, and there seem to be many Roman recipes that contain pepper.  I read somewhere that when Hannibal rode his elephants through the Alps into Italy, he demanded more than one ton of pepper as a ransom.  I don’t know if it’s true, but that’s a lot of pepper!  And remember, the Romans used salt as a form of currency—it was a good thing if a soldier was “worth his weight in salt.”

By the time of the Middle Ages, a trade route had been established from India to Italy, which took about a year to make round trip and for more than a thousand years, Italy had a stranglehold on the pepper trade.  The Portuguese decided they’d had enough of the exorbitant prices and Italy’s monopoly.  They found a way to India by sailing around the tip of Africa.  Monopolies, however, are tricky things to maintain and even harder to keep.  Smugglers found ways around the trade routes and through the blockades.  By the 17th century, Portugal had lost its monopoly to the Dutch and English.

Back to the Middle Ages.  The Crusaders brought back many items from the Near East never before seen in their home country; fruits like apricots and lemons, perfumes and soaps, rice and pistachios.  Pepper was a luxury item, as were many spices.  They were costly.  What delicious fun to one-up high ranking guests by having an especially rare spice used in the dishes prepared for the meal!  Herbs and spices also improved the flavor of salted meats kept for winter use.

It’s amazing to think about how something as simple and seemingly insignificant as a peppercorn could influence history.  And yet, it did.

~ FORSAKEN ~ Released!

forsakenfinalMy medieval romance, FORSAKEN, has been released!

Forsaken…

To all who knew him, Dane de Falaise is a dead man.  Hiding behind a mask, he becomes the Black Falcon, a man without a home, a name, or fealty to any man.  Both hunted and feared, he travels the countryside, searching relentlessly for the one who slaughtered those he loved and changed his life forever.

Forsaken…

Taking her sister’s place, Morynha de Montbrai is kidnapped by a menacing, black garbed knight and becomes a pawn in a sinister game.  As she and her captor struggle to find common ground, Morynha must teach Dane that some things are more important than revenge.  Will they find a fierce, burning love born from the seeds of their hatred and mistrust—or will they discover that, when the good in man is over taken by evil, they are left with nothing?

Ebook available at Smashwords and other online retailers!  Amazon coming soon!