OK, we admit that honeyed dormice, peacocks served in their plumage, roasted black swan and olives stuffed with maggots are never going to catch on, even with the most fanatical foodies. Ditto for raw horse heart and dog sausage.
And auroch is right out, since that massive European bovine has been extinct since the 1600s.
Still, Game of Thrones has managed to entice a lot of fans to the quasi-medieval feast. Characters on the bloody, bawdy HBO television series, which just started its third season on Sunday, often find respite from rounds of decapitation, disembowelling and dismemberment by relaxing with tankards of ale and pewter plates piled high with victuals. The crazy-popular TV series is based on A Song of Ice and Fire, a planned seven-book saga by American author George R.R. Martin. The novels -- five so far -- are even more food-obsessed, giving over pages and pages to sensuous and specific descriptions of food, whether it's a meagre meal of beer and brown bread or an epic 77-course wedding banquet.
Readers have picked up on the food motifs. In May 2011, two culinary-minded superfans, Chelsea Monroe-Cassel and Sariann Lehrer, started re-creating recipes on the blog Inn at the Crossroads (innatthecrossroads.com). And like many hot bloggers, they parlayed their online success into a book deal, with A Feast of Ice & Fire (Random House Canada, $38) being released a year later. The authorized cookbook for Game of Thrones, Feast even has an intro from Martin, the great man himself.
Martin starts by admitting he can't cook. But he does love to eat, and he really loves to write about eating. Food is a crucial part of his complex mythology. In Martin's fictional land of Westoros, where most of the story takes place, the plain-speaking northerners prefer hearty stick-to-your-ribs fare, like beef and barley stew, mutton in onion-ale broth and pease pudding.
The aristocratic schemers in King's Landing favour more decadent dishes, like chestnut soup, quails drowned in butter and fig tarts.
And the poor guys who live on the cold and isolated Wall on the kingdom's northernmost edge subsist mostly on preserved food: "Potted hare, haunch of deer in honey, pickled cabbage, pickled beets, pickled onions, pickled eggs and pickled herring."
This is a mythical, sometimes magical world, sort of like Tolkien with more toplessness, or one of Shakespeare's gorier tragedies with added dragons. But for the food, Lehrer and Monroe-Cassel draw on historical sources, from late Roman cuisine through to the kitchens of Elizabethan England. On their blog, they give recipes in their original forms, which often include obscure ingredients -- spice mixes like "powder douce" and "powder forte," herbs like purslane and borage -- and tend to be vague about amounts and cooking times.
Monroe-Cassel and Lehrer then craft a simplified modern version, adapted to contemporary cooking techniques and accessible ingredients. Since few of us now employ kitchen wenches, most of the modern recipes are fairly fast and easy (no home butchering, no spit-roasting).
Game of Thrones has become one of the most watched, most discussed and most pirated shows on TV. Modern viewers, with their complex, over-extended, technologically cocooned lives, are fascinated by Martin's stark and brutal world, where existence is so often reduced to the elemental forces of sex, violence and food.
If you're planning on having a Game of Thrones party, you'll probably want to leave the full-frontal nudity and heads on pikes to the feuding noble families of the Seven Kingdoms. But you can, at least, go medieval with the food. Bring on the cakes and ale.
Winterfell cod cakes, modern version
450 g (1 lb) cod fillets
2 medium Russet potatoes
250 ml (1 cup) bread crumbs
60 ml (1/4 cup) chopped fresh parsley
30 ml (2 tbsp) freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
5 ml (1 tsp) salt
2 ml (1/2 tsp) pepper
2 eggs, lightly beaten
Grapeseed oil, or another oil with a high smoke-point, such as canola, for frying
Boil the potatoes until tender, drain and set aside. Boil the codfish until it flakes easily. Drain and flake the fish with a fork. Be sure to remove all bones. In a medium bowl, mix together by hand the flaked fish, mashed potatoes, bread crumbs, parsley, Parmesan cheese, garlic, salt, pepper and eggs. If the mixture is too crumbly, add another egg. If too sticky, add some more bread crumbs. Form the mixture into small cakes (about 6.5 cm or 2.5 inches) and fry on medium-high heat in a skillet coated with oil until nicely browned on one side, then flip them over and continue to cook until well browned on the other side. Makes about 12 fish cakes.
-- Adapted from innatthecrossraods.com
Tester's notes: Potatoes are not an authentic Westorosi ingredient, but for this modern version of cod cakes, mashed potatoes make a great binder -- they give some body without tasting mealy. These tasty fish cakes would be good served with lemon mayonnaise or a spicy aioli.
Honeycakes, modern version
625 ml (2 1/2 cups) cake flour
2 ml (1/2 tsp) baking powder
5 ml (1 tsp) salt
5 ml (1 tsp) ground ginger
5 ml (1 tsp) cinnamon
125 ml (1/2 cup) butter, softened
125 ml (1/2 cup) brown sugar, packed
250 ml (1 cup) honey
250 ml (1 cup) buttermilk
Preheat oven to 175 C (350 F). In small bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, salt, ginger and cinnamon. In separate medium bowl, cream together butter and sugar. Add egg and beat thoroughly, followed by the honey. Add the flour mixture and the buttermilk in alternating turns, starting and ending with the dry ingredients. Pour into paper-lined cupcake tins or a greased muffin pan, filling each cup two-thirds full. Bake for 30 minutes or until the cakes are a golden brown. Makes: never enough.
-- Adapted from innatthecrossroads.com
Tester's notes: I really liked the flavour of these cakes. They're delicately spiced and -- despite what seems like a whopping amount of honey -- not overly sweet. I found the texture a little stodgy, though. Next time I might try those lemon cakes that Sansa loves so much.
The blog recipe tops these cakes with Martha Stewart's lavender icing. You could also make a simple glaze by starting with 500 ml (2 cups) icing sugar and gradually adding milk or water (about 45 ml or 3 tbsp) to get a spreadable consistency.