This might turn into a series, as food is a subject dear to my congested arteries. Many fantasy novels do have a bit of a focus on food, with hungry Bilbo drooling over the elven feasts and all the hobbit parties and dwarf drinking. There is a funny scene in Tarzan, where he is at a ritzy English afternoon tea party, and absently picks up a caterpillar and eats it, much to the horror of his guests and wife.
Food in fiction reveals the desires of the characters, the wealth of the world with feasts and famine, and dreams of prisoners on bread and water, or even worse if you are a prisoner of Orcs. Sam Gamgee tried to keep the memory of his home and safety alive by lugging his pots to the doorstep of Mordor. After a pot of stew he realises the truth. That he and Frodo may be in one of those stories that do not have a happy ending.
One characteristic of food on a quest I will focus on here is its ability to keep while travelling. Other food may be bought, stolen, foraged for or hunted along the trip. But travel food needs to be sturdy, keep well, and adaptable for quick snacking when the hordes appear over the horizon. Another factor is climate. Sure, it’s an imaginary one, but it needs to be realistic. No one is going to believe lettuce in the desert or fruit in a never ending winter. So Conan, a notorious dodger of Hyborian salad ingredients, munches on dates in between oasis points in the desert. He drinks his fill of ale, wine if he has enough coin, as well as bread and meat in taverns. Quite often he is penniless, leading him to take on a job which leads him deeper into adventure.
People travelling and fighting need calorie dense food. No one diets on a magical quest. Click To Tweet They need fat, protein and a dollop of vitamins. But how have people done this in real life? Two recipes with a long history are pemmican and fruit mince, which use similar ingredients to produce two slightly different travel foods.
Fruit mince in early English recipes included actual meat, most often some offal such as tongue or heart. This was minced fine, and added to the melted suet or kidney fat, dried fruits, sugar, nuts and alcohol. This made a concentrated food that could be used in pies, cakes and tarts. It also had a long keeping period without refrigeration. The combination of meat and fruit is no doubt a hangover from the crusades and the importation of exotic spices and long keeping nutritious items such as dates. Today, people still eat it at Christmas, however the meat is usually omitted.
Pemmican is an American Indian food. It uses fat as a base, but the meat, grains and berries are dehydrated and crushed to a powder before mixing into the fat. This made rich cakes that kept and travelled well, and could be eaten as is, or used to make a soup base. It was a sought after trade item, and a batch could be made using an entire bison. Your typical fantasy character would no doubt be buying this rather than making it, given the labour that would be in the making of it.
Stay tuned for more thoughts on menus for heroes.
Some references used in this blog include: