This month is taken over, not to say consumed, by my dear 19th century comrade, Augustus Saint Gaudens. The deadline for the French project is due in a few weeks — thus very little time to do anything else. Fortunately our good friend Charles Bernstein had an important birthday, so I got to take a break and travel to Philadelphia where on 8 April the Kelly Writers House at UPenn had a superb party for the occasion. The readings were great and you can read & hear more about it on Pierre Joris’ blog and except for the performance by Felix Bernstein and Sherry Bernstein I focused on the food, are you surprised?
They are complete foodies at the KWH and it was splendid! Program Coordinator Erin Gautsche has her own food blog, Veggicurious.com, and director Al Filreis looks like a gourmand to me! I wanted to record a very nice detail about the party: All the dishes on the buffet were references to Charles Bernstein poems! As noticed by the director, Charles’ poetry doesn’t include a lot of food elements so it wasn’t easy. They dug deep enough into the poems of All the Whiskey in Heaven to create a beautiful, festive, delicious & poetic buffet! See for yourself and click on the photo to enlarge. Sorry for the poor quality of the video recording.
I was really looking forward to be part of “Tasting and Exploration of Yeast Culture,” an event part of the Umami Festival at the Astor Center on Friday March 12, but it just got canceled by the organizers. C’est la vie! — and it gave me the great opportunity to explore yeast, and more specifically beer & bread in Sumerian culture. As I will not be able to perform for you this time I will share my collectages on the topic.
As recorded today it looks like it is Sumer and not Egypt that would be the oldest beer producing country and the oldest beer goddess thus would be Ninkasi. She is the ancient Sumerian Goddess of intoxicating beverages, her name meaning: “ the Lady who fills the mouth”
Her father is Enki the lord Nudimmud and her mother is Ninti —or Ninursag —Queen of the Abzu. Ninkasi was one of the eight children created to heal the eight wounds of her father Enki; wounds received by eating eight forbidden plants.
So what came first: the kaš/beer (left) or the gar/bread (right)? Hard to say, but what we can read in the text below is that the bappir, that is the twice baked barley bread was stored for the purpose of beer brewing, and there are indications that it could have been eaten. It has also been suggested that the bappir could be an early form of biscotti (twice baked).
The 2800 BC hymn to Ninkasi is a fairly linear description of brewing techniques. You can read the scholarly translation here and if you are a Sumerian scholar the transliteration here. And voilà the arrangement I made for performance purpose:
Borne of flowing water ……, tenderly cared for by Ninḫursaĝa!
Ninkasi, borne of flowing water ……, tenderly cared for by Ninḫursaĝa!
Your father is Enki, Lord Nudimmud, your mother is Ninti, the queen of the abzu.
Ninkasi, your father is Enki, Lord Nudimmud, and your mother is Ninti, the queen of the abzu.
It is you who handle the dough with a big shovel, mix the bappir in a pit, with sweet aromatics.
Ninkasi, it is you who handle the dough with a big shovel, mix the bappir in a pit, with sweet aromatics.
It is you who bake the bappir in the big oven, and put in order the piles of hulled grain. Ninkasi, it is you who bake the bappir in the big oven, and put in order the piles of hulled grain.
It is you who water the earth-covered malt; the noble dogs guard it even from the potentates.
Ninkasi, it is you who water the earth-covered malt; the noble dogs guard it even from the potentates.
It is you who soak the malt in a jar; the waves rise, the waves fall.
Ninkasi, it is you who soak the malt in a jar; the waves rise, the waves fall.
It is you who spread the cooked mash on large reed mats; coolness overcomes …….
Ninkasi, it is you who spread the cooked mash on large reed mats; coolness overcomes …….
It is you who hold with both hands the great sweet wort, brewing it with honey and wine.
Ninkasi, it is you who hold with both hands the great sweet wort, brewing it with honey and wine.
It is you who place the gakkul vat, which makes a pleasant sound, on top of a large lamsare vat.
Ninkasi, It is you who place the gakkul vat, which makes a pleasant sound, on top of a large lamsarevat.
It is you who pour out the filtered beer of the lamsare vat; it is like the onrush of the Tigris and the Euphrates.
Ninkasi, it is you who pour out the filtered beer of the lamsare vat; it is like the onrush of the Tigris and the Euphrates.
There was also Sumerian proverbs related to drinking :
“Ce qui est bon, c’est la bière! Ce qui est mauvais, c’est la route!”
What’s good is the beer! What’s bad is the road!
Beer drinking in Mesopotamia- Always with straws which could mean that the beverage was not clear and needed to be sifted.
Another great song I came across is the oldest recorded drinking song! The found tablet is believed to have been written at the turn of the III to II millennium BC and was first studied in 1964 by Miguel Civil. (right: illustration is the Ninkasi seal)
The gakkul vat, the gakkul vat!
The gakkul vat, the lamsare vat!
The gakkul vat, puts us in a happy mood!
The lamsare vat, makes our heart rejoice!
The ugurbal jar, glory of the house!
The šaggub jar, filled with beer!
The amam jar, carries the beer from the lamsare vat!
The troughs made with bur grass and the pails for kneading the dough!
All the beautiful vessels are ready on their pot stands!
May the heart of your god be well disposed towards you!
Let the eye of the gakkul vat be our eye, and let the heart of the gakkul vat be our heart!
What makes your heart feel wonderful in itself also makes our hearts feel wonderful in themselves!
We are in a happy mood, our hearts are joyful!
You have poured a libation over the fated brick, and you have laid the foundations in peace and prosperity — now may Ninkasi dwell with you!
She should pour beer and wine for you!
Let the pouring of the sweet liquor resound pleasantly for you!
In the troughs made with bur grass, there is sweet beer.
I will have the cup-bearers, the boys and the brewers stand by.
As I spin around the lake of beer, while feeling wonderful, feeling wonderful, while drinking beer, in a blissful mood, while drinking alcohol and feeling exhilarated, with joy in the heart and a contented liver — my heart is a heart filled with joy!
I clothe my contented liver in a garment fit for a queen!
The heart of Inana is happy once again; the heart of Inana is happy once again!
A …… to Ninkasi.
The code of Hammurabi, inscribed on a basalt tablet, lays down some strict rules for the administration of beer parlors. Owners who overcharged customers were liable to death by drowning!
These pieces will be a great addition to my Sumerian repertoire, they will complement the Incantation of Innana that I have been performing for years (on my cd La Garbure Transcontinentale-The Bi-Continental Chowder). Below is a live performance of that piece for the celebration of Jerry Rothenberg’s anthology Technicians of the Sacred. This is how I got introduced to Sumerian poetry. Merci Jerry!
The Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature
Sumerian Mythology by Samuel Noah Kramer
La Plus Vieille Cuisine du Monde by Jean Bottéro
Lorsque les dieux faisaient l’homme Jean Bottéro & Noah Kramer
Food in History by Reay Tannahill A history of beer and brewing by Ian Spencer Hornsey
When Miles (my younger son) came into the kitchen and asked quite intrigued: “What is that smell?” I pointed to the Papalo bunch sitting next to the sink.
Papalo is a native South American plant, also known as Papaloquite or porophyllum ruderale or macrocephalum. Its name comes from papalotl, —butterfly in Nahuatl and interesting (to me) in French butterfly is papillon!— The first time I encountered papalo was at a flea market Upstate New-York. A Mexican vendor was getting ready to sell Guarachas*—adish I wouldn’t mind getting more info on. The women were setting up while the men were all sitting down having lunch. I noticed them picking leaves from the middle of the table and eating little bites with their grilled meat and tortillas.
I ordered a Guaracha, I had to ask for the leaves as I wasn’t automatically given some. The lady was a bit surprised as she explained — nicely — that gringos didn’t usually care much for it. She was delighted I would try it as it was the way to eat this dish. It was love at “first bite!”; the grilled meat seasoned with lime, the green salsa, the Mexican cheese all topping a homemade corn tortilla —that looked to have had some beans worked into the dough, andthe little bite of papalo to make it a truly “gastrorgasmic” moment.Papalo’s taste is condensed, pungent and close to be an entrancing flavor. It must be used appropriately and parsimoniously.
A few weeks ago I got some papalo from Harold, owner of Carral Farm and a regular vendor at the Bay Ridge Greenmarket. He also gave me some suggestion on how to use it and recommended to also get some Anaheim peppers. I picked up a pound of fresh scallops at American Seafood (read previous blog on scallops here and here). And this is the recipe I will share with you today:
Scallops With Sautéed Corn and Papalo (for 3)
1 lb of fresh scallops
2 Tablespoon unsalted butter
1 lime juice
kernels of 2 fresh ears of corn
1/4 cup red bell peppers
1/4 cup sweet onions
1/8 cup green Anaheim peppers
9 leaves of fresh papalo
2 Tbsp brandy or Lillet
1 dollop butter at room temperature
Heat 1 Tbsp of olive oil and 1 Tbsp of butter in a stainless still or cast iron frying pan.
Sear scallops delicately in the pan or about 3 minutes or so per side —it will depend how thick they are. Do not overcook them. Keep them warm between two plates and reserve until ready to serve.
While the scallops are cooking, sautée all the vegetables (with only 3 leaves of papalo chopped) lightly with olive oil or/and butter (see picture above to see size of veggies).
Déglaze the pan with some brandy or Lillet. Add lime juice and retrieve all the juice that have deposited in the scallop plate.
Add a dollop of soft butter and when only ready to serve “monter la sauce au beurre” —that is to swirl in, until completely melted, a dollop of room temperature unsalted butter; it will give your sauce a velvety texture and a rich flavor. We have done it before, right? Add salt & pepper to taste and voilà!
*The guaraches turned out to be huaraches. See comments below and huraches blog.
While in the Pyrenees, Miles Joris-Peyrafitte (my younger son) and I have two gigs at the mountain resort of Peyragudes. Our first one was last Thursday and the next one is this coming Thursday (08/13/09). Peyragudes is located at the top of the Peyresourde pass (If you follow the Tour de France bike race you might have seen this breathtaking valley on TV, the pass has been part of the race since 1910).
When we drove up for tech rehearsal Miles noticed a road sign pointing to “Poubeau”. He asked me if this village was related to the Poubeau cheese. “Yes Miles! and if we have time we should stop on our way down” I replied. Thanks to my brother Jean-Louis’ efficiency our session was smooth and short and we could stop in Poubeau on the way down.
It was rush hour at the farm, the cows had been milked and many customers where lined up for fresh milk and cheese. Jean-Pierre Lavigne, the cheese maker with whom I was good friends when we were young, recognized me immediately and greeted me very warmly. We waited patiently for our turn while being entertained by the banter between Jean-Pierre and the customers. When our turn came we were brought to the cave to taste and pick our cheese. Jean-Pierre apologized for the lack of older cheese: “I got burglarized this winter and lost a lot of cheeses, so there is no way I can give you anything too aged, but this one should be good”. We got one wheel of cheese and 1½ liter of fresh milk. I promised Jean-Pierre that I would return before my departure to take more pictures and chat a little. On the way down Miles started drinking the milk out of the bottle and then asked:
“Is there another place where they make Poubeau cheese?”
“No, why do you ask?”
“You guys talk so much about this cheese that it is hard to believe it all comes from here!”
Miles grew up with the Poubeau cheese mythology. One year my mother managed to fool the US customs and sent an entire wheel through the mail for Christmas – that was before September 11th 2001. Another year our friend Eric Paul, then in charge of the dairy section at the Albany Food Coop, was determined to import Poubeau cheese. A cheese distributor assured him he could get him some. Twice Eric called to urge me to come to the coop; the shipment had arrived and I should be the first tasting the Poubeau cheese. Sadly I had twice to tell him that it was not Poubeau cheese but a generic pasteurized Pyrenean cheese that was not remotely close to the Poubeau.
I told the story to Jean-Pierre and he confirmed that there is no way his cheese could travel overseas via a distributor. As a matter of fact, he is not allowed to sell his cheese beyond a 80 kms radius. He went on to explain that his operation functions with a special dispensation. His mode of fabrication doesn’t comply with all the super cumbersome European Union norms. He sells about 1700 cheeses a year, mostly at the farm. He has 2 retailers in the town of Luchon and a couple of restaurants in the area.
Jean-Pierre minds a herd of 14 Brown cows and makes cheese every other day, he has one helper coming a few hours a day and hopes to be able to take one day a week off, once Gabriel –the new helper- is trained.
In winter, when the cows are stabled for most of the day, he supplements his income working at the Peyragudes ski resort. He works has a ski patrol/rescuer and loves the change of pace and action on the slopes. When Pierre and I went back to take pictures and talk to him I should have asked more practical question on how to make the cheese but we started reminiscing about the past and Jean-Pierre’s loved sharing his salsa dancing passion. One of thing we discussed though was that due to the lack of land available in the area, he had to buy land 70 kms away to be able to make enough hay to feed the cows in winter. The land that could be available for farming is slowly being taken over by the more lucrative business of tourism and second homes. In order to buy the land mentioned above he went to see his banker to get a loan. The banker was being very demanding in terms of guarantees. Jean-Pierre appropriately pointed out to him that if he would walk right into a car dealer’s lot he would get instant credit to buy a 30 000 euro car (same amount of the loan he needed to purchase the land). How come he could get a car in one afternoon and not get land to feed his cows? It is not an easy life to be a farmer anywhere, but it sounds like the European system is applying a lot of the agri-biz policies the U.S is trying to recover from. One hope though is that José Bové was recently elected at the European parliament and is working on agricultural issues.
We returned to the valley with another cheese and left Jean-Pierre with his beautiful children who had been serving us the most beautiful pretend-food throughout our stay. If you want to taste Poubeau cheese you will have to visit the area, however Pierre and I tried to describe it:
A fresh and clean cow milk taste, with a complex nutty undertone. The texture is supple and subtle. The rind is not too thick and I always eat it —I like tasting the mold of the aging layers.
We are trying to settle a minimum into our new place before taking off for 6 weeks in France/Luxembourg. We will mostly be in the Southwest though the first week in the Southeast, then a final week in Luxembourg. If you are traveling around these areas come and see us!
Pierre will be at the fabulous Lodève poetry festival : Les Voix de la Mediterranée (July 18-27). He will perform almost every day and we will meet up with him around July 24th. Miles Joris-Peyrafitte and I will debut our duo tour in the streets of Aix, Montpellier, Lodève and we will have 2 concerts in Peyragudes (Thursdays 6 & 13 of August). Peyragudes is a resort next to Luchon. I do hope to be able to post photos and recipes as often as possible. Meanwhile I have to run to open more boxes in order to repack! I want to leave you on a less frantic note. Below, a beautiful recipe from Ken Albala. Ken is a food historian, a great investigative cook, and an excellent writer. Ken’s books should be on your summer reading list. I am savoring his book on beans myself and always read his blog, Ken Albala’s. Today I am cross posting my favorite kind of paté. Like Ken, I like chunky patés, and am not a fan of the smoothie spreading kind. This recipe is terrific and I can’t wait to be back in the fall to make it; here is the direct link: http://kenalbala.blogspot.com/2009/07/pate-de-campagne.html.
And OUI! this is a what I call a TRUE Paté de Campagne!
I have to admit, I was not sure what this would be when I started. And I’m still not sure. A souse, coppa di testa, sulze. Not really, those are all set in gelatin. Nor really a pate, because it isn’t smooth and spreadable. Not that a pate de campagne should be. So there it is. And have to admit, this solid toothsome version is much more interesting than the cream-laden versions one normally sees, covered in bacon. If you want bacon, eat bacon. This one is actually cured pork. Very simply seasoned.
SO, I offer you a recipe! In standard format. Ah me. But technique IS antiquated.
2.5 lbs of boneless pork shoulder, or 4 fatty country ribs.
2 tbs salt
1 tsp coarsely ground pepper
1 tsp thyme or other herb you like, esp. juniper
1 good pinch instacure #1 (pink curing salt)
3 ice cubes
Coarsely chop the pork and pork fat into small nubbins. Add the seasonings. Mix and put in the fridge for 5 days to cure. Then put the mixture into a large mortar and pound the hell out if it for about 15 minutes. Throw in the ice cubes as you go. This is a GREAT upper body workout. I suspect if you kept going with this you would have a smooth bologna. The mixture is very much a sausage mix, with darker, lighter and white fat in a suspension but still separate, which would not work in a grinder or processor. If you have a large beef bung I would stuff it in there. I used a large round porcelain ramekin. Cover it with plastic wrap, and place in a steamer. Steam gently for 40 minutes. Cool and refrigerate at least 24 hours. Slice and serve with mustard, good rye (which I baked yesterday) and cornichons – which alas I had not. You can also slice this very thinly and make sandwiches. The next time I do this I am going to pour in a glug of cognac, or maybe vinegar. Gin would be lovely too.