Paksworld Food Basics

Posted: October 18th, 2013 under Background, Contents, Life beyond writing.
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So…Paksworld’s northern kingdoms are more like Europe north of the Alps, in terms of what they grow and eat, and Aarenis is more like the Mediterranean countries.   But there are variations.   Paks’s family had a small amount of land under plough,  for grain and the few vegetables they grew; they also harvested field herbs, wild berries,  and some wild grains.    The nearest mill was a considerable distance away, so her family ground grain to make bread in hand mills (stone.)   Grain was also cooked into a mush, flavored with herbs and sometimes meat.   They were lucky in having good-quality hand mills that didn’t put a lot of stone dust in the meal, so they didn’t have their teeth ground down.

They could buy a limited assortment of spices down in Three Firs two or three times a year when  a trader came in, or trade for what someone else grew.   (For instance, they could buy a chunk of salt pork from the pig farmer whose son Paks didn’t marry, or cow-milk cheese from a farmer down the vale who kept cattle) , pears or apples or plums from those at a lower elevation who had fruit trees.   They also bought salt, not having a local source for it.  They didn’t have much sib, because the right trees didn’t grow there, and buying the makings for it cost enough that it was saved for medicinal use or a rare treat.  They ate mutton and anything wild they could manage to kill, but the content of meals varied a lot with the seasons…and could be monotonous day by day.

Although they weren’t near starving,  food was not abundant for much of the year.    Paks’s mother made a little sheep-milk cheese to sell, and a little for the family, but spent more time spinning wool into yarn and then making things with it.  Paks knew how to do basic knitting and darning when she entered the Duke’s Company.    They didn’t eat fish, because they didn’t have a river in which to catch them (they had springs, a well, small seasonal streams.)    The only sweetener was honey,  which they could buy in stone jars, in the comb, at the market, but they could also rob wild bee hives.

In the Duke’s Company, Paks first saw abundant food every day,  several times a day…and foods she’d never met before.   Beef, pork, and mutton,  bread made from mill-ground flour using brewery yeast (since the area had both a mill and an experienced brewer),  apples from Kolya’s orchard, and meals cooked by actual cooks.  Still fairly simple, but more abundant and varied than at home.    Eggs–a luxury at home, though her family kept a few hens–were the main reason for keeping chickens, though old hens and roosters yielded chicken stock .   Some of the villagers kept bees and the honey harvest was usually good.  The Duke’s Company bought spices and wine and other condiments and special foods from Aarenis, but did not import southern grains, sticking to the wheat/oats/barley/rye traditional in its area.     The mix of bark,  roots, stems, and leaves for sib was stocked as a normal expense–everyone drank it.   Some of these were for the officers’ table, but experience had shown that introducing recruits to the foods they would meet later cut down on sickness in the South.    At least they wouldn’t mistake a hot pepper for a sweet fruit.

Food for the troops on campaign needed to be ample (they’re working hard), something that could be cooked in large amounts on the trail, in camp, etc. and thus choice was limited though amounts were generous.   Helping prepare raw foods for cooking was a normal duty for soldiers, as was cleaning up after a meal.  (The more people who know how to cook a grain mush and redroots, the less chance of hungry troops if the cook gets killed.)   Troops liked to visit inns in the neighborhood, but the dangers of poisoning (accidental, from spoiled food, or intention, by an enemy) were more than negligible, so they were allowed into towns only during ‘safe’ periods.

“Inn food,” like restaurant food today, varied from plain to fancy.   Small inns might offer only one menu a day; large ones (like the White Dragon in Valdaire) would have several choices.  But all had to be food that could be cooked in a standard way to serve many people, unless the patron paid for special service.   Another source of income for inns was renting out oven space for those who had none–for a very small fee, someone could bring in a pot of something, or dough to be baked.   (In the smallest towns, there would already be a town bread oven.)    Inns sourced their food locally, but that included the local market–they did not grow their own, especially in cities.  (In smaller towns, like Brewersbridge, they might keep chickens for eggs.)    Householders in the city bought their flour already milled and bought most of the other ingredients in the market, though some had plots on which to raise “kitchen” food (vegetables, perhaps berries, even a fruit tree.)    They had access to seasonal fruits and vegetables without having to grow them.    Some bought bread from a baker, but many bought flour and made their own.

Elaborate meals certainly were cooked here and there, but only the very wealthy had fancy food every day, and the various religions all had beliefs about what level of fancy was acceptable (and what was just showing off.)   Feasts always included rich foods–meat and sauces for it,  abundant other foods in more variety than usual, sweets.   The lowest class of workers (rural or urban) subsisted mostly on bread, steamed and boiled grains and beans, a few vegetables, and occasional meat, mostly cooked in with the grains and beans.  Up from that, class by class, came better-quality bread, more variety of vegetables, more condiments and preserved foods (jam, pickles, cheese etc.) , more meat, and more total calories.  Even the richest could not get delicate berries out of season, except as preserves.  But they could afford everything available in their city or region, and thus enjoy more variety than others.

Table-settings and utensils:  different qualities of pottery were available to all, with regional differences in both quality and design.    In cities, everyone above the lowest class would eat off of pottery plates and out of pottery bowls, and have at least a pottery mug to drink from.    The very lowest class would probably have flattish wooden tray-plates, and perhaps a bit pottery bowl or pot (the one they cooked in) to serve from.   Eating utensils included (with variations from place to place) forks (2-4 pronged),  spoons (round and narrow),  and knives (all sharp, all derived from daggers if not actually daggers.  Some were sharp on both sides, some only on one.)  In the lowest class, one dagger might be shared around the table, and the forks and spoons might be wooden or bone.  Above that, most people had at least some metal utensils.

Those living near one of the large rivers eat larger fish (with the attendant problems of larger fish going bad faster!) and baked fish is a staple at inns in cities along the Immer drainage–less so in Vérella.    Fish is definitely a staple food in Pargun, Kostandan, riverside-and-coastal Dzordanya, and Prealíth.   The Seafolk arrived in the north with a tradition of smoking and salting fish for preservation.  They eat fish year-round.   Other seafood is popular in these areas as well, but they haven’t convinced their neighbors yet.  Rivers in both north and south have the kinds of fish you’d expect in streams and rivers in equivalent latitudes and climates here.   Marine fish was just as diverse and include some…um…local specialities.  Alas, they don’t enter the story.

So…there’s an overview of what people eat, sort of.  Recipes–more or less, because I’m an instinctive cook who looks at recipes as suggestions–to follow.








  • Comment by Nadine Barter Bowlus — October 18, 2013 @ 10:13 pm


    Thanks for a pleasant way to relax after a busy day.

  • Comment by Elentarien — October 18, 2013 @ 10:39 pm


    Thats cool that you’ve got that all figured out. Interesting to read as well. 🙂

    Would be interesting to get some recipes from Paks’ world and actually TRY some of the food for ourselves. Though, I suppose in the end it would come out the same as our food, since. . .it is our food. But the idea is fun anyway. 🙂

  • Comment by Mike D — October 19, 2013 @ 1:01 pm


  • Comment by GinnyW — October 20, 2013 @ 7:18 pm


    I think I would miss corn meal in Paksworld. I have been experimenting with polenta and bean things. (Polenta is really corn meal mush with an Italian accent). But it has more flavor (and color) than barley or oats or even whole wheat.

    We currently have a number of Indian and African immigrants in our neighborhood, so we also see flour ground from dried lentils and garbanzo beans. I haven’t quite learned what to do with it yet, though.

  • Comment by Annabel — October 22, 2013 @ 10:48 am


    I would miss potatoes, pasta and rice, I think.

  • Comment by Suburbanbanshee — October 25, 2013 @ 5:09 pm


    If you have wheat and water, you probably have pasta. (Depending on the gluten content, I guess.)`And places with enough water probably have wild rice, although obviously that’s not the same as rice; wild rice is native European and Asian as well as US.

    Places with enough water probably gig frogs and other pond critters, but Paks’ family may have lived too far up in the mountains for that.

  • Comment by elizabeth — October 25, 2013 @ 5:45 pm


    GinnyW: It’s funny how some foods we have worked in Paksworld and some did not. The New World foods read as New World and (for me, anyway) break the belief-strand that Paksworld is truly its own place. So I couldn’t use potatoes, tomatoes, pumpkins, or corn. But some Old World foods also broke the spell (for me, may would not have for everyone.) I had to rename things or simply leave them out.

    Annabel: Potatoes, yes, though you would find redroots a more reasonable substitute than you might think. Noodles exist, but not (unless I’ve missed something…maybe I should explore the kitchens in the various corners of Aarenis a little more carefully) pasta in all its wonderful shapes and forms. Rice…there are rice equivalents (that is, grains that are grown in very different conditions and cook differently than wheat/barley/oats/rye.) You can imagine that a dish of “steamed grain” is rice if you want. It might well be, in some areas.

    Suburbanbanshee: Back in Gird’s day–despite the marshes and ponds and so on–frogs and such were not considered “food” by most peasants in his area. Remember his reaction when he discovered that another man ate frogs…and his conversion to “eat what’s edible, ignore tradition.” Paksworld cultures, like those here, have food preferences, food beliefs, and food prohibitions.

    There are wild grains (that you could call wild rice), some from true grasses and some from other plants that produce a large enough seed to be ground into meal. The more “ricelike” ones are found in wet ground areas–some in freshwater marshes and some in coastal marshes.

  • Comment by Richard — October 26, 2013 @ 4:22 am


    I’ve been looking out what I remember of eating utensils from the Deed. Her first meal as a recruit at Phelan’s stronghold, Paks ate with spoon and blunted knife. Years later, dining with the Duke, captains etc, they used two-tined forks she hadn’t learnt to use as a soldier, but had in Fin Panir. There were glass wine goblets, and the largest of the platters on which the food had been brought in was of bronze.

    That last makes me wonder – easily broken pottery plates not being ideal for soldiers on campaign, is wood the only other option for most of them, or do they have affordable tinware? How about its other alloy, pewter?

    In marshy areas where there are lots of frogs and the like, maybe people prefer to net the birds that feed on the frogs.

  • Comment by elizabeth — October 26, 2013 @ 5:56 am


    Tableware: Pottery varies widely in breakability. Stoneware, for instance, is much sturdier than “paste” pottery (like the two platters that broke right before Thanksgiving last year and gave me the excuse to buy better ones.) It has the advantage over wood of being easier to clean thoroughly, and it will be cheaper than metal in a world without modern methods of mining, refining and manufacture. Good quality pottery does not interact with food chemically (so imparts no tastes and is not corroded.) Its disadvantage is that all pottery will break under the right circumstances.

    Metal tableware available in Paksworld includes copper, tin, and pewter. Metal varies in strength, chemical reactions with foods that can affect flavor and pit the metal, ease of cleaning (thus maintenance costs) but is ideal for some purposes. As tableware it has the disadvantage of thermal instability (cools hot foods quickly, esp if thin.) We had aluminum camp cooking gear when I was a kid, and boy does food cool fast on an aluminum plate! Heavier, denser metals will hold the heat awhile, especially if pre-heated. So serving platters are as often metal as pottery.

    Wood varies in strength, grain size, permeability to liquids, reactivity to foods, and may (usually does) impart a flavor of its own to contents. Wood is harder to clean, and has a shorter lifespan than pottery or metal (aside from cheap pottery breakage) because of its permeability and the cleaning problems. The use of oils to seal wood works to some extent but adds to the maintenance cost and eventually all vegetable and animal oils used go rancid.

    Inns and mercenary companies with concern for the health of those who eat there often use thick, strong pottery for bowls, plates, jugs and mugs. Over the lifetime of the item, the slightly higher cost is outweighed by lower food-borne disease rate and faster, easier cleaning. Mercs traveling with supply wagons will often take pottery along, but have spare plates & bowls of metal for “light” travel (such as the small group Burek took to escort Andressat home. Hence the plates Ser Burin bought to replace those lost.) Fox Company has a line item in the budget for replacing tableware. Soldiers who break too many items have the cost stopped from their pay.

    Higher class inns use more than one class of tableware: upper-class customers will get glass to drink out of, and slightly more fragile, but prettier, plates and bowls, etc. metal or wood for platters. Really cheap inns may even serve on bread trenchers, or use wood, and the prudent traveler sniffs the bowl before putting soup or other foods from serving dishes into it. Bowl smells dirty, don’t eat there.

    Utensils: Experienced travelers bring their own. Inns supply heavy metal spoons and (sometimes) two-tined forks, both stamped on the handle with the inn’s mark. If you want a knife, you usually have to ask for it, as it’s assumed everyone has a sharp knife of their own. A few inns (and quite a few in Valdaire) know that all their merc customers have daggers, but offer a less useful knife for a fight in the hopes of preventing same. Such inns have a rule against pulling out your longer, sharper dagger.

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