Sunday, September 13, 2009

Jeri Westerson Guest Blogs

Please welcome our guest, Jeri Westerson!!
Writing a medieval mystery like my latest, SERPENT IN THE THORNS (in bookstores Sept 29), involves a lot of diverse research, from the weight of armor and weapons (I own a sword, a helm, and numerous daggers), to the feel of the clothing, and to the taste of the food. And yes, I have cooked medieval food. It’s good to know what my character Crispin Guest—an ex-knight turned detective—might have eaten when he was a knight and flush with funds, and what he might have been reduced to eating when he was stripped of his title and wealth.

The first in the series, VEIL OF LIES; A Medieval Noir, will be released in paperback on October 13 with a brand new and sexy cover! I was very excited when it was nominated for a Macavity Award for Best Historical Fiction and then even more excited when it was nominated for a Shamus for Best First PI Novel. I think that’s a first for a medieval mystery.

Now on to food! You posed a few questions to me.

Name three things in your refrigerator right now.

Home-brewed mead (my husband makes it), brie, and sugar-free
strawberry Jell-O.
Do you cook or are you a take-out queen?

I do like to cook but lately there doesn’t seem much time for that. Though a few months ago, I did make the dinner for our little gourmet club. I served tapas. I set up stations throughout the dining room and living room with different foods and wines to go with them. It was a lot of fun and it gave me the excuse to buy new platters (I’m a sucker for crockery).

What does your protagonist like to eat?

My protagonist, Crispin Guest, is a former knight turned detective on the mean streets of fourteenth century London. What he used to eat and what he eats now are two different things. The nobility were pretty much carnivores with quite a few dishes at one sitting devoted to something with meat, though they were either dipped in sauces or were cooked in sauces with a decidedly flavorful flair. (And before you say it, they didn’t use sauces to cover rotten meat. That’s just one of those myths we can’t seem to get rid of.) Of course now, in his reduced circumstances, Crispin is forced to eat a lot of soup or pottage. The dreaded turnip shows up a lot and coarse breads and cheeses. He used to enjoy fine wines from Spain and France, but wine is expensive, even in the tavern he frequents and it would have been wiser of him to buy the cheaper ales than pay more for wine, but its his one concession to his glorious past and more often than not, he over indulges.

Is your heroine a good cook or is she going to look around town for someone to feed her curiosity?

I don’t really have a heroine, except for the wife of the tavern owner at the Boar’s Tusk, Eleanor Langton. She doesn’t provide a lot of meals for Crispin but something more like a place for him to find some comfort (they run a tab for him). His cook, more often than not, is his servant and former street urchin/cutpurse Jack Tucker. Jack is young and scrappy and he manages to scrounge the occasional sausage and capon for their hearth as well as brewing the interminable turnip pottage. If they get tired of Jack’s cooking, there are also many sellers of cooked food in London--medieval fast-food. They might enjoy cooked meat pies, fish, fowl, and even hedgehog and cat meat!

Would you care to share a recipe with us?

I found a lovely medieval dish that anyone can prepare at home. It’s a chicken dish, and I love chicken. This recipe is quite good and it’s easy.

First, the recipe in Middle English, the language of Chaucer and also of Crispin. Then a translation, and then a modern version for you.

Middle English: Chykens in Hocchee. Take chykenns and scald hem. Take parsel and sawge without eny other erbes. Take garlic and grapes and stoppe the chikens ful, and seeth hem in good broth so that they may esely be boyled therinee. Messe hem and caste thereto powder douce.

Modern Translation: Chickens in Hotchpot. Take chickens and scaled them. Take parsley and sage without any other herbs. Take garlic and grapes and stuff the chickens full and cook them in good broth so that they may easily be boiled within. Divide them into portions and cast sweet powder on top.

A word about medieval cooking before the modern recipe. The flavors that the medieval person enjoyed with their meat is very different from the modern European. In the middle ages, they seemed to like a lot of dried fruits and spices that we are more familiar with in desserts. If you are at all familiar with Moroccan cooking (or real mince pies), then you have tasted medieval meat dishes.

The powder douce that is mentioned in the Middle English version above was usually a mixture of spices, something like we’d use Zatarans or Old Bay. This is a collection of “sweet” aromatic spices, like aniseed, fennel seed, and nutmeg.

Chickens in Hotchpot (Hodgepodge) or Stuffed Chicken in Soup

4-5 pound stewing chicken
6 cups of water
1 teaspoon salt
8 Tablespoons minced fresh parsley
½ teaspoon dried sage
12 cloves garlic, peeled
¾ pounds grapes
garnish/powder douce: nutmeg, crushed anise and fennel seeds

1. Place chicken in colander and scald with boiling water. Remove fat from cavity opening.
2. Bring water and salt to boil.
3. Stuff bird with 6 Tablespoons of parsley and the sage, garlic, and grapes
4. Place chicken in boiling water. Return to boil; cover and lower heat.
5. Allow to simmer about an hour or until chicken is tender. About 15 minutes before it is finished, add the remaining parsley to the broth.
6. Cut chicken into portions, and serve together with stuffing and liquid in soup bowls.
8. Remember to eat with your fingers. No forks and spoons were rare.
7. Sprinkle each serving with powder douce.

The pictures of that medieval woman are me! I cooked a medieval feast for friends while we were camping last year. And no, I usually don't wear fourteenth century clothes. I am cooking a version of the chicken dish on a fire rather than in a pot. It's good both ways.
Thank you, Jeri, for joining us today! If you'd like to know more about Jeri and her character, Crispin, please check out her website: Jeri Westerson


  1. Jeri, loved your post! It's early on the east coast (I'm traveling) so I'm getting a jump on reading fun things. Love your books and really enjoyed the pictures!

  2. Thanks for joining us, Jeri. What a fascinating glimpse into the past!

  3. Jeri, thanks for sharing! I love reading about medieval days and the hodgepodge recipe is really fascinating.


  4. There are a lot of more complicated recipes but this is one of the easier ones.

  5. Thank you, Jeri. I really enjoyed learning about the changes in Crispin's lifestyle that have made him change his menus. Very interesting! Along with the recipes and your pictures. Thanks!

    Lesa Holstine,

  6. Jeri-

    I just put VEIL OF LIES in my TBR pile. I loved reading the recipe in Middle English.
    Thanks for such a great post!

  7. Hey Jenn, thanks goodness the book isn't in Middle English!

    And Susan, tell me how it comes out. :)

  8. Jeri - I want to say thanks, belatedly, for joining us on the blog! (I was computer-less all day yesterday.) What a great recipe! Congrats on the newest book and on all the nominations for Veil of Lies!


  9. Hi Jeri!

    Like Julie I had issues with getting online yesterday but catching up today to say thanks for hanging with us. Huge congrats on your award nominations -- the covers are fantastic and I just pre-ordered VEIL OF LIES to start with book #1. Can't wait to abandon this century and get lost in your world of Medieval Noir!

    "Where coffee and crime are always brewing..."
    Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  10. Jeri,
    Very nice post. Interesting about cooking the meats with fruit. Pre sugar habit, but getting there. The fruit and meat combinations is what I eat when eating northern Africa.

  11. I was so interested in copying the cooking instructions yesterday that I forgot to post. Wanted the info for the next time we do a medieval program at the library.
    Thanks for an interesting post.