Cooking With Ice and Fire

About two months ago, I leaned over the deli case and asked in a lower voice than one would typically use at a butcher shop, "Pete, any chance you can get me a swan? Unplucked if possible. I want to serve it in its plumage."

My butcher of 10 years was used to the occasional odd request from me; tripe, pork cheeks, trotters, but I think this one finally worried him. "Umm.... Can I ask why?", he responded after an uncomfortable pause.

Thus arose yet another chance to tell someone of my project to cook every dish mentioned in the Song of Ice and Fire series of books written by George R. R. Martin. The first of the (now five) book series, A Game of Thrones, was made into a ten-part series by HBO this past summer. For those unfamiliar with the books, the setting is a fictional world that is heavily influenced by medieval European and other historical societies.

Upon a recent re-reading of the books in preparation for this past July's release of A Dance With Dragons, I was reminded of how vividly food was described in the books. In the description of one royal feast alone we have a thick venison-barley stew, snails in honey and garlic, fresh trout baked in clay, pigeon pie, and lemon cakes, just to name a few. This is not to mention a seventy seven course wedding feast which is like to take the rest of my natural life to document.

Beyond just lending color and flavor to his world of Westeros, however, Martin uses food almost as a supporting character. There are numerous examples of dishes having a foreshadowing nature, or being particularly appropriate to the mood and temperament of their diners. Much of the realism of Martin's cultures comes through their unique foods and tastes.

Having had the idea for the blog I rushed to the internet, expecting to find it had been done several hundred times. To my surprise there was only one other serious site out there, The Inn at the Crossroads. These ladies are doing an excellent job and have been at it since the spring so they have a good number of dishes under their aprons. They also prepare a medieval and a modern take on each dish. I decided that since there are now hundreds of dishes mentioned in the Song of Ice and Fire there was certainly room for two projects to tackle the list. Plus I wanted my interests in history and food science to be the focus of my blog.

Thus far, ingredient availability is proving to be the greatest challenge. In addition to the aforementioned swan episode, one can also find the denizens of A Song of Ice and Fire dining on unborn puppies, dormice, various endangered species, and a drink referred to as "Milk of the Poppy" which can only be a strong, and likely illegal, opiate. Some substitutions will no doubt be in order...

The number of visitors to the site is gratifying, as are the posts from sites like this one, Serious Eats, and the Sword and Laser podcast, but I really knew I had hit on a topic that resonated with people when received a message (and picture) from a reader who, after a long day at work, came home to find his wife had prepared him one of the dishes from the blog. The excitement in his message was palpable and more than enough encouragement for me to go back this weekend and risk asking Pete for a heron.