Copyright (C) 2013 by Kevin L. O'Brien
As in the Waking World, Dreamers and residents of the Dreamlands require three things to survive: water, food, and shelter. The presented order is not accidental. Most people accept as a matter of consensus that no one can survive more than three days without water, that people can survive at least three weeks without food, and that in temperate climes they can survive at least three months without adequate shelter. However, a number of different factors can affect these estimates. For example, a person's overall health determines how long they can go before needing water or food, and the local environment has a very strong influence on how long someone can survive without some sort of shelter. People have been known to freeze to death or die form heat exhaustion or sunstroke within a single day, or sicken and die in a few days to a week from exposure to the elements, infection, or fever. Nonetheless, many people can place undue importance on acquiring food in circumstances where it is has a lower priority than the other two.
This is because food enjoys a special status not shared by water or shelter: it is the one requirement that gives us the greatest pleasure. It doesn't matter whether we eat a meal of bread, cheese, and porridge, or sit down to a Roman-style 50-course banquet of exotic dishes; they both provide a certain amount of emotional and psychological satisfaction the others do not. This is why we have a phrase like 'comfort food' but not 'comfort drink' or 'comfort home'. In other words, while we eat to live, we also eat for enjoyment. We drink water because we need to, but for the same kind of comfort we look to coffee, tea, soft drinks, or alcoholic beverages in particular, none of which we truly require. This is why people tend to fear starvation more than a lack of water or no shelter, why we have such a greater variety of dishes than we do forms of drink, and why we ritualize eating to such a greater extent than we do drinking.
As a side note, the term ‘savory’ is used in this essay. In culinary terms, savory is the opposite of sweet, and refers to foods or meals that are not inherently sweet or have little or no sweetener added to them.
Sources of Food
We can categorize food in one of two ways. The first is by its source; the second is by its purpose; ie, how it is used. There are two basic sources of food: meat and vegetables. Meat sources are the muscle, organs, and byproducts, such as fat, milk, and eggs, of animals. Virtually any animal can be eaten; the only exceptions are those that produce and store toxic chemicals in their tissues, and there are few of those, at least among vertebrates. However, by tradition and prejudice, certain animals are consumed almost exclusively, while others are avoided altogether, even during a famine. At the same time, tradition and prejudice can vary widely across cultures, so that certain animals one culture treats as taboo another considers a delicacy. These traditions and prejudices also tend to lack consistency, such as a culture forbidding the eating of insects and land arthropods such as scorpions, but permitting the consumption of water arthropods such as crabs and crayfish. The one animal forbidden throughout the whole of the Dreamlands is the cat, for obvious reasons.
Typical meat sources found in the Dreamlands include:
Mammals — beef (beasts of burden), pork (pigs), mutton (sheep), goats, game (eg. deer), rabbits, hares, guinea pigs
Birds — chickens, ducks, geese, pidgeons, fowl (eg. wild ducks), quail, partridges, pheasants, peafowl, doves
Reptiles — turtles
Amphibians — none typically, but frogs legs are considered a delicacy in many places
Fish — cod, herring, salmon, haddock, sardines, anchovies, tuna, swordfish, eels, trout, catfish, pike, perch
Shellfish — lobsters, shrimp, crabs, crayfish
Molluscs — clams, oysters, mussels, scallops, squid, octopus
Insects — none typically, but in some places crickets, grasshoppers, termites, and mealworms are considered a delicacy
Astute readers will note the absence of certain familiar sources. Some, like cattle and horses, do not exist in the Dreamlands. Others, such as whales and seals, will appear in other lists.
Related to meat sources are dairy products. Though they are derived from animals, their one major difference is that the animal does not have to be killed. With one exception, all dairy products are derived from milk, or more properly milk protein and fat. The exception is eggs. Though not derived from milk, nonetheless they are considered a dairy product, because like milk they are collected from live animals, they are closely associated with breakfast, and Dreamers from many eras assume they are dairy products, thus creating the tradition in the Dreamlands.
All mammals produce milk, but only a few are commercially viable sources. In the Waking World, livestock have been primarily used: cattle, buffalo, goats, sheep, camels, donkeys, and horses, with reindeer, yaks, moose or elk, and bison contributing a small fraction. In the Dreamlands, cattle, donkeys, and horses don't exist, though zebras, yaks, and llamas substitute, but milk production is strictly local, so other kinds of animals are used as well, including exotic ones such as elephants, okapi, and a three-toed burro-like ungulate. Homogenization does not exist in the Dreamlands, so most raw milk is separated into cream and skim milk. Some of the cream is then churned into butter and buttermilk, while the rest is used to make various cream-based products. Some of the remaining raw milk is pasteurized along with the lowfat milk; the rest is used to produce various other dairy products such as cheese, clotted cream, and raw cream butter. Pasteurized milk can be consumed, but much of it is separated into curds and whey. If left mixed, they are used to make yoghurt, but they are usually separated. The curds are then made into cheese or eaten as they are, whereas the whey can be used as a food additive, or made into cheese or butter. Even when pasteurized and kept cool, milk and cream must be consumed fairly soon or they will spoil, though certain cream products, such as sour cream, can last longer. Butter can be preserved by adding salt, but yoghurt and cheese are the best ways to preserve milk, with the latter having the longest shelf life.
Vegetable sources refer to the roots, stems, leaves, and fruiting bodies of plants. Unlike animals, not all plants, or all parts of plants, can be eaten, because more so than animals plants tend to absorb or manufacture toxic materials which they store in their tissues. The reason is to defend themselves against being devoured by herbivores, but evolution always creates at least one animal that can safely eat these plants. However, humans are not among these animals. Fortunately, most toxic plants either have at least one nontoxic part, or have times of their lifecycles when toxicity is low or nonexistent, so humans can eat certain parts at certain times. Like animals, however, traditions and prejudices make some plants taboo for reasons other than toxicity.
Typical vegetable sources found in the Dreamlands include:
Cereals — wheat, corn, barley, oat, rye, rice, buckwheat, millet, sorghum
These are also called grains, because the seeds of these plants are generally harvested and ground into flour.
Vegetables — cabbage, turnips, beets, onions, garlic, carrots, tomatoes, peppers, squash, scallions, lettuce, celery, cucumbers, olives, leeks, radishes, kale, chard, broccoli, asparagus, artichokes, parsnips, cauliflower, spinach, eggplant, pumpkins
Each of these plants possesses at least one edible part, whether a root, stem, leaf, or fruiting body; however, the seeds are generally not consumed. This is kind of a catchall category for plants that do not fit one of the others, but it contains the bulk of the vegetable sources. In fact, there are too many to conveniently list.
Legumes — alfalfa, peas, beans, soybeans, carob, lentils, lupins, mesquite, tamarind
These plants produce dry bean-like seeds that can be consumed as they are or ground into floor. They also have the ability to fix nitrogen from out of the air, and so make good fertilizer. Along with clover they provide sources of nectar from which bees can make honey. Aside from grains and certain vegetables, they are the most common vegetable source used as animal fodder.
Tubers, Corms, Bulbs — potatoes, sweet potato, cassava, yam, dahlia, taro, arrowhead, konjac, water chestnuts
These are portions of stems or roots that collect and store dry starchy material for use by the plant during non-growing seasons.
Melons — watermelons, honeydew, muskmelons, cantaloupes, casabas
These are large fruits that contain moist pulpy flesh within a hard dry outer rind.
Nuts — walnuts, hazelnuts, filberts, pine nuts, pistachios, almonds, cashews, pecans, peanuts
The culinary definition of a nut is any dry oily seed contained within a hard shell that does not split on its own to release the seed. A true nut, however, is any such seed that is still attached to the shell. The only true nuts in the above list are hazelnuts and filberts, but acorns and chestnuts are true nuts as well. The rest belong to other plant groups; peanuts, for example, are legumes. In addition to being eaten as they are or as part of prepared dishes, nuts can also be ground into a flour substitute, for use in baking and cooking, and for thickening soups, sauces, and gravies. The most common nut used for this is the almond.
Fruits — figs, raisins, apples, pears, plums, lemons, citrons, oranges, pomegranates, quinces, grapes, strawberries, dates, apricots, peaches, berries, cherries, plantains (bananas), breadfruit
In almost the exact reverse of nuts, technically a fruit is defined as any type of reproductive body, including seeds, bean pods, grains, and cucurbits (ie, pumpkins and squash). However, the culinary definition is the fleshy body associated with the seed or seeds, which is sweet or sour and edible in the raw state. This distinguishes it from savory plant products, which are called vegetables, and hard oily products encased in shells, which are called nuts.
Fungi — mushrooms, chanterelles, morels, truffles, coral fungi, bracket fungi
Fungi must be examined even more carefully than herbaceous plants to determine if they are edible, because they more so than regular plants contain hallucinogenic and/or toxic chemicals. However, they make good sources of minerals and vitamins, especially vitamin D.
All foods contain fats, which are an essential part of good nutrition. Though they are consumed as part of a normal diet, they are also used in cooking, and to make various industrial products, such as soaps, cosmetics, candles, and paint. Animal fats tend to be solid at room temperature and are released during cooking or boiling. They can be collected, and when they cool they solidify to form lard or suet, depending upon what kind of fat is collected. Lard and suet can then be rendered by melting, simmering, and filtering to clarify it by removing impurities. Rendered animal fats include tallow (rendered lard or suet) and schmaltz (rendered bird fat). Marine mammals that have blubber and oceanic fish also have large quantities of fats that are liquid at room temperature; these are known as oils. They are also obtained by cooking or rendering meat or blubber.
Vegetable fats, however, tend to be exclusively oils (though cocoa beans and shea nuts contain fat that is solid at room temperature). Though many parts of a plant contain oil, the best and largest quantity of oil is obtained from pressing seeds, nuts, and certain savory fruits, such as olives. The most common and/or popular vegetable oils in the Dreamlands include:
coconut, corn, cottonseed, hazelnut, linseed, olive, palm, peanut, pine nut, poppyseed, sesame, soybean, sunflower, walnut
Classifying food by purpose is a bit more complex. For one thing, the categories cut across divisions between sources; for another, some sources can be used for more than one purpose. Finally, with some exceptions, what are categorized are not the foods themselves, but the dishes they produce. Because of this, categorizing foods by purpose is often more important than classifying them by source, because you get a better picture of the kinds of meals people eat in different regions and under different conditions.
No one can survive eating just one kind of food, because no one source contains 100% of the nutrients humans need. However, virtually everywhere people tend to subsist on at least one type of food that is eaten routinely, at least once a day if not at every meal, and in large enough quantities as to constitute the dominant portion of a population's standard diet. As such, it supplies a large fraction of an individual's energy needs. These are known as staple foods, and while they vary from place to place, they tend to be whatever is readily available and easily cultivated, and can most easily be stored for long periods of time without spoiling. The most common staples are high-starch sources, such as cereal grains, tubers, pulses (dried legumes), beans, or high-starch fruits. However, in places where suitable vegetable sources are rare, animal sources are substituted, such as fish, fowl, or seals. An important thing to remember about staples is that everyone eats them, regardless of social standing. The rich may be able to afford more elaborate and expensive preparations, as well as supplement the staple with additional foods, whereas the poor may be limited to eating perhaps half a dozen or fewer staple dishes and little else, but the staple can be found in some form on every table throughout the region where it dominates.
Preparation and cooking of staples is fairly straightforward. Animal sources are generally dried and salted, then roasted, fried, or boiled. Some plant sources can be eaten raw, or with a minimum of cooking, such as boiling, but most are milled or mashed. Milling is the mechanical process of breaking up the source into smaller pieces. What results depends upon how extensive the process is. Coarse milling that leaves large pieces produces groats, smaller pieces make up meal, and milling to fine powder gives flour, though flour can also have a range of coarseness, and can receive additional treatments to further refine it. Except for rice, grains are indigestible even if cooked, and so need to be milled. However, any source that is dry or can be dried through roasting or baking can be milled. Mashing is the mechanical process of pulverizing the source into a moist, gelatinous mass. If one needs a non-culinary comparison, milling produces gravel, sand, or silt, whereas mashing produces mud. The mashed source can be cooked as is or dried into meal or flour. Tubers and fruits are usually mashed, though some tubers are dry enough to begin with that they can be roasted and milled.
The three primary dishes make from plant source staples are bread, porridge, and soup. Bread is made from flour or meal of any source, and can be leavened or unleavened. It can be divided into three main types depending upon whether it just uses just the endosperm of the grain (white), has some bran mixed in with the endosperm (brown), or uses the whole grain (wholemeal). It should be noted that the color of bread depends upon its plant source, so that rye bread is naturally dark, even black, even if only the rye endosperm is used. In other words, you cannot judge the nutritional value of bread by its color. White bread tends to be soft and fine but expensive, whereas wholemeal tends to be harder and coarser but cheap. Breads made from grain meal or the flour of non-grain sources can turn out even coarser and harder. The latter are sometimes called horsebread, especially if they are made from pulses or beans, because they are also fed to livestock.
The distinction between porridge and soup is often subjective, but for the most part, porridge tends to be gritty, whereas soups tend to be liquid no matter how thick. Porridge is simply a milled source boiled in a liquid, usually water or milk; oatmeal is essential oat porridge. Porridge is usually made from groats or coarse meal; finer meals make what is called mush, while flour is used to make pudding (though the distinction between mush and pudding is also subjective). Popular Waking World breakfast foods such as Cream of Wheat and Malt-O-Meal are more like mush than porridge. Mush and savory pudding can be eaten as is, or baked or fried. A particularly thin porridge, one that can be drunk rather than eaten, is called gruel. Soups made from staples can run the gamut from even thinner than gruel to nearly as thick as pudding, but whereas diluted mush becomes porridge, watered-down thick soup simply becomes thin soup. The natural product of mashing a source results in something that looks like pudding or thick mush, and can be treated as such, or it can diluted to make soup.
Astute readers may point out that meal and flour can be used to create more sophisticated dishes, such as pastries, cakes, and pasta. Certainly, bread, porridge, and soup seem so mundane as to be restricted to the lower classes. Traditionally, the upper classes, whether determined by social rank or wealth, would be expected to eat more meat, vegetables, and fruit, and prefer specific dishes prepared with spices and ingredients only they could acquire, with bread being a mere appendage to the meal and soup an opening course, if offered at all, and porridge restricted to breakfast. At the same time, bread and porridge made from grains other than wheat such as rye, or even non-grain sources such as potatoes, simply reflect the poverty of that local area, whereas mush and pudding-like foods such as poi created from more exotic stables, such as tropical tubers and fruits, indicate that the local natives have nothing better.
There is some truth to these views. However, for the most part they are based on stereotypes that can be easily exploded by a little historical and anthropological research. To begin with, we need to keep in mind that medieval land owners were not like their 17th and 18th century counterparts. They managed their land in the form of manors, and took part of the harvest for their own use, whereas their descendants rented their land to free farmers and took payment in money. As such, Medieval lords were chronically cash-poor, which meant they could buy very little food from outside their manors, so they could only eat what their manor could produce, prepared by a cook who was seldom better trained than the average peasant wife. In other words, they pretty much ate the same thing their serfs ate. The only advantage they had was a near-exclusive right to hunt whatever game, fowl, and fish existed on their land, but like as not they only had meat a few times a month, and it most likely took the form of stews rather than roasts. The grand feasts we read about in medieval chronicles only occurred a few times a year, on major holidays such as Christmas and Easter, and could severely deplete the manor’s stocks. It wasn’t until landowners became sufficiently cash-rich to buy local meat and produce, and hire a proper chef, that the upper classes began to eat much better than their tenant farmers. The image of the portly late-middle-aged country landowner, while also something of a stereotype, has a stronger basis in fact. As for wheat being a “better” food than barley, oats, or rye, or corn or potatoes or fish, it has certain advantages, but it also has certain deficiencies, and its absence from certain regions may have more to do with climate, or availability, or ease of cultivation than cost or local wealth. As well, it is certainly true the Pacific Islanders had to make do with the plant and animal sources available to them, but it should be pointed out that the Islanders found breadfruit to be so advantageous that they gave up rice cultivation and took it with them on their migrations.
The point is, in regions and times where certain staple foods predominated, we have clear evidence that everyone did eat them, and that they constituted a large percentage of everyone’s diet. Those local people who had better socioeconomic positions almost certainly ate more of other kinds of available foods, but except in modern times or unusual circumstances, the evidence suggests that these other foods were unable to replace the staple as the predominant component of their diet. In fact, bread may be the one universal food; everyone eats bread, no matter its source or their social standing. If anything, the upper classes ate more elaborate dishes based on their staple, such as wealthy Venetians eating polenta (a type of corn mush) with songbird meat, but they still ate it, and in copious amounts.
It should also be pointed out that flour or meal need not be made into food. In many places, people lack durable containers in which to cook food. In such cases, flour or meal, especially that which is coarsely ground, can be mixed with suet and boiling water to make a pastry known as huff paste. This is used to encase the food in a crust, rather like a pie or pasty; however, after the food has been fully cooked the crust becomes so hard as to be virtually inedible. Though it can be fed to animals.
As a final note, staples are not limited to specific sources, but can include dairy products, some form of plant or animal oil, and a sweetener. In fact, any food that is regularly and preferentially consumed in substantial quantities can be considered a staple even if it only serves as a supplement to whatever staple is used to create the eaten dishes.
Once we get away from staples, food starts to acquire socioeconomic dressings. As described above, the aristocrats tended to eat more meat, and they usually took the lion’s share of nuts, fruits, mushrooms, and high-status vegetables harvested from their lands, leaving the peasants to consume what was left. This peasant food took on a social stigma, such that it came to be seen as inferior to what aristocrats ate, as befitting the lower rank and poorer lives of peasants. However, as has already been pointed out earlier, these kinds of distinctions are based on tradition and prejudice, and vary from culture to culture, and sometimes even within the culture itself. The example of the Venetian songbird polenta dish shows how the same kind of food can be both disparaged and lauded depending upon how its prepared and who eats it. This is especially true in the United States, which tended to be settled by members of the middle and lower classes. Hence, the immigrants brought their recipes with them, and dishes that would be despised in Europe became generally popular and even fairly sophisticated in the States. These dishes, however, evolved out of the need to make the most efficient use of whatever was available, both staples and non-staples, to provide the nutrition working peasants needed.
Below is a list of the kinds of dishes traditionally considered peasant food:
baked beans, barbecue, broth, hominy, pasta, sausages, Spam, succotash, tacos
frumenty — a thick wheat porridge boiled in meat broth
offal — the internal organs and entrails of butchered animals; tripe, lampredotto
scrapple — a mush of pork scraps, cornmeal, and wheat flour formed into a loaf and baked
soups/stews — slow cooked mixtures of whatever plant and animal sources are available, with ingredients replenished over time as the dish is eaten; minestrone, Mulligan stew, mujaddara, pot-au-feu, pottage, ratatouille
terrine — meat scraps set in aspic; head cheese
Even in the Dreamlands, crops sometimes fail, leading to bad harvests. Depending upon how severe it is, it can lead to widespread hunger, famine, and even starvation. This can be bad enough when non-staples are affected, but even a minor staple crop failure can have disastrous consequences. Under these circumstances people need to find alternative food sources. These are known as famine food, because generally they are only eaten out of dire necessity, otherwise people eat their regular crops. They are also called poverty food, because they also tend to be eaten by people unable to farm or too poor to own or rent land. Because of this, one might think these sources are nutritionally poor, and that eating them for any extended length of time would lead to malnutrition. The irony is, many of these sources are just as nutritious, if not more so, than traditional crops. In fact, we know of at least 12,650 different plants in the Waking World that are edible and fairly nutritious, yet 95% of world’s population consumes just 30 kinds of plants, while corn, wheat, and rice account for at least 50% of all culinary consumption. The situation is not much improved in the Dreamlands.
As one might expect, what primarily determines whether a source is considered famine food is tradition and prejudice. The reasons can vary tremendously. For example, some people consider them inferior to tradition crops; others question their safety or nutritional value. There are those who disparage them as fit only for consumption by the local indigenous people; others see them as animal feed. Some people consider them inedible due to an undesirable taste or smell; others see them as weeds. Then there are those who are too hidebound and inflexible to adapt, while others hold to unreasoning beliefs in the purpose of specific crops or animals, such that they will not, for example, eat horse flesh because horses are for riding. One of the ironies of this situation is that “civilized” people are more likely to be obstinate in this regard than so-called “primitive” cultures. The reason may be because the “primitives”, having no agriculture, cannot become dependent on one or a few sources, and so must take advantage of as many as they can find.
These reasons can manifest themselves in bizarre, even tragic, ways. In 19th century New England and Atlantic Coast Canada, people considered lobster to be poverty food, and would bury the shells so their neighbors did not find out they were reduced to eating shellfish. One of the triggers that led to the French Revolution was famine due to wheat crop failures. The government tried to introduce the potato, since it was largely immune to the cold, damp summer weather that caused the failures, and had proven to be a success elsewhere in Europe, but the peasants refused to adopt it because they considered it famine food. One reason the Norse settlement of Greenland may have failed in the late 15th century was because they refused to eat fish, seals, or whales, considering them poverty food, and fit only for the Eskimo natives with whom they shared the island. Perhaps the most bizarre aspect is how one culture or time can disparage a food source as beneath their dignity, yet another equally sophisticated culture or time can consider the same food a luxury delicacy.
Below is a list of foods that are or have been considered famine or poverty foods:
animal fodder — acorns, chestnuts, rutabagas, sugar beets
bark bread — flour mixed with dried and milled pine tree phloem
flowering bulbs — Sego lily and tulip bulbs have been eaten when all other food sources become unavailable
fruits and melons — domesticated varieties raised to supplement staples or for other non-food purposes, and wild varieties normally shunned as barely edible
non-food domesticated sources — cats, dogs, grapes (normally used for wine), horses, olives (normally used for oil)
non-game animals — bats, beavers, bream (a freshwater "trash" fish), carp, cranes, crocodiles, frogs, hedgehogs, lamprey, lizards, mice and rats, porcupines, salamanders, seals, snakes, songbirds, storks, swans, whales
secondary food plants — raised for use as backups in case the staple crop fails; malanga grown to replace taro
wild plants — dandelions, kelp, nettles
"yuck" foods — ants, caterpillars, centipedes, cicadas, cockroaches, crickets, earthworms, grasshoppers and locusts, larvae (eg. grubs, mealworms) , moths, scorpions, snails, tarantulas
The Dreamlands being what they are, some categories of food purposes are borrowed from the Waking World, especially the modern eras. One such is snack food. A snack consists of a helping of food that is smaller than the usual portions eaten in a regular meal, and eaten between meals. Almost any food can be eaten as a snack, but there are certain foods that are intended to be eaten as snacks instead of as part of a regular meal, while there are others that lend themselves well to being eaten as snacks.
Below is a list of snack foods that can be found in the Dreamlands:
baked goods — bagels, biscuits, cake, cereal bars, cookies, crackers, flatbread, muffins, pasta, pie, rice cakes, teacake, tortilla
natural foods — beans, cheese, chocolate, fruits, gelatin, nuts, trail mix, vegetables
pastries — cream puffs, doughnuts, eclairs, flan, fritters, fruit bars, petit fours, profiteroles, strudel, tarts, torte, turnovers, vol-au-vent, waffles
savories — antipasto, canapés, chips, falafel, jerky, mezze, popcorn, pork rinds, pretzels, quiche, tapas, tea sandwich, zakuski
sop — pieces of bread used to sop up wine, soup, broth, or oil
Another category borrowed from the Waking World is fast food. In one sense, fast food is any dish that can be prepared and served quickly, and requires little in the way of dishes and utensils to eat. In a more practical sense, however, fast food consists of precooked, pre-prepared ingredients packaged in a manner that allows eating on the go. Ideally, no dishes or utensils should be needed at all. Historically, fast food referred to anything premade or already cooked that could be served up with no waiting, but with the introduction of “short-order” cooking, many types of fast food can be prepared in a very short time as long as the basic ingredients are ready and available. Though restaurants and cafés can provide fast food, most are sold from specialty shops similar to Roman popina, or street venders operating out of push or horse-drawn carts, concession booths, or stalls. More than one Dreamer has suffered severe culture shock when encountering a New York hot dog vender in a Medieval-style city.
Below is a list of fast food one can encounter in the Dreamlands:
cold — crepes, pigs in a blanket (hotdogs wrapped in bread), sardines on toast, scotch woodcock, sushi, taco
hot — angels on horseback (oysters wrapped in bacon), calamari, chicken fingers, chop suey, chow mein, devils on horseback (stuffed dried fruit wrapped in bacon), fish and chips, hogs in a blanket (sausage pieces wrapped in bacon), kebabs, lo mein, soup, stews, welsh rarebit and varients, wontons
either — dried fish, pancakes, pasta, pasties, pies, pizza, sandwiches, sausages, wraps
Still another category borrowed from the Waking World is military rations. The problem of how to feed armies is millennia old. Before the 19th century in the Waking World, armies generally foraged for food, living off the land, or rather off the crops and livestock of the invaded territory’s people. Which did little to win their hearts and minds, though truth be told, that idea is also a modern invention. Unfortunately, foraging wasn’t efficient: either armies took too much or found too little, and tended to do a great of damage in the process. Besides, breaking armies up into foraging parties meant they could be more easily destroyed by the enemy; Napoleon nearly lost the Battle of Marengo that way. Meanwhile, legend has it that afterwards his chef invented and served him Chicken Marengo with what little he could find in the town. This supposedly prompted Napoleon to offer a cash prize to anyone who could invent a way to store and preserve food for military campaigns. This in turn ultimately led to the development of canning.
While canning solved the supply problem, it created a new one, one familiar to any modern soldier: unappetizing food of limited variety. At least foraging produced greater variety, when anything could be found, and the soldiers could pick and choose what foraged foods they wanted to eat and could dictate how they should be prepared. Despite appearances, government and military officials are not stupid. They understand the effect on moral food has, for good or ill, but generally they are not overly concerned for two reasons. The first is that soldiers normally have so many impacts on their moral that one more hardly seems bothering about, and they are supposed to use their training and discipline to shrug it all off and tough it out. The second is expense; it costs more to provide a variety of canned goods than a more limited one. As pointed out at the beginning of this essay, however, the desire for good food is so strong that soldiers will go to great lengths to supplement their limited rations with additional food.
It is worth pointing out that the use of the term "ration" is interesting and subtle. In military parlance, it simply means the food allotted to each soldier for his or her daily use, but this also underscores its alternative meaning, that of the controlled and limited distribution of resources, goods, or services. Since soldiers are given only so much food that they must make last for a specific period of time, the term is applicable in both meanings simultaneously.
The Dreamlands have one advantage in that most polities are city-states and the surrounding territories over which they have direct control. As such, their armies tend to operate close enough to home that they can be more or less constantly supplied with an adequate amount of food that has a fairly decent variety, usually though not always fresh. Those that operate navies and/or place garrisons in "foreign" territory must of course keep these forces supplied as well, but ships and forts have large storerooms, so they can have larger amounts of foodstuffs than units on the march can carry. Even so, these rations still tend to offer limited choices to save on expenses. Meanwhile, rations provided to field units operating away from the city or fort tend to be even more limited to save on space if carried in the baggage train or on weight if carried by individual soldiers. The latter are often especially limited since they are meant to be used only in the short term.
Though there are some differences depending upon where an army operates, typical rations include the following:
Garrison-level rations — corned beef, bacon, and dried fish; rice and hominy; potatoes, beans and peas; cornmeal; hardtack; often augmented with live food such as chickens or rabbits, goats to provide milk for cheese, and vegetable gardens; most garrisons can also make their own sausage and jerky
Field unit-level rations — corned beef and bacon, desiccated mixed vegetables, chocolate, hardtack
Individual rations (also sometimes called iron rations) — pork and beans, cakes of wheat mixed with beef broth, and jerky or pemmican; chocolate
The land of Ooth-Nargai, ruled by the city-state of Celephaïs, is the exception to this trend. It has the highest percentage of modern and post-modern-age Dreamers except for Ulthar, and those that live in the latter tend to be individualists. As such, Ooth-Nargai uses many progressive ideas that prove to be more effective and efficient. A primary example is that they use a modern military rationing system. While not advanced enough to provide MREs, their system reflects that of the United States and Great Britain during World War II and the Korean War.
A-ration — fresh food; provided to garrisons, meals prepared in a mess kitchen
In this case, a garrison is any military base that holds at least a battalion and contains permanent structures. However, this definition is vague enough that the determination of whether a base is a garrison or just a camp tends to subjective and arbitrary. However, whether the kitchen is mobile (a field kitchen) or more like that of a cafeteria (a mess kitchen) is often the deciding factor. Fresh must also be taken with a grain of salt. Without a refrigeration or freezing capability, to be fresh food must be grown or raised on site, provided by the locals, or expressed in from a central supply depot, but some preservation, such as curing, drying, or pickling, is permitted if the distances involved are too great for food to arrive before spoiling. Even so, to qualify as A-rations, no more than one-third of the food may preserved, or it cannot have been preserved for longer than a week.
B-ration — canned and other forms of preserved food; provided to permanent camps, outposts, and field units, meals prepared in a field kitchen
To qualify as B-rations, no less than three-quarters of the food must be preserved, or it must have been preserved for more than two weeks. B-rations tend to be canned, because metal cans are better able to survive long-distance travel than glass jar or wooden barrels. Because most of the food is already precooked, or requires little preparation, kitchens do not need to be so elaborate as to have stoves and ovens; some kind of fire is usually all that's required.
C-ration — corned beef, ham, pork, veal, chicken, turkey, tuna, or sausages and eggs; beans, potatoes, rice, or pasta; vegetables and dried fruit; cheese; biscuits with peanut butter or jam; pastry, cereal bar, fruit bar, or cookies; chocolate or candy; provided to individual soldiers during peace or when stationed behind friendly lines during war, prepared by heating in boiling water
Though C-rations are stored at whatever base a field unit is assigned to, they are only issued to individual soldiers in a field unit when that unit goes out on patrol, and then only enough to feed them until they return to base. Each soldier is responsible for his or her rations; that includes preparing them, though some squads will pool their rations in a communal pot for greater ease. However, the food is precooked, so heating is all that needs to be done, and they can be eaten cold if necessary. The distinction between war and peace is an important one. C-rations were developed with the idea in mind that soldiers would be able to make camp and build a fire at the end of the day; at worst, only lunch would have to be eaten cold and on the move. This is only possible in peace time, or when the field units find themselves stationed behind friendly lines, however temporarily. Plus, a typical C-ration meal weighs more than a combat meal, which can hamper a soldier's ability to move quickly and easily in a combat situation.
It should also be noted that in this case biscuits mean thick crackers that are only a little easier to eat than hardtack.
D-ration — jerky; chocolate; hardtack; provided to individual soldiers as emergency food when nothing else is available
This ration is meant to be eaten only when no other ration is available, and only for a limited time, typically no more than fifteen consecutive meals — roughly five to seven days — before being supplemented or replaced with another, more nutritionally complete, ration. It can keep people alive, but they will suffer weight loss and malnourishment.
It should be noted that “military” chocolate is different from confectionary chocolate. It is a mixture of chocolate and oat flour, cacao fat, milk curds, and just enough sugar to mask the normal bitter taste of chocolate. This makes it resistant to high temperatures, but it also makes it hard, and therefore difficult to eat, and the overall taste is "little better than a boiled potato". Even so, three can provide the minimum daily amount of calories a soldier needs to remain active, with jerky and hardtack supplementing this. In a similar fashion, hardtack is nothing more than flour and water, baked until desiccated, making it rock hard, but able to survive months at almost any temperature if kept dry.
There are also some specialty rations:
K-ration — stew meat (a mix of beef and pork), ham, or chicken; beans, potatoes, rice, or noodles; vegetables; cookies; chocolate; provided to individual soldiers in time of war or under battlefield conditions, can be eaten cold
In this case, "K" stands for combat, since "C" had already been taken. It is meant to be light, easy to prepare, and nutrient-dense. While not quite as limited as the D-ration, it too is meant to be eaten for just short durations, typically no more than a week. Troops required to subsist on this ration for two weeks or longer can suffer from malnourishment.
J-ration — corned beef or pork; cereal; dried fruit, salted peanuts, or raisins; biscuits; fruit bar or candy; provided to individual soldiers operating in jungles or other hot environments; can be eaten cold
In this case, "J" stands for jungle. Hot environments such as jungles and deserts tend to fatigue soldiers more than temperate or cold regions, especially if they are also humid. As such, anything that can reduce the weight a soldier must carry is generally welcome. J-rations are dry, and the lack of excess water makes them substantially lighter than C or even K-rations. They also can be eaten without having to be heated, and they are high-energy, nutrient-dense foods that are light and easy to digest. Their only serious disadvantage is that they require a soldier to drink a large amount of water to keep from becoming dehydrated.
M-ration — corned beef, pork, or sausages; beans, potatoes, or rice; soup; cereal; cheese; biscuits and butter; chocolate, fruit bar, or candy; provided to individual soldiers operating in mountains or other cold environments
In this case, "M" stands for mountain. Soldiers operating in cold environments need a high-calorie ration that allows their bodies to generate the heat needed to stay warm. It also needs to be nutrient-dense, slow-digesting, and filling, while also being compact and light, and easy to heat, though still appetizing if eaten cold. Heating the rations while on the march can be problematic, but in the morning each squad is issued coals in a ceramic "hot pot", and these can be used to heat the meat, soup, and starch cans.
S-ration — corned beef, pork, chicken, or chili; potatoes, rice, or pasta; vegetables; dried fruit; chocolate, cereal bar, fruit bar, or candy; provided to individual soldiers engaged in commando operations, including long-range patrols behind enemy lines
In this case, "S" stands for skirmisher. Skirmishers are the special forces of the Ooth-Nargai military, and the vast majority of their tasks require stealth and rapid deployment. As such, they only carry what they need for a mission, and everything they do carry must be as light as possible, including their rations. Like J-rations these are dry, but they are even lighter than J or K-rations, because they are packed in canvas bags so they can be warmed and rehydrated by putting the bags in hot water. At the same time, they are designed to be appetizing even if eaten cold.
It should be noted that all rations carried by individual soldiers, except for D-rations, also provide tobacco, sugar, chewing gum, salt, pepper, ground coffee, tea, water purification tablets, a sponge, and a small bar of soap. Communal provisions provided to the platoon as a whole for distribution to individual squads include flour, cornmeal, olive oil and lard, vinegar, soy sauce, chili sauce, horseradish sauce, garum, molasses, fruit syrups, and whiskey.
One type of food purpose category that is unique to the Dreamlands is food eaten by adventurers. Like military rations, it should have a long shelf life, be fairly light, and easy to prepare, but also nutrient and/or calorie dense, and slow to digest, so that it releases its nutrients over a long period of time. Unlike military rations, however, it should be relatively easy to make and readily available from multiple civilian sources. Also, adventurers are more likely than soldiers to have the equipment or opportunity to cook their food, but less access to accessories such as flour, condiments, sauces, sweeteners, oils, or spices. Then, too, unless they are former military or have had survivalist training and/or experience in the Waking World, most adventurers are ignorant of proper nutrition. Hence, adventure food can be more varied, but generally is less complete.
Adventure food can be divided into several categories:
Preserved Meat — salt pork (bacon), salt beef (corned beef), sausages, dried fish
These are the easiest to obtain, because they can be found in any community of any size, provided the adventurer is able to pay the price or is willing to work for it. However, with the exception of dried fish, they are almost impossible to find in wilderness areas. Corned beef is soaked in brine, so it needs to be stored in a metal can or glass jar, but bacon, dried fish, and cooked or smoked sausages can be carried in a salt-filled canvas or leather bag, while dry sausages don't need salt.
Processed Meat — Spam; pemmican, tolkusha, or akutaq; jerky
These can generally be found at forts, trading posts, and other outlying facilities, and with the exception of Spam can usually be obtained from wilderness tribes. Spam itself is produced and canned in communities and shipped out to wilderness areas, whereas pemmican and its relatives are produced and packaged by wilderness tribes and shipped to more civilized places. Jerky can be made anywhere. Pemmican and the like are made from dried meat and berries that have been pulverized into tiny pieces and mixed with fat. It can be eaten raw or used as a cooking stock for adding other ingredients. It is one of the lightest and most calorie-dense foods available, and can last for months if properly packaged, so it also makes a good emergency ration, but it needs to be balanced with a starch, and if eaten for too long can lead to vitamin deficiencies.
Cooked Meals — pot roast, stews, and thick hearty soups; potted meats; jugged stews
These are whole meals that have been precooked and packaged so that the only preparation they need is to be reheated, often by placing their containers in boiling water. They are most often used in situations when adventurers do not expect to have or do not wish to spend the time needed to prepare an evening meal from scratch, or on trips that require them to camp out at night a few times. As long as the meals are properly prepared and packaged, and the package is not opened until its contents are ready to be consumed, these meals can stay fresh for some time, but it is advisable to eat even canned meals within a relatively short period of time; say, a few weeks at most. Soups, pot roasts, and stews can be canned or bottled, but they can also be stored in bags or ceramic pots. Potted meats are cooked and stored in pots filled with grease, which solidifies and protects the meat from spoilage. Jugged stews are cooked and then sealed in ceramic jugs in a manner similar to canning, often with wine mixed in to provide extra protection against bacterial growth.
Grain Products — hardtack, biscuits, polenta, flatbread, farina
While meat protein and fat provide energy over an extended period of time since it takes longer for them to be digested and absorbed, carbohydrates provide quicker energy in larger amounts. The best source of carbohydrates is grain. However, not all grain products are suitable for long journeys, since they are vulnerable to moisture and molding. Those that are are simple preparations of flour or meal and water that are baked until the products are desiccated and rock-hard. The best example of this is hardtack, along with its more modern equivalent the biscuit. Flatbread is unleavened, so it doesn't rise as it bakes, and the travel version resembles a very large and rather thick cracker, though it is not as hard as hardtack. Polenta and farina (a very fine flour) are normally eaten like porridge, but they can be formed into balls or patties and baked.
Dairy Products — cheese, curds, yogurt
Dairy products can either supplement or replace meats as sources of protein and fat. However, as with grains most are not suitable for long journeys. Dried curds and their derivatives cheese and yogurt are designed to allow milk to be transported over long distances without spoiling, with certain types of hard cheeses having the longest shelf life.
Miscellaneous — dried vegetables, dried fruit, chocolate, tofu, soup paste
A diet of fat and protein, even if supplemented with starch and a dairy product, is not particularly nutritious, and in the long term can lead to malnutrition. Even experienced adventurers and travelers can make this mistake, especially if they supplement their rations with hunting and fishing, and gathering a few wild garnishes. Cooked meals go some ways to relieve this problem, but they are not the final answer because of their short shelf life. As such, those who know better, often the hard way, will include a mix of dried vegetables and fruit to add needed vitamins and roughage. Chocolate can substitute for hardtack and biscuits as a source of starch, but it is more like the kind of chocolate used in military rations, to make it heat resistant and long-lasting. As such, adventurers more often use it as part of a pack of emergency rations. Tofu is made from the curds of soybean milk, a liquid obtained by boiling ground beans in water. Vegetarians prefer it over cheese, but in some places in the Dreamlands it is more easily and cheaply obtained than cheese. Soup paste is regular liquid soup that has been boiled down into a thick paste. When canned, it can last for years, it provides missing nutrients, and it only needs to be mixed with hot water to make it ready to eat, but glass bottles are too fragile for long trips and metal cans can leave a strange taste.
In general, any edible substance added during cooking or before serving to enhance the natural flavor of food, to impart a special flavor, to disguise an unpleasant flavor, to compliment the meal, or to decorate and embellish a dish is called a condiment. There are five types of condiments. Garnishes are used for decoration and embellishment, and usually consist of the leafy green parts of plants. Herbs are also leafy green parts, but they are added for flavouring. Spices are additional flavouring substances obtained from dried seeds, berries, bark, roots. and fruits. They are also used as part of food preservation. Vinegar and certain kinds of oils, such as olive oil, are used for flavouring as well. Below is a list of common garnishes, herbs, and spices found in the Dreamlands.
allspice, angelica, anise, asafetida, basil, bay leaf, caraway, cardamom, carob, cassia, chervil, chicory, chives, cilantro, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, cubeb, cumin, curry, dill, endive, fennel, galangal, garlic, ginger, grains of paradise, horseradish, hyssop, juniper berry, licorice, mace, marjoram, mint, mustard, nutmeg, oregano, paprika, parsley, pepper, peppermint, rosemary, saffron, sage, sassafras, sorrel, spearmint, spikenard, tarragon, thyme, turmeric, vanilla, wasabi, watercress, wintergreen, wormwood
By far, however, the most common condiments are sauces, which usually use two or more other types of condiments in their preparation. Technically, a sauce is any liquid-based preparation used to flavour or garnish food, either during or after cooking. It does not matter if it is creamy or has solid material mixed in as long as it has a liquid component. Most people, however, generally think of culinary sauces, such as hollandaise, or condiment sauces, such as worcestershire, but this barely scratches the surface. Sauces can be both savory and sweet, and can be used on any type of food. There are literally hundreds, possibly thousands of sauce recipes in existence in the Dreamlands, and while attempts have been made to systematize them, there are always outliers that cannot fit or must be forced to fit.
Some sauces are fairly simple, such as a puree of tomatoes in water (ketchup), while others are fairly elaborate, such as a stable emulsion of oil, egg yolk, and vinegar (mayonnaise). Followers of French cuisine tend to see all sauces as variations of five grande examples: milk-based, brown meat stock, white meat stock, yolk and butter emulsions, and tomato-based. Other chefs would separate out hot sauces, sweet sauces, and sauces that contain chunks of vegetables (chutney and relish), and expand tomato to any kind of vegetable or fruit (such as applesauce). All sauces, even the simplest, contain spices, and often herbs and/or oil. They can range from easily dispensed liquids to thick pastes, though most are smooth; those that contain bits or chunks of solid material are generally considered chutneys or relish, which some chefs do not count as true sauces. Most are thickened with roux, a mix of flour and fat, but some use liaison, a mix of yolks and cream, while others use plain flour, natural fat, starch, or gelatin.
There are far too many sauces to list here, but some are distinctive:
Ketchup and mustard (ground mustard seed in water) are fairly common, as are Dreamworld versions of such Waking World sauces as salsa, horseradish sauce, cheese sauce, steak sauce, barbecue sauce, cocktail sauce, salad dressing, tomato sauce, chili sauce, worcestershire, soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, wasabi sauce, mint sauce, and tartar sauce. Gravy is very widespread, since it can be easily prepared from the meat or vegetable juices produced while cooking. Two sauces that were common in the Dreamlands but much less so in the Waking World since the Middle Ages are bread sauce and verjuice. Bread sauce is a savory sauce that uses bread as a key component. It is a mix of cooking fat, milk or butter or cream, and bread pieces or crumbs, and tends to be served with domestic fowl. Verjuice is juice pressed from unripe sour fruit. It is very acidic and can be used as substitute for wine or vinegar. Another unusual sauce more common in the Dreamlands than the Waking World is marmite, an extract of yeast used to brew beer. It has a strong taste and is very salty, and most people either love it or hate it. "Milk" obtained from crushed nuts such as almonds was used in the Middle Ages as a substitute for cow milk during Lent and other fast days, while in the Dreamlands can keep longer than milk without spoiling. Pickled walnuts are a prized delicacy among the aristocracy, but they are also a way for peasants to preserve this popular nut.
Yet one very common sauce that hasn’t been seen in the Waking World since Roman times is garum, a sauce made from fish. Though fish-based sauces are still prevalent in the Waking World, there is nothing quite like garum. The makers take the guts of fatty oceanic fish, along with whole smaller fish, crush and mix them in brine, and placed the mixture in tall ceramic jugs with long necks and small mouths. The jugs in turn are placed in the sun and the contents allowed to ferment for one to three months. The jugs are covered with cheesecloth to keep out flies and the brine prevents bacterial contamination. The sauce itself forms as a clear liquid on top while the sediment is called allec, which can also be used as a condiment. Despite how unappetizing it strikes the uninitiated, garum actually has a mild, subtle flavour and aroma, and as a result is often flavoured with herbs, spices, wine, vinegar, or oil. It is also very nutritious, being loaded with protein, amino acids, and B vitamins. Virtually every port city and fishing village has its own recipe, and while allec is consumed locally, garum tends to be as important an export as fish, sometimes even more important. Highly prized garum can command enormous fortunes, making the producing village very rich. However, not everyone fully appreciates the virtues of this fine sauce. Many people have an unreasoning bias against it due to the fact that it is made from “decaying” fish guts. Then there is the fact that the process of fermentation creates an unpleasant stench that can be so bad, the factories that produce it are usually required to reside beyond the outskirts of the community. Garum is definitely an acquired taste, though one readily adopted, and people either love it or hate it, but it can be found almost everywhere in the Dreamlands, even in places ketchup and mustard are not.
As a final note, it should be mentioned that salt is technically a condiment according to the above definition, but most people do not think of it as such. As well, salt is virtually the only inorganic flavouring in existence, though some people use saltpeter in place of salt. Finally, modern and post-modern Dreamers define “ketchup” as being tomato based, but historically the name applied to any sauce made from pureed vegetables or fruit, or sometimes even fish and seafood. As such, it is not unusual to encounter mushroom ketchup, oyster ketchup, or walnut ketchup.
Sweeteners are technically a form of condiment; however, most people do not consider them as such. Though they have an important role in food preservation, they were first used to sweeten food and dishes to hide unpleasant tastes and/or improve a bland taste. Sweeteners also have an undeniable psychological effect, in that the vast majority of people enjoy eating things that taste sweet. The most widespread sweetener is honey, because only arctic or desert regions do not have honeybees, honey is easy to produce locally, and if stored in clean airtight jars can last indefinitely with little preservation. Honey also has important industrial and medicinal uses that make it popular as well. Even so, table sugar and its derivatives brown sugar, molasses, and treacle can be made from any plant that has a high content of natural sugar, such as sugar cane and sugar beets. Otherwise, the only other available sweeteners are fruit juices and the saps of certain trees, both of which can be rendered down into syrups or pastes.
Finally, there are some pretty strange foods that adventurers and travelers can encounter in the Dreamlands. Their strangeness does not come from being exotic -- some of them are eaten in The Six Kingdoms -- or appearing unappetizing -- they look fairly normal, if somewhat unusual. Rather, they represent a pseudocategory that could be called “folk food”. Unlike ethnic foods, their consumption is based on regional tradition rather than cultural beliefs, and unlike peasant food they are not consumed because they are all that is available; in fact, they can be rare, or only available at certain times or under specific conditions. Instead, they have acquired a certain popularity based on longstanding historical precedent, and they can have elaborate ceremonies or explanations associated with them that reinforces the tradition. This category does not include unusual but established culinary dishes such as steak tartare or brains and eggs.
One fairly common folk food is called “rocky mountain oysters”. They are essentially animal testicles, but prepared and served in a way that makes them look like real oysters. Similarly, a dish called “land squid” is a large animal penis prepared to resemble the body of a squid without the tentacles. Sheep's eyes are borderline, because they are recognized as a delicacy in some cultures, but are not part of established international cuisine. Sweetbreads are the fried thymus or pancreas of immature domesticated animals. Finally, dormice have been raised, fattened, and eaten since the Roman Republic. However, the name is a misnomer, being as they are not true mice.