Category Archives: Food

Medieval recipes culled from The Raven’s Wing

The Raven’s Wing features a copious notes section full of fascinating facts about the 14th century in which it is set. Here are three recipes for you to try at home. I can particularly recommend the waffres.

WaffresR Waffres

Clap Bread

R Clap-bread

Beef & Cherry PieR Beef & cherry pie


Happy 80th birthday, Spam – Spam Cheesecake recipe

SpamI found this a few years ago in a Lancaster charity shop.

Of COURSE I bought it – who wouldn’t? Jay C. HormelPrepare for a bit of a history lesson, along with (obviously) some piss-taking. Here’s the feller to thank for this tasty treat. Jay C. Hormel, son of a butcher, developed SPAM assisted by French chef Jean Vernet. It was ready by late 1936, but as yet was unnamed. Hormel held a New Year party and gave guests a free drink for every name they suggested, and $100 for the winning name. “By the 4th drink people started to show imagination” Yum!Hormel commented. The name SPAM was suggested by actor Kenneth Daigneau, and is short for Shoulder of Pork and Ham, as any fule kno. Some of the other products in this photo show doubtful taste – “Arf” (which I hope wasn’t dog meat), “Dinty Moore” and “Spic” (geddit? Spic and Spam?)

SPAM was launched on an unsuspecting world in May 1937, and was a huge success. During the war it was sent over to Britain, and to Russia where Kruschev said “Without SPAM, we would not be able to feed our army”. American troops were given a special cheaper American Government version of SPAM which lacked the true flavour, probably leading  to the low opinion this true food of the gods has among large numbers of misguided people.

Spam cheesecakeThe book’s got a lot of recipes – some of them seriously WTF. On the left you can learn how to make Spam Cheesecake (no really), while there are also such delights as Spamdoori Chicken Wrap, Nutty Spamburger and Deep Spam Pizza. I have a soft spot for Spam Porcupine – chunks of SPAM, onions & pineapple on cocktail sticks, poked into a cabbage – “the cabbage can be used afterwards for other meals” it says.

Spam sconesMy favourite though has to be SPAM scones, which appear to be normal scones but with chopped SPAM added to the mix. Haven’t dared to try them yet, but the recipe suggests using any leftover scones  on top of a vegetable casserole and baked in a hot oven.

My favourite way to eat SPAM? Sliced thinly, fried to a crispy edge, and popped in a pitta with ketchup or summat. Yum. Do let me know if you’re desperate for me to share further SPAM recipes, you saddoes.

Twitterati laughing with food

CddOoeWWEAA7R6nLovely pairCitrus lurveBIG spinachMan cheeseWhat a beautyQuality banana work


Blogging our recent US trip day by day, a month after the event.

4th December – Fish and Chips and Happy Birthday

I90 truckI just want to take a moment to thank Janine and Barry for looking after us so well in South Dakota. Bloody lovely people, so they are. This day we barrelled along the I90 to Mitchell, where we visited several malls but not the world-famous “Corn Palace The Biggest In The World Honestly”. I had a brilliant time photographing various products that looked strange to UK eyes. You can see these photos on my Pinterest board here.

Happy Birthday dear Mary...We had lunch at a restaurant whose name I’ve completely forgotten, but who made really good fried fish, served with crinkle-cut oven chips and coleslaw and again no mushy peas. J&B had not overlooked the fact that it was my beloved’s birthday, and presented here with a cupcake from which protruded a burning candle, while we all sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to her.



Blogging our recent US trip day by day, a month after the event.

3rd December – Chamberlain Hall of Fame

MorningThis was, I note, a Thursday, but of course by now I had completely lost track of which day was which. They were all just Wowamericaday by now. We were beginning to miss crusty pork pies and English chippy chips a little by now, though, despite the gourmet delights that we were actually eating.

Sunrise sandwichSteam rose from the Missouri in the distance as the sun heated it, though snow still lay around. We watched the steam as we ate Sunrise Sandwich for breakfast, and YUM. Egg, bacon and melted cheese in a muffin. Really rather splendid.

Hall of FameA small trip out to the Chamberlain Hall of Fame, which was quiet at this time of year. The place was well laid out, with fascinating exhibits. I was most taken by the Sioux exhibits, and the names of some of the native inductees. “Eagle Woman Who All Look At” and “Young Man Afraid Of His Horse” were my favourites. I’m feeling the urge to write another Western now. (get the first one here)

Mexican doughnutsSweet Mexican doughnuts at Taco John’s afterwards, which I have never before encountered, and which were LOVELY.



Blogging our recent US trip day by day, a month after the event.

30th November – Costco, yarn, and bacon chocolate

PalmsA lazy, quiet day, winding down and packing against our flight to South Dakota on the next day, although acutely aware that it was snowing heavily there. Would we even reach Minneapolis, let alone Sioux Falls after that? But I mustn’t get ahead of myself – that is a story for tomorrow’s post.

Late afternoon we visited Costco, that warehouse of delights where we could have bought a giant can of beans and a canoe, should we have wanted. We didn’t want. I frantically took photographs of palm trees in the parking lot when I realised that pretty soon we would no longer be surrounded by them.

YarnAfterwards to a yarn shop which surprised me by being fascinating, all texture and colour; and Chuao chocolate where all manner of unusual chocolate bars were on sale – potato chip, bacon etc. I could swear I took a photo of the weird flavours, but apparently not.

Northward, lastly, to Carlsbad for a Mexican meal at Las Olas (‘the waves’), where the food and the laughter were outstanding. CarlsbadA splendid last evening with wonderful people. We’d had a great time with V&R, notwithstanding R’s forensic playing of “Yellow Car”, and V “talking to her pants”. She does like her margarita, that girl.



Blogging our recent US trip day by day, a month after the event.

26th November – Thanksgiving Day

CrochetThere’s Crotchet on the left, Rob’s cokatiel. He has a merry whistle which cheered our morning. Grinding coffee beans, V warned us to guard our ears against ‘the loudest noise imaginable’, which was followed by a gentle rrrrrrrrrrr. Americans, eh?

Respectful Thanksgiving hatWe had a quiet day, followed by Thanksgiving dinner with V’s parents, where we had a lovely evening and a wonderful meal. No potatoes, but there were candied yams (I think!). I enjoyed seeing photographs of a young V on the walls.

ModelsRolf, V’s dad, showed us his remarkable collection of model trains, and ran a small layout for a short time.



38b60a1dd10d7c61276699fb46969845Oooh, research into medieval pies (shut up) has led me to this recipe for veal & cherry pie. I may be forced to bake one purely for research purposes. Think I’ll serve it with hot peascods.

“Chawettys.—Take buttys of Vele, & mynce hem smal, or Porke, & put on a potte; take Wyne, & caste þer-to pouder of Gyngere, Pepir, & Safroun, & Salt, & a lytel verþous, & do hem in a cofyn with ȝolkys of Eyroun, & kutte Datys & Roysonys of Coraunce, Clowys, Maceȝ, & þen ceuere þin cofyn, & lat it bake tyl it be y-now.”


Blogging our recent US trip day by day, four weeks after the event.

Wednesday 13th August – South Dakota

IMG_7535618148341We were up at 3am and pretty soon on the road, Tom driving, Kim chatting in lively fashion. Bless those two for getting up at sparrowfart to drive us the two hours to Buffalo, an airport which is helpfully built in a straight line.

We had TSA-pre on our new tickets and so breezed through security. At the gate the agents were asking for volunteers to give up their seats as the flight was overbooked. When the woman on the gate also asked if anyone wanted any bags checking through to the final destination, we handed over our (fairly cumbersome) carry-ons, on the grounds that it would make it harder for them to bump us off the flight. Things worked out fine as it happened, as on the flight we saw two people who had volunteered for the $400 compensation. Mary wondered whether they got to keep the compensation if, as here, there had been room for them after all.

Most of my thoughts on the flight to Minneapolis were picking over the fact that in the Twin Cities we needed to check for our seats on the flight to Sioux Falls. I also fretted about our bags. Would they make it all the way, given that we lacked seat numbers? I should have kept one back. Worry worry worry – wombats are born to worry.

A child sitting by the window closed the blind before take-off. Strange child. Kim had provided us with snacks for the flight – cookies and chocolate-covered pretzels. Yum and nom, and possibly other three letter words ending in ‘m’.

All went without a hitch at Minneapolis, the desk agent simply printing off our seat-numbered boarding passes as soon as I asked. The aircraft taxied for so long at Minneapolis that Mary wondered if perhaps we would simply drive all the way to Sioux Falls. This was a dinky little plane, a CRJ200, and perhaps the smallest yet. It made plenty of clunks and rattles. I rather like the small aircraft, I’ve decided. The roads far below became remarkably long and straight.

IMG_1271693270028Our bags did arrive safely with us at FSD, although my backpack had an odd yellow smudge across it. Janine, looking radiant, met us at the gate, having apparently just that minute arrived. South Dakota was Technicolor sunny. Janine’s car was dead posh, with button-operated sliding doors that took me at least two days to get the hang of.

Janine and Barry immediately took us to a place called, I think, Perkins for an enormous breakfast – eggs, bacon, hash brown, bread. There might have been a sausage. There was certainly syrup. My eggs were scrambled rather than my requested over-easy – oh the discomforts of foreign travel. Barry sloshed his over-easy eggs onto my plate in a show of manly consideration. I took to him immediately. The food was like a big warm hug after our early start and airport travails.

DSCF2858Half-way between Sioux Falls and Chamberlain we stopped at a town called Mitchell, and looked over a large building the walls of which were plastered with different coloured corn cobs laid in intricate designs. This was the Corn Palace, a large hall that is used for lots of community functions, and is decorated every year with corn murals. It was interesting to see the templates for which murals had not yet been stuck up. Inside were a number of merchandise stalls, which made for a good browse. I’d have bought myself a Davy Crockett hat but they only had child sizes, the fools.

Another hour along the interstate brought us to the Missouri River, and the bridge that led across to Janine’s sprawling home. A quick drive through Chamberlain first gave the impression that it was very small-town America, which was just the sort of place I wanted to see. Oacoma, the town name used in Janine and Barry’s address, was almost not there. Just a scattering of houses with no shops.

The dogs greeted us – irrepressible Ranger, old farty Sam, and Lady, a black lab who was not at all well. Barry took her off to the vet shortly after we arrived, where she was kept in overnight for tests and observation. Janine’s house is large and lovely, very well appointed and laid out, with a marvellous sweeping view of the river. We had our own suite – bedroom, walk-in wardrobe and bathroom – close to Barry’s study which was stuffed with books and animal heads on the walls.

DSCF2890On his return, and after we’d settled, Barry took me out on his Grasshopper – a small open-to-the-elements 4×4 thingy. Ranger sat between us, peering ahead. That was enjoyable in itself – the wind in my face, bugs in my mouth, and a big dog’s ears flapping against my face – but having fun with Ranger was even better. We halted by the river, at a boat dock, where Barry flung a wooden duck, Ranger’s retrieving toy, into the lapping water. Ranger leaped into the water with a mighty splash, swimming powerfully back, duck in his mouth.

After a couple more leaps, we drove the Grasshopper around an undulating lea while Ranger looked for rabbits. More often than not we spotted them before he did, and had to point them out. He managed to corner one by a bush but it outsmarted him, dashing away between his legs. He continued to sniff the bush, confused. An excellent dog indeed.

Towards sunset we crossed to the eastern shore and up the side of the valley to a viewpoint that overlooked the broad sweep of the river. A stone sculpture, tipi-like, reached out of the trees to the cobalt sky. Lewis and Clark had passed through there, and we were able to admire a view that they too must have witnessed, the crimson sun setting across the wide Big Muddy. The name Missouri, I’m told, comes from the Missouri tribe, whose name in turn means ‘people with wooden canoes’.

DSCF2925I was surprisingly sanguine at Janine’s tales of ‘chiggers’, small bugs that would crawl up your legs and bite your ‘private underneaths’. My bollocks felt unthreatened. Perhaps it was a sign of relaxation combined with fatigue, but I was also unperturbed by the sign that read ‘DANGER, POISONOUS SNAKES’.

For that evening at least, this wombat did not worry.



Blogging our recent US trip day by day, four weeks after the event.

Monday 11th August – Fish Poo and Flags

IMG_3412871337377The previous evening, as well as handing over to Kim her copy of ‘Murder at Wombat Towers’ (a private novel that I wrote for her and Janine – and The Wombat Gang – as thanks for their hospitality) we had given Viv a pinny, or what she might call an apron. She will look so classy, like a sweary Mary Poppins. She left for home this morning. We dropped her off, tearful, at the airport. I’m going to miss that woman.

Kim took us down to the Environmental Centre which, as well as a bunch of information about Presque Isle itself, boasted an extensive display of automata. They were housed in Perspex towers, and activated by the simple press of a button. Fascinating things, which it was nigh on impossible to photograph successfully, given that their whole raison d’etre was motion.

DSCF2795We were given a behind-the-scenes tour by one of the volunteers to whom we got talking, again by dint of our accent. He used his pass to access the laboratory and research area, where water quality is tested (to keep the beaches safe for swimmers), the environment is monitored, and life on the peninsula is examined for any signs of invasive species. Ron, for such was his name, was both informative and entertaining. We saw plants that were living on fish poo, and various creatures, including goldfish and turtles, that had been collected from the Lake, many of them non-native. A huge skeleton jaw depended from the ceiling; from what creature I cannot remember.

Afterwards we had a saunter around the exhibits, learning about how Presque Isle ‘grew’, as well as much about its flora and fauna. A ride up to the top of the observation tower gave us views of mostly just treetops, with the occasional small glimpse of distant water or rollercoaster peeping above them. Our view of the car park below, however, was unparalleled. Thousands of tiny white mosquitoes were plastered to the metal and glass of the tower.

DSCF2811We ate lunch at Shackalay’s, which looked to me exactly how I’d imagined a US diner – neon signs, stars & stripes, bright colours. We had gyros: sliced lamb and salad rolled in flatbread and sloshed with ranch dressing. A real burst of flavour and very good eating. Also, of course, a bottle of Landshark.

Our next port of call was, imagine my excitement, a fabric shop. Well, I say ‘shop’, but for this place the word ‘store’ is far more apt, since it was HUGE. It was like an Aladdin’s cave of cloth and cloth-related products. I did enjoy stroking the multifarious textures, I have to say. Mary was pleased to see that for two days teachers could get a discount of 25% off. Nice to see teaching being respected rather than the constant running down it gets in the UK.

DSCN0181Going back to the house, knowing my liking for such places, Kim took us through a cemetery. The stones seemed to me to be more ostentatious than ours, and the names carved in a much bigger font. As I’ve touched on previously, there were US flags everywhere. We saw workers putting in a new gravestone, not a job I’d ever considered before. I wonder how they managed before they had mechanical diggers and lifters? Perhaps the stones were smaller then.

In the evening Twitter informed us that Robin Williams was dead, and checking the news we found it was true. This prompted us to watch, via Netflix, a film of his that I had never seen – ‘The Birdcage’. It was a good watch, funny and sensitive, and how pleasant it was to simply enjoy a normal everyday experience like watching telly. Lauren Bacall died this day too, at 89. Such an admirable woman, in many ways. Perhaps we should have watched ‘To Have and Have Not’ as well.

Way to end the entry on a down note, Wombie.

“I miss Viv.” – Mary


%d bloggers like this: