Ye Olde TikTok


Almost a year after everyone else has caught on, I started a TikTok. It’s been a way to quickly record and throw online bits of music I was working on with my circle. I suggest you follow me on that app ( I am also AdelisaSalernitana there).

Here is one video from there:


Fromabout 1150. Once sung in the Cappella Palatina in the Palazzo Normanni. #medievaltiktok #earlymusic #medievalmusic #Sicily @violadagoomba

♬ original sound – Christiane Truelove

And while not Siiclian, I have been learning a lot of the 13th century Cantigas de Santa Maria:


This was the hardest cantiga for me to learn. About a lame man who was restored by the Virgin Mary. #medievaltiktok #medievalmusic #SCA #earlymusic

♬ original sound – Christiane Truelove

Working through the Troparium


So I did a thing. For the SCA East Kingdom’s Crowns Arts and Sciences Championship and Display, I decided to do a performance, of “Anni novi circulus” from MS 289. After working up the tune in MuseScore and getting the words from the David Hiley manuscript, I fired up Zoom and after about 20-ish takes, got a clean-ish performance. And no, I was not competing, only displaying, I do not need that kind of pressure in my life! (Insert nervous laughter here.)

Here is the link to a video and the accompanying essay I wrote about the piece, performance choices, etc.

In case there’s a problem viewing the above link, here is the performance itself.


Also, Trouvere Medieval Minstrels did a livestream of songs from the Troparium on Facebook Live. If you recall, Gil from Trouvere was the one who brought my attention to the Hiley manuscript. Because her partner Paul can actually read medieval notation, they have been going through the original Troparium manuscripts online at the Biblioteca Nacional de España in Madrid, working on new tunes and reworking others. Buy them a coffee!

Music for the season


We had an online medieval Yule feast on Saturday, and I had worked up this piece for the music session. For the heck of it, after the feast was over, I fired up the Zoom background and figured out how to record a piece. This is “Resonet in Laudibus,” a 13th century Christmas carol. It’s not Sicilian, but German. Perhaps Frederick II heard it while battling up in the north of Italy. My 13th century Spanish-style citole from Trouvere Music Works makes a good accompaniment. I am so still in the video to prevent the head stock from disappearing into the background (Zoom is not so great with movement).

The background is the throne platform and mosaics of the Cappella Palatina.

Enjoy, and happy holidays!

Makke vs. maccu: Medieval bean mash


It’s December 2020, and the COVID-19 pandemic still rages on. The Society for Creative Anachronism last week announced that we can’t hold any events until after May 31, 2021 – and that’s if a vaccine is widely distributed and taken by a large number of the population. I’m not holding my breath here, but I have a tiny bit of hope.

And I still have medieval activities to do. When I last posted, I was talking about learning to play the citole. That is proceeding. And just after Thanksgiving, I received a two-shaft rigid heddle kiddie loom from China to try my hand at weaving, since I spin so much yarn and I can’t possibly knit it all. Verdict: Well guess I’m going to find a real desk loom and get even better at it. I may even remove the heddle cards and the reed from the kiddie loom, sidle up to woodworking friends, and ask them to make me finer dent heddles and a beater so I can go really fine with my weaving, a greater number of threads per inch. This may be really good for making wide-band trims. We’ll see.

And I am still cooking. I watch a lot of culinary shows on YouTube while doing handicrafts, mostly historical documentary kinds of things. So today I clicked on Max Miller’s “What Did Medieval Peasants Eat?” and watched him talk about making “Makke” from The Forme of Cury.

I suddenly sat very straight up and said, “Ugh! I am such an idiot!” Because for years, I had overlooked something in Sicilian cooking that once upon a time, everyone ate, but is now considered a peasant food: Maccu, or mashed fava beans.

Makke recipe from the Rylands manuscript.

The Forme of Cury is one of the oldest known cookbooks, from 14th century England. It consists of recipes from the court of Richard II (to the left you can see the recipe as written in the manuscript in the John Rylands Library, Manchester).

Both the words “makke” and “maccu” stem from the Latin maccare, to mash. Both are made from fava beans – the only bean varietal available in Europe in the Middle Ages. The Form of Curye recipe calls for light-colored favas that are ground until they are “as white as milk.” Today’s readily available favas are dark brownish in color when dried and bright green when fresh. But there’s a very old varietal of fava bean in England called “Martock beans” that apparently vary in color, from black to brown to white. It’s also possible that there was a white variety that was cultivated but has been long lost as favas are very aggressive cross-pollinators. (Update: Doing a Google search for “white broad beans” yielded this cultivar, White Hangdown, which is either very pale green or white. So, there are white broad bean cultivars available to the modern cook.)

There are some differences between makke and a traditional maccu. For one thing, makke calls for the addition of beer or wine after the beans are cooked and as you mash them. Makke also calls for fried onions put on it before serving. Maccu at its most basic is fava beans cooked with fennel seeds or fennel fronds, olive oil, and salt. Fennel grows wild in Sicily so for a hungry peasant, a bulb of fennel or even dried fennel seeds can be foraged up pretty quickly. But onions and garlic are other optional things to add to the dish, and some versions of the recipe do call for them. These days it’s most traditionally made at the end of winter for St. Joseph’s Day.

So with similar names and with fava beans being grown in both England and Sicily, where did makke/maccu originate? The Sicilian claim is that the dish has been eaten on the island since Roman times. There are no 12th century Norman medieval Sicilian cookbooks so it’s not like I can check there. But there have been some very extraordinary ties between Norman Sicily and Plantagenet England. The most significant is Joan of England, daughter of Henry II, being queen of Sicily. She was married to William II. You can read more about the life of Joan of England here in an essay by the scholar Jacqueline Alio. She came with a horde of ladies in waiting, churchmen, and servants; and later her older brother Richard II spent a year occupying Messina with his soldiers.

Incidentally, the cathedral of Monreale has one of the earliest surviving depictions of Saint Thomas a Becket, not very long after Henry II’s nobles murdered him.

During the reign of Henry III, grandson of Henry II and Joan’s nephew, the king was allied with Frederick II Hohenstaufen, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Sicily, who had married Henry’s sister. After Frederick’s death, Pope Innocent VI made an offer to Henry III to place his son Edmund Crouchback on the Sicilian throne; Henry threw a huge amount of money at the enterprise but was unable to secure it. Rebecca Star Brown details the circumstances in an interesting post.

This was about 100 years before Richard II was even born, and according to the historian GA Loud, even in the 1250s Sicily was seen as an exotic and foreign place, despite the shared Norman ancestry of the royal houses. But maybe all those servants and cooks who went along with Joan and Richard II brought something back to England when they returned; a recipe for a dish of mashed fava beans, and passed it on, to others who enriched it with ale or wine. While Richard III’s cooks felt it was worthy of a king, “maccu” became considered peasant food in Sicily.

So when I get to cook a feast again, I am going to make maccu and makke, and let people decide which they like better. And if I have enough leftover maccu, I’ll chill it, bread it, and fry it, because that’s supposed to be delicious too.

Getting medieval with it during a pandemic


As COVID-19 continues to rage across the world (especially in the United States, but not going to get into the politics of it here, suffice it to say is that the occupant of the Oval Office and his administration dropped the ball in every conceivable way), those of us who enjoyed gathering with others for medieval fun and games have had to figure out ways to keep those passions alive. The Society for Creative Anachronism has told us there will be no large-scale public events until February 2021 at the very earliest. We have been making do with online meetings and gatherings.

Back in March, I ordered myself a citole from Trouvere Music Works because I figured that since I had lots of time on my hands, I could learn a new instrument. This turned out to be a good strategy. The citole I now have was modeled after ones in the illuminations for Alfonso X “El Sabio” ‘s Cantigas de Santa Maria. While the Cantigas are more than a century later than the Norman reign in Sicily and are very much a product of their place (being written in Galician-Portuguese), they’re the largest collection of medieval music that we have and the citole has been a fairly easy instrument to pick up. Once events start up again, I’ll be able to sit and play it and be entertaining enough.

Here is one piece I have been able to learn, “Totentanz,” a 14th century German tune by that fine composer, Anonymous. Enjoy!

Recovering from Al-Hafla (and sharing a few recipes)



One of the prizes for the Al-Hafla poetry contest, a brass goblet with a beaded cup cover and a brass medallion, both with the arms of the Barony of Buckland Cross.

Valentine’s Day weekend (Feb. 15, to be precise) the Barony of Buckland Cross hosted the second annual reincarnation of a well-loved event called Al-Hafla. The event was one that gave an opportunity for the “Unaligned Middle Eastern Tribes” of the SCA to meet and party together sooner than Pennsic (it used to be held in January but February was the earliest we could manage to do this year). Live music, dancing, and lots of food of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean origin were the order of the day.

This year I once again served as a cook for the event, but I was also in charge of the menu and securing the site, etc. What made my job infinitely easier was the participation of every single member of the Barony either on site that day and helping me plan out details. Our Baron, Aurddeilen-ap-Robet, went all out for decoration, obtaining tent cloths and stands to stretch it out across the hall. Aurddeilen also baked cookies from authentic medieval and old Middle Eastern recipes, and brewed tea and coffee. His sweets table was also a treat for the eye, beautifully arranged with all of his drinks decanters and dishes. Tommaso, the husband of our Seneschal Jaz, created folding table legs to support the brass tray tables given into Jaz’s keeping by one of the founders of the event, Baron Mukhtar Durr al-Jabal al Mukhfi. Baron Durr was also there on site early to help set up.

And when it came to the food, we had a lot of it. We went for a rolling dayboard spread, where people could help themselves when they wanted to. Besides oil cured black olives from Turkey, Turkish panir and Greek feta cheeses, Turkish stuffed grape leaves, flatbreads and rustic Italian breads, and some Turkish eggplant relish, my idea was to have a variety of hot and cold dishes of various kinds. Some of the dishes I chose are not of the medieval period, but they are Middle Eastern favorites and people expected them: chickpea hummus, spanakopita, and cucumber yogurt salad. Also popular but probably not period to any particular country is our “Moroccan chicken” – chicken breasts and thighs marinated in whole milk Greek yogurt suffused with ras al-hanout spice mixture (containing cumin, cinnamon, coriander, black pepper, turmeric, and saffron) and grilled.

There were some period recipes on the table however. Jaz made a medieval sumac chicken, using the recipe from Scheherazade’s Feasts: Foods of the Medieval Arab World. I wound up making my cicera fracta (the onion and saffron version of it). As well as my version of the Emir of Catania’s chicken dish, or chicken baked in bread, a traditional recipe from Sicily of cooked chicken macerated with pistachios, chicken broth, lemon juice, bread crumbs, and capers, all combined into a hollowed semolina bread loaf and baked (you can get a recipe here in my revised paper on on Sicilian food).

In the runup to the event, however, I found myself leafing through Charles Perry’s Scents and Flavors: A Syrian Cookbook. I was thinking of recreating the lamb/garlic/spinach/chickpea dish I had done from this text from 2019’s Al-Hafla (from Chapter 6: Sautes and Related Dishes, Section on Spinach: four recipes), but the quantity of lamb I used last year was prohibitively expensive. I needed to cut my budget way, way down.

Providently, the answer to reducing my food costs came when I opened the book randomly and stumbled upon the lentil dishes:

Section on lentil dishes, for which there are four recipes

The first recipe is of two kinds. Market folk and the bulk of people cook the first kind—so there is no point in giving a recipe here. It is worth noting though that adding carrots, chard, large taros, and saffron will improve it. (Scents and Flavors, page 133)

According to Charles Perry’s footnote to this recipe, the reason for “no point in giving a recipe” is because the dish is simply just boiled lentils. Of course I opted for the jazzed up version. Unsure if taro was available at the local Indian market and without the time to look, I went with chard, carrots, and saffron. Here is my version:

Syrian Lentils with Chard, Carrots, and Saffron

2 pounds of lentils

1 large bunch of carrots

1 large bunch of green chard

1/8 teaspoon of saffron threads softened in a few ounces of hot water

Boil the lentils until just done. Peel the carrots and chop them into thin disks (recipes in this book called for either carrots in coin form or in slivers; I opted for the coins). Destem the chard and roughly chop the leaves. In a separate frying pan, saute the carrots in olive oil until soft, and add the chard, sauteing until that is soft and cooked through. Add the carrots and chard to the cooked lentils. Mix thoroughly. Add the saffron and water; mix thoroughly. Serve warm.

I had some leftovers from this amount, but it freezes well. If you want to adapt it to more modern and carnivorous tastes, add chicken sage sausage to it, it’s really delicious.

Second recipe Boil lentils until done. Pound meat, boil, drain the water, and pound in the mortar until soft. Add in hot spices, pour in tail fat, and cook it in a brass pan until it contracts and browns. Put in a frying pan—putting in a layer of noodles, a layer of pounded meat, a layer of lentils, and so on—until the pan is full. Pour on a good quantity of melted fat and a little of the meat broth. Put the fat on while it is on a low fire—pouring along the edges, using a thin ladle, so that the fat reached underneath/ Keep boiling until the noodles are done and it is ready to eat. (Scents and Flavors, page 133)

My first thought when I read this is, “This is Syrian hamburger helper.” I was not about to boil meat and pound it in a mortar the night before an event when I had many other things left to do, though. I opted to use ground meat (which also means I did not also need to use lamb’s tail fat, since I was not going to boil all the fat out of the meat). I was set on using ground lamb mixed with ground beef, like in a kofte mixture. Unfortunately, due to my local Turkish market burning down (don’t ask, I have no idea what happened, but it’s closed and gone now) I had no ready resources for ground lamb so instead used beef. This was not the meat the recipe actually called for—there’s a section of chicken recipes but everything else is lamb—but I had to improvise. As far as “hot spices” go, pepper, cinnamon, coriander, and cumin rank among those, and they flavor beef well. And since I have galangal and long pepper on hand, I planned to use those too.

What did the author mean by “noodles”? From my research on medieval Sicilian food, my assumption was that this was dried semolina pasta, the type known as “itriya” (“threads”). In Sicily, dried pasta was made as early as the 12th century and even became a trading commodity. Frustratingly, there is not one recipe in this book for the noodles made for savory dishes. They must have been so common and commonly made that it was not needed to give a separate recipe for them. The cooking directions for this recipe, however, with the call for liquids to be added to the dish as it cooks low and slow, certainly in my mind point to the pasta being a dried one rather than fresh.

Interestingly, the combination of lentils with pasta has continued into modern-day Syrian cooking, with a dish called horaa esbao; this is one version I have found, but it is very different than the medieval version. For one thing, it is meat free and uses flavorings such as pomegranate syrup. Like most homestyle dishes, every cook puts their own twist on the recipe. Some make their own fresh pasta, some use dried.

Here is my redaction from Scents and Flavors:

“Al-Hafla Casserole”

5 pounds of ground beef

2 pounds of lentils

Enough dried thread-like pasta, broken up, to generously cover the bottom of a large catering tray pan (two boxes of spaghetti or angel hair will do, I used a Polish noodle that I found at my local international market on sale that looked like short broken up spaghetti and saved me time).

1 box or two small cans of beef broth

Cinnamon, cumin, black pepper, coriander (not found in any of the recipes but also used by me: long pepper and galangal, because I had them and they stand up well to beef)

Preheat oven to 375F. Boil the lentils until done. Brown the beef with your chosen spices; drain some, but not all, of the resulting fat. When the meat and lentils are cooked, layer the noodles at the bottom of the tray; then layer the meat, and then the lentils. Pour about half of the beef broth into it, and put into the oven for about 45 minutes, adding the rest of the broth midway through. It’s done when the pasta at the bottom is cooked.

Verdict: People liked it, and the redaction made a lot of food (I was aiming for 60 people and spent about $50 on ingredients, so it certainly was economical). It is a rib-sticking dish between the lentils and pasta. I want to try it again, in smaller quantities, with ground lamb and without the galangal and long pepper.


This past weekend, my local SCA group held a big event – the investiture of our new baron and baroness. Because the king and queen of the East were there, there also were a looooooot of people attending at least for the day, to see the ceremonies, etc.


Image of cooked chickpeas from,

That meant about 200 people to feed during the day, and I pitched in to produce some food for the dayboard. Looking for something vegetarian/vegan, I looked at cicera fracta, a 13th century Italian recipe from the Liber de Coquina. The cookbook was written by someone around Naples in the 13th century; there is a theory by the linguist Anna Martellotti that the Liber and another southern Italian medieval cookbook, the Anonimo Merdionale of the 15th century, have recipes that originally derive from the court of Frederick II of Italy. Frederick’s mother Constance was the daughter of Roger II of Sicily, and Frederick spent his childhood in the Arabicized Palermo court, and as emperor had many Muslims among his soldiers and personal retainers. There is also her theory that his personal cook, Berardo, was the originator of some of these recipes in both books. If you’re curious about the Anonimo Meridionale recipes, David and Rebecca Friedman have translated Libre B of the Meridionale and redacted some recipes.

Here is the recipe for cicera fracta:

Item, aliter : accipe cicera fracta et pone ad decoquendum cum oleo, pipere et safrano et cum caseo detruncato et ovis perditis et ovis debatutis; uel aliter, cum ciceris fractis et perbullitis et, aqua bullitionis eiecta, ponatur cepa frissa et bene confecta cum lardo uel oleo sicut dies exigit.

Crudely translated, it’s a chickpea porridge either flavored with oil, saffron, pepper, cheese, and crumbled hardboiled eggs, or oil, bacon (technically lardo), and onions.

There’s also another version in which the chickpeas are cooked in almond milk, with saffron and ginger.

Well, neither version of the first cicera fracta recipe would really do for vegans/vegetarians; the second cicera fracta recipe, while vegetarian, didn’t appeal to me. Also there are people with severe nut allergies who attend events, and I didn’t want an open crockpot of almond milk stew to be aerosolized death for them.

Having no saffron in the house and no chance to get more before the event, I went rooting among my medieval spices and found my grains of paradise and my cubebs.

Although grains of paradise were present in medieval Arabic cooking and perfume making, they were unknown (or rather forgotten about) in Europe when the Liber de coquina was written. Cubebs were known but they and grains of paradise were considered “hot,” humorally speaking, so I would have been a very irresponsible cook in medieval times. And I added white pepper too!

So this is what I wound up doing: I soaked 2 pounds of dried chickpeas overnight, and then in the morning, I boiled the chickpeas for a few hours, in water in a large stockpot, until they began to get soft. I then added sea salt, 1.5 teaspoons of grains of paradise, ground to a powder; 1.5 teaspoons of cubebs, ground to a powder; and about the same of white pepper. I boiled the whole thing a few hours more, and then caramelized in olive oil four medium onions, slivered. Once the onions were ready I dumped them into the pot and simmered for about 15 minutes, then dipped out about half of the chickpeas and onions into my mixer bowl, and using my stick blender to puree it. I pureed about half of stew again after returning the first batch of pureed chickpeas and onions to the pot. Then I simmered the mixture to thicken it a bit more.

The resulting effort was hearty, and the sweetness of the onion counterbalanced the sharpness of the spices used. I was told several times by people, “I don’t like chickpeas, but I like this!”

I’ve made the bacon and onion version before and lots of people who like bacon like that, because, well, bacon. Though I want to try it with lardo, if I can get my hands on any. I’ll try prosciutto or speck as well.

The saffron, cheese, and egg one…I don’t think it should be a melty cheese; I think it calls for something very salty and strong, like feta or ricotta salata. The eggs, I would hardboil and then crumble on as a garnish, with more egg provided so diners can add what they wish. The same thing with the ricotta salata, adding some to the pot before serving and providing some on the side so diners can add what they wish.

I have to admit I am intrigued by the almond milk one; I wonder if I added sugar to it, how it would taste. Sweetened almond milk pottages are a staple of medieval cuisine after all. Looks like I am going to be giving an order soon to for some saffron (the best online source I have found for saffon, quality and prices are very good).



More medieval Sicilian music


I havLuteLadyCapellaPalatinaen’t had a lot of time to do much in the way of research lately. I keep trying to change that, but overall, I am a lazy lump and being a freelance writer and editor, I have clients to keep happy, because eating and keeping my bills paid is nice.

At present I am looking into pieces of music in anticipation of getting my rehabbed rebab/citole back one of these days. One of the pieces I would like to play is one allegedly from the Troparium de Catania, called “Anni novi circulus,” and it’s a Christmas song.

There’s just one problem: I cannot find the damn lyrics anywhere and my Latin is not good enough to just listen to the versions I have found and write the words down. You think one scholar would have analyzed the text in an article but apparently when it comes to early medieval music, the Troparium de Catania doesn’t get a lot of scholarly love.

MS 19421 allegedly has “Anni novi circulus.” But Madrid also has three other manuscripts of Norman Sicilian music. There’s MS 288; MS 289; and Vitr 20/4. They’re all scanned images and not searchable except for me straining my eyeballs. Pretty simply, I am just trying to find the three words “Anni novi circulus” and hoping that the rest of the words of the song are there. Wish me luck!

Here is Al Qantarah’s version of “Anni novi circulus.”

Trouvere Medieval Minstrels also did a version of “Anni novi circulus” on their CD “Magna Melodia”; here is a video with a snippet of the song and some glorious images of the Cathedral of Monreale and the Capella Palatina. The CD itself is available on iTunes and Amazon.


The fabulous Gill Page of Trouvere graciously replied to my inquiry, and has told me the words are in MS 289. But even better, there is actually a thesis available from David Hiley, where he transcribed the pieces of 289, with lyrics.

I have just bashed out my own version in SoundCloud, and now look forward to transcribing and performing more of these pieces.

A cockatoo in 13th century Sicily



Look at this bird. How adorable and grumpy he looks. He’s also the oldest depiction of a cockatoo, a bird from Australia, in Europe:

“The four images of the white cockatoo feature in the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick II of Sicily’s De Arte Venandi cum Avibus (The Art of Hunting with Birds), which dates from between 1241 and 1248.

These coloured drawings pre-date by 250 years what was previously believed to be the oldest European depiction of a cockatoo, in Andrea Mantegna’s 1496 altarpiece Madonna della Vittoria.”

I just love that Frederick II called the sultan of Cairo “the sultan of Babylon.”

Frederick II is after the period that I favor, but his court managed to translate the cultural achievements of the Norman court to a much broader audience, besides creating achievements of its own. The Italian forms of poetry, canzone and sonnet, were invented at his court. I often wonder what would have happened if his son Manfred was able to keep the throne, instead of being killed at the Battle of Benevento


Bread, the staff of life: an update


I bake a lot of bread these days; I very rarely buy any storebought bread, unless it’s something like potato bread. At first, I was using traditional yeast. When I started exploring historical baking—particularly medieval baking—I realized very quickly that any bread before commercial yeast was available in the 1800s was going to be sourdough.

I had clues about traditional Sicilian bread from Mary Taylor Simeti’s “Pomp and Sustenance.” In it, she gives a recipe for traditional Sicilian bread, which I have quoted in my paper on Sicilian food on Even though the recipe uses commerial yeast, she notes that some bakers use a “criscenti”, a bit of dough from the bread batch preserved in olive oil, as a starter for the next batch of bread. This bit of dough would accumulate other yeasts and lactobacilli, and so on and so on.

Inadvertently, I think Simeti gave another clue as to how some Sicilians created their own starters and introduced wild yeasts to their loaves. She said one old woman told her that in her tiny mountain village while she was growing up, the women would knead elderflowers into their dough: Elderflower contains wild yeasts, which makes the flower a good candidate for fermentation for elderflower cordials and champagnes.

Today, elderflower-infused dough is essential for the production of vastedda, a focaccia-like bread filled with sliced tuma and salami. In this article, a more thorough description of vastedda is provided:

Vastedda con sambuco

The last specialty we will be featuring takes us to Parco dei Nebrodi, a protected natural area that extends between the provinces of Messina, Catania and Enna. In Troina, a village in the verdant mountains of the Enna province is where vastedda cu sammuccu, or, vastedda with elderflower is made. According to different sources, the term vastedda (or guastedda) could derive from the ancient French term gastel or Germanic wastel. In Sicilian, this word has several meanings, the majority of which refer to bread products. The one exception is in Valle del Belice, between Agrigento, Trapani and Palermo, where vastedda is a PDO protected cheese (Vastedda del Belice Dop).”

My own sourdough was derived from a starter given to me by a friend. It was originally white, but I fed it durum wheat flour over time to make it an all-durum one.

I have no idea how the microbiota of my starter compares with that of traditional Italian breads. There is actually a research paper, from the Journal of Applied and Environmental Microbiology, that does profile the microbiotas of 19 traditional Italian sourdoughs, but I am no scientist and I do not have access to a lab to profile my starter. But I can tell you one thing: my bread is delicious.

My next step is getting some coarser semolina flour, possibly traditional Indian atta flour, and create a starter and bread from that. But that is an experiment for another day.