vaecrius: A little yellow ant in the grass on a sunny day. (yellow ant)
[personal profile] vaecrius
[The implicit setting is from my own private attempts to reboot the Avernum setting with closer attention to the details of living in a magically-powered cave ecosystem. I might post some of that here in the future. This particular post, however, is the direct result of trying to think of an analogy about reading texts free of the context of the traditions they were written within. Source text is this recipe for lemon pound cake.]

Milk is unusual and, shall we say, an acquired taste. The pig has just started farrowing and the wooly rats were recently shorn, so let's go with the pig; it would take quite some time to get an entire cup, though, we may need to get the dog in on this.

The recipe does not specify the single most important thing: the eggs of what? It only requires three of them for the entire cake, so presumably it's a rather large egg. They seem to be assumed to be quite common as well. Chitrach eggs seem the most obvious candidate, but they won't leave room for the other ingredients. There's a nest of bristle creepers out back that might do, though; better get four spore-pods just in case since they're quite small.

"Flour" is a tough one. From what we can piece together of the ancient records it is the powdered spores of a tall, large-headed flora, from the mythic times before mankind supposedly descended from above the firmament. Some literary wisdom is required here, and this must be figurative for something else. In fact, we have a very likely solution: up in the tall northern tunnels there grows a fungus that attracts bats with fruiting bodies that emit, for several hours each month, an extremely bright golden phosphorescence that is said to be like unto the daylight that comes down from the Cracks In The Firmament. The precise timing of the harvest must be crucial, and numerous other accounts from this era do support this cyclical-harvest theory. This fungus must have been much commoner in the olden days. Clearly the material must be dried and ground up to preserve the nutrients as they were during the glowing time. Fortunately that time of the month is close at hand; bring some extra buckets, we might as well stock up on bat meat and guano while we're up there.

Vanilla, lemon, nutmeg and "baking powder" (some kind of hallucinogen?) all appear to be mere flavouring agents and reasonable substitutes can be improvised by trial and error.

It is not at all clear what "shortening" and "cream" are. It is inferred that they denote some kind of animal fat. We've got a few cans of fish oil in the back that we can use.

An oven is reported to be a specially insulated heating chamber, traditionally heated with fire. Obviously we can't use fire to cook this mix, but just as obviously they didn't add cooking enzyme into it either since the old records clearly show (being reckless savages who casually used fire and probably that's why their civilization fell after the mass suffocations) they had no concept of such things. However, our neighbour has been running some experiments with the electrical properties of certain acidic mixtures, and has devised a contraption of copper wire that she reports can generate some substantial heat - the wires themselves apparently become painful to touch even without having to touch two to complete the circuit. We can ask if we can borrow that. The heating time will have to be multiplied, though, if we can't get enough power from this device. This might literally take the entire day.


The results of this experiment are, in a word, foul. Not even the dog would touch it. We've buried it about a half mile downwind of our field; the chitrach and the mushrooms can have a go at it if they want. We're still trying to get the smell out of our cave: we can enter the kitchen without gagging now, but I'm not sure if we haven't just gotten used to it. If we have refused to invite you to our home recently, this is why, and I apologize for any offence or inconvenience we may have caused.

To think the ancients ate this stuff for pleasure! Clearly the old savages were of a much hardier breed than we, spoiled from our advanced knowledge of the ecologies of these tunnels and our cooking enzyme technology.

Then again, we did have to fill in some rather large gaps in our knowledge. Most likely, I think, is that this "vanilla" (you see this word frequently in ancient texts in reference to that which is pure or primitive in the good sense) is an enzyme that breaks down or melds certain compounds in the accelerated decay process and converts things to simple sugars or springier, more palatable protein structures, while the "baking powder" and "nutmeg" (and of course the titular "lemon"!) are psychoactive drugs that inspire feelings of giddy childish contentment. The use of cake in heavily formalized rituals supports this drug-use theory, as do the variant recipes where additional drugs like tetrahydrocannabinol (found naturally in the meat and carapace of the Cannab hydra creeper) are explicitly injected into the mix.

We should not judge our ancestors too harshly. The time of primitive man's descent into these tunnels must have been troubled and desperate, and their seemingly suicidal recklessness with fire and excessive drug use must be understood in the context of their need to cope with the harshness of their situation and their lack of technological and ecological knowledge. With further research and experimentation we can develop a much deeper understanding of our ancestors' seemingly bizarre and arbitrary culinary rites, some of which are said to be the source of many of our own today.

(Post-post-scriptum: we had about a cup of this "flour" left over from the experiment. It is delicious - mostly mild and tangy with a sudden sharpness as it goes down that clears the sinuses like nothing else - and we've been sprinkling a bit of it on everything. We should go up there again next month!)
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if life is illusion, then I am no less an illusion, and being thus, the illusion is real to me. I live, I burn with life, I love, I slay, and am content.

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