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China Lily

Onions And Eggs Feed A Crew On A Sailing Ship To China

Excerpt from the novel “China Lily”

In 1293,  Cepa  and Matzerath  were part of the crew of The Pegasus, a ship that had sailed from Italy to China on a trading mission. After a couple of months, they arrived in the port of Zaitun,  where they encountered a local trader, Lu-Hsing.

Lu-Hsing takes the two men to a communal dining hall. This is part of their meal.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Compared to others of his experience, the crew of The Pegasus appears content with their lot. They are certainly fitting in well in the dining hall, and even mingling with other diners. Thanks to the Captain’s instructions, they are willing to try any of the dishes they encounter, though it helps that they are ignorant of many of the ingredients.

“You want something other than onions?” Lu-Hsing jabs Cepa in the ribs with his shoulder.

“I want something with my onions.”

“You’ve been looking intently at everything.” Lu-Hsing opens his arms expansively. “What do you wish?”

“What do you suggest?”

“Look at me.” Lu-Hsing rubs his belly with a roar. “I am not a picky eater. I’ll suggest anything.”

“You’ve already warned me away from soup.”

“Not warned.” Lu Hsing points back to the bubbling soup they had been looking at. “You can add a lot to soup and make a stew.” He grimaces. “But you still slurp more than you chew. Lu-Hsing wants to use his teeth when he eats.”

“We can stay away from soup.” Cepa smiles. “And I’d just as soon avoid fish.”

“Me, too.” Matzerath puts his hands up in surrender. “We eat enough salted fish to swim.”

“You boys are in the Port of Zaitun.” Lu-Hsing speaks in an authoritative tone. “Fish a specialty.”

“There must be something else.” Matzerath points. “Look at all the cooks.”

“No soup?”

“Pah!”

“Trouble-making Round Eyes.” Lu-Hsing points to a wok near the end of the aisle and starts to walk. “We’ll try there.”

“What does he have?” Cepa falls into step behind Lu-Hsing, followed by Matzerath.

“Oyster omelette.”

“Eggs?” asks Matzerath.

“As many as you want.”

“That will take a big pan.”

“He can use a high-sided wok.” Lu-Hsing pretends to whisk something in a wok. “Plop it right onto a plate.”

“We don’t have dishes.” Cepa suddenly realizes the fact. “We haven’t been back to The Pegasus all day.”

“Lu-Hsing share you his.” He barks an order at the cook, and then turns back to Cepa. “Stay right here. I’ll get them from my table.”

Cepa and Matzerath stand and watch the cook. Cepa notes he is using wood and not the black rocks for his fire. Some oil is dropped onto the metal and immediately sizzles. The cook holds up his hand and extends his fingers; one, two, three, four, five.

“Will you want some?”

“God – yes.” Matzerath nods.

Cepa holds up five fingers and the cook grins. He takes an egg in each hand and hits them together. The upper shell is flipped off and they pour into the wok. He repeats the gesture and the eggs land on top of the others. The last egg is dispatched on the metal rim of the wok and added to the rest before a hint of cooking has begun. The cook then begins to whisk and slide the eggs along the side of the wok before Matzerath has time to make a comment.

“I’d like to see you do that on The Pegasus,” says Cepa.

“I break eggs all the time.”

“I know.” Cepa laughs. And we eat the shells to prove it.”

The cook now twists and shakes the wok by its two handles over the fire. The eggs slide up and along the sides, and then settle more thickly near the bottom. With a grin and a twist of his hands, the cook turns the wok right over. The eggs start to slide out with a couple of drops hissing into the fire. Matzerath’s mouth falls open as the cook rights the wok so quickly that the eggs drop right back into it, now cooking on the other side. The cook puts the wok back on the fire.

“Bet you can’t do that,” says Cepa.

“Just once.” Matzerath laughs. “But the whole ship was heaving at the time.”

The cook begins to nudge the eggs together with a spatula. With his other hand he sprinkles a few drops of brown liquid. Then he adds some coarsely chopped shoots of a green onion.

“Hah!” Matzerath slaps Cepa on the shoulder.

After a quick swirl of these ingredients the cook plops in a bowl of small oysters. He takes his time with these, spacing them with deliberation over the quickly cooking eggs. Then – with a flourish – he scoops up a handful of flower blossoms and sprinkles them over the whole bubbling mixture.

“What are those?” Matzerath peers into the wok.

“Chrysanthemums.”

“We’re eating flowers?’

“When in Rome …”

The cook adds a further dash of the brown liquid and then folds the eggs neatly in half. He flips the whole omelette to the center of the wok and sprinkles a palm full of spring onion – this time finely chopped – over of the still-bubbling omelette. He presses the onion in place with his spatula then removes the wok from the fire.

“Timing is everything.”

The voice startles them both. They turn to see Lu-Hsing standing behind them, holding a large platter. He barks instructions to the cook, speaking too quickly for the two men to understand.

“Stick to ribs – make you happy.”

The cook divides the omelette in half and slides it onto the platter. He then takes the wicker top off a steamer and starts to add heaping ladles of red rice along the sides of the platter.

“What’s that?” Matzerath sounds suspicious.

Hong qu mi.”

“You can see its rice,” hisses Cepa.

“But it’s red.”

“Fermented with yeast.” Lu-Hsing scoops some into his palm and eats it. “Looks good. Tastes great.”

“Aren’t you having a meal?”

“Lu-Hsing eats later – with family.” He moves his hand over the top of the platter and inhales the aroma. “We eat at home – wife is a great cook.”

“I thought you’d be joining us.” Matzerath is clearly disappointed.

“Too crowded. Too smoky.” Lu-Hsing laughs. “Just the place for Round-eyes who want to make contacts. I already know people.”

Lu-Hsing abruptly steps behind the counter and stands beside the cook. He takes a look into the bubbling pots and lifts the tops off of steamers. He finally points with a barrage of Chinese. The cook gets two porcelain bowls and ladles a heaping amount of food into each.

“Got your spoon?” asks Cepa.

Matzerath takes a spoon from his pant’s pocket and holds it up.

“You?”

“Yes.” Cepa has his spoon on a chain around his neck. He takes it out from underneath his shirt and lets it dangle against his chest.

“You boys prepared – good.” Lu-Hsing takes the platter with the omelette and rice. He then points with his chin. “Take your bowls and follow me.”

Matzerath anxiously sees the platter of steaming food being taken away. He nudges Cepa and they again get into step behind Lu-Hsing, who again clears a path through the crowded eating hall. They approach a raised platform under a row of windows, much like the noble’s section in the Cannara’s own tavern. It is still a crowded space, with ten tables set not far apart from each other. Half are vacant, so Cepa can’t tell if Lu-Hsing heads for his ‘own’ table, or has the use of any that is available. He places the platter crosswise near one end of the table.

“You need drink.” Lu-Hsing unrolls a half dozen chopsticks from a cotton napkin, so they lay beside the platter. “Tea or rice wine?”

“Dear God – wine!” Matzerath plunks his bowl on the table. “It’s been a day.”

“Bring both, please.” Cepa sits across the table from Matzerath. “For both of us.”

“Tea is for thirst.” Matzerath takes his spoon from his pocket. “I want drink for more than that.”

“We can’t have you getting drunk.” Cepa lifts his own spoon from around his neck. “Even the crew has orders not to get drunk.”

You are sticking to tea?” Matzerath begins to wield his chopsticks over the rice.

“No.” Cepa laughs. “Although I am also thirsty, I have no objection to feeling ‘mellow’ as I eat.”

“And it will help you sleep.” Lu-Hsing slaps Cepa on the back. “Like mother’s milk.”

“I wish my mother had had tits of wine.” Matzerath wipes some rice from his chin and sucks his fingers. “I would have been a better child.”

Italian Onion Meal From The Liver (Not The Heart) of The Fourteenth Century ~Fegato alla Veneziana

4603

(photo) https://www.zainoo.com/media/medium/4603.JPEG

As I wend my way through my second Onion novel, China Lily, which is taking too, too, long to put into the computer, I approach page 300. The end is in sight.

My intent was to write a trilogy that followed a Fourth Century Italian farm family, as it developed into an International business empire. There was to be 1,000 years between the first and second book, and the third book was to be set in the present day.

I confess, my interest might not be sustained for the third novel.

However, as I soon describe this recipe – and its creation – in detail, I thought it might make someone a nice supper.

Fittingly, this recipe is from Harry’s Bar, in Venice.

DE

When we visited Venice, we asked the locals where to find the definitive calf’s liver and onions. Everyone said Harry’s Bar, and, after trying it there—and lots of other places—we had to agree. This is Harry’s recipe.

Find this recipe in our cookbook, SAVEUR: Italian Comfort Food

serves 6

Ingredients

2 lb. calf’s liver, trimmed and thin membrane peeled off
6 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
6 small yellow onions, peeled, halved, and very thinly sliced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tbsp. butter
12 bunch parsley, trimmed and chopped

Instructions

Cut liver lengthwise into 4 long pieces, then, using a very sharp knife and pressing the palm of your hand firmly against the meat, slice each piece crosswise into pieces as thin as possible.
Heat 4 tbsp. of the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onions and cook, stirring frequently, until soft and deep golden brown, about 20 minutes.
Transfer onions with a slotted spoon to a bowl and set aside.
Increase heat to medium-high and add remaining 2 tbsp. oil. When oil is sizzling hot, add liver and cook, in batches to avoid overcrowding the skillet, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until brown and crispy on the edges, 3-5 minutes. Season liberally with salt and pepper, then add reserved onions and accumulated juices. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring and turning liver and onions constantly while shaking skillet over heat. Transfer to a heated serving platter.
Add butter to skillet and scrape up any brown bits stuck to bottom of skillet as butter melts. Remove skillet from heat and stir in parsley. Spoon butter and parsley over liver and onions. Serve with Grilled Polenta, if you like.
https://www.saveur.com/article/Recipes/Calfs-Liver-and-Onions

Ship Voyage, Crew and Chickens in the 14th Century

marco-polo-yarmourh-bar

From China Lily

{A 14th Century sea voyage}

More than once he had brought chickens on board ship for the voyage. He had been totally unprepared the first time to find the crew (and even the officers) were far more interested in having fresh meat than fresh eggs. They had barely been out of the site of land when some crewmen brought Matzerath two dead chickens. They said that they found the birds fighting and that they were so badly injured there was nothing to do but to wring their necks.

            The next time it was just one chicken. Matzerath was told that it had escaped and bashed its brains out trying to get out of the galley. Then there were four chickens, somewhat bloodied, and he was told the chip’s cat had got to them. By now he was down to just a few chickens, and was only mildly surprised when they turned up, in ones and twos, broken-necked near the crude coop he had built.

            He toyed with the idea of cooking them in some manner that would repel the crew, but the fact of the matter was that he enjoyed the feast himself.

            On a couple of other voyages Matzerath had constructed secure hen coops. He put two  layers of wire over the frame and put a lock from his own house on the door. He wore the key, along with others, around his neck. There would be no cats intruding and no chickens getting free to ‘kill themselves’ against the sides of the ship. And things went well – for a week.

            Matzerath began to find, one chicken at a time, the members of his flock at the entrance of his galley. The galley was meagre, with barely room for a fire, a preparation space, and some provisions. He was allowed to make hot meal only on Sunday and Wednesday. The ship could not carry much fuel and the crew was (rightfully) terrified of a fire breaking out. Matzerath always had to have an officer present to cook a meal. The flame was always dowsed with copious buckets of sea water when the cooking was done.

            The chickens appeared the days he was going to prepare a hot meal. As there was no pretense that the birds had escaped and died, they were plucked and cleaned. Since no one could abide waste on the shop, and because he took a generous portion of breast for himself, Matzerath cooked them without complaint. The carcasses guaranteed a soup for those who didn’t get much of the actual bird, and all went on as before. He eventually found out that some member of the crew, adept with tools as so many seamen were, had untwined and cut the wire in one corner of the coop. he effectively made a flap that he could undo and secure without it being noticeable.

            When Matzerath finally found this entrance, his supply of hens was so low that he did nothing. He had managed to have two months of eggs (which did not seem overly appreciated), and some meals of chicken that he himself enjoyed. He also realized that the contest between himself and the chicken thieves eased some of the boredom of the long voyage.

            His next time out at sea he also had chickens and a coop. He took pains to make it more secure, and his chickens lasted longer. However, the owners complained about the waste of the chicken feed at the end of the voyage.

            On the trip after that, his whole flock caught some disease within the first week.

The birds became bloated and stank within the same day they died. Their feathers were moist and puss formed where they were attached to the skin. There was no space in the coop to separate the ill birds from the others. The captain was swift in his judgement about getting rid of the corpses. He feared the disease might spread to his crew. He had seen ships overcome by a rapid wave of sickness.  Had it been further into the voyage, the crew might have eaten them but, as it was, Matzerath had to dump them over the side.

DE

(image)http://www.ciaofamiglia.com/emigrants/Ships/Marco_Polo/Marco-Polo-Yarmourh-BAR.jpg

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