“You think the man Young Ian followed has something to do with Sir Percival’s warning?” I lifted a cover on the supper tray that had just been delivered and sniffed appreciatively; it seemed a very long time since Moubray’s stew.
Jamie nodded, picking up a sort of hot stuffed roll.
“I should be surprised if he had not,” he said dryly. “While there’s likely more than one man willing to do me harm, I canna think it likely that gangs o’ them are roaming about Edinburgh.” He took a bite and chewed industriously, shaking his head.
“Nay, that’s clear enough, and nothing to be greatly worrit over.”
“It’s not?” I took a small bite of my own roll, then a bigger one. “This is delicious. What is it?”
Jamie lowered the roll he had been about to take a bite of, and squinted at it. “Pigeon minced wi’ truffles, “ he said, and stuffed it into his mouth whole.
“No,” he said, and paused to swallow. “No,” he said again, more clearly. “That’s likely just a matter of a rival smuggler. There are two gangs that I’ve had a wee bit of difficulty with now and then.” He waved a hand, scattering crumbs, and reached for another roll.
Diana Gabaldon, Voyager, (Seal Books, 1994)
I have always been a ravenous reader, thanks to my Mom, who read to me in the cradle. All through my childhood and teens, I read pretty much read everything I could get my hands on. Then, as I flew my parents’ coop and struck out on my own, travelling around the world and working at jobs only the young and idealistic take, my books came with me.
But suddenly, in the blink of an eye, I grew up. A “real” job came knocking — one too good to pass up. I couldn’t understand it at the time, but that middle management job at a huge, well-oiled corporation, with it’s downtown office and big salary was a soul killer — for me at least. I searched for satisfaction while ensuring the safe, overnight transportation of thousands of packages. I had a stable job, a growing financial portfolio, but I had totally lost myself. And my books.
Eventually I gathered my courage and threw that job away, as well as the stress, the grief and the cell phone that came with it. I began a daily yoga practice, remembered how to breathe deeply, relearned the art of relaxation and walked into a bookstore for the first time in years. And that’s when I met Jamie, Claire and their creator, Diana Gabaldon.
Diana is hard to peg to one (or even two) particular genres. Romance, fantasy, adventure, time-travel, history, sci-fi — her Outlander series hits a number of (my) buttons, solidly and with a healthy dose of intelligent humour. I love them.
And I’m not the only one. There are legions of fans and dozens of sites devoted to her and her characters, particularly James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser. Did someone order a towering, broad-shouldered, red-headed warrior Scotsman? Diana delivered — and he’s well-mannered to boot.
Voyager, the third book in the series, is my favourite. Heck, I cry watching reunions in the Arrivals Lounge at the airport, so what do you think happens when I read about 2 soul mates, separated by centuries of war and strife, finding each other again after 20 years apart? It wasn’t pretty.
The meal of hot rolls stuffed with minced pigeon and truffle that Jamie and Claire, and eventually Jamie’s nephew, Young Ian, share at the beginning of Chapter 28 in Voyager is, for me, the most memorable of the dozens of meals that I have savoured while reading Outlander and its 6 sequels. From the royal table of Louis XV, to a barbecue for hundreds on the expansive lawn of a North Carolina plantation, Jamie and Claire have literally eaten everywhere.
But those exotic locations with food to match don’t capture my attention like that tray stacked with rolls in Jamie’s small bedroom at Madame Jeanne’s brothel. The scent of freshly baked bread seems to rise from the page and mix with earthy wafts from the unusual filling — hot out of the oven they would be irresistible — especially if you were tired and hungry. Time travelling burns calories, no doubt.
So I fired 5 quick questions and an interview request off to Diana via her Canadian publicist, and much to my surprise (and immense pleasure), I had an affirmative response by the end of the day! Sometimes, all you need to do is ask.
Many thanks to Diana Gabaldon, for responding to this email interview during the busy holiday period. There is no doubt this woman loves good food (pine nuts and pomegranates? yes please!), and I am touched by her thoughtful and ever funny responses.
If I thought it would make it through Customs, I’d send her my last jar of Blueberry Gin in thanks.
1. Just the idea of warm rolls stuffed with pigeon minced with truffles puts my senses at the ready. How do you get ideas for the food in your fiction?
Kind of a combination of reading 18th century cookbooks (which I do for research all the time, so as to know what ingredients might be obtainable, plus things that were commonly used—like pigeons—that aren’t so common now) plus a culinary imagination. <g> You’ll know what that is, of course; it’s why some people can stare at a refrigerator full of food and be at a complete loss as to what to eat, while others start thinking idly of what you could do with 300 pomegranates (I have a tree that bears abundantly, and only six friends who Really Like pomegranates) and end up choosing between rosemary roast pork in a pomegranate reduction or chicken satay with spicy peanut sauce followed by pomegranate sorbet.
2. What is your favourite dish/meal to cook for yourself?
Man, hard to choose. At the moment, though, it’s my take on garlic chicken with pine nuts (pounded, minced chicken breast sautéed with a _lot_ of garlic in hot oil with a honey-ginger-chile sauce (jazzed up with Schezchuan chile paste), then mix in about half a pound of pine nuts and serve over rice with a hot-ginger soy sauce).
3. What is your favourite dish/meal that someone else makes for you?
Used to be my dad’s tamales. Since he died, though, nobody really cooks for me—not in the way of making special dishes that one has over and over, I mean. I inherited the ancestral recipes (which don’t exist on paper—only in that I can make anything I saw my dad make), so I make the tamales, enchiladas, machaca, green chile, etc. for the family feasts now.
4. The after-dinner dishes: wash or dry?
My husband I made a deal when we got married thirty-three years ago; I shop and cook, he cleans up and does dishes. Both of us think this is a great deal, especially at Thanksgiving. (I Deal with the turkey, from slicing to carcass-picking, and the yams sautéed in butter with garlic powder and soy sauce (people tend to think these are maple-glazed carrots, weirdly enough); he Deals with forty-six wine goblets, the roasting pans, a dozen dirty napkins, the stained tablecloth, and the whereabouts of the good silver.)
5. Where is your favourite island?
When dealing with historical food, especially food conjured in the mind of a particularly imaginative author, certain assumptions and disclaimers should be made clear up front. Why I chose the ingredients I did, how I decided what the dish would look like, that sort of thing.
Madame Jeanne is described as petite, elegant and completely competent in her business dealings as a French madam running a better than average establishment. I imagine her to have a French cook, using quality ingredients, not only to satisfy the clientele, but also to keep her cadre of jeunes filles well fed and content. Anorexia just wasn’t fashionable back then.
I also think that Jeanne’s obvious reverence for Jamie as a business partner and gentleman would have ensured he got only the very best during his stays. Soft linens, milled soap and rich bread rolls made with the finest flour and filled with expensive ingredients, for a start.
Which leads us to the truffles. I didn’t go out and procure hundreds of dollars worth of fungus — not even for my blog. Sometimes, the wallet trumps authenticity and you have to go for the next best thing, which in this case is a combination of truffle oil and dried mushrooms.
And another thing: short of hanging out at the ferry terminal with a BB gun, there wasn’t much hope of me getting a pigeon here on Pender. More commonly now known as squab, I was also unable to find any on a recent (and very brief) stop in Vancouver. I did come across some quail, however, which are slightly smaller than squab, but definitely comparable.
My interpretation of the filling is classically French. Shallots are eternal in French cuisine, thyme is always paired with both mushrooms and poultry, and pork fat would have most certainly been added to make up for the leanness of the pigeon. The French have always embraced fat. They know it equals flavour, especially when it comes to sausage.
As for the look of rolls, the clues in the text are what led to the final “design.” Claire knew, by observation only, that the rolls were stuffed. Does that mean she could see the stuffing? Jamie finished his first roll in two bites. He’s a big man — I translated that into 3 large bites for an average adult, or a sausage roll about 3″ long.
I used a Brioche recipe (a french bread enriched with eggs, butter and milk) inspired by Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice. If you have a brioche recipe you like, go ahead and use that instead. Whichever recipe you use, know that you’ll only need about half of the dough — form the rest into a loaf (or perhaps a few Cinnamon Morning Buns?), and bake them at the same time as Jamie and Claire’s stuffed rolls.
I understand that my use of a food processor is (ever so slightly) anachronistic. I started off by hand chopping everything, but warning twinges from my right “carpal tunnel” wrist sent me running for my KitchenAid. Keep in mind though, that 18th century chefs/cooks like the one employed by Madame Jeanne would have had a few “kitchen aides” at their disposal. And I think it’s safe to say that my food processor is better treated and much cleaner than your average scullery maid.
: These are, as Claire says, “delicious.”
- Quail – 4 whole
- Dried Morels and/or Porcinis – ¼ C (10 g)
- Celery, minced – ¼ C (½ medium stalk)
- Shallot, minced – 2 Tble (1 small)
- Bacon Fat – 1 Tble (15 g)
- Truffle Oil (optional) – 2 tsp (10 g)
- Fresh Thyme, chopped – 1 Tble (5 g)
- Salt – ¼ tsp (2 ml)
- Brioche Dough, risen once (until doubled in size) – 1 lb (500 g)
- Egg, lightly beaten – 1
- Debone the quail. Discard the skin and fat, and finely chop the meat from the breast and legs. Reserve the wings, leg bones and the rest of the carcass for stock.
- Soak the dried mushrooms in boiling water to cover for 15 minutes. Drain the mushrooms, then rinse to remove any grit. Pat dry and chop.
- Combine the quail meat, mushrooms and the rest of the ingredients in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse 4 or 5 times to combine, but do not over-process the ingredients into mush.
- Form half of the mixture into a long sausage, about 12” long and ¾” in diameter. Roll and wrap tightly in plastic, then turn the ends in opposite directions to tighten the wrapping. Secure the ends with tape and repeat with the other half of the quail/mushroom mixture. Freeze both sausages for 20 minutes while you prepare the dough.
- Lightly degas the dough and divide into 2 equal pieces. On a lightly floured board, roll out 1 piece of dough in to a rectangle approx 12” wide and ¼” thick. Unwrap a chilled sausage and roll in the dough, leaving ¼” overlap. Trim away the excess dough, then pinch the seam firmly closed. Repeat with the other sausage and dough.
- Using a sharp knife, cut each sausage into (4) 3” lengths, then place seam side down on a parchment lined sheet. Cover lightly with plastic wrap and a clean dishtowel and proof, at room temperature, for about 60 minutes, or until the dough is nicely puffed around the sausage.
- Preheat the oven to 400° F, with the rack in the lower-middle. Lightly brush the proofed dough with the egg wash, and bake until golden brown, about 15-20 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack before serving.
Preparation time: 1 hour(s) 30 minute(s)
Cooking time: 20 minute(s)
Number of servings (yield): 8
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