Sunday, 18 February 2007

Anglo saxons, leeks and sausages ...

I've just finished reading a book (only 75 pages mind you) on 'Food and Drink in Anglo Saxon England' by Debby Banham. And it was riveting. (Those of you who think that I'm incredibly sad can stop reading now).

For a start, there were such gems as the Anglo Saxon for a vegetable garden (or kail yard in Scots) was leactun, ie an enclosure where you grow leeks (leac). Fascinating for two reasons:

  1. tun from whence our word town, originally meant an enclosure. The Anglo Saxon's didn't really do urban centres until quite late in Saxon period, so when they saw the towns of Roman Britian they were probably most struck by the walls built to keep them out, and the walls formed an enclosure da da! (reminds me of the remark ascribed to the gothic king, who having defeated the Romans at Adrianople in the 380's stopped short at the heavily fortified and defended walls of Constantinople and exclaimed 'we have no arguement with walls' and retreated
  2. what it shows about diet. If mostly you ate a stew of beans and barley you were probably pretty glad of leeks (which of course grow through winter) to flavour something pretty bland. Certainly during my veggie phase the reason why so much had onions and chilli and so on in it was desperate attempt to make bean stew interesting and enjoyable.

And diet's fascinating. I once had a girlfriend who was doing a PhD in ethnobotany, and she used to try out various odd things on me. Inca potatoes were good, but I still don't beleive the Romans really liked groundelder as an accompaniement to sausages.

But then, while I like flavoured sausages, I've never really liked chinese sausages - the herbs and flavourings just seem wrong. Mind you I still think I should have screwed up my courage and bought a cooked hilltribe style sausage in Chiang Mai from the stall advertising (in English) 'fried intestine'

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