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Northern Foods - Culture
Written By: Ellen Million (Writer)
An overview of the foods and resources of the North.
 
 

Meat

Wild game is plentiful in the north, and fresh meat is a regular staple of the northern diet, year round. Shagback is bland but satisfactory, and relatively easy to harvest. Snowshoe boars are particularly tasty, if a little rarer, and also provide a flavorful fat that is often mixed with other meats in sausages. Sheep and goats are rarer yet, and provide lean but delicious meat. Hares of several species are abundant, though each individually will not provide a lot of meat. They are most often skinned, cleaned, and boiled whole for stews and stock. Bear is less palatable, but will provide a lot of meat in a pinch. It can be quite fatty in fall before the bears hibernate, and the flavor depends greatly on the bear's diet; a fish-eating bear will be unpleasantly fishy, but a berry-eating bear may taste better. Foxes, weasels, and rodents tend to be small, thin, and gamey - these are only eaten when there are no better options; a better use for their carcasses is as bait in traps for carnivores prized for their furs.

In summer, meat is cooked or smoked dry as soon as possible, to prevent spoilage. Cooks in the north err on the side of over-cooking meat, rather than serving it rare. In winter, preservation is usually by freezing, though it still must be well-protected from other scavengers.


Fish

Periodically throughout the year, the rivers become thick with spawning salmon. These fish are high in fat and considered delicious. They are harvested in high numbers over a very short time and preserved by drying and smoking. So cured, they make an excellent, chewy travel food that doesn't require heating or re-hydrating. Other river and lake fish are caught and cooked fresh throughout the year - including ice-fishing in the winter. Ocean fish are a treat, but not one that is often pursued, due to the dangers of sea monsters.


Dairy

Snow-unicorn milk is another plentiful source of protein, and the Northerners produce a wide variety of cultured cheeses and yogurts. Snowy milk is fattier and sharper tasting than cow milk. A coarse butter can also be made from the milk, but it is more commonly used as an ingredient for other cooking than as a spread.

Milk is commonly preserved frozen during cold months. Cool, buried storage in the summer can keep it fresh for several weeks. But even fermented milk is useful, so very little is wasted.


Eggs

Eggs are most commonly found in the spring, though a few seabirds and inland waterfowl will continue to lay well into the summer. The task of egg gathering is a slow and deliberate one that often requires scaling cliff-faces and climbing trees, as well as periods of nest-watching. Some of the birds are ferociously protective, and rangers are careful not to over-collect from rare nests.

Boiling whole is the most common way to cook collected eggs, but they may also be drunk raw. An egg-gatherer often takes 'one for the mouth,' and brings the rest back to be cooked and shared.


Baking and grains

Wild yeast is cultured much as sourdough is - a sample is extended with a simple starch and water mixture and used for leavening of basic breads. Rye and barley are the most common and cold-hardy wild grains, but they are becoming scarcer as they get choked out by other wild plants. A root vegetable like potato is also used as a starch base.

Most breads are flatbreads, rolled thin and baked on a hot surface near the fire and turned several times. There are also nooks in many of the communal fires that allow for the baking of loafs, but not all houses will be so equipped. The most common kind of flatbread is called tafa.

The flatbread plays an important role in a type of storytelling that involves tearing the bread into shapes as the story progresses. Sometimes, listeners tear their own bread along with the storyteller, sometimes the storyteller hands out the torn off bits.

Mittenbread (or a 'mitten of bread' or 'bread mitten') is a flatbread wrapped around a cooked meat or sausage. These are generally used as a travel food.


Fruits and Greens

Greens are common in the brief, bright summer, and many familiar vegetables grow to enormous sizes because of the very long, sunny days. Nettles are one of the first greens in spring. Top onions are one of the vegetables that keeps the longest into the winter and they add a great deal of flavor to a dish. Spruce tips can be harvested year-round, but are best in early spring. A low evergreen-like plant with pale yellow flowers (similar to Labrador tea) likes shady forest floors and adds a spicy kick of flavor. Chickweed and dandelions can provide tasty greens, too.

Edible berries are readily available, starting mid-summer and into the fall. Blackberries, blueberries, cranberries, rosehips, rockberry, and frostberry are a few options.

Fruit is less common, given the cold conditions and short summers, but still plays an important role in their diet. Cherries, apples, apricots, pears, and the methalerf are harvested in fall. Many of these can be dried to be eaten throughout the winter. Hazelnuts are the only nut that will fruit in the north.


Beverages

There are many sources of drinking water throughout the north, including snow-melt. The Northerners have cultivated several springs that are known to be safe, clearing access to them, and marking them with piled rocks so that rangers will recognize them. Some of these springs have a heavy metallic taste, but are considered safe. A few prized ones are thermally heated, and can be accessed even in the winter.

Fermented snow-unicorn milk is frequently combined with the alcohol which is a byproduct of wild yeast to create a very strong-flavored, inebriating beverage, jovorsh (from jovo (noisy) and ors (milk)). It is usually served warm.

The Northerners also brew a wide variety of beers (including spruce beer) and, more rarely, distill strong alcoholic beverages as well.

Juice from fruits or other plants is less common but adds some variety. Spruce and birch sodas are a popular mildly-alcoholic treat that children are permitted to enjoy.


Sweets and Other Treats

Honey and sweet reed are both rare and treasured for their sweetness, especially since so many of the fruit and berry options are tart. A few desserts that have been mentioned include: sweet reed drops, candied rose hips, and ice cream. Snowbloom is a snow-growing algae that is rare and fragile and appears only when sun and snow conditions are just right for it.


Salt

Salt is found and harvested in several places throughout the north - both along the salt-water coast, and at hot spring locations. One hot spring in the mountains near Itakith has particularly flavorful deposits that give fish a distinctive coppery taste. This taste is relished by some people and disliked strongly by others. The Northerns call this copper salt, though it is pure white in color, and easily confused with regular sea salt. (It doesn't actually contain copper, and is safe to eat.)

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