Monday, January 22, 2007

Paleolithic Cookery

But that bit of meat or root that fell off the stick, to land in mud, to be pushed back into the fire, might be forgotten until late in the feast when the fire had returned to coals around a modest clear flame. A younker, not totally sated, might play at poking the coals and lumps with a stick making who knows what patterns of reverie, until the hard baked mud caught her attention. His attention? Perhaps it had a trace of something that changed color in the intensity of the coals showing a coppery green maybe, or the glint of silica turned to glass. A bauble. A toy. Something to explore. To touc -- Ouch! Nasty rock! Take that! As rock encounters clay the vessel cracks to vent a moist steam with the most delicious of aromas. Time -- a bit -- passed (sucking fingers) out of respect to the heat of the pot. Finally fingers could grasp and wrench to pull it asunder to reveal the strings of meat or the starchy-sweet paste of the root. The smell alone would overcome any resistance to exploration. Altruism (or a pretty full tum) might suggest sharing the prize with a friend or worthy elder. Or did the gleeful shout attract the Wiseman's attention? This method of cooking became know as a way to preserve the moistness of the meat whether of animal or vegetable.
It still lacked refinement. That came when an up-and-comer took a brace of partridge and slathered them in mud before plucking. The fired clay removed the feathers handsomely and left the skin fairly respectable.
Yet another improved the process by wrapping a gobbet of duiker in broad leaves, before slapping on the mud. It took a few essays before the right leaves -- the ones that improved the flavor rather than impart a certain taste of miasma -- were found.
The coastal tribes played with seaweed wrapped mollusks and crustaceans laid over hot rocks buried in sand.
Others developed tools that became mortars and pestles, scrapers, and baskets tightly woven enough to hold water. These made soup when you filled them with water and vegetables and dropped a very hot stone into them. These were the easily replaced kitchen furniture of the old stone age.
It was a time of immense conceptual change probably carried out over broad expanses of generation.
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