The other day, I tweeted “What
#GameofThrones-themed snacks can I make that are #glutenfree and #vegetarian?”
No one replied.
Maybe that’s because my (many and adoring) Twitter followers don’t watch Game of Thrones. (What percentage of people following a gluten-free diet also follow Game of Thrones? A statistic worth investigating.) Maybe my question got lost in the evening Twitter rush. Or maybe people didn’t think it could be done.
Game of Thrones food is roughly based on medieval European cuisine. For most people, this calls to mind crusty loaves and legs of mutton—oh, and don’t forget the ale. Gluten-free vegetarian medieval food sounds almost oxymoronical. Throw in “Easter” as an additional theme and you’ve got yourself an impossibility, right?
Not exactly. Medieval cuisine might be linked in the modern imagination with meat and bread, but especially in tough times and among the lower classes, they weren’t as ubiquitous as we think.
Let’s start with meat. It wasn’t until the Black Death killed off most of Europe that meat became more available to commoners, because the shrunken labor force drove up wages and swathes of abandoned land became available for pasturing livestock. But in George R. R. Martin’s universe, so far as I can tell, there hasn’t been a plague precisely like the Black Death. The closest thing to it was the grey plague, a scourge that was successfully quarantined to a single city and therefore didn’t have as vast of an effect as the real-life plague. This suggests that at the time of telling, the majority of poorer people would have eaten mainly plant foods, not meat.
And gluten? Though grains made up much of the medieval diet, wheat was actually rather expensive. Barley, rye, buckwheat, millet, and oats were the most common choices (a couple of which are, as you know, gluten-free!). Plus, particularly after a lean harvest, it would have been common to use nut, pea, or bean flours along with grain flours to create bread. From there, it doesn’t require too much of a leap to get to the gluten-free flour blends of today. (Legumes, by the way, were not considered good for you, contrary to prevailing nutrition opinion today, which designates many former “peasant” foods as staples of a healthful diet.) Finally, although beer was a popular choice in this age of unfiltered water, wine was common, too, and that’s naturally gluten-free. (Plus vegetarian, as long as you choose a kind that wasn’t made using fish bladder…ew.)
Like the medieval culture on which it is loosely based, the cuisine of Westeros does include gluten-free and plant-based options—enough, certainly, for a solid viewing party spread. Flipping through the contents of both the official and unofficial Game of Thrones cookbooks turns up lots of ideas: dried beans and nuts at the Wall, root cellar apples and veggies in the North, honeycomb from the Vale, leeks and greens from the lush Riverlands, stunning fruit desserts in the Reach, citrus and fiery spices in Dorne, and all of them coming together in the melting pot that is King’s Landing. I think I’ll pass on the fried locusts from across the Narrow Sea.
What will I be making this Sunday? I’m not hosting the party, so I’ve got some conferring to do with the friend in charge. But I’ve put on my thinking cap (a warm one, since, you know, winter is coming). “Doran’s Favorite Chickpea Paste” sounds an awful lot like hummus, a classic GF-veg staple, and stuffed peppers and dates would please any palate, fantasy or modern-day. Throw in a cheese plate and some GF flatbread and you’ve pretty much got yourself a party. Oh, except for dessert. We’re considering hot-cross buns, which are vaguely medieval and perfect for Easter. There are some great GF recipes out there, and my new kitchen scale is just dying to pledge fealty to a proprietary GF blend. I am also tempted to try these hilarious (spoiler alert!) cake pops, but I’ll probably be too lazy.
Stay tuned and I’ll update you on the final menu sometime next week. In the meantime, know that you can be meat- and gluten-free in Westeros without being options-free. You just…might need to be a peasant.
For this post, I sourced my medieval food facts from Wikipedia (which in turn sourced its info largely from Melitta Weiss Adamson’s Food in the Middle Ages, Regional Cuisines of Medieval Europe, and Food in Medieval Times). Though to give credit where credit’s really due, I’m pretty sure I heard most of it from my dad first (he blogs about food here). I pulled ideas for Sunday’s menu from the two books I linked to above and also wanted to call out the blog that spawned the official cookbook, Inn at the Crossroads, a must-read for fans of Game of Thrones and sustenance. Finally, I feel compelled here to admit that I have not read the books; I just watch the show. This runs contrary to all my media consumption principles, but those books are thick, and I keep pretty busy writing about gluten.
Are you a Game of Thrones fan? Any favorite foods from the series? Any other shows you’re excited for this season? Do you enjoy viewing parties and cooking themed menus, or do you consider your food restrictions theme enough? Alternatively, what have you got going on for Easter this weekend?
“Finally, I feel compelled here to admit that I have not read the books; I just watch the show. This runs contrary to all my media consumption principles, but those books are thick, and I keep pretty busy writing about gluten.”
Also, grey plague sounded pretty bad. Yikes. At first I thought you meant greyscale and I was going to correct you but, surprise surprise, your post was very well-researched.
You’re up early! Or, up late? Party-planning?!
Well, hot-cross buns are certainly medieval, although the highly sugared ones that get sold in bakeries nowadays aren’t much like the originals.
Another common peasant food, especially in times of dearth (like the upcoming who-knows-how-long winter) was acorns, which could be ground and used to stretch or even replace flower.
Another great site for medieval cookery is:
I think that the girls who run the Game of Thrones food blog who wound up getting the book deal to do the official cookbook use that website for inspiration, too. I saw acorn flour mentioned but don’t have a reliable source of acorns nearby. 🙂
I love Game of Thrones!!! The books and the show. You know, I just came across a recipe for GF hotcross buns that looked smashing, even though the readers complained mightily about them not rising properly. I wonder why people expect “rising” when there’s no gluten?
Anyway, I will scour around to find that recipe for you. Also, you might have been right about the twitter traffic–I didn’t see your post.
In the meantime, have a great day 🙂
here you go… hot cross buns, gluten free. http://www.glutenfreemama1.com/2011/04/hot-cross-buns.html
Thanks for the buns recipe! I didn’t wind up using this one for my (failed) hot cross buns, but next time, maybe 🙂
Rising is such a tricky animal. Ha!
I didn’t know you were a GOT fan! (I only watch the show, too, and don’t plan on reading the books because I’m pretty busy commenting on blogs about gluten.) Good thing I’m caught up on the show, though, because that cake pops link is a huge spoiler! 😉
I edited to add a spoiler alert! Didn’t even think of that.
I read the books, and I’d still recommend book 1. I think I’d have been lost without it. But then, I’m also still waiting for season 2 to come out on DVD or instant play, as I don’t have cable. This is the second themed post I’ve read on GOT today!
Love me some GoT! We’ll be celebrating with some “Dornish” wine, and I’ll annoy the hexk out of my husband by demanding he bring me my dragons.
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