W is for Wine

Silk Road specialties, from Pressfood.org.

I’ve heard that you need to age wine, but isn’t 8000 years a little over the top?

They have found the oldest wine vessels in history, and they are from Georgia, near the Southern Caucasus. Were they on the Silk Road? Or did grape wine come from China? How do they know it was grape wine anyway? And what else did they drink, when they didn’t have grapes? Plus, what about the apples and melons?

Today, it’s all about Silk Road Food and Drink, especially Drink.

Vitis vinifera

As it happens, I don’t drink alcohol, but please don’t hold that against me. I can certainly discuss alcohol with the best of them, especially when it involves archaeology. I was trying to look up Silk Road wine information which, the other day, told me that many people drank non-grape wines made from honey, mare’s milk, and other fermented carbohydrates. At least that’s what I remember. But there is a Silk Road winery (or more than one) and so all I could see today were ads for that wine. Feel free to do a brisk little Google search for “Silk Road Wine” on your own.

The reason that Georgia–and that means the country over in Asia near the Silk Road not the U.S. state–the reason that Georgia was trumpeting its wines is because archeologists dug up some big ol’ wine jars. These jars, called qevri or khevri, definitely date back to the Neolithic as far as 6,000–5,800 BCE. Lead researcher Patrick McGovern and the team were careful to look at dating the pottery, dating the site, and establishing the appearance of the right combination of acids that represent fermented grapes. They also found grape pollen, starch, and skin remains that sealed the deal. Eight-thousand-year-old grapes in Georgia!

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P is for Pepper

Black Gold. Texas Tea. The most valuable commodity in recent years has that nickname, and if you watched a certain TV show from the 1960s, you remember the words. But “black gold” before 1800 meant something else, something also very valuable. Futurists picked up on it, too.

The spice must flow.

Black Gold

Even today, pepper is the most traded spice in the world. It originated out of India, on the Malabar coast, although more than a third of it today comes from Vietnam. In the Silk Road days, it was so valuable that it was demanded by the Huns when they took Rome; they asked for 3000 pounds of pepper in addition to precious metals and furs. Rome lived on cinnamon and pepper, so it knew the value, too.

Accountant Luca Pacioli in his double-entry bookkeeping text explained to merchants how to list their inventory: gold coin in ducats, jewels, unpolished pointed diamonds, silverware, feather beds, and …

cases of ginger bellidi … sacks of pepper, long pepper or round pepper … so many packages of cinnamon.

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The Pierogi Mystique

Christmas pierogi at the kajmeister house.

My grandmother’s handwriting is still on the recipe, which we urged her to write down, before she passed away in 1978. It was written the way that grandmothers write recipes, without precision or exact steps, with unique spelling. She wasn’t a particularly great cook, according to my mother. Although perhaps that was about more about relationships between mother and mother-in-law than about food. I do remember finding her borscht disgusting, although what five-year-old likes beet soup with sour cream? We did, however, fight over her pierogis. More on that shortly.

The secret Chmaj recipe. Photo by kajmeister.

My brother gave me pierogi-making tools last Christmas, but we couldn’t fit in time to make them. They are a time-consuming task, as I imagine making tamales, won tons, or empanadas might be. I decided to make them this year on Christmas then enlisted the elves when it was taking more time than our stomachs could bear. When I posted a photo on Facebook, there were questions and comments, and my reply got so long, I thought: Ok, just do a blog. So here you go.

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