Saturday, November 20, 2010

Circe's Famous Magic Potion!

Lets return to the Odyssey and remake the potion Circe used to turn Odysseus' men into pigs! We enter the story in book ten of the Odyssey, where Odysseus and his men have landed on Circe's island. Half his men go to explore and find the hut of the witch Circe and,
"She brought them inside and seated them on chairs and benches,
and mixed them a potion, with barley and cheese and pale honey
added to Pramneian wine, but put into the mixture
 malignant drugs to make them forget their own country.
When she had given them this and they had drunk it down ..." (Odyssey X.233-237. Tr: Lattimore)
Okay, lets make this potion which also happens to be one of my all time favorite desserts!
Circe's Magic Potion
1 pound tub Ricotta (a really good, fresh one from 
your local Farmers Market or Whole Foods like place)
Roasted Barley Grains (for instructions, see yesterday's post)
Moscato (Elmo Pio brand is cheap and available in West Philly)
Poppy Seeds
1) Empty ricotta into mixing bowl.
2) Add some roasted barley grains. Not too many. These are just to give a good texture. Add honey. How much honey will depend on how sweet you like your desserts. Also, a really good ricotta will need less honey to taste outstanding.
3) Add some poppy seeds. Really just enough for color because, see, these are the malignant drugs! Or at least, um, symbolize the malignant drugs.
4) Now, after mixing all those ingredients, it is time to add the wine. Now, there are two equally delicious ways I have done this. First, just add enough wine until it is the consistency of soft serve ice cream and serve the dessert in bowls with spoons. Second, and more accurate to the text, add wine until it is the consistency of a thin milk shake and serve in a glass to drink. 
When I served this, people said it was strangely reminiscent of tiramisu. And they loved it! Or they lied to me about it! Well, either way they are pigs now.

Now, besides being an incredible dessert, this dish interacts interestingly with the dish from yesterdays post, the madza. If we take the madza as a main staple of the archaic Greek diet, this magic potion can be seen as the deconstructed fantasy version of that everyday dish. The fundamental ingredients in madza are barley and water with honey, wine, and cheese as the optional ingredients. It is then eaten in a dry, hard-tack like state. This magic potion, however, is also made from barley, honey, wine, and cheese - but the ratios are so skewed that not only is it not dry, it is drinkable. The focus has shifted from the barley and water to the optional 'flavor' ingredients, but it is still the same ingredients. Homer has taken an everyday item for the listener and idealized it into a fantasy version.
Interestingly, the interaction with the madza does not stop here. After Odysseus' men drink the potion, they become pigs and then their new diet is specified, they eat only two different kinds of acorns and cornel buds - all scavenger foods that were viewed by the archaic Greek as both less tasty and less civilized than the madza. So, in this passage we see Odysseus' men first eat a meal that is a fantasy version of everyday fare for the listener and then get immediately reduced to eating food much worse than the listener's everyday fare, and this food is presented as fit only for animals - but we know was eaten also by men in times of famine, i.e. when there was no barley for madza. Perhaps this reinforces to the listener to be happy with what they have?
So, in this marvelous passage, we get Circe's deconstructed madza (I love this term because it reminds me of a few years back when 'deconstructed homey meals' were all the rage at fancy restaurants) and the acorns for the destitute - and a great dessert for us to eat today! Enjoy! 


Lew said...

I am full of questions. I am a knowledge vacuum that must be filled.

First, what's Pramneian wine? Is it just what they used to call Moscato?

What is a cornel bud? What's that you say? Use Google? I did, sir, and found very little useful information about cornel buds, but quite a lot of useful information about Colonel "Bud" Day, an Air Force pilot in Vietnam and one of the Swift Boat Veterans. Thanks Google Suggest!

And lastly, I want to know about these deconstructed homey meals at fancy restaurants. Is this like those $70 hamburgers everyone in New York had to have on their menu?

Jake Morton said...

Okay, I will try to respond in order.
1) I do not know what makes Pramneian wine different. I used Moscato because it is slightly sweet so it makes for a great dessert.
2) Cornell buds are essentially the acorn-like things from a Cornell tree. Like the other two kinds of acorns specified, they are foods one gathers rather than grows.
3) For the deconstructed homey meals, I was referring to stuff like "deconstructed apple pie" where you have each of the ingredients separated apart and then made in a fancy way and then put together onto one plate. So, for the pie, it would be a plate with an apple poached in white wine (represents the filling), maybe some fancy house made granola (represents the crust), and some fancy clotted cream (the ice cream). So, the dish is deconstructed into its components and then each component is made into a fancier version/allusion of/to itself.

Lew said...

1) Aha. I imagine their wine back then was pretty sweet anyway?

2) I see.

3) That sounds annoying.

Jake Morton said...

1) Well, it is hard to know. They describe good wine as sweet. It is the only way to get a higher alcohol content before distilled spirits came along. The main guy who works on ancient wine works at Penn, I should go meet him sometime, eh?
3) Yeah, I always though it was an annoying food trend myself. I don't know if they still do it. It might date the time I worked in fine dining that I still talk about it.

Katrina said...

Is there a non-alcoholic way to make this for children? Can something be substituted for the wine? Thank you.