Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A Hungry Girl in Discworld, and an Introduction

I have two truly great obsessions in life.  Books.  And food.  The first is a long-time love affair, while the second is a more recent, and more fattening, devotion.  As many things in my life seem to, these two loves go excellently together.  Perhaps I've only really begun to notice it this year, but there is a helluva lot of food in books.  I'm not complaining.  Far from it.  This year in particular, the food and drinks that are appearing in the books I've been reading (I aim for at least 50 books a year) have been greatly affecting me.  The Great Gatsby got me to drink gin.  Game of Thrones makes me crave meat and mead.  A Year in Provence had me practically packing my bags for France just so I could drink wine for breakfast, hunt for truffles, and cook all day long.

And that's what this blog is going to be about.  The books I read, the appetites they inspire, and the food I cook because of it.  Welcome, and enjoy!


Next to Julia Child, Terry Pratchett is my favorite food writer.  If you think those two don't go together, then you haven't been reading enough Pratchett.  Take, for example, this exquisite description of, well, diner food, in Guards! Guards!: "...the food was good solid stuff for a cold morning, all calories and fat and protein and maybe a vitamin crying softly because it was all alone."  Beautiful, isn't it?  Doesn't that just make you want to go straight out to your favorite greasy spoon and absolutely drown yourself in fried food?

As a confirmed food lover, the sheer presence of food in the Discworld novels caught my interest shortly after I began reading them.  I'm absolutely convinced that Sir Terry Pratchett loves food about as much as I do, particularly the food of the common people, or street food.  The references to "hot grease" in some books are mouth-wateringly numerous.  I would almost go so far as to say that Pratchett sees food as the great equalizer, but that is truly a subject for a dissertation.

For now, let's stick with the food itself.  With the notable exception of the wizard-centric novels, few other groups in the Discworld seem to encounter as much food as the Night Watch (if you ask me, this is a direct correlation to the above-mentioned prevalence of street food).  The Night Watch is made up of the common man (and dwarf, and zombie, and werewolf, and troll, and etc.), after all.  They live and work among other common men, et al, where food is bought and made and sold.  Wives cook breakfast, bakeries bake bread. There are eateries and street vendors (namely Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler).

Pratchett never misses a chance to use food as a wossname, metaphor.  A character's food preference is usually a commentary on their character.  The Patrician is known for dining on boiled water and dry bread, whereas other rulers are famed for eating with their knives and throwing half-masticated chicken legs over their shoulders.  And you always know who's been around when a peanut shell floats to the ground.

It should be little wonder by now that I've chosen a Discworld novel, Guards! Guards!, the first Watch book, for my first entry.  And for the very first Discworld delicacy, I've chosen a food with seemingly multiple definitions: the humble figgin.  It first makes its appearance in Guards! Guards!  Pratchett defines the figgin in a footnote as being "a short-crust pastry containing raisins."  Nobby and Sgt. Colon later go to a bakery to get some figgins.  But that isn't the extent of it.  Pratchett's definition comes only after the use of the word "figgin" in the sacred rituals of the Elucidated Brethren: "And it be well for an knowlessman that he should not be here, for he would ... [have] his figgin placed upon a spike."

This certainly implies a much more... intimate definition of the word.  Brother Fingers runs away screaming later in the book when Nobby asks if he would like his figgin toasted.  Also, a former ruler is "hung up by his figgin," and I have a hard time believing that he was merely clinging to one end of a particularly sturdy pastry.

Regardless, we will be sticking to the culinary version of the figgin.  It appears to be similar to a Chorley cake, popular in Lancashire.  A Chorley cake is traditionally made with currants, sandwiched between two layers of short crust pastry, but can also be made, like the figgin, with sweeter raisins (sultanas).  They are often served with butter or a slice of cheese and may be, as Nobby suggests, toasted.

I very much enjoyed learning about and making figgins. Chorley cakes.  Whichever.  My technique may need a bit of work, but there's no arguing with the end result, which is a light, just-barely-sweet pastry perfect for a tea-time or on-the-go snack.

Figgins (Chorley Cakes)
(makes 12-15)
adapted from Butcher, Baker

1 1/2 c. flour
1 stick unsalted butter (8 tbs), cold and cut into pieces
Pinch salt
1/2 c. ice cold water
2 tbs butter
Pinch nutmeg
1 c. raisins and currants
1 egg, beaten

Preheat oven to 400 F

Sift together flour and salt in a large bowl.  Add the 8 tbs butter into the bowl and either cut into the flour with a pastry cutter, or rub in with your fingers, until the mixture looks resembles sand and there are no pieces larger than a pea.

Add in water 1 tbs at a time, tossing the mixture with a fork, until the dough comes together and does not flake apart when squeezed.  Knead lightly to form a ball.  Flatten into a disc and wrap in plastic wrap.  Chill the dough for 1 hour.

To prepare the filling, melt the 2 tbs butter and mix in the nutmeg and raisins/currants until coated.

When the dough has chilled, generously flour your work surface.  Don't ever worry about over-flouring.  You can always dust off flour, but it's far more difficult to peel sticky dough off the counter.  Trust me.  Place the dough on the floured surface, and flour the top of the dough.  Roll it out to between 1/8-1/4" thickness.  Cut out 3" rounds in the dough, as many as you can get (around a dozen).

Put 1 tbs filling in the center of each disc. Fold the outside edges of the disc up over the filling to cover.  Flip the pastry over so the seam is facing down, and roll lightly over the pastry with a rolling pin to flatten.  The raisins will begin to press through the dough.  This is what you want to happen.  Place on a baking try lined with parchment paper.

(Note: next time I make these, I would flatten them even more.)

Repeat with the other rounds.

Brush with the beaten egg (this will add color to the pastry as it bakes), and bake in preheated oven for 10-15 minutes, until golden brown.

Enjoy warm from the oven, either plain or with butter or cheese.  These keep for several days in an airtight container.  You can heat them up again later, if they last that long.


  1. Your pictures are pretty.

  2. Hi Ashley--I love your Discworld-themed posts! I am the founder and admin of the Discworld Bakers Guild FB page (https://www.facebook.com/DWBakersGuild). I would like to know 1) if you would like to join, and 2) if I may include your photos and recipes in a photo gallery on the Discworld Bakers Guild FB page. You would receive full credit for the photos and the recipes, and a link back to your blog could be included. Let me know what you think. Patty Panek (panek1612@yahoo.com)

  3. Can you do C.M.O.T Dibbler's Sausage Inna Bun?