A goonie…and a broonie!

Nancy Jardine bringing you another update from a sunny North-East Scotland. On Friday last, the 29th May 2020, I was scheduled to board a train for York, England. I love walking the wall and wandering the Shambles. I adore visiting the museums, and doing general tourist pursuits. Five years ago, I had a wonderful seminar weekend with some of my co-authors at Ocelot Press, in York. Though, back then, we were published authors with Crooked Cat Books.

York Museum grounds- c. Nancy Jardine

My visit this time was to join the fun at the 2020 Eboracum Roman Festival, organised in the main by York Museums. Loads of Roman themed events and activities were organised – some indoors, though many of them outdoors in the streets of central York. I had planned to fill my camera with amazing photos, but the highlight of the ‘Friday through Sunday’ event was joining a lovely line-up of authors in a ‘pop-up’ bookstore, all of us selling our Roman themed historical novels. I imagined lots of impromptu information being shared with customers, and me getting to know the authors I’ve only met ‘virtually’ via Facebook. In 2019, the author tables were set up in the ‘Hospitium’ in the grounds of the York Museum and I was hoping for the same venue this year. Sadly, COVID 19, changed the plans. Like other major events, it was cancelled.

Though not compulsory to wear re-enactment outfits, I had noticed that a number of the authors got into the swing in 2019. I’ve always meant to make myself a Late Iron Age outfit, so going to York was a brilliant excuse.

In January (2020), I researched possible cloth. The ‘Celts’ used standing looms to weave their cloth which is thought to have been either plain, or with fairly sizeable checks (though not Tartan). Textiles do not survive well in the ground, but there are a few excavated examples that have been found across the Ancient Roman Empire. The fragments found indicate an open weaving technique was used, and they also give an idea of what might have been used to dye the wool. 

Dark green commercial dye.

I fancied a mid-green colour for the long dress and a checked material for a bratt (shawl). York in late May can be pretty warm, so a pure woollen cloth sounded very hot and scratchy. I wanted to be as authentic as possible but suitable green cloth eluded me. I opted for light grey which, I imagined, could be dyed to my preferred colour. The cloth arrived but it wasn’t the open weave I expected from the little photograph. (It must have been a very high magnification)

And it didn’t dye. Not at all!

I tried a deep green commercial hand dye which dulled down the checked material I had bought for the shawl, but the grey for the dress was still grey.

I then thought maybe if the suiting material (supposedly 55% wool) had a mordant process done to it, it would accept a natural dye. Using beetroot might make it a pale dusky pink – which I could live with, instead of green. Beetroot is a more recent variety of the Beta Vulgaris species, but 2000 years ago the Iron Age Tribes would probably have eaten a variety more like chard. However, it’s also possible that the Ancient Romans introduced to Britain the forerunner of the modern sugar beet that we grow and eat today, since Ancient Romans ate a number of Beta V. varieties.

The Beetroot Broonies!

The mordant treatment, a boiling in (vinegar and salt) for an hour was pretty stinky, but the soaking in the cooked beetroot juice was even more so. 24 hours later, the indestructible cloth was STILL grey but a machine wash, thankfully, got rid of the pong. The dyeing processes were useless, but all was not lost – I used some of the boiled beetroot to make beetroot brownies, which were yummy, and the remainder is pickled.

My ‘goonie’ is a bit boring so I used some of the shawl material to give it a lift. Is it authentic for Northern Romano Britain? Since we don’t really know what styles they wore, I can only imagine that any embellishment to dresses was of a practical nature!

What do you think of it? It’s surprisingly comfortable and I will wear it when selling my paperback novels, or for author talks etc.

I’ll be putting my name on the 2021 list of authors selling at the next Eboracum Roman Festival…and who knows what I’ll be wearing.

p.s. I’m thinking that when the COVID 19 situation eases and I can shop again, I might look out for some more exciting cloth that I don’t need to dye!

My stock for the Festival, available in paperback and kindle formats from: Amazon Author Page

If you’re quick, you’ll find that Books 1 and 2 are at #99p/99c across Amazon for a limited time in early June!

Book 1 The Beltane Choice

Book 2 After Whorl: Bran Reborn

Celtic Fervour Saga Series

Pizza? Yes, please!

This post is by Nancy Jardine.

Social distancing has recently been making the process of normal food shopping a much longer one than usual, during the current ‘COVID 19 pandemic’ lockdown situation, though this post isn’t about our current global health crisis. It’s about a very ancient issue of feeding people when the supply chain is either interrupted, or needs to be established.

I bake quite often so my larder generally contains baking supplies, though not a sufficient amount for many months. Re- stocking has become an issue, of late, because flour became scarce almost overnight as a result of panic buying and stock-piling, at the end of March. (And we’ll not talk of toilet rolls! … till maybe later 😉)

Being mindful of waste, quantities for bread making, pizza dough, shortbread – and even my breakfast porridge – have been scrutinised more than normal. And in an odd way, this fits in well with my current fiction writing, since I’m often considering what my characters might be eating some 2,000 years ago in Roman Britain.

My usual breakfast is porridge, topped with whatever fresh fruit I need to use up. Many of my Ancient Roman military characters are also eating some form of porridge, though not only for their breakfast. Ancient Greek writing refers to the soldiers of the Roman Empire as being ‘pultiphagonides’ – meaning porridge eaters – and evidence proves that the Roman Army marched effectively on a high carbohydrate, low meat diet. There’s textual evidence of soldiers complaining of being fed too much meat, which might seem strange for some people today.

My 1/3 cup usual measure as opposed to 500 g worth of rolled oats.

My porridge, made with a 1/3 of a cup measure of rolled oats (113g/4oz.) to 200 ml of water, sustains me in energy over the morning hours much better than any other cereal. And it worked well for the average Roman soldier, though the estimated quantity of grain each soldier consumed per day is pretty huge in relation to my tiny plateful.

I’ve read a few sources which estimate the typical daily grain ration for a Roman soldier was in the region of 1 – 1 ½ kg, though the amount varied depending on whether on campaign, or barracked in a Roman fort. My scale pan can’t hold much more than the 500 g worth you see in the photo above, but that amount of oats may have been tripled per day and consumed in a limited variety of ways, depending on circumstances.

Roman grain supplies tended to be of hulled wheat. Emmer (triticum dicoccum) and Spelt (triticum spelta) were carried as grain to prevent mould, and then milled using a small portable quern stone when required. Other grains were oats, millet and barley, though the latter was often considered to be a ‘punishment’ ration. (Perhaps because of digestive results and no toilet paper to hand! 😉 ) The grain was cooked as porridge, bread, hard-tack biscuits, and even in a sort of pancake form when mixed with oil or wine – edible, or not, depending on who cooked for the basic contubernium squad of 8 men. Some lucky squad might have had a poor enslaved captive to do this for them.

In Agricola’s Bane, Book 4 of my Celtic Fervour Saga, my Romans are mainly on campaign in A.D. 84, marching northwards in Caledonia. They expect to receive the higher end of the above estimate of grain but, sadly, the general supply chain is somewhat hampered by the successful guerrilla incursions of my local Iron Age tribes. General Agricola’s army consists of upwards of 20, 000 soldiers on the march, so a regular grain supply – sourced from around the Roman Empire and sent to point of need – is critical. The Taexali local tribes grow and rear enough food for their own small communities, but even if Agricola requisitions every last morsel from them, it will only make the tiniest dent in the amount needed for his army. And to add insult to injury, as they say, the cool Scottish climate hasn’t changed much in 2000 years. Wheat doesn’t grow so readily – though barley does very well! (Where’s a dock leaf when you need one? 😉 )

In my current writing, Book 5 of the series, the Romans are mainly fort-based so their daily amount of grain is adjusted and supplemented by some meats when locally sourced, or foraged. My garrison at Vindolanda Roman Fort have reasonable regular supplies arriving at the gates, evidence for this found in the many fabulous Vindolanda tablets that have been excavated.

My writing is set during the very first garrisoning of the Vindolanda site, so the supplies of A.D. 90 may have been a bit less varied than on some of the tablets which were written a little later than that date. There are mentions of pickled and preserved products, olive oil, garum fish sauce, olives, garlic paste. Salt, pepper, various spices and herbs are available to those who can afford them – perhaps the fort commander and the officers? There are seasonal fruits and vegetables mentioned like apples, plums, blackberries, onions, leeks, a kale-type cabbage and various nuts. Common food items listed on the Vindolanda tablets, over the centuries of Roman occupation, are impressive and would not be out of place in a kitchen today.

Vindolanda Tablets- Wikimedia Commons

Last week, I used up the last of my 00 Bread flour to make pizza. My favourite is fully-loaded. Smeared with tomato-based passata, it’s then topped with mushrooms, capsicum peppers, sliced onions, olives, chorizo, artichoke hearts, anchovies, at least one type of cheese and olive oil. YUM. Would the ‘pizza’ eaten by my Ancient Roman soldiers be similar? 

No, to tomatoes since they came to Europe from the Americas long after my Roman era. The Romans did have a kind of sausage, though maybe not quite chorizo. Yes to mushrooms, maybe no to capsicum peppers. Artichokes and anchovies are very possible. Definitely olive oil and maybe a form of cheese. Some of these may have been added to round ‘flat’ breads made at Vindolanda Fort.

My tagine which resembles a clibanus type of cooking pot.

There’s evidence that some Romans cooked using a dish named a clibanus, a flat pottery plate which was covered with a domed lid, similar to my Moroccan tagine in the photograph. Rounds of bread, and flat bread, were baked in these when set upon a fire.

In the village of Kintore where I live, in north-east Scotland, there’s evidence of an Ancient Roman temporary camp used by General Agricola c. A.D. 84. When excavated in 2004, it yielded more than 180 ‘Bi-Partite Roman Bread Ovens’ which were used for the campaigning Romans to make their ‘flatbread and pizza’, with or without a clibanus. The design of the keyhole-shaped ‘fire’ meant that slow cooking could be done on the flat stones adjacent to the burning fire.

Roman Bi-Partite bread oven at Kintore.

Maybe the Roman soldiers in the ‘Deer’s Den’ camp at Kintore were lucky enough to have both ‘pizza’ and porridge for their evening meal, once their temporary camp was built!

You can read about my Romans and the avenging local Celts in the Celtic Fervour Saga Series. (Click to access the novels on Amazon)

Whatever you are reading during the COVID 19 lockdown period- enjoy! And if you have some flour, will you be baking? Tell me about your favourite ‘lockdown’ recipes, please.

Or why not make some Roman bread or Roman flat bread ? I made some bread with spelt flour a few years ago.

Read about it on my own Blog It was delicious- and highly nutritious. Now where will I get spelt today?

Slaìnthe!

Book Blog Tour Rewards!

This post is by Nancy Jardine

In September 2019, I booked the services of a Book Blog Tour organiser for the first time, any previous tours for launches of my novels having been organised myself. Rachel Gilbey of Rachel’s Random Resources came highly recommended and I am delighted with what she has achieved.

The tours I’ve booked include potential reviews, though these can never be guaranteed because the bloggers and not paid for any services rendered. The bloggers give up their own time and effort which I greatly appreciate – whether it’s a simple promo post, an author interview, an author guest post or a promo and review. I’m absolutely delighted to have had 21 bloggers do some kind of feature, a whopping 12 of them having done a review for Book 1 The Beltane Choice (Sept 2019) and 12 reviews also garnered for Book 2 After Whorl: Bran Reborn. These reviews have not all come from the same bloggers, though many of the 12 wanted to read further into the series.

The comments on the reviews are so varied which is fabulous because it gives me as the author an insight into which aspects have appealed to particular readers and why. This helps for creating future novels.

Here are some of the comments from the November After Whorl: Bran Reborn reviews:

  1. “The narrative is bursting with facts and the author’s attention to detail is admirable. All this, wrapped around an intriguing narrative with fascinating characters.”
  2. “I am really enjoying reading about a new era of British History. There is a lot of detail is being put into the progress of the Roman invasion and what is being done by the early Celtic tribes to try to repel them! I haven’t read anything like it before, so I am looking forward to seeing how the rest of the series pans out!”
  3. The events, plot twists, world-building … Everything was awesome as the first book if not more.
  4. “I’ve already said it in my review of the first book and I will say it again Nancy Jardine Writing style is different; her words are amazing and you should read her books.”
  5. “As with the first book, the author gives readers a map with locations in the book and a list of characters which helps understand the book and the timeline better. I always love the historical context she includes at the end of the book. It really put things in perspective for me. I will anxiously be awaiting the next book to see where Jardine takes us next.”

Tours have been organised for Books 3 & 4 and the bloggers and readers can look forward to these in December 2019 and January 2020. I’ll be keen to see what my new ‘fans’ think of the rest of the series.

Don’t forget to look out for the newest Ocelot Press novels that are launching this November 2019. They are fabulous stories!
Wishing you very Happy Reading.

Click HERE to buy After Whorl Bran Reborn – http://viewbook.at/heritis

MEET THE OCELOTS: LORENZO and IAMO

Today marks the halfway point in the Ocelot Blog Hop. 

This interview first appeared in June 2014, under the heading Brothers in Arms.

The Ghostly Father is available to purchase here.  Ailsa’s books should be coming to Ocelot Press at some point in the future.  Believe me, they are well worth waiting for.

Whilst recently chatting over a glass or three of wine, I and fellow-author Ailsa Abraham realised that our male lead characters (Lorenzo in The Ghostly Father and Iamo in Alchemy and its sequel Shaman’s Drum) have a great deal in common.  They come from similar backgrounds, they’re both monks, and they’re both somewhat unorthodox in their outlook on life.  So we decided to get the two of them together and ask them a few questions.

Let’s start at the beginning – what made you enter a monastery in the first place?

LORENZO – I had no choice.  I was told by my father that this was what I must do, and he threatened to disown me if I did not obey him.  To say that this was a shock does not even come close to describing how I felt; he was a kind and just man, and for him to behave thus was completely out of character.  I did not find out the real reason for his actions until almost twenty years later.

IAMO – I had felt a sense of vocation from my early years and studied with the Temple while I was at university. It was a natural progression for me to take my vows as soon as I finished my studies.

Did you have a happy childhood? Had it always been your ambition/vocation?

LORENZO – My childhood was privileged.  My father was a Venetian count and we lived in a palazzo.  All our needs were taken care of by our servants.  I had one brother, three years my senior.  Sadly I never knew my mother, who had died at my birth.

It was never my ambition or vocation to enter Holy Orders.  My one desire was to become a physician.

IAMO – Not particularly. Like Lorenzo I was born into an aristocratic family but I found myself unable to take an interest in the things expected of me and I became interested in the Path very early on. I had almost no contact with my parents but adored my Nanny. It was probably through her that I found my vocation.

Were you not bothered about the vows of chastity etc that you had to take? Did you give those a lot of consideration before making your decision?

LORENZO – Having lost the love of my life before I entered the order, the vows of chastity did not cause me any problems.  I knew that I could never replace her.

IAMO – in my Order we were only required to take celibacy vows after a certain time and by then I was so set on my career as a priest that I gave it very little thought. I had never been in love and felt that the pro outweighed the con inestimably.

Once in the order, were you happy?

LORENZO – To my great surprise, yes.  I am sure this is due in no small part to the influence of Fra’ Roberto, the Father Superior who became my own “ghostly father.”  He displayed a level of kindness, sympathy, compassion and good sense which I had never anticipated of a monastic.

IAMO – Probably less so than Lorenzo. I became the assistant to the High Priestess of our Order and my responsibilities were onerous. I failed in my duties several times. Although Scribe has never said so, I think she has hinted that I was itching for adventure.

Did you ever envisage leaving the order?

LORENZO – Never.  Indeed, I did not imagine that it would even be possible.  I had always understood that the vows were for life.

IAMO – As far as my past life was concerned, I had burned my bridges. All contact with my family had been cut and they were furious that I was not going to return to give them the heir they wanted. Not having considered any other way of life, I never imagined anything else.

Did you have much of a life on the outside “in the world” before taking your vows?

LORENZO –- I was eighteen when I first entered the friary as a postulant, but for the year before that I was apprentice to an apothecary.  This is where I learned the skills which prepared me for my later tasks as herbalist and infirmarian.

IAMO – Yes. Like all privileged little boys of my class I went to prep and public school. My studies were then pursued at university because I wanted to study under Professor Oliver, so I had the life of a student with all the attendant excesses. Also, in an effort to marry me off and dissuade me from the monastic life, my mother had shoved various prospective brides at me. Yes, I think it’s fair to say I had my share of “real life”.

How did you decide on your monastic name?

LORENZO –- My real name is Sebastiano Lorenzo Matteo Giovanni Battista Da Porto.  I was always known as Sebastiano, but when I came to take my vows I was asked to choose another name because there was already a Fra’ Sebastiano in the friary.  I chose Lorenzo because it is my second given name.

IAMO – I would rather not reveal that as I have been Iamo for so long now and will stay that way. Perhaps if I just say that it is composed of my initials.

When you entered the order, what did you miss most of your earlier life?  How did you cope without it?

LORENZO – It was all so different from what I had previously known that for a long time I was not comparing like with like, so the question did not arise.  Once I had accustomed myself to the new way of life, the biggest difference was being a servant rather than a master.  But that was the way of the Franciscans – their task was to serve.

IAMO – Nothing. Oh yes, the occasional cigarette. Mostly I was very happy in the Temple.

Was there anything you were glad to leave behind when you entered the order?

LORENZO – Unhappiness.  I had just had to bid farewell to the love of my life.  And also (I am ashamed to say this), following my father’s inexplicable change of demeanour, I was glad that I should not have to have any further contact with him.

IAMO – Yes, killing. My father belongs to the “hunting, shooting, fishing” brigade and such things leave me cold. I cannot bear the taking of sentient life for no reason. I’m vegetarian and the only things I kill willingly are demons, but that is a moot point. Are they in fact “living” in the first place? I was glad to get out of a world I didn’t fit into.

From what we can gather, neither of you seem to have had much difficulty about bending the rules when it suited you.  Do you feel guilty about that?

LORENZO – I had to (as you describe it) “bend the rules” on one particular occasion – which was to help a desperate person out of a desperate situation.  I have no feelings of guilt about that – but I cannot even begin to imagine how I would feel if the outcome of my actions had been different.

IAMO – I have to agree with my brother monk here. I didn’t just bend the rules, I broke them, threw them on the ground and jumped up and down on them. I had to pay for that but no, I do not regret it for a moment because I did it for the finest of motives – love.

Thank you both, gentlemen – this has been a fasinating discussion!

This post is also available on Ailsa’s blog here.

Get Ready for Ocelot Press Characters to Spill the Beans

We’re gearing up for an exciting 10 days or so at Ocelot Press. Our character interview blog hop starts tomorrow, when each of us will interview a character from another Ocelot Press author’s novel.

Tom, from Jennifer C. Wilson’s The Last Plantagenet?, starts the line-up. Sue Barnard will be interviewing him on her blog tomorrow, 29th October.

See the graphic above for the full list of interviews and where they will be posted.

Our series of Meet the Ocelots posts last week introduced the characters and their backgrounds, but from tomorrow you’ll learn a lot more about them: what makes them tick; their hopes and fears; and the major formative events in their lives.

That’s not all: to celebrate the blog hop some of the ebooks will be at a reduced price for a short time, so snap them up while you have the chance.

Jennifer C. Wilson’s time-slip novella, The Last Plantagenet?, is reduced to 99p.

Cathie Dunn’s historical mystery, Love Lost in Time, to be published on November 28th, is on pre-order on Amazon for 99p or equivalent. Order it now and pay nothing until it’s downloaded to your Kindle on publication day.

Other titles will be reduced during the blog hop, so visit the character interview posts to get further information on those.

You might get some other surprises!

We hope you’ll enjoy our blog hop.