Book fest panelists share Food for Thought

September 29, 2017

We spent last weekend wandering Baltimore's Inner Harbor at the annual Baltimore Book Festival. Both Jack and I joined panels in the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America tent, discussing everything from the actual science in SF to the way writers use food to inform the culture and geography of strange new worlds.

Late Friday afternoon, we went to the Food for Thought Stage where authors releasing new cookbooks typically demonstrate a few of their signature recipes to help entice buyers. We found two presenters, Dr. Patrick McGovern from the University of Pennsylvania Museum and Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery.

Both had newly published books, but their stories were closely related. McGovern's book, “Ancient Brews: Rediscovered & Re-created,” describes his collaborations with Calagione, the first of which was a replica of the fermented beverage served to guests almost 2,700 years ago at the funerary banquet for King Midas. McGovern was organizing a fundraiser at which the hosts planned to serve the same (or as close to the same) food and drink as at the original event.

Researchers from the museum had discovered a tomb in central Turkey about 50 years ago and based on the history of the region determined it was most likely the tomb of King Midas (or his father). The site was clearly one befitting royalty, including elegantly inlaid wood furniture, richly dyed textiles and over 150 bronze vessels all containing a golden residue. Based on his meticulous molecular analysis of the traces found in these vessels, McGovern challenged several craft brewers to reverse-engineer the complex drink.

At this point in their conversation, Calagione interrupted and shared his perspective on the process. One of the features of the drink (a combination of grape wine, barley beer and honey mead) was its unusual color: an intense, deep yellow, a shade not unlike gold. With his characteristic good humor, Sam described the day he had to purchase a sufficient quantity of expensive saffron to blend into his experimental mixture and found himself worried about meeting payroll for his fledgling business.

For those of you familiar with the story, the brew - named Midas Touch - was a huge success. The first in the brewery's Ancient Ales series, its smooth flavor continues to garner ardent fans, industry recognition and awards. In McGovern's book you'll find a recipe for a home brewer's interpretation of Midas Touch as well as several other ancient brews with curious histories from countries across the globe.

As book festival staff poured tastes of Midas Touch for the audience, Adam White and David Davies from the Dogfish Head Ale House in Gaithersburg began circulating a food pairing: brioche rolls with meatball sliders featuring the unusual ingredients of honey and Midas Touch barbecue sauce. The hints of sweetness in the sauce worked perfectly with the bright, balanced brew.

As we sipped and nibbled, Calagione launched into a description of his new book, “Project Extreme Brewing.” Co-written with Jason and Todd Alström of BeerAdvocate, it's a compendium of recipes and philosophy from well-known independent craft brewers with an emphasis on exotic ingredients and techniques. Celebrating the continued growth of the craft brewery industry, this is the perfect "cookbook" for a bold home brewer interested in experimentation.

why dogfish head?
Dogfish Head is a jut of land off the coast of Maine on Southport Island, west of Boothbay Harbor. This spot was the longtime vacation destination of the company's founder, Sam Calagione. According to local legend, it was named by lobsterman who set out their traps and instead of delicious crustaceans, they attracted dogfish sharks. The shape of these smallish sharks is captured in the logo of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery.

Sam defined "extreme brewing" as the antithesis of the light, homogenous lagers produced by many large-scale manufacturers. Extreme brewers produce novel and exciting flavors by incorporating nontraditional ingredients or retooling familiar formulas. Extreme brewing also embraces the historical aspect of brewed beverages around the world, where the addition of culinary ingredients enhanced a brew's nutritional or therapeutic value.

The second course of the Dogfish Head food and beverage pairing began with tastes of an as-yet-unreleased English-style barleywine called Puddin' Wine. Not actually a type of wine, barleywines were originally so named to differentiate the brew from grape-based wines. The name also signals a high alcohol content, approaching that of wine (anywhere from 8 percent to 16 percent). This heady brew featured sultanas, cherries, plums and hazelnuts, filling the glass with a rich, dark color and subtle hints of sweetness.

Spring rolls were served next, filled with a combination of shredded cabbage, carrots, peppers, currants, raisins and a spicy cherry-hazelnut chili sauce for dipping. The fruity heat of the sauce and the spring roll ingredients echoed the flavors in the sips of Puddin' Wine.

What an interesting (and delicious) hour - learning about Dr. McGovern's exacting chemical archaeology into the ingredients and flavor profiles of ancient brews, and Sam Calagione's extreme brewing techniques that bring the past alive while offering us a glimpse into the unfettered future of brewing. The recipe here comes from Ancient Brews and was the main course served at the re-creation of the funerary feast for King Midas - be sure to pour your guests glasses of Midas Touch.

Lamb & Lentil Stew*

1 1/2 lbs cubed lamb
salt & pepper, to taste
4 T olive oil, divided
1 large onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 t cumin
1 T thyme
2 T Midas Touch
4 C beef stock, divided
1 1/2 C green lentils
2 T honey

Dry the meat with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Heat 2 T olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the meat and sauté until evenly browned. Remove the meat to a bowl with a slotted spoon; set aside. Add the remaining 2 T olive oil to the pan and stir in chopped vegetables. Cook, stirring often, until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in cumin and thyme. Add Midas Touch to deglaze the plan, scraping up any browned bits. Return the meat to the pan along with any juices. Add 2 C stock, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Add lentils and remaining 2 C stock, bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Preheat oven to 350 F. Stir in honey and cover pan. Bake for 45 minutes. Serve with Midas Touch. *Adapted from “Ancient Brews” by Dr. Patrick McGovern.

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