From Navarys to Imsterfeldt

When I conceived of this post, I envisioned it as a tour of Imsterfeldt, the great port city where Liliyah and Mago make landfall after their journey by airship across the great ocean.

But when I went seeking images for the post, I discovered a sequence so perfect for the air voyage itself that I could not resist. I went with it!

The train station in Antwerp looks and feels a lot like the aerodrome from which Liliyah and Mago set sail in the airship Subindo.

Of course, the Subindo is much more colorful—royal blue and gold—and its cabin is snugged up tight to the balloon envelope, not suspended on scaffolding below it, but the overall shape and size of the airship depicted above is right.

The countryside as Liliyah and Mago approach Imsterfeldt is very flat.

And then Imsterfeldt itself comes into view, a city interwoven with a webwork of canals. The photo above (of Amsterdam) has just the feeling of the scene when the residents of Imsterfeldt applaud the safe arrival of the Subindo.

Imagine this tower of Rhodes Castle as taller and festooned with a gridiron platform ring around the top, and you have the mooring tower at Imsterfeldt where the Subindo made anchor.

For many years. Imsterfeldt owned four such towers, but as one airship and then another was decommissioned, so too were the mooring towers.

Liliyah’s father purchased the first tower to be decommissioned, and it became their family home. Liliyah’s sanctum is located near the top of the structure.

When Liliyah and Mago walk (or boat) through their new home city, these are the scenes that meet their eyes.

Excursions out into the countryside encounter more canals, farmland, and windmills.

The meadows on the outskirts of Imsterfeldt, spreading out around the mooring towers, are usually dry. But the land is very flat, and the winter rains do bring flooding at times.

For more about the world of Skies of Navarys, see:
A Tour of Navarys
Lodestones

 

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Lodestones

So, what is a lodestone?

In the real world, it’s a magnet. But in my North-lands, it’s a magical artifact that intensifies the magical powers of a mage.

Different cultures in different time periods and different locations of my North-lands possess different names for mages.

In the Steam Age, the people of Silmaren call them keyholders, the denizens of Fiorish use the term seer, while the citizens of Auberon say patternmaster or enigmologist. There are more variations, but I’m not going to list them all here. 😉

The five lodestones rattling around the “modern”-day North-lands came out of ancient Navarys. So for the duration of this post, I’ll use the term favored by the ancient Navareans: fabrimancer.

The Navareans called their magic energea and their magical focus stones were energea-stones, not lodestones. The lodestones were created at the end of Navarean history, not its beginning, and I’ll get there soon. Promise. But first I must talk about energea-stones.

Energea-stones were crafted from the remains of a meteor fragment lodged in the mountainside of the isle of Navarys. To the ordinary eye, they look like small black pebbles—about the size your thumb-tip—with a shiny finish. (A few were made at larger sizes, but the vast majority were small.)

Energea-stones have been around for almost as long as the Navareans themselves (from pre-history and the age of reed huts). The Navareans learned about fabrimancy (magery) from the energea-stones, rather than fashioning the stones after they developed fabrimancy.

To a fabrimancer’s eye (if he or she is a visual practitioner, not an aural one or a kinesthetic one), the stones hold spiraling patterns of silvery light. This light is the visual manifestation of energea, of magic.

But more important than what energea-stones look like is what they do and how they do it.

In Navarys, an energea-stone would be shaped by a specialist to do a specific task, such as spinning a spinning wheel or a grain mill, tossing a shuttle across a weaver’s loom, or winding the rope of well bucket around a spool. Or the stone might be formed to simply magnify a fabrimancer’s power.

Different stones performed different tasks, but the Navareans especially liked to use them for semi-automating the tasks of craftsmanship. And they wished the stones could be fashioned to permit full automation. It was a sort of holy grail with them.

Energea-stones required the presence of a fabrimancer channeling his or her energea through the stone, almost as though the fabrimancer were a sort of living battery funneling electricity through an engine.

The lodestones were the breakthrough Navareans had been hoping for.

A lodestone looks a lot like an ordinary energea-stone—a small black pebble—except its surface finish is a velvet matte, not shiny. Like energea-stones they can be fashioned in different sizes for different purposes.

But a lodestone draws energea from its surroundings at large, not just from the fabrimancer wielding it. And thus a lodestone permits true automation. It must be forged so as to direct the energea flowing through it to perform the task desired. But once the fabrimancer sets it going, the lodestone does its work until the fabrimancer halts it. The fabrimancer can actually walk away from the work in progress.

Unfortunately, the lodestones embody one serious danger not possessed by ordinary energea-stones.

When an energea-stone is used by a fabrimancer to magnify and concentrate his magical powers, the stone also acts as a sort of overflow valve. If the fabrimancer loses control and summons too much energea—a potentially destructive amount—the excess is channeled away through the stone without doing damage to the fabrimancer.

Lodestones don’t possess this safety feature. Instead, they always carry exactly half of the energea summoned by the fabrimancer. Which means that if the fabrimancer summons a damaging amount, it does damage. Specifically, it tears the energetic structures that underlie the fabrimancer’s physical being.

That damage manifests as the troll-disease that appears in so many of my North-lands stories.

Only six lodestones were originally created. One of them—the largest—sank to the bottom of the great ocean. The other five are loose in the world, creating trouble when they are found.

Skies of Navarys tells the story of the creation of the lodestones, through the eyes of a pair of teenagers.

The Tally Master follows one of the lodestones into the hands of a troll warlord, where an honorable accountant and his assistant determine the outcome of the encounter.

Resonant Bronze shows how a lodestone might turn the tables on the troll horde.

Rainbow’s Lodestone and Star-drake recount the fate of a lodestone used to commit an evil deed.

And To Thread the Labyrinth, due out in March 2019, sees a lodestone returned to a place of proper oversight, although the larger story focuses on a troll-witch hiding her troll-disease.

For more about ancient Navarys, see:
A Tour of Navarys
From Navarys to Imsterfeldt

For more about the magic of the North-lands, see:
Magic in the North-lands
Magic in Silmaren
Radices and Arcs

 

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Belzetarn’s Battlements

In The Tally Master, the elite of the citadel possess quarters in the uppermost levels of the tower. Its warlord, Regenen Carbraes, inhabits chambers with an internal stair connecting several lower spaces with others on the upper floor.

Gael, the protagonist of the novel, chooses not to use the official apartments that go with his position of Secretarius, but he pays an unplanned and fateful visit to his empty rooms one evening.

Another turning point in the story occurs on the terrace ringed by the quarters of the elite. Carbraes and the general who commands his legions (the March) are enjoying a rare moment of conversation and leisure under the summer sun, when Gael brings them startling news.

For more about the world of The Tally Master, see:
Belzetarn’s Great Halls
Belzetarn’s Treasures
Belzetarn’s Formidable Entrance Gate
Belzetarn’s Smithies and Cellars
The Dark Tower
The Fortress of Belzetarn
Map of the North-lands in the Bronze Age
What Does the Tally Master Tally?
Mapping Ancient Rome onto Belzetarn
Gael’s Tally Chamber

 

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Belzetarn’s Formidable Entrance Gate

Three significant scenes take place in or adjacent to the melee gallery of the tower (on level three).

In the earliest, Gael first sets eyes on the cursed gong that his warlord’s scouts dragged from the bottom of a ruined well. The gong will bedevil him through much of the book!

In the second scene, Gael must pronounce a young prisoner to be either troll or human. If the youth is human, he will be executed. In the third scene…well, too many spoilers for me to say a word about that one! 😉

Gael’s friend Barris is the chief cook in the Regenen’s Kitchens, and Gael stops by the servery often as he goes about his responsibilities. Barris presses food treats such as smoked fish and fruit conserves upon his friend whenever Gael looks in to say hello.

For more about the world of The Tally Master, see:
Gael’s Tally Chamber in Belzetarn
Mapping Ancient Rome onto Belzetarn
What Does the Tally Master Tally?
Map of the North-lands in the Bronze Age
The Fortress of Belzetarn
The Dark Tower
Belzetarn’s Smithies and Cellars
Belzetarn’s Treasures
Belzetarn’s Great Halls
Bronze Age Swords
Brother Kings

 

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Belzetarn’s Smithies and Cellars

When I made the (vague) plan to share my floor plans for Belzetarn’s tower on my blog, I envisioned a vast spill of drawings showing all of the main levels. But when I opened my computer to write the post, I realized that just as the proverbial “wall of text” is unappealing, so is the “wall of floor plans” a bad idea.

I almost scrapped the whole thing.

But… but… but! Floor plans are cool! I bet some of my blog readers would like to see them!

So, instead of reserving the floor plans for the appendices of The Tally Master only, I put my thinking cap on. How can I present the floor plans in an approachable way? Thinking… thinking… thinking…

Ah, ha!

How do you spread the waist-high pile of mulch? One shovelful at a time. How do you make the long journey? One step at a time. I would not try to show the whole tower in one go.

Plus, I could then talk about what’s on each level, which would be fun.

So, here are the lowest levels of the tower and the kitchen annex.

The cellars under the kitchens are a little lower than the smithies inhabiting the roots of the tower proper. Two separate stairs give access to the root cellars, but the mead cellar deliberately has only one locked entrance. No illicit tapping of the mead barrels allowed!

Many of the drinking vessels used at table are made of horn (much more delicate than the pottery bowls and copper cooking pots) and possesses special cleaning requirements. Thus there is a horn scullery devoted to washing drinking horns! The leather bottiles in which mead is carried to the great hall, where it is served, also posses their own scullery.

The Castellanum’s kitchens, right above the cellars, prepare food for the bulk of the denizens in Belzetarn. The Regenen’s kitchens (one more level up and not on this floor plan) handle the fancy dishes reserved for the high table where the warlord and his elite officers dine.

The smithies occupy the great stone vaults at the foundations of the tower. They are shadowy spaces, lit by the fires in the forges and echoing with the shouts of the smiths and the ringing of hammers on metal. The color of heated bronze – or copper or tin – indicates its temperature and when it is hot enough to be worked, so strong sunlight would be a hindrance.

For more about the world of The Tally Master, see:
Gael’s Tally Chamber in Belzetarn
Mapping Ancient Rome onto Belzetarn
What Does the Tally Master Tally?
Map of the North-lands in the Bronze Age
The Fortress of Belzetarn
The Dark Tower
Belzetarn’s Formidable Entrance Gate
Belzetarn’s Treasures
Belzetarn’s Great Halls
Bronze Age Swords
Brother Kings

 

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The Dark Tower

My inspiration for The Tally Master came as a sort of vision, although “vision” is a misnomer, given that the sense of sight had little to do with it.

I felt as though I were Gael as he sat in a small and gloomy chamber hollowed from the thick stone wall of a dark lord’s dark tower, hunched over a parchment, quill scratching tally mark after tally mark.

There wasn’t much light, just flickers of firelight and shadows and the sensation of great weight pressing my shoulders down and my spine into an uncomfortable curve, while sound filled the air around me.

The roaring of great forges deafened me. The clanging of smiths’ hammers on beaten bronze clamored. Sudden shouts made my heart contract in alarm. Spurts of running footsteps pounded in a nearby stairwell.

Gael and the sounds of his setting seemed very real, and I wanted to tell his story. I knew that he was a troll and that he managed the wealth – the metals – for his dark lord, but I didn’t know much else.

So I engaged in the process that has become so familiar and effective for me over my years of telling stories. I asked myself question after question, made extensive notes of my answers, and drew bunches of maps and floor plans. Over several months, I came to know a lot about Gael, about his overlord (not quite the typical “dark lord” at all), and about Belzetarn, the citadel that was their home.

In my initial stabs to make Belzetarn match the feeling I had for it, I placed the kitchens in the tower proper, which was utterly wrong. I was so relieved when I realized that they were located within a sort of annex slabbed onto the lower southeastern side of the tower. Once I got that piece, the rest of the fortress almost fell into place by itself, although it took me a while to draw it all.

My goal was always to sculpt the physical form of Belzetarn to express the mood and the ambience of my initial inspiration.

The style of this drawing doesn’t truly hit the mark. The photo at the beginning of this post does that better. But the design of the tower itself is close to right. It’s tall – very tall – it’s dark, it possesses clawed protrusions at the top and a lumpy, spiky annex on one side. Plus, all the chambers and offices are in the right place, as you can see when you slice the tower in half.

For more about the world of The Tally Master, see:
Gael’s Tally Chamber in Belzetarn
Mapping Ancient Rome onto Belzetarn
What Does the Tally Master Tally?
Map of the North-lands in the Bronze Age
The Fortress of Belzetarn
Belzetarn’s Smithies and Cellars
Belzetarn’s Formidable Entrance Gate
Belzetarn’s Treasures
Belzetarn’s Great Halls
Bronze Age Swords
Brother Kings

 

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What Does the Tally Master Tally?

The wealth of Belzetarn is measured in its metals.

How many ingots of bronze, copper, and tin – tin, so rare – lie in its vaults? How many bronze swords? How many shirts of bronze scale?

The technologies required to make superior weapons and tools of iron don’t exist yet, but those for the working of bronze are well developed, and the bronze implements of Belzetarn rarely fail. Were it not for the scarcity of tin, the denizens of the citadel would be well equipped. But tin is incredibly rare, and every grain of it must be well guarded.

Gael, the tally master of Belzetarn, is the one who ensures that none of the tin – or any of the metals – is lost or stolen. The day he discovers that his vaults are one ingot short is grievous!

* * *

In order to write The Tally Master, I needed to know a fair bit about metallurgy, about mining, about smithing, and about the shape and size of ingots through history. I researched all of these elements, and some pertinent bits have made their way into the book’s appendices. Here is a sneak preview of the appendix on ingots.

About Tin, Copper, and Bronze Ingots

The ingots issuing from Belzetarn’s copper mines are massive ’oxhides’ shaped like an animal hide with four ’legs’ that make it possible to carry them. They weigh 80 pounds and measure roughly 70 centimeters (~28 inches) long by 40 centimeters (16 inches) wide by 5 centimeters (~2 inches) thick.

Belzetarn’s tinworks yield ‘pebbles’ created in a rough smelting on site. These pebbles are transported to the citadel’s forges in sacks loaded onto a mule.

Neither the copper oxhides nor the tin pebbles are pure enough for immediate use. Both must be smelted again to remove impurities, and the resulting high-quality metal is poured into molds which create small ingots shaped vaguely like hats.

These ‘hat’ ingots each weigh one pound and measure roughly 9 centimeters (~3.5 inches) per side of the ’hat brim’ – the widest part. The ’crown’ rises 4.2 centimeters (~2 inches) high.

Tin is the least dense of the three relevant metals – tin, bronze, and copper – and the tin hat ingots have a thickness of 2.421 millimeters. Bronze, with more density, yields ingots 2 millimeters thick. And copper, the most dense, possesses ingots of 1.995 millimeters thickness.

The hat ingots are shaped to nest in neat stacks. But because of their different thicknesses, stacks composed of the different metals would wobble a bit, while stacks of all tin, all copper, or all bronze are very stable.

The smiths of the individual forges – sword, armor, and privy – each create their own bronze from the tin and copper hat ingots, because each requires a slightly different ratio of tin to copper. Any leftover bronze is poured into its own hat ingots. The blade smith regularly produces one bronze ingot every day, so precise and standardized are his processes.

The privy smith, who makes tools and household implements for the citadel, is experimenting wildly with different metal mixtures. He rarely has enough leftover bronze to pour an entire ingot, so his leftovers return to storage at the end of the day as a lump which is weighed.

The armor smithy always needs wire (to ‘sew’ the many small platelets of bronze into mail shirts), so any excess bronze is poured into long narrow molds, yielding metal that can be readily hammered into wire.

THE TALLY MASTER

Seven years ago, reeling from a curse in the wake of battle, Gael sought sanctuary and found it in a most perilous place. But the citadel of a troll warlord—haunt of the desperate and violent—proves a harsh refuge for a civilized mage.

Set in the Bronze Age of J.M. Ney-Grimm’s North-lands, The Tally Master brings mystery and secrets to epic fantasy in a suspenseful tale of betrayal and redemption.

Coming soon!

For more about the world of The Tally Master, see:
Gael’s Tally Chamber in Belzetarn
Mapping Ancient Rome onto Belzetarn
Map of the North-lands in the Bronze Age
The Fortress of Belzetarn
The Dark Tower
Belzetarn’s Smithies and Cellars
Belzetarn’s Formidable Entrance Gate
Belzetarn’s Treasures
Belzetarn’s Great Halls
Bronze Age Swords
Brother Kings

 

For more about ingots of the ancient world, see:
Photo of an Ingot of Cyprus, British Museum
About Oxhide Ingots, Wikipedia
About Tin “Hat” Ingots, Wikipedia
About Tin “Hat” Money, Time Capsule Money Museum
About “Bun” Ingots, Parys Copper Mines

 

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Justice in Auberon

Balance ScalesPerilous Chance will soon release in paperback! I’m excited about it and have all-things-perilous-and-chancy on my mind, so I’m going to share a series of blog posts relating to my story. The first is this one about the justice system used in Auberon, where Perilous Chance takes place.

For those of you who haven’t read Perilous Chance, Clary – an 11-year-old girl – is its protagonist, and she encounters the legal system in the course of her adventure.

* * *

Clary’s uncle, Arteme ni Calcinides, serves as Justicar of the Peace for his lething. (A lething is a subdivision of a worthing. A worthing is similar to a county. Auberon possesses eighteen worthing.)

Being Justicar means Arteme presides over his Court Justicarate when issues such as petty theft, disorderly conduct, or trespass arise. And dispenses summary justice, without formality, for smaller offenses: wearing inappropriate bathing costume, grazing your cow on your neighbor’s land, moving a road sign, and the like.

Arteme passes no judgment on more serious crimes. Burglary, arson, and assault and battery all get referred to the next higher court, the Quintary Sessions, held five times a year and presided over by three Lord Justicars.

The worst breaches go higher still.

Murder and kidnapping must be tried at the Courts of Assidere, convened as necessary.

And treason goes all the way to the Morofane’s Bench.

The structure of Auberon’s judicial courts looks like this:

The Rofanes’ Council
(highest court in Auberon)
I
The Morofane’s Bench
(royal decrees may be challenged, treason tried)
I
Court of Appeals
(hears appeals from lower courts)
I
Courts of Assidere
(hears cases referred by the Quintary Sessions)
I
Quintary Sessions
(tries felonies and hears civil cases)
I
Courts Justicarate
(tries misdemeanors and infractions, refers felonies)
(Areteme’s court is a Court Justicarate)

A Chancery Court – apart from the criminal justice establishment –
handles mercantile law, land law, and trusts.

Thus, when Clary and her family arrive at Arteme’s manor house, reporting their witnessing of a violent death, the Rofane must go investigate.

If the events prove to be death by misadventure, the case need go no further. But if murder is suspected, Arteme must refer the case to the Quintary Sessions along with a suspect and all the evidence pointing to that suspect. The Rofane has quite a job cut out for him!

Luckily, he has help.

In the distant past, his help would have consisted of the knights under his rule and their squires. But in these “modern” times, the Royal Judiciary appoints and funds a secretary – to handle records – as well as twenty stave-men – to make arrests – and five warders – to supervise the stave-men and handle especially challenging criminal situations.

However, these twenty-five men on active duty must secure the entire lething. As Arteme departs to investigate the scene of the death, he has only four of them at hand.

* * *

For more about Perilous Chance:
Clary’s Cottage
Not Monday, But Lundy
Notes on Chance
Cover Creation: Perilous Chance

 

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Why Did the Three Goats Cross the River?

When I started writing Crossing the Naiad, I knew that Kimmer’s goats weren’t as healthy as they ought to be. The rural people of Silmaren wouldn’t have access to the vitamin and mineral supplements that modern day herders do or even that wealthier farmers in my North-lands possess.

Curious GoatsI also knew that sometimes the plants growing in pasture aren’t the right ones to ensure the animals grazing there receive all the nutrients they need.

Thus Kimmer would need to take the family goats to better pasturage to improve their health.

Once away from the familiar environs of home, she encounters a perilous remnant from the ancient past and the story unfolds.

So far, so good.

But, while some writers could take the narrative from there, I’m not one of them! I needed to know what the missing nutrient was, what symptoms it might cause, and what plant could remedy the problem.

So I started digging.

And came up with a promising candidate right away: copper.

Craigieburn Valley, Canterbury, New ZealandAnemia, weak bones (particularly in the young), poor wound healing, and frequent infections are all symptoms of copper deficiency. That sounded plenty “dowly” enough – as Kimmer calls it – to me.

There are several circumstances that can cause lack of copper in pasturage.

Peaty and acid soils are deficient in copper, especially moorland soils. If you’ve got heather, wild bilberries, birch, rowan and pine growing on your land, then it is moorland and the soil simply hasn’t got much copper in it. Thus the plants lack it as well.

Silmaren doesn’t have much heather, but all the other plants on that list are common. Bingo!

Interestingly, lime soils also cause copper deficiency, but not because the soil lacks the mineral. Lime soils increase the bio-availabilty of molybdenum several fold. And high levels of molybdenum interfere with the utilization of copper in the body. I doubt this is the issue in Silmaren, however.

Acid rainfall could be the culprit. Silmaren has newly entered the age of steam, and produces steam largely by the burning of coal. The city of Andamn is a major mining center, and Kimmer’s hamlet – while rural – lies close enough to feel the effects of pollution. Acid rain possesses a heavy sulphur content. High sulphur levels in herbage suppress the uptake of copper from the soil. Voila! Copper-poor plants.

Finally, the mix of plants in the pasture may simply be one that doesn’t feature copper. Most wild grasses are poor in copper. And that is what Kimmer and, indeed all of her neighbors, must contend with. They depend largely on the bounty of nature. What grows is what they have.

Cocksfoot, a wild grassRed clover and yarrow are rich in copper, but the meadows of their hamlet lack these plants. Wild grasses and more wild grasses were nature’s gift.

Luckily the wild grass named cocksfoot does have copper. It’s been overgrazed in the pastures close to home, but thrives in more distant grasslands. That is what Kimmer seeks.

Once I’d researched that much I felt confidant enough to proceed with my story.

As is usual for many writers, most of my research never appears directly on the page.

In Crossing the Naiad, all of the above generated:

Mama said the goats were dowly because they needed copper salts. A spell of cropping the cocksfoot in the foothills beyond the river would put them right.

And it seemed she was correct.

web imageIf every three sentences in my stories demanded this kind of research, I’d not be happy. But that’s not the case. The preparations for Naiad required that I know a little bit about goat nutrition and that I devise the the history of the naiad whose will Kimmer crosses. That sufficed for generating the confidence I need for storytelling.

I always do some research. And I always do some pre-planning. After that, the story takes over.

For more about the world of the Kaunis-clan, see:
What Is a Bednook?
The Kaunis Clan Home
Hammarleeding Fete-days
Origin of Canning—Not What You’d Think!
Livli’s Family
Ivvar’s Family
Pickled Greens, a Hammarleeding Delicacy

 

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Origin of Canning – Not What You’d Think!

Pioneer boy looks out the back of a covered wagonCalico. Little House on the Prairie. Pioneer women.

These were the things that came to mind when I considered the domestic accomplishment of home canning.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

(It still amazes me how easy it is to be wrong about things. Does that happen to you? Thinking you know, and then finding you don’t?)

So if canning is not a creation of the American West, where did it come from?

Napoleon.

Portrait by Jaques-Louis DavidYes, Napoleon Bonaparte of the Napoleonic Wars. And, indeed, war was the inciting factor. The Napoleonic Wars saw the advent of mass conscription. With 800,000 soldiers in the field for 12 years, the French needed a way to feed their armies.

The government offered a hefty prize to the inventor who could devise a way to preserve large amounts of food. Nicolas Appert – a confectioner and chef – rose to the challenge and won the prize.

His method?

Place the food in wide-mouthed glass jar. Force a cork tightly into the jar mouth using a vice. Seal it with sealing wax. Wrap the jar in canvas to protect it. Then dunk it in boiling water and boil it long enough to thoroughly cook the contents.

early tin canThis was long before Pasteur and an understanding of microbes. But it worked.

Appert’s method was adopted by the British armies, but transposed to wrought-iron canisters, which were cheaper to make and less fragile. Unfortunately, the can opener was not invented for another 30 years. The soldiers opened the cans with their bayonets!

Although canned foods spread into civilian households across Europe, they remained more a novelty item than a staple. The process was too industrial and expensive for home use.

That changed in the 1860’s when a tinsmith named John Landis Mason invented the Mason jar. It was a threaded glass jar with a matching threaded ring or band, a flat lid (held in place by the band), and a rubber ring that went under the lid for an air-tight seal.

People all over America and Europe started canning fruit, pickles, relishes, and sauces such as ketchup. These high-sugar or high-acid foods could be safely canned without the pressure canning that we know today.

(Vegetables and meats must be pressure canned to kill the deadly botulinum bacteria which thrives in low-acid, anaerobic conditions.)

Cast-iron stoveWhen the 1880’s ushered in the widespread use of the cast iron stove, home canning reached new heights of popularity. The denizens of small towns were especially well-placed to take advantage of the new technology. They were close to the farms that produced the food, as well as possessing space for home gardens. And they had the cash to afford the jars.

Strawberry preserves, dill pickles, and apple butter abounded.

Home canning was a widespread practice by 1900 and rose to great prominence in America during both World Wars. By planting Victory Gardens and canning the harvest, citizens allowed the industrial machine to be aimed more efficiently at the war effort.

But, as you can see from this short history, canning is a relatively modern development.

So how did people preserve food before before the advent of canning?

And why did I delve into the history of food preservation in the first place?

a book of foods from traditional peoples from around the worldWell, I’ve been interested in one method of food preservation ever since I read the book Nourishing Traditions. The author, Sally Fallon, introduced me to the concept of lacto-fermentation. And it fascinated me.

(You can read about my discovery in the blog post here.)

Even though I’ve eaten yogurt for decades, I’d had no idea that yogurt is technically lacto-fermented milk.

And I certainly didn’t know that you could lacto-ferment other foods besides milk.

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ve probably seen me write about this before. 😀

But if you’re new here, you might be asking, “What is lacto-fermentation?”

Lacto-fermentation happens when certain benign micro-organisms convert the glucose, fructose, and sucrose in food into lactic acid.

The micro-organisms are named – fittingly enough – after the substance they produce: they are lactobacilli. And they are present on the surface of most living organisms.

All they need to produce lactic acid is an anaerobic environment (a finger-tight jar) and a moderate “climate” (temperatures between 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit).

And the process itself is really pretty nifty.

As the lactobacilli produce lactic acid, the acidity of the food rises. As the acidity rises, most other bacteria, including those that cause spoilage or disease, are killed.

The lactic acid curdles milk, to make that nice custardy texture of yogurt.

home-made sauerkrautThe lactic acid combines with the molecules of cabbage (and other vegetables) to form esters, which gives sauerkraut its unique flavor.

The lacto-fermentation process increases the bioavailability of vitamins and other nutrients, making lacto-fermented foods more nutritious than the original raw vegetable.

Plus the live cultures present in lacto-fermented foods help keep the human gut well-populated with beneficial micro-flora.

Bottom line?

Lacto-fermented foods are safe. They store unspoiled for a long time.

Lacto-fermented foods are delicious. Lacto-fermented cabbage is so much tastier than cabbage pickled in vinegar!

And lacto-fermented foods are good for you.

Kay Nielsen art depicting a lassie aback a north-bearWhy did we ever forget about them? I don’t know. But I do know that my new knowledge came in handy while writing stories set in my North-lands!

I wrote Troll-magic before I learned about lacto-fermentation. Since the technology level in Troll-magic is roughly equivalent to our own Steam Age, I assumed home canning was the norm in most households. I didn’t delve into the details of Lorelin’s kitchen, but she did pack up dried meat and dried pears, when she left home. (Drying is a very, very old method of food preservation.)

The technology of her culture undoubtedly could have supported home canning. And she lives in a time of peace following an extended time of warfare and mass conscription. (The wars in which the Giralliyan Empire gobbled many of it’s smaller neighbors.)

But, now that I do know about lacto-fermentation, I like to think that the people of the North-lands never abandoned it. I feel sure that Lorelin’s mother had shelves of lacto-fermented cabbage and turnips and greens and onions in her pantry. Yum!

Mixed garden greensLuckily, I had discovered lacto-fermentation before I wrote Sarvet’s Wanderyar. Because I was very clear that the Hammarleeding culture did not have the technological sophistication to support home canning. They would have had to get by with drying food, freezing it (during the winter months), salting it, curing it with smoke, and eating cooked dishes quickly, before they could spoil.

I was very happy to know they had another option! And we see that option pretty promptly when Sarvet teases her friend Amara with a platter of gundru – lacto-fermented greens.

So why did I read up on the history of canning?

I was mulling over my writing good luck a few weeks ago, and I got curious. Given that lacto-fermentation is so handy and yummy, how did the canning process get started?

I did some investigating. And you know the rest: I had to share! I hope you found the journey interesting. 😀

For more about lacto-fermentation, see:
Amazing Lactobacilli
Lacto-fermented Corn

For more about Lorelin and her world, see:
Character Interview: Lorelin
North-land Magic
A Great Birthing

For more about the world of the Kaunis-clan, see:
What Is a Bednook?
The Kaunis Clan Home
Hammarleeding Fete-days
Why Did the Three Goats Cross the River?
Livli’s Family
Ivvar’s Family
Pickled Greens, a Hammarleeding Delicacy

And for more about the history of canning, see these external links:
A Brief History of Home Canning
Commercial Canning
Nicolas Appert
John Landis Mason

 

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