Elven Gastronomie (essay)

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This is a creative work set in the world of Elanthia, attributed to its original author(s). It does not necessarily represent the official lore of GemStone IV.

Title: Elven Gastronomie

Author: Player of Elaejia Silithyr Loenthra


Of all the arts the Elven Houses have pursued, it may not be an overstatement to say that one they have perfected is the art of gastronomy. A formal Elven table is set extravagantly, the meal served in courses with entrees in unctuous cream-based sauces featured prominently alongside paired wines, followed by digestifs, cheese and charcuterie platters, and pastries. Even casual or family meals are urbane by any standard, with careful attention paid to presentation, seasonality, and variety. Indeed, even field tables set by the legions of House Vaalor are known for their comparative bounty, and many retired legion cooks go on to lucrative private chef appointments.

The art of cheesemaking naturally originated with the Elves. They likely discovered it through serendipity, though adherents of Arkati as disparate as Cholen, Ivas, Oleani, Fash'lo'nae, and Tonis all claim the secrets of transforming milks into cheese were gifted to them by their Patron for one reason or another. Each House has refined its specialities to the regions in which they settled, and although the Elven taste for cheese is naturally discerning, the culture of Elven fromagers is one of camaraderie and joy in sharing their crafts rather than internecine rivalry.

The untold variety in cheeses is echoed in most Elven fare, very likely a product of the vast territory occupied by the Houses east of the DragonSpine. From the steppes to the mountains, from grasslands to forests and wetlands, Elves make their homes in nearly every climate. One thing that holds true across the east is the taste for rich, luxurious foods, hence their famed dairies, vineyards, and distilleries.

With this treatise, the author intends to provide a brief introduction to regional flavors, traditional cheeses, and sundry specialties unique to each of the Houses, in the hope that it will inspire the same spirit of curiosity and adventure exemplified by these Eastern fromagers in you, dear reader.

House Ardenai

With territory that spans the steppes and boreal forests of the far northeast, Ardenai cuisine is strongly influenced by the wild. In the brief northern summers, foraged wild herbs and greens are used in great abundance alongside fresh game such as bear, goose, and elk. In the long winter months, preserved or fermented vegetables and cured meats-- wild boar in particular-- take center stage and have become one of the best known examples of Ardenai regional food. The dry-aged Aesiran sausage must be mentioned here, the finest of the cured treasures of the Ardenai. Rubbed with DragonSpine salts and flavored with black pepper and ramps, it is typically served with liberally buttered bread and a dish of dried figs.

The classic Ardenai blue cheese is a blend of sheep and cow's milks, and aged about five months. As a young cheese, it still carries the herbal, grassy taste of the lower steppes, which Ardenai fromagers further enhance by aging the wheels in a wrapping of chestnut leaves. When left to mature over several years, the rounds of blue cheese tend to form a natural waxy crust that protects the semi-soft interior. The flavor is bolder and sharper with a slightly oily finish and more of an acquired taste for a discriminating palate. The finish is slightly sweet with salted caramel notes, and pairs wonderfully with fruit, honey, and strong red wines. Striking blue veins make it almost as lovely to gaze upon as it is to eat.

Highly prized and difficult to procure, heather honey has a unique flavor and thick consistency discovered centuries ago by Ardenai apiarists. In its raw form, it is often served with sourdough breads as a spread. When fermented into a mead, its herbal aroma can fill a room even from a drained mug. But it is when the mead is frost-distilled into Ardenai honey brandy that the depth of its flavor can truly be appreciated. The distillate is aged in charred oak casks, the brandy is decanted after 10, 15 or 50 years, with each vintage being infused with more of the wood's natural vanilla notes. Likely owing to the association with untameable wildness that the heather flower has in Ta'Ardenai1, honey brandy casks invariably have a plug made of jade, and is traditionally served in jade-rimmed thimbles. Both plug and cask are often repurposed to make the thimbles or occasionally jewelry items.

House Nalfein

Dotted with crystalline blue glacier-fed loughs, the coastal lowlands of Ta'Nalfein are deservedly storied for their loveliness, but this overlooks the expanse of their lands into warm nearly tropical woodlands as well as a vast grassland. Coupled with the abundance of the sea, the cuisine of the Nalfein may be the most diverse of the Houses. Fish stews are perhaps the most well known, and there are a great many varieties. Perhaps owing to the warm climate, many dishes of the Nalfein are meant to be served cold, such as chilled seafood canapes, which is “cooked” in its acidic citrus broth before being ladled over heels of crusty bread.

The prized Agate Brindle goats of Ta'Nalfein graze in the grasslands near the banks of the Naesakain River. Many traditional goatherds invoked the protection of the river spirits by adorning their herds with beads carved of the banded agates that can be scooped from the riverbed by the handful, leading to the goats' appellation. The goats produce a tangy, exceptionally creamy milk known for a particularly musky flavor, with an uncommon citrusy aroma. Of particular note is the Barley Fog cheese, which has an almost cheesecake texture and a lemony brightness that shines through its grassy musk, accentuated by a dusting of barley ash that helps form the edible white rind.

The renowned Nalfein vineyard now known as Ironwood Creek2 was among the first founded when the Winedotters appeared in Ta'Nalfein in the year 725. Although it has changed hands and monikers over the centuries, it is the oldest continuously operating vineyard in the Elven nations. Throughout the ages, one tradition has held fast at the vineyard - that of casking limited edition vintages to commemorate notable events in Nalfein history. The births and coronations of royalty, battles won, and triumphs of intrigue have all been memorialized for the ages in fine Elven port wine. Indeed, even the current name of the vineyard is taken from one of the most successful bottlings, first casked in the year 4771.

House Loenthra

Returning to the northern climes, Ta'Loenthra may be considered a gastronomic melding of the two previously visited Houses-- a territory on the coast with a strong affinity for seafood, but backed by dense forests that transition from boreal alpine to cool deciduous as they pass through Loenthran soil. Loenthran and Ardenai elves have always had a strong trade relationship, and thus many of the woodland flavors persist in the southern House's kitchens, but often with an oceanic twist. Mussels and oysters enjoy great popularity, but the primary delicacy of Ta'Loenthra is assuredly abalone, prized not only for its flavor but for the beauty of its nacre. It is prepared by sauteing in a browned-butter sauce, with a hint of garlic and salt, and typically served with sparkling wines that complement its earthy flavor.

Perhaps chief among the Houses, Loenthran chefs focus on presentation, as they are more often than not preparing for a soiree or ball. Carefully layered terrines in beautiful dishes, entrees intricately plated with their accompaniments into images, and even beverages poured with delicate designs in the foam. At some exceptionally extravagant balls, the banquet has even been laid out as a diorama, with a story told in its artistic presentation that rivals any staged play.

As for the cheeses of Ta'Loenthra, the principal variety that must be mentioned is the Lazuline. A young cow's milk cheese, Lazuline is only aged about six months, and is generously marbled with bright blue traesharm port wine, leading to its name. The flavor of the cheese is quite mild and buttery with a subtly sweet, fruity finish. Wheels are waxed, stamped with a seashell design, and traditionally stored in limestone warehouses near the coast. The origin of the limestone is of particular importance to Loenthran fromagers, with fossil-rich slabs being particularly sought after. It is believed that such stone is blessed by Niima, and will protect and enhance the cheese's flavors. Lazuline is most commonly paired with fruity red wines.

House Vaalor

The regimented lifestyle of Ta'Vaalor is naturally echoed in its cuisine, but be assured that this is not a detriment; Vaalorian fare's apparent simplicity belies the careful attention to natural pairings that allow each ingredient to shine.

With the fortress' location directly upon the Mistydeep river, and proximity to the Lake of Fear, it should come as no surprise that freshwater fish and crayfish feature prominently on Vaalorian tables. Each spring also brings an abundance of salmon on their annual pilgrimage from the sea, which are caught in vast quantities, either to be served fresh or smoked and dried for use throughout the year. Aquatic and marsh plants such as saxifrage, rice, and water chestnuts are also cultivated for their great variety of uses and flavors. Cress soup, which is blended with potatoes, cream, and herbs is perhaps the most well-known Vaalorian dish, famed for its peppery bite said to be intended as an excitement to soldiering spirits.

The fertile riparian meadows of Ta'Vaalor also support the intensive farming needed to feed the fortress' Legion, supplying the dairies and pastured meats that round out Vaalorian cuisine. Of cheeses, Glimaerstone gouda is assuredly the most popular variety produced by the Elven defenders. Its deep toffee coloration is likely the first thing noticed by those new to the world of cheese. Aged five years at a minimum, this gak's milk cheese develops copious crystals in its brittle paste that lend a delightful crunch to its dry and flaky texture and inspired its lapidary namesake.

Once issued to bandons as a useful ration, the gouda eventually found its way to the mess tents of batteries and legions, and thence to upper-class tables as more and more soldiers took a liking to it. The flavor is intense, a creamy butterscotch dipped in DragonSpine salts, with a spicy finish that Vaalorian fromagers claim stems from their gak's notorious ill-tempers and tendency to return to their feral roots. It pairs well with dark barley beers and bold red wines.

House Illistim

Seasonal game and crisp flavors are pronounced in Ta'Illistim, but of particular note are the imaginative creations of Illistimi patissieres. Elaborate cakes and pastries with herbal flavors and floral inspirations are quite popular, with lavender and mountain rose being used in conjunction with herbs such as thyme and mint, and garnishes of edible flowers frequently round out the presentation. Blooms make a less fussy appearance on Illistimi plates as the very popular black locust blossom, which is battered, fried, and dusted with powdered sugar.

The lower slopes of the mountains are home to groves of quince which are prominently featured in desserts, such as quince mousse-filled profiteroles, quince jam shortbreads, and the Illistimi's unique spin on the Elven specialty, membrillo-- or quince cheese. It is a dense, sliceable fruit jam rather than a true cheese, but it is frequently included with cheese platters as an accent.

Situated at the edge of the icy DragonSpine and descending into the temperate Gyldemar forests, the cuisine of Ta'Illistim might not be remarkable were it not for the fact that the Elves of the Shining City never fail to use their wits. Bustling trade with the other Houses and the world via generations of connections at the Nalfein court mean the regional flavors of Ta'Illistim are quite cosmopolitan. On an Illistim table, one might find anything from the seafoods of Ta'Nalfein, to the meads of Ta'Ardenai, and everything in between.

The variety extends even to the embellishment of their own creations with exotic imports, such as the renowned Teorainn Dale cheese. A very young cow's milk cheese, Teorainn Dale is atypical of Illistimi fromagers' work in that it is naturally a pale creamy color rather than a rich golden. It is aged wrapped in strips of tanik wood sourced in the dale from which it takes its name, and develops a lovely caramel colored rind imprinted with the wood's texture. It has quite a pungent aroma, a rich creamy texture with distinct grassy nose, and a nutty flavor with an acidic bite. It is said that it was once served at a court function, and one of the young children of the court refused to touch it as it was not the "right" color for cheese. Thus was born the now traditional manner of serving Teorainn Dale - baked until quite runny in its tanik encasement, and topped with a mixture of dry white wine and imported saffron threads, which of course tints the cheese a beautiful orange hue while imparting its own exotic, earthy taste.

House Faendryl

The Faendryl's driving desire to preserve the Elven way of life would seem to have been at odds with the early years of their exile, when survival in a harsh new land often meant adaptation; but the Faendryl are nothing if not practical and resourceful, and where old traditions no longer served a useful purpose, they were discarded for new ones. Where this reality intersected with sustenance, what was once the food of extremity has become refined Faendryl cuisine.

Thus, in addition to the more conventional regional delicacies of New Ta'Faendryl, one may find themselves served a variety of lizards, insects and cave-dwelling creatures, prepared according to exacting strictures to make them palatable, or indeed even edible.

Luteous cave snails were one such food source in the early days of their exile. In the wild, they feed mainly on certain poisonous cave mushrooms, thus the snails themselves were often tainted. Over the years, the Faendryl perfected a method of collecting and grazing the snails on safer feed prior to harvesting them. They now enjoy a particular popularity in New Ta'Faendryl, and the Agrestis have developed fairly elaborate snail “ranches” to breed the creatures, raising them on a secret mixture of grains and herbs meant to impart seasonal flavors. Prepared with a quick boil followed by simmering in a rich spiced agave wine sauce, they are traditionally paired with sauteed mushrooms, a nod to their perilous roots.

Another example of what was once a resort of deprivation transformed into a delicacy is the seasonal appearance of cicadas. Recognizable as the large, rather noisy insects of summers across Elanith, in Rhoska Tor their reliable appearance in the late spring in vast numbers proved to be a bounty beyond measure. For the modern table, the nymphs are dry sauteed and liberally dusted with savory spice mixtures, or dipped in a glaze of prickly pear jam, and served in the spring as crunchy digestifs.

As the Faendryl expanded outward from Rhoska Tor and eventually constructed New Ta'Faendryl, they applied their magical facility to inducing their new home to provide a greater variety of culinary options, including livestock and crops. These are used in conjunction with the more exotic ingredients of their past to present meals rich with the variety one would expect of any Elven table. Thus truffled velnalin cheeses, fermented spiced vegetables, and farmed cave fish caviars are common sights in addition to the latter-day culinary traditions of New Ta'Faendryl.


This author hopes this brief overview of some of the specialties of the Elven Houses has been instructive, and appetizing, to the reader. In this new era since the signing of the accord at the Valley Of Gold, this author looks forward to welcoming culinary adventurers, and to the opportunity to improve the friendly relations of the heart across the DragonSpine via that well-known and oft-cited path-- the stomach!


"Gourmande" Illistim

1 See also: Elanthian Gems and Speech Unspoken: The Language of Flowers.

2 See also: The Battle of Susserlin River.

OOC Note: This essay is not written from an in-character perspective as Elaejia.  Special thanks go to the players of Daevian, Alisaire, Rohese, Aendir, Evrali, Thrassus, Ysharra, and Faerinn; abject apologies go to any I have overlooked.