Original title: “Cooking with Balls.” I didn’t have the … you know, courage … to go through with that one. But it’s not my fault! “Cooking Balls” is, I promise you, what they are called in the source material.
Although we know little about the Poverty Point people and their extraordinary center on Bayou Macon, we do know a great deal about their cooking habits. The most typical of all the artifacts is — surprisingly enough — a small baked clay ball, only one to two inches in diameter and two to three ounces in weight. The odd-looking balls, most often molded in melon, oblong, cylindrical, spiral, and biconical shapes, were used in cooking. Thousands of them have been unearthed so far. Indeed, so ubiquitous are these tiny finds that they are simply called Poverty Point objects.
The Poverty Point people used them not only more intensively than others [who cooked with heated stones], but also more innovatively, for a new style of cooking: pit-oven baking.
Mysteries of the Ancients Americas, The Reader’s Digest Asscn, Inc., pp. 113 – 114
The Poverty Point people, reconstructers think, would wrap fish, meat, or potatoes in wet leaves, place them on a bed of hot coals, and then cover them with a layer of hot clay balls. You know, they basically made what at camp we used to call a “hobo dinner.” Except we were always eating our hobo dinners half-raw, because we were not as patient as the people at Poverty Point.
In the Out of Babel blog tradition of writing about some ancient practice and then pretending that we are still doing it, I would like to show you my own cooking beads.
Not the greatest lighting on this photograph, but here they are, sitting in a nest of aluminum foil, on my ultramodern, convenient electric stove. The only modern use of clay cooking balls that I am aware of, is to make baked pie crust shells. If you bake the pie crust with nothing in it, it bubbles up, warps, and then it can’t hold the instant pudding later. You have to weight it down with something. You can use just two layers of aluminum foil, but heavier is better. For a while I was using uncooked lentils (per Martha Stewart). They worked OK, but they had a certain legume-y smell when baking and besides, clay cooking balls are so much cooler. I suppose that in a pinch, I could use them for pit cooking. Let’s hope it never comes to that.
According to archaeologists, the Poverty Point cooking balls “could be used about 10 times before they cracked apart.” And yet, they put so much effort into them, making pretty designs and everything! I can imagine that making these little items was a creative outlet as well as a chore. Whereas, my cooking beads are completely plain (and still look like they were a hassle to make in such quantity), and I expect them to last for years. Of course, I don’t use them daily, and certainly not for the two hours it apparently takes to pit-cook food.
Welcome to October, month of Halloween! Every Friday, we will discuss scary things. This week’s scary thing is giants, and specifically the proper use of the word cannibalism.
A few weeks ago, I wrote a post arguing that in both ancient history and folklore, giants are more horror creature than fantasy creature. Part of the reason for this is that they eat people. My question for you is, Can we properly call them cannibals?
But first, a detour about eating blood
In my second book, The Strange Land, the people group whose adventures I am following (I think of them as “my” people) tell stories of giants who eat people and animals indiscriminately. Their euphemism for them is “blood eaters.”
Some religions have a taboo on “eating meat with the blood still in it.” In Indonesia, there is a special word for such meat. If you want to eat, say, a chicken, the word for the animal and the meat is ayam. But that’s only if the bird has been killed properly and bled out. If these rules have not been followed, it is ayam bangkai, which translates as “chicken carrion” or “corpse chicken.” If you are a devout Muslim, you would not eat meat without knowing that it has been butchered in the proper manner. Otherwise, you could accidentally defile yourself by eating ayam bangkai or some other kind of bangkai.
Obviously, this rule goes way back, at least to Leviticus:
“Any Israelite or any alien living among them who eats any blood — I will set my face against that person who eats blood and will cut him off from his people. For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life. Therefore I say to the Israelites, ‘None among you may eat blood, nor may an alien living among you eat blood.’
“Any Israelite or any alien living among you who hunts any animal or bird that may be eaten must drain out the blood and cover it with earth, because the life of every creature is its blood.”
Leviticus 17:10 – 14
There is a similar passage in Deuteronomy 12:23.
Here in Leviticus, God gives two reasons for the taboo on blood-eating. First of all, the blood is important to the sacrificial system that He had set up for the Israelites. “I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar.” This blood was a key part of God’s solution for dealing with the people’s sins. Obviously, to eat such a thing for mere physical nourishment would be to take lightly the evil in one’s own people, family, and heart, and to disrespect the sacrificial system and, by extension, the One who set it up. Note that God does not expect the other nations, to whom He has not yet given this sacrificial system, to abstain from blood, unless an individual foreigner happens to be living among the Israelites, and therefore presumably learning about and also benefiting from that system.
The other reason, which seems to be implied here, is that eating or drinking an animal’s blood shows disrespect for the creature itself. “The life of every creature is its blood.” Even when out hunting, and not bringing an animal for sacrifice, He tells them to bleed out the body and to cover the blood with earth, as if to symbolically give the animal a proper burial before we take it home and eat it.
Apparently, avoiding eating an animal’s blood is the respectful, civilized, human thing to do. This is very different from the usual picture we are given of ancient people, where they club something in the field and then tear right into it with their teeth.
I have described elsewhere how Genesis 6:1 – 4 tells of spiritual beings interbreeding with human women, producing a race of giants who terrorized the earth. This would have been before the Flood (and was probably a major reason for the Flood), which makes the time frame very ancient indeed. The extrabiblical book of 1 Enoch tells us,
“and when the people were not able to sustain them [with agriculture], the giants dared (to attack) them, and they devoured the people. And they began to sin with birds and wild animals and reptiles and fish, and to devour one another’s (!) flesh, and drink blood.” (I Enoch 7:2 – 6, quoted in Giants by Doug Van Dorn, p. 60)
This horrifying practice was apparently common knowledge even as “recently” as the time of the Exodus, which is still ancient history but is now within the realm of recorded history, not just dim memories. When the Israelites arrived on the border of the land of Canaan, having escaped from Egypt, Joshua sent twelve men to spy out the land. They came back and reported “it is a land that devours its inhabitants” (Numbers 13:32 -33). That’s why they were so scared. Even after having seen God’s ability to deliver them from the merely human inhabitants of Egypt, they recommended not entering the promised land for their own safety.
I am not arguing that the Biblical taboo on eating blood was given because the giants ate blood. I see it in reverse: eating blood — like eating people, like bestiality — was just one of many obvious and intuitive taboos in ordinary human morality which the giants either were unable to perceive or perversely sought to break.
This picture of giants as somehow paranormal and as eating humans and/or drinking their blood is well attested in world folklore. Polyphemus, the cyclops who captures Odysseus and his men in the Odyssey, will literally pick up a human and eat him alive. And he’s not hunting them like animals. He is fully aware that the sailors he has captured are persons and can talk, and he doesn’t care. He likes Odysseus, and so promises to eat him last.
Beyond Polyphemus, Van Dorn points out in his book that cultures all around the world have stories about paranormal creatures that seek to drink human blood, though they are not always portrayed as giants.
About the word “cannibal”
Surely, cannibalism has to be one of the last taboos. Even if you have been exposed to the concept before, it never seems to lose its shock value. (“Soylent Green is people!!!“)
On the other hand, the idea of a giant eating people, I believe has lost its shock value, though maybe it shouldn’t have. We associate it with fairy tales. After all, how scary can a character be if he lives in the clouds and goes around saying Fe, Fi, Fo, Fum?
To recover the shock value, I propose using the term “cannibal giants.” But there’s a problem. Technically, cannibalism means eating your own kind. Technically, these giants aren’t human. So, is this hyperbole only slightly less serious than that committed by every earnest 13-year-old vegetarian who calls her parents “cannibals” for eating something was that once sentient?
I argue no, for two reasons. For one thing, giants are clearly humanoid. They look like people (more or less). In Genesis, they have human mothers. Critically, like Polyphemus, they can talk. If they were less human-y, it wouldn’t make sense to call them cannibal. We would call them man-eating, like a man-eating tiger, which would still be scary, but not as much so, because it would be done more innocently somehow.
Secondly, the word cannibal actually has two subtly distinct senses. One, indeed, is the idea of eating one’s own kind. So we can say chickens or spiders are cannibals, or we can talk about someone cannibalizing their own ideas. But the other meaning is just eating people, who are a thing which should not be eaten, and I think this its primary meaning. Once that line has been crossed, humanity itself is now somehow defiled. We have been shown that it’s possible to think of people not as sacred bearers of the image of God, irreplaceable individuals, eternal embodied souls … but as a substance. A food source. We are being invited to change the way we view ourselves and our fellow humans, and this is true whether that ancient taboo is being broken by actual humans, or just by creatures that look sort of human and can talk and, frankly, ought to know better.
Neither one is great.
So I am going to go ahead and call these giants cannibals.
Life on a diet is linear. You begin, you lose weight, and you’re done. Then it’s on to the mythical “maintenance” mode (which is also dieting, but for eternity. Congratulations?).
We call fat people lazy. They’re not. Fat people are zealous. They will cleave and push and fight harder than anyone. No one works harder on anything than a fat person works on a diet they believe will make them thin. They’re not stupid, either… At eighteen, I could have written a thesis on calorie content and ketones and insoluble fiber, in iambic pentameter if you wanted. They’re not fat for lack of knowledge or effort. Some fat people become fat for a reason (medical, emotional, environmental). Others were simply born to be larger than you might like them to be. But all those chronic fat dieters are fatter for the dieting.
Matthew Stirling, Chief of the American Bureau of Ethnology, [says] ‘Among the plants developed by these ancient botanists are maize, beans (kidney and lima), potatoes, and sweet potatoes, now four of the leading foods of the world. Manioc, extensively cultivated by the natives of tropical America is now the staff of life for millions of people living in the equatorial belt. Other important items, such as peanuts, squash, chocolate, peppers, tomatoes, pineapples and avocados might be added. In addition, the Indian was the discoverer of quinine, cocaine, tobacco and rubber …’
Kenneth Mackoman adds to this list, the custard apple, strawberry, vanilla bean, chickle, and cascara, besides a number of others less familiar. His whole list of important plants made up by Indian’s agriculture is impressive, for it contains 50 items, not one of which is an Old World species … The Indian devised a useful method for extracting a deadly poison (cyanide), from an otherwise useful plant, manioc, without losing the valuable starch it contained.
M.D.C. Crawford gave a list of vegetables which were cultivated by the American Indians prior to 1492, which adds the following: Aloe, Alligator Pear, Arrowroot, Star Apple, Cacao, Chili pepper, Jerusalem Artichoke, Cotton, Pineapple, Prickly pear, Pumpkin.
‘The pineapple … originated in America and was the unknown to the people of the Old World before its discovery.’ Just where the Indian found the original plants which they improved upon to produce modern pineapples, we do not know. None of the existing [wild] varieties compares with the domesticated plant … This was … a deliberate and intelligent breeding process … we cannot now retrace the steps by which it was first accomplished.
Arthur C. Custance, Noah’s Three Sons, Zondervan 1975, pp. 166 – 168
You guys, I don’t know where to start. I love everything about this article. I love seafood. And you already know my feelings on Neanderthals.
Neanderthal. Sea. Food.
For starters, the researcher’s name is Prof. João Zilhão. How great is that?
That’s because these huge deposits of Neanderthal-collected seashells were found in Portugal:
The team say the dearth of other huge shell deposits in Europe could be down to a lack of preservation: shellfish could not be transported far from the coast, and hence many such deposits in northern Europe would have been destroyed as polar ice caps advanced, while elsewhere they may have been submerged as the sea rose to today’s levels.
The stretch of Portuguese coast where the new find was made is perhaps the only location locally where such deposits could have been preserved, they say. South Africa, by contrast, experienced an uplift of the land, meaning many such deposits have been preserved.
Yet another example of how much we don’t know because the vicissitudes of time did not see fit to preserve it.
According to a Neanderthal researcher who was not involved in the study,
“We have increasingly recognised the sophistication of Neanderthal behaviour, but one thing that continued to mark out the behavioural evolution of modern humans in Africa was the appearance of systematic collection of marine resources, and this marked a difference between the two populations.”
Dr. Matthew Pope
But not any more. And, best of all, this quote:
“I feel myself uncomfortable with the comparison between Neanderthals and Homo sapiens, because the bottom line is Neanderthals were Homo sapiens too. Not only was there extensive interbreeding, and such interbreeding was the norm and not the exception, but also in every single aspect of cognition and behaviour for which we have archaeological evidence, Neanderthals pass the sapiens test with outstanding marks.”
“chicken noodle soup” using Ramen noodles and canned chicken
chocolate chip cookies (3 4 batches!)
almond strip cookies (1 batch so far)
pies: pumpkin, chocolate pudding, banana pudding
lemon poppyseed muffins
biscuits (No, not the things the British call biscuits. Those are cookies. I mean those things that are made with flour, shortening, and buttermilk) (Lost count of the number of batches I’ve made. Son keeps requesting them)
Do I detect a theme here? Sounds pretty carb-heavy, no? We even managed to run out of white sugar. But rest easy, because I also made …