Friday, November 11, 2016

Recipes Based on the "Eumsikdimibang"

The Hangeul Museum occasionally hosts a special program on traditional food preparation based on the Eumsikdimibang in salute to it being the first recipe book printed using the Hangeul characters. King Sejong the Great, fourth king of the Joseon Dynasty, invented the alphabet in 1446 and yet for many years, Chinese characters still predominated as the official text for legal documentation and yangban scholarship. Even afterwards other recipe books were written using Chinese—most were rudimentary in their organization and range of recipes—but Lady Jang Gye-hyang (1598-1680) of the Andong Jang family and who married into the Jaeryeong Lee family wrote in great detail recipes that she had gathered and created herself in a book that has since been passed down to 13 generations of the Jaeryeong Lee family.

A copy of the original Eumsikdimibang in the background and a modern Eumsikdimibang with recipes in the foreground. Both are available for reading at the library on the first floor of the Hangeul Museum, Ichon Station, exit 2.

The original title is deceptively in Chinese, but the writing and title itself inside is in Hangeul.
This book is remarkable on two key levels—it is the first recipe book written in Hangeul (written about the year 1664, more than 200 years after the creation of Hangeul), and it is the first recipe book as well as the oldest book written by a woman. 

Lady Jang was not a trained scholar, and yet, so remarkable is the organization, language and attention to detail that it is now used as a very important source for studying Joseon culture of the time, primarily food and household culture. As a tool to study language of the time, the pronunciation of the “di” in “dimi” was then pronounced “ji” has been noted, colloquialisms are studied, and onomatopoetic words have shifted in meaning or even disappeared. As for household culture, common foods of the times have similarly changed or disappeared. 

Some examples—the common wax gourd of the Joseon is now difficult to find; ginger was more commonly used than garlic; peppers—though first mentioned in a Chinese character book in 1613 previous to the Eumsikdimibang—are not mentioned at all and this is thought to be because of her remote village but also a reflection on the thought of the time that peppers were more for medicinal purposes rather than the food staple they presently are. Spicy foods were likely achieved with mustard and black pepper, which is not in the pepper family at all, or were simply without the pepper like in present-day white kimchi and water kimchi. Meats were different too—pheasant was commonly written about but not beef, most likely because cows were needed for farming and there was no extra land to raise them for food. 

Other recipe books written in Hangeul in the Joseon Dynasty after the very remarkable Eumsikdimibang.
Literally the book Eumsikdimibang means “food” + “dimi” or “very best tasting” + “bang” (method). The book gives 146 recipes which range from snacks, drinks, light meals for hungry people, food for royalty and specialty foods for birthdays and other important events. To pass this down to her descendants, Lady Jang organized the book into three sections:

Noodles and rice cakes — 18 dishes, which also include dumplings and traditional pressed sweets 
Fish and meats — 77 recipes, basically the bulk of the book, with recipes on seafood (sea squirt and sea cucumber, etc) and fish, stews, pheasant, chicken and dog. Also included—rice cakes (made from mung bean) and cookies, noodles and vegetable dishes 
Winery — 51 recipes, which also includes makgeolli, wines with and without yeast, and vinegar
But along with the recipes, she included food preparation and storage methods and other tips on how to run a household. What is NOT included in this book but which we expect in modern recipe books is actual measurements of ingredients rather than just a listing, verbs like cook and roast were used but specific verbs detailing process were rare or non-existent (e.g. mince, dice, blanch, grate, sift, kneed). 

However, researchers on the preservation committee for the Eumsikdimibang have “restored” 53 of the original 146 dishes and these dishes are now used for spreading the taste of Korean cuisine from 300+ years ago. The food preparation class that the Hangeul Museum hosted today is just one of many such classes for spreading the word and sharing the culture of the Joseon Dynasty as written in the Eumsikdimibang. 

Typically, families pay ancestral respects to their ancestors up to the third or fourth generation, but the Jaeryeong Lee family still pays respects to Lady Jang for her virtuous dedication to her father, husband and son and to the society she helped feed in Manchu invasion times as well as her passing down her household wisdom to them through the centuries. They also pay respects to her husband for being a principled nobleman scholar.

For more info, watch the YouTube clip on the Eumsikdimibang and Lady Jang (28:01 min).

Making Three Foods from the Eumsikdimibang

Excellent education is teaching the students to go to the source, so each table was given a book to look at the part where our three specific foods that we would be making were located. 
Food #1: 잡과편, a boiled flour dessert which is rolled in sweetener and then in flakes (modern times we use less jujube and nut slices and often substitute with colored coconut)

To expedite the process, we were given bags of premixed flour and told to roll it out into uniform balls, and then while we moved on to our next recipe to shape, a cook outside the building had a set-up and would boil the balls for us so we could later finish the process in our "kitchen".

shaping the balls
Thank you, dear cook, for doing all our hard work. Honestly, I still don't know how to make these things.
After they were boiled, we rolled them in a rice syrup to make them sticky and rolled them in the prepared jujube and nut slices. One of our team members and myself preferred not to have the sweetener so we simply rolled our in colored coconut shred. 
Recipe #2: 작면, a summer tea using mung bean jelly and 오미차, five-flavor tea. Since this is very complicated and time-consuming our master chef and her assistant made it for us. She used her own 3-year-long fermentation process 오미차 to give it the proper flavor. Her "elixir" can't be bought in a market so it was special indeed! She showed us how to make the mung bean jelly to go in the tea, but since the weather is cold, she used a pear, which she had delicately cut up in shaped pieces, and warm water to serve as a warming tea. Delicious! 

Spooning in the ornamental pear pieces that float on the tea. Very attractive and the smoothness of the pear harmonizing the the sharp, bitter sweetness of the fermented 오미차.

Recipe #3: 다식, pressed desserts made in the special tool (다식틀) which has designs for pressing "luck" or special sentiments in it to be passed on to those who consume the treats. Traditionally five colors of pressed 과자, which translates strangely as just "desserts", were used, all of which were made from natural plants. 

black - ground black sesame seeds
brown - cinnamon
red - prickly pear fruit
yellow - originally from the pollen of pine trees, but now from soybean flour
green - green tea powder

The meanings of some of the symbols in our team's 다식틀.

A very nice program but very time-consuming for the organizers. We participants basically only did the decorative part of the creating process, but it was a very pleasant "taste" of the culture. Before we made anything, there was a large display table featuring some of the pressed dessert possibilities as offered in the Eumsikdimibang. While the recipes are based on originals, some of the ingredients have been altered due to availability (wheat flour, coconut, modern store-bought sweeteners), difficulty in producing the original ingredients (acorns) or because of expense (pine tree pollen). No matter. All are beautiful, and unfortunately, all are time-consuming.

On the far end - boiled and rolled in sweeteners and decorative materials.
On the near end - pressed sweets imbued with messages of fortune or good wishes.

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