Eating Authors: Jeannette Ng (Campbell Award nominee)

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Jeannette Ng

There are six names on the ballot for this year’s John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer: Katherine Arden, Sarah Kuhn, Jeannette Ng, Vina Jie-Min Prasad, Rebecca Roanhorse, and Rivers Solomon. I’ve reached out to all of them and with luck over the next several weeks you’ll get to read about their most memorable meals. And too, I hope you’ll go out of your way and read their fiction, because if you’re not already familiar with their work the odds are pretty good that you’ll be seeing a lot more from them.

First up here at EATING AUTHORS is Jeannette Ng. She’s the author of Under the Pendulum Sun, a novel that can be succinctly described as Victorian missionaries travel to Fairyland. She counts the writings of Jorge Luis Borges and the Brontë sisters among her influences, a combination which was all I needed to compel me to order a copy of her book.

Jeannette hails from Hong Kong and currently lives in Durham, UK. You can see the influence of her master’s degree in Medieval and Renaissance Studies in her fiction. It’s also surely fed her interest in both costuming and the LARPs she runs. What more could you ask for?

LMS: Welcome, Jeannette. Please share a memorable meal with us.

JN: Allow me to set a scene: smoky wood fire in a Tudor croft, porridge quietly steaming as it hangs low in the fire, shutters seamed with light, shut against a howling wind.

I am curled up by the fireplace, voices of various colourful characters discuss turnips and orc armies and slashed sleeve fashion above me. I wedge another block of wood under the grate. I nudge the dripping candle closer to the pan as it is underlit by the fire. I flip the bubbling flatbread.

These are the meals I helped cook whilst pretending to be a fantasy medieval peasant.

Under the Pendulum Sun

I’ve often written about my partner’s medieval cooking hobby and every meal Serve It Forth produces is memorable. However, this particular weekend sticks in my mind as we had very limited access to modern amenities. The game’s organisers had rented out the Anglo Saxon village and normally we work in the modern kitchen of the visitor’s centre. However, this weekend it was not available and we were stuck in the back room of the Tudor Croft.

Now we had brought frozen stew to reheat, as well as bread and Ember Day tart. We weren’t cooking everything from scratch in that kitchen.

But we were still catering an eighty-or-so person weekend-long event off two camping stoves and the fireplace in the front room. We had a sneaky hidden pipe that brought running water into the kitchen area, but there was no drainage so every bucket used had to be thrown into the ditch outside. We had a shining tower of tea urn that gave us hot water as long as we kept it filled with water. Never have I loved a kitchen appliance more. Hot water is the lifeblood of a catering kitchen.

And of course we were still making flatbread and porridge over the fire. Wearing my woolen kirtle, I tended the fire and stirred porridge. I rolled thin blob after blob of flatbread which I fried over a pan I oiled with a rag.

It was all my ridiculous childhood fantasies of being Cinderella come true, right down to the snuffling critters scampering about in the thatch above us at night. We slept on a straw mattress in the attic room. We woke up each morning to the song of the birds nesting there.

Thanks, Jeannette. When I think of Cinderella it’s usually the Disney film that comes to mind. Now I need to add flatbread, turnips, and orcs to my memory.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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