dwarven diet is much more varied than you might
think, for a race that lives under the earth.
Dwarves funnel and filter light (and
air, naturally) down into their dwelling
caverns via long diamonte-lined shafts, the same design that the
uses. Similar structures are used, closer to the surface, to light the large
fields of vegetation.
Green-Leaf, the Brownies' "ARroo-AoEI", actually grows well this way, as do most tuberroots (potatoes, carroots, turnips and blood-fists). Another popular starch is the mezpuu, "Goldsponge", a large vine fruit with deep yellow, airy flesh. When cooked, it becomes a soft, nutty-flavoured pulp, and is a great favorite of all age groups. Mushrooms of all sorts are very popular with the dwarven and are eaten raw, roasted, fried, stuffed, and are added to any savory concoction where possible, as is the common white "Rootweep", or onion.
Tart and refreshing in the winter months when fresh items are running low, "Ak-ak Blilurt" (“provokes-the-tongue”) is a pickle medley of whatever vegetables were to hand at harvest time. Cucumber Ak-ak is light and tangy, cabbage Ak-ak somewhat fibrous and filling; to the human palate, lýth'bél Ak-ak is probably the most accessible. It has a fresh, slightly sweet flavour overlaid with the vinous vinegar in which it is preserved, and the glossy red lýth'bél contrasts beautifully with the pearly chunks of rootweep and the soft texture of pickled pear.
Assorted mosses and edible lichens, which require lots of damp and low light conditions, are grown on specially-constructed arches over the farmfields. Dwarf 'bread', Borwul, is created by drying the Tol Kurr moss, powdering it, and then mixing into a dough with stale beer (which helps raise it) and baking in any of the small ovens which are always built into their forges. It more closely resembles a human scone or elven journeycake in its tough consistency, high fiber content, and long durability.
‘Cakes’, ‘pies’ and ‘pastries’ are also made from this mossflour, or from a similar, tougher lichen, but a more closely human equivalent is achieved with imported golden rain and has proved popular over the last couple of generations. As a result, young dwarves now have a taste for wheat products and trade has prospered to the extent that dwarven ale is much more commonly available throughout Sarvonia than it used to be!
Their diet includes mithanjor, blind-fish and slow-eels from the great underwater cave pools, and freshwater molluscs, shrimp, lizard, and bat. (The latter is considered a delicacy rather than a staple…) Certain larvae are dried or roasted, and even one type of nightcrawling worm has been included in the stew before now.
Dwarven hunters are not adverse to doing night hunts aboveground, either, to bring back the various mountain/forest animals. Deer, lynx, mountain goat, and small game such as kuatu and minch are all Puvjor, "pot-meat", and usually shared out upon the hunt's return. In certain areas horse is considered a great treat by the local clans. All organs and ‘numbles’ are used as well where feasible; tongue, liver, heart, and even the lungs or intestines of the animal can be prepared by the clever cooks of the Thergerim.
Milch and cheese are not a natural part of their diet, as they keep no large domestic animals. As a result, most dwarves dislike the smell of any dairy product, describing it as 'sour' and 'decayed'. Where we might use cream to create a sauce or thicken gravies, the dwarves either use a frothy neutral mushroom concoction or reduce meat stocks down to intense proportions. However, the taenish egg was introduced fairly early in their trading relations, and dwarven aunties have come to depend on eyren, or 'birdfruit', as they call them, for many of their dishes.
Drinks. Dwarves drink the water of their particular clan's cavern, small-beer, ale, and sharp ciders. The clan water is usually high in dissolved minerals and calciums from the rock, which may contribute to Thergerim bone density and their enlarged teeth. Dwarves claim that they can tell a member of their clan in pitch-blackness by the scent of the water on their breath (always assuming that is the only liquid they have had recently), and it is certainly true that each cavern spring has its own particular flavour – some sulphurous, some tart, some chalky.
Of course the Thergerim are best-known for their alcoholic potations, and here they are certainly masters of the hop! Various beers and ales are brewed by the masters and stored in great stone cisterns, or wooden kegs for export. Wine is generally imported on a small scale for a bit of variety, and is always in demand for cooking, whether directly into the pot, or reduced to create a sauce, or left to sharpen into vinegar. Many a dwarf makes her own ciders and vinegars from the local fruits and vegetables brought in by the farmers and hunters, as well.
Condiments and Spices. Dwarves eat quite spicy food compared to humans, although not as hot as orcish tastes would require. They use most of the major spices found on Caelereth with a generous hand, and two or three main sauces on the side. Trumpuk, or rocksalt, is always placed on the table as a large crystal chunk with a miniature flint scraper next to it. The Thergerim shaves as much or as little seasoning over his food as he prefers. Children love Ummadon, a kind of sweet-sour chutney (mushrooms, walnuts, pears, wine vinegar, and honey are some of the identifiable ingredients) usually served with meat. The orcish Kraggi vine, in the hands of the dwarfwives, loses its rough-edged burn and becomes a rust-coloured paste that adds a warm glow to stews, soups, and gravies. And Moorgul, "Batgall", which is actually a blackish-green distillate of oya peas and breddengrain, has had a place of favour on the dwarven table for several centuries now.
Meals. Most dwarven clans cook in a communal fashion but eat in their own quarters for fastbreaking and dinner/supper.
Breakfast is a solid affair which sets a foundation for the day’s work (actually night, by the reversed schedule of the Thergerim, though it would not seem to matter in the protective masses of their rock caves… however, for simplicity we shall use the conventional form). Cold meats from the dinner the ‘evening’ before are sliced thinly and laid out, eyren are fried and scrambled and poached in elaborate soupstocks, and the dwarven bread comes into its own as large, steaming loaves redolent with earthy aromas and grainy texture. The cooks rise much earlier to have everything ready and laid out on the long stone tables that run next the Great Hearth by the time that the first wakers come blear-eyed out of their cave portals, plates and trenchers in hand.
The diner scoops up her choices onto her own platter, pours a cup of steaming kave or hot kao‘shroom (a drink made of a creamy fungal concoction with kao-kao whipped through it), and returns with the rest of her family to their own quarters. She may have a babe at breast or a toddler on her hip; her mate will make sure that she gets refills if necessary. Married males with older offspring will take the extra time to make sure their two children’s plates are amply supplied before going back, and youngsters old enough to carry their own breakfast without spilling will serve themselves.
After breaking fast, the families reunite in the main cavern for a short blessing on the workday from the Denirim. They place their soiled tableware in the soaking troughs behind the Great Hearth, where an underground freshet has been diverted to flow through and carry away detritus. In some deeper caverns the dwarves have successfully brought a natural hotspring up to the troughs, while in less fortunate regions the water is taken through clay or metal pipes set into the back of the Great Hearth to warm it first. A bit of scrubbing from the adolescents on duty, and the platters are then set up to dry on warm racks also set into the back of the hearth. On feast days the cooks and regular dishwashers are excused from any dishwashing duties whatsoever; rather, the feasters, whether male or female, are expected to be responsible. Many a dwarf has learned to moderate his intake of ale on a feast day, remembering that he will be scrubbing burnt pots with a serious headache otherwise the next morning!
Lunch is a simpler meal, often soup or stew with a side pastry, bread, or koeken ‘pancake’ and some raw vegetables. It is usually provided at the Great Hearth for most of the women and children of the cavern, and the men who are not down labouring at the face or forges, such as the Denirim, the batspeakers, some of the clan elders, and so on. The hungry dwarves duck behind the Great Hearth first to pick up their own platters and bowls, then sit at the long tables to eat together.
For those who are at work away from the main cavern, the foodcrafters prepare stacks of portable lunch victuals that can be taken along and reheated easily. The sturdy dwarven pastries warm up by the forge, while eyren can be boiled in the deeper hotsprings. Various pickled and fresh vegetables can simply be wrapped in a damp linen cloth and crunched alongside the heartier food. Of course a tun of ‘Laagr’ or Koten Thuttle (a light beer drunk like water to relieve thirst) always stands handy for workers!
Dinner is prepared and served in the same way as breakfast except that the bill of fare is far more generous. In the more prosperous clans there is usually a main roast, plus fish and one bird dish such as stuffed garthook. There are always mushrooms of various sorts and styles, and plenty of choice for vegetables. Condiments are kept on a hollowed-out ledge over the dining table in each family’s quarters, but if a certain dish requires a particular sauce, little brass bowls or cuplets are set in a tall stack next to the saucepot so that dinners may carry as much or as little as they want back with them. And at least once a week supper is a completely communal affair, where the dwarves remain at the tables to mix, laugh, quaff, socialize, and do justice to the foodcrafters’ efforts on that evening!
Manners. It is considered courteous to lick one’s fingers, to belch softly, to pour drinks for others, to keep the beard clean, and to not waste ale by spilling it. It is considered rude to blow one’s nose at the table, carve salt in public, and fill one’s own glass. Dwarves are puzzled at the human habit of using one hand, and also of ‘wasting flavour’ by using napkins or laver bowls to cleanse the fingers of the same food one has just been devouring.
People seat themselves where they will at the long communal table, and children in particular are encouraged to sit with friends or with adults not of their family at dinner times. The Thergerim assert that this develops independence and interdependence at the same time, allowing everyone to be involved in the raising of the young dwarf and for clan spirit to be reaffirmed. The babetenders turn their charges over to their parents, for everyone goes ‘off duty’ at the same time, and status is cheerfully ignored in the scuffle for favourite dishes.
Tableware. Platters and divided bowls are the most common shapes of tableware, and most practical for the dwarven habit of transporting their food. In the same way, drinks are carried in tall, double-handled mugs, or for the more traditional caverns, in cattle horns wrapped with brass ‘legs’ to enable them to stand upright after being dipped into the general cauldron.
Dwarves all carry a beltknife and eating knife, the former a sharp multi-purpose cutting blade, the latter a short-pointed, dull-edged utensil that can ‘butter’ bread, divide the soft layers of fish, spear pickles, scrape away at the salt block, and convey chunks of food to the mouth in relative safety.
There are also large spoons, ladles by the human standard, used for consuming soups and puddings, and ‘stabsticks’ which are only set on the table for odd-textured things like jellied eel, roast larvae, or pickled eggs. A stabstick is merely a slim stylus of wood with three short metal barbed prongs set into the end, very much resembling a miniature fishing trident; it is an efficient way of getting slippery morsels into the mouth, though more care must be exercised than with the eating knife.
We may sum up by saying that the Thergerim are justifiably proud of their foodcrafters’ ability to transform their limited raw materials into a feast’s worth of cuisine; certainly many of their dishes transfer well to the human palate. And for a race that works under the handicap of cooking without milch or milch products, they have been able to create parallel textures and almost alchemically identical permutations. Overall, any human fortunate enough to receive the rare invitation to a dwarven banquet should have no hesitation in accepting - and skipping his breakfast and lunch that day to ensure appetite!
Information provided by Bard Judith