Hello, everyone, and welcome to August! High summer is upon us, and new things are ripening in the garden every day. Our struggling herbs are now big, tall, and blooming, and most exciting of all is our little experiment with these wee ‘cukamelons’, or ‘mouse melons’. Apparently they’re in a category all their own, although the plant looks like a miniature cucumber, the fruit looks like a cucumber on the inside, and it even tastes like a tangy cucumber. But! the shape and skin is more like the tiniest watermelon you ever saw.
I know that in my last post I gushed about all the happenings on the farm Beyond the Writing Corner, so I’m going to steer the subject in a mildly different direction today and talk about agriculture.
But how is that different from talking about farming, you ask?
Well, essentially, it’s not a whole lot different. However, it is a major part of most cultures worldwide.
Agriculture impacts so many things in human society, because its all about food, and without food, humans generally starve to death ─ and that counts for the people in literature as well. At least for the most part. I mean, magic and advanced alien science might have something to say to the contrary, but those are exceptions to the rule.? Living things need to eat, and agriculture is the foundation of food.
What’s so amazing about the world we live in is that, depending on where you are in it, that foundation has a different structure. It’s influenced by what plants and animals grow there, whether they can be farmed or foraged ─ even the societal and religious disposition of the people who live there!
I’ve been trying to develop at least a basic agriculture for Falconsbane as part of the worldbuilding, largely because Phennish society is built and heavily reliant on the land, rather than industry. It’s been a learning process, let me tell you. I wanted to incorporate a lot of real-world, recognizable elements to help readers better understand and immerse themselves in the world and story, so I’m having to sort out a lot of things like climate, landscape, and weather, which determines which plants and animals are best suited to those conditions. This has opened my eyes to the significance of trade, which I’ve rambled about in a previous post.
To begin with, I knew I wanted Phen (the country where the story takes place) to be located at the foot of a mountain range, so the landscape is rolling with hills. I also decided on a climate that’s on the border of temperate and subtropical (which, granted, provides a vast pool of edibles to choose from). Interesting to note, though, is that just because something can grow somewhere, doesn’t mean it’s native. For example, cilantro is a fairly common garden herb here, but the plant isn’t native to the US.
This means I’ve had to pick which plants are native to the land and which ones could be brought in through trade, plus which ones are most often used in cooking and medicine (since not all plants are useful for crops and forage. There are these things called ‘weeds’, but we don’t like to talk about those?) I’m still in this process, since for the most part I’m doing it as I go while writing and editing the story, selecting plants and animals as needed ─ because developing an exhaustive list beforehand would be going a little overboard, in some opinions.
So, what would an overview of Phennish agriculture look like? Well, one of the country’s principal exports is wine, and the hillsides are swept with terraced vineyards. Patchworked with these are orchards, which produce chest-, hazel-, and walnuts, cherries, peaches, pears, and apples, among others. In some areas these are owned and worked by entire towns or settlements.
All other farming is done by individual families. Einkorn wheat (more on this in another post), rye, and barley are the primary cereal grains, the latter two being winter crops ─ meaning that they’re planted in the autumn and harvested in the spring/summer. This gives the farmers the ability to plant buckwheat (which isn’t actually a wheat. Go figure?♀️) for an autumn harvest.
When it comes to vegetables, farmers who live in rural areas will grow a motley variety for their own use, but those who live closer to towns and cities, and their respective markets, will sometimes specialize in certain produce. These will include basics like potatoes, garlic, onions, tomatoes, and melons, but also rhubarb, hardy greens, and mushrooms.
Seasonings and spices were where my most interesting discoveries came from. We’re so used to having black pepper and sea salt, cinnamon, cloves, and cardamom ─ but all of these things are tropical and outside my chosen zone. The only way Phens could have access to these things would be through trade, and that largely with countries they are currently at odds with. So I’ve had to look into other seasonings, like rock salt and sumac, fennel, and caraway.
But plants are only half of the agricultural world. Animals are a whole other, well . . . animal. I didn’t want to go in the same ‘beef, pork, chicken’ direction we have in the US, and it actually isn’t all that practical on the smaller scale, particularly when you don’t have things like freezers and electric refrigeration. Goats and sheep are better suited to the landscape and lifestyle of the people, so those are more common than cattle.
Chicken, interestingly, wasn’t so common a foodstuff until the industrialization of animal farming. Before then, they were raised more for eggs than meat, eaten on occasion when the hen stopped laying (or the rooster gets too annoying?). pigs, of the domesticated sort, are not even raised in Phen. Wild boar is game that supplements the Phennish diet along with venison and fowl.
Now, if I keep talking I’m going to slip into culinary culture, and that’s a topic I could really yammer on forever about, so I’ll hit the breaks now before it’s too late! ?
Have you read any books that venture into agriculture as part of the worldbuilding? Anything food or farming related in a book you thought was interesting?