Monthly Archives: September 2014

A Sketch of the System: Where do Sugar and Rum come from?

While researching the raw materials used to manufacture the Strangler we found ourselves most interested in the question of how the sugar water was made. This curiosity quickly got the better of us and our sugar notes soon took up as much space as our Strangler article. For such a little question it was quite a puzzle, but we eventually came to a satisfactory solution. We then figured it would be fun to share and this mini-essay is the result.

In A Song of Ice and Fire white cane sugar is notably absent as a sweetener. Even if sugercane production were limited to just a few islands in the Jade Sea, wealthy POV characters like Tyrion, Daenerys, or Cersei would surely encounter a packet or a bowl’s worth of pure white sugar at some point, but they do not even chance upon so much as a pinch. Not a single east-west trade ship is ever encountered that is carrying it. Euron does not present any cane sugar to the Kingsmoot, although he presents “chests of nutmeg, cloves, and saffron” (FfC Aeron II). This makes little sense if sugarcane cultivation were underway in the East, as plantations would be exporting this white gold as they are exporting pepper, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and saffron. Rather than sugar, the go to sweetener in East and West is honey. Honey is served straight on the cone, added to porridge, spread on bread, made into sauces, basted on roasting meats, soaked into sweet cakes, distilled into mead, and mixed with wine and milk and lemon water. It is only in Old Volantis that queen honey has been checked by a popular taste for purple sweet beets. They are “served with almost every meal” and used to make a desert soup “as thick and rich as purple honey” (DoD Quentyn I).

And yet a certain amount of sugar refining clearly exists and makes its presence known in the kitchens of the Red Keep, Highgarden, and Sunspear. Sugar frosts some of the lemon cakes Sansa enjoys at King Robert’s court (GoT Sansa II). At the feast following the tourney of Bitterbridge Renly’s court is served spun sugar unicorns (CoK Catelyn II). At Joffrey and Lady Margaery’s wedding feast one of the dishes Tyrion samples is a leche of brawn “spiced with cinnamon, cloves, sugar, and almond milk” (SoS Tyrion VIII). When Ser Gregor’s skull is delivered to Sunspear the cook joins in on the celebration by serving the court spun sugar skulls filled with sweet custard and bits of plum and cherry (DoD Hotah). But, again, it is never served or consumed as crystal. Outside the kitchens and tables of the great, sugar crystal totally unknown. And then, along the waterfronts of the world, there is rum. Continue reading

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A Sketch of the System: The Making of the Strangler

We consider the making of the poison commonly called the Strangler to be a microcosm of a key feature of the world system, the manufacturing power of the Free Cities and the impact they have on societies to their East, South, and West. Revealed in the list of raw materials and an analysis of the final product are the mercantilist policies by which Free Cities siphon off resources and foreign exchange. An examination of the buyers in turn demonstrates the parity in social power that exists between various Essosi merchant aristocracies while also highlighting the disparity of power that exists between said merchant aristocracies and the less sophisticated nobility of Westeros. Westeros consequently is shown to benefit the least from the world system and suffers a great deal owing to its inferior position.

A description of the Strangler, its material components, manufacturing process, and use comes to us curtsey of Maester Cressen of Dragonstone:

 It was made from a certain plant that grew only on the islands of the Jade Sea, half a world away. The leaves had to be aged, and soaked in a wash of limes and sugar water and certain rare spices from the Summer Isles. Afterward they could be discarded, but the potion must be thickened with ash and allowed to crystallize. The process was slow and difficult, the necessaries costly and hard to acquire. The alchemists of Lys knew the way of it, though, and the Faceless Men of Braavos… and the maesters of his order as well, though it was not something talked about beyond the walls of the Citadel. All the world knew that a maester forged his silver link when he learned the art of healing-but the world preferred to forget that men who knew how to heal also knew how to kill. Cressen no longer recalled the name the Asshaii gave the leaf, or the Lysene poisoners the crystal. In the Citadel, it was simply called the strangler. Dissolved in wine, it would make the muscles of a man’s throat clench tighter than any fist, shutting off his windpipe. They said a victim’s face turned as purple as the little crystal seed from which his death was grown, but so too did a man choking on a morsel of food. (CoK Prologue)

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