Scent and Strength; or The Miracle of the Oven
A cooking-oven on Kyspert is a complex thing. An inner barrel made of thin metal provides a place for foods to go. Outside of that are the levity pods of certain plants, pried open wider than they are meant to go in nature, which convert gravity to heat at a substantial rate. Outside of that is a heavy insulating barrel, made to hold the oven down against the pods’ levitation and to keep the heat of the pods inside. The oven is not very controllable. The pods and insulation give it a certain maximum temperature, barely sufficient to bake cakes, and it takes a day or so to get up to that temperature. If the lid is opened for a full minute, the temperature drops, and the oven may not come up to temperature for an hour or two. Top-rate ovens have an extra internal barrel of some dense and heavy material that holds heat well: they may take a week to come up to temperature, but they stay there more easily. Dze-Ts-Kwy and Ka-Twu-Thu have a finicky oven of the cheaper sort.
Ka-Twu-Thu was baking a beetle-cake. (Recipe: shell a quart of pse-twó beetles. Mash them in a big mortar and pestle with onions, carrots, eggs, salt, hot spices, and beer. Add flour and baking powder to make a batter. Put in a shallow pan and bake until done. (As part of the research for this chapter, I had my cooks on Hove work out this recipe with Hoven ingredients to the point of being pretty good. It came out pretty good! They didn’t like using beetles, so they used shrimp, which I thought was fussy, but you can’t get proper pse-twó beetles — or any pse-twó beetles — on Hove or in any universe within some incomprehensible but vast distance. But Roroku told me that the substitution was tolerably accurate.)
The beetle-cake had been inside the oven for about half an hour. Ka-Twu-Thu popped up. “I think it’s ready now!”
“It’s not, though,” said Ro-Ro-Ku. “Another quarter-hour is needed.”
“Were you an expert chef in the life you have forgotten, to thus prescribe for a cake which you have not even seen? Can you not smell it? Is it not savory?”
“It smells delicious, Ka-Twu-Thu. But it doesn’t smell like it’s done all the way. Two of the levity pods on your oven are broken, so it’s not as hot as it ought to be,” said Ro-Ro-Ku.
“You sure know an awful lot about the inside of my kitchen. Fine then! I’ll give it five more minutes! But poor Dze-Ts-Kwy is starving away to a needle and the cake is coming out soon!”
In five minutes Ka-Twu-Thu popped the lid off the oven and took out the cake and served it forth. The edges were fine, if a bit light. The center was distinctly underdone.
“Well, Ro-Ro-Ku, it seems you do know an awful lot about the inside of my kitchen! As a punishment for my not believing you, we all shall reek of undercooked onion for the day!” said Ka-Twu-Thu. “But I’m not sure about those two broken pods.”
“They’re on the left side,” said Ro-Ro-Ku, tapping the outer barrel with a tentatail.
“That’s as may be,” said Ka-Twu-Thu. “I don’t know how you would know that, or even that it is two not three or one. But even if you are utterly right, we’ll need to take two days to fix the oven. Rather, one to cool it down and fix it and another to let it come back up to temperature. We can’t do that tomorrow, the doctor is coming to dine with us. So, if we’re going to do it, we’ll want to cook three days’ worth of food the day after, then fix the oven on the two days after that. And if it’s not broken, I do expect a long apology for all the bother you’ll put us through, Ro-Ro-Ku!”
“It’s broken,” said Ro-Ro-Ku. “And I’ll take care of it. It won’t be any bother.”
“It’ll still be two ovenless days!” mock-wailed Ka-Twu-Thu. “Without beetle-cake, life as we know it would be impossible!”Support this project! Show that you’re reading it by exchanging notes with the characters, other readers, the writer, and occasional other entities at sythyry.livejournal.com. And/or buy Bard Bloom’s books on Amazon, especially Mating Flight and World in My Claws, the prequel to this story. Also: Glossary and Dramatis Personae.