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The people of A. are a race of small, lemur-like people that build their villages deep in the forest on treetops. Since they live directly surrounded by forest in a vaguely Mediterranean Climate with short rainy winters and long, very dry summers, forest fires are a huge deal and can be devastating. For this and other (religious) reasons, fire is seen as a necessary evil, dangerous and volatile. It is handled with extreme caution and avoided whenever possible.

They have good night vision, so they rarely need lamps and they have almost no metalworking to speak of. (They prefer to trade with nearby dwarven settlements for weapons and tools.) Each village usually has some kind of ‘fire pit’ on the ground where they clear the surrounding trees, but this is again more of a necessary evil and they try to use it as little as possible.

Now the question is – what kind of food would naturally develop in such a culture? Both everyday food and special ‘treats’?

Some additional information:

The people of A. are omnivores, vegetarianism is very rare. (It would make sense that most of them are lactose intolerant.) They avoid building anything on the ground or clearing the forest. Level of technology is medieval-ish. Their general food sources (at least the ones I already came up with) are as following:

Hunting: very common, both with hunting parties for larger game and traps for smaller game. Fishing is common if larger rivers ore lakes are in the vicinity. Insects are considered tasty snacks.

Livestock: mostly small, near-flightless birds, larger villages will have herds of semi-domesticated deer. Almost all villages keep bees.

Agriculture: small, hanging gardens for herbs and vegetables. No grain, except for the occasional import. The forest around the village is usually altered and cultivated to include as many fruit- and nut-bearing trees as possible.

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    $\begingroup$ Fermented/dried/salted stuff and similar things. $\endgroup$ – Raditz_35 Sep 13 '17 at 11:02
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    $\begingroup$ They would mostly eat raw food. $\endgroup$ – vasin1987 Sep 13 '17 at 19:10
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    $\begingroup$ Whatever it is they need a lot of it since they are only getting(digesting) about HALF the calories out of it compared to cooking it.pnas.org/content/108/48/19199.short If they are human sized they need to eat about twice as much as a human of the same weight. so around ~4000 calories. $\endgroup$ – John Sep 13 '17 at 20:36
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    $\begingroup$ If they are trading metals and weapons with a nearby (Dwarven) settlement, can't they trade cooked foods with the settlement as well? $\endgroup$ – Abigail Sep 14 '17 at 0:01
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    $\begingroup$ Are there any hot springs/volcanoes nearby? If a group of people settled there, they might be able to slow-cook things in water/barbecue over lava and trade this (luxury?) food for other goods. Even if it's just a small outpost of isolated individuals, the novelty factor may well be enough for people to invest in the food. $\endgroup$ – K. Price Sep 14 '17 at 0:47

15 Answers 15

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I'll only touch on the things we cook the most, fruits and nuts you've got covered and they don't need to be cooked anyway:

You can eat many animal products raw, especially when you're not raising them using intensive farming practices that increase pathogen and parasite exposure, but you can also cook fruit, vegetables, meats, poultry, and fish without using any heat at all. Chemical cooking examples include the vinegar in Sushi, and many pickles, and the fermentation of... well actually I can't think of anything that hasn't been fermented by someone at some time to either preserve it or make it more edible/palatable.

If they have access to worked metal goods they can theoretically make use of sunlight to heat food without the need for a flame.

So for everyday foods a lot of nut based dishes, including soaking in juices or alcohols and grinding for ease of transport, nuts supply a high energy to weight ratio and will probably fill the caloric staple role in a grainless diet. For treats I'm thinking Honey and seeds, since cereals are an import they will be expensive and relatively inaccessible, Honey is always expensive and relatively scarce so confections using Honey and Sesame or Wheat would make a delicious and rare/expensive treat for a group on the described diet.

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    $\begingroup$ Did you mean ceviche as you chemical cooking example? Sushi contains a relatively small amount of vinegar in the rice but I don't think it cooks anything. $\endgroup$ – kaine Sep 13 '17 at 16:16
  • $\begingroup$ @kaine, historically vinegar was added to rice because it prevented spoilage in hot and humid Japanese climate. It is also very effective in masking the smell of slightly rotten food. I imagine that the concentration of vinegar was much higher at that times than it is now. Although, I agree with your doubts regarding cooking. Not to mention that the fish was still raw and unprocessed. $\endgroup$ – Olga Nov 6 '17 at 11:48
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In Mediterranean climates sun drying is a pretty effective method for preserving food. The warm and dry summer is a good help when it comes to drying food.

You can sun dry fruits (tomatoes, almonds, figs, apricots, plums, etc.), herbs (time, rosemary, camille, etc.) , fish, meat and store them for the winter.

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    $\begingroup$ Also the American Midwest where humidity is extremely low most of the year $\endgroup$ – Richard U Sep 13 '17 at 12:54
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    $\begingroup$ Um... The American Midwest that I live in is NOT lacking in humidity, at least not in the warmer months. Kansas, maybe, sure. But not Missouri / Illinois. $\endgroup$ – FunkThompson Sep 13 '17 at 20:05
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    $\begingroup$ you can dry them but you can't store them for seasons just by drying them. fruit and meat are especially bad for this. $\endgroup$ – John Sep 13 '17 at 20:42
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    $\begingroup$ Having lived in the Midwest my entire life, I can definitively say that the American Midwest is extremely humid during the summer months. 80% humidity is considered unseasonably low. In the summer, its common for the daily peak humidity to stay above 90% for extended periods of time (which means that it is often 85-90 degrees in the morning). Sun-drying food is definitely not an option here. $\endgroup$ – Dr. Funk Sep 15 '17 at 14:15
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I know this answer sounds stupid but probably just raw flesh.

The Inuit, living in an environment with little fuel reserves, ate raw fish. Your lemur-people would most likely have evolved to digest raw meat better. In addition to that, fruits and nuts.

That does make fire seem rather obsolete though.

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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to WorldBuilding Hegolin! Your answer looks pretty okay. I would love if you could edit it to expand it a bit, as it's a bit on the short side, but the content looks like a valid answer. Therefore I would remove the first part of your first sentence. Answers are supposed to answer the question and by stating that your answer sounds stupid you are inviting people to vote to delete this as "not an answer". If you have a moment please take the tour and visit the help center to learn more about the site. Have fun! $\endgroup$ – Secespitus Sep 13 '17 at 11:21
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    $\begingroup$ "That does make fire seem rather obsolete though." Not really, humans originally subsisted solely on raw food before figuring out how to use/make fire to cook. Cooking makes food easier to digest (protein breakdown, etc.) and potentially easier to store (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pyrolysis#Cooking) so proved to be an advantage. $\endgroup$ – JAB Sep 13 '17 at 14:37
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    $\begingroup$ The Inuit had the benefit of readily available cold storage, so spoilage was much less of an issue. The shelf life of fresh meat is extremely short in a Mediterranean climate. $\endgroup$ – Michael Richardson Sep 13 '17 at 14:39
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Booze!

Acerglyn is mead made with maple syrup. Your elves could make other brews according to what was available seasonally in their forest. Humans have a rich history of making booze out of just about anything fermentable (except, very strangely, the Amerinds apparently did not make booze out of maple syrup...).

Other example of sap-based alcoholic beverages are pulque made of agave sap, palm wine, coconut flower sap liquor("Fresh Tatikallu complete healthy Liquor") and so on.

Of course your elves would make mead out of their honey.

Booze is fun but it is also a very practical way to preserve carbohydrates. Sugar calories are not easy to store, especially as a sap or juice. Everything wants to eat carbohydrates. Fermented, these calories are preserved by the alcohol content. The calories are still good.

Calories from ethanol were important for our ancestors, especially those who were not getting many calories from other sources. I have heard that irish laborers in 1800s England got a lot of their calories from gin. This study showed that malnourished rats can maintain body weight with up to 40% of calories provided by ethanol.

Booze is also a fine artisanal export product.

Just remember what happened to Rip Van Winkle if you decide to go out drinking with the elves. Rip Van Winkle about to drink

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  • $\begingroup$ Pretty good except for the completely unnecessary but attention-grabbing illustration. $\endgroup$ – pipe Sep 14 '17 at 21:04
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Ceviche?

Last time I visited Miami I ate my weight in ceviche. For those who don't know, it's a way of preparing "raw" fish by "cooking" it with the acid in citrus juice. It's absolutely delicious and requires no heat or fire whatsoever.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ceviche

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    $\begingroup$ Ceviche is used with a variety of seafoods. But presumably if you had a world wide culture that avoided fire this method could be applied to just about anything. Presumably with strong enough acids you could cook anything. Carrying or finding acids to cook your meal would be a major issue while traveling. Acid burns would be common. The acid could break everything down into almost a predigested goo that is drank more then eaten. Could be a fun interaction to develop when the dwarves stop by for diner. $\endgroup$ – David Sep 13 '17 at 15:58
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If you have a large communal firepit that is carefully controlled, Then there are a number of cooking methods that would be useful to your people.

Smoking: The consecrated meat! If your people build the fire inside something like a longhouse, it could serve as a place for religious gatherings as the sacred smoke fills the air. That same sacred smoke rises to the upper level where consecrated food stuffs are stored, and be the means of the smoke, are preserved. The fire must never go out! Go feed it some more wood from that mesquite tree!

Clay Cooking :Disposable Cookware! The short answer is to have them wrap foodstuffs in a leaf then seal that in clay. Throw it into the communal fire and after a few hours, use a stick to pull it out. Break the clay and you have a tasty treat!

Spice it up!: Mummify your meat. Salt has long been used as a food preservative, and I imagine your people will use it a lot as well. Salt is not the only food grade preservative though. Various spices have been used for this purpose as well. Also, seeing as salt is going to be a relatively difficult to obtain substance, they may lean even more heavily on various herbs.

There is also Pemmican you get chunks of meat, fat, and dried fruits for great food for long road trips! You might have to work out something with he holy smokers.

Or they could just eat things raw. This will probably be the most common method during the warmer times for your people. The food preservation techniques like smoking, salting, and curing will be used to see them through the winter.

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  • $\begingroup$ I like your answer, so a hint, you can "cook" with vinegar or other acids en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ceviche $\endgroup$ – Reed Sep 13 '17 at 20:39
  • $\begingroup$ @Reed Yeah, Ceviche is awesome. Other folks covered that in their answers tho. :) $\endgroup$ – Paul TIKI Sep 14 '17 at 13:06
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If they do not use fire for cooking, and your questions implies that they do not, then they would not cook their food, but this does not take much off the table - they might trade for cooked food, as a rare 'treat' (though this may not be considered as normal food, and viewed with suspicion through its association with fire).

Otherwise, they are free to eat what they like and can digest.

Some food may be kept allowing rotting so that it may subsequently be digested better (letting bacteria break it down first). This is not unusual for us, but we usually refer to it as 'fermentation' or 'maturing'. Traditionally game meat has been treated in this way.

This might be their favoured cuisine.

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You specified that your people are 'lemur like'. National Geographicsays that They [lemurs] forage for fruit, which makes up the greater part of their diet, but also eat leaves, flowers, tree bark, and sap, so all of these should be options. It also notes that lemurs are herbivores (your people are omnivores).

In most cultures, the ability to not just collect but preserve food is essential.

Because of the lack of fire, smoking and other things which require heat for boiling such as making jams would be difficult in the absence of naturally occurring heat sources, while the Mediterranean climate means that freezing is unlikely to be an option.

Looking at each of your listed food sources in turn:

Hunting

If your people are able to eat raw meat without getting sick, then most of what they hunt will be eaten fresh and raw. If they need to preserve it then there are four main options: curing, fermenting, drying and pickling.

They can cure their meat with salt (to make things like proscuitto) or acid (to make things like ceviche), they can ferment it (to make things like lutefisk), they can dry it (to make things like biltong) or they can pickle it in vinegar.

Livestock

Meat can be eaten and preserved as above. If they aren't lactose intolerant you have a whole world of dairy products, but even if they are you can still drink their blood (like the Masai do). Bees would of course give honey too.

Agriculture

Again, most of what is gathered would be eaten fresh. Nuts keep for quite a long time without any extra preparation, and fruit and vegetables can be cured, pickled (like gherkins), dried (like tomatoes) or fermented (like kimchi) just like meats.

In addition, fruits can be preserved by sealing them in honey, and of course sugary things can be fermented to make alcohol (wine and mead, since your people have no grains).

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Just wanted to point out that you can "cook" meet without the existence of fire. It is speculated that the Huns which where a nomadic tribe that travelled for days on horse, used their natural body heat and that of their horses to "cook" meat, by placing it between their body and the body of their horses while riding.

Maybe similar techniques would rise in a culture like that. Maybe some people would use their livestock to generate heat to "cook" meats.

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    $\begingroup$ As far as I know, the huns placed meat between the horses' saddle and body in order to not let the horses get sore when riding large distances. It shouldn't have had anything to do with "cooking" the meat and also wouldn't work for that purpose. $\endgroup$ – Pahlavan Sep 13 '17 at 11:31
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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to WorldBuilding Michail! This looks interesting, but also pretty unbelievable. Do you have a source where one could read up on this phenomenon? I would be very interested to read more about this. If you have a moment please take the tour and visit the help center to learn more about the site. Have fun! $\endgroup$ – Secespitus Sep 13 '17 at 11:36
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    $\begingroup$ Back in my school days I'm pretty sure the theory was indeed that they did it to soften the meat for later consumption, but I find that hard to believe. Would you eat meat that's been in the heat for most of a day while raw and also soaked in horse sweat and hair? $\endgroup$ – Pahlavan Sep 13 '17 at 12:05
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    $\begingroup$ Sweaty crotch steak, anyone? $\endgroup$ – Innovine Sep 13 '17 at 13:54
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    $\begingroup$ @MichailN doesn't sound too bad. many people eat blood pudding, and sausages, and pink slime, which is filled with much worse stuff. $\endgroup$ – Innovine Sep 13 '17 at 13:55
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I mean you sort of answered your own question when providing the food sources

But I will do my best to list some of what they could do with it:

  • Sashimi (or the one that is straight fish): if they can domesticate deer then they can fish. PS: rice only needs to be boiled for us humans, these guys could contain an enzyme to process it naturally.

  • Civiche: put an acid like lemon on fish

  • Salads: duh

  • Raw fruits and Vegetable: might seem odd given our modern diets but this was natural in many early cultures.

  • Dates: a wonderful fruit that can be dried and last for long times.

  • BEER!: dont need to boil beer, though you do need grains >

  • Mead: they got the bees, it's fermented honey.

  • fruit cake: there are bars/cakes that could be made from taking dates, nuts, and honey as a binding agent to form various dishes customizeable by whatever fruits you wish to enhance it with.

  • Volcanically spring boiler/deep fryer: (had to list this) they could take a volcanic spring and boil their food in it (no fire). They could also extract all the water and replace it with oil to deep fry their food (would get a bit grungy but desperate times...).

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  • $\begingroup$ You're kinda right about answering my own question - it was meant to be less about the basic food sources and more about potential dishes (how would breakfast look, what's this cultures 'daily bread', what's the big delicacy, etc). I probably need to rephrase the question a bit. But thanks for the cool answer! $\endgroup$ – HideAndSeek Sep 13 '17 at 14:37
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There is a bunch of cooking procedures and recipes that do not need fire at all:

Raw, but with style

Tartare, carpaccio, Sashimi, etc. Raw meat or fish, finely sliced, chopped or minced, often accompanied by a vegetable garnish.

Caviar

If there is no sturgeons available, you can replace it with any other type of salt-cured Roe.

Cold Meats

Chorizo, Salchichon (there are some types that require smoking, but most only need curing) and Iberian ham can be made without fire of any type, and while they are traditionally made of pork, there can be also made of deer, boar, or any other type of meat. There are many,many other types of cold meat, but these are good examples.

Don't forget the sauces

Mayonnaise, Aioli, Pesto. Just to name a few in which no fire is required (In most cases, only the ingredients and a mortar).

Burial cooking

The korean kimchi is a recipe made with vegetables fermented in jars buried on the ground. Innuits have Kiviak, which are whole birds fermented inside a buried seal skin (your people may need access to a cold environment, like a mountain top o really cold cave system). Other examples would include ancient irish people's Bog butter or chinese Century Eggs.

Compost cooking

You can create compost from vegetable organic matter: table scraps, grass clippings, rotting fruit, fallen leaves,the manure of large herbivores, etc. When properly prepared, the core of compost piles can reach easily 150 to 180 degrees, which could allow for (slowly) cooking many recipes. Afterwards, you get to use the compost as fertilizer and for soil amendment, as usual.

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Mostly cooked tubers or cooked fruit, along with cooked meat/fish.

This is becasue the biggest necessary evil they will have is cooking food, especially tubers, meat, and certain fruits. Basically all other uses of fire, save perhaps pottery, is more of a convenience than a necessity. Let's compare studied human forest living cultures both are primates so this is a decent comparison. Mostly cooked tubers or cooked fruit, along with some meat/fish and occasionally some honey and nuts.

They will not be able to store food effectively in a tree top mediterranean climate. The have no salt for salting (forests tend ot be very salt poor), no grain for dry storage, it is a warm climate, and forests keep the air humid so the worst possible conditions for storage, so then need food continuously, thats fine thats true for many cultures. These cultures solve this by cooking what they do have, cooking food will let them get a lot more out of the food they have. Starches, fats, and protein availability are all greatly increased by cooking, to the point it is argued humans did not develop our large modern brains until after the invention of cooking doubled our caloric intake. Chemical storage (pickling, sulfuring) is not an option on a large scale without a preexisting food surplus to fuels the chemical creation. Smoking is one of the few storage techniques available but you need fire for that.

More importantly cooking is a big necessity in forest cultures. Grains are basically non-existent in forest ecosystems, tubers instead make up the dietary staples. Many forest organisms(especially tubers) develop toxins to protect themselves. Root vegetables like Cassava(Manioc) are famous examples, and the staple food of many forest/jungle cultures. Cooking destroys those toxins, making them safe to eat and greatly increasing what things CAN be eaten. Any forest living culture is going to see the value in this and exploit it immediately after discovery.

NO religion will be able to suppress this, since any clan that does cook their food will be able to field many many times more fighters in any conflict or just grow way faster than everyone else. The advantage is just too large to get around, many more foods, and many more calories from the food you do have is like having firearms when everyone else has stone tools.

Now let's work on how to minimize fire use. Likely they will use a single communal cooking fire and, depending on village size, may all eat together (hunter/gatherer bands do this partially to ensure food sharing) but it also takes less fuel. this will let them minimize fire use. the single communal fire will likely have a large smoke rack hung above it and may have a kiln dug below it. It may even be built like a large kiln with mud brick or dirt walls to protect the forest. The more they can get out of the one fire the better. The only other option is very small fires in small ovens in each home.

Community size is an important thing to consider. The bigger the community the less hunting and gathering will be sufficient to support it. To get medieval levels of population density they are going to need large scale farming or livestock.

You may want to use the Yanomami are considered one of the higher standard of living forest horticulture cultures and their diet is mainly cooked manioc and plantains, with some meat, fish, landcrabs, grubs, fruits, with nuts, honey or rare fruits as treats. They also grow a lot of tobacco as well as various medicinal and hallucinogenic herbs. They use slash and burn agriculture but there is no reason you have to.

just for an idea this is manioc and it can be made into bread, soups... basically anything you can do with a potato you can do with manioc. enter image description here

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Heat from a fire is not the only way to cook/preserve food. Some alternatives (most but not all previously mentioned):

  • Drying
  • Pickling/salting/brining
  • Fermenting
  • Solar ovens
  • Sugar/honey curing (you said most villages keep bees)
  • Oil preservation

You didn't mention mushrooms but your forest dwellers probably see many kinds of seasonal fungi that will keep well if dried.

If you want to throw in an exotic touch, farming food insects could work.

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I would think a sort of fruit-based jerky or dried fruit. Based on the climate you have put forth, maybe the species could stock up on ripe fruit during the rainy season. Afterwards, during the dry season, they could mash the fruit into a fibrous pulp, and stretch it on a wood frame (similar to those used by native americans to dry/smoke jerky and tan hides) to dry. When the fruit is dried, it would have the consistency of a thick fruit leather.

You also stated that hunting is very common among the people of A.

If fire is out of the question, an unsmoked, salted jerky-like meat substance might be a suitable option. The preparation of this substance could be similar to the preparation of the fruit leather. The meat could be cut into thin, fatty, slices, and salted and/or honeyed. The meat could then be stretched onto the wood frames, and let dry.

A couple questions:

Do the people of A. have access to any metal? (Although I doubt they do, considering the fact that they are afraid of fire, and metal must be smelted.) If so, the reflective properties of polished metal could be used to heat food substantially.

Do they have semi-advanced weaponry? Eg. Swords, bows, arrows, catapults, traps, ballistas, etc. Just curious.

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  • $\begingroup$ How are they getting large quantities of salt? Dried fruit or meat is only going to last a few weeks. $\endgroup$ – John Sep 13 '17 at 20:38
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    $\begingroup$ Salt marshes/deposits. The setting of the planet is suitable for these to form, especially during the dry season's desert-like conditions. $\endgroup$ – Rowan Lerowsky Sep 13 '17 at 20:42
  • $\begingroup$ Remember: The main source of trade in the mediterranean in ancient times was salt. It was mined and exported by the ton. $\endgroup$ – Rowan Lerowsky Sep 13 '17 at 20:44
  • $\begingroup$ Answered in the original question: "...they have almost no metalworking to speak of. They prefer to trade with nearby dwarven settlements for weapons and tools." (So yes, they have both metal and semi-advanced weapons, but they usually import it.) $\endgroup$ – HideAndSeek Sep 13 '17 at 20:53
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you! Maybe they should use the metal as a reflector for heating food. $\endgroup$ – Rowan Lerowsky Sep 13 '17 at 21:29
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Jalapeños!
A fruit that contains the heat of a fire but without the danger. Cook something that is mildly warm, insert jalepeño, and you get an illusion of flame-cooked food.

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