What Flavor Is Your Fantasy Cow?

We recently made braised beef from The Heroes' Feast cookbook, which purports to translate fantasy dishes into real life recipes. Which brings up the question: what if your world's cattle aren't like Earth's?

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Amphail Braised Beef​

This is our second attempt at a recipe from the Heroes Feast cookbook and the difficulty level was significantly ramped up from the simpler Traveler's Stew. For one, there are several nuances to how the meat is cooked involving a certain amount of braising and saturating the meat with juices from the pears and onions. For another, it takes a lot longer to cook than you might expect; over four hours in fact. This is not a meal you decide to make on a whim.

After crying my eyes out cutting the massive numbers of onions and peeling the pears, the rest of the meal went quickly. My daughter liked it but didn't ask for seconds. I on the other hand loved this dish most of all; I've only encountered pears as an ingredient in some French cuisine, but the mixture of pears, sparkling hard cider, and onions took the meal to another level entirely. We're only two meals into the Cookbook and this is far and away my favorite.

One thing we didn't do was cook the meal for as long. It's primarily there to let the juices sink into the meat, but we had kids to feed who weren't going to wait that long, so we cranked the heat a bit and cooked the meat for a shorter period of time. It was still delicious, but if we had planned the entire cooking time out ahead of time (which would mean preparing the meal after lunch time for us) it might have been even juicier. This is not a fast meal or one that you whip together at the last minute for your players.

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How Now Weird Cow?

Cattle are a common staple of European society and thus are found in medieval dishes, but fantasy worlds that want to be different will often "reskin" their cows by making them look different. How different they really are can disrupt whether having a steak on the menu is feasible; if for example the cow-substitute's flesh isn't edible, it serves a very different purpose in your setting.

For example, the Last Avatar cartoon series has hippo cows, omnivorous creatures that look like hippos but function as cows in the Avatar universe:
The hippo cow has a small set of horns and floppy ears and is mostly white with irregular black spots on its skin. It has the head and body of a hippopotamus but the horns and coloring of a cow, with short, stubby, hippo-like legs that end in cow-like hooves; hippo cows also have udders just as cows do.
One distinction of note is that the hippo cow is an omnivore, like hippopotami, and therefore it's likely its meat might taste differently. It's also likely raised differently as a result because it has a wider diet.

Consider Fallout's brahmin, which are two-headed variants descended from Indian brahman cattle:
Living ones can be used to pull carts, cars, plows, provide milk (that's terrifyingly different, yet similar to modern milk), provide efficient fertilizer and fuel for fires, hair for weaving, and so on and so forth. When slaughtered, they become even more useful as source of meat, leather (tough and durable, fit for everything including tents, clothes, armor, belts, saddle bags, shoes, you name it), bones (which can be fashioned into clubs, tools, dice, hoes, arrowheads), tails (perfect as brushes), and even fat for soap making. They also don't need much to survive, as they can go without water for extended periods of time and can subsist on whatever weeds they find in the arid wasteland, digesting them in eight-compartment stomachs (double the number compared to pre-War cows).
Like the hippo cow, the brahmin are hardier and more versatile than their cow counterparts, which makes them a catch-all for beef resources in Fallout. Their ability to go without water for long also makes them viable in desert regions, which most assuredly affects the flavor of their meat.

And then there's perhaps the most popular not-cow of them all, banthas in Star Wars:
Banthas were large, quadrupedal mammals that averaged in height 2 to 2.5 meters. An adult's average weight was 4,000 kilograms, and they had extensive shaggy fur, which was brown or black in color. Both females and males of the species had a pair of spiraling horns that extruded from their skull and grew at a knob a year. Banthas possessed a wide mouth, bright, inquisitive eyes, and a large tail which dragged on the ground as they walked. They had wide, flat feet with four digits.
Banthas are a stand-in for just about everything cattle are used for, including meat (bantha steaks). In the Forgotten Realms, rothe replace cattle in the north and provide a food staple for sentient underground species, like Drow.

But it's not just the meat that changes when you switch in cattle-analogues for your world.

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Got Milk?

Cows are also a source of milk. The aforementioned brahmin milk actually helps with radiation poisoning, making it not just tasty but nutritious in ways that are important to survivors of a post-apocalyptic world. Banthas produce the infamous blue milk of Star Wars. It's used just like Earth milk in everything from butter to yogurt to ice cream. But we never hear about the milk from hippo cows, and probably for good reason.

Depending on how "hippo" a hippo cow is, it could have two kinds of milk, pink and orange:
Hippos milk is bright pink. The reason is that the hippo secretes two kinds of unique acids called “Hipposudoric acid” and “Norhipposudoric acid”. The former is reddish in color and often known as “blood sweat”, although it is neither blood nor sweat. The latter is is bright orange. Both these acids are strong enough to minimize the growth of bacteria on the hippo’s skin. These acids also act as sunscreen for the hippos skin as they absorb the UV rays that destroy the skin cells. In milking Hippo the two acids get combined with the white milk and thus pink colored milk is ejected.
As enterprising game masters flesh out their worlds, it's often a simple tweak to reskin an animal like a cow so it functions similarly to cattle but looks different enough to evoke a sense of the alien or fantastic. But if you do decide to change things up be mindful that the steak on your dish might taste different .... or the milk in your mug might be pink!

Your Turn: What replaced your cows in your fantasy world?
 

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Michael Tresca

Michael Tresca

Zardnaar

Legend
Well, more properly, T-Rex will taste like chicken. They're both theropods. Apatosaurus is a sauropod, and might have been quite different in musculature.

Heh tried ostrich? Completly different to chicken.

Here we have mutton birds guess what they apparently taste like.
 

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Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
I did an alien world setting once with no birds or mammals. The Aphis bull was the planets herd beast - a giant insect similar to earths wooly aphids. It was a soft bodied herbivore which grew a shaggy coat (actually its body waste) which could be collected like wool and spun into silky fibres. Large bulls fought with mandible tusks and forelimbs held up like horns. Being insects they tasted more like crawfish than steak.
 
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Kanks. I might not be remembering properly, but I think they're like Huge pillbugs and they double as pack animals.
I'm straining my memory here, but I think kanks were mostly fast riding beasts with inedible flesh, but they secreted a sort of sweet nectar or honey. They were beetle-looking mostly, though the 4e art book had a very different look for a lot of DS critters than the 2e line, so this may have changed.

DS also had erdlus, which were bipedal ostrich-sized dinosaurs raised purely for meat. There were crodlus, which were similar but a bit bigger and could be ridden. Then there were inixes and mekillots, which were big quadrupedal lizards - inixes were maybe equivalent to a large horse and could carry a rider plus baggage, while mekillots were elephant-plus sized and drew huge wagons or were fitted with howdahs. Both were primarily beasts of burden, but were also frequently eaten or used for leather, their bones and teeth for tools and weapons, etc.

How all these gigantic creatures sustained themselves in the blasted deserts of Athas was never adequately explained. But Dark Sun's gotta Dark Sun... :LOL:
 



jgsugden

Legend
For Dark Sun, I think of Kanks and Aprings as farm animals for food:

Kanks are large, docile insects with black, segmented, chitinous exoskeletons, covering their head, thorax and abdomen, Kanks grow up to eight feet in length, four feet in height, and can weigh as much as 400 pounds. At the front of their head, kanks sport a pair of sharp pincers which they use for both feeding and fighting. The thorax of a kank has six legs. Each leg has a strong claw at its end, allowing the creature to grip the surfaces it walks upon. Like most insects, the kank's abdomen has no appendages and is supported by the rest of its body.

Food producing kanks secret large, melon-sized globules of green honey which is used to the feed the young of the hive. These globules are stored on the abdomens of the food producers, and when food is sources are limited, are used to feed the older members of the hive as well as the young.

The honey globules produced by food-producing kanks are very sweet and fetch a high price when used in trade and barter. They can sustain a man for several days with no other means of nourishment.

Aprings are small piglike creatures that have hard shells that provide them with protection from the elements and predators. Aprigs vary in color from gray to reddish brown. They have round faces and flat snouts that are good for snuffling through piles of vegetation. They have keen senses of smell and hearing, but are very short-sighted. As a domesticated farm animal, aprigs are near the bottom of the food chain. They provide a succulent meat with a faint nutty flavor. Sows can be milked but the milk is not good quality. The shells of aprigs can be used as bowls for carrying water or grain, or to make rudimentary greaves, but cannot be worked in any way.

There are also Carru, Erdlu, Mulworms, and Mekillots that have been farmed in games in which I have played, although the Mekillot farming was an intentionally flawed farming attempt (quite comedic).
 


I'm straining my memory here, but I think kanks were mostly fast riding beasts with inedible flesh, but they secreted a sort of sweet nectar or honey. They were beetle-looking mostly, though the 4e art book had a very different look for a lot of DS critters than the 2e line, so this may have changed.

DS also had erdlus, which were bipedal ostrich-sized dinosaurs raised purely for meat. There were crodlus, which were similar but a bit bigger and could be ridden. Then there were inixes and mekillots, which were big quadrupedal lizards - inixes were maybe equivalent to a large horse and could carry a rider plus baggage, while mekillots were elephant-plus sized and drew huge wagons or were fitted with howdahs. Both were primarily beasts of burden, but were also frequently eaten or used for leather, their bones and teeth for tools and weapons, etc.

How all these gigantic creatures sustained themselves in the blasted deserts of Athas was never adequately explained. But Dark Sun's gotta Dark Sun... :LOL:
Environments with scarce food sources actually favor larger animals, since they can gorge themselves when food does show up and store a lot for later. Infrequent eating tends to make for bigger beasts.

Camels and whales are the first two examples that come to mind, but if you include dry savanna, you see a lot more examples. (Including elephants, mammoths, bison, aurochs, rhinoceroses, gnu, giraffes, etc.)
 

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