SCA-Cooking-art - 9/1/15
"SCA Cooking & You: How to Get Started" by Lady Alice Percy of Montengarde.
This article was added to this set of files, called Stefan's Florilegium, with the permission of the author.
These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org
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Mark S. Harris...AKA:..Stefan li Rous
stefan at florilegium.org
You can find more work by this author on her website at:
SCA Cooking & You: How to Get Started
by Lady Alice Percy of Montengarde
In the imagination of the uninitiated, period cooking can seem like a blasted hellscape of flavorless brown sludge, bread, and beer. Therefore, a lot of what we make for feasts in the SCA are traditional or "rustic" items rather than historical recipes; this is understandable, but unfortunate, and I think it has to do with the feeling that period food is kind of inaccessible to the average person.
Honestly, cooking period food is as fun and rewarding as any other A&S project, and most of what you need is already in your kitchen! The added bonus is that you get to eat what you make, unlike a new silk cotehardie (unless you're doing something very, very wrong.)
SOURCING YOUR RECIPES
When it comes to sourcing a period recipe, there are three different kinds of sources you might like to consult to get started:
SOURCE #1: PERIOD COOKBOOKS
Get out there and find yourself a period cookbook! There are loads available in the English language from the extreme end of period, and I find this is a pretty good place to start if you want to give cooking from a primary source a try. This takes some research, but some mild Googling should get you pointed in the right direction.
Period recipes are nothing like modern ones. You will only very rarely find any mention of proportional measurement, amounts, or even cooking method. Modern cooking experience comes in handy, since you'll know when something might work better roasted or boiled. Don't be afraid to ask for advice! Some of the best recipes I've ever made turned out so well because I consulted one of my best friends, who is a pastry chef.
You are also dealing with English, which is very, very old. Elizabethan cookbooks aren't so bad, but as you start going backwards in time, the language and grammar become more obscure. They may use words for things that we don't, or refer to ingredients we can't get – such as "codlings," "alexanders," or "pehennes." (A kind of small sour apple, a very versatile edible flowering plant, and female peacock, respectively.) You'll need to sit down with your recipe and try to translate it into a usable form (redaction) before you can proceed. Sometimes, your period cookbook will be in another language entirely.
SOURCE #2: FLORILEGIUM.ORG
It seems kind of strange to list a single website, but Stefan's Florilegium Archive is the most comprehensive source of period food knowledge I have ever found. It hosts decades worth of conversations, educational articles, and debates among interested individuals in the SCA. You can find everything from discussions on the eating of raw vegetables, to the period use of crabapples, to fried cheese recipes there. It's a fabulous, fabulous resource, regardless of your experience.
It also hosts loads of "redactions" – that is, recipes which have been taken from their original form and translated into a usable format. Let's say I want to make the following recipe from the 14th century cookbook called "Forme of Cury," but I am totally confused.
Appulmoy. Take apples and seep hem in water; drawe hem thurgh a straynour. Take almaunde mylke and hony and flour of rys, safroun and powdour fort and salt, seep it stondyng.
Sadly, I have no idea what I'm doing. Fortunately, someone else has redacted this exact item on
Florilegium.org! (http://www.florilegium.org ) Huzzah! My applesauce-based dinner party is saved!
SOURCE #3: OTHER WEBSITES, INTERPRETIVE COOKBOOKS, "PERIODESQUE" RECIPES
You really don't have to be a scholar to give period flavors and techniques a try. There are a very wide range of websites and cookbooks with tried, tested and true versions of period recipes which may have been altered slightly to achieve the best flavor profile. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this! Cooking is a living, cultural art. Reviving period recipes in a way that will encourage you to cook them regularly is a success, in my opinion, even if they are a little bit altered.
Godecookery.com (http://www.Godecookery.com ) has a number of very accurate redactions, but you miss out on some of the scholarly debate of Florilegium.org. If you just want a good, tested recipe, this is a great resource.
Medievalcookery.com (http://www.Medievalcookery.com ) is well-sourced and cited, but the recipes are definitely adapted somewhat. I love that the recipes are sorted by country, so if you're trying to design a feast with a regional menu, this will really help. This website also has full menus that you can recreate for your next feast endeavor.
Many SCA cooking groups have their own websites, which are awesome resources, especially if you want to try cooking a feast yourself. They often feature menus, recipes, and tips and tricks. These are not always strictly accurate reproductions, but they are usually pretty tasty.
Before you try to cook any period recipe, especially a French or English one, you'll notice that they use very different spices than we traditionally associate with period cooking. You may also notice that they reference spice mixes ("powders") but don't tell you what goes in them.
Like most spice mixes today, these don't seem to have been standardized. Every cook would probably have a slightly different variation. Medievalcookery.com has some good standard recipes to get you on the right track with this, but over time you might like to alter them a little and make your very own mix!
These are the three mixes that come up most often, plus my recommendations for component spices:
Powder Fort (as in "strong"): Cinnamon, ginger, ground cloves, black pepper, and grains of paradise (if you can get them)
Powder Douce (as in "sweet"): Cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, ground cloves, and sugar
Powder Fine: Cinnamon, ginger, black pepper, ground cloves, and saffron
99% of recipes will call for these spices for seasoning, and if you're familiar with spices, that should give you an indication of the kinds of flavors we would be experiencing from this part of the world in period!
Quick word of advice – if you're not sure, use less. You can always add more spice later, but if you turn your whole meal bright yellow with saffron, you're a bit stuck.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but a lot of the delicious ingredients we enjoy today are products of colonial expansion and exploration – that is, they were not common or possibly at all available in period! Many bitter tears have I wept over the fact that a "death by chocolate" dessert course is not accurate.
If you are playing around with a non-European feast or recipe, try to establish how that culture was using the ingredient at the time and work from there. (While it may be tempting to whip out the ketchup and declare "my persona is Incan, losers!" that would still not be a period use of the tomato.)
If you're wondering whether or not an ingredient is "period" or not, the easiest thing is just to Google it and find out. Look at the history of the item. Then, try to find a recipe from period which uses it. If you can find one, great! If you can't, try something else. Just because we grow all kinds of lovely things in our vegetable gardens today doesn't mean that they would have had the same in the 14th century.
TESTING & FINDING TEST SUBJECTS
Often, you will make something edible and even quite delicious when you try a recipe! However, sometimes what you make will be horrifying. Behold my first attempt at appulmoy:
Soon after this photo was taken, the appulmoy sprouted eyes and began speaking to me.
Don't give up on a recipe if it doesn't work right the first time – because most recipes have no proportions listed, it's very important to try and try again. It might take you three or four tests, changing the amount of each ingredient, before you're happy with what you have. It's all part of the process. (Word to the wise, though – never serve a period recipe to others if you haven't tested it before!)
Fortunately, people like to eat food and will happily be subjected to your bizarre experiments. In my area, the Culinary Group meets once a month, often as part of A&S practice. Everyone brings a period dish, potluck-style, with documentation. We taste everything and give feedback, and it makes a really nice social evening out. (Wine, mead and beer "tasting" is occasionally involved.) If you don't have a similar group in your area, why not start one?
Copyright 2015 by Allison Percival. <ampercival at gmail.com>. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited. Addresses change, but a reasonable attempt should be made to ensure that the author is notified of the publication and if possible receives a copy.
If this article is reprinted in a publication, please place a notice in the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.