Eatng-Pennsic-art - 5/13/01
"Eating in (Period) Style at Pennsic" by Lord Bogdan de la Brasov, CW.
This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set
of files, called Stefan's Florilegium.
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Mark S. Harris
AKA: Stefan li Rous
stefan at florilegium.org
Eating in (Period) Style at Pennsic
by Lord Bogdan de la Brasov
One of my very first events in the SCA was Pennsic. A friend convinced Despina (my then fiancee, now my wife) and I that Pennsic was a "must-attend" event. We decided that a week-and-a-half long event sounded like a great way to finally immerse ourselves in the SCA.
I knew that we would have to do something about food, I just wasn't sure what. In addition to being proficient in the kitchen, I had been subscribed to the "SCA cooks electronic discussion list", and had been perusing at the period cookbooks I had collected (more below). It seemed to me that the most appropriate way to do Pennsic was with all period, non-cooler food. My theory was that in period there wouldn't have been coolers or appliances for refrigerating food during a war campaign. Therefore, Despina and I decided that to make our time at Pennsic as period as possible; we would do all that we could for people starting out. Looking at the cookbooks I had available at the time, I put together a menu of period dishes that would not require a cooler the entire time we were at Pennsic.
Before I go any further into explaining how I pulled off that first year, as well as some of the things that I have learned along the way, I want to take a moment to discuss the most important tool that an SCA cook has at his/her disposal... period cookbooks. There are three basic types of Medieval cookbooks: those which attempt to make period-style food, but do not rely on period recipes; those which have both period recipes as well as "redactions" (modernizations of the recipes); and those which contain only period recipes (usually facsimiles or collections of facsimilies). This article will deal exclusively with the latter two types. If authenticity is important, you should try to avoid the first type of cookbook.
When you first start out doing period recipes, it is often helpful to have some sort of guide. Most period recipes won't tell you how much of each ingredient to add. That tends to be something you learn over time. It also is the reason why we can never be completely authentic in our attempts to re-create a food item, as we can only cook it for our modern pallet in a similar manner to that which was done in period. The best cookbooks with which to start are ones that have a modern version (henceforth "redaction") worked out. "Pleyn Delit", "The Miscelleny", "Medieval Kitchens", and "Take a Thousand Eggs or More (Volumes I and II)" are all very good places to begin. The "Miscelleny" is a wonderful book put together by Duke Cariadoc of the Bow (David Friedman) and has, in addition to a number of redacted recipes, articles on various other parts of SCA life. My other favorite from this list is "Take a Thousand Eggs or More", by Cindy Renfrow. "Take a Thousand Eggs or More" is a collection of medieval recipes with both the original recipes, and versions in modern language side by side. There are also a number of recipes for which a redaction has been worked-out.
My favorite form of period cookbook is a facsimile copy of a period text. In these you get to deal with strange fonts, un-standardized spelling and a lack of measurements. Once you have overcome these particular obstacles, these cookbooks give you the best opportunity for creating your own redactions.
Pulling off a Period-food Pennsic
One of my first finds was a recipe for "Lord's Salt" in the Miscelleny. Lord's Salt is a period recipe for pickling cooked meat. While this may not sound very appealing, it is actually extremely tasty! The recipe calls for a number of strong spices and vinegar to allow cooked meat to keep for extended periods of time. From extensive experimentation, I know that it will keep for well-over 6 months. As long as I picked a meat recipe that used the same spices as the pickle, this meat fit in well (for examples, see the menus at the end of this article). Using pickled meat was extremely easy and worked wonderfully. I didn't have any problems with meat going bad, although it did start to disappear after our friends had a chance to taste it. It turned out that not only was the meat easy to use in recipes, but it also cut down on the amount of cooking time required, as the meat was already cooked. In addition to using the meat in meals, the salted meat became a preferred snack food for a couple of our friends.
The second year we went to Pennsic, I began experimenting with salting meat. This also turned out to be really easy. There are simple period recipes for salting meat, such as the following instructions given in "Le Menagier de Paris": "If you wish to salt it in summer, it is appropriate to salt it in a wash-tub or bath, ground coarse salt, and after dry it in the sun." (Friedman, 1993) I salted beef, lamb and chicken (even though Menagier says not to salt fowl) and everything worked out quite well. Meat can be salted as far in advance as you want, but should be done at least two days before the event. That way you have time to change the salt once or twice. I used everyday table salt because it is very inexpensive, although you could get coarse salt and grind it as Menagier suggests.
The only drawback I found to using salted meat is that planning was required. The meat needed to start soaking in water 12-18 hours before it was needed for cooking. I put the meat in a container full of water and then changed the water at least 6-7 times throughout the day. Our rule was that whenever one of us walked past the soaking meat, we changed the water. This system worked pretty well for us.
You might be thinking 'Okay, so you can preserve meat. What about the hard stuff like eggs and milk?' One of the Australians on the Cook's List mentioned that they had been able to keep non-refrigerated eggs for long periods of time by waxing them with paraffin. While I have not found period evidence for waxing eggs most likely because of the availability of live chickens, it works. Waxing eggs is my one big anachronism, because livestock is not permitted at Pennsic. This past Pennsic, I didn't have paraffin on-hand, so I used beeswax. Beeswax provides a harder coat than paraffin, a pretty yellow color, and a nice smell. I'll probably use beeswax again in the future. If you want to hard-boil your eggs, much of the wax will come off as they are boiling. This isn't a problem as long as you have a special (read "overly cheap") pot for boiling waxed eggs. If costs permit, you'll probably want to designate one for waxed eggs.
Milk is also not a problem. A number of period recipes call for almond milk for which there are several recipes extant. Almond milk was often used in Lenten dishes, where comments such as "and if it is Lent, use milk of almonds" (Friedman, 1996) appear frequently. To make almond milk one crushes blanched, skinned almonds and steeps them in boiling water. The oils in the almonds combine with the water to make a milky-like liquid that can then be used to replace cow's milk.
The key to doing fruits and vegetables is finding ones that have not been refrigerated. The supermarket tries to keep everything lovely and moist and cool, but this practice reduces the survivability of the vegetable outside of its cooled environment. The best solution is to grow the vegetables that are called for in your menu and pick them right before you leave for Pennsic. Lettuce keeps much better that way, as does spinach and chard.
I picked a bread recipe (though slightly post-period) with a high baking temperature. Due to the high temperature the crust is extremely hard and helps the bread keep longer. Having just discovered how easy and safe it is to build a period beehive oven, I hope to construct one for a future Pennsic There are a number of webpages that have information on how to build a "dirt-mound" oven, as I like to call them. I think a period beehive oven would work better though, and I am much happier with its documentation. If you build an oven, you can have fresh bread, which will let me use one of the few extant period bread recipes.
For beverages, I bring along a lot of mead (which I make at home), pomegranate syrup for making drinks, hippocras powder (for another period drink), as well as drinking water. Contrary to popular belief, there is documentation for drinking water. The scholar Avicenna mentions drinking water in his poem on medicine, which was written in the 10th century. (Krueger, 1963)
Period snacks and sweets turned out to be easier than the rest of the menu. Fruits and hard cheeses kept well and so I brought them along. Many of the period cheeses are hard cheeses, which is convenient. I also made the 'fine cakes' recipe from Dawson's "The Good Huswife's Jewel" (1597). These shortbread-like cookies kept amazingly well, until the people with whom I was camping discovered them. After that, the cookies didn't go bad... they just disappeared. I also made hais and hulwa from recipes in the "Miscalleny". Hais is a sweet date ball and hulwa comes out like sesame-nut candies (or pistachio balls as one friend calls them). As I have moved away from basing my menu on Lord's Salt as the main course, I have discovered that pieces of the pickled meat, along with some hunks of bread and a little cheese make a terrific snack (or lunch for that matter).
This past Pennsic, I brought homemade marzipan. For those of you who dislike commercial marzipan as much as I do, try making it from a period recipe. It is not as sweet and has a much stronger almond taste. I couldn't have brought enough marzipan. In fact, the ingredients for marzipan kept appearing in our campsite along with volunteers to work the mortar and pestle in order to get more.
The only real problem with designing a period, non-cooler menu is deciding when to serve which dish. We don't have a good handle on what, other than leftovers, was served for breakfast. I tend to make the things that we have come to associate modernly with that meal and for which I have period recipes. These include: waffles, poached eggs, "french toast", rice pudding and a number of other breakfast-y dishes (see menus below).
A Word about Food Safety
No one has ever gotten sick from food that I prepared at Pennsic. I am extremely careful, but not paranoid, about cleanliness and not leaving food out. Modernly, I work with pathogens, which fuels my vigilance. When working with fresh meats, be sure to clean as you go along. Don't reuse utensils that have been used on or left near raw meats without washing them. If food is left out for long periods of time be sure to reheat it above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. By long periods of time, I mean more than one hour. Contrary to popular belief, harmful bacteria don't instantaneously find your food and reproduce themselves all over it. Don't keep food for days on end, unless you know it will keep. In general, if you are not sure about it, don't serve it. While cleanliness is important, don't go overboard. Make sure that you rinse everything and if you bleach your utensils give them a quick rinse afterwards. Bleach and soap residues can make you just as sick as can bacteria.
By salting and pickling meat, using hard cheeses, replacing milk with a period substitute, and waxing eggs I have been able to enjoy varied menus for three Pennsics without using a cooler or refrigeration. No one has gotten sick from any of the food that I made and having period food in a period manner improves my time at Pennsic. I have gotten rave reviews about all of the food that I have served and have not had anything that hasn't tasted wonderfully. Cooking period food at pennsic brings Despina and I closer to the Dream, closer to successful re-enactment. As Despina often says, she eats better at Pennsic than she does all the rest of the year.
Authentic period cooking is obviously something about which I am very enthusiastic and I would be more than happy to help anyone who is starting out or is interested in doing more of it. I can be reached by email at heilveil at uiuc.edu.
In Service to the Dream.
Ld. Bogdan de la Brasov, CW
Pennsic XXVII (1997) Menu:
Cyuele (Sweetened eggs and almonds. Vol. II. pg. 309) (Renfrow, 1990)
Apple Muse (apple sauce) (Vol. II pg. 540) (Renfrow, 1990)
Tanseye (eggs with Tansey) (Vol. II pg. 28) (Renfrow, 1990)
Potage de egges (scrambled) (Vol. I pg. 24) (Renfrow, 1990)
Malasade (Vol. I pg. 22) (Renfrow, 1990)
Hanoney (Vol. I pg. 30) (Renfrow, 1990)
Lord's Salt Meat (pg 110) (Friedman and Cook, 1996)
Pan de Campagne (post period)
Counterfeit isfiriya of Garbanzos (almost falafel. pg. 33) (Friedman and Cook, 1996)
Smoked meat and Lord's Salt meat (pg. 110) (Friedman and Cook, 1996)
Veggies, Fruits (fresh and Dried)
Hais (Dates and Sesame... pg. 78) (Friedman and Cook, 1996)
Tostee (pg. 78) (Friedman and Cook, 1996)
Rice Pottage (MK pg. 201, Vol. I, pg.18-19) (Renfrow, 1990)
Hulwa (Honey version, rolled in sesame. Pg. 98) (Friedman and Cook, 1996)
Fine Cakes (Dawson, 1597)
Bread (pg. 8) (Friedman and Cook, 1996)
Pan de campagne (Post Period)
NOTE: All meats were preserved with the "Lord's Salt" recipe found in
the Miscelleny on page 110. (Friedman and Cook, 1996)
Armored Turnips (pg. 13) (Friedman and Cook, 1996)
Makke (Beans and onions pg. 15) (Friedman and Cook, 1996)
Roast of Meat (pg. 26) (Friedman and Cook, 1996)
Preparing covered Tabahjiyya (meat and onions covered with dough pg. 37) (Friedman and Cook, 1996)
Zirbaya (Meat dish with thick sauce. pg. 46) (Friedman and Cook, 1996)
Cooked fried Chicken (pg 45) (Friedman and Cook, 1996)
Counterfeit isfiriya of Garbanzos (almost falafel. pg. 33) (Friedman and Cook, 1996)
Fresh Beans with Meat, called Fustuqiyya (pg. 25) (Friedman and Cook, 1996)
Carbonata (salted meat with sauce. (pg. 96) (Redon et al., 1998)
Chickpea Soup (pg. 56) (Redon et al., 1998)
Sekanjabin (pg. 104) (Friedman and Cook, 1996)
Hippocras (pg. 104) (Friedman and Cook, 1996)
Pennsic XXIX (2000) Menu
Poached Eggs (in sweet wine and with sugar spice and vinegar) (Milham, 1998)
Waffles (a couple of days, as we have different recipes...)
scrambled eggs (Renfrow, 1990)
Brown Frys/Lost Bread (French Toast) (Renfrow, 1990)
Pokerounce (toast with spiced honey) (Renfrow, 1990)
Potage of Rys (Renfrow, 1990)
stuffed eggs (period deviled eggs. Redaction by Ld. Ras (LJ Spencer)
White pie (Milham, 1998)
Lord's Salt and Bread (Friedman and Cook, 1996)
Alows de Beef (rolled, not ribs variety) (Renfrow, 1990)
Steaks (with mustard as one should serve with salted meat) (Le Managier IN: Friedman and Cook, 1993)
Meat Roman Style (Milham, 1998)
Kid in Garlic (Milham, 1998)
Pork cuts (Milham, 1998)
Blancmange (Renfrow, 1990)
White dish (Dumplings) (Milham, 1998)
Meat Pie (Milham, 1998)
Armoured Turnips and Pears in Wine Syrup (Friedman and Cook, 1996 and Heitt et al., 1997, respectively)
Appetizer of meat (period burgers, sort of...) (Milham, 1998)
Dawson, 1597. "The Good Hus-wives Jewell".
Friedman, D. and Cook, E. 1996. "A Miscelleny. 7th edition".
Friedman, D. and Cook, E. 1993. "A collection of Medieval and Renaissance Cookbooks. 6th Edition Volumes I & II". NP.
Hieatt, C. Hosington, B. and Butler, S. 1997. "Pleyn Delit: Medieval Cookery for Modern Cooks. 2nd Edition". University of Toronto Press. Toronto, Ont.
Krueger, H. C. 1963. "Avicenna's Poem on Medicine". Thomas Books. Springfield, IL.
Milham, ME. 1998. "Platina. On Right Pleasure and Good Health". Medieval and Renaissance Text and Studies. Tempe, Az.
Redon, O. Sabban, F, and Serventi, S. 1998. "The Medieval Kitchen: Recipes from France and Italy". University of Chicago Press. Chicago, Il.
Renfrow, C. 1990. "Take and Thousand Eggs or More: A collection of 15th century recipes Volumes I & II". NP.
Sass, LJ. 1976. "To the Queen's Taste". Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Armstrong, V (transl.). Das Kuchbuch der Sabrina Welserin (1553) http://www.best.com/~ddfr/Medieval/Cookbooks/Sabrina_Welserin.html
Copyright 2000 by Jeffrey Stewart Heilveil. 308 W. John St. Champaign, IL 61820 <heilveil at uiuc.edu>. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited and receives a copy.
If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate 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.