Since posting about the cookbook project back in January, some stuff happened that was really hard and sad and I’m still processing all of it. It definitely put a damper on my dreams of testing a recipe a week for the cookbook, but I’m finally starting to feel a little human again (ugh grief is dumb). I don’t know how many recipes I’ll be able to test and add to the cookbook, but I have managed to get a small handful together since January (and it’s not like I didn’t have lots of recipes ready to go back in January, either!)
So, there will be a cookbook, it will probably mostly look like the table of contents already posted (see link), but there will also be at least a few more recipes too! I still don’t have anything like pre-order details or even how I’ll be releasing it nailed down; I’m going to just have to take that as it comes.
Her Majesty Sha’ya of An Tir laid a challenge on our Kingdom, and in particular upon the Laurels: produce a work to be auctioned off to benefit RAINN during the Knights Auction (all donations are sponsored by a Knight) at 12th Night.
I was moved — this is an incredible organization whose mission I believe in. I wanted to produce something worthy of auction. I found a sponsor, Sir Philip de Mantel, and proposed to put together a set of spice mixes for period cooking.
And I did make a set of spice mixes, a rather nice set if I do say so myself:
Most of these (4/6) were made using actual period recipes. The remaining two (powder douce and powder fort) are more “generic” spice blends that I have my own versions of. You can see I found cute bottles and a cute basket and even made little labels for them.
Here are the sources for each one, and their ingredients:
Powder Fort: Black pepper, cubeb, cassia cinnamon, mace, clove
Fine Spices 1 (Libro di Cucina, 14th/15th c. Italian): Black pepper, Ceylon cinnamon, ginger, clove, saffron
Fine Spices 2 (Livre Fort, 16th c. French): Ginger, Ceylon cinnamon, black pepper, long pepper, nutmeg, clove, grains of paradise, galangal
But here’s the thing: I didn’t feel like it was enough. I got it into my head that spices are okay, but you need recipes to know how to use them.
So, long story short, I kind of wrote a cookbook.
That’s a screenshot of the cover. I wrote a cookbook, and I got a copy of it printed, and I put it and the spices together as one lot for the auction. The winning bidder currently owns the only copy of this cookbook in existence.
Yeah, soooo… I’ve given myself a year. I’m going to edit what I have and add more recipes to it if I can (my goal is 1 new tested recipe every 1-2 weeks), then I plan to release it for sale. I’m not planning a big run, and I’m planning to self-publish for a few reasons (although, um, if you work for a publishing house and want to talk me out of that and offer me $$$$ to change my mind and publish through you, let’s talk!)
To get you excited, here is the table of contents so far:
In a world of mass-produced pastry trash, one woman would rise up and fight on behalf of all pie-kind. She alone would have the strength to wield THE PIE OF DESTINY!
At WCCS, I participated in a lamb “breaking” class — cutting a lamb into primals. It was incredibly interesting. I’ve broken a pig before, but not a sheep; the anatomy is basically the same, but I always want more practice. During the same class, we also slaughtered two roosters. The lamb had been slaughtered the night before. I helped pluck the roosters and watched the gutting process. It was all incredibly interesting!
I took one of the roosters and some of the lamb meat. Later in the day, I had a coffin from the class I taught, and I decided, of course, to fill that coffin with meat. But that wasn’t quite twee enough for me, so I gathered wild herbs and greens from the site. I ended up making a pie with meat from animals slaughtered on site and plants found on site and a crust made on site — it felt like the official unofficial symposium pie.
Directions for the pastry can be found in my pie crust class handout, linked in the previous post.
Here’s how I did the filling: First, I chopped some fatty lamb meat very small, and mixed it with salt and some very finely minced mint. Then I blanched a mix of nettles, redwood sorrel, fiddleheads, and lemon balm, chopped them finely, and mixed them with the lamb. I packed this into the bottom of the pastry. Then, I removed the breast meat from the rooster and put that on top of the seasoned lamb. Finally, I jointed the rooster and put its legs and wings above the rest of the meat and then put the coffin lid on top.
I baked this pie a looooonnnnng time — probably 4-5 hours, all told! — at 325°F. This meant that the meat got wonderfully tender, with the coffin acting just like a baking dish. To serve, I removed the top crust and let people dig in. The top crust was actually pretty tasty, even though I made the pastry thick. I would have been interested to taste the side/bottom crust, as a lot of fat and juice from the lamb had soaked into it; however, I was trying to keep things relatively tidy, and it seemed easier to just scoop out filling. I personally thought the lamb and rooster were delicious; I liked the flavor profile, and the meat was just so tender and flavorful. The rooster was what chicken wants to taste like.
I felt like this was a “bucket list” pie — making food from animals killed less than 24 hours before hand and plants I gathered. This pie made me really happy.
The SCA is officially recreating pre-1600 Western Europe, with some wiggle room for “cultures that would have had contact with Western Europe.” This can help you figure out how to focus your research into cooking, and this is what I (and most SCAdians) mean when using the shorthand of describing something as “period.” So while saying something is period is kind of a bad sloppy habit we have (when we should say “Item X is historical for time period Y in place Z”), it is an easy way of delineating “SCA acceptable” from “outside our scope.” (And note that I’m not making any comment on whether or not the SCA should be more or less limiting than this.)
Make an attempt:
In the SCA, we require that everyone make an attempt at period clothing. Similarly, everyone can make an attempt at making and eating period food. Even if all anyone did was commit to not bringing blatantly modern foods to potlucks (pizza, brownies, etc.), we could significantly improve the quality of events. It is my aim to educate as many people as possible about historical (and passable) options that are achievable for people with various skill levels. You do not have to make a cockentrice right out the gate (but if you want to, go for it!) — everyone taking one step toward historical authenticity has a more powerful impact than a small minority of people taking a thousand steps and leaving everyone else behind. Take that step with me, I’ll hold your hand 🙂
Approach historical cooking with the right mindset:
Period food is yummy!
Real people really ate this food, and just as when you branch out of your comfort zone and try food from another country, trying food from another time can often result in you discovering that, in fact, the unfamiliar can often be awesome.
Stick to your strengths.
It’s okay to stay within your comfort zone, especially at first. Love to bake? Try some 16th century cookie recipes. Can’t read Middle English, or uncomfortable just winging it with no quantities or specific cooking directions? Look for recipe translations and modernizations (stay tuned for links and cookbook suggestions).
Food is sacred.
There’s a reason why cultural celebrations (ahem: including SCA feasts) and religious ceremonies center around food. Food is a big deal! You will spend a phenomenal portion of your life acquiring, preparing, and consuming food; why waste that time? Food can and should be more than just bare nourishment. Food is art, food is passion, food is science, food is love, food is joy. Within the SCA, historical food is a way to experience historical life. Take that opportunity, it’s worth it.
Where to start:
Avoid new-world and blatantly modern foods
Think tiny changes. If you were going to bring chocolate chip cookies to the potluck, bring shortbread instead. If you normally bring salsa and corn chips, bring hummus and pita bread.
Pick a culture (a specific time and place) that interests you
Then do some research. This can match your persona but doesn’t have to. Maybe you’re going to a potluck at an event with a theme, or maybe you just think Spanish food is tasty and you’d like to try some historical Spanish food. If you can personalize your quest for historical food a little, you’ll have more fun with the journey.
Find a recipe or two that looks tasty and make it
See my suggestions for sources below. Maybe cook something in small quantities at home to try it out before taking it to an event to get a sense of it. If your first attempt doesn’t appeal to you or doesn’t work, don’t give up; try something else.
A word on New World vs Old World foods: the conquest of the New World changed the global food landscape forever. There are a lot of foods that we take for granted that medieval people did not know about. While it’s true that some New World foods were adopted into European cuisines prior to the end of the SCA’s time period, the forms they took at first are often ones that are complete unfamiliar to us now; white potato jam is period, mashed potatoes not so much. One of the simplest ways to begin to explore period cooking is to try going without New World ingredients. Don’t despair, though: there are lots of Old World foods that are awesome in and of themselves. Here are some representative lists of New World and Old World foods; these are far from complete:
New World: Potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, vanilla, chocolate, tomatoes, squash (winter and summer varieties), most beans, turkeys, quinoa, pecans, cashews, peanuts, macadamia nuts, Brazil nuts, cranberries, peppers, sunflowers, avocado, agave, huckleberry, jicama, manioc, wild “rice”, yucca, green beans
Old World: Barley, wheat, rye, carrots, parsnips, turnips, rice, lentils, garbanzo beans, fava beans, cows, sheep, pigs, goats, chickens, ducks, geese, deer, elk, many types of fish, millet, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, lettuce, most common herbs and greens, almonds, walnuts, chestnuts, eggs, dairy, apples, onions, garlic, leeks, bees (honey), cane sugar, artichoke, asparagus, beet, cantaloupe, citrus, cucumber, fig, garlic, grape, hazelnut, peaches, pears, radishes, pheasant, peacock, heron, mushrooms, gourds, and more
Totally modern: Chemical leavening agents, industrially processed foods, and many vegetable varieties (for example rutabagas and sugar beets)
Where to find recipes online:
Right here! Search or use the tag “recipe” and you’ll find lots
Desserts: candied ginger, dried fruit, shortbread cookies, dates, yogurt with honey, marzipan / almond paste, fresh whole or cut up fruit, candied nuts, baklava, candied orange peels, quince paste (sold as “membrillo”), fruit and nut “cake” (Spanish “Pan de Orejon”), butter wafer cookies (Trader Joe’s has these), tiny fruit tarts
Nibbles: cheese, olives, nuts, hard boiled eggs, hummus and vegetables / pita bread, salami and other cured meats, pickled mushrooms, pickled vegetables (check the New World / Old World lists above), pâté
Salad mix with oil and vinegar dressing
Rotisserie chicken, pre-cooked ham, smoked fish, sausages and mustard, pre-cooked meatballs (especially with a simple medieval sauce like any of the ones based on vinegar, spices, and bread crumbs)
Pasta (cheese ravioli, egg noodles, etc.) with butter and cheese
Final thought: Don’t forget that this is supposed to be fun. And historical authenticity is really fun.
In the SCA, the first piece of research advice you’ll get (well, after “don’t try to back-document a project you’ve already completed”) is that you must know the difference between a primary and a secondary source. Generally, we define a primary source as an actual historical item (or text) and a secondary source is a modern interpretation of those historical sources. So if you’re researching clothing, a primary source would be an extant historical garment while a secondary source would be a modern book about medieval clothing.
Here’s a question for you: what’s a primary source for historical cooking? You can’t go to a museum and see (much less eat) the wedding feast of Henry and Matilda. Recreating historical food will always require you to synthesize multiple research strands. That’s the fundamental purpose behind this lesson: all of these types of sources that I describe build on each other, and the strongest research makes use not only of multiple individual sources but multiple strands of research and analysis.