Medieval Cooking is Complex: A Complete Recipe Annotation

During the process of creating my pie for KASC, I had to not only do a lot of test cooking, but I also had to do a ton of close reading. Reading a medieval recipe is a complex and nuanced endeavor. Here is an example of my process of interpreting a recipe.

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Introduction to Historical Food Research

This is re-published from my old blog.

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.

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Marzipan: my go-to dessert for every feast

Marzipan is delicious, relatively easy to make (if you allow yourself modern cheats), vegan and gluten free, historical, and fancy: these factors combine to make it my top choice when planning a feast. You can sculpt it, add colors, or arrange some other sweets (I’m partial to dried fruits and candied ginger as shown here) to serve:

  

My basic marzipan recipe that I’ve been using for years:

  • One part by weight blanched slivered almonds
  • One part by weight sugar
  • Rose water

Grind the almonds and sugar together in a food processor until the almonds are very fine. Add rose water a spoonful at a time, grinding continuously, until the marzipan forms a paste. Continue grinding until it is a smooth and uniform as possible. 

Marzipan is also wonderful to take to events for a sweet treat or to share at a potluck. 

Yesterday I made the marzipan pictured above as desserts for an Italian feast. It all got devoured and I even caught a friend of mine filling his napkin with it to take home!