|To begin with, the ideal of the Society is
to recreate the Middle Ages as they should have been.. Just whose determination
of "should have been" is as yet undefined. Basically, we use this to mean
the recreation of an atmosphere, a sense of community - the chivalric ideal,
courtesy and so forth. By the time you have been an active participant
for a year or so, have traveled to far-flung Baronies and Shires, attended
several sessions and gone to a good range of events, you will discover
that the sense of community is indeed strong - we may all be crazy, but we
are all "family.
Part of recreating the Gothic/Medieval/Renaissance
atmosphere is preparing the appropriate food, putting on feasts, and sharing
the experience with others. Feasts and tourneys are the two most popular
SCA activities! This article will discuss how to act through SCA potlucks
and feast situations before you manage to collect a shelf full of medieval
cookery books, what cookery books to start prowling used book stores for,
and the basic etiquette of SCA food/feast situations.
Medieval Food from Safeway: There is a wealth
of medieval food all around us - a significant portion of the kinds of food
we eat today comes down to us from the Middle Ages and much earlier. Keeping
a careful eye on the SCA time period (650-1600 AD) and New World explorations
(1492 onward), it is easy to produce perfectly acceptable potluck and feast
contributions from readily available foodstuffs with a minimum of hassle.
There is, however, no substitute for research and recreation of documented
Medieval and Renaissance receipts! My goal is to give you a stopgap - you
should not end your culinary investigations with this casual read! Those
who are really into culinary and brewing/vintning arts can form or join
culinary guilds, including the Kingdom level "Guild of the Black Kettle."
The following suggestions are made to help you begin your adventures.
A good place to start is knowing what foods
are "in period" and what is usually "out of period. Some foodstuffs from
the New World (such as turkey, sweet potatoes, allspice, beans, chili peppers,
and cranberries) are acceptable. They were brought to Europe via the Spanish
and Portuguese galleons and spread throughout the Old World almost immediately.
Other New World foods (such as chocolate, vanilla, maize - what we can corn)
came to Europe and were either ignored as foods, or gained acceptance too
late for our period. There are, of course, exceptions to this generalization.
For example, corn meal mush and tomatoes are perfectly period foodstuffs
dating from 1500 on for Mediterranean personae (Spain, Portugal, Italy,
Sardinia, Corsica, Southern France, the Middle East which borders on the
Assess what foods your persona would logically
have known, tasted, had cheaply or expensively. For instance, many spices
came into Europe via returning Crusaders or invading Moors. The Islamic
conquests brought oranges, lemons, peaches, apricots, cinnamon, sugar,
cloves, coffee, and rice into Spain and Sicily. If your persona is of the
Crusader era or later, it is possible that you might have tasted pilaf
(a golden saffron rice dish) or peaches in syrup. However, if you are a
pre-Christian Celt, these combinations are outside your possible (logical)
Likewise, if you are a pre-Islamic Arab, you
have never tasted coffee, although you're probably quite familiar with
bananas! No matter what period denizen of the British Isles your alter
ego is, you haven't tasted Chinese teas (oolong, pekoe, lapsing, etc.)
because the tea trade and the common appetite for those kinds of teas didn't
occur until the 1700's. Teas in Europe prior to that time were infusions
of some of the hundreds of herbs commonly grown and gathered, such as chamomile,
tansy, borage and sage. Finding out what your persona would or wouldn't
have had available is an important part of researching your identity. Tudors
didn't eat tomatoes - they know what they are, a poisonous berry of the nightshade
family! If you offer a tudor persona something with tomatoes in it, they
will feel (quite rightly for their era) that you are trying to do away
with them for some nefarious reason and quite likely will take great offense
at your effort! The Italian Renaissance types, however, knowing this idiosyncrasy
of the English to be pure whimsy, will smile and sample with gusto - especially
if your sauce is adorning some pasta! (Which, by the way, was well entrenched
in the Mediterranean region well before Marco Polo & Co. went to Cathay!)
Find our what is legal for your persona, and then find recipes to pad out
your collection of "common knowledge for your persona and his/her daily
Suggestions For Instant Medieval
Baked Onions and Onion Rice/Barley: Use mild
onions; take off skins and top with butter and bread crumbs. Bake at a
low - medium temperature until soft. To make onion rice/barley, add one
package of dry onion soup mix to uncooked rice. Measure two cups of water
(or bouillon) to each 1 cup of long grain rice. Boil and reduce heat to
lowest setting. Cover and let sit approximately 20 minutes until rice is
fluffy and dry. Arrange baked onions on top to serve.
Sausage Pie.: Take a frozen pie shell and
bake according to instructions. Then sauté (fry lightly) 1 to 1
½ pounds of sausage. Drain off as much fat as possible. Pat on paper
towels. Mix 3 eggs, ½ cup cream, the sausage, and spice to taste.
Bake as a quiche (approximately 350¡, until knife comes out clean
when stuck in center).
"Bashed Neeps": Can be any combination of
mashed non-green vegetables, but most particularly carrots and turnips.
Take equal amounts of each vegetable, boil until tender. Mash (as in potatoes),
adding butter and such seasonings as you favor. Try honey, cardamom, caraway
and cinnamon (not necessarily all in the same batch...) to differ the taste
from plain salt and pepper. Do not salt or pepper too heavily - both were
horrendously expensive in our period!
"Bean Salad with Artichokes/Mushrooms'': Use
equal numbers of cans of beans (julienne cut green beans, yellow wax, garbanzos,
whatever). Drain the juice from the beans well. To the assorted beans add
one medium size jar of marinated artichokes or one medium jar of marinated
mushrooms and mix well. The marinade will flavor the salad just right.
Add to it some fresh ground pepper seasonings. Fresh-grated Parmesan or
Romano cheese is good addition, too.
Filled Loaves.: How to make bread interesting!
Take a good sized (unsliced) loaf, or a round (unsliced) loaf, and cut
off the lop 1/3; set it aside. Hollow out the bottom 2/3, reserving the
bread taken out. In a warm oven (200º or so) "stale" both top and
bottom of the loaf - that is, dry them out. In the empty cavity, put canned
stew heated with sour creak stirred in (be careful not to boil! It's bad
for the sour cream); or spiced ground beef and rice mix; or sauced vegetables;
or any somewhat juicy recipe. The bread is now a serving container (very
Medieval)! and self- cleaning - it becomes part of the food as it soaks up
the juices of whatever you put in it. This technique can be used with heads
of cabbage (parboiled to semi-cook it), lettuce (ditto), carved melons
(for cold fruit soups), and so forth. (For fancy, serve with the top replaced,
maybe with a design cut through it so that the filling shows.) Use Ieftover
bread to make breadcrumbs to thicken sauces.
Filled Pockets.: Use refrigerator biscuits
or frozen bread dough and fill with fairly dry spoonful of sausage, berries,
etc. Enclose totally and bake for handy tourney food. The same technique
can be used to make instant pasties. By using canned stew (drain it through
a paper towel, to get rid of excess water but not the pan juices and fats).
Cheese Pastry: Add ½ to 1 cup of grated cheese to any piecrust mix;
add the recommended amount of water, mix and roll out to about ½"
thickness. Cut with decorative cookie or garnish cutters and bake. The
result is a light, flaky cheese pastry that is fantastic right out of the
oven. To make ahead and serve at a feast, reheat just before serving.
Cornish Game Hens and small chickens bear
looking into - they cook fast and are easy to stuff ingeniously.
Cream Herb Soups.: Get a can or two of cream
of chicken, chicken bouillon or cream of leek soup. Dilute with half-and-half
or cream and add 1 egg for each cup of soup used. Add chopped fresh herbs
such as dill, sorrel, chives, etc., as desired.
"Filled Cake.: Hollow or slice in layers a
commercial pound cake; fill or layer with whipped cream and fresh fruit;
or jam; custard or pudding; or honey and chopped nuts. For something really
tantalizing, drizzle a red or white sweet wine over the layers and spread
with whipped cream.
Fruitcake: Mix a well-drained can of fruit
(berries, cherries, etc.) into a box cake mix. (Reduce water and use the
syrup.) Bake per instructions.
Fruit Tarts: Fill frozen, pre-baked pie shells
or puff pastry shells with frozen or canned berries and top with whipped
cream or plain yogurt.
"Flat Bread": Using thawed frozen dough, make
a pizza crust. Instead of tomato sauce, pour olive oil all over, sprinkle
with Italian herbs, and bake per directions Or, sprinkle with sesame seeds,
poppy seeds, caraway, or dill.
Pease porridge is a standard Medieval dish.
In a time crunch, use 2 to 3 cans of Campbell's split pea soup. Line a
sieve or colander with muslin or a piece of old sheet. Put undiluted soup
into the sheet and form a load shape. Secure the sheet and then steam the
pease porridge until heated through. To serve take out of cloth and garnish
with carrots or bits of bacon or ham.
"Quick Cookies": Use refrigerator cookies - particularly
sugar cookies. Unfortunately, chocolate chips are not strictly period.
However, one or two Kings and Past Royalty are somewhat fond of them, so
if Grad Manfred comes to visit, feel free to make chocolate chip!
Quick Sauces: Choose a good package mix (such
as Knorr's) and dilute with cream, halt-and-half, or wine (depending on
use) and mix. It's a good way to really dress up plain chicken or vegetables.
Also, dilute a basic sauce with clam nectar or bouillon and top with buttered
noodles. Pasta is period but go for the egg noodles or the more exotic
shapes rather than spaghetti or elbow macaroni. Funds Permitting, a canned
ham or pre-cooked meat (summer sausage, pepperoni etc.) is a welcome and
easy contribution. To serve a ham fancily, slice in 1/8" to ¼" slices,
arrange on toasted bread and top with a hollandaise sauce (from a package,
naturally!) -- garnish with spears of asparagus, cauliflower or carrots.
(Ed. Note: ALWAYS, if you've gone to the expense of a lump of roast beef
or a ham, serve it pre-sliced!! It will go a lot- further, it won't cause
delays in the potluck line, and it'll help people remember their potluck
manners relative to serving size. (Chickens you can't do so much about,
but people are more accustomed to haggling them up, and to taking reasonable-sized
A couple of packages of dried fruit, a box
of raisins, and a few cups of brandy or apricot liqueur makes a hell of
Rice-a-roni and other packaged products in
this vein are good substitutes for pilaf. Try to avoid Kentucky Fried Chicken
and Taco Time for potluck contributions. It's so easy to do other, more
Medieval people liked decorative food - they
colored soups and painted pastry to liven it up. Dress up veggies by cutting
them in shapes; the same goes for pie pastry. Add decorative shapes to
piecrusts to give texture and visual touches to the groaning board.
Spices were used differently - and more heavily - in
earlier days. In addition to their use as condiments, spices had medicinal
and symbolic values as well. Experiment with ginger, cardamom, mace, cinnamon,
fennel, fenugreek, and so forth to gain an appreciation for the flavor
of the period. Be familiar with the flavors or your particular area and
More parts of the animals slaughtered were
eaten, as well - nothing went to waste. Although I encourage people to try
organ meats, sweetbreads, tripe chitlins', etc., DO NOT put these things
in a potluck or feast dish without honest and obvious labeling! Ditto for
rabbit, various types of shell-fish, camel meat, whole raw milk, and so
forth. "Mock Entrails, that wonderful subtlety, is entrails - it is dried
fruit assembled to look like entrails! It is plain rude to spring new taste
sensations on folk who may not be adequately prepared. There are a number
of allergy sufferers among the populace whose health can be severely endangered
by the ingestion of certain substances. And finally someone may react badly
to your sweet-and-sour tripe by throwing up all over their table and costume,
and that of their neighbors. This will leave a number of folk severely
unhappy with you - starting with the victim and (quickly) working through
the autocrat, feastocrat, and possibly the Royalty (especially if the incident
occurs at the head table...). Most of what we consider courtesy is merely
common sense in polite garb.
On Cookery Books: This section is arranged
mostly in order of availability.
From within the Society we currently have
The Lion's Gate Cook Book of the Middle Ages. the Madrone Culinary Guild's
Beste of the Lotte. and Cure for Ye Bite of a Mad Dog, and Other Delights..
and Mistress Katrine de Bailllie du Chat's How to Cook Forsoothly available
from Raymond's Quiet Press. Lion's Gate is small but the recipes are unusual
and it's back in print. The Madrone booklets often include original recipes,
the texts of the period recipes, extensive bibliographies; and the glossary
of cookery terms in Cure. runs to 17 pages. Mistress Katrine's volume is
"all about food and eating in and for the Society" with recipes, annotated
bibliography, and glorious production values. (Raymond's Quiet Press, PO
Box 35118 Station D, Albuquerque, NM 87176.)
Next come the general commercial books. Madge
Lorwin, Dining with William Shakespeare. Elizabethan period, gives original
recipe text and "working versions" - that really do! -- with additional information
on life and customs. A very good book; remaindered. Pleyn Delit by Hieatt
and Butler has an excellent annotated bibliography, follows the usual format,
though the originals are here given in a fancy Gothic type that may be
difficult to decipher at first. Sallets. Humbles & Shrewsbery Cakes.
by Beebe is a nice little book of Elizabethan recipes. Lorna Sass' books
from the Metropolitan Museum of Art are probably the best known - To the
King's Taste (from the Forme of Cury written for Richard II in 1390); To
the Queen's Taste (Elizabethan); Christmas Feasts. (has a Medieval and
Renaissance chapter). One of her most important contributions is the recipe
for Almond Milk given in King's. (an important ingredient through most
of period, there is evidently only one known recipe - given here).
Another widely used book (available in both
paper and hardcover) is Cosman's Fabulos Feasts.. This book has an extensive
history and customs section (indeed, it's about 60% of the book) with many
illustrations, some in color. To my mind, this book is not as good as it
could be, because in the recipe section neither original texts nor sources
of individual recipes are given - unless you can cross-reference it in one
of the other books, you'll never really know how authentic your dish is.
Also there 3 is no index to the recipes (almost all the other books have
some kind of index), and the Bibliography, while very extensive, is arranged
in a very complicated fashion. Fast and Feast. Food in Medieval Society
by Henisch has no recipes but is excellent on customs.
Less available commercial books include Tannahill's
Food in History (excellent); McKendry's Seven Centuries Cookbook. (about
1/3 is in period); and the Horizon Cookbook (2 volumes, one of history,
one of recipes).
When you get really interested, you can start
after original sources. For example, Apicius' volume on Roman cooking is
available in a number of modern editions, often with the Latin text on
facing pages; Apicius was a major source for medieval cookery. Then there's
the Early English Text Society, which is dedicated to producing copies
of period volumes of all kinds - including cookery books. I have a copy of
Original Series No.91 - Two Fifteenth Century Cookery Books - typeset in
modern letters I believe the New Series is photocopies of the originals
(do you really want to learn to read 16th C Gothic type?). Recently a copy
of the latest scholarly edition of the Menagier de Paris (14th C. French,
How to be a Good Housewife. written by a loving older husband for his young
wife, 2 volumes, lots of domestic detail and recipes) went through the
local university library - now if only I could read Medieval French. (There
is an abridged edition, with about half of the recipes, available - Eileen
Power, The Goodman of Paris).
Watch the Watched Pot book review section;
go through your local libraries, public, school, and university; get to
know your local used book dealers; get to know your (Society) neighbors - even
in areas without organized cooking activity, you may be able to find quite
extensive private collections, either to use, or for evaluating what you
want to collect for yourself.
Dealing with Food in SCA Situations: The following
"rules of thumb" are suggested for making it easier to deal with SCA food
situations such as the ever popular potlucks, feasts, and so forth. They
are based on experience, but are certainly not carved in stone! One of
the great achievements of our period is NOT plastic. Keep it off tables
as either utensils or serving pieces. Use baskets, wooden trenchers, bowls,
cast iron pots or crockery - anything but tacky plastic! Simple is better.
Involved, complex, time-consuming recipes are generally trouble, whether
for feast, potluck contribution, or as tourney food. If total time (not
cooking lime) is longer than 30 uninterrupted minutes, think of something
Economical is better than (flashy) expensive.
II goes farther and allows the pocket to breath in anticipation of the
next event. If your dish is too unappetizing to cat as cold leftovers on
Monday - it's far too nasty/gross for the potluck.
ALWAYS BRING YOUR OWN SERVING DISH/PLATTER
AND UTENSILS - AND PUT IDENTIFICATION ON THEM! Don't assume that there will
be any sort of pot/pan, serving tools, hot pads, serving dishes. Anything
you need to serve the dish should be packed with the food and dragged along
to the event.
Also, in view of the above, don't assume there
will be dish soap or rubber gloves, trash can liners, or paper bags al
a feast site to promote clean-up. Check first, and BYO just in case. The
autocrat is always right. In the absence of the autocrat, the person(s))
delegated to a particular function (for instance, kitchen head) is always
right in that area. That's what makes the game work. It is an SCA tradition
that everyone gets first helpings before anyone gets seconds. This is very
important for several reasons:
1) Medieval food, being a new experience for
many, is not universally relished by all. Samples are easier to finish
that whopping portions. (Ed. Note: Feasts take some getting used to - modern
folk are simply not used to meals served in courses, with multiple main
and side dishes. It takes a while for it to sink in that the first course
is not all of the meal, and to adjust your helping size accordingly. If
you're a feast planner, this problem can make deciding on portion sizes
2) Everyone has contributed to the meal, therefore
everyone deserves to partake of it. Chivalry demands that you curb, not
satiate, your ravenous appetite on the first pass.
3) Be assured that the people in the end of
the line with appreciate your thoughtfulness. At a large event (such as
Twelfth Night), be assured that the people at the end of the line, and
sprinkled through it will be peers and other notables, will take a stern
view of injudiciously heaped plates on the first pass. The watchword of
the Game is Chivalry - be courteous to your fellow anachronists. Don't jostle
the line, offer insult to people, or generally make yourself obnoxious.
(Of course, being a chivalrous person, you wouldn't be doing any such things.)
Someone who did, however, might be nicely (perhaps firmly) asked to please,
desist, and possible leave.
4. Everyone helps with clean-up by cleaning
up after him/herself. Folks who want to be loved and known quickly help
clean up the site above and beyond their personal pickup. People who leave
messes for others to clean up are very poorly thought of - even if they're
If you are autocratting a feast situation
(potluck or otherwise):
If you personally are short-tempered or hysterical
under pressure, you probably don't need to make your contributions in high
stress situations - like kitchen head, autocrat, court herald, and so forth.
In the case of feasts/potlucks, there is always a great need for more dishwashers,
prep crew, and vegetable peelers. After all, you only need one autocrat
to find a site, and one kitchen head to make sure the Kitchen is open,
and all the elements on the stove work!
Team work makes life in general much easier.
A feast crew should, for a basic 20 to 50 person affair, have about 5 people
(minimum) working on it - in precooking, on-sire cooking, and shopping/planning.
It is a good thing to have some non-cooking types as servers. It is the
responsibility of the cooks to clean the kitchen -but they can have outside
help. If it's available, grab it! (Gently, affectionately, etc., but firmly!)
Also, the clean-up crew should be separate and different from the set-up
and cooking crew. That way, everyone gets a breather and an opportunity
to enjoy the event.
Remember - there's more to feasts than food.
There's all that free time after everyone has stuffed themselves like Michaelmas
geese - and it's only 9:00 PM! Provide (or encourage someone else to provide)
entertainment in the form of dancing, games, and music. Sometimes local,
mundane early music groups will play for cheap or free just for dinner
and the experience. (Most mundane early music groups don't realize we exist...)
Basic medieval dances are usually easy to
teach after one or two go-rounds. Many medieval board and dice games are
very accessible. If the Crown or a local Baron, etc., happens to be available
and willing, a Court may be held in which case you have to deal with the
Heralds and the entourage. Courts usually consist of the dignitary saying
nice things about your nice shire/canton, passing on local (or, in the
case of the Crown, Kingdom) awards, and so forth. Also leave some unstructured
time just for folks to mill about and get acquainted!
Last But By No Means Least:
DON'T PANIC. Under all circumstances, keep
firmly in mind that: THIS IS A GAME! You will often forget this salient
fact of our existence. Don't worry about forgetting - we all do, and frequently.
However, the fact remains that in six months, a year, a decade, this particular
event will be history. Nothing you do can change that fact. It can be pleasant
or it can be a disaster. That depends on good planning and execution, and
an absence of natural disasters. Be as calm as the butterflies will let
you; once the event is under way you can't alter its course, it takes on
a life of its own! Relax, participate in the event tale to people, be the
chivalric person you are. Do your best, and then enjoy it! Oh, and the
best response to lavish praise is the simplest. Thank you. Accept the kind
words of others - they have done you a courtesy and compliment by appreciating
your efforts. Do them the courtesy of acknowledging their chivalry with