Eating in Style at Pennsic: Period Style
One of my very first events in the SCA was Pennsic. A friend convinced Despina my then- fiancé’, now-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 get going on this whole SCA thing.
I knew that we would have to do something about food, however I just wasn’t sure what. In addition to being proficient in the kitchen, I had been subscribed to the “SCA cooks list”, as well as looking at the period cookbooks I had collected (more about those will follow). It seemed to me that the way to do Pennsic was with all period, non-cooler food. My theory was that this was a war and in period there wouldn’t have been coolers of ice (or appliances) to refrigerate food. 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, I put together a menu of period dishes which would not require a cooler the entire time we were at War.
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 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 facsimiles). This article will deal exclusively with the latter two (try to avoid the first, if you can).
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 (and why we can never TRULY 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 (henceforth “TTEM”). TTEM is a collection of medieval recipes where you can find both the original recipes, as well as modernizations of the language. 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, as well as a lack of measurements. These cookbooks, however, give you the best chance of trying to create your own redactions.
Pulling off a Period 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 sound gross, it is extremely tasty! The recipe calls for a number of strong spices and vinegar to allow cooked meat to keep for well-over 6 months (personal observation). 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).
The second year we went to Pennsic, I began experimenting with salting meat. This also turned out to be really easy if you followed period recipes for salting meat (Such as the instructions given in Le Managier de Paris, which can be found on Cariadoc’s webpage at www.best.com/~ddfr/Medieval/Medieval.html, or in Friedman, 1991). I salted beef, lamb and chicken (even though Managier says not to salt fowl) and it worked out quite well. Meat can be salted as far in advance as you want, but I try to always start it at least two days before the event. That way you have time to change the salt once or twice. I have been using everyday table salt (because it is extremely inexpensive), however this year I am panning to use a coarse grained salt, which is closer to what would have been used in period. It may also help the meat desalinize faster.
The only drawback to salted meat is that you have to plan ahead. When you want to use the meat, you need to start soaking it in water about 12-18 hours in advance. Just put the meat in a container full of water and then change the water at least 6-7 times throughout the day. Our rule is that whenever Despina or I walk past the soaking meat, we change the water. This works out pretty well.
‘Okay,’ you’re probably thinking, ‘so you can preserve meat... What about the hard stuff life eggs?’ One of the Australians on the Cook’s List mentioned that they had been able to keep eggs unrefrigerated for long periods of time by waxing them with paraffin. While I have not found period evidence for waxing eggs (most likely live chickens would have been brought, something that is not possible at Pennsic), it works. So that’s my one big anachronism. 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 “cheap”) pot for boiling waxed eggs. I personally use a $3.50 special from Meijer. Someday I hope to have enough period cooking pots that I can afford 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. Almond milk was often used in Lent, as well as to help flavor dishes like Blancmange (a chicken and rice dish). 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 was finding ones that had 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 may try to get one together for next Pennsic. There are also a number of webpages that have information on how to build a “dirt-mound” oven, as I like to call them. I think the beehive oven will work better though, and I am much happier with its documentation. If I build an oven, I can have fresh bread, which will let me use one of the few extant period bread recipes (period recipes for bread are not common for whatever reason).
For drinks, 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 (which of course isn’t really documented).
Period snacks turned out to be easier than the rest of the menu... Fruits and hard cheese kept well and so I brought them along. Many of the period cheese are hard cheeses, which is convenient. I also made the Fine Cakes recipe from Dawson’s The Good Huswife’s Jewel (a late period source). 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 Miscelleny. Hais is a sweet date-dall 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, 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 (like me), 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 left-overs, was served for breakfast, so I tend to make the things that we, in our modern world, have come to associate with that meal. I have period recipes for waffles, poached eggs, “french toast”, rice pudding and a number of other breakfasty 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 about cleanliness and leaving food out, however I am not paranoid. 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 near raw meats before washing them. If food is left out for long periods of time (more than an hour, contrary to popular belief, harmful bacteria don’t instantaneously find your food and reproduce themselves all over it) reheat it above 100F. 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 sick, just like bacteria can.
By salting and pickling meat, using hard cheeses, replacing milk with a period substitute, and waxing eggs I have been able to enjoy 3 Pennsics of varied menus without 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. It 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. Period cooking is something about which I feel strongly and I would be more than happy to help anyone who is interested in doing more of it. I can be reached by email (email@example.com) or by phone (217) 355-5702.
In Service to the Dream.
Ld. Bogdan de la Brasov, CW
Misc. = _The Miscelleny_, Cariadoc and Elizabeth
MK = _The Medieval Kitchen Recipes from France and Italy_, Redon et al.
TTEM(I/II) = _Take a Thousand Eggs or More_, Cindy Renfrow
Pennsic XXVII Menu by Meal:
Cyuele (Sweetened eggs and almonds. TTEM II. pg. 309)
Apple Muse (apple sauce) (TTEM II pg. 540)
Tanseye (eggs with Tansey) (TTEM II pg. 28)
Potage de egges (scrambled) (TTEM I pg. 24)
Malasade (TTEM I pg. 22)
Hanoney (TTEM I pg. 30)
Lord's Salt Meat (Misc. pg 110)
Pan de Campagne (post period)
Counterfeit isfiriya of Garbanzos (almost falafel. Misc. pg. 33)
Smoked meat and Lord's Salt meat (Misc. pg. 110)
Veggies, Fruits (fresh and Dried)
Hais (Dates and Sesame... Misc. pg. 78)
Tostee (Misc. pg. 78)
Rice Pottage (MK pg. 201, TTEM I, pg.18-19)
Hulwa (Honey version, rolled in sesame. Misc. Pg. 98)
Fine Cakes (from Dawson’s The Good Huswife’s Jewel)
Cansiones (Almond and sugar filled rolls. Misc. pg. 80)
Bread (Misc. pg. 8)
Pan de campagne (Post Period)
NOTE: All meats were preserved with the "Lord's Salt" recipe found in
the Miscelleny on page 110.
Armored Turnips (Misc. pg. 13)
Makke (Beans and onions Misc. pg. 15)
Roast of Meat (Misc. pg. 26)
Preparing covered Tabahjiyya (meat and onions covered with dough Misc. pg.
Zirbaya (Meat dish with thick sauce. Misc. pg. 46)
Cooked fried Chicken (Misc. pg 45)
Counterfeit isfiriya of Garbanzos (almost falafel. Misc. pg. 33)
Fresh Beans with Meat, called Fustuqiyya (Misc. pg. 25)
Carbonata (salted meat with sauce. MK pg. 96)
Chickpea Soup (MK pg. 56)
Sekanjabin (Misc. pg. 104)
Hippocras (Misc. pg. 104)
PENNSIC XXIX (2000) MENU
Poached Eggs (in sweet wine and with sugar spice and vinegar as per Platina)
Waffles (a couple of days, as we have different recipes...)
scrambled eggs (TTEM)
Brown Frys/Lost Bread (French Toast) (TTEM)
Pokerounce (toast with spiced honey) (TTEM)
Potage of Rys (TTEM)
stuffed eggs (period deviled eggs. Redaction by Ld. Ras (LJ Spencer)
White pie (Platina)
Lord's Salt and Bread (Miscelleny)
Alows de Beef (rolled, not ribs variety) (TTEM)
Steaks (with mustard as one should serve with salted meat) (Le Managier in Friedman, 1991)
Ravioli (Sabina Weslerin)
Meat Roman Style (Platina)
Kid in Garlic (Platina)
Pork cuts (Platina)
White dish (Dumplings) (Platina)
Meat Pie (Platina)
Armoured Turnips and Pears in Wine Syrup
Appetizer of meat (Platina... period burgers, sort of...)
Sources with redactions:
Friedman, D. and Cook, E. 1996. A Miscelleny. 7th edition.
Hieatt, C. Hosington, B. and Butler, S. 1997. Pleyn Delit: Medieval Cookery for Modern Cooks. 2nd Edition. University of Toronto Press. Toronto, Ont.
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 Volume I.
Renfrow, C. 1990. Take and Thousand Eggs or More: A collection of 15th century recipes Volume II
Sass, LJ. 1976. To the Queen’s Taste. Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Sources without redactions:
Armstrong, V (transl.). Das Kuchbuch der Sabrina Welserin (1553) http://www.best.com/~ddfr/Medieval/Cookbooks/Sabrina_Welserin.html
Dawson, 1597. The Good Hus-wives Jewell.
Friedman, D. and Cook, E. 1991. A collection of Medieval and Renaissance Cookbooks. 6th Edition
Milham, ME. 1998. Platina. On Right Pleasure and Good Health. Medieval and Renaissance Text and Studies. Tempe, Az.