[Sca-cooks] Use of Soda in period

Phil Troy / G. Tacitus Adamantius adamantius.magister at verizon.net
Sat Nov 11 12:12:20 PST 2006

On Nov 11, 2006, at 11:48 AM, Stanza693 at wmconnect.com wrote:

> Greetings to the list.
> Please forgive me if this happens to show up twice, but I think it was
> bounced back to me the first time I tried it a couple of days ago.
> I am starting to work on my next A&S entry, a redaction from the  
> Manual de
> Mugeres, that is a type of fry-bread, sort of.  (The bun~uelos  
> recipe)  The
> problem with cooking bread in period is that *everyone* is supposed  
> to know how it
> is done so no one wrote a recipe.

True, there are few written bread recipes. Some, but not too many.  
Interestingly, though, there _are_ a fair number of fritter recipes,  
some of which might provide some insight to you in the making of this  
particular type of doughnut.

> In researching leavening agents, I ran across a reference to using  
> soda,
> cream of tartar, flour and water, to make leavening -- and my  
> assumption, is a
> starter.

A starter in the sourdough starter, or yeast sponge, sense? I'd think  
it's more likely to be a main leavening agent, since it has no  
capacity to propagate itself like a yeast starter. I mean, either it  
leavens or it doesn't, but there's no aspect of, add it now, let it  
reproduce, and it will at some future point provide leavening. But  
what you've got there is a reasonable approximation of baking powder.  
You've got an acid and a base, and a medium to help trap any gases  

>   What would be a modern equivalent to soda?

I'm a little unclear, again, as to what you're looking for here. Are  
you asking what kind of modern soda is the equivalent of what some  
archaic soda reference calls for?

Apart from vaguely recalling that sodium carbonate, which we call  
washing soda, is the soda the Romans cooked vegetables in to  
tenderize them, I don't know, because I don't get the impression  
there are too many uses of chemical or artificial leavenings in  
period bread or fritter recipes. Usually it's a combination of  
sourdough or ale barm or some other yeast culture, plus eggs, which  
provide both steam and structure when fried or baked in a hot oven,  
in addition to the aeration provided by fermenting yeast.

>   Or better yet, what would
> be the period form of soda?

As I say, I believe it's been pretty well established that sodium  
carbonate is the standard cooking soda for the Romans, but they  
didn't leaven with it, AFAIK. There's some evidence to suggest the  
Chinese _may_ have leavened with soda in period, and I believe you  
may find some German recipes from approximately the seventeenth and  
eighteenth centuries which use processed hartshorn salts (an ammonia  
compound whose exact formula escapes me, but it's generally called  
hartshorn in English, even though it is not the same stuff as the  
actual horns of a hart, which is basically collagen similar to  
isinglass, but which can also be processed further to get these  
ammonia salts I mentioned).

But this hartshorn/ammonia stuff is generally only used for things  
like cookies, because it releases ammonia fumes while working, and  
you need a high ratio of surface area to volume and mass or you'll  
have ammonia-stinky food.

>   I know baking soda is thoroughly modern and quite
> frowned upon in the Outlands, so, I'm perplexed.
> I probably won't go with that idea.  I will probably use live  
> yeast, but the
> concept intrigues me.  The reference mentions using plant ash to  
> render soda.
> Sounds fairly caustic to me.

You might try active yeast or a sourdough starter, egg whites beaten  
stiff but not dry, or even whole eggs just beaten into your dough or  
batter. I'm fairly sure that there are many more recipes from period  
that use those methods than any other, especially some kind of  
chemical leavening. There may be exceptions, but these should  
probably be recognized as such and placed in an appropriate  
perspective for those trying to learn about medieval culinary  


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