[Sca-cooks] Food Trade, Conquests, and Documentation
Sandragood at aol.com
Wed Oct 4 13:47:28 PDT 2006
The one thing that amazes me when discussions take a I believe, you believe
direction, it seems like very little guidance is given on how to present new
found documentation to people that are strong in their beliefs of what is or
is not period. I'd like to offer some comments.
In the discussion of New World foods, a lot of focus was placed on "general"
consumption, and this is where the period, not period debate comes in. But
it also seemed that someone wanted to know how to justify the use in an SCA
feast or demo. I agree that leaving the controversial items out of a demo
would be best. Most people attending a demo will take what's at the demo to be
the norm for the whole SCA. They're soaking in all this information and
could easily misinterpret the "foods in period" scenario. Now as a game or
contest at a local event, that would be cool.
As for feasts...this is one of the reason's I really love to see feasts tied
into the theme of the event. Even if the event doesn't necessarily have a
theme, i.e. Kingdom level events (Crown, Fighters Collegium, A&S, etc.), put
enough effort into the feast so that people know the Feast has a theme.
Feasting was an enjoyable thing with subtleties and entertainment. A theme can
easily be created through the entertainment, complimented by the dishes served.
If you've documented something that has had questionable origins and you're
afraid the "authenticity police" are going to call you on it, fit it into a
theme. Even including a tidbit of the documentation with the dish as it is
served would be neat. Some people even go so far as to have feast booklets
printed. A Spanish event during the Age of Discovery would be an ideal place
to serve tomatoes, provided they were served in the manner documented. The
same can be done for Arabic and Asian cuisine. These are not what most
SCAdians consider to be SCA Period. However, European history was influenced or
impacted by these outside regions. That's not to say I would appreciate
attending an Elizabethan event and find the feast to be Middle Eastern/Arabic. Now
if the event were like the recent All Things Middle Eastern event, I would
expect the feast to be Middle Eastern.
Let's also not forget the influence of conquests on a regional cuisine. A
perfect example is the Muslim conquests between 711 and 1492. I recently
taught a class on Medieval Arabic Cookery. I started the class by asking "what
do you think of when you hear the term Arabic Cookery?". Most people named
things that you would associate with modern Middle Eastern. While there are
some similarities, I pointed out that it depended on the when and where. At
the peak of Muslim rule, they controlled a good majority of the Mediterranean
waterways. Andalusia is a great example of how hundreds of years of
occupation can influence everything, and for this discussion the cuisine. What makes
the Muslim influence so prominent is that their control of the waterways and
ports allowed their ability to bring in foods and spices usually only
associated with the Levant and Arabian Peninsula into the European countries.
As one who loves all aspects of food research including recipe redaction,
and from the standpoint of a judge for Arts and Sciences, here are some things
It's best to use recipes/printed techniques as your source of documentation.
If there is a manuscript, household recipe/receipt book, herbal or
medicinal book that includes an ingredient in a recipe and the source falls prior to
1600 (I know there are a few groups that go beyond) then this would be an
acceptable source for a dish within that country, not necessarily outside that
country or region. In the event of receipt books where it is more an
inventory, I'd like to see any notes that may pertain to it's use. Many herbs were
used for medicinal purposes, not necessarily general seasonings.
If you can justify that a food/ingredient was eaten through substitution,
i.e. New World beans substituted in place of a European variety, that's
acceptable. I would accept this but be sure that you can justify the availability
to the country for which you are citing the dish. In regards to this example,
Spain would have been more likely to substitute New World foods than say
Ireland or the Rus.
Justifying availability of an ingredient or dish through the above example
of conquest would be acceptable provided you can document the use of the
ingredient or the dish for the country you are citing. I.e. serving a 13th c.
Arabic dish for a 13th c. Andalusian event. If you want to get real technical
you could go as far as making sure you can justify the availability of the
ingredients for the Arabic dish. Would they have survived the transport to
If you don't have an actual recipe, but can justify the existence of a dish
through any of the above, to me, that is fine, but show me your
justification. Justifying a dish using archeological data, i.e. you find excavation data
that shows x-specimen of fish was found in great quantity in the kitchens of
yadayada land. However there are no recipe sources for the use of said fish.
We do know that they prepared b-specimen fish in suchandsuch fashion. To
me, serving x-specimen as a substitute ingredient for the suchandsuch dish can
be justified. Hope you got that...
Modern substitutions for period foods. I think it was this list that
someone mentioned the white carrot, which are not available today, so most everyone
accepts the modern equivalent. This would apply to other foods as well.
Paintings are another source, but can sometimes be misleading or
When redacting your own recipe, try to stay as close to the original recipe
>From a competition standpoint, don't substitute ingredients that won't yield
similar results. Substitutions are fine, but make sure they are as similar
to the original as possible. Don't add ingredients not found in the original
recipe, i.e. adding jam as a thickening agent for a recipe that obviously
did not include it. Don't omit ingredients that are easily available, i.e.
vinegar for a dish that is supposed to be sweet and sour. Don't omit
ingredients because "I didn't know what it was..." (I actually saw this excuse for rose
water.) Do the research, find out what it was. If it's not available any
longer, you can use that as your reason, not the "I didn't know" plea. If
it's poisonous, that's a good reason for omission, but what was the purpose of
the original ingredient? In both cases, what was it for? Flavor, color,
thickening? Instead of totally omitting the ingredient, can you use a suitable
Just my thoughts.
THL Elizabeth Donnan
Secretary, Grand Chefs of Gleann Abhann
Independent Consultant with The Pampered Chef ®
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Sandragood at aol.com
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