[Sca-cooks] The purpose of SCA-Cooks from Isabella de la Gryffin and a Culinary Question

Lilinah lilinah at earthlink.net
Fri Sep 21 18:37:29 PDT 2007

Isabella asks:
>  Could anyone recommend some good sources for period confectionary?
>  I'm willing to start with marzipan, but I'd like to move past that.

There's a confectioner's manual as part of 14th C. "The Book of the 
Description of Familiar Foods", translated by Charles Perry and 
published in "Medieval Arab Cookery", published by Prospect Press. 
Some of the recipes go so far as to involve cooking sugar to a 
certain state, then pulling and stretching it with hooks over and 
over, before letting it finish cooling...

>  And, is cane sugar period?

Absolutely, but it rather depends on where and when.

For most of SCA period, the primary sweetener in most of Europe is 
honey. The natives of the Americas also used honey. They didn't have 
the European domestic honey bee, but according to Sophie Coe, there 
is evidence that bees were kept in Meso-America prior to the arrival 
of Europeans.

The Greeks encountered sugar in India during Alexander's time, but 
didn't use it in food. And later sugar occasionally made its way into 
Rome, where it was so expensive it was treated as a drug. But it 
wasn't much used in Europe until after the Crusades. It was still 
expensive, so its use was limited. However, sugar cane was being 
grown and processed in parts of Europe with intense Arab contact, 
such as al-Andalus (Muslim Iberia) and Sicily earlier, where it was 
locally used and sometimes exported.

Sugar shows up in cookbooks like Form of Curye and Le Menagier (very 
late 14th and very early 15th C.). But by the 16th C. Europeans had 
their own trade routes and there was an outburst of sugary sweets. 
And after colonizing lots of tropical areas in the 17th C., Europeans 
had their own sugar plantations in many parts of the world and sugar 
became cheaper and cheaper.

The Ottomans used plenty of sugar, but they also had a thick grape 
syrup called pekmez.

In the Near and Middle East dates were sometimes use as a sweetenerd, 
mashed to a paste or processed into a syrup called dibs (and 
sometimes called "rub" or "rab"). As far as i can tell, however, 
"date sugar" is a modern product made of dried, granulated, 
pulverized dates.

And i suspect that that palm sugar, from the sap of certain palm 
trees, was used as a sweetener in Southeast Asia. (now that stuff 
tastes fabulous!)

New World maple syrup was not used in the Old World. New World corn 
syrup was unknown.

The method of producing beet sugar was discovered very late in 
period. It was not economical, however, and so it was abandoned until 
well OOP for the SCA. Also, i've read that beet sugar behaves 
differently from cane sugar in certain sweets (discussed on this list 
in the past). In the US, if a product just says "sugar", it's either 
mostly or entirely beet sugar. If it's cane sugar, it will say so. 
I've always bought "cane sugar" - but before i joined the SCA a 1-lb. 
box would last me for several years.

OK, food history wizards, what about sorghum? It's of African origin 
and apparently spread to South Asia early on (1st millennium BC 
according to one source). I gather that primarily its grain is eaten, 
but i know that at least from the 19th C. to the present a syrup is 
made from it. Was it used as a syrup within SCA period in? And if so, 
Urtatim (that's err-tah-TEEM)
the persona formerly known as Anahita

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