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

Terry Decker t.d.decker at worldnet.att.net
Fri Sep 21 22:49:11 PDT 2007

> 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.

There are at least four species of New World bee that produce honey in large 
enough quantity to be useful.  They don't produce as much honey as the 
European honey bee.

> 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.

As near as I can tell, beet sugar was not produced in period.  IIRC, the 
period reference is to the sweetness of the water in which the beets are 
cooked.  The extraction process was developed in the 18th Century and did 
not come into commercial use until the early 19th Century.  Serious use of 
the process required the hybridization of the Silesian sugar beet.

> 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,
> where?
> -- 
> Urtatim (that's err-tah-TEEM)

There are a tremendous variety of sorghums, most of which contain little 
sugar.  I suspect the "sweet" sorghums were located primarily south of the 
Equator in Africa where they were chewed to extract the sugar (a couple of 
sources reference Livingston as a 19th Century source describing the use of 
sweet sorghum in Africa).  European expansion into southern Africa begins in 
the mid-17th Century and doesn't get serious until almost one hundred years 
later.  Thus the processing of sorghum for syrup is probably no earlier than 
the 18th Century and in the U.S., where it was a substitute for sugar, 
probably no earlier than the mid-19th Century with the introduction of sweet 
sorghum from Jamaica.  South Africa and the U.S. are the primary producers 
of sorghum syrup.


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