[Sca-cooks] Period substitute for tomatoes?

Phil Troy / G. Tacitus Adamantius adamantius1 at verizon.net
Fri Aug 21 07:38:35 PDT 2009

On Aug 21, 2009, at 9:10 AM, Judith Epstein wrote:

> Now I'm looking not just at religious or health-related  
> restrictions, but also at Period-correct cooking. I know tomatoes  
> couldn't be found in use until VERY late in Period, and even then,  
> only for a handful of areas. My cooking styles are Persian, Arab,  
> Indian, and Mediterranean (my persona is a traveller, and would  
> certainly have wanted to try her hand at local cuisines, since among  
> other things, her family trades in spices -- she'd want to know how  
> the locals would be using them).
> Anyone got an idea of what to substitute for tomatoes in things like  
> tabbouleh, Jerusalem salad (entirely made of cucumbers, tomatoes,  
> and onions, plus oil and spices), or the various biryanis and other  
> Indian cooking which heavily features tomatoes or tomato paste?  
> Tomatoes make up such a big part of my modern diet that I'm having  
> trouble figuring out how to do without them in my medieval life.

I've got to agree with what some others have said here. Yes, you can  
substitute for tomatoes (try a few tart gooseberries if you want  
something vaguely similar from the Old World). However...

I hope you won't take this the wrong way, but I'm just not really  
clear on why, for someone looking to live like a person in period,  
substituting for something most of these people never heard of is an  
issue. They substituted for tomatoes constantly, 24/7; they had no  
choice. But they had plenty of recipes, many of which have survived,  
and they had crunch, moisture, and tanginess, and any other quality  
one could look for, in their food. They simply were in the habit of  
achieving it differently. For someone looking for period Middle  
Eastern dishes, there are excellent translations of Al-Baghdadi, Kitab  
al-Tabikh, and the Anonymous Andalusian cookbook available.

I'm reminded of Paul Prudhommme, speaking of the celebration of the  
3000th anniversary of the founding of the city of Jerusalem. He was  
one of many chefs who had been asked to come and help with various  
banquets, and unlike some, he embraced the requirements of Kashrut [if  
temporarily] without a murmur: his doctor had already given him a long  
list of foods to scrupulously avoid if he didn't want to die, and the  
imperative of staying alive, he said, had clarified his thinking  
greatly. The challenge was simply to be as creative as possible within  
the group of acceptable ingredients, rather than waste his energies  
bemoaning the ingredients outside of that group. This side of  
Prudhomme raised my respect for him enormously.

My own experience in the SCA is that this kind of thing is one of the  
biggest parts of the fun. I'm not going to worry about how to sneak a  
substitute for chocolate, or anything else, into my SCA diet: I'd  
rather see this as an opportunity to broaden, rather than narrow, my  


"Most men worry about their own bellies, and other people's souls,  
when we all ought to worry about our own souls, and other people's  
			-- Rabbi Israel Salanter

More information about the Sca-cooks mailing list