[Sca-cooks] Substitute for Potatoes?

Craig Daniel teucer at pobox.com
Mon Aug 24 12:52:13 PDT 2009

On Mon, Aug 24, 2009 at 3:26 PM, Judith Epstein<judith at ipstenu.org> wrote:
>> Off hand, I can't think of any recipes in either the period European or
>> Islamic corpus that use them.
> The part I think is amazing is that people need BOOKS just to COOK. If I
> were putting on a documented Period feast, I would worry about that, because
> I'd be assuming I was in charge of feeding royals and nobles -- people who
> could afford to give books to their servants (cooks). But for the general
> populace, good grief. I never owned or used a single cookbook till I was
> about thirty and someone gave me one, thinking it was such a shocking thing
> that I didn't own any cook books. I assure you, though, I did cook, I never
> went hungry, and to this day it doesn't occur to me to consult anything in
> writing if I'm cooking for my family. I really find it hard to believe that
> I'm THAT different from our ancestors.

The thing is, recipes tend to change more over time than people expect
them to (and we've got a four century gap between the end of period
and now - longer for most personas!), so the only way to know what is
actually period and what is merely possible with period ingredients
and tools is what we can document. People think of old family recipes
as being really ancient, but often that turns out to mean they go back
to 1950 (or, if you're lucky, 1850).

Think, for instance, of gravy. A little bacon grease, a little flour,
some meat stock, and a bit of salt and pepper... damned simple stuff.
It can't possibly have changed much over the years, can it? Well, yes,
it can; flour-thickened sauces like that didn't exist for much of the
period we in the SCA study, despite there being no reason why they

That doesn't mean the only period foods are the ones with recipes
(which would restrict you to rich people's food for most cultures) -
there's plenty of references to bread being eaten by cultures who
didn't leave bread recipes behind, after all. But it does mean that
without a period recipe you don't know that your version of the food
being referenced is the same as the period one, although it's highly
likely to be similar, at least if you do a bit of research.

Your intuition about how to cook is vastly different from the one a
cook would have had in period. You can't make up a recipe using only
ingredients that were available in a certain time and place, even one
that tastes like food you know is *old*, and call it period.
Period-oid, maybe, if you know what you're doing, but as someone with
only limited experience cooking from period recipes I can still tell
my own attempts at period-oid food from the actual period food I've
made without much difficulty at all.

So no, a period cook doesn't need cookbooks, and probably wouldn't
have used them very much. Neither does a modern cook - I almost never
open a cookbook when making dinner, that's for sure. But just as I can
make a stir-fry off the top of my head, but I can make an authentic
Chinese stir-fry only with reference to recipes from people used to
making Chinese food, a modern cook needs to base period food on period
sources or it isn't really period.

 - Jaume / Craig

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