[Sca-cooks] Definition of "Period Cooking"

Judith Epstein judith at ipstenu.org
Mon Aug 24 14:07:30 PDT 2009

On Aug 24, 2009, at 3:47 PM, Elise Fleming wrote:

> Judith wrote:
> >4. IF I ENTER A CONTEST, at that point I'll use a cook book. Sure.  
> I'll resent the heck out of it, because there's the (entirely un- 
> justified) perception that my cooking's not good enough, and I have  
> to obey some cook who doesn't know me, my diners, my kitchen, or my  
> tastes... but yes, I'll use a bloody book.
> I don't see where using a period cookbook to prepare a period dish  
> for a contest implies that your cooking isn't good enough.  Where is  
> that (angry?) perception coming from?

Food is tied very closely with emotions. If two people come to eat  
dinner in my home, they'll respond in different ways. One may say "I  
like what you've done with the pumpkin, and I'd love to know if you  
used a recipe, and if I could have it." I'm very, very happy to cook  
for that person. Another may say "I'd like to give you a cookbook that  
focuses on pumpkins and other gourds." Now, intellectually, I know  
that the second person is saying, "You have a good hand with pumpkin,  
and I'd like to expand your possibilities even further." But  
emotionally what I get is, "Your cooking is nice, but needs  
improvement, and I want to help." Equally sweet sentiment, but it  
hurts nevertheless.

There's also the fact that -- probably because I'm interrupted every  
hour by having to get up and deal with my seven loads of laundry -- I  
am having trouble making myself understood today, and therefore can't  
say two words without a flood of list emails and private emails  
telling me how wrong I am, and the worst part is that often people are  
saying what I was trying to say in the first place, only they're  
saying it better. So I'm frustrated at my inability to communicate  

> >3. To make it, as much as possible, with only Period ingredients,  
> but in MY style, because every single cook that ever lived put their  
> own spin on every dish they made (snip)
> True.  Cooks did put their own "spin" on dishes in period.  However,  
> they knew, without a great deal of thought, what was right and  
> proper for food service and cookery.  They grew up in that culture.   
> We haven't.  What we think is proper today is, in some instances,  
> quite different from what a period person would have done to put a  
> "spin" on things.

In some instances, yes. But why assume that we have lost everything  
from the past? Oral history is a valid form of education, just as much  
as written history. No, something isn't Period just because your  
grandparents did it -- but nor should we assume that it's not Period  
because we learned it from our elders rather than from books. Some  
things that were bleedingly obvious got written down, but others  
didn't, and I am not able to convince myself that I know better than  
my forebears -- that what they taught me lacked continuity with the  
past just because some of my ancestors were illiterate and didn't  
write it down.


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