[Sca-cooks] Definition of "Period Cooking" was Re: Substitute for Potatoes?

Barbara Benson voxeight at gmail.com
Mon Aug 24 20:48:56 PDT 2009

Judith>> 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, and I'm not going to
stop the ongoing tradition of creativity in the kitchen just because
I'm choosing to learn about past times and Period ingredient


I think that the above truly shows where there appears to be a
conflict between what many on this list feel that our investigations
into Culinary Anthropology and your own philosophy. You desire to cook
in "Your style" whereas most of the individuals on this list want to
cook in the style of the particular period that they have chosen to
study, or to simplify the "Medieval and/or Renaissance Style".

What you are describing, creating a dish that is plausibly period out
of your own head, is one of the most difficult things to do. To be
able to do such a thing you need to have a extensive knowledge of the
period that you are attempting to create - and more than just
"Ingredient availability".

How was a food typically cooked? Was humoral theory a significant
factor in the region during that time period? What was in fashion at
the time? What techniques were available to the cook? What tools were
available to the cook?

The example has already been made regarding roux, a fat + flour
thickening mixture cannot be found during most of the period we study.
The whisk was not invented until after the 16th century which makes
emulsion sauces problematic if not impossible. A very specific example
comes from a very common dish - pasta. The few recipes that we have
that provide instructions on cooking pasta have a range of boiling
times from 30 minutes to 1 1/2 hours, but nothing less. The concept
and very phrase "al dente" was not used to describe the cooking of
pasta until after World War II.

Our modern knowledge and instincts fail us when it comes to period
cooking, which is why we turn to texts to learn. Even the very concept
of "ingredient availability" can be a slippery subject. Availability
does not necessarily imply consumption. Different cuisines utilize
different combination of spices and ingredients in different ways,
while cinnamon and cloves are primarily relegated to the domain of
baking in modern times - in period (in certain regions) they were
common in savory dishes.

And understanding the food items used can take some study. Take
rosemary, introduced to the British Isles by the Romans - it died out
after they left only to be re-introduced at a later date. So you have
several centuries where rosemary would be inappropriate or uncommon in
"English/Irish/Scottish/Welsh" cooking.

So to "create" a period dish from your own imagination you must have a
strong understanding of the cooking techniques, prevailing medical
theory, religious restrictions and gardening/agricultural practice of
a specific time period and region. And this understanding has to be
acquired for each individual time period and region that you wish to
recreate. And even if you manage this, your dish is at best

Cook whatever you want, as far as I am concerned the main point of
cooking for yourself is so that you can enjoy food. But do not deceive
 yourself into believing that you are cooking period food just because
you are combining ingredients that all existed somewhere in Europe or
the Arab world prior to 1600.

Serena da Riva

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