[Sca-cooks] Best cookbook for new SCA cooks- long

Johnna Holloway johnnae at mac.com
Thu Aug 27 12:43:03 PDT 2009

Thoughts on Cookbooks 2009

We have tackled this question many times in the past, of course.

Actually having always been the lady who tracked down, made lists, 
loaned in, read, and actually spent the money and bought cookbooks, I’ve 
been recommending and doing lists and sessions for the Society for most 
of my 36 years in this organization. That was long before I became a 
librarian with a degree, but not before I started working in the 
university library.

Are there general books on medieval and Renaissance cookery that I think 
that everyone should own. I can compile such a list, such as Doc has 
already done. But the sticking point quite frankly to any list is money 
and passion. If money is no object and the person really wants to buy 
cookery books, I can quickly assemble a list that will cost only a few 
hundred dollars. Most can be easily obtained from Devra. Then lets spend 
some more money and add on the reference volumes and histories of food 
that go along with the cookbooks. That’s a few hundred dollars more. 
Pretty soon, the two lists combine and the total is approaching 
$600-$700 plus. If one reads a foreign language and wants to buy 
facsimile books or academic volumes of original language manuscripts, 
tack on a few hundred dollars more and a waiting period during which 
time one has to seek and wait on those volumes to arrive. Plan to spend 
a few dollars more for the good dictionaries too.

What one can do of course is take the list or lists and buy what only 
matters to you in your circumstances. Choose for instance English 
cuisine and just buy the books in that area. Or chose French or Middle 
Eastern. Or choose French and English post 1500. Or choose Italian. (The 
new edition of Scappi is quite marvelous; it also costs $95.00.)

Or choose general medieval and buy those volumes that will provide you 
with a beginning place, recipes that are already worked out, and a 
bibliography for further exploration. Want to just bake? Buy just those 
books on baking and pastry or bread history. Narrow the scope, in other 
words. What is it that one wants to explore in cookery and what sort of 
dishes does one want to cook? Buy books for those interests.

I think one of the stickiest questions that goes unspoken and unanswered 
is “Quite honestly, how well do you cook?” If you really don’t cook, 
then perhaps what you need are some basic general cookbooks that will 
get you started and one or two basic medieval cookbooks. Medieval 
cookery is not like watching a “Top Chef” challenge or an episode of 
“Chopped.” Starting with an actual medieval recipe and getting to the 
table with a dish that actually reflects the original recipe takes 
talent, a culinary skill set, and lots of bookwork. It will also 
probably take numerous tries. (Big hint: keep a notebook and record 
changes and amounts as you go along.)

There are ways to cut the costs. You can borrow volumes and make Xerox 
copies of selected recipes. Also one can search for and buy used copies. 
And of course one can do, has I have been advocating for thirty plus 
years now: make your list and buy over time. Ask that gifts be cookbooks 
from your list that you don’t already own. And use the internet and use 
it well. There are dozens of sources that are online these days. I am 
afraid that we are moving into a time where people will never buy a 
cookbook. Cookery will be just “googling” it.

But in the end, I am in the process of creating and writing up a new up 
to date list of culinary resources for the new Society member. It will 
be done in a few days, hopefully. I really prefer the one on one session 
where the person can be queried about what they can afford and what 
their interests are. I think it works best, but this publication also 
wants a list. So I am creating that list based upon my TI article of a 
few years back.

In terms of authors, you really can’t go wrong with Peter Brears, 
Constance Hieatt, or C. Anne Wilson. And add in Ken Albala and Ivan Day 
and Terence Scully.

For a single book-- Cooking and Dining in Medieval England by Brears is 
new and expensive. Cheaper starting volumes would be :Pleyn Delt and The 
Medieval Kitchen. Both are in paper and both are available as used volumes.

If you need a specialized list of some sort, just ask me.

Hope this helps,


(this mini article copyright JK Holloway 2009)

Sharon Gordon wrote:
> Which books would you recommend to cooks new to SCA cooking?   
> Which books do you find intrigue your new cooks the most?
>  Sharon

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