[Sca-cooks] Drizzle of Honey

David Friedman ddfr at daviddfriedman.com
Thu Oct 29 10:21:49 PDT 2009

>I am a firm believer that the "creative" part of our name should not be
>discounted.  It is not easy to find period sources (many if not most of
>which have already been discovered) and much of the food history of the
>world was passed down without written memorialization.



The last part of that may well be true, but finding period sources is 
easy. You don't even need access to a good library nowadays--just an 
internet connection.

It's possible that most of the English, French, and German sources 
have at this point been discovered, although I wouldn't count on that 
being true more generally. But you don't have to discover a source to 
cook from it. My guess is that a substantial majority of the 
surviving period recipes have not been cooked by anyone in the last 
century, so you can still do new things without finding new sources. 
And working out a period recipe is creative, given the limited amount 
of information. I just did another try at quince paste last night, 
and I think I'm getting closer--I have the color now, and I produced 
one trial drop with what I suspect is the right texture. Maybe if I 
boil the rest down a little farther ...  .

One interesting question is how large a fraction of the various 
cuisines is actually represented by recipes in surviving cookbooks. 
My guess is that, for those cuisines for which we have multiple 
cookbooks--Islamic 10th-13th c., say, or English-French upper class 
13th-15th--it's a large fraction.

My evidence for that is the amount of overlap between cookbooks. If 
there were a thousand different recipes in a cuisine and we had three 
different cookbooks, independently  created, each with a hundred 
recipes in it, very few of the recipes would be duplicated. In fact, 
a lot of recipes appear in multiple cookbooks.

In some cases, of course, the reason is that one cookbooks was used 
as a source for another. But that can't explain all of it. Maistre 
Chiquart tells us that he has never read a cookbook--but his recipe 
for quinces in paste is very close to  recipes in the English corpus.

On the other hand, there are cuisines for which we have no surviving 
medieval cookbooks. For those conjecture, based on very imperfect 
information, may be the best we can do.
David Friedman

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