[Sca-cooks] Leftovers, questions and discussion [long]

Stefan li Rous StefanliRous at austin.rr.com
Wed Sep 8 17:13:05 PDT 2010

Hrethric declared:

<<< I have a couple of comments and questions on this line of conversation, but
with a caveat - I have done no research (yet) into period cooking.  I'm
mainly on this list to get good recipes.  :) >>>

Welcome to to SCA-Cooks! Glad to see you here.

<<< From more general reading into history, I was under the impression that what
we would consider spoiled food was often eaten, even by those wealthier than
peasants.  Weren't some spices even used to cover up the spoiled flavors? >>>

Hrethric, please put down the loaded question. Everyone else back away, and no one will get hurt. :-)

I've now seen your comment that there was supposed to be a smiley at the end of this statement. Unfortunately, being new to this list, or maybe fortunately, you've missed some of the argu, ah, discussions on a few subjects. This list has now been primed to jump, sometimes a bit too strongly, on some commonly mis-held "truths". One of these is the idea that spices were commonly used to cover up the taste of spoiled meat in the Middle Ages.

As you may know, spices which were imported, usually cost much more than the cost of the meat and wouldn't have been wasted this way. Some cultures do develop a taste for foods that other cultures would consider "off" if not spoiled. Icelandic butter and fermented shark come to mind. But then some folks on this list look askance, for some reason, at my liking of fried spam and canned spaghetti. They're all preserved foods.

For some of the previous discussions on this, see these Florilegium files:
rotten-meat-msg (50K) 5/19/06 Comments on the "they used spices to cover the taste of rotten meat" myth.

spice-use-art (18K) 6/ 9/97 "The Question of Heavy Spice Use and Rotten Food" by Lord Xaviar the Eccentric.

<<< As for food poisoning, it's my impression that today we have much more
'delicate stomachs' than was common in period.  I know that one can build up
resistances to many of the 'poisons' caused by spoilage bacteria, to the
point where they don't really affect the eater much, if at all, and
apparently such built up resistances were common. >>>

I would be interested in seeing any evidence to confirm this. A thousand years is not a very long time genetically for the human species.

Also, there's a difference to building up defenses to an organism and to the poisons excreted by the organism. Part of our food spoilage problems today are still coming from that killing the E. Coli and other bad beasties doesn't necessarily eliminate the toxins that they may have created while they were alive. A microbiologist or someone in food safety can probably explain this better than I.

<<< As for 'pease porridge in the pot nine days old', I know of a technique
still used today to prevent food spoilage - put a tight lid on the pot while
it is still hot enough to kill the bacteria, and then let the fire die.  If
the lid is tight enough, and the porridge was hot enough, no bacteria are
there to spoil it.  Heat the pot back up the next day when adding more to
it.  I've heard of 'stews' that were added to for many days this way without
spoilage. >>>

In many ways this sounds like the beginnings of potted foods or canning, which started very late in our period. While this might help, we might not find them acceptable odds today. Although potted foods started in the middle of 16th C, it apparently took them until the beginning of the 17th C. to realize that it was much better to seal the food with fat while it was still hot rather than waiting for the food to cool down. Obviously the later method sometimes worked, but the former method works much better. The problem with just putting on a lid is sealing it tight enough and the chance that there is still some bacteria in the air that you are trapping in the container. Pouring in hot fat while the food is hot helps solve both these problems.

potted-foods-msg (16K) 5/21/04 Cooked foods put in pots and sealed w. fat.

An overview of mostly modern methods and tools, but one way to have period type foods at events without having to cook it there.
canning-msg (52K) 6/17/09 Use of canning in the SCA. Directions.


THLord Stefan li Rous    Barony of Bryn Gwlad    Kingdom of Ansteorra
   Mark S. Harris           Austin, Texas          StefanliRous at austin.rr.com
**** See Stefan's Florilegium files at:  http://www.florilegium.org ****

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