Monday, January 21, 2008

It's really not that hard ... Part 2

So ... I'm going through the calendar, trying to figure out which medieval re-creation events I'll be going to for the next few months, and I take a look at the feast menus, and I find that some of them don't even give a hand-waive towards history. Yes, there are some nice, medieval (or at least reasonably so) feasts here and there across the Midwestern US, but they appear to be decreasing in proportion to the others.

I'll pause here to note that I've been in the SCA (a US-based medieval "re-creation" group) for many years, and I've been cooking for much of that time. I'm the first to admit that the feasts I cooked way back when were crap as far as historical accuracy goes, but then there weren't the resources available back then that there are now.

I know I'm a food snob, that I'm fanatical and bordering on dangerously obsessed, but I don't think I'm asking too much here. All I want is a reasonable attempt at medieval food. I don't expect a six course meal, with four or five dishes per course, all exotic and unusual and documented to have been served to a duke in Calais in the year 1432 (I wouldn't complain, mind you, but I really don't expect it). However it really isn't that hard to come up with a filling meal consisting of a few dishes that are reasonable approximations of what might have been served to someone - anyone - between the years 600 and 1700.

Really, it's not that hard. Let's say that - for whatever reason - you've got to cook a medieval dinner. Can a reasonable attempt be made assuming no prior knowledge of medieval European cuisine, no ability to read a language other than modern English, no local library with texts on the subject, and no fancy cooking skills? Yes. All it takes is Internet access (or a friend with Internet access).

Web Search

A Google search on "medieval recipe" returns 224,000 hits - I'm only going to look at the first two.

The first link, titled Medieval Feasts, has 11 recipes. Among them I find:
  • chicken with orange and lemon
  • spinach tart
  • frumenty, a cracked wheat side dish for meats
  • cherry pottage
That's a meat dish, a vegetable, a starch, and a dessert. Add bread and butter and it sounds like a really nice meal. All of these have complete recipes with detailed instructions and even a reference to the original source - and it took me a whopping two minutes to put together.

The second link is to a site I know pretty well - it's my own Medieval Recipes page. It lists over 90 recipes, each with detailed instructions and a reference to the original source.

What's more, there's a big button at the bottom of the page that says "Menus". This leads to another page with links to both menus from medieval sources, and menus from the feasts of re-enactment groups.

Obviously digging through this site could chew up more than a couple of minutes, but it also offers a lot of choices (now that I think about it though, I'll be adding a "Quick and Easy Medieval Feasts" page soon).

Let me say that again: Two Minutes

Two minutes got me a reasonable attempt at a medieval dinner, and there were lots of other options with just a few more clicks. I didn't have to go to a library. I didn't have to open a book. I didn't have to try to read a different language. I didn't have to work out a recipe on my own.

Don't try to tell me that it takes too much work to do it right.


AJP said...

It can be frustrating, and even nearly a decade ago it wasn't that hard and now it is downright easy!
Luckily, I have been finding that more and more people in my area have been making better attempts towards more 'period' cookery and meals, though it wasn't that long ago that someone in a local cooking group stated that it was too much to expect everyone (in the cooks group) to be able to find and use a period based source.

Doc said...

What bugs me the most about the whole issue is that, for whatever reason, the people cooking these things often don't seem to be trying at all. The SCA requires people attending an event to make "a reasonable attempt" at a medieval costume, but when it comes to the food the attitude is more "Who cares?"

So I've decided it's time to push back. I've got a couple of ideas - both "carrots" and "sticks" - that I think may encourage cooks to try just a bit of research. We'll see how things go.

Anonymous said...

Yes! I soooo agree with you! I spend alot of time and energy trying to make my feasts as period as can read my menus at my rather neglected website: