Monday, October 12, 2009

The Quiz

I'm on several email lists related to medieval history (surprising, huh?), which means that I end up reading a lot of different viewpoints and approaches towards medieval re-creation. Often simple questions explode into long, rambling discussions that border on religious wars. So I thought I'd put together a short quiz made up of carefully worded questions. In some ways the answers could reveal far more about the person answering than they would about medieval cuisine.


1. What process would you use for converting a modern recipe into a medieval one?

2. Why did medieval Europeans use a lot of spices in their cooking?

3. How did the primitive cooking equipment available in 15th century England affect the foods cooked?

4. How was the exorbitantly high cost of spices (e.g. saffron, pepper, ginger) reflected in their use in medieval England and France?

5. How was the primitive technology of the medieval period reflected in the quality of wheat flour, sugar, and salt?

6. To what degree have modern agricultural practices affected the size of poultry and eggs?


I'll give my own take on these in later posts.





3 comments:

Wacky Hermit said...

I'm obviously not a medieval food expert, but I was intrigued by your question #1, since I have been adapting some of my modern cooking in a more medieval direction. My pot pies have improved greatly by being informed by medieval cooking.

One of the most useful medieval-modern idea transfers for me has been the substitutions. My children have multiple food allergies, among them milk and eggs. If an emergency should arise, FEMA won't be bringing in special meals for them, so it is prudent for me to store large quantities of food to ensure they can eat in the event of an emergency. I've struggled to find substitutes for these ingredients that are suitable for long-term storage. So you can see that it's been extremely helpful to know what medieval cooks did if they ran out of milk, say, or didn't have eggs.

I've scoured the world's ethnic cuisines for answers to the question "how do you cook without milk and eggs and not get malnourished?" and the best answers I've found have been in medieval cuisine.

Tomas de Courcy said...

1. What process would you use for converting a modern recipe into a medieval one?

Hmm... I haven't tried that yet. I've had great success with substituting medieval spices for modern. Next time you make an apple pie, use Powder Douce as the spice.

2. Why did medieval Europeans use a lot of spices in their cooking?

Probably because it added a great deal of complexity to the meals. I find there to be multiple layers of flavors in most medieval dishes.


3. How did the primitive cooking equipment available in 15th century England affect the foods cooked?

I'm not quite sure. I'd imagine that a good medieval cook would have ways of dispersing the heat from their heat source, or utilizing it in an efficent manner. We cook with direct heat, ourselves, so I can't imagine that it would be much of a problem. I have done no research into the question, but I would imagine that a clay or brick oven would allow you to disperse the heat from a fire enough to evenly cook whatever you wished. Also, I'm sure that something like the double boiler was around at the time.

4. How was the exorbitantly high cost of spices (e.g. saffron, pepper, ginger) reflected in their use in medieval England and France?

I'm not quite sure. Spices seem to be frequently used in most of the recipes I've read. Of course most of those cook books were aimed at the emerging middle class, so cost may not have been as much of an issue as we think.

5. How was the primitive technology of the medieval period reflected in the quality of wheat flour, sugar, and salt?

I would assume that most things would be a coarser grind, and that any final grinding would be done in the home with a mortar, or spice mill, or something similar.

6. To what degree have modern agricultural practices affected the size of poultry and eggs?

Likely have increase in size by selective breeding.

Allie said...

I'm no expert, but here's what I think.

1. None. But you could convert a medieval recipe into a modern one.

2. As a display of wealth. Spices took a long time to come to Europe and were really expensive, so the massive use of them demonstrated how rich you were. Of course, the average person didn't really have access to spices (though often they had gardens that allowed them to incorporate herbs into their cooking), so most people really didn't spice their food. Except after pepper became inexpensive; then it was very popular among the poorer folk.

3. I have no idea.

4. Only the wealthy could use them, and they used large amounts of them.

5. I'm guessing it didn't allow for great quality in flour or sugar, by the standards we currently use to judge them by. Flour would've tended toward whole wheat (dense), with filtered flour being more costly. Sugar would've probably been considered quite a treat. Salt I believe was had by most, but it likely had a lot of mineral content (just like the salts we put a premium on now do).

6. They're much larger. Additionally, the quality is more consistent, though there would have been a larger amount of dark meat on the chickens than we have now (same as w/ how modern turkeys are breast-rich and dark-meat-poor, though heritage turkeys still have smaller amounts of white meat).