Friday, October 5, 2007

Inherent Hazard

There's a built in problem with the sort of "experimental archaeology" that I do, and it's not food poisoning. As long as I keep trying new recipes, I'm pretty much guaranteed to come up with a few dishes that people don't like. Heck, even I don't like some of them.

There are two aspects of culture that I figure are coming into play here.

Weird Food

The first is the simple unfamiliarity of the dishes. Medieval European cuisine uses familiar foods in unusual ways. Many recipes combine fruit and meats. Many have combinations of flavors that modern Americans would find strange: meat and cinnamon, meat and vinegar.

While there are people who like trying new foods (I'm one), there are many more who just don't like eating anything they weren't raised with. Some of them can be coaxed into trying something new by showing that it's similar to something they like, but that doesn't work with all of them, and there are some dishes that are just too different.

Really Weird Food

The aspect that bothers me more though is a bit more subtle. The food culture of medieval Europe was one of those "waste-not, want-not" sorts. They ate just about any kind of animal that they could get, and didn't throw away any part that was even remotely edible. This means that there are a lot of recipes in medieval sources for things that very few of the people around me will be willing to try. Really, how many average Americans would be willing to eat Garbage (an appropriately named stew that includes chicken heads and feet).

Still, there are some dishes that are a lot closer to modern American cuisine that are still likely to make people wrinkle up their noses.

For example, I recently tried out a fifteenth century French recipe for chopped liver. Now look, this isn't Sheep's Penis or anything so strange. It's a simple dish of beef liver, eggs, and spices. This is a dish my grandparents would have loved. After all, it uses lard and everything. But our modern culture has turned against just about everything in it. Liver? Full of toxins (and it tastes funny too). Eggs? Too much cholesterol. Lard? What, are you trying to plug my arteries?

In medieval Europe this dish would have been served to royalty - in fact, the recipe specifies that it's supposed to be served on a platter as an accompaniment to a gilded, roasted pig head - but the chances of it being served here to dinner guests is effectively nil.

This means that when I cook a feast for a hundred or so (which I do at least once a year), I have to constrain myself for the most part to recipes I think most people will try and like. This in turn means that the feasts are less like what was actually served. [sigh] Still, I can sneak strange things onto the menu now and then, as long as I don't go overboard with them.

Oh, and I can always try things at home. Though I wonder how the family will react when I finally get around to cooking that cow tongue that I have in the freezer.

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