My Period cooking philosophy

I am a member of the SCA. This means I occasionally like to go away for a weekend or so with my friends, dress in Medieval clothing and live an idealised, romanticised version of the European Middle Ages, with, however, a fairly solidly historically researched basis in everything that we do. When we in the remark that something is ‘Period’ we mean “the arts, skills, and traditions of pre-17th-century Europe”. This blog will be mostly about Period cookery, with occasionally other crafts thrown in.

I am also a PhD student with a scholarship and a mortgage. Although my husband works in a good job, we don’t have vast quantities of money. Therefore, if I want to cook Period, my choices tend to be dictated by 1) what is already in the house 2) what can be got at a reasonable price at a supermarket or a farmers market. Let’s just say that venison or the like does not tend to feature a lot, and even lamb does so rarely (as it happens, today I am cooking lamb). However, this is great practice for cooking SCA event meals, as I aspire to do! I am also very interested in peasant food, which may be thought of as less nutritious or generally poorer than the diet of nobles, but which also had to sustain them for little or no money through hard work. I do beans and lentils a lot. To complicate things further, we like to avoid quick carbs in our diet, which means that I only sadly rarely make bread, pies or other similar delicious things. This is a pity, as I love baking and eating bread, but it just seems to be better for our health.

In my Period cookery, I will not use non-period ingredients, beyond modern commercially prepared versions of the originals, where necessary. However, I believe that throughout all times adaptation, creativity, managing with what you have and imagination have been the highest virtues of all the best cooks. Therefore there will be (many) times when I will not stick to a Period recipe, or indeed will devise my own using Period ingredients. We only have a limited amount of primary material from the Middle Ages, and even that material leaves out a lot of things that we would take for granted in modern cookery books, such as cooking times, amounts of spices and things that “everyone” knew how to cook. Accounts and other similar documents do not necessarily mention foodstuffs that did not need to be bought in, such as vegetables and fruit. My opinion is that in order to truly understand the experience of the times, we too must exercise the same cookly virtues in our cooking, and not simply be slaves to our recipe collections, refusing to try out anything outside those boundaries. My cooking is informed by A) What ingredients did they have? B) What methods did they use? and C) What examples exist? in that order. 

My particular interest is in Scandinavian and particularly Savonian-Karelian (south-east Finnish) cooking, as that is where both my own roots and my SCA persona’s roots come from. There is little material available on this, particularly as literacy came to those areas very late, which means that I will be dependent on later records, secondary scholarship, tradition and archaeology. However, I don’t think that I should let this prevent me. That said, I will, of course, work on well known Southern and Western European material, particularly when I don’t feel like putting in a lot of research to document what I’m doing. 

All the above factors should make for interesting combinations, and it’s likely that I will only rarely be able to follow all of them at once. However, I intend to follow my most important principle: Period cooking needs to be fun, and ideally produce a delicious result. 

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