1. Things to avoid
Remember that a lot of the ingredients we take for granted in modern cooking are new world species which entered European traditions well after 1600. Out-of-period ingredients you should NOT use include:
· potatoes (use turnips instead)
· green or red peppers
· chocolate (unless you’re drinking it as a spiced, unsweetened drink in late period)
· turkey (unless you're cooking late period - Marx Rumpolt has a whole lot of recipes, and there are some in the Elizabethan collections)
and many others I’ve doubtless left out.
2. Distinctive aspects of medieval cuisine.
These are broad generalisations - not all time periods and places will show all these characteristics.
· Spices. Pepper, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, galingale, saffron, cubebs, etc.
· Sugar is often used as a spice in savoury dishes.
· Herbs, including some unfamiliar ones. Parsley is often used in large quantities. Coriander and mint are common in Arabic dishes. Tansy, fennel, rue, hyssop are all herbs found in medieval recipes.
· Salad herbs such as rocket, beet greens, turnip greens, spinach.
· The use of vinegar or verjuice
· the use of dried fruit (currents, raisins, dates, etc) in meat dishes
· the tendency to cook both meat, vegetables and starch in a meat broth - often “good, fat bacon” is specified.
· The use of almond milk (ground almonds and broth, making a thick whitish liquid which is strained and used as a milk substitute on fast days. It acts partially as a thickening agent).
· The use of breadcrumbs or soaked bread as a thickening agent. The basic roux sauce (milk thickened with flour) is unknown in our period.
3. Making familiar foods look period
Even if you do not have access to authentic recipes, there are some simple ways of making basic foodstuffs appear more period, or “perioid”.
· Avoid New World foods! (See list of things to avoid, above).
· Remember that the use of a fork was unknown until very late in period. Foods were usually cut small so that they could be eaten with a spoon, or, if left in large chunks, were eaten with the fingers and a knife. If you think of the practicalities of SCA dining, it’s very difficult to eat large chunks of meat which have been cooked in a sauce, in your fingers. Sauces were often served separately (I assume you’d dip your piece of meat as you ate), or meat was cut up into broths which could be eaten with a spoon.
· Try serving a simple medieval sauce (garlic sauce or cameline sauce) with a plain roast chicken or other piece of meat.
· Some foods are period but were served in certain ways only. Medieval pasta recipes are either for filled ravioli cooked in broth, or for basic noodles cooked in broth and layered with cheese. A cream or tomato-based pasta sauce is NOT medieval, but it’s perfectly simple to cook a pasta dish which is.
· Pies are period! So are quiche-style egg tarts. Meat pies with currents or dates are common in period recipes.
· Desserts? Many medieval feast menus suggest that you finish the meal with nuts, oranges and spiced wine. Avoid any cake or biscuit which needs a raising agent, but custard pies, apple pies with dried fruit, fruit fritters, etc, are all period.
4. Cooking for vegetarians.
It would have been rare for people in the medieval age to be vegetarian, unless they were particularly holy religious figures. However, we have a large number of vegetarian recipes from our period because of the church-enforced fast days several days a week, as well as Lent. There were different types of fast days; some forbade all meat or animal products, while others allowed eggs and milk. Fish was not considered meat and could be eaten on fast days. A basic quiche dish with onions, cheese and eggs appears in several medieval sources as “A tart for Ember Day”.
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