Wednesday, November 14, 2012
Is this food item period?
A question I recently noticed, and one that seems to pop up every so often, is a question in regards to a specific food item being period. Sometimes it isn't a question so much as a statement "This is period" and "This isn't period". Common items I seen propped up, in the SCA who's time period ends at 1600, as either/or: Peppers (Capsicum), Potatoes (of various varieties) and Tomatoes, though I'm sure many people could add significantly to this small list.
The answer, of course, is yes... they were known and consumed (though I can not, off hand, draw to memory of peppers used beyond medicine as I'm writing this). I have even stumbled upon food preparations for both Potatoes and Tomatoes, as have others, within the SCA's time period. But...
Yes, But... there is always a But....
While it is nice to have a knowledge of period food items for whichever period we are cooking for, that list is virtually useless in the realm of authenticity without a somewhat decent understanding of how these foods were prepared, or otherwise used, within the time-period we are striving to emulate.
In other words, just because I avoid food said to be not of the time period and only stick to those that were known, does not mean that my preparation or my end product are going to necessarily be of that period, or remotely so. One could say that if I were poor that I would just grab what is on hand and cooked it however, but I'm not convinced it is as easy as that when we must consider their cooking requirements, exactly what ingredients they would have been given access, how they are likely to want it prepared and so on. It might not be in their best interest just to toss it all in a pot and call it dinner, of course we can deduct much from various records and other contemporary writings as to give us some small clues.
Happily, we have been gifted with a large treasury of recipe books and other period sources containing various instruction and descriptions and these should be our "go to" place for ideas on what foods to create. Right now, I think it's pretty much the best we have!
Of course, there are those who say they don't have the time or access to books or that they need "modern" recipes (I kinda like to refer to them as scientific as they are designed to churn out the same constant results over, and over, and over...)... Good luck for them, there are people who have published both websites and books with recipes written exactly this way. I consider these second best for sources, but that does not mean they are bad, I believe they are quite wonderful for the modern cook and would rather direct people to these than to period/not period ingredient lists.