Food Research for the Society for Creative Anachronism
For me, one of the most challenging parts of the Society for Creative Anachronism is the research. More to the point, researching the food from 13th Century Italy, my era and locale of choice, has proven to be quite the challenge.
Do not get me wrong, I love the challenge. The research aspect has also become the most enjoyable to me. Through my research I have learned countless new ideas, shared with hundreds of new friends, and learned that what we eat today is not all that different from what was served during the Renaissance.
Where to Research
Finding good sources of information is not as simple as one might think. Yes, there are a lot of great books available that claim to have recipes from the middle ages. Unfortunately, many of these books fail to provide any information as to the source of the recipe. Even worse, most mainstream books do not even provide you with the original version, just how it is made today.
Often, I begin my research with the Gode Cookery site, and many of the meals I have prepared have been from recipes found throughout that site. This is a great place for the beginning SCA cook to get his or her feet wet. Eventually though, the researcher will need to branch out to find more variety and fill out feasts.
I bet you did not expect to see the term social networking in a hub about food or the SCA. However, it would be naive of any person new to the society to believe that nobody else has researched the time period he or she is interested in. There is a good possibility that someone has researched the cuisine of his or her selected period, and can share information on resources and recipes. Knowing who requires a different type of research.
It has been my experience in my 5 years with the society that nearly everyone is willing to share what they know. The trick is finding the people that know. It helps to be the type of person that can jump into any setting and not feel embarrassed. It also helps to know that there really are no dumb questions, especially in the SCA. Nobody is going to expect you to know everything. The SCA is a learning environment, and everyone who participates is both a student and a teacher.
What I do different
Many of the SCA cooks I know vow to only use recipes they can personally find a reliable source for. When I became a part of the society I though that was the only way to go. Research a recipe, redact it so it can be made with ingredients we have available to us, and share it with others. This works, but does not really fit into my cooking personality.
I enjoy being creative, and prefer cooking things that are going to be well received by those eating the food. Not that recipes from the middle ages aren't good, most of them are, but I like to bring something new to the table. There is a limited supply of recipes from the middle ages, and only so many ways those recipes can be paired in feasts.
To provide some variety, my research has focused more on the ingredients and methods used during the middle ages to create new dishes. This has upset a few of the people I have met through the society, but others have received my recipes very well. I have become very adept at modifying modern recipes to use ingredients available in Europe before the discovery of America. Removing or replacing ingredients, but keeping the flavor, is tricky, but a challenge that I truly enjoy.
Whether you chose the traditional route of only using documentable recipes, or you follow my lead and create new and distinctive dishes, I encourage you to get out and cook. Find others in your area that enjoy cooking and share ideas, recipes, successes, and failures. How you enjoy the SCA is up to you.
Oh, and if you don't want to cook, I always appreciate a new guinea pig for my experiments.