Edible Body of Works for A&S Competition
(Research, Presentation, Practicality)
Honorable Lady Sosha Lyon’s O’Rourke
Before you buy your first chicken and period cook book, ask yourself a few questions. This will help narrow the focus from everything in a buck shot attempt at cooking, to a laser focus on what is important to you and the message you are trying to achieve.
1). What is the main focus
a.) Do I want to do feasts foods or common types of period foods.
b.) If feasts what type of feasts i.e. wedding, grand occasions etc.
c.) What makes the chosen dishes worth displaying?
2). What types of foods
a.) Type of i.e. Roman, English, German.
b.) Common foods for common people or fancy foods for crown and nobles.
c.) What is the common dish theme i.e. desserts, main courses, dishes with fruit etc.
3.) Where would the foods normally be served at
4.) When is the time setting
a.) Time period
b.) Time of day
c.) Time of year (seasonality was a very important part of what was available to a cook)
a.) Why were these foods picked as important (sustaining foods, medicinal, impressing to nobles or foreign dignitaries
b.) Why were these dishes chosen for the venue i.e. peacock, stuffed dormice or monkey brains.
Once the basic questions (there are lots more but this is a start) have started to tumble through the brain, cooking research can begin.
1.) Find the type of cooking you really want.
2.) Find the time period (narrow or broad i.e. just 1100’s or from 1000 through 1500s)
3.) Acquire books, library cards and internet websites
“Books” is a generic term not only for cook books but for history books in that time period. Some great ideas are art books that display different types of important historic happenings. An example of stumbling across some thing very interesting food, was is in a portrait Middle Eastern Prince during a hunt. The painting is in a museum display book, showing a bowl holding half of a watermelon. I have found no other pictures, detailing an end of the hunt feast or luncheon with watermelon so clearly painted.
This picture starts a hunt for books or websites for the origins of watermelon. Then the researching of gardening books that deal with heirloom type of fruits/vegetables. Next comes the search for recipes in the chosen time period(s) in which this item might have been used as an ingredient. I have yet to come across any Middle Eastern recipes where watermelon is used as a part of a dish. I know that watermelon is period from the research done, I just cannot find a recipe with this ingredient included. I could and do make the conclusion that watermelon was known and eaten as a refreshing snack/dessert/treat instead of being an ingredient. So a watermelon salad or soup is going to be reaching but not the fact that watermelon is period and eaten.
Conclusion: Cooking research is not just found in cook books (and watermelon seems to be a stand alone food item in medieval Middle Eastern foods).
To quote one of my favorite movies.
“Oh, there’s a difference between you and me. You’re a villain alright. But I am a super villain.”
“What’s the difference?”
“PRESENTATION!” Cue dramatic music and lighting.
A presentation can make or break any display. Don’t just throw food on a table (especially not a rickety table!) and expect people to go “Wow! All this work is perfect!”. The likely response will be “Eh…tasty enough but it looks like a Denny’s breakfast bar.”
1.) Table set up
- Table cloth (clean and unstained). Plain will do but make sure the color is vivid. Brocades can work but do not let the material speak louder than the dishes.
- Bowls and plates can be out of wood, silver, or pottery. For those who don’t throw pottery, Etsy is a very good website in which different potters can display their wares for public sale. Or collect pieces from the different SCA wars from excellent vendors; who you can chat with and touch their pottery before buying. Also check out different city festivals i.e. Pecan Festival in Austin. Wooden items or silver are really easy to find at Goodwill. Note: DO NOT put your wooden bowls in a dishwasher!!! You’ll damage them beyond repair/use.
- Raise one display item above the others. This item should either display an excellent dish OR an unusual cooking technique unique to the dish being displayed i.e. a bake,fried,roasted whole fish (A French Spectacular food item…3 different cooking techniques on one whole fish…very different and shows off the cook’s skill).
- Labels for each dish.
2.) Eating ease
- Have small plates, forks, spoons, cups at the start of the table.
- Have 2 sets of documentation ready for reading.
- At the end of the table open a paper trash back lined with a plastic trash back so that there is a convenient trash receptacle for plates/cutlery etc when the tasting is done.
3.) Be ready to discuss any and all sections of your research including the occasional esoteric tidbit
- Most people are hesitant to step outside their normal eating habits, be ready to talk up beef tongue.
- Different doesn’t mean disgusting. Emphasize the good things not the weird. i.e. sugar and spices in the comfit not the ground up bug parts you used to get the period red color in your food.
This is more of a common sense or how driven are you to make a display. Are you really willing to drive 2 hours to find the rare herb/ingredient that can’t be shipped to you or bought in your local ethnic/hippie/farmers market? Is it easier to grow this item? Buy it and make a road trip with a cooler to purchase? Substitute something else? Consider each set of dishes carefully and what ingredients you may have to do some serious searching/driving for.
Start simply. Ask where your main interests lay. Broad or narrow focus once a field of study has been chosen. Look in unusual places for clues, hints and ideas. Be ready to document everything; including your cutlery and ingredients! Look for nice display pieces. Wooden bowls and silver serving platters. (Goodwill etc is a boon in this area). Search out elegant or fun pottery pieces that can be used in the SCA displays and at home for regular meals. Don’t be afraid to talk to other period cooks. They won’t eat you. Long pig is illegal.
Do not get discouraged!
Remember displays aren’t really period. Period food was served or hosted to individuals. These period feasts were show casing the host’s wealth and ability to hire great cooks…not just displayed, tasted and judged in a rushed environment. Judging food is as much an art as making it. You have to help educate the judges on what they are seeing and reading in documentations, and not just tasting. The documentation needs to be not only full of supporting period documentation but easy to read and understand. One of the best ways to write documentation is to keep in mind the average reading level is that of a 5th grader. Do not make the documentation readable only by PhD’s or so easy that the reader feels insulted by a first grade primer. Mix fact with fun while displaying tasty foods.