I was once told “Cooking isn’t hard. Period cooking isn’t that hard.” I was…shocked. The person who made this proclamation was missing the entire point of period cooking. Period cooking is not about throwing a bunch of things into a pot or a bowl etc and saying “Look! I am a period cook!”. A person who does period cooking doesn’t just “Cook”…this person researches a lot of things. Ingredients for one. Ever thought of where sugar originates from or why it was so expensive for so long? Common table sugar is NOT from the new world. Some books swear sugar was grown in Egypt, or India (Toussant-Samat, pp. 552 and Faas, pp. 149) while Wikipedia says New Guinea was the original site of the first domesticated sugar cane, or that apricots were from Armenia ( Giacosa, pp. 14) when doing Roman or Middle Eastern cooking in which both of these spices play varying roles. Sugar has a prime spot while apricots do a lot of cameos.
Period cooking requires researching how foods were cooked i.e. served hot or at room temperature for easier handling by fingers and bread. What types of foods were served in or on what types of platters. Was silver ware ever used. Middle Eastern dinners used their knives and fingers as well as bread. For the Romans spoons were used to sup with and knives were only used to carve and serve meat. Many people do not know this and take for granted that forks, spoons and knives were always used since the cave man days. /rolls eyes.
Another research tidbit was how dishes were served in what order. Roman tables were very regulated to Gustum, Menas Pprima and Mensa Secunda. (Giacosa) This was start, middle and end. Light foods to the front for snacking on, while the 2nd course of prime meats and richer dishes were served then the final portion served fruit and sweets. Middle Eastern tables had everything at once. Sweets, meats, olives breads and cheeses were laid out for the dinners choice. (Rodinson)
Period cooking is not just looking at a recipe and guessing. Period cooking encompasses the who (who the dish(s) being displayed were originally made for), when (referring not only to a time period but also to a seasonality or serving order), what (what made the dish special unusual or just caught the researcher’s eye), where (what region or regions did a dish come from then travel to or where on the table would a dish be seated for full enjoyment of those feasting), finally why (why a dish was special. What part of the animal or animals made X dish the show stopper or THE dish to serve at a banquet).
Period cooking is NOT just cooking a dish and serving it for dinner. Good food was not easy to come by. We are dominated by adds on TV, Magazines or a click away on our computers for tasty easy to cook meals. Meat was very expensive. Vegetables grew in the garden or were bought in the market. If there was a bad year for weather….food was scarce. If traders came from far away lands, instead of being able to harvest cinnamon bark for flavoring from the local woods (and the noble they belong too was lenient), spices were expensive. Food in history is a puzzle. How was some thing made from local ingredients and far away spices or dried fruits. There is not given “Gimme.” in period food. Everything has to be researched, some times in the oddest places.