This article first appeared in the Seahorse, the monthly newsletter of the Crown Province of Østgarðr, in July, 1997.Last year, I presented some recipes that we had prepared at Pennsic without the use of refrigeration (sometimes with anachronisms such as canned meat or instant boullion). This year, with camping season upon us, here are some home-tested recipes that we plan to test at Pennsic for outdoor ease of preparation.
Couscous is probably the quickest and easiest sort of pasta to prepare (assuming that you aren't making the pasta from scratch). We were pleased to find this thirteenth century Islamic recipe for couscous, and even more pleased to find it delicious and easy.
"When you wish to prepare it take the best pieces of lean meat, of the breast, back, tail, and more; cut it into medium pieces, clean them and put them in a big pot with much water, salt, oil, pepper, coriander and a little chopped onion, and put the pot over the flame. When the meat is cooked, take it out of the pot and leave it covered in a tureen, drain the broth, clean the pot, return the broth to it to serve. If it is sufficient, cook the pasta in it with care and put it on a slow fire until the pasta has cooked enough; meanwhile arrange a little pot over the mouth of a pot of water, to use as a warmer. Take the pasta from the broth and put it in the small pot. When the noodles have cooked, throw into the pot fresh or salted butter and allow it to simmer a while, stirring it with the tail of a spoon, taking care not to allow it to spoil. Meanwhile, fry the already cooked meat in a pan in fresh or salted butter until it is gilded. When the pasta has finished cooking, serve them in a bowl, arrange over it the meat, sprinkle it with cinnamon and ginger and eat it.
"If you like pasta with fat hens, prepare it in the same manner; that remains without saying."
Combine the broth, salt, oil, pepper, coriander, and onion in a pot and bring to a boil. Add the couscous and return to a boil. Cover and simmer for 2-3 minutes. Meanwhile, fry the chicken briefly in butter or oil in a separate frying pan. When both are done, serve the couscous onto plates, arrange the chicken over it, and sprinkle with cinnamon and ginger.
If your tastes will allow, the easiest and most "medieval" way to survive camp cooking without refrigeration is to cook with legumes. Dried, of course, would be the most authentic, but all manner of legumes are available canned, and one can always open the can and dump it into a bowl or pot in the privacy of one's own tent.... Fortunately for us, medieval folk had to endure many meatless days during the year, so period legume recipes abound. Here are a couple:
Pour donner entendement a celluy qui appareillera les syseros, si prenne ses syses et si les delise grain a grain en tant que il n'y demeure nulle chose que le propre grain du sise; et puis le lave en trois ou en .iiii. eaues tedes et les mecte boullir. Et, estre boullir, si les remove de celle eaue et y mecte d'autre eaue fresche, et mecte arriés boullir; et, estre boullis, si les mecte en la dicte oulle reposer jusque a l'endemain. Et, quant se viendra l'endemain, si en purés l'eaue et mectés boullir en ung bien petit de sel, de l'oille d'amendres et de percin ensemble ses racines bien delises et nectoyees—et celles racines soient escorchiés et tresbien lavees—et un pou de salvi. Et si n'y mectés autre chose sans l'ordonnance du medicin: et s'il ordonnoit de y mectre ung pou de cynamomy et ung pou de verjust pour lui donner aucun pou de goust, sy en y mectés; autrement non.
Giving attention to how to prepare Syseros (chick peas), take your chick peas and sort them one by one so that nothing remains but clean chick peas; and then wash them in three or four [changes of] warm water and put them to boil. And when they have boiled, then remove them from this water and put them in another [pot of] fresh water, and leave them to boil; and, when they have boiled, then put them in the aforesaid pot to rest until the next day. The next day, skim the water and put them to boil with a good little bit of salt, almond oil and parsley together with the roots well sorted and cleaned -- and let these roots be peeled and very well washed -- and a little sage. And don't add anything else without your doctor's advice: if he tells you to put in a bit of cinnamon and a bit of verjuice [to give it a bit of taste?], then put some in; otherwise, don't.
Drain and wash canned chick peas. Grind in a mortar and pestle until a paste is formed. Add almond oil, verjuice, cinnamon, salt, sage [and parsley??] and stir till blended. Serve with flatbreads.
Onions and other root vegetable will keep for several days without refrigeration if stored in a cool dry spot. It is possible to prepare the following recipe without using anachronisms, but you can save yourself a step by using vegetable boullion. We plan to try boiling the peas earlier in the day and leaving them to soak for a few hours. And... well...our butcher doesn't carry whale meat, so we skipped that part.
A jour de poisson, quant les pois sont cuis, l'en doit avoir oignons qui aient autant cuit comme les pois en un pot et le lart en autre pot, et que de l'eaue du lart l'en paist et sert les pois; tout ainsi, a jour de poisson, quant l'en a mis ses pois au feu en un pot, l'en doit mettre a part ses oignons minces en un autre pot, et de l'eaue des oignong servir et mettre dedens les pois en passant; et quant tout ce est cuit, frire les oignons et en mettre la moictie es pois, et l'autre en la puree dont il sera parle cy apres, et lors mettre du sel. Et se a ce jour de poisson ou en Karesme il y a craspois, l'en doit faire des craspois comme de lart en jour de char.
On a fish day, once the peas are cooked, one must have onions which have been cooked as the peas [were cooked] in one pot and as the bacon [was cooked] in the other pot [in a previous recipe], and just as with the bacon broth one can strengthen and fortify the peas, just so, on a fish day [with onion broth]. When the peas are put on the fire in one pot, put part of the minced onions in another pot, and put the broth from the onions in with the peas; and when all is cooked, fry the onions and put half of them in with the peas, and the other half in the broth (about which more shall be said later), and then add salt. And if on a fish day or in Lent there's salt whale meat to be had, one can use some whale meat like bacon on a meat day.
Take split peas. Cover with water. Boil till mushy, and let sit to settle the puree to the bottom. Drain the water, and run peas through sieve or chinois. Mince onions, and boil, reserving the broth. Or, if using boullion, omit this step. Fry onions in oil until soft and translucent, and add to pea puree, and vegetable broth. Simmer gently for a while. Serve with crusty bread.
And don't forget the foods that require no cooking at all. Nuts, dried fruits (in addition to the usual figs, dates, and raisins, Platina speaks of dried peaches in his De Honeste Voluptatis), cheeses "marinated" in flavored oil, dry-cured sausages (stored, of course, in a cool, dry place--call your local butcher shop or Cooperative Extension service if you have any questions), shortbreads and wafers are all munchies that require no refrigeration or on-site preparation.
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