Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Student of History

Yesterday at a favorite blog of mine there was a post on How to be Professor Awesome, PhD. This appealed to me not from an advice perspective, but from the perspective of someone who is a member of the public who might attend lectures given by professors. I read it especially for descriptive words, to figure out what Professor Awesome, PhD would use to describe folks like me. For the most part he is describing the audience at a lecture that is open to the public, so “audience” or “audience member” work but I’m interested in the ways to describe us as those interested in history, but not of the establishment. Right at the beginning he is talking about “popular outreach” and “popular medievalists”. I don’t generally call myself a popular historian, because I do not have a degree in popular history (they do exist.) When addressing snobby professors, Professor Awesome, PhD described us as: “the plebs who are interested in your scholarship” I’m cool with being one of the common people of uncommon interest, but if I described myself that way to non-reenactors, I would need to do a lot of explaining and if I told that to reenactors they would think I reenact Roman times. Interesting food for thought, but much more useful for the blog entry’s intended purpose.

This morning on the radio there was an interview with Gen. David Petraeus. The host, Renee Montagne decribed Gen. Petraeus as a student of history, “and “quite a serious one.” ‘I ruminated on that descriptive phrase through quite a bit of my drive to work. When googling the phrase I’ve discovered that President Obama has used it to describe himself, and that bloggers use it with some frequency.

I’m not a historian, in that I am not paid to disseminate history and I do not have any advanced degrees. I am not an academic since I am neither a matriculated student nor a professor of any kind. I reenact history, but don’t necessarily call myself a reenactor, since I don’t recreate battles, and don’t do the Civil War or Revolutionary War. In the Podcast Stephen and I describe ourselves and our listeners as Living Historians, but we’ve never tried to define it, and I’m not sure that most people would know what I meant if I used it in the course of conversation. I certainly do like learning about history, so I feel it is fair to say that I am a student of history but does that really go far enough? Maybe for conversations with most people, it does.

Read this entry on entry page

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Historical Cooking: The Steep Part of the Curve

Detail of a camp kitchen from a 1551 painting by Matthias Gerung

Part 1 and Part 2 bring us up to this spring, now it is almost fall. The faire is less than a month away and I am in full panic mode about cooking at the faire. You’d think with a year under my belt I’d be less nervous, but I am totally not. I still don’t cook much at home, and last year I let myself get away with some things that I will not myself get away with in the long run. Now that I have a little more experience I really only want to cook historical recipes. Last year I used any old historical recipe from the couple of cookbooks I’ve got, now I want to be able to trace the lineage of all my recipes.

It started this summer with fritters.  Last year Amanda cooked fritters. She does it with her 1830s cooking lessons, and she found medieval recipes too. She slaved over the fire cooking those fritters, and everyone loves them. Amanda will not be joining us in camp this fall and fritters seemed too ubiquitous to leave off our menu. They are seriously ubiquitous. The historic cooking blog I read did a whole series of posts on fritters, and most of the medieval cookbooks in my collection had recipes for fritters. I decided to photocopy and organize all the different recipes on fritters that I could find, so that I would not have to drag my recipe books to faire when making the recipes, and so I could decide exactly which recipe to use. While I was photocopying the fritter recipes, I decided to photocopy the recipes that I had used last year for similar reasons: I could take a photocopy to the grocery store when buying ingredients, and I could compare the similar recipes and see which one I liked best and which one was the most historically appropriate. Since I was photocopying all those I decided to photocopy other recipes I had already identified as ones I wanted to try this year, and once I was in this far I decided to photocopy recipes from my medieval cook books that looked like the ones I had made last year that I had found in non-historic circumstances. Over the past two weeks I have made a lot of photocopies (I’m sorry environment.)

I put all those recipes in sleeve protectors in a three ring binder, organized by recipe type. I also made sure to write on each recipe: what book I had gotten it from and where that book had gotten it (the original source.) I was really lucky that a lot of my cookbooks not only noted the source of the original recipes, but included the original text along with modern cooking methods. By looking up one of those original sources I found out that a lot of these medieval cook books have been transcribed (written out in modern English) and put on the web. Also at the same time I was madly immersed in cookbooks we went to Pennsic. I’ll write more about Pennsic later, but one of the more enjoyable things I did while there was attend a number of classes on cooking. While normally I am leery of using stuff posted on the web by random SCAdians, once I have met a person I feel much better about trusting their historical research. And a lot of the people I met do have web pages full of recipes. Needless to say I spent way too much time last week reading and printing out recipes.

While I was tracking down sources I was looking in particular for ways to justify the Alton Brown Lamb and Barley stew recipe that I’d made last year, so I was looking at a lot of mutton recipes and at meat cooking methods. I was looking for instances of directions for browning meat before cooking it and the use of carrots. I learned that browning usually only happened after everything had been boiled once, and that the further back you go the less carrots are a foodstuff, the more they are a medicine (at least according to the cookbooks.) I also figured out that the cookbooks I was predominantly looking at were written in the 14th century, whereas we portray the year 1528. Also, though I was finding cookbooks from Fance, Italy, Spain and England, it seemed like none of the German cookbooks (of which there are several) had modern recipe redactions in English. A few of them have been transcribed on the web, but I’m not feeling confident enough to do my own redactions.

Now I’ve gone through a few more cookbooks (Julie loaned me some) I’ve made a few more photocopies (my three-ring binder has grown from a half inch binder to a 1-inch binder) and I’ve figured out the new things I want to try this fall. Along with all the recipes that I’ve done before I would like to make:

Sweet & Sour White Fish
Stuffed Eggs
Cherry Soup
Poached Pears
Compost (a type of mixed pickles)
Ash Roasted carrots
Emperor’s Fritters (cheese)
Apple Fritters

Wish me luck!

Read this entry on entry page