When Your Biscuits Are Like Rocks: Including Imperfection in Historical Interpretation

Canada Part 2: 19th c. Ontario Cooking featuring Immigrants from the Isles

Selected Recipes
New Cock-a-Leekie Soup
“Excellent Hot Tea Cakes”
“Cranberry Pie”

If you’ve ever watched “Chopped: Canada”, you can sympathize with me when I say that I would be first on the chopping block. Do I cook with enthusiasm? Heck yes! Bravery? You betcha! Skill? Eh….in time, I tell myself, in time.Many times over this Historic Kitchen project I have looked askance at my final product….doubting that I have made it correctly. I would bet good money that my attempt at Patina of Pears would make even the dour Cato the Elder roll over laughing. The difficulty with creating recipes of unfamiliar dishes is that you have no ideaif you are wrong, or how you are wrong. Just that unpleasant niggling sensation that something must be different….since “there is no way this thing should be so jiggly/…neon…/crunchy/[insert questionable adjective here]!”Read More »

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A Fine Mess: 18th c. Upper Canada

Selected Recipes:
Chocolate Cream
Shrewsbury Cakes

Canada Part 1: 18th c. Upper Canada

This term I shall explore Canadian Cuisine, in three parts.

Firstly, I would like to say that yes! Such a thing as Canadian Cuisine does exist. This country has a huge variety of regionally uniquebeloved, and sometimes iconically controversial food items. Unfortunately, Canada has long fought against bad stereotypes or a disbelief in good cuisine. Colonel Sanders famously loathed Canadian food, calling it “plumb tasteless!” This series shall feature Canadian recipes of the late 18th and early 19th centuries in this post, and followed by posts exploring the 19th and 20th centuries.Read More »

Maestro of the 15th c. Milanese Kitchen: Myth of Martino’s Libro de Arte Coquinaria

Selected Recipes:
Mushrooms
Rashers
Cherry Pie

While perusing the shelves in Gerstein Library (yes, the Medical Sciences Library of UofT, not the first place I expected to find such a concentration of historic cookbooks either), looking for the recipe books I used over the summer to bring to the recent Musings themed iTea, I discovered this little gem:

Ballerini, L. (Ed.). (2005). The art of cooking: The first modern cookery book (J. Parzen, Trans. S. Barzini, Contr.). Berkeley: University of California Press. Read More »

Baking with the Bard: Where’s My Sparknotes?

Selected Shakespearean Recipes:
Mynst Pies
A Fine Paste
A Compound Sallat

You  know when you read Shakespeare, and there are those convenient footnotes explaining all the contextual references to contemporary Elizabethan popculture? If you’ve ever tried reading Shakespeare without looking at these handy explanations, you sort of feel like you are only getting half the picture. Lines have very shallow meaning, but you don’t know what it is you don’t know. Shakespearean works, like historical recipes, are best understood when read with a full grasp of the common knowledge of their time, these things that are so common sense, that contemporary writers don’t bother explaining them. They assume their audience knows all about it. Well. Maybe back then they did! Now, much of that ‘common knowledge’ is lost. And unfortunately, there is no handy sparknotes for historical cookbooks!Read More »

Taste, The Final Frontier: Can Museums Recreate the Flavours of History?

Selected Classical Recipes
Athenian Cabbage – The Classical Cookbook
Parthian Chicken – The Classical Cookbook
Lentils with Chestnuts – A Taste of History

GrecoRoman Pt 5.

Museums today are exploring different methods of display that incorporate senses other than sight and allow visitors to experience knowledge in new ways. It is not uncommon to see exhibits featuring soundscapes and opportunities for touch. Though growing as an interpretive tool, smell is still fairly rare.

But what about taste?Read More »

But What If We Don’t Like It? Cooking Roman Staples and the Dilemma of Authenticity

Selected Classical Recipes
Layered Cheesecake – The Classical Cookbook
Fish in Coriander Crust – The Classical Cookbook
Nut Cake – Roman Cookery

GrecoRoman Pt 5.

When making the array of ‘Roman staples’ (of which many didn’t make it into the post), I encountered a problem. I frequently didn’t like them. However, I’d bought the ingredients, I was hungry, I was darn well going to eat them.

I have been lucky to have so much choice in selecting recipes. I could have easily chosen only items I know I would like. But I forced myself to step outside my boundaries -and heavily resisted the inclination to adjust the recipes to my taste. Making food I like wasn’t the point (but was usually an added benefit). The point was seeing if I could learn something new about the Greeks and Romans through their food. But how much can you learn if it isn’t authentic?Read More »

Trial by Spice: Testing the Stomachs (and Noses) of Brave Food Historians

Selected Classical Recipes
Butter Beans in Herb Sauce- Roman Cookery
Lentil and Barley Soup – Roman Cookery
Vitellian Peas- The Classical Cookbook
Spiced Wine – The Classical Cookbook

GrecoRoman Pt 3.

Roman food historians perform a brave and perilous duty testing out ancient recipes. Without ingredient quantities, dishes have to be prepared countless times until they are ‘gotten right’. Of course, at this point we still don’t know (and barring the invention of a time machine, never will) if we have it correct, at the very least we can now eat it! However, to any who wish to pursue Roman cuisine, a cautionary word is found in Plautus:Read More »

Roman Cuisine: Feasting in Museums

Selected Classical Recipes
Garum – Roman Cookery
Eggs Poached in Wine – Roman Cookery
Pastry Balls – Roman Cookery
Toronean Steak – The Classical Cookbook

GrecoRoman Pt 2.

Food programs in Museums? But Health and Safety Regulations! But constricting catering contracts! It is certainly uncommon to feature food in museum programming, but here are two fun examples that just-so-happen to fit my Classical theme:Read More »

Historic Kitchen: The Prep Stage

Featured GrecoRoman Recipes
Sapa – Roman Cookery, Mark Grant
Honey Omelette – A Taste of History, Jane Renfrew

GrecoRoman Pt 1.

I suppose I should begin by saying that I am not an expert in Historic Cooking. BUT, I have a deep passion for history and an (arguably) deeper love for food. An interest in historic cooking began early in my career as an archaeologist. While on a site in central Jordan, we dug upbuckets of animal bones and jar stoppers each day. Clearly, we were excavating an area in which mass amounts of food preparation (and during other occupation phases, disposal) took place. In a random thought, I wondered how they spiced their meat. What did it taste like? What preparation and serving techniques did they use? Read More »