What was eaten in the Middle Ages and how it was prepared is an important question for any reenactor of this period. It is no less important for HMB athletes who settled in the historical camp at any tournament, especially at Battle of the Nations. HMBIA News asked Olga Mamaeva to tell us about the intricacies of Middle Ages cooking. Having a degree in history science, Olga is seriously engaged in reenament, and since 2013 she, together with her colleague Sofia Vdovicheva, have been leading a project dedicated to historical gastronomy.
“It is difficult to talk about the entire period of the Middle Ages, since only a few copies of cookbooks have come down to us, and even those were written for kings and the nobility. The dishes here were for special occasions. But, in general, if you rely on indirect sources, then this is a variety of bread, thick stews and cereals available in the region, vegetables such as onion, carrot, cabbage and fruits such as apples and others. From cereals, you can recall barley, rice. Beer and wine were widely used in cooking. As for meat, poultry and fish, I have no belief that Europeans of that time had the opportunity to eat it every day.”
According to Olga, in Europe they cooked on an open fire and therefore all dishes were mainly boiled or fried, as they would say now, on a grill (spit). The meat was most often stewed or boiled for a long time, and then brought to a crisp over the fire. In general, they tried to make all the dishes soft. Small ovens were built for bread, including mobile ones. Smoking was also widespread. Milk was usually used to make products such as cheese. They did not drink milk in its pure form, except what was given to the sick and children.
Medieval cooking is famous for its incredible amount of spices in its dishes. Olga and Sofia actively use them, especially when it comes to “haute cuisine”. Olga said that they usually buy whole spices and grind them themselves in a mortar. In whole form, spices retain aroma and color longer.
Olga and her like-minded, passionate about historical cooking, often prepare dishes according to old recipes from the preserved cookbooks of that time for themselves. She told us that, in general, the preparation of medieval dishes are not very difficult, but laborious, since it is necessary to prepare individual components before starting the preparation of the actual dish.
“The most difficult thing is to make a proportion, since in medieval recipes there is no indication of what and how much to take. There are also difficulties with the selection of wine, in which meat or fruits were often stewed. Bad wine can spoil the taste of the dish.”
In their Taste of History community, Olga, Sofia and their colleagues publish recipes for dishes from various periods. For example, we decided to show you one of the recipes of medieval European cuisine and how it is presented in the book. For instance, 13th century Andalusian saffron rice recipe:
“Add saffron, butter, spices to the rice, and boil it.”
As you can see, everything is simple and concise, but the devil is in the detail and the girls have chosen the amount of ingredients and the cooking time. They managed to reinvent the recipe with all proportions and publish detailed recipes and the history of certain products in their group on social networks.
Knowing all of the above, as well as a list of what could be in the kitchen in the historical camp from Milica Kovacevic, it is quite possible to think over a menu for the whole team for several days of the tournament.
“At the tournament you can cook EVERYTHING that does not require a separate oven and fits into the time frame. Even the carcass of a bull can be baked! But this is not easy. Often the hardest part of medieval cooking is keeping a fire going. Also in the kitchen you need a special woodcutter. And most importantly – who will then wipe the boilers. “
HMBIA News is confident that very soon we will be able to gather at tournaments, set up a historical camp, from where the aromas of delicious and historical dishes will be heard. And we can all sample some!
Thanks to Olga Mamaeva for the interview.