A couple weeks ago Todd and I, along with our new friend Andrea, traveled over to Pensacola to check out the Gulf Coast Renaissance Faire for the day. Thanks to a convenient time-zone crossing we made it to the Faire-grounds (a 3-hour journey) in just over 2. Talk about time travel!
First we happened on a talkative blacksmith demonstrating her process of making a simple bar of steel into something useful and lovely. There were several vendors throughout the central area of the Faire and we spent most of the first hour or more perusing their wares. It reminded me of a cross between a craft fair and Merchant’s row at an SCA (Society of Creative Anachronism) event.
In addition to various retailers, there were five stages set up for entertainment. There were continuous belly-dance performances in Arabia, variety acts on several stages and a field with fencing demonstrations and, yes, actually jousting by riders on horseback.
Reminiscent of a trip to Medieval Times, the spectators were divided into cheering sections for each of the combatants as the riders jousted and then competed in a series of skill exercises for points. It was quite breathtaking to watch–the charving hooves, the splitting of wood upon steel armor. Whew!
There was also a display of falcons and other birds of prey, including a hawk that chose to go on a little side adventure of his own.
It was quite a day.
But, of course, the question you may be asking yourselves is: what did we eat?
Ringing the Faire were all manner of food carts, most of which you’d see at any carnival or local festival: corn dogs, funnel cakes, burgers and fries, chicken sandwiches, popcorn, slushies, etc. Kebabs were available at many stands and they were, at best, the most close-to-authentic food available.
We, however, opted to order from Phil’s Mediterranean–they at least didn’t have your standard carnival truck but were sporting some inventive decorations and atmosphere. Granted, the gyro-meat that I ordered on my “gypsy plate” (brown rice and lentils seasoned with almonds and cranberries and topped with Greek-style salad) was of a style invented in the 19th century–well after the end of the Middle Ages; the most authentic ingredients of the dish were almonds and lentils.
And the turkey leg that Todd just had to order? Turkeys weren’t introduced to Europe until the late 1500s–kinda pushing it for a common Medieval food.
What IS Medieval Food?
Trade was big business in the Middle Ages, but even with a relatively colder climate than we have now, long-distance trade of meats and vegetables wasn’t very efficient. Folks ate incredibly local, very little went to waste, and even though basic preservation skills like smoking, drying and salting were known and used, food was fresh more often than not. Spices, however, traveled well and were very expensive so were perfect for rich houses to show off their wealth to guests. Vegetables were not as uncommon as many think, though they were boiled or roasted more times than not.
Strangely enough, turducken is incredibly close–in theory, at least–to a lot of the medieval food I’ve made and studied. The cooks of the Middle Ages (those of the wealthy houses, of course) really liked the idea of stuffing a large animal with all sorts of smaller foods and roasting them all together. One of my most well-received lamb dishes is based (and by that I mean scaled down to a normal kitchen’s demands) on an Andalusian recipe that called for an entire ram to be stuffed with stuffed small poultry, meatballs and sauce of almonds.
This experience got me thinking: how much fun would it be to have a Medieval Cooking Challenge like the Indian one I participate in each month? So I’ve started one! If you’re curious about Medieval food and want to try out authentic recipes from long ago, check out the Medieval Cooking Challenge page and sign up! I’ll be sending out the first recipe for the challenge on April 1st!