Archive for February, 2018

Cookbook Reviews

I have been on a bit of a cookbook buying spree, thanks to cleaning up my list of books to find. I had three cookbooks on the list and I no longer remember when I decided I needed them, or what prompted me to find the titles in the first place. Luckily, all three books became available about the time I started searching again, so now I have three books that are very different from each other and pose interesting challenges.

Speisen wie die Äbte und essen wie die Mönche (Dine Like the Abbots and Eat Like the Monks) is a transcript of the Mondseer Cookbook, from 1453 in the Mondsse Cloisters in Austria (its church was the setting for the wedding scene in The Sound of Music). The book also includes Master Cook’s Instructions from 1593 through 1645, a chapter on food chits from 1538 to 1632 (these seem to be short menus for different months and days of the year), and the business brook (regular communes) from 1538. This is the most challenging book for me, but also the most interesting in some ways. As I have a Germanic persona, I am always trying to learn more about German cooking and housewifery. Unfortunately, my German is not very good and Google Translate doesn’t work very well for medieval German. I do recognize lots of individual words and the basics of recipes, so I will spend some quality time over the next few months comparing it with my good translation of Das Buch von Guter Speise.

The next book is Relieves de las mesas, acerca de las delicious de la comics y Los deferents platos, a Spanish translation of the 13th C Andalusian cookbook by Ibn Razin al-Tugibi. This one is much more straightforward, except that it is only in Spanish. The original Arabic text is not included – not that I speak or read Arabic. The author (Manuela Marin) is a Spanish academic specializing in the social history aspects of Arabic and Islamic studies, has written a history of food in the Islamic world, and is a member of the executive committee of the the European Institute of Food Hisory, so I’m going to assume that this is a decent translation. This is a very comprehensive cookbook but I hesitate to plunge in because the first recipe I saw when I flipped it open was for rice pudding. I dislike rice pudding.

The final book is Byzantine Cuisine, by Henry Marks, known in the SCA as Demetrios  Misthophoros aka Demetrius il Condiottiero. He was  a Master of the Laurel and one of the founders and first Guild Master of the Calontir Cooks Guild. The book was originally published in 2002 by a company that is no longer in business, and Dr. Marks himself died in 2014. I finally found a copy on EBay, and it was worth the hunt. His articles on Byzantine culture are scattered around the internet and I have found them to be interesting. Byzantine Cuisine is not a translation of any single cookbook, but rather a description of categories of foods, dining customs, some recipe re-creations, and translations of several Byzantine texts with food references in them (all of which are new to me). I have found one blog post that claims Marks was a good translator but not a good recipe writer (based in part on her view that phyllo dough was not used). However, I did a bit of digging myself and found reasonable evidence that baklava-type recipes, and recipes using layers of dough like phyllo did indeed exist in the Turkic and Byzantine worlds. He is also very clear where he moves into the role of speculation due to the lack of detailed information (eg using beaten egg whites as a leavening agent because the recipe for honey cakes makes no mention of anything except flour and honey, and it is reasonable to assume some sort of liquid and a learning agent). On that basis, while I am not prepared to take all the recipes at face value because I can’t read the original documents, I am prepared to use them as a starting point for more research, and make some of them just for fun.


For the record, I just calculated where I am on the 100 Days of A&S challenge, and I am at Day 375. I have completed a full year of doing at least 10 minutes of A&S every single day, and I’m now 10 days into year 2. Go me!


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