Camping Without a Cooler

A long time ago my lord and I considered the problem of keeping food at the Pennsic War. Coolers are drastically unmedieval, and keeping them fed with ice and drained is a nuisance. Going to market every time you want something perishable is worse. Faced with a problem to solve given period technology, a useful starting point is to ask "How did they solve that?" After all, people whose lives involved dealing with a problem day in and day out are likely to have found better answers than you or I can come up with off the cuff. The most useful period answers we have so far found are (1) period nibbles, (2) meatless meals, and (3) pickled meat.

The week before the War, my lord and I make nibbles: various sweets from period cookbooks which will keep over a couple of weeks or more. These can be eaten for breakfast, thrust upon a fighter who will not stop long enough to eat, served to friends who drop by the encampment, or used to dress up a cold meal of bread and cheese and hard sausage when we don't feel like cooking. Many but not all of our favorite recipes, given below, are from Islamic sources. They can be supplement with nuts and dried fruit.

There are a fair number of period recipes for beans, lentils, pasta with cheese, and soups made with onion and root vegetables--all dishes whose ingredients will keep for several days without refrigeration. I described a dinner using such recipes in T.I. two years ago ("A Dinner at Pennsic", T.I. #113). Another of our favorites is an Andalusian dish of lentils with onions and eggs (see "An Islamic Dinner", T.I. #105), served with rice. We also have period recipes for pastries such as Murakkaba (see "A Dinner at Pennsic") and Musamanna (below), which are cooked in a frying pan and can therefore be made on site without an oven.

One period way of providing meat would be slaughtering on site daily, but this is a little impractical in the modern SCA. Our best alternative so far is a recipe from an Icelandic medical miscellany, one of a group of manuscripts believed to be copied from an early thirteenth century original (Grewe, 1985), for preserving meat using strong vinegar and spices. This is done by slicing cooked meat thin and putting it in a jar with the preserving mixture. The original recipe says that "then it can lie for three weeks" and we have found this to be true; we have kept a jar of it, closed but not tightly sealed, on the kitchen counter for three and four weeks, sampling every couple of days, and found it perfectly good through that time.

We did consider the question of food poisoning. According to the books on preserving that I read at the time, botulism (which was what I was most worried about, as it can kill) is caused by a germ which will not live in vinegar of at least 5% acidity; and boiling for fifteen minutes will destroy the botulin toxin if it has developed. The strength of the vinegar usually found in the grocery store is 5%. We found stronger vinegar in a gourmet food store and add enough of it to ordinary wine vinegar to make sure that the mixture is still strong enough after being somewhat diluted with meat juice. We also recommend that people boil it as well before eating, just to be on the safe side. We have omitted this precaution ourselves--most notably during a very rainy Twenty-Year Celebration when I lived for several days on fresh fruit, prince-biscuit and cold picked lamb--but through that and several Pennsics since, we have had no health problems.

What you end up with after washing off the preserving mixture is meat strongly flavored with vinegar and spices. When we are not eating it cold, we often use it in recipes calling for vinegar and spices in the cinnamon/ginger/pepper family, and then leave out the vinegar and some of the spices on the grounds that those flavors are already in the meat. There are a number of fourteenth and fifteenth century recipes which use meat of some kind, often with onions, in a breadcrumb-thickened sauce flavored with some of the above-mentioned spices and vinegar, wine, or beer. These recipes are easy to make over a campfire in a pot or frying pan, as they do not require any precise temperature control or timing, they work very well with the pickled meat, and they use no other ingredients that do not keep. They are good served over either rice or bread.


Prince-Bisket (Hugh Platt p. 14/94): Take one pound of very fine flower, and one pound of fine sugar, and eight egges, and two spoonfuls of Rose water, and one ounce of Carroway seeds, and beat it all to batter one whole houre: for the more you beat it, the better your bread is: then bake it in coffins, of white plate, being basted with a little butter before you put in your batter, and so keep it. [end of original]

4 c flour (1 lb)

4 t caraway seeds (1 oz)

2 c sugar (1 lb)

2 t rose water

5 large eggs

Beat all ingredients together one whole hour (or do a fourth of a recipe at a time in a food processor, running it for several minutes or until the blades stall!). Spoon out onto a greased cookie sheet as 3" biscuits and bake about 20 minutes at 325deg. .

Prince-biscuit keeps forever. After the first couple of months, you may have to use a hammer to break it up into bite-sized pieces, but it still tastes good. Prince-biscuit has the additional virtue that you can get it wet, dry it out partially, and get it wet again, and it is still good (this was established at the 20-Year Celebration, when it rained seven days out of nine).


To make an Excellent Cake (Digby p. 219/175): To a peck of fine flour take six lbs of fresh butter, which must be tenderly melted, ten pounds of currants, of cloves and mace, 1/2 an ounce of each, an ounce of cinnamon, 1/2 an ounce of nutmegs, four ounces of sugar, one pint of sack mixed with a quart at least of thick barm of ale (as soon as it is settled to have the thick fall to the bottom, which will be when it is about two days old), half a pint of rosewater; 1/2 a quarter of an ounce of saffron. Then make your paste, strewing the spices, finely beaten, upon the flour: then put put the melted butter (but even just melted) to it; then the barm, and other liquours: and put it into the oven well heated presently. For the better baking of it, put it in a hoop, and let it stand in the oven one hour and a half. You ice the cake with the whites of two eggs, a small quantity of rosewater, and some sugar. [end of original]

2 c flour

1/2 t cinnamon

1/4 c ale yeast settled out of homemade

3/8 lb = 1 1/2 sticks butter

1/4 t nutmeg

mead or beer (or 1 t dried yeast

5/8 lb currants = 2 c

1/2 T sugar

dissolved in 3 T water)

1/4 t cloves

2 T sack (or sherry)

1 T rosewater

1/4 t mace

8 threads saffron


1/8 egg white (about 2 t)

1/4t rosewater

2 T sugar

This is scaled down to 1/16th the original. Mix flour, spices, and sugar. Melt butter, mix up yeast mixture, and crush the saffron in the rosewater to extract the color. When the butter is melted, stir it into the flour mixture, then add sherry, yeast mixture, and rosewater-saffron mixture. Stir this until smooth, then stir in currents. Bake at 350deg. in a greased 10" round pan or a 7"x11" rectangular pan for 40 minutes. Remove from pan and spread with a thin layer of icing; I usually cut up into bar cookies.

These are actually a little out of period (mid-17th century). They are a great favorite and very rich.


Hais (al-Baghdadi p. 214/14): Take fine dry bread, or biscuit, and grind up well. Take a ratl of this, and three quarters of a ratl of fresh or preserved dates with the stones removed, together with three uqiya of ground almonds and pistachios. Knead all together very well with the hands. Refine two uqiya of sesame-oil, and pour over, working with the hand until it is mixed in. Make into cabobs, and dust with fine-ground sugar. If desired, instead of sesame-oil use butter. This is excellent for travellers. [end of original]

2 2/3 c bread crumbs

1/3 cup ground pistachios

2 c (about one lb) pitted dates

7 T melted butter or sesame oil

1/3 cup ground almonds enough sugar

We usually mix dates, bread crumbs, and nuts in a food processor or blender, then stir in butter. For "cabobs", squeeze into one inch balls, then roll in sugar. They last forever if you do not eat them, but you do so they don't. This is from a 13th century Islamic source.


Hulwa (Ibn al-Mabrad p.19): Its varieties are many. Among them are the sweets made of natif. You put dibs [fruit syrup], honey, sugar or rubb [thick fruit syrup] in the pot, then you put it on a gentle fire and stir until it takes consistency. Then you beat eggwhite and put it with it and stir until it thickens and becomes natif. After that, if you want almond candy you put in toasted almonds and 'allaftahu; that is, you bind them. walnuts, pistachios, hazelnuts, toasted chickpeas, toasted sesame, flour. [apparently alternative versions]. You beat in the natif until thickens. For duhniyyah you put in flour toasted with fat. As for ... (other versions.) [end of original]

Sugar version:

Honey version:

1 1/4 c sugar

1 c honey

1/4 c water

1 egg white

1 egg white

1 1/2 - 2 c nuts = ~10 oz

2 1/2-3 c or more nuts

This makes 25-40 hulwa, depending on size.

Sugar version: Bring the water to a boil, stir in the sugar, continuing to heat. When it is dissolved and reasonably clear, turn it down to a simmer and put the top on the pot for two or three minutes (this is to let the steam wash down any sugar on the sides of the pot). Take the top off, boil gently until the temperature reaches the hard ball stage (250deg. -260deg. F). Beat the egg white until it is just stiff enough to hold its shape. Pour the sugar syrup into the egg white, beating continuously. You now have a thick white mixture; this is the natif. Mix it with chopped nuts (we have used almonds and walnuts) or toasted sesame seeds, or some mixture thereof. Squeeze the mixture into balls and set them aside to cool. Note that as the natif cools, it gets harder and less sticky, so you have to work quickly; the hotter you get the syrup before combining it with the egg white (and hence the less water ended up in it), the faster this happens and the dryer the hulwa ends up. If you get past 260deg. , the syrup may crystallize on you as or before you pour it; if so, give up and start over. This makes about 20-30 hulwa.

Honey version: Simmer the honey gently until it reaches a temperature of 290deg. -300deg. F. From that point on, the recipe is the same as for sugar, using the boiled honey instead of the sugar syrup. Note that honey requires a higher temperature than sugar to get the same effect. Also note that natif made from honey will be stickier than natif made from sugar (maybe you can solve this by getting the honey up to 310deg. without burning it; I couldn't). Hence use a higher ratio of nuts to natif, and have the nuts chopped more finely; this helps reduce the stickiness.

This is a fifteenth century Islamic candy recipe, rather similar to modern divinity. Be careful with the hot sugar syrup; it is hotter than boiling water, also harder to get off you, and you can burn yourself seriously.


Khushkananaj (al-Baghdadi 212/14): Take fine white flour, and with every ratl mix three uqiya of sesame-oil (one part oil to four of flour), kneading into a firm paste. Leave to rise; then make into long loaves. Put into the middle of each loaf a suitable quantity of ground almonds and scented sugar mixed with rose water, using half as much almonds as sugar. Press together as usual, bake in the oven, remove. [end of original]

2 c white +1 c whole wheat flour

12 oz = 1 1/2 c sugar

1/2 c sesame oil (from untoasted sesame!!!)

1 T rose water

6 oz almonds =1 c before chopping

3/4 to 7/8 c cold water or

additional flour for rolling out dough

1/2 c water, 1/2 c sourdough starter

"Leave to rise" is a puzzle, since the recipe includes neither yeast nor water. The recipe does not seem to work without water; perhaps the author took it for granted that making a paste implied adding water. We originally developed the recipe without leavening, but currently use sourdough, which is our best guess at what the original intended (and also seems to work a little better). To make without leavening, mix the flour, stir in the oil. Sprinkle the water onto the dough and stir in. Knead briefly together. To make with sourdough, mix the flour, stir in the oil. Mix the water and the sourdough starter together. Add gradually to the flour/oil mixture, and knead briefly together. Cover with a damp cloth and let rise about 8 hours in a warm place, then knead a little more.

We also have two interpretations of how the loaves are made. (1) Almost Baklava: Divide in four parts. Roll each one out to about 8"x16" on a floured board. Grind almonds, combine with sugar and rose water. Spread the mixture over the rolled out dough and roll up like a jelly roll, sealing the ends and edges (use a wet finger if necessary). You may want to roll out the dough in one place and roll it up in another, so as not to have bits of nuts on the board you are trying to roll it out on. You can vary how thin you roll the dough and how much filling you use over a considerable range, to your own taste. (2) Long thin loaves: Divide the dough into six or eight parts, roll each out to a long loaf (about 16"), flatten down the middle so that you can fill it with the sugar and almond mixture, then seal it together over the filling. You end up with a tube of dough with filling in the middle. In either case, bake at 350deg. about 45-50 minutes.

Notes: At least some of the almonds should be only coarsely ground, for texture. The sesame oil is the Middle Eastern version, which is almost flavorless; you can get something similar at health food stores. Chinese sesame oil, made from toasted sesame seeds, is very strongly flavored and results in a nearly inedible pastry. We do not know what scented sugar contained.


Preparation of Musammana [Buttered] Which Is Muwarraqa [Leafy] (Andalusian p. A-60): Take pure semolina or wheat flour and knead a stiff dough without yeast. Moisten it little by little and don't stop kneading it until it relaxes and is ready and is softened so that you can stretch a piece without severing it. Then put it in a new frying pan on a moderate fire. When the pan has heated, take a piece of the dough and roll it out thin on marble or a board. Smear it with melted clarified butter or fresh butter liquified over water. Then roll it up like a cloth until it becomes like a reed. Then twist it and beat it with your palm until it becomes like a round thin bread, and if you want, fold it over also. Then roll it out and beat it with your palm a second time until it becomes round and thin. Then put it in a heated frying pan after you have greased the frying pan with clarified butter, and whenever the clarified butter dries out, moisten [with butter] little by little, and turn it around until it binds, and then take it away and make more until you finish the amount you need. Then pound them between your palms and toss on butter and boiling honey. When it has cooled, dust it with ground sugar and serve it. [end of original]

2 c semolina flour

1 T+ sugar

aprox 5/8 c water

1/4 c butter at the end

1/4 c =1/8 lb = 1/2 stick butter, melted

1/4 c honey at the end (or more)

1/4 c clarified butter for frying

Stir the water into the flour, knead together, then gradually knead in the rest of the water. Knead for about 5-10 minutes until you have a smooth, elastic and slightly sticky dough that stretches instead of breaking when you pull it a little. Divide in four equal parts. Roll on out on a floured board to at least 13"x15". Smear it with about 4 t melted butter. Roll it up. Twist it. Squeeze it together, flatten with your hands to about a 5-6" diameter circle. If you wish, fold that in quarters and flatten again to about a 5-6" circle. Melt about 1 T of clarified butter in a frying pan and fry the dough about 8 minutes, turning every 1 1/2 to 2 minutes (shorter times towards the end). Repeat with the other three. Melt 1/4 c butter, heat 1/4 c honey. Beat the cooked circles between your hands to loosen the layers, put in a bowl, pour the honey and butter over them, dust with sugar, and serve. If you are going to give it time to really soak, you might use more butter and honey.

For regular flour, everything is the same except you may need slightly more water. You can substituted cooking oil for the clarified butter (which withstands heat better than plain butter) if necessary.


Lord's Salt (Icelandic p. 215/D1): One shall take cloves and mace, cardamom, pepper, cinnamon, ginger an equal weight of each except cinnamon, of which there shall be just as much as of all the others, and as much baked bread as all that has been said above. And he shall cut it all together and grind it in strong vinegar; and put it in a cask. That is their salt and it is good for half a year.

How to Make Use of the Salt Spoken of Above (Icelandic p. 215/D1): When a man wants to use of this salt, he shall boil it in a pan over coals without flame. Then he shall take venison of hart or roe and carefully garnish with fat and roast it. And cut it up well burned; and when the salt is cold than the meat shall be cut up therein with a little salt. Then it can lie for three weeks. So a man may long keep geese, ducks, and other game if he cuts them thin. This is the best salt the gentry have. [end of original]

1 t cloves

1 T + 2 t cinnamon

1 1/8 t mace

2 T + 2 t breadcrumbs

1/2 T cardamom (measured whole)

2 c strong vinegar

1 3/16 t pepper

1 t salt

1 1/2 t ginger

Grind cardamom and mix all spices together. (This quantity is 2 g of all spices except the cinnamon, of which there is 10 g; it adds up to 3 1/2 T total.) To use, add 1 t of salt to the spice mixture, the breadcrumbs and the vinegar, simmer it briefly, cool it, then mix it in with your meat and close up the container. This quantity will preserve a 2 c container of cooked, sliced meat or fowl (1 to 1 1/2 lb).

The two recipes below are ones in which we have used the pickled meat; ingredients marked with an asterisk should be left out when preparing it with the pickled meat and only used when making the dish with fresh meat.

Conyng, Hen, or Mallard (Two Fifteenth Century p. 80/70): Take conyng, hen or mallard, and roast him almost enough; or else chop him, and fry him in fresh grease; and fry onions minced, and cast altogether into a pot, and cast thereto fresh broth and half wine; cast thereto cloves, maces, powder of pepper, canel; then stepe fair bread with the same broth and draw it through a strainer with vinegre. And when it hath well boiled, cast the liquor thereto, and powder ginger, and vinegre, and season it up, and then thou shall serve it forth. [end of original]

3 lbs boned chicken, duck or rabbit

*1/4 t cloves

6 slices bread

2 or 3 medium small onions

*1/4 t mace

1 c wine

1 T oil

*1/4 t pepper

*1/4 t ginger

2 c chicken broth

*1 t cinnamon

1/2 t salt

*4 T red wine vinegar

Wash off the pickled meat and let drain; chop onions; put bread to soak in half of your chicken broth; build your cooking fire and let it generate some hot coals. Heat oil in a heavy frying pan or pot and fry onion and meat in it. When the onions are translucent, add wine and the remaining broth and let cook 15 minutes, adding more liquid if necessary. Mash soaked bread into its liquid; add this and salt to meat. Heat through, stirring to keep it from burning, and serve.

Stwed Mutton (Two Fifteenth Century p. 72): Take faire Mutton that hath ben roste, or elles Capons, or suche other flessh, and mynce it faire; put hit into a possenet, or elles bitwen ii siluer disshes; caste thereto faire parcely, And oynons small mynced; then caste there-to wyn, and a litull vynegre or vergeous, pouder of peper, Canel, salt and saffron, and lete it stue on the faire coles, And then serue hit forthe; if he have no wyne ne vynegre, take Ale, Mustard, and A quantite of vergeous, and do this in the stede of vyne or vinegre.

1 1/2 lb boned lamb

*1 t pepper

1/4 c fresh parsley or 2 T dried

*1/2 t cinnamon

2 medium onions (1 1/4 lb)

1 t salt

3/4 c wine

3 threads saffron

or 1 c dark beer + 1/2 t ground mustard

about 1/2 c water

*2 T vinegar

Wash off the pickled meat and let drain; chop onions; build your cooking fire. Combine all ingredients in a covered stew pot; use enough water so that there is just enough liquid to boil the meat in. Simmer it about half an hour and serve it forth.



Sources marked with * are included in A Collection of Medieval and Renaissance Cookbooks, ed. Cariadoc of the Bow, 5th edition, 1988.


Al-Baghdadi, A Baghdad Cookery Book* (1226 A.D./623 A.H.), A.J. Arberry, tr., Islamic Culture 1939.

An Anonymous Andalusian Cookbook of the Thirteenth Century, a translation by Charles Perry of the Arabic edition of Ambrosio Huici Miranda with the assistance of an English translation by Elise Fleming, Stephen Bloch, Habib ibn al-Andalusi and Janet Hinson of the Spanish translation by Ambrosio Huici Miranda, published in A Collection of Medieval and Renaissance Cookbooks, vol. II, ed. David Friedman/Cariadoc of the Bow, 5th ed., 1988.

Two Fifteenth Century Cookery Books (1430-1450), ed. Thomas Austin, Early English Text Society, Oxford University Press, 1964.

"A Dinner at Pennsic", by Elizabeth "Friedman" [sic--should be Cook], T.I. #113 p. 5-6, 1995.

"An Islamic Dinner", by Elizabeth Cook, T.I. #105 p. 15-20, 1992.

Sir Kenelm Digby, The Closet of Sir Kenelm Digby, Opened*, 1669.

An Early XIII Century Northern-European Cookbook, by Rudolf Grewe, in Proceedings of A Conference on Current Research in Culinary History: sources, Topics, and Methods, Culinary Historians of Boston, 1985.

An Old Icelandic Medical Miscellany*, tr. Henning Larsen, in Det Norske Videnskaps-Akademi i Oslo, 1931.

Kitab al Tibakhah:* A Fifteenth-Century Cookbook, Charles Perry, tr. The translation was published in Petits Propos Culinaires #21 . The original author is Ibn al-Mabrad or Ibn al-Mubarrad.

Sir Hugh Platt, Delights for Ladies* (1609).

A Miscellany, by Cariadoc and Elizabeth (David Friedman and Elizabeth Cook), 6th edition, 1992.

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