Redacting a Recipe

Note (May 18 2017): Since this was published I’ve been thinking about the terms we use. Commonly in the SCA the recreation of a period recipe with modern measurements has been called a redaction. I’m not sure why though, but the word has been used as long as the SCA’s been using the internet. I’ve come across SCA recipes calling themselves redaction as far back as 1995 and even one that may have been from ’93. Now that is of course an allowed use of the term, OED lists definition 1b as “The action or process of revising or editing text, esp. in preparation for publication; (also) an act of editorial revision.” So it’s not completely wrong. But I haven’t been able to find a use of it outside the SCA for culinary uses. Mistress Kataryna brought up that it’s used in recreating music and sometimes in bringing together multiple texts to recreate what the original text was  in English literature, but I suspect the use of the word in the SCA has gone beyond its definition. Because of that I’m now switching instead to ‘recreation’ ‘reconstruction’ and ‘interpretation’, though I may still use ‘redaction’ occasionally. However this article will remain as it is with no changes as the term ‘redaction’ is still in common use in the SCA.

Redacting a period recipe yourself is the backbone of period cooking. It lets you get the feel of how people in your chosen time period felt about cooking, how they talked about cooking, and lets you adapt within the framework of the original recipe rather than someone else’s adaptation.

With that in mind I have three rules for redacting:

Rule one: context matters
Rule two: a single recipe proves nothing
Rule three: don’t be afraid of experimenting

To walk you through the basics of redacting I’m going to uses the “Strained Peas” recipe I did a few months ago.

Here’s the recipe I started from in Le Menagier de Paris.

Common Soups Without Spices Or Thickeners

And first a SOUP of OLD PEAS. It is appropriate to shell them, and to find out from the people the place the nature of the peas of the area (for commonly peas do not cook well in well-water: and in other places they cook well in spring-water and in river water, as in Paris, and in other places, they do not cook at all in spring-water, as at Besiers) and this known, it is appropriate to wash them in a pan with warm water, then put in a pot with warm water on the fire, and boil them until they burst. Then separate the liquid from the solid, and put the liquid aside, then fill the pea-pot with warm water and put on the fire and separate a second time, if you wish to have more liquid: and then put back without water, for they will produce enough. and boil in it; and it is not appropriate to put the spoon in the pot after the separating, but shake the pot and the peas together, and little by little feed them with warm water or a little more than warm but no cold, and boil and cook completely before you add anything except hot water, be it meat or anything else: do not add salt, nor bacon, nor absolutely anything whatsoever until they are fully cooked. You can add bacon water or meat stock, but you must not add any salt, nor even the tip of the spoon, until they are well cooked; you can always stir them by moving the whole pot.

On meat days, you should, after the separating, add water from bacon and from meat, and when it is almost cooked, you can put bacon in; and when you remove the bacon from these peas, you must wash it with meat-stock, so that it looks nicer to put in slices on the meat and so that it does not appear to have peas stuck to it.

On a fish day, when the peas are cooked, you should have onions which have been cooked as long as the peas in a pot and like the bacon cooked separately in another pot, and as with the bacon water you may nourish and serve the peas, in the same way; on fish days, when you have put your peas on the fire in a pot, you must put aside your minced onions in another pot, and with onion water serve and nourish the peas; and when all is cooked fry the onions and put half of them in the peas, and the other half in the liquid from the peas of which I spoke above, and then add salt, And if on this fish day or in Lent there is salted whale-meat, you must do with the whale-meat as with the bacon on a meat day.

When you have NEW PEAS, sometimes they are cooked on a meat day both in meat stock and with ground parsley, to make green soup, and this is on a meat day; and on a fish day, you cook them in milk, with ginger and saffron in them; and sometimes “a la cretonnee” of which I shall speak later.

With all these peas, whether old or new, you can force them through a sieve, or a fine or horsehair mesh; but the old peas must be yellowed with ground saffron of which the water may be put to boil with the peas and the saffron itself with the liquid from the peas.

There are other peas which are left in the pod with bacon added.

Item, cretonnee of new peas, you will find it in the next chapter.

The liquid from the peas on a meat day is of no account. On a fish day and in Lent, fry the onions as is told in the preceding chapter, and then put the oil in which the onions were fried and the onions in along with bread-crumbs, ginger, cloves and grain, ground: and sprinkle with vinegar and wine, and add a little saffron, then adorn the bowl with slices of bread.

Item, with the liquid make a broth on fish days. Do not stir it and take it soon from the fire, etc.

Item, mix the liquid with beet-leaves and it will be a very good soup, but do not add any more water; and this is for Lent.[57]

Note that if you see that your soup is sticking, make it thinner, because it sticks from being too thick; and stir it constantly to the bottom of the pot in which it is sticking, before you add anything else.

See here how onions are cooked: in water for a long time before the peas, and until the water is all used up in cooking; then add some pea-liquid to cook and to take away the flavor of the water.

Also oysters are first washed in hot water, then parboiled, then they must be partially cooked in the pea-liquid so that their flavor will stay in the liquid, and not allowed to froth, then remove the oysters and fry them if you wish, and put some of them in the bowls, and with the rest make a dish.

 

Rule one: context matters

In this case context means looking into peas.

When I do my research the first step is usually the Oxford English Dictionary. This gives me a few things – alternate spellings of the word, a small example of its usage, and if it’s changed definition over time.

This time it doesn’t yield a lot other than that it was at one time “pyse” in Old English and by the 1300s it’s “pesen” adapting slowly to “pease” by the 1500s and to our modern “pea” and “peas” by the 1600s.

Look up the definition of any term you’re not sure of. It’s a bit easier when dealing with translation as you don’t get to work with the original recipe so you have to trust the translator. But there is this line in the recipe:

it is appropriate to wash them in a pan with warm water, then put in a pot with warm water on the fire, and boil them until they burst.

That line looks odd at first until you realize that buying split peas is a modern thing. The writer would have purchased whole dried (or fresh) peas and split them themselves. And this is one way of splitting peas. Sometimes you’ll need to look up cooking terms (ie. larding) or terms about how big something is cut but doing it will often help you with creating the correct recipe.

Continuing the context search the history of the plant is important, as sometimes the modern plant is very different from the medieval plant. With that in mind I went to botany:

Taxonomy, Morphology and Floral Biology
Duke (1981) reported that garden peas are treated as P. sativum ssp. hortense Asch. & Graebn., field peas as P. sativum ssp. arvense (L.) Poir., and edible podded peas as P. sativum ssp. macrocarpon; early dwarf pea as P. sativum var humile. Later, Smart (1990), based on studies undertaken by Ben-Zeíev and Zohary (1973), and Polhill and van der Maesen et al., (1985) reported that pea comprises only two species, viz; Pisum sativum and P. fulvum Sibeth. & Smith. “It is a self pollinated annual herb, bushy or climbing, glabrous, usually glaucous; stems weak, round, and slender, 30-150 cm long; leaves alternate, pinnate with 1-3 pairs of leaflets and a terminal branched tendril leaflets ovate or elliptic, 1.5-6 cm long” (Duke, 1981).

And then to food history:

Food in Medieval Times
By Melitta Weiss Adamson

Peas

Like the faba bean, the pea was a staple in Europe for thousands of years. It was either eaten green or dried and used as a source of protein, especially during the long winter months and on fast days. Judging from the many recipes using peas in the cookbooks of the wealthy, the pea did not have a reputation as poor man’s food, as the bean did. In addition to pea soup and pottage, the combination of peas and bacon was popular even then, as were “peas on a spit,” a mixture of peas and eggs, seasoned, and fried, then roasted. Peas also played a role in imitation meat dishes for Lent. Physicians generally approved of cooked peas as food that was easy to digest.

 

More food history:

Field pea (Pisum sativum, L.) was among the first crops cultivated by man. Some say the word “pea” came from Sanskrit; however, most concur that the Latin pisum, resembling the older Greek pisos or pison, is the true origin of the word. The Anglo-Saxon word became pise or pisu, and later in English, “pease”.

Check Wikipedia and check their citations, and remember that it’s a tertiary source:

Green “garden” peas, eaten immature and fresh, were an innovative luxury of Early Modern Europe. In England, the distinction between “field peas” and “garden peas” dates from the early 17th century: John Gerard and John Parkinson both mention garden peas. Sugar peas, which the French soon called mange-tout, for they were consumed pods and all, were introduced to France from the market gardens of Holland in the time of Henri IV, through the French ambassador. Green peas were introduced from Genoa to the court of Louis XIV of France in January 1660, with some staged fanfare; a hamper of them were presented before the King, and then were shelled by the Sovoyan comte de Soissons, who had married a niece of Cardinal Mazarin; little dishes of peas were then presented to the King, the Queen, Cardinal Mazarin and Monsieur, the king’s brother.[15] Immediately established and grown for earliness warmed with manure and protected under glass, they were still a luxurious delicacy in 1696, when Mme de Maintenon and Mme de Sevigné each reported that they were “a fashion, a fury.”[16]
Modern split peas, with their indigestible skins rubbed off, are a development of the later 19th century.

Although they need to be backed up by other sources sometimes a simple Google search will get you the info you’re looking for:

The modern-day garden pea, from which dried peas are made, is thought to have originated from the field pea that was native to central Asia and Europe. Dried peas have been consumed since prehistoric times with fossilized remains being found at archeological sites in Swiss lake villages. Peas are mentioned in the Bible and were prized by the ancient civilizations of Egypt, Greece and Rome.
For millennia, dried peas were the main way that people consumed this legume. It was not until the 16th century when cultivation techniques created more tender varieties of garden peas that people began to consume peas in their fresh state as opposed to just eating dried peas. It seems that the Chinese, a culture that had consumed this legume as far back as 2,000 BC, were the first ones to consume both the seeds and the pods as a vegetable. Peas were introduced into United States soon after the colonists first settled in this country.
In the 19th century during the early developments of the study of genetics, peas played an important role. The monk and botanist, Gregor Mendel used peas in his plant breeding experiments.
Today the largest commercial producers of dried peas are Russia, France, China and Denmark.

Make your educated guesses based on the research:

  • Peas are categorized under many names but there are only two actual species:
    • Pisum sativum and Pisum fulvum
    • Pisum Sativum has many varieties such as Garden peas, Field Peas, podded peas, dwarf peas, etc.
    • Pisum Fulvum are wild peas ie. Syrian peas
  • Of Pisum Sativum the oldest is Field Peas which were cultivated already by 500 BC
  • Between the 1300 and 1600 several new varieties came about – the Sugar Pea or Snow pea from England (brought to france mid-late 1500s) and green garden peas from Italy in the early 1600s. Dwarf peas may also have come about in Italy around the 1300s.
  • Modern Field Peas – such as are used for dried and split peas – are apparently essentially the same as medieval ones. Yellow peas may be the closest version (especially if they’re being recommended to be cooked with saffron for colouring)

 

That gives you your context. You can go into each ingredient this way and the more you do the more accurate you will be able to make your final result.

Rule two: a single recipe proves nothing

Although one recipe is tempting to base your entire dish off of it’s helpful to see how that dish was made earlier in time, later in time, and in different areas. For example we get similar recipes to the Le Menagier de Paris one in Ancient Cookery [Arundel 334] (English 1425)

Grene pesen unstreynet with herbs. Take grene pesen and let hom sethe wyth gode brothe of beefs, and take parsell, sage, saveray, and ysope, and cut hom smal, ancfdo hom in the pot, and let hom boyle tyl hit aly (mix) hitself, and colour hit with saffron ande serve hit forthe.

and also

Grene pesen wyth bakon. Take old pesen, and boyle hom in gode flesh broth that bacon is soften in, then take hom and bray hom in a morter, and temper hom wyth the broth, and strayne hom thurgh a streynour, and do hom in the pot, ande let hom boyle tyl thai alye homself, and serve hit forthe wyth bacon.

We can uses these recipes to make sure that we’re not making undue assumptions. We get the cooking with bacon, serving with bacon, straining the peas (though in one recipe you mash the peas and that’s not mentioned in the original), colouring peas with saffron, etc.

Rule three: don’t be afraid of experimenting

This recipe turns out very similar to a lentil dish, but as we saw earlier a later version of this recipe calls for the peas to be mushed while this recipe seems to advise against mushing the peas. Try them both. Which one tastes better?

In this case the al dente texture of the peas goes over very well mixed with the bacon and saffron flavoring, it reminds modern audiences of ethnic foods, which modern Canadians are more likely to be accepting of, where the texture pureed would be more similar to what we consider infant’s food. This would probably have a different interpretation in the UK where mushy peas are a thing.

Redacting

With all of that in mind I’ll walk you through my first pass at redacting this recipe. I break it down into sections and work out each part.

 

And first a SOUP of OLD PEAS. It is appropriate to shell them, and to find out from the people the place the nature of the peas of the area (for commonly peas do not cook well in well-water: and in other places they cook well in spring-water and in river water, as in Paris, and in other places, they do not cook at all in spring-water, as at Besiers)

  • Old peas, aka dried peas (only way to preserve them)
  • Shell the peas

and this known, it is appropriate to wash them in a pan with warm water, then put in a pot with warm water on the fire, and boil them until they burst. Then separate the liquid from the solid, and put the liquid aside,

  • Put them in water till they burst their skins
  • Re-boil peas in fresh water to “separate” them

then fill the pea-pot with warm water and put on the fire and separate a second time, if you wish to have more liquid: and then put back without water, for they will produce enough. and boil in it;

  • So we have spilt peas
  • Cook without extra water (the absorbed water should be enough) you can add a little warm water if needed

and it is not appropriate to put the spoon in the pot after the separating, but shake the pot and the peas together, and little by little feed them with warm water or a little more than warm but no cold, and boil and cook completely before you add anything except hot water, be it meat or anything else:

  • Don’t put the spoon in  or any non liquid ingredients (so we’re trying not to mush the peas?)

do not add salt, nor bacon, nor absolutely anything whatsoever until they are fully cooked. You can add bacon water or meat stock, but you must not add any salt, nor even the tip of the spoon, until they are well cooked; you can always stir them by moving the whole pot. 

  • Don’t add salt to the dish, and don’t add the bacon till the peas are cooked.

On meat days, you should, after the separating, add water from bacon and from meat, and when it is almost cooked, you can put bacon in; and when you remove the bacon from these peas, you must wash it with meat-stock, so that it looks nicer to put in slices on the meat and so that it does not appear to have peas stuck to it. 

  • On meat days: Add some beef or pork stock (or the water from boiling said meat) and some bacon (not sliced, you will remove, wash and use the bacon later to “put in slices on the meat” aka larding.)

On a fish day, when the peas are cooked, you should have onions which have been cooked as long as the peas in a pot

  • On Fish days: Boil onions separately from the peas

and like the bacon cooked separately in another pot, and as with the bacon water you may nourish and serve the peas, in the same way;

  • Use the onion water instead of beef/pork stock

on fish days, when you have put your peas on the fire in a pot, you must put aside your minced onions in another pot, and with onion water serve and nourish the peas; and when all is cooked fry the onions and put half of them in the peas, and the other half in the liquid from the peas of which I spoke above, and then add salt,

  • Fry up the boiled onions and add them to the peas with salt

And if on this fish day or in Lent there is salted whale-meat, you must do with the whale-meat as with the bacon on a meat day. 

  • And if on this fish day or in Lent there is salted whale-meat, you must do with the whale-meat as with the bacon on a meat day. 

When you have NEW PEAS, sometimes they are cooked on a meat day both in meat stock and with ground parsley, to make green soup, and this is on a meat day; and on a fish day, you cook them in milk, with ginger and saffron in them; and sometimes “a la cretonnee” of which I shall speak later. 

  • If you have fresh peas you can cook them differently.

With all these peas, whether old or new, you can force them through a sieve, or a fine or horsehair mesh; 

  • You can strain the peas through a sieve, similar to when making a sauce, this gives the dish it’s common name in the manuscript “Strained Peas” but this seems to be optional.

but the old peas must be yellowed with ground saffron of which the water may be put to boil with the peas and the saffron itself with the liquid from the peas. 

  • If using dried peas add saffron to the water for boiling to colour the peas. This makes me think they’re using a yellow pea, not a green pea.

There are other peas which are left in the pod with bacon added.

Item, cretonnee of new peas, you will find it in the next chapter.

  • Here follow other recipes tangentially connected.

The liquid from the peas on a meat day is of no account.

  • Don’t bother with the peas liquid if you have meat stock

On a fish day and in Lent, fry the onions as is told in the preceding chapter, and then put the oil in which the onions were fried and the onions in along with bread-crumbs, ginger, cloves and grain, ground: and sprinkle with vinegar and wine, and add a little saffron, then adorn the bowl with slices of bread. 

  • Mini recipe for a dip of fried onions, oil, bread crumbs, ginger, cloves, grains of paradise, vinegar, wine & saffron.

Item, with the liquid make a broth on fish days. Do not stir it and take it soon from the fire, etc. 

  • The liquid can be used as stock on fish days 

Item, mix the liquid with beet-leaves and it will be a very good soup, but do not add any more water; and this is for Lent.
Note that if you see that your soup is sticking, make it thinner, because it sticks from being too thick; and stir it constantly to the bottom of the pot in which it is sticking, before you add anything else.

  • Stew beet leaves in the liquid for a soup

See here how onions are cooked: in water for a long time before the peas, and until the water is all used up in cooking; then add some pea-liquid to cook and to take away the flavor of the water. 

  • Use some pea-liquid to flavour onions

Also oysters are first washed in hot water, then parboiled, then they must be partially cooked in the pea-liquid so that their flavor will stay in the liquid, and not allowed to froth, then remove the oysters and fry them if you wish, and put some of them in the bowls, and with the rest make a dish. 

  • Cook oysters in pea-liquid to add flavour

All of that leads us to our summary:

Summary of Le Menagier de Paris recipe:

Split the peas:

  • Take old peas, aka dried peas, shell the peas
  • Boil them in water till they burst their skins
  • Re-boil peas in fresh water to “separate” them
  • Cook without extra water (the absorbed water should be enough)
  • you can add a little warm water if needed
  • Don’t put the spoon in  or any non liquid ingredients (so we’re trying not to mush the peas?)

On meat days:

  • Add some beef or pork stock and a chunk of bacon just before they’re finished cooking
  • don’t add salt
  • cook till done
  • Remove bacon

On Fish days:

  • Boil onions separately from the peas
  • Add onion water
  • Use the onion water instead of beef/pork stock
  • Fry up the boiled onions and add them to the peas with salt
  • cook till done

Additional Notes:

  •  If you have whale use it like bacon.
  • You can strain the peas through a sieve, similar to when making a sauce, this gives the dish it’s common name in the manuscript “Strained Peas”
  • If using dried peas add saffron to the water for boiling to colour the peas.

 

Once you have your summary you can start looking at the ingredients and if there are any proportions and work out what might taste good (early modern recipes come in handy with this as they can be a bit closer to the original). I based the amount of water on modern peas and lentils but worked with the period instructions.

Redaction:

  • 2 cups split peas
  • 1-2 onion diced
  • 1″ thick chunk of bacon
  • Pinch saffron
  • 2 cups water
  • 4 cups beef stock
  1. Rinse and drain split peas
  2. Soak pinch of saffron in 2 cups water in a sauce pan for a few minutes
  3. Add split peas
  4. Bring to a just a boil
  5. Meanwhile boil onion separately
  6. Add 2 cups beef stock, return to boil
  7. turn down heat and simmer 20 minutes
  8. Add bacon whole
  9. Finish cooking peas, adding more stock as needed (about 20-30 minutes till tender but not mush)
  10. Fry boiled onions in oil till browned, then set aside, reserving oil
  11. Remove bacon, strain through sieve
  12. Add onions.
  • Bacon can be used for other dishes or diced to top strained peas
  • Serve with bread
  • You can make a dip for your bread from the fried onions, reserved oil, bread crumbs, ginger, cloves, grains of paradise, vinegar, wine & saffron.

 

And there you have it. Once you’ve tried it you’ll get a hang for other things you could have done, or done better. For example I didn’t realize just how long this needs to cook for.

Let me know in the comments if you have any questions.

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