Are you serving a feast a cooking dinner?  Towards a more authentic experience.

What are the differences between the two?

      Feast                                                                                                         Dinner
1    Single culinary source and/or country and time period                                 Multiple sources, no sources, multiple countries and/or time periods
2    Use of New World ingredients only when fully documented                        Use of New World ingredients when convenient or just because
3    Attempt to organize menu along “period” lines                                            No attempt to organize along “period” lines.  Blatantly modern menu organization
4    Attempt to serve in a manner similar to that used in period                           Modern service
5    Attempt to decorate hall & tables to improve ambience                               School cafeteria, with low lighting, no decoration
6    Period labels for everything                                                                         Non period names and made up SCA words

Example 1 – A feast
Aurora’s Feast/Erud Sul Baronial Investiture
A German Feast, March 19, 2005
Researched, redacted, revised, and organized for the Erud Sul Investiture by HL Caitlin Ruadh (called Ru) and Lady Evja Johannsdottir.
Das Buch von Guter Spise (1350) translated by Alia Atlas
Das Kochbuch der Sabina Welserin (1553) translated by Valoise Armstrong. �       Ein New Kochbuch von Marx Rumpolt (1581) translated by M. Grasse

First Course
Bread and Butter
Mustard(s) (Welserin and Rumpolt)
Marinated vegetables #48 Ein condimentlin  (das Buch)

Second Course
Ain gut brates zu machen (Welserin)
Herbed cheese pie #52 Ein gut fulle (das Buch)
Carrots #31 Ein geriht and/or #79 Ein morchen mus (das Buch)
Poached Pears #113 Ain g�t birenm�s� z� machen  (Welserin)

Third Course
Hens from Greece #4 Huenre von kriechen (das Buch)
Heathen (Saracen) peas #63 Heidenische erweiz (das Buch)
Rice #5 Diz heizzet ris (das Buch)
Spice Cookies #161 Lebkuchen (Welserin)

Example 2 – A dinner
First Remove
Butters (Plain and Honey)
Olives a la Marcilla (black olives, olive oil, oregano, garlic, balsamic vinegar, hot red pepper flakes, salt)
Boursin cheese spread (cream cheese, garlic, oregano, basil, dillweed, marjoram, thyme, black pepper,  butter, Worcestershire sauce)

Second Remove
Lentil Pottage (dry lentils, bay leaves, ham, onion, carrots, garlic, olive oil, smoked sausage,
chicken broth, red wine vinegar, salt, pepper, paprika, fresh parsley)

Third Remove
Chipotle Crusted Roast Pork (pork loin, chipotle peppers, garlic, salt)
Spätzle (eggs, flour, water, salt, baking powder, browned butter, bread crumbs)
 Roast Sweet Potatoes (sweet potatoes, olive oil, garlic, black pepper, rosemary)

Fourth Remove
Balsamic Orange Glazed Chicken (Chicken, salt, black pepper, orange juice, aged balsamic vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, rosemary)
Rice-pea pilaf (rice, sweet peas, salt, pine nuts)

Fifth Remove

Apple Tarts (Crust:  flour, shortening, water, milk, salt.  Filling:  apples, sugar, butter, cinnamon)

1 – Research Research Research!

Understand that period food can and does taste good to modern palates.  Be willing to experiment.  Do your research.  
A primary source is ALWAYS superior to a secondary source.
Some places to find primary sources.

The florilegium -
Under Food-books you can find many bibliographies assembled by kind SCA folks.  
Under Food-manuscripts you can find several translated pre 17th century or early 17th century

Docs Medieval Cookery page –
Has a page dedicated to online cookery books, nicely broken up by cuisine with the language given (

Culinary history Network -
Attempting to build a one stop shop for all the culinary manuscripts online, has English and Danish sources cataloged.  
Link also to the works in progress page where you can find out who is working on what out there. and

The Fons Grewe digital library site :
Various culinary related works from the 16th – 18th century available as scanned images.

Biblioteca Digital Dioscórides –
amazing bunch of digitized texts from the University of Complutense Madrid.  Some sight reading of Spanish is necessary to navigate the search engine. Go to “Colecciones” (collections) and select “Biblioteca digital Dioscórides. Gastronomía” (Digital library Dioscorides – Gastronomy) for food related books

Gallica - the digital interface of the French national library.  Some hidden treasures but a clunky search engine and you had better know some French.  
Recherche – search, mots du titre – words in the title, sujet – subject

MK Cooks -
The home page of the middle kingdom cooks collegium, articles from many midrealm cooks

Godecookery -
Master Huen website, host and gateway to many more

Google –
For the most part good feast cooks are proud of what they do, they post their feast menus to the florilegium, to their own websites.  We put our recipes up there for people to see, and our menus available to all.  It is often a matter of tracking them down.  Good keywords to search with are:
SCA feast, Italian SCA feast, or search by a known name.  Chances are the people at the top of their game have a website and a menu posted somewhere.

Learn from others, some of these egroups have a higher signal/noise ratio than others, but all can be valuable.

MK Cooks - To subscribe to the email list, send and email with no subject line to
with the following line as the only information in the body of the message
subscribe mk-cooks

SCA Cooks -
An amazing list with very high list volume, but it has worldwide cooks of exceptional talent breadth and knowledge on it

Godecookery -
Low list volume some really knowledgeable cooks, low list volume

SCAbakers -
Low list volume with specific interest in baking

SCA food and feasts -
Open list with topics and discussions associated with food service, not dedicated to authentic feast cooking

SCA authentic cooks -
For the really authentic among us, amazing membership

Posion Pen Press -
Probably the premier carrier of reprint, translation and other cook books for the SCA cook.  

Alibris –
My favorite source for finding out of print and used books.  Sometimes you can find stuff cheaper

WorldCat -
A mega library search engine, search everywhere worldwide.

Your local library – yes indeed, your local library may be willing (for a fee or free) to do inter-library loans for you.  
Not sure what books you are interested in?  Most libraries have librarians, they are really remarkably good at doing what they were trained and hired for: finding information.  Yes make friends with your local librarian and you will be paid back 100 fold.

What happens when you want to cook a time period or cuisine where there are no extant cookbooks (e.g. Scottish, Irish, Viking, Anglo Saxon)
Welcome to the archeological feast.  Use what is known to infer what is not known.  
Sources of Information:
Archeological reports – find cooking vessels, seed finds, bone finds, kitchen arrangements.
Travelogues/saga/myths – look for references to food and service of same
Later cookbooks from the same country – traditional dishes and preparation methods can give you some idea where to start.
Basically use research to guide you into what to cook, how to cook it and ways to serve it.  
An excellent example of an archeological feast can be found here:
This is Mistress Hauviette’s Irish feast, and her rationale behind the choices made are given.

2    New World Ingredients

Service of new world ingredients can be appropriate but availability and use varied by time AND location.  This is where research is really important.  
New World Foods in 16th Century Italy -
Several articles in the florilegium, search by specific food name.  Use them ONLY if you have documentary evidence (recipe plus additional source) to support it.

3/4 Menu Design and Service

Many primary sources for recipes ALSO have menus.  Look at how the menu is organized, see where the various types (cold, salad, roast, stew, fried, sweet, etc) of food turn up within the structure of the menu.  
For humoral reasons you never see hard cheeses served as part of the first course.  When they were served it was in the last course.  The belief was that the salty heavy nature of the cheese helped to close the stomach and improved digestion.  However, during “dinners” you see the service of cheese and bread in the first course often because it is “expected”.  
Slice your meats, carve your birds, period service meant that the dish is served carved or a carver is provided.

5 Hall Decoration – Does and don’ts

1) Hide or mute fluorescent lights BUT do not turn them off.  Light = wealth
2) Make call our for Banners to hide walls
3) Local hotels will often donate worn out sheets, these can be painted and decorated and used to hide walls and modern ugliness.
4) Tablecloths are a given
5) Centerpieces are rare but can be incorporated
6) Service ware is always limited by what is available to you as a cook.  Good choices are glass, metal, plain ceramics.  Poor choices are colored plastic, paper.

6 Labels and titles

              Good                                                          Bad
Eng        Master Cook, Head Cook, Head Chef        Feast-o-crat
Ita          Maestro/a di cucina, Cuoco/a Secreto/a      Feast-o-crat
              Hall Steward (eng) Scalco (Ita) Butler         Hall-o-crat
              Service, course (eng) Servizio (Ita)              Remove

The cooks of the world are slowly moving away from the SCA introduced nomenclature of the past, it has nothing to do with the middle ages and isn’t even a real word.  So call a spade a spade and a chef a chef.  
As far as the remove/course debate goes I can not do better than Her Excellency Alys Katherines article (written in 1996): "Of Course It's 'Course'!"; or "Remove 'Remove'" -

Take yourself and your menu seriously and the effort will be obvious and appreciated.

This was a class presented by Helewyse de Birkestad, OL (Louise Smithson) at Oaken Regional Cooks Symposium March 2008.  Permission is given to use and reproduce this article for non-profit and scholarly purposes, copyright remains with the author.  I'm also quite happy to have it published in local newsletters.  You can contact me by email helewyse at yahoo dot com.