How to Document Entries for Arts Competitions in the SCA

by Mistress Juana Isabella de Ramirez y Montoya

First, there is NO one true way. If someone tells you that "This is how they did it in period and it is the only way" take that statement with lots of salt. If they say something like "My research shows that in Southern France in the 14th century this is one of the ways they did it" that is much better. The same applies to documentation for competitions. These are my recommendations on how to document. You may have another way that you believe to be equally valid, and it quite probably is. These recommendations are based on a LONG (about a quarter of a century) career of entering and judging competitions in the SCA. When I judge arts competitions, I'm pretty tough, but I'm that way with everyone, so at least I try to be fair.

The other preliminary caveat... Many of the things listed below will be stuff you already know. I am not trying to be condescending, I'm trying to be complete, so please don't take offense. Some of you know lots of this stuff already and some of are new and have only figured out a few things.

Now, what is the purpose of documentation? It is to tell the judges what you did and why you did it. That sounds pretty easy doesn't it?

First consider what type of competition it is. Let's give an example of a Wooden Spoon Competition for German food at March Crown. So, you want to use a recipe from a pre 1600 German source.

If you use a post 1600 source, you need to explain why this recipe is appropriate for the competition. For example, it might be a 1610 recipe. That is close to 1600 so the judges may consider it to be OK. If you are using a post 1600 recipe, consider the area of Europe that it comes from. The SCA does the medieval and Renaissance time periods (mostly). However, defining when the Renaissance occurred in various places is sometimes difficult. The Renaissance started in Italy, but didn't really get going until a bit later in lands to the north of Italy. In terms of the culinary aspects of culture, the English were still eating what could be called Renaissance (as opposed to Baroque) food well into the 1630's.

If you use a source that isn't German, you need to explain why the recipe is appropriate for the competition. If it was in an area of Europe that was strongly influenced by German culture, such as modern Alsace or Switzerland, you would have a reasonable argument to present to the competition judges.

Not necessary, but certainly a note that shows you are paying attention, look at what the church feast or fast days are that would be appropriate for the time of year of the competition. For a March Crown competition, consider making a dish that fits into the rules for Lenten food. If your recipe is from a time and place where the church rules don't apply, then don't worry about that, but most of Europe, throughout most of the SCA's time period followed the Catholic fast and feast days.

I made a Lenten German dish for March Crown, but I didn't get around to doing documentation or bringing anything nice to present it in, so I just served it for our shire potluck. I'll use it for an example:

The recipe is from Sabina Welserin, 1553, Augsburg.

That answers the questions of who's recipe is it, when is it from and where is it from. The question of who's recipe is it isn't always answerable, particularly with early sources, but all the period sources have a name of some sort, whether it is Sabina Welserin, or Harleian Manuscript number whatever, or Master Chiquart, etc. Be sure to name the original period source and when and where it comes from.

I got this recipe from Cariadoc';s site at

Always say what modern source, whether it is a book with a compilation of period recipes, a book that is a facsimile of a period source, or a reputable website. Please note ";reputable";. Anyone can put anything on the internet. If a source from the web doesn';t have an adequate bibliography or other means of verifying the content, I';d advise against relying on it. Of course, if you are fortunate enough to own actual period cooking manuscripts, you don';t need to worry about the modern source material, but most of us don';t have that luxury.

Don';t just list the title of the book you used or the URL of the website. You need to be more specific. Give the page number, the recipe number and whatever identifying information you can.

A couple other notes on the modern sources; the scholarship of these can vary widely. What you want to look for are sources that give you the wording of the period recipe in the language it was written in. If it is in English, this is enough. If it is in another language, you want as direct a translation as you can find. Sources that do one language and then the translation are particularly good because you can spot check the translation if you want. If the source also gives you a redaction that';s OK, but it is best to look at the original source, or the direct translation of the original source, and interpret it for yourself.

As a guide for examining source material, I highly recommend Tangwystyl';s article in last summer';s TI about documenting blue cheese.

So, here';s the recipe I worked from:

33 To prepare dried cod, from the gracious Lord of Lindau, who was Bishop in Constance

First take river water and ashes and add caustic lime, which should be rather strong, and soak the dried cod therein. Allow it to soak for a day and a night, afterwards drain it off and pour on it again the previously described caustic lime solution. Let it soak again for a day and a night, put it afterwards in a pot and wash it off two or three times in water, so that the fish no longer tastes like lye. Put it then in a pot and put water therein and let it slowly simmer so that it does not boil over. Allow it to only simmer slowly, otherwise it becomes hard. Let it cook approximately one hour, after which, dress and salt it and pour salted butter over it and serve it. Also put good mustard on the outside in about three places. One must also beat dried cod well before it is soaked.

34 To make the mustard for dried cod

Take mustard powder, stir into it good wine and pear preserves and put sugar into it, as much as you feel is good, and make it as thick as you prefer to eat it, then it is a good mustard.

I took dried cod and soaked it in several changes of water over three days. I skipped the lime and lye steps because lime and lye are used in the modern processing of dried cod. Then I cooked it in almond milk.

Why? The recipe doesn';t call for almond milk. Well, by that point I 1) knew this was for the shire potluck and not the competition; 2) I like almond milk and 3) cooking things in almond milk is appropriate for Lent. If I had been planning on entering it in the competition, I would have used plain water. However, if you use an ingredient like almond milk, always explain yourself. While almond milk is a common period ingridient, don';t assume the judges know this. It is polite to invite some of the royalty to participate in judging. They often don';t have time, so usually they don';t judge, but if they do, you can not assume that they have the same level of knowledge of period food as you hope the other judges have. Also, since there are a variety of ways of making almond milk, it is best to be specific. What was your liquid to almond ratio? What liquid(s) did you use? Did you use any additives (some people throw in a dash of almond extract)?

Also, if you deviate from the period source, explain why. If I had entered this in the competition, my documentation would have included an explaination of why I used almond milk instead of plan water. If you add something besides the ingredients listed in the recipe, or you leave an ingredient out, explain why. Don';t assume the judges won';t notice... ";Why is there an onion in here?"; and ";Where';s the saffron?";

Then I made the mustard sauce. I didn';t have any pear preserves, so I peeled, cored and chopped a pear, put it in a sauce pan with red wine to cover and cooked it until the pears were soft. I picked red wine because 1) the recipe doesn';t specify a type; 2) red wine goes well with pears; 3) I prefer red wine; 4) it is what we had in the house. When a recipe calls for something like wine or cheese and doesn';t specify what kind, always explain why you made the choice you did. ";It is what I had"; and ";I like the taste"; are perfectly good reasons. However, if the recipe says fresh cheese, or green cheese, you should pick a fairly soft variety. Anyway, then I threw the pear and wine that had been cooked together in the blender with a little sugar and a fair amount of mustard powder. I see nothing wrong with the use of electric kitchen appliances. In period kitchen servants were served food, now we feed them with electricity. However, if you do grind all your almonds or spices or whatever by hand in a mortar and pestle, say so.

Since my plan was to re-heat this dish by putting it in the coals of the firepit (which worked well by the way) I put the cod on a piece of kitchen parchment, salted it, scattered small pieces of butter around it and put good sized dollops of mustard sauce around it. I then wrapped it in the parchment and wrapped that in aluminum foil. Aluminum foil often imparts a metalic taste to food, which was the reason for the double wrapping. It was yummy. For cooking entries, remember that the primary consideration is whether or not it tastes good.

OK, so that explains what I cooked and why I cooked it that way. I would include a bibliography at the end. If you deviate from the recipe, or you need to explain a particular ingredient choice, include the sources you used to back up that decision in addition to the source of the original recipe. Also, documentation should not be (including the bibliography) longer than two pages. The judges have other things to do besides judge competitions, so don';t give them a dissertation to read.