(Photo credit: Veitsen via DeviantArt)
One of the most effective ways to transport your senses to another time and place is through food. But even if you don’t have amazing cooking skills or your own copy of Forme of Cury, you can make your next picnic lunch a touch more authentic with these simple steps.
Choose more medieval food
A lot of the foods we enjoy today are recent inventions or discoveries. Before the 16th century, lots of New World foods like quinoa, tomatoes, potatoes, avocados, chocolate, and maize corn were unknown in Europe. Refined sugar was known, but rare and expensive. So, if you want a more authentic meal, Fritos and Oreos are right out!
Consider more Mediterranean substitutions for your medieval lunch: hummus, instead of tomato sauce; simple cookies made with raw sugar and spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves, or little fruit pies, in place of chocolate cookies; a pre-cooked summer sausage in place of more modern baloney; a homemade loaf of bread in place of pre-sliced.
Cheese is pretty much ancient and timeless (unless it’s the pasteurized processed American slices). In older days it was stored in wax. Myself I’m fond of the little single-serve baby cheeses that come in red wax. Also, you can never go wrong with most fresh fruits and vegetables: apples, grapes, pears, plums, peaches, berries, and citrus fruit were widely known and enjoyed in medieval Europe.
Bread, flatbread, crackers, and pita pockets all work well.
Hide or Lose Modern Packaging
Boiled eggs are one of the finest medieval picnic foods because they already come in their own natural wrapper. Bread loaves can be wrapped in cloth. Hard fruit (like apples) don’t need a wrapper; smaller fruits like cherries and berries can be carried in a drawstring bag or basket. The little baby cheeses can be stored just fine in wax (sans wrapper) so long as they’re kept cool (sunlight can melt wax, so be wary!). If you end up using re-sealable plastic containers, you can cover them up with cloth or stash them when not in use. Here is a tutorial we did recently on plastic-lined drawstring cloth bags. And to carry it all, you could use a basket for the non-perishables, and a well-hidden cooler for the stuff that needs keeping cold.
Finally, a big cloth to use as a picnic blanket is always helpful to cover up the most modern packaging.
Don’t use modern-looking dishes
It’s tempting to pack paper plates and red plastic cups when you’re in the field, especially when you got small people with you. But many of the menu items for a medieval picnic don’t need any dishes at all, like the eggs and cheese and bread! Finger foods are a great choice for a picnic anyway, and it just feels all the more medieval when you’re eating with your fingers!
If you do choose to use some dishes, I recommend wood. It’s light, hard to break (and if it does, oh look, firewood…), easy to care for (just wash and dry immediately after use and keep it oiled once a year), and looks and feels very authentic. Also, bamboo dishes look similar to wood and are even cheaper and easier to find. My family uses a set of wooden bowls that came from Target, but you can also find woodenware at Goodwill and thrift stores.
You can also sometimes find plastic dishes that look like ceramic crockery. I found a magnificent red melamine plate at Big Lots– on clearance for two dollars– that looks like painted ceramic! It now serves as our serving tray. A word of caution, though; if you get a big plastic charger, such as at a craft supply store, make sure it’s food safe. Check the labels before you buy. We’re out $6 because I made that mistake.
These are just a few ways you can feed your hunger for immersion. Coming soon we’ll talk about clever ways of hiding your cooler, and we’ll attempt to make a dispenser jug look like a keg. Hope you’ll join us for that, and until then, thank you as always for joining us and supporting us as we make this world just a little more magical. Peace!