The Travelling Lunch… er, dinner

Ed Note: This was originally published in a much earlier incarnation of this blog. It’s still useful, and so it is resurrected. I expect it needs a bit of updating, which I will get to in all my copious free time. For now, it stands as it is and is a reminder of what I was focusing on at that point in time. It’s also pretty fitting as an introduction to my own experiments with Actual Period Preserving Recipes.  How awesome is that? …. Well, maybe it’s indifferently awesome to most folks, but I think it is grand.

The Travelling Lunch

by Merouda – April 18th, 2007

One of the people I read on LJ brought this topic up. I have been working on a set of short articles about food for non-period cooks who are interested in at least presenting a bit of a more period table when bringing their own food to an event. This is still in its draft stage, but I’m putting it out now for reference as I see it as something that can be easily supplemented.

As far as carrots go, orange carrots are available in period. There are quite a lot of 16th c. genre portraits featuring lush displays of produce, and believe me, them carrots are orange.

Period-like foods from your grocery store.

Okay. You can’t cook, you need to eat at Pennsic or the tourney, you would like to eat something that is within the realm of possibility for your Persona. The answer: Careful selection in the grocery store.

Of course, there will be sacrifices: these things will all be prepared according to modern practices and tastes, so there will be ingredients or processing that you can’t really control as a part of your menu. But if cooking is not your thing and you’d like a traveling lunch that your persona will likely recognize, consider selecting from the following list of foods available at most mid-end* grocers. Generally speaking, the foods on this list can be eaten raw or purchased all ready prepared, requiring nothing but being put on a plate or into a goblet.

In making this list, I have avoided New World foods; some few New World foods (NWF) did make it to the European table by the end of the sixteenth century, but most of the frequently eaten NWF in the 21st century were not acceptable foods to most Europeans until after 1601; you are encouraged to research what foods were known and acceptable to your persona if you wish to include them. On the other hand, if a food has an Old World origin and was known in period but was not necessarily eaten everywhere on the European continent, I have included it here on the theory that your persona has the possibility of being introduced to it or that it’s sufficiently similar to what was available that it would be recognizable. For instance, cheddar cheese is a late period creation, but there is no reason to suspect that any culture familiar with cheese wouldn’t recognize it as a food source. Remember, the purpose of this list is not to define period foods specific to your persona, but to serve as a general guideline regarding what you can purchase at the grocer’s that will create a meal that might have been eaten somewhere in Europe before 1601.

High Proteins (Meats, eggs, legumes):
Pickled herring, sausages, smoked pork chops, smoked ham hocks, ham, rotisserie chickens, smoked salmon, hummus, canned pea soup, canned lentil soup, canned chick peas, canned broad beans, beef jerky, pickled and/or hard boiled eggs, cold sliced chicken, roast beef, roast pork (from deli; note that deli staff may be willing to slice meat into a chunk rather than individual slices, so do ask them for this service). Pickled pig’s feet. Head cheese/souse/brawn. Sardines in oil. Canned oysters. Cooked crab meat, lobster, or shrimp. If the deli section has no good meats available, canned salmon, canned beef in juice, canned chicken, canned ham will substitute.

Fruits, Vegetables, Produce
(note that most grocery store fruits varietals are not varieties that were available in period, although Golden Delicious may be descended from a late period variety, Golden Reinette. Fresh or dried fruits are easiest for the tourney lunch. It’s typically suggested that all oranges in period were like Seville oranges, but sweet oranges were available in a number of areas, so if you can find seeded oranges, you’ve scored! Vegetables are best purchased raw, pickled, preserved in oil. While modern cans of meat are the closest you can get to some prepared meats, period methods of preserving vegetables are still readily available and are the preferred choice.)

Apples, pears, grapes, oranges, lemons, limes, strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, gooseberry, cherries, apricots, dates, raisins, plums, prunes, figs, applesauce. Marmalade, jams, preserves, jellies for late personas. Double crust apple pies from the bakery section.

Cauliflower, Brussels sprouts (especially preserved in an oil dressing, as a substitute for cabbage buds!), olives, cucumbers, leaf lettuces, spinach, carrots, shallots, chard, turnips, parsnips, mushrooms, beets, cabbage, peas, artichokes (limited personas), garlic (please…. pickled, not fresh! and watch for the inclusion of tomato sauce), asparagus, onions, leeks, bagged salads that contain leaf lettuces and herbs (no iceberg lettuce).


Yogurt, milk, cheese–some period varieties are ricotta, white cheddar, Parmesan, mozzarella, brie, emmental, Gruyère, Grana, Gorgonzola, Roquefort, Neufchâtel, feta–butter.


rice, barley, pasta, etcetera, are a little hard to buy prepared. You should stick with better breads, such as are obtainable from the store’s bakery rather than from the sliced-loaves sections. Also consider Ry-Krisp and other flat breads, or, if you’re willing and able to heat a cup of water, instant oatmeal or instant cream of wheat. Shortbread cookies–for dessert. Pretzels. Bagels.

Fats, condiments, herbs, spices, sweets
Olive oil. Mustards. Various vinegars, although I find balsamic most useful in this context. Honey. Ground horseradish. Candied ginger root. Salt. Pepper, sage, basil, garlic, parsley, mint, rosemary, thyme. Note that leafy herbs, tossed with leaf lettuce (like Romaine) and dressed with oil or vinegar, makes a nice sallet with minimal prep. Modern pesto sauce works as a medieval green sauce, but the form you’ll find in the store usually derives from a 19th. c recipe. Candied citron and orange peels. Caviar. Pine nuts. Almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts.

Apple cider, beer, wine, (buy non-alcoholic beer, sparkling grape juices if site is dry). Herbal teas: Mint, chamomile, lemon balm,

(These are prepared dishes that are approximations and their inclusion on this list should not be understood to imply that they are period preparations. Salads & dips should be mixed in a dairy dressing (i.e., sour cream, cheese sauce, yogurt, white sauce), an oil dressing, or a vinegar dressing. Mayo and most modern salad dressings are post period. Note that if the dish contains turkey, maize/corn, green/red/chili peppers, tomatoes or potatoes, it’s not really what your looking for.)

Hummus. Rice or pasta salads as long as the salad is not dressed with a mayonnaise-based sauce (mayo is created in the 18th c.) and is without turkey, tomato, maize (corn), & potato. Oil-dressed coleslaw, rice pudding, dairy-based spinach dip, macaroni and cheese, mozzarella balls in oil. The deli I frequent makes a terrific “antipasto” pasta salad that can be adjusted for this purpose; it’s oil-dressed pasta, sausage, olives, Parmesan cheese, tomatoes. If I ask them to pick out the tomatoes, I have a reasonable meal; when I serve it to myself, I separate the pasta, olives, and sausage to separate piles and have what looks like 3 separate dishes on my plate.

Frozen Food/Cold Case Section and Partly Prepped Foods:
(This section can be mined for foods if you are willing/able to let things defrost, and perhaps do a little baking if you have something that needs just some time in the oven as a last step. Some of these things will also require careful presentation on your plate if you’d like to create something aesthetically appropriate as well as food-compatible. Like foods from the deli section, these are not necessarily period preparations, and their inclusion here should not be understood to imply that they are period dishes, only that they would probably be recognizable as food to someone familiar with pasta, cheese or dairy sauces, and chicken/beef/pork. Use this subdivision with caution.)

Quiche (minus, of course, NWF). Pot pies, but find one without turkey, potatoes, peppers, corn. The following Stouffer’s brand frozen entrees meet the “No obvious NWF” criteria and are presented as a list for your inspiration regarding foods that will fit even if imperfect: Chicken a la King, Italian Sausage Stuffed Rigatoni, Beef Stroganoff with Parsley Noodles, Salisbury Steak, Swedish Meatballs, Tuna Noodle Casserole, Homestyle Chicken & Noodles, Fettuccini Alfredo, Rigatoni Pasta w/Roasted White Meat Chicken. (Note that I am not endorsing Stouffer’s particularly, they’re just a brand that I’m sure is national.)

Frozen fruits and vegetables as described in the produce section; if veggies are purchased in a sauce, chose a cheese, or plain butter sauce. Cookie doughs: plain sugar cookies, oatmeal cookies. Bread doughs, if you want super fresh breads.

Examples of people eating outdoors. Late period art featuring cooks and a wealth of foods for visual reference. Also good for visual reference for baskets, jugs, barrels, use of cover cloths, et cetera. An English grocer’s period-type recipe pamphlet.

*Mid-end: Not as inexpensive or limited as Aldi’s, but not as wide-ranging as high end stores, and I didn’t even go in to gourmet or specialty shops.

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