Cooking over a wood fire at the campsite, medieval style

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POWNAL – Zoe Lawson welcomed visitors to her canvas lodge at Bradbury Mountain State Park, where her camping area was outfitted with a medieval fringed tent, handmade wooden tables, benches, bowls and a portable butter churn that Lawson pumped while walking.

As onlookers stopped at the primitive campsite, Lawson invited them to come back later to watch her butcher a chicken.

Welcome to campfire cooking, medieval style.

The Massachusetts woman came to join one of the Maine chapters of the Society for Creative Anachronism as they opened the camping season in Bradbury Mountain State Park a few weeks ago. About fifty of them came to share, discuss and exchange recipes. Eight of them participated in the Northeast Chefs Contest organized by the Southern Maine chapter of the society, a non-profit organization made up of history buffs who research and piece together the customs of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.

This was the second year that the southern Maine chapter, called Malagentia Province, hosted the gathering. It’s a laid back kick off to camping season where these history buffs come to dress up, show off their medieval wares, cook over open fires and feast at a community gathering.

“We’re really just a bunch of nerds,” said Matt Wickenheiser, a member of the Malagentia group that covers the region around Augusta downstate.

Since the society was founded more than 50 years ago in Berkeley, California, it has approximately 60,000 members in the United States, Canada, Europe, Asia, South Africa and Australia, including two branches in Maine.

Several times a year, members of the society come together for one-day or weekend get-togethers to practice medieval customs, such as fencing, archery, dancing, calligraphy, cooking and simply dressing.

The members take names similar to those used in medieval times, although the storylines are still fictional.

Think “Game of Thrones” – but without the violence.

Zoe Lawson of Billerica, Massachusetts, prepares a squab for soup. Ben McCanna / Personal Photographer

Lawson, known to Society as Morwenna O Hurlihie of early medieval England, came from Bellerica, Massachusetts to enjoy the laid-back cooking workshop that showcased creativity and discouraged aiming. perfection.

“I stopped at a farm on my way here and picked up some raw milk. I let it sit and skimmed the cream to make butter and later I will make cheese. I like to experiment with food,” Lawson said.

The inaugural Campfire Cooking Contest and Gathering at Bradbury State Park was held in 2019. It returned this year after being canceled due to the pandemic for the past two years.

“The Test Kitchen is a new thing we’ve created. It’s really a way to prepare for the camping season, prepare your gear, try recipes or get advice from other people. It’s less about competition,” Wickenheiser said.

A woman dressed in blue with a lightly jeweled crown who went by the name Lady Octavia addressed everyone at the start of the iron pan competition after Wickenheiser blew into a cow’s horn to bring them closer together.

As Octavaia unveiled the campfire cooking contest’s mystery ingredient – peas – laughter broke out in the crowd. Many expected a tougher ingredient, perhaps sheep’s brain or pig’s tongue.

Brian Hubbard from Orrington – who goes by the character of Gwillim Kynith, a 14th century Welshman – came with his friend Mark Barrows from Hermon, also known as Seamus Nacoille from 10th century Ireland, and together they have planned a medieval surf and turf offer.

Barrows researched two recipes on the website medievalcookery.com, one a roast salmon in sauce and the other a 13th century Dutch recipe for stewed venison.

“I got the salmon from my fridge,” Barrows admitted. “That’s what was left. But a lot of us in real life are outdoors people – so fish and venison made sense.

Both dishes were authentic medieval recipes. The fish was cooked in white wine with cinnamon, onion, oil, vinegar and ginger. Venison dish simmered in a mixture of bacon bits, red wine, water, cinnamon, ginger and saffron.

“They used a lot of aromatic spices,” Hubbard said. “Some people say they did this because the meat was rancid. But that’s not the case. They used a lot of nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves. “trial and error. But it’s a lot of fun. I’ve had some absolute flops.

Lawson planned to share his butter and cheese at the potluck – and make a medieval “soup”, a stew with rabbit and partridge, barley, parsnips, leeks – and maybe with peas to enter the competition.

“It’s a nice, relaxing, food-focused event. We experiment and try different recipes. But I did some research and the food changed. Before Columbus, there wasn’t a lot of food that we have today. Carrots, for example, weren’t orange,” Lawson said.

Conrad Mrais of Windham, who goes by Gaius Claudius Valerianus of ancient Rome, was roasting chicken in a cast iron pot over an open fire – literally – with the pot set on hot logs.

He worked on two different sauces, one a sweet and sour date sauce with red wine, vinegar and onions; the other a sesame seed sauce which was a classic Roman dish made with fermented fish.

Mayant – the winner of the cast iron skillet competition – had with him a real antique cookbook or a reproduction of the Roman cookbook “Apicius”.

One page had a paragraph listing all the ingredients needed for each dish, while the opposite page offered the Latin translation. Mrais won bragging rights for the rich flavor of the sauces he simmered and stirred throughout the morning. He did this while dodging the smoke billowing from his campfire.

Despite his skilful use of ancient ingredients and cooking over a fire, he said he didn’t know what to do with the peas. Maybe they would end up in a third mustard sauce.

“Roman recipes are pretty cool because the dishes list the ingredients but don’t have measurements. You don’t know how or when to add them. You have to figure that out,” Mayant said. I cook anyway, I just put things together until they work. It’s much more fun.


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