A History of the Madrone Culinary Guild
by Rowenna de Manning
The Madrone Culinary Guild was created as a sub-group of the Seattle chapter of the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) at a founding meeting in May 1977. At the first business meeting, held in June of 1977, the first members drew up an ambitious list of goals: experiment with medieval recipes, cook for SCA events, sponsor culinary contests at SCA events, coordinate information and source lists of medieval recipes and banqueting guides, research recipes and banqueting techniques, prepare presentations, devise fund-raising projects, publish a medieval cookbook, publish articles, and teach culinary skills. Since that long-ago June evening, the Madrone Culinary Guild has abundantly achieved those goals, and continues to add to our achievements.
Guild meetings have been held at least once a month, almost without interruption, since 1977. Over the years the Guild’s roster has listed as members many people from the local SCA chapter, while many more of the SCA membership have at one time or another worked in the kitchen at a Guild banquet. The Guild believes that in feast preparation, the more cooks the merrier, and welcomes volunteers at the kitchen door. Some Guild banquets have had as many as thirty cooks and kitchen helpers who contributed to the preparation, serving and clean-up.
The Guild’s first two cookbooks, published in 1979 and 1982, are not momentous works by the standards of current historical food research, but those publications made available some recipes from the few primary medieval culinary sources obtainable at the time. The second cookbook contained a seven-page glossary of Middle English culinary terms that is still a useful resource for translating 14th and 15th century English recipes, and it served as the basis for a more extensive later publication.
Since 1992, the Guild has published a pamphlet series on historical food and recipes called The Feudal Gourmet. The first in this series, A Culinary Reference Manual, presents a guide for redacting historical recipes and a much more comprehensive list of words found in medieval English recipes, explanations of their meaning, and information on food sources. The next pamphlets we published established a custom where guild members research a historical cuisine or study a manuscript with recipes in need of translation and redacting, develop expanded recipes for use at a banquet, and then assemble a pamphlet based on the research.
The Guild has prepared and served many feasts of medieval or Renaissance food for the SCA and other groups, varying in size from 20 diners to 225. The Guild’s feasts are famous for presenting menus of variety and quality, served hot and on time. For our service to the SCA in the early days when we were introducing and demystifying medieval and Renaissance food, the Guild received an SCA Award of Arms in 1979, and a “Throne’s Favor” in 1982.
Over the years, the Guild has cooked many of the annual Baronial Banquets for our local SCA branch. Among those presentations was a banquet whose menu was drawn entirely from the first-century manuscript of the Roman cook Apicius, and a Burgundian feast in which the color theme was red, white and black – yes, including the food. (Well, we managed to make most of the food fall into the color scheme.) A number of Baronial Banquets have presented a menu drawn entirely from the Renaissance French cookbooks of Varenne and Taillevent. Our ventures into ethnic foods led us to create three different “Silk Road” menus. Following a route of the Silk Road with a course from the cuisine of a medieval European starting point, and two or three different Eastern European and Asian cuisines has become a favorite variation from an banquet of historical food from a single source.
The Guild originated and runs an annual event held in a Seattle public park, called the Peasants Revel. An ideal first event for people new to medieval re-creation, it is also a fun day for returning attendees. The summer event features down-and-dirty peasant games, including those authentic medieval favorites: the fritter-carry race, the wet-rag-on-a-stick dance, and the spit-in-the-bucket relay. The event closes with an outdoor meal of bread and cheese and a hearty stew cooked on-site by the Guild.
The Guild has done a number of fund-raising activities over the years. All proceeds from The Feudal Gourmet go toward additions to the Guild’s stock of equipment. In past years, the Guild produced medieval banquets to benefit Seattle Rape Relief, the YWCA, Sound Experience, the Bainbridge Teen Center, and for five years we contributed a medieval banquet for twenty people to be sold at a charity auction to fund women’s and children’s assistance programs.
Guild members, often team-teaching, have presented many classes through the SCA’s various educational forums, including classes on food and eating in the Middle Ages, banquet planning and kitchen management, food safety while camping, and cooking food using medieval or Renaissance culinary equipment over open fires. Guild members have given interviews and lectures on food history at professional food symposia held in Denver, Colorado and in Oxford, England. Members spoke at a conference of the Romance Writers of America, and have been interviewed on radio cooking shows. For several years one of our Guild members wrote a syndicated column, The Vast Repast, on food and food history which appeared in West Coast newspapers.
The Guild continues to take on new projects. Several Guild members devised and refined a database to store our many researched recipes. This enables us to expand menus from original recipe quantities to banquet quantities quickly. The Guild maintains an e-mail list for discussion of medieval food subjects (though subscribers can also read about Guild doings there since the Guild uses it for local food news and meeting updates.)
The Guild’s stock of equipment – pots pans, and dishes enough to prepare and serve a banquet for more than 150 people – is available to be borrowed by other people in SCA chapters to produce feasts. The equipment was conveyed in a large truck to the SCA’s anniversary of its 30th year, held in western Washington state. Cooks from all over the SCA “Known World” used the equipment to prepare historical feasts every day at the week-long event.
The Guild has produced cookbooks, cooked feasts, and done lots of research, but we know our most significant accomplishment is the friendships we’ve forged in the heat of busy kitchens. The members of the Guild look forward to many more years of researching, cooking, and eating medieval and Renaissance food together.
The Madrone Culinary Guild is an affiliate of the Barony of Madrone. Kingdom of An Tir. For more information about the barony and the SCA, click here.