Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Great Gnocchi Experiment #100daysofAS Day 13

Last month's Baronial A&S night was on how to make gnocchi.  However, neither Emmelina nor I could be there.  She'd only ever had gnocchi from Trader Joes and I'd recently had some amazing gnocchi at a restaurant so one Sunday in May, I invited her over to try making gnocchi ourselves.

I wanted to do a potato based version, to show Emmelina how much tastier fresh gnocchi was.  But since potatoes are a new world food, I got to wondering about period gnocchi recipes.  What did they use to make gnocchi before potatoes?

Thanks to the nice folks on the SCA cooks board, I was introduced to multiple pre-1600 gnocchi recipes.  They seemed to fall into 2 main types:  bread crumbs, flour & egg or cheese, flour & egg.   I was kind of curious about the difference in taste so the plan was to make one of the cheese based recipes, one of the breadcrumb based (from a 15th C Italian cookbook) and then a batch of the potato based, from Mark Bittman's: How to Cook Everything.   This was primarily a taste comparison, so things were a bit fast and loose historical research wise; I didn't redact the recipes myself and had to make some substitutions on ingredients.  At some point, I may redo the experiment for higher accuracy..  depending on the cost and availability of real Neufchâtel cheese (or try my hand at making it myself).

 Ready to start making gnocchi!

 Emmelina mixing the cheese gnocchi

From right to left:  Scappi's breadcrumb version, cheese gnocchi and potato based.

Cheese gnocchi (original recipe & redaction on the link)
Interestingly, the Aethelmarc redaction specifies Neufchâtel cheese. Doing a little research, I  found out that while the production of Neufchâtel dates back to approximately the 6th century what we call Neufchatel today is not really comparable. There was no real Neufchâtel cheese to be had at the gourmet Kroger with the extensive cheese department (which is the first place I tried) so I didn't try anywhere else.

Preparation wise, these went together pretty easily because I  remembered to pull the cream cheese out in advance and let it get closer to room temperature.  We did have to add significant additional flour to get the "soft bread dough" stage.  The quantity of flour was specified in the redaction, not the original recipe, I was pretty comfortable with adding the flour.

Breadcrumb Gnocchi  Recipe 69 from Libro B of Anonimo Meridionale: Due Libri di Cucina at the link.  Anonimo Meridionale is a 15th-century Italian book of recipes and there is a nearly identical recipe in Scappi's L'Opera.    The grocery bakery didn't sell fresh breadcrumbs (the woman at the bakery counter looked at me like I was from Mars when I asked) and I'd waited until the day before the experiment so I didn't have time to bake bread and make my own, so Panko breadcrumbs were substituted, mostly because I already had them in the pantry.  Ironically, it was in writing this that I thought about the option of making them from store bought bread.

 Like the cheese gnocchi, we had to add more flour than anticipated.  I didn't have high hopes for this recipe as we were putting it together. It was coarse and lumpier than the cheese gnocchi and felt like "peasant food"

Potato Gnocchi
I'd made Mark Bittman's recipe (at the link and in his How to Cook Everything) years ago, so I decided to use that recipe again.  Because you have to boil the potatoes (and peel them) and then roll each one over a fork for the classic ridged appearance, this one takes a lot longer to come together than the other two.  Like the other two, we had to add more flour to get a dough consistency that was workable. Emmelia was a pro in adding the ridges from the first gnocchi.  The other 2 recipes did not call for the ridges, which makes me wonder when the ridging started.  Like other 2 types of gnocchi, we piled them up on a plate in layers to await cooking.

We had a bit of a disaster cooking the potato gnocchi.  When we went to pop the top layer in the boiling water, we realized that they were sticking to each other and the ones underneath them.  In hindsight, I would add a little more flour and place them individually on a cookie sheet lined with parchment once they came off the fork.  The only thing to do was to just pull off chunks & toss them into the boiling water -all of Emmelina's beautiful ridges disappeared.  We dubbed them "post modern gnocchi" and ate them anyway.

The Taste Test

We put butter and freshly grated Parmesan cheese on all three types.  Scappi suggests a little cinnamon in addition to the butter and cheese for the breadcrumb so we added that for the breadcrumb gnocchi.

Not sure if it was the additional cinnamon or what, but the unanimous agreement what that we liked the breadcrumb recipe the best. (Jay got home just in time to taste test so there were 3 of us voting) Both the cheese and the potato were both very good though.

And so concluded the Great Gnocchi Experiment.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Two Hour Tarpus

I have a lovely buckram frame tarpus  that I  patterned off of a 1880s flowerpot hat I'd made several years ago.

It was fun to make, if a bit time consuming but has never sat on my head securely.  When Her Majesty commented on the hat's misbehavior in court,  I decided it was time to breakdown and make the replacement I'd been meaning to.

Village Hat Shop has fezes in a variety of colors for around $20 and I had several kicking around the sewing room. I thought that the navy one would make a good base to decorate. Note:  I have a large head even for a man (24" circumference) and Village Hat Shop XXL fezes fit me.

I started hand hemming a silk veil then came to my senses and checked Dharma Trading Company.  I could get a 44" x 44" silk chiffon scarf with hand rolled hem for $12.   $12 seemed a small price to pay for not having to roll hem silk.

And I had some lovely vintage sari trim that I'd found on ebay to use as the veil band. The hardest part of this whole project was finding really appropriate sari trim.  Luckily, I love to comb through e-bay!

Step 1:  Fold the veil in half, tack it to the hat in several places on the crown.

Step 2:  Cut the sari trim to just a little longer than the circumference of the hat

Step 3:  Fold the ends of the trim into points & stitch down.  Stitch a 12"-16" piece of lucet cord, fingerloop braid or kumihimo cord to the center of each point on the wrong side so that the end result looks similar to this:

Step 4: Center the trim on the hat and stitch down the bottom edge in the front between the veil.

Step 5: Tie cords together loosely in back

Step 6:  Voila, the hat is complete!

On other fronts, I am camp mistressing the Baronial encampment for Fool's War, working on a How-to class for Sekanjabin syrup, finishing a fencing doublet for Pietro (who recently became Baronial Rapier Champion!) doing research on Islamic embroidery, jewelry & plaque belts, working up a pattern for an Italianized entari, ala Titian's 1555 Portrait of a Lady and trying to convince myself that I don't need a set of Korean garb.  In other words, it's pretty much business as usual around here.

c. 1555
Portrait of a Lady
National Gallery of Art
Washington, DC

Sunday, January 29, 2017

2016 Projects in retrospect

2017 is off to a productive start.  I finally got around to remaking my turquoise entari (I ripped apart the first one this summer in a fit of pique (I'd never liked how it turned out) and then regretted its absence) to continue the process of fine tuning the pattern adjustments I made this autumn and in that vein, am making a new Viking gown to fine tune that pattern as well.  Not entirely sure either project is interesting enough to warrant a blog post, but between that and event stewardy things for Midwinter, that's been my month.

At the request of Mistress Jadi, I pulled together a list of what I accomplished in 2016.  I'd intended it to be a page for just her & Mistress Alessandra.  After I started, I thought it would be a good blog post (since I haven't posted for a while) but I couldn't change it from a page to a post and it took enough time to pull together that I am not going to re-type and format it.   Here is the link to the page itself if you are interested. (or click on 2016 on the nav bar above)

Sunday, January 1, 2017

New Year's Eve experiment: Libum or Roman cheesecake... sort of

So I was going to a New Year's Eve party with a bunch of SCA folks and looked through my SCA cooking board to find a new recipe to try. I had pinned a recipe for "Roman cheesecake" but the recipe I'd pinned was just the beginning of a research trail to determine if it actually had any historical accuracy behind it.

A little google fu got me to the history of cheesecake and that site mentioned that Marcus Cato is credited for recorded the first Roman cheesecake recipe. More google fu turned up another recipe cited as being from Cato's De Agri Cultura that was very similar to the first one I'd seen.  And this one had a translation of the original Latin as well as a modern version. I wouldn't use any of these sites for actual scholarship but for a New Year's Eve party it seemed sufficient.  If the recipe was tasty I could always look for the original De Agri Cultura later.

Deciding on the recipe cited as Cato's, I decided to quadruple the recipe since a yield of 4 didn't seem like very many for a party.  If this were a more serious culinary experiment, I would have done the recipe as written first and tried to use solely historically accurate tools.

I used Kroger's Simply Truth organic ricotta and there wasn't much liquid to start so draining it on coffee filters didn't remove any significant liquid.    I used a hand mixer to beat the ricotta...  I have been struggling with tendinitis in my  right wrist and "beating until light and airy" by hand didn't seem tendinitis friendly.

The translation of the original Latin called for "1 pound of wheat flour, or if you wish the cake to be more dainty, 1/2 lb of fine flour."  The redaction proportions were 1 pound = 1 cup.

The modern redaction did not specify the type of flour, but the proportions made it clear that it should be wheat flour.  I was using unbleached white flour so I halved the amount and folded it in 1/2 cup at a time with the mixer.  The dough was still too sticky to make into buns, so I added 2 more 1/2 cups and still had sticky-ish dough.

 Sticky dough is sticky

Going back to the original recipe I had pinned, it included kneading on a floured surface and that did the trick.

This looks much better

Looking at the amount of dough I had, I realized that the yield of 4 was for a cake that would need to have slices cut to eat.  Knowing how much better finger food went over at Mistress Alessandra's Vigil table, I decided to make a dozen or so cakes rather than the 4 the recipe called for. Making the smaller cakes yielded ~12 so with a quadruple recipe, I had 48 and enough left to make a cake the original size.

The first half of the cakes, ready to bake

Thankfully, I love bay leaves and had plenty of dried ones because putting a leaf under each cake meant that I used nearly 50 over all.

I used nearly all of this bag of bay leaves

I'd be curious to see if fresh made any significant difference.  I used olive oil spray on the pans but ran out after the first two and had to use coconut oil spray on the other two,  All things considered, I think the purpose of the bay leaves were to keep the the cakes from sticking and, at least with the smaller cake size, made the oil a little superfluous anyway.

I did not have anything close to the testu (brick or clay pot) that cooking the Roman way called for, so I baked them without.  In retrospect, I suspect that the testu (I'm imagining something similar to half of a clay roaster for lack of any research yet) would have kept the cakes a little softer and slower to brown.  30 minutes at 425 degrees resulted in cakes a little browner than I would have preferred but the bay leaves kept the bottom of each cake from burning.  The original sized cake turned out just about perfect.

This one is Just Right.

I had raw honey and warmed the first part of it up in a pot and warmed the rest up in a microwave. I didn't notice any significant difference in the result either way.  I did use significantly more honey than what was called for because, well,... it's honey.

Cakes that have marinated in honey for an hour, ready to take to the party.

The end result wasn't bad for a first attempt. These weren't very much like modern cheese cake, but everyone thought they were tasty so I would call the recipe a win and worth hunting down a copy of De Agri Cultura and making a more historically accurate attempt.  At some point.  So many projects. So little free time.

And on that note, I'm going to try to do a 2016 projects post to figure out just exactly what I did this past year and hopefully fill in the gap of the past few months of silence.  I also have over 1000 museum pics from our trip to London I want to get organized and share in case they are useful for anyone else's research.  But I've got several time critical projects to work on and I am event steward for Midwinter Arts & Sciences in February so (as usual) I need 48 hour days to manage even most of what is on my plate, so we shall see what actually gets done. :)

Thursday, September 15, 2016

HSF #8: Patterns (or The challenge that almost wasn't)

This was a tough challenge to find inspiration for.  I had some lovely Renaissance patterned upholstery fabric that I bought last year to use for a 16th century gown, but I knew there was no way that I was going to finish a gown in a month even if I had a bodice pattern that I was happy with (which I didn't).  So mid-month, when no more exciting and executable idea had presented itself, I went with plan B:  A 16th century Italian saccoccia (pocket). I laughingly swear that the entire reason I wear 16th century Italian and 16th century Ottoman is that pockets were historically accurate.

Saccoccia are seen in various 16th century Italian paintings and here are also several extant Spanish examples, which are very similar to the ones in Italian paintings. Both the Italian and Spanish ones bear a strong resemblance to the 18th century pocket, examples of which are far more commonly found in museums. I have not come across any extant 16th century English examples, however a search on "pockets" at  turned up 146 references in wills and wardrobe accounts. However, rather interestingly, the V&A article on the history of pockets starts in the 17th century not the 16th.  As does an essay from the Pockets of History collection at the University of Creative Arts. It's an interesting research rabbit hole, but outside the scope of this challenge, so it will have to wait for another time.

Based on the examples I'd found in paintings, the saccoccia appears in the mid 16th century, which was confirmed in Anea's excellent article that I stumbled upon later in my research. Working class women appear to have worn their saccoccia tied on over their gowns; upper class women most commonly wore theirs under their gown and accessed it through a slit in the skirt.

Study of a Woman with a Tray
Alessandro Allori
c. 1570-80
Provenance Unknown by me1

Even working class women could have saccoccia made of patterned fabrics and trimmed elaborately.

Detail from "Women at her toilet"
Allessandro Allori
c. 1575-78
fresco in Gaddi Chapel
Church of Santa Maria Novella, 
Florence, Italy

The fabric definitely qualified as patterned.  It was some upholstery fabric of unknown man-made fibers. I was initially reluctantly to use the fabric before I actually created the gown, but needs must if I was going to complete the challenge.  In retrospect, I'm glad I did, because this stuff frays like @#$% and was annoying enough to work with, that I will probably end up donating the rest of the bolt to a SCA rummage sale.  Life is too short to work with fabric that behaves that badly.

The pattern was easily enough drafted up and cut out.

I had some deep claret silk scraps in my scrap bin that were perfect for a lining and I was cooking with gas.  I was going to finish this challenge on time if not early! <insert ominous music>  Then the fabric started fraying like there was no tomorrow and I  threw the wretched thing in my sewing basket for a probably permanent time out and decided maybe I just wasn't going to do challenge #8.

I'd asked my dear friend, Mistress Alessandra, to make me some teal cotton petersham for the waist tie and while I was over at her house for a sewing day, the subject of the saccoccia came up.  She solved the problem handily enough by cutting off a chunk of the leftover she had from weaving my petersham up and said "bind the opening."  This is probably why she is the laurel and I am the student. :)

Not long after, I had a finished saccoccia.

The Challenge:  #8  Patterns

Material: 1/4 yard upholstery fabric, scraps of silk for lining

Year: later 16th century

Notions:  Silk thread, cotton petersham

Pattern:  Self drafted based on the examples in paintings

How historically accurate is it?  The fabric is man-made fiber.  Its hard to feel good about historical accuracy after that.  But the silk thread and hand woven cotton petersham are both plausible for the 16th century.  (Italy had had a cotton industry for several centuries at that point)

Hours to complete:  3-4 maybe

First worn:  Not yet.  It's still too warm to wear Italian.

Total cost:  $20 for the cotton petersham.  Everything else was from the stash,
1  I originally found this picture on  but the location of the drawing was not  indicated.  Upon googling for the image, which is often helpful in establishing provenance, every hit seemed to lead back to either modehistorique or different Allori.  This is, in my experience, a red flag on  validity of the source.  Based on what I have seen of Allori's work, it doesn't seem implausible for it to be an Allori sketch, but I will feel easier when I can locate exactly what and where it is located. 


Anea. "A Renaissance Saccoccia." The Anea Costumes. np. 2016. Web. 15 September 2016. <>

Anea. "16th century Italy + loose pockets" Anea Costumes: Fashion and Design Past and Present. np. 2016. Web. 15 September 2016. ""

Burman, Barbara and Seth Denbo. "A History of Pockets" Visual Arts Data Service Pockets of History Collection. Surrey,  2016. Web. 11 September, 2016. <>

Leed, Drea. Queen Elizabeth's Wardrobe Uploaded.  The Elizabethan Costuming Page. Dayton, Ohio 2010.  Web. 14 September 2016. <>

Lorraine, Sarah. "I'm Done?" Mode Historique. San Jose, CA 2016. Web. 1 September 2016. <>

--- "A History of Pockets" Victoria and Albert Museum,  London, 2016.  Web. 11 September, 2016. <>

---.  Faltriquera 1575-1600. Museo del Traje Online Collection, Madrid, Spain 2016. Web. 15 September 2016. <>

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Sunday Night Experiment: Hildegarde of Bingen's Small Cakes

I've been a bit lax in bottling last summer's batches of brandy and cordials so there was a bit of a frenzy over the last 2 weekends of straining off brandies and doing a first bottling to let the sediment settle.  The blackberries were too soft after soaking for 12 months to do anything with, but there was a nice quantity of brandied peaches.  And Tourney of the Foxes is next weekend, so I was planning on packing a nice picnic to feed starving fencers.  I'd been thinking peach shortcake but that didn't pass the "easy to eat" test then Mistress Kyra posted a picture of her daughter making peach hand pies on Facebook.  Bingo!  Brandied peach hand pies it was going to be.

At the grocery, I looked at the whole wheat flour, thought about buying it since I'm doing more Renaissance cooking these days and then thought " Nah...I don't have any recipes that need it right now."   Then I got home and was flipping through a copy of Duke Sir Cariadoc's "How to Milk and Almond, Stuff an Egg and Armor a Turnip" that had just arrived to replace an old copy that got lost over the years.  And came across his redaction for Hildegarde of Bingen's small cakes from her Physica.  Which I was immediately curious to make and, of course, required whole wheat flour.  So back to the grocery it was.

The original was from her entry on nutmeg and said "Take some nutmeg and an equal weight of cinnamon and a bit of cloves and pulverise them.  Then make small cakes with this and fine whole wheat flour and water.  Eat them often...It will calm all bitterness of the heart and mind, open your heart and impaired senses and make your mind cheerful.  If purifies your senses and diminishes all harmful humors"1

I remembered Hildegarde von Bingen from college and immediately ordered a used copy of her Physica from Amazon. But I was too curious about these cakes to wait to confirm the reference when the book arrived.  And I  mean..  it's Duke Sir Cariadoc's redaction.  I'd definitely consider him pretty reliable as a source.

So in between straining the last of the peach brandy and making a batch of dough from Scappi's Feast Day Cheese tart to experiment with for the peach hand pies, I mixed up the small cakes.  Cariadoc suggested 1 tsp nutmeg & cinnamon and half that for the cloves and one quarter that for the salt with 1 cup whole wheat flour and 1/4 cup water.

It took me 1/2 cup of water to get dough that was smooth -I wonder if he was using white whole wheat flour originally.  I also separated the dough into 12 pieces rather than the 4 he suggested.

The end result was sort of a dense, chewy, vaguely clove tasting bread. I think next time I'd use less clove.  "a bit of clove" compared to an "equal measure of cinnamon" and nutmeg seems to me to be less than half the amount and clove has a very strong flavor anyway.  When pretty much proves Cariadoc's never trust a redaction unless you see the original because you never know what liberties the redactor took" advice in the introduction.2    It probably wasn't bad for the middle ages -and the recipe was supposed to be medicinal anyway.  But if I made it again, it would probably be for camp breakfasts and spread thickly with apple butter.

Still it was an interesting experiment.  And I have a whole book of redactions to try and primary sources to track down.  Not bad for a Sunday night!

1 Friedman, David and Elizabeth Cook. How to Milk an Almond, Stuff an Egg and Armor a Turnip. Self published, 2011.  referencing Throop, Prisilla, tr.  Hildegarde von Bingen's Physica.  Rochester Vermont: 1998. Healing Arts Press


Friday, August 12, 2016

Drawn Thread Embroidery/HSM #7: Monochrome

Ever since  HSM #3  I've been kind of obsessed with drawn thread embroidery.  I wasn't satisfied with how the legs came out on my drawers, but I loved the technique.  My first big project was half a dozen largesse napkins and while I was working on those at events and Barony meetings, people kept asking "What are you doing?"  so I offered to teach a class on the most basic drawn work stitch:  Hem stitch at Royal University Meridies in July.

I put together 6 kits with a practice piece with threads pre-drawn and edges folded up so that each student could start practicing right away and a napkin with pre-drawn threads to take home and finish.  And just in case, I printed out 9 sets of my class handout.  I'd planned on 3-4 students and lots of one on one time for each of them. Except that I had over 24 students! Thankfully, I had extra linen in my basket to make more practice pieces on the spot and my students were gracious about the lack of materials and instructor time. But I felt bad that I couldn't spend more time with each person.

So imagine my surprise when I find that one of my students enjoyed the class so much she blogged about it! I am over the moon to have passed on my love of drawn thread embroidery to someone else. :)

Once I felt like I had a grasp on basic drawn work, I started thinking about a partlet with drawn work.  My plan was to have it done and wear it for my class as an example, but alas, life intervened.

16th century Italian portraiture shows a lot of elaborately decorated partlets (called colletto in Italy), some of which looked like it could be drawn work.

Attributed to Lavinia Fontana
Portrait of a Woman with a child,
traditionally identified as Eleanora d'Medici
Private collection

Detail of Giovanna of Austria and her son, Phillipo
Giovanni Bizelli c. 1586
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence, Italy

Better still, I had 2 extant examples of hemstitching on neck and wrist ruffles. Neither example was specifically Italian, though.
The Sture shirt, discussed in Arnold's PoF 4
currently located at Uppsala Cathedral, Uppsala, Sweden

Gollar (German partlet)

Jay had finished his second blackwork project, which was a collar for me and I decided to use it for a colletto with drawn work down the front and on the neck ruffle.  While I couldn't specifically document blackwork and drawn work together on the same colletto, Landini states "In the third decade of the 16th century, nets and partlets became the article of clothing which, along with the head-dressing and the sleeves, most lent itself to imaginative invention and personal choice"1 so I was comfortable with my plan being within the realm of "imaginative invention" in the 16th century.

I had already made a simple colletto based off this example and since my focus in this was the drawnwork, I used the same pattern, but made it several inches longer, since the first one always felt too short when I wore it.

Detail from the Arcade Vault Fresco
Alessandro Allori c. 1589
Tapestry Apartments, Pitti Palace
Florence, Italy

It was all handsewn with linen thread, using flat felled seams and a 1/4" hem around all edges.  I used Gutermann silk topstitch thread to fingerloop braid the ties at the neck. The actual technique for the drawn work is discussed here. The bottom has a  drawstring casing through which I threaded handwoven linen tape from a friend's etsy shop, Tied to History.

I'm actually rather pleased with how it turned out.

The Challenge: #7 Monochrome

Material:  3/4  yard 020 linen

Year:  second half of the 16th century, Italian

Notions:  linen thread, silk topstitch thread, Aida 22 count cloth & cotton floss for the blackwork collar

Pattern: self drafted based on the shape from the Allori fresco

How historically accurate is it?  60%?  The aida cloth is not historically accurate, nor is the cotton floss and I can't find an example of drawn work and blackwork in the same partlet.  

Hours to complete:  no idea.  I've been working on and off on this since April.

First worn:  When it gets cooler.  It's too hot to wear anything but Roman at events at the moment.

Total cost:  $4.95 for a spool of silk topstitch thread because I ran out after the first tie.  Everything else was from the stash.
1  Landini, Roberta Orsini and Bruna Niccoli. Moda a Firenze 1540-1580. Firenze: Edizioni Polistampa, 2005. Page 120.