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Katira al-Maghrebiyya
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Writings: Katira al-Maghrebiyya (aka Kay the Innocent of Bel Anjou)

Entering Wooden Spoon, Etc.

By Kay the Innocent of BelAnjou (now known as Katira al-Maghrebiyya)

This discussion represents my personal view and experience in entering cooking competitions at all levels. I welcome other views and tales of trials and tribulations. One never stops eating, I mean, learning. The following describes the process I go through to prepare for a cooking competition.

Recipe Selection

I always select a period recipe to prepare (unless it is provided as for the Twelfth Night Cook-off). I happen to have a small reference library (see list at end of article) and I browse for something that appeals to me that fits the topic. I also prefer to start with the original text rather than someone else's translation.


  • Using a number of glossaries in my library, I translate the recipe and create an ingredient list.
  • I make any necessary substitutions for unavailable ingredients and selections for optional items based on preference. For example, I make the usual substitution of black pepper for "long" pepper, and for "potent" spices, I once choose cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg.


  • I check my collection for any translation and/or redactions of similar recipes. Hopefully this confirms my efforts and provides a starting point for developing the primary version. My primary version of the recipe will be strongly influenced by my personal preferences and general cooking experience.


  • I prepare the recipe from the first draft and note any variations I find necessary in amounts or processing.
  • The first round of judging is done by my neighbors, who enjoy helping with this. I then revise the recipe. I freely admit that it usually benefits from some tweaking.
  • Repeat this process until you are happy with the results.


How you present the entry to the judges is also important. I start with an appropriate serving vessel. I am addicted to prowling around thrift stores, garage sales & the like, and over the years I have collected a wide variety of wood, metal and ceramic items that are fun to choose from. Some things to consider:

  • culture, as in "Arabic anything"
  • any recipe references
  • any planned accompaniment or decoration
  • ease of serving

Think eye appeal. Dress up the entry. In the past, I have:

  • served a date/almond/pistachio sweetmeat (category was snack foods) on a platter with whole dates and whole nuts because it emphasized the ingredients and were also snack foods
  • decorated an otherwise blah looking spicy apple pudding containing almonds and cinnamon, with a sprinkle of sliced almonds and a dusting of cinnamon
  • decorated with sprigs of herbs, and bay leaves, just because

Consider how it will be served/tasted. Perhaps you could provide spoons or a knife for the judges use. Be sure to produce your entry for judging at an appropriate temperature. This may require some extra effort for a timely delivery, but it is worth it, not only for pleasure, but for safety.


Documentation should tell the judges enough to reasonably judge the entry but not so much that it bogs them down. This has never taken me more than 2 pages, although a contest category like "Lenten meal" certainly would require more. I use the following format:

  • Original recipe - note the source
  • Translation - note references used
  • Ingredients - here I explain any substitutions or choices I've made
  • Process - I describe any significant results of my early efforts then briefly explain any revisions
  • Final recipe - I include any serving/storing tips

Miscellaneous Thoughts


Each contest has a category, such as Lenten meal, apple anything, preserved meat, cook-off, etc. Some are more specific than others. Until now, I have always selected a category that appealed to me, something I would like to prepare and eat. Now that I am comfortable with the contest process, I am looking for more challenging subjects.


Authenticity is important and of course it is worth points. I use recipes from period sources and make only necessary modifications and substitutions. You can also develop a period style recipe based on an existing period recipe, period ingredients and period cooking techniques, but you will need to expand your documentation. I have a wonderful modern recipe for a barley pilaf that feels period but I can't find a similar enough period recipe to document it. Here are two sources of information on this process:

Creating New Recipes in a Period Style by L. Gwen Nowrick, Tournaments Illuminated, Issue #121, Winter 1997 (A.S. XXXI)

A Culinary Reference Manual, edited by Jane Lynn of Fenmere. Madrone Culinary Guild, 1992 (Kingdom of An Tir)


In the beginning I was very intimidated because some recipes called for things that were not available in any store I ever shopped in. I now have in my pantry such esoteric items as saunders (sandalwood), cubeb, galangal (galingale, rhizome, laos), grains of paradise

My sources for these:

Lhasa Karnak
2513 Telegraph Ave
Berkeley, CA 94704
(510) 548-0380
1938 Shattuck Ave
(510) 548-0372

Asian Market
5 Mary St.
San Rafael, CA 94901
(415) 459-7133

Check out your local ethnic and health food markets, and herb shops. But don't despair, glossaries and redactions usually indicate appropriate substitutions for flavor/color.


You've got to do your homework or lose points here. I've always been interested in period cooking and usually prepare appropriate food for events. When I decided to try my hand at cooking contests, I already had a good sized collection of resource materials. my sources for these include:

  • Bookstores (new & used, special orders)
  • Catalogs (Jessica's Biscuit, Barns & Noble, etc.)
  • SCA publications such as The Complete Anachronist and Tournaments Illuminated
  • the SCA Stock Clerk
  • the Green Duck (SCA book merchant)
  • the Woodlyn Library (check Ravenshore listing in The Page)

And Last But By No Means Least

Special thanks to Master Duncan Saxthrope of Alnwick for the opportunity to experience cooking competitions from the judges side of the table and Master Wulfric of Creigull for his excellent recipe redaction class and to both of them for their continuing support and guidance.

My Library

A Baghdad Cookery Book, Translated by A.J. Arberry, Islamic Culture 1939. (also known as Al-Baghdadi)
English translations only but a wealth of possibilities. The recipes contain amounts which is unusual and a great starting point (a conversion table is included).

A Miscelleny. David Friedman and Betty Cook (Cariadoc and Elizabeth). Self-published, 1996.
A wide variety of information and recipes, and a good place to start before tackling Al-Baghdadi.

An Ordinance of Pottage. Edited by Constance B. Hieatt. Prospect Books, 1988.
Fifteenth-century recipes, original and some redactions. Also additional information and a glossary.

Apicius' Cookery and Dining in Imperial Rome. Edited and Translated by Joseph Dommers Vehling. New York: Dover, 1977.
English translations, no redactions but lots of notes.

The Best of a Watched Pot. Edited by Yseult of Broceliande. Eugene, OR: Alfarhaugr Publishing Society, Inc., 1988.
The Best of a Watched Pot, Vol 2. Edited by Yseult of Broceliande. Eugene, OR: Alfarhaughr Publishing Society, Inc., 1991.
A selection of articles from A Watched Pot, a quarterly publication of the guild of the Black Kettle of the Kingdom of An Tir. Some contain recipes.

The British Museum Cookbook. Michelle Berriedale-Johnson. London: British Museum Publications, 1987.
Series of menus with modern recipes only.

A Culinary Reference Manual, edited by Jane Lynn of Fenmere. Madrone Culinary Guild, 1992
Contains lots if "how to" and a good glossary for translations.

Curye on Inglysch: English Culinary Manuscripts of the Fourteenth Century (Including the Forme of Cury). Edited by Constance B. Hieatt and Sharon Butler. The Early English Text Society; London: Oxford University Press, 1985.
Contains lots of information on period cooking besides recipes.

Fabulous Feasts, Medieval Cookery and Ceremony. Madeleine Pelner Cosman. New York: George Braziller, Inc., 1976.
Not recommended. Use with caution and only as a last resort. Some recipes, modern redaction only.

Fast and Feast; Food in Medieval Society. Bridget Ann Henisch. University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1976.
No recipes, excellent reference for period cookery.

Food in History. Reay Tannahill. New York: Stein and Day Publishers, 1973.
No recipes, excellent reference for period cookery.

How to Cook Forsoothly. Mistress Katrine Baillie du Chat, OL. Raymond's Quiet Press, 1979.
Contains origin recipes (in calligraphy) and redactions. Also a large bibliography of cookbooks and reference books.

le Viandier de Taillevent. Translated by James Prescott. Eugene, OR: Alfarhaugr Publishing Society, Inc., 1989.
English translations only, glossary.

The Medieval Cookbook. Maggie Black. New York: Thames and Hudson Inc., 1992.
Contains recipes (original and redaction), text and pictures.

Pleyn Delit, Medieval Cookery for Modern Cooks. Constance B. Hieatt and Sharon Butler. Toronto: University of Toronto Press; 1979.
Contains original recipes and redactions.

Take a Thousand Eggs or More: A Translation of Medieval Recipes from Harleian, Ashmole, Laud and Douce mss. Cindy Renfrow. Self-published, 1990.
Volume I contains original, translation and redaction, Volume II contains only original and translation. Contains lots of information on period cooking (including glossary of phrases and menus).

To the King's Taste: Richard II's book of feasts and recipes, Adapted for Modern Cooking. Lorna J. Sass. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1975.
Contains original, translation and redaction for each recipe.

To the Queen's Taste: Elizabethan feasts and recipes. Lorna J. Sass. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1976.
Contains original recipes and redactions.

Traveling Dysshes. Patricia O. McGregor (Siobhan Medhbh O'Roarke). Self-published, 1995.
Original recipes and redactions with lots of other great info.

Last updated 01/03/2007
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