An electronic version of the notebook in my haversack

The Leather Notebook

The Leather Notebook

An electronic version of the notebook in my haversack

Recent Posts

Back in the saddle again

Back in the saddle again

Okay, not a horseman, which I’m sure relieves a number of equines out there, but the saying holds true. I put this blog on hold for a while because of the fire we had in Paradise, CA, where I live. And yeah, like most of […]

On hiatus

On hiatus

Due to the fire in Paradise, California, this blog is on temporary hiatus. Thank you for understanding.

How to Avoid My Blathering

How to Avoid My Blathering

So far, all of you have been very kind and not told me to “Shaddap”, because I know I can get rather long winded, especially when my “Obsession” button has been pressed. To reward you for your patience, I have here a guest poster, a dear friend who I have known a goodly number of years and yet not long enough, if you get my drift.

She’s part of the same medieval society I am (SCA, Kingdom of the West, Principality of Cynagua, if you missed that earlier), but she hails from Silver Desert (Reno area). Hanging out with her is always a treat, and when she told me she’d been playing with some of the Transylvanian recipes, I fixed her with my most baleful stare until she promised to let me post her notes. She has a much broader array of interest than mine, as she fights in armor, does equestrian work, and messes around with anything that catches her interest, such as what medieval travelers ate. In fact, long before I became quite so medieval-cooking obsessed, I took an earlier version of her Food for Traveling class, so that may have influenced me unfairly. So….here’s Mistress Siobhan ni Seaghdha!


I have done some research into travel within the SCA period and occasionally teach an Arts and Sciences class on it. I try to provide samples of food for my students. Since this lovely book had just come out this year, I thought to see what dishes might be either mentioned as food for travelers or might use ingredients which I knew were used by travelers. Recipes # 102 and 103 mention bringing cold lamb for the traveling lord. Shrug. Nothing there that is unusual. I had purchased dried salted stockfish and dried salted pork at the local Asian market. Both were sliced very thin and I thought to try some recipes with them.

#267 Carp with dry oily sauce or dry carp – seemed to offer something unusual to tempt (or horrify) my students. All the ingredients show up on other references to food the medieval traveler ate.

If the dry carp is too salty, slice it into little, finger length and width pieces, wash it in warm water, leave it in water while you are preparing its sauce. Slice some onion and apples, wash the fish, pour wine onto it, slice it, add some grapes and raisins: pour some tree oil, cook it together. When serving it, slice some bread underneath it.

As I only wanted a ‘tasting’ amount to take with me to the class, I took one slice of dried fillet of ‘stockfish’ (no idea what the fish really was – the only English on the package was stockfish). I soaked it in warm water, rinsed it and put it in clean water over night in the refrigerator. I chopped a small red onion and a small apple. I poured the water out, cut my fish into small pieces and poured a red wine (the merlot was open so….) onto it. Onion, apple, raisins, and fish went into the pot with a tablespoon or so of olive oil (tree oil). It was cooked until the onion and apple softened.

Husband Taste Tester Does Not Like Fish. He tasted with trepidation and said it was ‘ok’. The students at the class liked the oily sauce and were uncertain about the fish. The wine masked any fishy taste but the result was chewy. The general consensus was that the texture was a bit ‘off putting’ but the dish was OK.

#150 Dry pork with garlic or onion.

When your prince or lord has lots of pigs and needs something for a journey, do it like so. I’ve already told you how to wash the pig, but take out its organs in a different way, instead, slice open its spine, take out its brains, stitch it together, add some salt, let it stand in it for three to four hours, smoke it. Once done, take it down. When cooking, do it like so: slice it, wash it in three to four warm waters, boil it until tender. When serving it, peel some garlic, chop it, take a strong vinegar, should this vinegar be too powerful, add some broth from boiling the meat. Take out the meat and add some garlic sauce. You can also use horseradish for this pork, or onions.

Honestly, I started at the ‘already smoked and we are on the journey’ stage of this process.

I took two slices of the dried pork from the Asian store and soaked them in warm water, rinsed and soaked in warm water again. I sliced it up and simmered for an hour. I chopped 5 elephant garlic cloves and added enough vinegar to barely cover the garlic. It was incredibly strong so I added broth. Still too strong (needs an even milder garlic?) . I could not imagine anyone eating this sauce on the pork. I decided that the sauce was intended to be cooked so I heated it in a pot until the garlic was soft. The flavor was much improved. The Husband Taste Tester declared it ‘OK’. The students liked it but again, the pork bits were chewy. A second effort using smoked pork (such as hocks or some such meat) is on the list to see if that changes the result significantly.

What shall we have for dinner tonight?

I am trying out different dishes that the Husband Taste Tester might eat.

#24 beef with salted cabbage.

Do the same with the meat; add some bacon, slice some cabbage, After the meat is tender, serve it.

#7, Choked Roast Beef, indicates to wash the beef, put it on a skewer and roast it, when it is half done, beat it and slice it. Since I only wanted to try to make a small amount (might consider using any left over pot roast next time) , I chose to use 1lb of sliced round roast used for Carne Asada. I often use this for making stir fry and the beef will cook up tender. I browned the slices and let them cool slightly then sliced the stripes of beef into bite size portions and put them into salty water in a large pan with a tight lid that has a steam vent. I dropped 4 slices of uncooked smoked bacon into the water with the beef and set it to cook slowly for 2 hours. I drained off the broth into a bowl and cut the bacon into small pieces. I added a 1 lb jar of picked red cabbage (our illustrious editor indicated in the notes that sauerkraut was what was likely meant by salted cabbage) and put the lid back on so as to warm the dish slowly.

I ended up not adding any broth back – the dish did not seem dry. My taste tester thought it could use some salt but otherwise was tasty.

This dish is much like one we have been making when camping for decades. Ground beef, onions, add red cabbage and serve on dark bread with a dollop of sour cream. I must admit that we ate our Beef With Salted Cabbage for dinner with bread and sour cream – and again for lunch two days later.


Whoo hoo, three new recipes!

A few things I’ve noticed, because I’ve seen a lot of these recipes. The dry carp with the oily sauce? That oily sauce is really quite close to the oily sauce I used with the octopus! And my octopus was chewy too…dried fish-stuff isn’t ever going to rehydrate all the way. But it’s a lot easier to eat than when it’s solidly dried!

When Siobhan and I were talking about the second recipe, she came to the conclusion (which I think is justified) that using larger pieces of meat (or fish) might give better results. What she was using were thin little cutlets. I also want to use this opportunity to mention something really important. When Siobhan wanted to do this, she just did it. She used what she had on hand to test the recipe. This is awesome. Trust me, as an obsessive it’s really quite easy to get tied up in details and never getting to the good stuff…which is answering the question “Is this tasty?”.

The third recipe is a wonderful example of searching other recipes to fill in the blanks of what you’re working on. And in this case, it sounds wonderfully tasty. By the bye, dark bread is definitely a thing in the Transylvanian cookbook…they often call for it specifically as opposed to white bread. And sour cream? Used by the gallon elsewhere. So her modern been-eating it adaptation is pretty darned close to the period one.

And…look, I’m blathering again…

A Good Day Out

A Good Day Out

So, we had a single-day SCA event today, a local one. Just a few miles from the house, so of course that meant we had to fill the car with stuff. Sunshade, chairs, tables, small ice chest, my Microkitchen…you know, the bare essentials. There was […]

Parte The Last…

Parte The Last…

…in which our brave hero, having deciphered the cryptic manuscript, quested for and received in turn the most necessary Ingredient, and followed all the steps of the Dance Culinaire, does finally put the pieces together and assemble the Dish at Last. Well. Yeah. We did […]

We are committed, and that’s no lye!

We are committed, and that’s no lye!

I love much about my job. Especially on days like today, because you see, I have a flex schedule, and 4 ten hour days, meaning Fridays off every week. This is relevant because when you have a big project, like doing 72-hour short ribs in the sous vide, or are lye-soaking octopi for a 400 year old recipe (as one does), that extra day gives you time to get through it.

And that’s where I am today. I collected some ash from other cooking fun I’ve had and then hummed the MacGyver theme a few times for inspiration while I whipped up a rig to get lye from those ashes.

Okay, mandatory safety note here. Lye isn’t to be trifled with. It’s a highly reactive chemical substance, and yes, you can hurt yourself (or other things) with it if you don’t know what you’re doing. It’s entirely possible, if you do things wrong here, to suffer severe chemical burns…like in your eyes. Am I scaring you a little? Good! As it happens, I’ve had a pretty solid chemistry education, and yes, I took it carefully. Please do the same if you’re going to try this.

Good reason never to get rid of old plastic buckets or t-shirts!

Then, as you might recall from the last post, I made up a red cabbage tea which has the useful property of changing color to react to pH. What I’m aiming for is a pH of about 10 (lutefisk ranges from 10-ish to 12…and remember, for every whole number higher, the strength of the base is 10x more). So that’s a decently large target to hit. I am aiming low because our recipe warns us to not make it too strong or it will eat our octopus and make our Lord mad. I presume it’s because octopus would have to be caught, cleaned, dried well, then shipped 400 miles overland. Pricy! Also, dried octopus doesn’t seem like it would be as sturdy as dried blocks of cod or other whitefish. So, not so high on the pH!

By the way, a shoutout to my parents, who got me my first chemistry set, BeeZee Smith, my first county librarian who showed me the science books, and to Mr Koehl, Mr Lemon, Doctor Postma, and Doctor Ball, all of whom taught me more chemistry. This valence is for you!

Back to the project. I ended up with about a quart of slightly ashy, ugly water. I put a scant quarter cup of it into a Pyrex bowl. I added about a quarter teaspoon of my red cabbage tea. Isn’t it pretty?

And voila!

See that greenish color? That’s a pH 10 for you! Okay, not as pretty as if the lye had been absolutely clear, instead of murky, but it’s definitely green, so we are pretty much in our target. Knowing now that it wasn’t yellow, meaning pH 11 or higher (and thus, very dangerous), I dared put a fingertip into it, and rubbed fingers together. Yes, it had that tell-tale soapy feel (yes, of course I washed my hands after). And not blue, which would be about baking-soda-strength.

This is a weak lye solution! Exactly what we wanted. Now, I need to mention that as far as anyone knows, the cabbage tea test is NOT a medieval test. Odds are, their tests if any, were just a matter of experience…something along the lines of “Go get some lye from the washer-women when they make soap, and pour water into it until it feels right.”

And that’s the trickiest part all solved and ready to go. If it had been too weak, concentrating it safely would have been a problem. With that covered, there was only one thing more I could do…

Put the octopus in to soak in cold water. The recipe says change it several times and I’ll definitely do that (helps to remove salt)…but I won’t leave it out on the counter. It’s safer in the fridge, I think. And now we wait. According to the timeline I’ve built for this recipe, the next step (besides changing the water out) will be Saturday, before I go to bed. I’ll let the somewhat rehydrated octopus bathe in the lovely lye-water overnight, then. Sunday morning it gets rinsed, boiled in clean water, peeled as necessary, and spit roasted with olive oil and black pepper.

Octopi, in for a two day Pipkin-soak

See you in two days!

How far is far enough?  Scary far!

How far is far enough? Scary far!

Okay. I know I can be maybe a trifle obsessive when it comes to cooking medieval recipes. It’s not enough to be actually cooking dishes based on sometimes-fragmentary and unhelpful recipes that are occasionally not even in anything resembling English, but then I have to […]

Learning about the past from the more recent past

Learning about the past from the more recent past

So, my friend Kerri was out at the Pennsic War this time around (yes, I’m jealous), and shopping is nearly as big a sport there as whacking your buddies with a stick. She came across this book, purporting to be a collection of Transylvanian recipes, […]

Day Four—Saturday

Day Four—Saturday

This is also known as “Cook All The Things” Day, and it’s kind of bittersweet. No one holds back, but that’s because we have to pack down and go home the next day (actually, given the amount of sheer stuff we have, most of us start packing up after the dinner dishwashing ritual). And who wants to pack food home, especially given that some us have to face scrutiny by the California Vegetable Police?

This was also the last of our formal fancy dinners for the event, and who doesn’t want to show off just a bit? Not that any of us have anything to prove. Except to ourselves.

This time, I got a later start than normal. I realized that as yet, I hadn’t walked through Merchants’ Row. So I leashed up the Doggles, and started in, beginning with an excellent ceramic potter who has kept a number of us in pottery over the years. Went through the first half of the Row without finding anything I couldn’t live without, and unlike the day before, there was a lot of Sun, so I cut the hike short and headed back to camp and to cook.

The first thing to be prepared was this lovely Transylvanian Cucumber Salad. And if you want an easy recipe to start your career as a medieval cook, this is it.

(666) Cucumber with garlic.

Peel the cucumbers and slice them across. Peel the garlic, crush it, add vinegar and salt, then put it together with the cucumbers.

I don’t know that that has to be translated, not really, but peel and slice cukes, mince up garlic, add salt, and add the salt, vinegar, and garlic to the cukes and let them sit. I gave them about 5 hours before serving them at dinner and not one slice was uneaten. As I’ve said elsewhere, given the period wine culture, you’d probably use wine vinegar, and from a color perspective, better white than red. I like garlic, so for three goodly cukes, I used about 8 cloves, minced small. And yes, the vinegar and salt do help “cook” the garlic so it’s not so harsh. This is basically a very quick pickle, and it’s terribly light and refreshing on a hot day.

Keeping in mind the goal of using all the produce I could, I next pulled out some mushrooms I had and proceeded to do one of the many mushroom recipes in the Transylvanian Cookbook:

(619) White mushroom with black pepper.

Peel and wash it, if they’re small, don’t slice it, but if they’re big, cut them into four pieces, you might have to slice them too, for I’ve seen one the size of a grate. Wash it in water, put it into a pot or a pipkin, add some salt, put it on the fire. If the juices are not enough, add some broth from boiling beef, and if you have none of that, clean water will do, then add some butter, parsley leaves and cook it; once cooked, add some black pepper and ginger, if you’re cooking it from boiled beef broth, don’t add butter.

Okay, nothing earth shattering here. In fact this is almost exactly a recipe that our feast cooking team has used a half dozen times in a variety of feast times and cultures…it exists in English, French, and German recipe sources too! Okay, I used cremini instead of plain white mushrooms this time, because I had them and they have more flavor, but otherwise you sauté them with salt, added a little beef broth, black pepper, and ginger. I’d note the water plus butter part is meant to emulate a fattier beef broth so if your broth is lean, the butter might not be inappropriate there too. Bam, it’s what was for dinner. This pipkin got emptied fast, also. Maybe, if I’d had mushrooms the size of a grill they could have lasted…

Next up, I had to fulfill a moral obligation. You see, there’s a whole chapter in the Transylvanian cookbook dedicated to “doughnuts”. That said, doughnuts is a bit of a misnomer, since some are more fritters, others are baked, and overall, the butter consumption is like unto that of Paula Deen.

The process for the “Hen doughnut” seemed to be pretty well defined, and you could do it without recourse to an oven. While the clay oven was being usable at this point, EVERYONE wanted to use it, so I held off on that.

Second. (468) Hen doughnut.

Pour sweet milk onto a pan, add some butter and put it on coal, boil it and have someone hold the pan. Take a big, strong wooden spoon and a pot full of flour. Once the milk is boiling, put the flour into the pan and break it with the wooden spoon so that the dough will be stiff in the pan. If you have a copper mortar, put the dough inside and crush it; once it’s starting to cool, whip two or three eggs and put it in there, too. Keep doing this until it’s a bit like a liquid. Then fill it into the doughnut. Before stuffing the doughnut, use butter. The butter should be hot. When cooking it, keep adding warm butter and rotate it, then serve it with sugar.

I also decided on one of the recipes for a stuffing:

(556) Apple cake.

Peel and slice the apples. Wash some small currants, put it next to the apples, add some sugar and some cinnamon. You can use this as stuffing, too. This is an even better stuffing than the previous one, it will be better if you add some rose water.

So I chopped up an apple (not bothering to peel it, I was getting tired), added some currants, grated some sugar, added cinnamon, and splashed in some rose water. Because this was going to be in a doughnut, I also added some butter and sautéed it to soften up the fruit. Unfortunately, I got distracted and let some of it burn. Still, a tasty blend.

Then it was time to make the dough. Looking at it, it’s basically a dough to make pate a choux paste, which is modernly used to make things like cream puffs. Problem was, I just couldn’t get the butter-milk mixture to come to a boil (sweet milk, btw, is fresh milk). I got it hot, but couldn’t get it to boil…oh, well, onward. I stirred in enough flour to make a stiff dough, and then added a few eggs at a time, beating it until I had a liquid-ish paste-goop, golden with eggs and butter.

Okay, then! So I took the goop, and put spoonfuls of it into my skillet with hot butter to cook. To “stuff” it, after it started to cook, I added a spoonful of the filling to the top, and pushed it in slightly, the way you’d add fruit to a pancake. After it was cooked on the first side, I turned them over and allowed the other side to cook. Ideally, to serve, you’d want to grate some sugar over the top. This is NOT a low calorie treat!

They might have been lighter had I been able to boil the milk for the batter. Oh well…still pretty tasty!

At this point, it was time to get my last dish going for dinner. I had promised Lori that I would tackle a dish that’s listed in the menu section only: Hen with Honeyed Pasta.

Okay, that sounds a tad bit dramatic. The recipes do contain one for Hen with Pasta, and adding honey to that seemed simple enough.

Sixth. (12) Hen with pasta.

Boil it and remove the feathers like I told you. Once tender, slice its elbows; when time, add some saffron, black pepper and ginger. Prepare the pasta with eggs and use a rolling pin, add some flour. Fry it in butter, and when serving it, put it onto the hen’s sauce. Once boiling, serve it at once, for if you wait for too long, the pasta will be no good. Serve the meat first, then the pasta.

Okay, this was the last dish I was going to make, and I was pretty tired. It was also getting pretty close to dinner time. I didn’t have a whole chicken to simmer (much less “slice it’s elbows”/remove the wings). I had some chicken thighs. Boiling those over a fire in a ceramic pot would have taken all the time I had left, anyway. So…I punted. And the oven was open, and hot. I seasoned up those thighs with saffron, pepper, and ginger, and a bit of salt, tossed the, on a sheet pan, and they went into the oven. Fifteen minutes later they were roasted and PERFECT.

As the kids say today, OMG! So good! The skin was perfectly crispy, the chicken was juicy, and cooked perfectly to the bone. I had a really hard time not just eating them straight after taste testing it. But no.

So I made up a batch of “hen’s sauce” (chicken broth) with Better Than Bullion and brought it to a simmer. Dinner time was coming fast, so I didn’t even have time to make from-scratch pasta…reaching into the Pantry box I pulled out a package of Hungarian-made egg pasta (just flour, egg, oil, and water, a good match for what the recipe called for) and started that cooking in the broth. I chopped the chicken, added that, and let it simmer until the water was mostly absorbed and/or cooked off. I added more black pepper, saffron, and ginger to season it all, and just before service, stirred in about a quarter cup of honey.

Yesssssssssss. Sweet, delicately spiced, and very comforting. Consolation for the end of the PlayDate this time in a pot. Will definitely make again!

This came out perfect.

Meanwhile Aram’s Amazing Oven was churning out bread and pies for dinner and for the Kingdom party later that evening…

Okay, then! Now if my friends who also did stuff from the Transylvanian cookbook want to give me their write ups, I’ll post those too!

And in the meantime, less than a year until NEXT PlayDate….sigh.

Day Three—Friday

Day Three—Friday

Yeah, now I was hitting my stride. So was everyone else. Friday at the War for the Cooks’ Camp generally means Fish Friday (so very medieval), though there’s no requirement to do it if you’re not into fish. Since dried octopus wasn’t to be found […]

Day Two—Thursday

Day Two—Thursday

Wait, you might cry, what happened to day one? Day one was Wednesday, aka set-up day. And when you have a large pavilion, a huge pile of gear to move from truck to ground, and from ground to where it goes, plus the bed, stuff […]

Been a while since I’ve posted…

Been a while since I’ve posted…

But I wouldn’t want you think I’ve been ignoring this blog. No, I’ve been getting ready for an event that’s fairly important to me, and now that the event has come and gone, I can write about it. You see, this past week (well, five days) has been the West/An Tir War, which for me is terribly important because that’s when the Cooks’ Playdate happens.

The Playdate is the brainchild of my friend Donna (known in the SCA as Duchess Juana) and it’s basically a camp’s worth of people who come together from a variety of kingdoms for this slightly-longer-than-usual camping event to cook medieval food, in as medieval a fashion as can be arranged. It’s on a lovely site, surrounded by hills next to the coast of Oregon, which means it’s delightfully cool while California temps are sweltering.

This get together does a great deal to “recharge” my cooking mojo, especially a love for medieval cooking. Cooking with medieval gear takes a considerable investment in time and effort, and doing it while hanging out in a crowd who feel the same way is…special.

So, this year we had some regulars missing due to life, a whole mess of new people, and still, the A-game was brought. In times past, we’ve had folks who built (with various degrees of success) an oven on site. This time, the oven was SPECTACULAR. Our fancy dinners were some of the best I ever had. And I think everyone had as big a blast as I did. I know people who innocently wandered past our camp were pretty amazed by what we were doing.

Usually, I miss a lot of what happens elsewhere on site, being focused on cooking, but this year, except for some time spent at the Front Gate, and a very little time wandering the merchant area, I stayed entirely in camp to cook. I took some nine pages of recipes to try (no, I didn’t think I’d do them all, but this gave me options), and after set up day, I dove right in.

So, my next three posts from me will be about each of the active days (you probably don’t care about the art and science of driving to site, setting up, tearing down, and driving home). In addition, I HOPE that some of my friends from this event, especially those who cooked from the Transylvanian cookbook, hint, hint, will send me their write ups to post.

A King’s Ransom…okay, maybe a Baron’s

A King’s Ransom…okay, maybe a Baron’s

If you know me, or have gotten a sense of who I am from these articles, you know I am a little strange. I’m not a terribly tidy person, not really, but I DO prize order and organization. I love lists. I like to compartmentalize […]

Purely for the amusement value

Purely for the amusement value

When I tell the story of how the Transylvanian Cookbook came to be, I make sure to mention the first translation of the recipe titles. Not having anyone handy who read fluent Hungarian, we fed the webpage listing all the recipe titles into Google Translate […]

My Microkitchen

My Microkitchen

Earlier, I promised to natter on about the Microkitchen. And I’m feeling an urge to write, and I left the draft of my new cookbook I was working on at work. So, rather than waste this writing urge…

Please note this has nothing specifically to do with medieval cooking, other medieval arts and sciences, or whatever. This is an example of how far a minor obsession might take you.

So, file it under “guilty pleasure”. I enjoy(ed) watching Alton Brown’s Food Network TV show “Cutthroat Kitchen”. If you’re not familiar, it is/was a three round elimination game show format, with the contestants each cooking some version of the same dish each round. What makes it evil is that the contestants can use some portion of the prize money they might win to toss challenges at the other contestants. Someone might bid, oh, $3000 to make another contestant do all their cooking that round over a tiki-torch, or something. Or have all the bread they got during the shopping phase soaked in a water tank, when they have to make a sandwich. Basically, an exercise in creative thinking.

One day, one of the challenges was to use this kid-size toy kitchen to prepare their dish. Everything worked, more or less, but the pots, utensils, and pans were kid-sized versions. The stove was a mini-stove with three inch burners, and the oven was about the size of a toaster oven. Oh, and did I forget to mention? When you made your dish and gave it to be judged, you couldn’t say what horrible conditions you had to work under.

The guy who was using this toy kitchen made the best of an awkward situation, and I think he even won. But as I sat in my comfy chair, I rubbed my chin, and asked the fateful question: “Gee, I wonder how small I could build a kitchen so that I could cook a serving or two of….anything?”

Oops. I was committed nearly instantly. I wanted it to be as compact and self-contained as possible. I wanted to be able to cook with as many cooking techniques as possible. And while I didn’t care about the weight (this wasn’t for backpacking) it had to be portable. And small.

Being me, I had to justify this. “I could…take it to medieval events, the little one-day ones where I didn’t want to haul either my period pipkin pottery collection and firebox, or the very heavy box of kitchen stuff with propane stove and oven. I could make hot food…when and wherever!” “Hey, if I was staying at a hotel, I wouldn’t have to eat out all the time!” The project might have just died a quiet death if I hadn’t been looking a mess kits, and I saw a local military surplus store selling these neat Czech kits. Unlike the lightweight aluminum Boy Scout kits, or the classic US skillet+plate ovals, this was a two-piece rectangular box that split into a rectangular pot with fold-out handle, and a similarly sized and shaped bowl. A canteen was supposed to fit inside, but I looked at that interior space and thought of what else might fit in. I had a little chemical tablet stove that fit in, and held a dozen fuel pills. I added utensils, a little grill, aluminum foil, can opener and such. And it was cool.

But I kept researching mess kits, even reading up on Civil War and earlier gear. Eventually, I came to this conclusion. For those “into” mess kits, the gold standard was the Swedish Trangia mess kit, ideally the WW2 model which was made out of stainless steel instead of the later, much lighter, aluminum (cooking in aluminum is problematic…has very little ability to store heat, and it burns things unless you’re terribly careful).

The Swedish kit was well-planned out. To start with, it had a decently large (6 cup) pot that could be hung over a fire with bail and hook, or you could build a small fire inside the included windscreen (wind is the bane of all small cook fires), or you could use the small denatured alcohol burner that came with the kit. It also had, as the lid to the pot, a small 2 cup saucepan/skillet with a fold out handle (that could be extended by a convenient branch as needed). The alcohol burner burned hotter and cleaner than those fuel pills, it held 40 minutes of fuel, and you can get denatured alcohol anywhere. You could even control the heat somewhat with a sort of shutter lid for the stove.

I haunted eBay for a few weeks until I could get one of these setups at a decent price. Pretty awesome and as practical a design as everyone said. I started to collect bits and pieces of equipment to fit into the kit. 2 pair of steel chopsticks that unscrewed into shorter lengths made for shish-kebab skewers. I found small but usable tableware utensils. I had a steel plate and bowl made to fit the inside. One of those flexible cutting mats, cut down, made for a cutting board surface. I replaced the alcohol stove with a slightly smaller one, and added a spare fuel bottle. I put in knives to prep food with. I added stuff and took it out again when I found it either didn’t work, or I found something better. I found ways to use the kit to bake.

Okay, it’s not DONE, but what I have is pretty usable, and I’ve used it pretty effectively. This last March Crown, I cooked three medieval dishes, one after the other. Earlier, I’ve used it to do all my cooking at a weekend SCA event where I, for reasons, was simply camping out of the back of my truck.

The unit is still small…maybe 8 inches tall, 4 inches thick, and 6 inches wide. But I’ve taken to storing it in one of those olive drab ammo cases…gives me a convenient handle, plus there is extra space for a small nylon tarp, ground cloth, grocery bag, and larger spare fuel bottle. I’ve made other accessories for it, including a 21 spice mini spice kit, and similarly small pantry. In order to cook some things most effectively, you have to work out your procedures and order of them in advance, so I wrote a small cookbook which also serves as an idea for “what do I want to cook with the kit now?”

So, if you find you have an obsession, you might try giving in to it, and seeing what happens. And if you see me cooking with the kit, perched behind a small folding table, come and say hi!