I came across a phrase on another website about medieval cooking. It basically stated that the recipes were adapted for modern cooks. For some reason the word "adapted" bothered me, which meant that it kept bouncing around in the back of my mind, using up precious processor cycles and forcing its way into my attention. I will therefore analyze my reaction and the thoughts around it so I can stop thinking about them.
Adapted ... That means the recipes were changed to suit modern tastes, equipment, supplies, etc.
From an academic viewpoint, this is a bad thing. It hides the information and experience of what was really done and pastes over it a veneer of what is done now.
But I do an awful lot of adapting on my website. All of my recipes have changes of one sort or another - at the very least, I cook them in a modern kitchen. Crap.
This leads me to question my motivations. Why do I make recipes from medieval sources? Why do I publish the adapted recipes? Is my website doing a disservice to academia? Let's take these one at a time:
Why do I make recipes from medieval sources?
This is a pretty easy question to answer. I like food in general, and I like foods from many different cuisines. The cuisine of medieval England and France is as unique as any modern style of cooking. I like the flavors, and it's easy and very forgiving for the novice cook. Add to this that I can make a contribution to the cuisine without going to culinary school - I already have all the tools and information I need.
Why do I publish the adapted recipes?
I don't do it for the fame - neither Food Network or CNN have called. I certainly don't do it for the money - running the website is a cheaper hobby than golf, but it still costs me. I guess I do it because I love the cuisine and want to advance it. The more overall interest in medieval cooking, then the more other people there are out there who are also researching it, and therefore the more help I have in the research overall. I put the recipes in a form that's easy for modern cooks to understand, which hopefully draws in people who are new to the field.
Is my website doing a disservice to academia?
Great googly-moogly, I hope not. While I do make changes to the original recipes, I always include the primary source so that others can look at what I've done and where I may have gone astray. I try to go back and correct mistakes I discover as I learn new things. When people ask questions, I try to find the answers. When I can't find one, I make my best guess - but I try to remember to always make it clear that my best guess is still just a guess. So, on the whole, I think that MedievalCookery.com is a good example of the scientific method. I formulate theories based on the available information, research for new information, test the theories, and correct or discard them as appropriate.
So why do I do this? For the food, of course. It's all about the food.