Human beings have been cooking food since the discovery of fire. This lesson focuses on 21st-century cooking and medieval cooking.
The school kitchen is scrubbed daily to kill germs. Cooks wear clean clothes, keeping their hair under a hat. Equipment is cleaned with washing liquid. The castle cook would have cleaned pans with herbs and sand.
Many basic ingredients are the same – meat and vegetables. There were no shops or deliveries in medieval times; all food was grown or reared locally. Some spices were imported.
No electricity in the castle meant no refrigeration. They used salt or smoked meat and served rotten food heavily disguised with spices.
Discuss electricity and gas versus open fires as a method of cooking. The cauldron was not used as shown in fairytales for stews, but instead for boiling many items at once. Meat was roasted on a spit. A stone oven was used for baking, heat came from burning wood.
Discuss where our water comes from – taps, systems of pipes and a reservoir. Castle water came from a well.
We use plates, knives, forks and spoons. Forks had not yet been invented in medieval times. They served food on large pieces of stale bread called trenchers. Important people would have eaten from gold and silver plates.
The great majority of the population were poor, and as a result ate very modestly. Their diets would have consisted mainly of foodstuffs that had been grown on their own small plots of land. Those with slightly more money may have afforded an animal that would provide meat for a season. Food could be traded at the mill for flour for making simple bread.
The job of a cook was mostly associated with castles. When a king or lord was in residence the castle kitchen would be busy, with the cook providing orders for his many helpers. Feasts would have started in the morning and gone on for many hours. Bread was baked in stone ovens, and meat roasted on a spit in front of an
open fire. A young boy would often be employed to turn the meat. Other food was boiled in a cauldron. Spices were imported from the east and mead was served with food.
The diversity of modern cooking is linked chiefly with the development in the past hundred years of new technologies. The provision of electricity and gas to most homes is of obvious importance. Traditional methods of cooking meals are challenged by ready-made meals, and food outlets that sell takeaway food. However, the cook still cooks meals from mainly raw ingredients as it is the most cost effective way of producing meals in bulk. New technology has also made the world a more accessible place, and as a result local cuisines have become global. Today’s typical school menu will offer food derived from countries as far afield as India, Italy and the United States.
Snapshots of school dinners being prepared in a Welsh school.