The Fourteenth Century Kitchen a guided Tour

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"The Fourteenth Century Kitchen - A Guided Tour" by Baroness Minowara Kiritsubo (known as Kiri).
NOTE: See also the files: headcooks-msg, high-table-msg, kitchen-clean-msg, French-Tbl-Srv-art, Fst-Managemnt-art, Run-a-Feast-art, p-feasts-msg, Medieval-Cook-art.

This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set of files, called Stefan's Florilegium.

These files are available on the Internet at:
Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author.
While the author will likely give permission for this work to be reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.
Thank you,

Mark S. Harris...AKA:..Stefan li Rous

stefan at


The Fourteenth Century Kitchen—A Guided Tour

By Baroness Minowara Kiritsubo
Good day! Let me introduce myself. I am Bertram of Walsingham, and am honored to serve as the Chief Cook for His Excellency, Baron John of Exeford. It is a very busy life, but, as I enjoy creating fine food and, in turn, seeing my creations enjoyed by those who eat them, it is a good life! I have a fairly large staff as it is a big job to feed the numbers of people who live here and serve my master, not to mention the guests that seem to appear right at meal time! Each of the main departments (Pantry, Buttery, and Carvery) has a chief, each with fifty assistants. In the main kitchen there are 3 cooks who are in immediate charge of kitchen work, along with 2 kitchen clerks, whose responsibility it is to order provisions, grant contracts for the kitchens and keep track of expenses. One of these three is myself, as the Master or Chief Cook. I have special chair that I can rest on when I grow weary, and it is located between the buffet and the fireplace so that I can keep track of all that is going on. I also have, as a badge of office, a large wooden spoon which I can use either to taste pottages and brouets or to chastise children who get under foot, either putting them back to work or chasing them out of the kitchen. [1]
Let me show you around my establishment. Fortunately, my master is a very forward-thinking man, so it is very modern, both in its design and furnishings. The kitchen and other related offices are located in a separate building from the main hall. This is necessary to prevent a possible fire in the kitchen from spreading into the main living quarters of the castle. If you'll follow me inside, you can see that it is quite spacious, with plenty of room for the large tables which we need to prepare the dishes we serve. The tables are spaced apart to permit men carrying the baskets of food or carcasses from one place to another to pass freely. The wide door frames are designed for the same purpose. A real pride and joy are the wonderful fireplaces where we cook. As you can see, they are located at opposite ends of the building, recessed into the wall, with tall chimneys that carry the smoke up and out. There is also an opening in the roof itself which helps keep the smoke out of the room as well as letting fresh air in. Believe you me, this makes working here considerably more pleasant. The fireplaces are equipped with andirons and mechanisms to hold pots and pans. We'll take a closer look at those later.
One very important element in any kitchen is water. It is critical that we have a good supply of running water. Someday, it is my hope that we will have the water piped into the kitchen as is the case with some kitchens I have seen. However, we have to make do with having scullions haul the water inside for us. We do have sinks against that far wall, which have been hollowed out from stone and fitted with drains. These run into a cesspool below. Here is where the cooking utensils and pots and pans are cleaned and scoured. Keeping the kitchen clean is a major task, and we have a large number of people who are responsible for this. One important aspect of keeping the kitchen clean and well-ordered is the disposal of garbage. As it must be carried out, we have tried to make the trip as short as possible so as not to make the task any worse than it has to be. So, we have located the midden right outside the castle walls. Occasionally, the odor gets offensive enough that we must have the midden cleaned out and hauled away. On occasion, the lads have tried to dump the refuse in the river, but officials from the town have expressly forbidden that. So now, they must find a spot that is removed from any sort of dwelling. [2]
Using the side rooms that were built with the main kitchen, I have organized the various services that we perform here. There is a Pantry, which includes the Waferer and Laundress. The Butlery or Buttery supplies ale and wine for the table. The Larder is where we handle the various meats and fish, while the Poultry takes care of all sorts of birds, including the more pedestrian chickens to the very exotic swans and peacocks. All of our seasonings come from the Spicery, which in turn receives them from the "Great Wardrobe" and the Saucery is responsible for making all of the various sauces that we use. The Bakery takes care of supplying all of the bread that is consumed during meals, including various sorts of pastry. [3] Some kitchens are equipped with only one oven for breads, but as ours is a very large household, we have two, one for bread, the other for pastries. [4] The Scullery supplies all of our pots, pans and other cooking vessels, not to mention the enormous quantities of charcoal and wood that we use for cooking. Just to give you an example of how much we may use, a friend of mine in Savoy once cooked for a two-day event and used a thousand cart-loads of dry wood and, to quote him directly, a "large barnful of coal." [5]
In equipping my kitchen, I contacted a master cook whose expertise is beyond reproach, one Master Chiquart, who serves in the household of the Duke of Savoy. He responded that he believes the bare minimum of equipment needed to prepare a banquet would include:
…cauldrons of all sizes, pans (20 of them), pots (50 regular and 60 large, two-handled

models), kettles (one dozen large), hampers, baskets (to move raw and semi-cooked

foodstuffs around within the kitchen), grills, graters, rasps, wooden stirring-spoons

(some one hundred of those), holed spoons (25 large and small), knives (several dozen,

both large, of a two-handled variety, and small), pot hooks, oven shovels, roasting spits

and supports (20 of several varieties), and iron skewers (120 of them, 13 ft/4 m long, a

further 3 dozen of the same length but not as thick, along with a further [!] four dozen

that are even more slender). [6]

He also mentioned that it would be necessary to have at least 200 yards of bolting cloth, a white somewhat loosely woven fabric that we use for all sorts of things, including straining gravies and sauces. [7] Now I know that sounds like a lot of equipment, but given the amount of food we prepare for the number of guests that are served, it barely suffices. But enough of my trying to impress you with the size of my kitchen and the wealth of its equipment! Let's walk around and see how we do things in each area.
Now this is one of my ovens. You will note that, as I mentioned earlier, it is quite large and well-vented with funnel-shaped chimneys to the outside. In addition to providing us with a heat source for cooking, it also provides some light, in addition to the windows, later in the day, torches and candles. We try to avoid the latter as they add to the smoke and heat. The fireplace is equipped with all sorts of modern conveniences for controlling the heat that is applied to various dishes. This is very important as we don't want things over- or undercooked. It is a little easier now that we are using coal rather than wood. It is a little more expensive, but well worth it is the heat is much more even and lasts longer. [8]
There are pothooks at various heights, from which we suspend various sizes of pots and cauldrons over the fire. We have some pots which stand on three legs or on a trivet over the fire. Our blacksmith has devised an ingenious device using chains and hooks that actually allows me to raise or lower a pot over the fire, even when it is full! He has also mounted the bracket on a vertical pivot, which allows us to swing the pot away from the heat or to locate a better position for the pot over the heat. [9] The pots and cauldrons are used mainly for boiling meats, primarily beef, as it offers a constant heat. We also prepare stews and other dishes of that sort in this manner. Of course, we use large spoons to stir the contents of the pot, and, to help in getting large portions of meat in and out of the pot, we have these wonderful large forks or flesh-hooks. They have been used for many years, but still are very useful. [10]
The andirons provide us with a way to use spits for roasting meat. As you can see, there are hooks on the andiron which allow the spit to be mounted at various levels above the fire. Some use metal stands for this, but I prefer the clips on the andirons as they keep the meat from being directly over the fire. Usually fowl and pork are cooked in this manner. The larger spits are used to skewer the meat, whereas smaller cuts of pork and small birds are tied to the spit. We have a handle attached to the spit so that a scullery boy can turn the spit, thereby cooking the meat evenly, and he is protected from the heat by a low metal shield. [11]
Another method of cooking directly over the open fire is the use of grills. Mainly we cook flat items of food, such as fish on grills as they are too thin to be mounted on a spit. These can present special problems if we don't keep an eye on them and remember to turn them!
Finally, we often fry foods in large 3-legged frying pans. Ours are flat bottomed and can be used directly over the fire. [12] Sometimes we even borrow the long-handled shovels from the bakery and cook food directly on them over the fire. [13] In the case where the pan does not have legs, we have trivets and gridirons to support the pan over the fire. [14]
Another method of cooking that we use is to bake it in an oven. As I mentioned earlier, we are fortunate that we have two ovens in our kitchens. Both are in the Bakery, where breads and other baked goods are prepared. If we wish to make a meat or vegetable pie, the crust is prepared in the bakery, while the filling is done by the cooks in the main kitchen. The filling is placed in the crust, and the bakers add the top crust and baked. It would then be returned to the kitchen for final garnishing and serving. [15] Our original kitchen did not have actual ovens, so we used covered dishes to bake things. However, our new kitchen does have them, and they are constructed of stone. What we do is to insert coals into the oven. Once it has become hot enough, we remove the coals to a smaller chamber below the main oven, replacing them with the food we wish to bake.[16]
One problem we are still working on solving is determining a way to tell how long to cook something. Right now, if I try to tell one of my cooks how long to cook a dish, I use some sort of normal activity. For example, we make a sauce that must be cooked for exactly the length of time that it takes to say three Paternosters! [17]
A very important item in our inventory of equipment is the mortar and pestle. Often we are required to pound a food into a pulp for serving. It may be a gruel-type dish or perhaps a sauce or gravy. We use knives to cut up food when we want to serve it in smaller morsels, perhaps in a stew, in addition to the large, two-handled knives that are used for cutting up oxen. We have lots of baskets that are used to carry raw and cooked meat from one place to another in the kitchen. The large quantities of white cloth have many uses, from serving as table covers to their use as strainers for hippocras, jellies, sauces and gravies. [18]
And so, it appears that we have come back around to where we started. As you can see, preparing food for a large household is a considerable undertaking, with a lot of responsibility. However, if one is fortunate, as I am, they can find themselves in an establishment as modern and well-equipped as this one…and with a master as reasonable as Baron John is. All in all, it's a very good life!
I hope you enjoyed looking around. Sometime you will have to return and I'll try to get you in the Great Hall to try one of our feasts.

Terence Scully, The Art of Cookery in the Middle Ages, pp. 243-244.

2 Ibid., p. 87.

3 P. W. Hammond, Food and Feast in Medieval England, p. 122.

4 Elizabeth David, English Bread and Cookery, p. 184.

5 Hammond, p. 123.

6 Terence Scully, The Art of Cookery in the Middle Ages, p. 38.

7 Ibid., p. 29.

8 Eleanor Scully and Terence Scully, Early French Cookery, p. 31.

9 Scully, p. 93.

10 London Museum Medieval Catalogue., p. 125.

11 Scully, p. 94.

2 Ibid., p. 95.

3 Hammond, p. 123.

4 Ibid.

5 Scully, p. 88.

6 Ibid., p. 95.

7 Scully, Eleanor and Terence, p. 32.

8 Hammond, pp. 124-125.
__________. London Museum Medieval Catalogue 1940. Capel St. Mary, Ipswich, Suffolk, UK:

Anglia Publishing, 1993.

Burke, John. Life in the Castle in Medieval England. New York: British Heritage Press, 1978.
Black, Maggie. The Medieval Cookbook. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1992.
Brears, Peter, Maggie Black, Gill Corbishley, Jane Renfrew and Jennifer Stead. A Taste of History.

London: British Museum Press, 1994.

Hammond, P.W. Food and Feast in Medieval England. Phoenix Mill, Thrupp, Stroud, Gloucestershire,

UK: Alan Sutton Publishing Limited, 1993.

Henisch, Bridget Ann. Fast and Feast, Food in Medieval Society. University Park, PA: The

Pennsylvania State University Press, 1976.

Redon, Odile, Francoise Sabban and Silvano Serventi. The Medieval Kitchen. Trans. Edward

Schneider. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998.

Sass, Lorna J. To the King's Taste. NY: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1975.
Scully, D. Eleanor and Terence Scully. Early French Cooking. Ann Arbor, MI: The University of

Michigan Press, 1995.

Scully, Terence. The Art of Cookery in the Middle Ages. Woodbridge, Suffolk, UK: The Boydell

Press, 1995.

Scully, Terence. Medieval Food And Drink Mixing It Up in the Medieval Kitchen. Ed. Mary-Jo Arn.

Binghampton, NY: Center for Medieval and Early Renaissance Studies, State University

of New York, 1995.
Tannahill, Reay. Food in History. New York: Crown Trade Paperbacks, 1988.
Toussaint-Samat, Maguelonne. History of Food. Trans. Anthea Bell. Oxford, UK:

Basil Blackwell Ltd., 1994.

Wheaton, Barbara Ketcham. Savoring the Past. University of Pennsylvania Press, 1983.

Copyright 2000 by Elaine Koogler, 1600 Clay Hammond Rd., Prince Frederick, MD 20678. . Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited and receives a copy.

If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate a notice in the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.

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