Medieval Food Preparation, Kitchens and Vendors

Medieval Monday_heading

Food preparation

All types of cooking involved the direct use of fire. Kitchen stoves did not appear until the 18th century, and cooks had to know how to cook directly over an open fire. Ovens were used, but they were expensive to construct and only existed in fairly large households and bakeries. It was common for a community to have shared ownership of an oven to ensure that the bread baking essential to everyone was made communal rather than private. There were also portable ovens designed to be filled with food and then buried in hot coals, and even larger ones on wheels  that were used to sell pies in the streets of medieval towns.

Medieval Food Preparation, Kitchens and Vendors

But for most people, almost all cooking was done in simple stewpots, since this was the most efficient use of firewood and did not waste precious cooking juices, making potages and stews the most common dishes. Overall, most evidence suggests that medieval dishes had a fairly high fat content, or at least when fat could be afforded. This was considered less of a problem in a time of back-breaking toil, famine, and a greater acceptance—even desirability—of plumpness; only the poor or sick, and devout ascetics, were thin.

Medieval Food Preparation, Kitchens and VendorsFruit was readily combined with meat, fish and eggs. The recipe for Tart de brymlent, a fish pie from the recipe collection Forme of Cury, includes a mix of figs, raisins, apples and pears with fish (salmon, codling or haddock) and pitted damson plums under the top crust. It was considered important to make sure that the dish agreed with contemporary standards of medicine and dietetics.

This meant that food had to be “tempered” according to its nature by an appropriate combination of preparation and mixing certain ingredients, condiments and spices; fish was seen as being cold and moist, and best cooked in a way that heated and dried it, such as frying or oven baking, and seasoned with hot and dry spices; beef was dry and hot and should therefore be boiled; pork was hot and moist and should therefore always be roasted. In some recipe collections, alternative ingredients were assigned with more consideration to the humoral nature than what a modern cook would consider to be similarity in taste. In a recipe for quince pie, cabbage is said to work equally well, and in another turnips could be replaced by pears.

The completely edible shortcrust pie did not appear in recipes until the 15th century. Before that the pastry was primarily used as a cooking container in a technique known as ‘huff paste’ . Extant recipe collections show that gastronomy in the Late Middle Ages developed significantly. New techniques, like the shortcrust pie and the clarification of jelly with egg whites began to appear in recipes in the late 14th century and recipes began to include detailed instructions instead of being mere memory aids to an already skilled cook.

Medieval kitchens

Medieval Food Preparation, Kitchens and Vendors

In most households, cooking was done on an open hearth in the middle of the main living area, to make efficient use of the heat. This was the most common arrangement, even in wealthy households, for most of the Middle Ages, where the kitchen was combined with the dining hall. Towards the Late Middle Ages a separate kitchen area began to evolve. The first step was to move the fireplaces towards the walls of the main hall, and later to build a separate building or wing that contained a dedicated kitchen area, often separated from the main building by a covered arcade. This way, the smoke, odors and bustle of the kitchen could be kept out of sight of guests, and the fire risk lessened. Few medieval kitchens survive as they were “notoriously ephemeral structures”.

Medieval Food Preparation, Kitchens and VendorsMany basic variations of cooking utensils available today, such as frying pans, pots, kettles, and waffle irons, already existed, although they were often too expensive for poorer households. Other tools more specific to cooking over an open fire were spits of various sizes, and material for skewering anything from delicate quails to whole oxen. There were also cranes with adjustable hooks so that pots and cauldrons could easily be swung away from the fire to keep them from burning or boiling over. Utensils were often held directly over the fire or placed into embers on tripods. To assist the cook there were also assorted knives, stirring spoons, ladles and graters.

In wealthy households one of the most common tools was the mortar and sieve cloth, since many medieval recipes called for food to be finely chopped, mashed, strained and seasoned either before or after cooking. This was based on a belief among physicians that the finer the consistency of food, the more effectively the body would absorb the nourishment. It also gave skilled cooks the opportunity to elaborately shape the results. Fine-textured food was also associated with wealth; for example, finely milled flour was expensive, while the bread of Medieval Food Preparation, Kitchens and Vendorscommoners was typically brown and coarse. A typical procedure was farcing (from the Latin farcio, “to cram”), to skin and dress an animal, grind up the meat and mix it with spices and other ingredients and then return it into its own skin, or mold it into the shape of a completely different animal.

The kitchen staff of huge noble or royal courts occasionally numbered in the hundreds: pantlers, bakers, waferers, sauciers, larderers, butchers, carvers, page boys, milkmaids, butlers and numerous scullions. While an average peasant household often made do with firewood collected from the surrounding woodlands, the major kitchens of households had to cope with the logistics of daily providing at least two meals for several hundred people. Guidelines on how to prepare for a two-day banquet can be found in the cookbook Du fait de cuisine (“On cookery”) written in 1420 in part to compete with the court of Burgundy by Maistre Chiquart, master chef of Amadeus VIII, Duke of Savoy. Chiquart recommends that the chief cook should have at hand at least 1,000 cartloads of “good, dry firewood” and a large barnful of coal.

Professional cooking

Medieval Food Preparation, Kitchens and Vendors

The majority of the European population before industrialization lived in rural communities or isolated farms and households. The norm was self-sufficiency with only a small percentage of production being exported or sold in markets. Large towns were exceptions and required their surrounding hinterlands to support them with food and fuel. The dense urban population could support a wide variety of food establishments that catered to various social groups. Many of the poor city dwellers had to live in cramped conditions without access to a kitchen or even a hearth, and many did not own the equipment for basic cooking. Food from vendors was in such cases the only option.

Medieval Food Preparation, Kitchens and VendorsCookshops could either sell ready-made hot food, an early form of fast food, or offer cooking services while the customers supplied some or all of the ingredients. Travellers, such as pilgrims en route to a holy site, made use of professional cooks to avoid having to carry their provisions with them. For the more affluent, there were many types of specialist that could supply various foods and condiments: cheesemongers, pie bakers, saucers, waferers, etc. Well-off citizens who had the means to cook at home could on special occasions hire professionals when their own kitchen or staff could not handle the burden of throwing a major banquet.

Urban cookshops that catered to workers or the destitute were regarded as unsavory and disreputable places by the well-to-do and professional cooks tended to have a bad reputation. Geoffrey Chaucer’s Hodge of Ware, the London cook from the Canterbury Tales, is described as a sleazy purveyor of unpalatable food. French cardinal Jacques de Vitry’s sermons from the early 13th century describe sellers of cooked meat as an outright health hazard.

While the necessity of the cook’s services was occasionally recognized and appreciated, they were often disparaged since they catered to the baser of bodily human needs rather than spiritual betterment. The stereotypical cook in art and literature was male, hot-tempered, prone to drunkenness, and often depicted guarding his stewpot from being pilfered by both humans and animals. In the early 15th century, the English monk John Lydgate articulated the beliefs of many of his contemporaries by proclaiming that “Hoot ffir [fire] and smoke makith many an angry cook.

Text from Wikipedia

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Frikadelles with Tomato Sauce / Frikadeller med Tomatsaus

A dinner recipe from a special issue of “Husmorens Kokebok” (The Housewife’s Cook Book) published in 1963
Frikadelles with Tomato Sauce / Frikadeller med Tomatsaus

This dish is typical of the dinners here in Norway in the early sixties.
Even the dinnerware and tablecloth are typical for the sixties – Ted

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Sandwich Copenhagen / Smörgås Köpenhamn

A classic scandinavian sandwich recipe found in “Stora boken om Smörgåsar & Smörgåstortor” (The Big Book about Sanwiches and Sandwich Cakes) utgitt i 1985Sandwich Copenhagen / Smörgås Köpenhamn

This sandwich is typical for the lavish sandwiches one can get
at cafes and restaurants in Copenhagen

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Macaroni and Cheese / Makaroni og Ost

One of Elvis Presley’s favourite dishes found in
“Are you hungry tonight” published in 1992
Macaroni and Cheese / Makaroni og Ost

Elvis ate macaroni and cheese at home whenever possible. He
loved it homemade, thick, gooey, and made with American cheese.

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DIY Sunday – Bouncing Bobsled

DIY Sunday - Bouncing Bobsled

Be prepared for winter with this fabulous bouncing bobsled. Race
bouncing down the slopes stearing with your feet grabbing the seat
with your hands for dear life. The plans were published in the 1945
December issue of Popular Mechanics and you can download them
by clicking the icon below

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Indian Chicken Crepes / Indisk Kyllingfylte Pannekaker

An Indian recipe found in “Quaker Oats Brand Cookbook”
published by The Quaker Oats Company in 1989Indian Chicken Crepes / Indisk Kyllingfylte Pannekaker


Curry, peanuts and raisins are popular flavors of Indian cooking
and make a sensational filling for these healthful oat bran crepes.

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Pork Marengo / Svinekjøtt Marengo

A dinner recipe from a card in “Better Homes
and Gardens Recipe Card Library” published in 1979Pork Marengo / Svinekjøtt Marengo

Marengo dishes – According to a popular myth, the dish was first made after Napoleon defeated the Austrian army at the Battle of Marengo at Marengo south of Turin, Italy, when his chef Dunand foraged in the town for ingredients (because the supply wagons were too distant) and created the dish from what he could gather. According to this legend, Napoleon enjoyed the dish so much he had it served to him after every battle, and when Durand was later better-supplied and substituted mushrooms for crayfish and added wine to the recipe, Napoleon refused to accept it, believing that a change would bring him bad luck. Marengo dishes are loosely based on the dish Dunand created at Marengo.

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“Open Sasame” Pie / “Open Sasame” Pai

A recipe from an ad showing a $25,000 winner
at the Pillsbury 1955 Bakeoff

“Open Sasame” Pie / “Open Sasame” Pai

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Soda & Soft Drink Saturday – Dr Nut

Soda & Soft Drink Saturday - Dr NutDr. Nut was a soft drink produced by New Orleans-based World Bottling Company (and later by another New Orleans company, Wright Root Beer). It was introduced in the 1930s and was produced until the late 1970s. Dr. Nut had a distinct almond flavor, similar to Amaretto liquor, and bottles were characterized by their plain logo depicting a squirrel nibbling on a large nut. In the 1940s it was marketed at a competitive price, was known for its slogans, and for having a man in a running costume who ran with the Mardi Gras parades.

Soda & Soft Drink Saturday - Dr NutSoda & Soft Drink Saturday - Dr Nut

Soda & Soft Drink Saturday - Dr NutThe drink was made famous to a new generation in John Kennedy Toole’s novel A Confederacy of Dunces, in which it is a favorite drink of the main character Ignatius Reilly. His copious consumption of the drink is a comic example of the discrepancies between Ignatius’ purportedly ascetic medieval values and his undisciplined, gluttonous lifestyle.

Soda & Soft Drink Saturday - Dr NutBy the time the novel saw print, the beverage was already out of production. A different company attempted to revive the product, but the taste of the new drink lacked the almond flavor of the original and was not well-liked by consumers.

Dr. Nut advertising used to feature a man on the beach, wearing half a nutshell as a bathing suit, and a squirrel as his friend. Many people dressed as this amusing figure during the New Orleans’ Mardi Gras parades.

Green Peppers with Salmon Filling / Grønn Paprika med Laksefyll

A starter/lunch recipe found in “How To Eat Canned Salmon”
published by Alaska Packers’ Association in 1900

Green Peppers with Salmon Filling / Grønn Paprika med Laksefyll

The Alaska Packers’ Association (APA) was a San Francisco based manufacturer of Alaska canned salmon founded in 1891 and sold in 1982. As the largest salmon packer in Alaska, the member canneries of APA were active in local affairs, and had considerable political influence. The Alaska Packers’ Association is best known for operating the “Star Fleet,” the last fleet of commercial sailing vessels on the West Coast of North America, as late as 1927.

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Part of the fleet in Oakland Creek in March 1923

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Maple Nut Fudge / Fudge med Lønnesirup og Nøtter

A sweet recipe found in “Condenced Milk
and its use in Good Cookery” published by
Borden’s Condenced Milk Company in 1927

Maple Nut Fudge / Fudge med Lønnesirup og Nøtter

Fudge is a type of confectionery which is made by mixing sugar, butter and milk, heating it to the soft-ball stage at 238° F (116° C), and then beating the mixture while it cools so that it acquires a smooth, creamy consistency. Fruits, nuts, chocolate, caramel, candies, and other flavors are sometimes added either inside or on top. It is often bought as a gift from a gift shop in tourist areas and attractions.

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Campfire Potatoes / Bålbakte potetskiver

A potato recipe fond on allrecipes.com
Campfire Potatoes / Bålbakte potetskiver

A simple yet tasty way to prepare potatoes by the campfire while
the rest of the meal is prepared in the frying pan.

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Tudor Vegetable Pie / Grønnsakspai fra Tudortiden

A meatless pie recipe from the Tudor era
found at historyextra.com

 Tudor Vegetable Pie / Grønnsakspai fra Tudortiden

In every issue of BBC History Magazine, picture editor Sam Nott brings you a recipe from the past. In this article, a vegetable pie from the Tudor era.

Sam writes: This 1596 recipe for a “pie of bald meats [greens] for fish days” was handy for times such as Lent or Fridays when the church forbade the eating of meat (another similar recipe is called simply Friday Pie). Medieval pastry was a disposable cooking vessel, but in the 1580s there were great advancements in pastry work. Pies became popular, with many pastry types, shapes and patterns filled with everything from lobster to strawberries. This pie’s sweet/savoury combo is typical of Tudor cookery. I enjoyed it, but was glad I’d reduced the sugar content.

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Cheese Straws / Ostestenger

A snacks recipe found in “Good Luck Recipes”
published by John F Jelke Co in 1916

Cheese Straws / Ostestenger
Cheese straws seems to be a snack enjoyed for quite some time already to judge by this recipe from way back in 1916.

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“Magic Crystals" Banana Cream Pie / "Magic Crystals" Pai med Banankrem

A pie recipe from an ad for Carnation published in April 1956“Magic Crystals" Banana Cream Pie / "Magic Crystals" Pai med Banankrem

At last-a LIGHT banana cream pie! The secret is CARNATION – the “Magic Crystals” INSTANT!

Never before a banana cream pie so light, so tender. Light in calories, too. The secret is “Magic Crystals” that burst into fresh milk flavor, without heavy fat. Even the luscious topping is whipped Carnation Instant Nonfat Milk. Delicious for drinking, too-nutritious, with all the protein, all the calcium and B-vitamins of fresh, whole milk. Discover the only “Magic Crystals” Instant-Carnation. Use the coupon below, today.

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