Friday, 7 November 2014

Stranger Than Fiction: The Medieval Cook by Bridget Ann Henisch

A column dedicated to pointing out interesting tidbits of history, some of which would be cool to see in a fantasy novel or two.

This isn't a proper book review, more of a quick pros/cons section with some point form notes of things I learned from this book.

Pros: lots of interesting tidbits, quick read, lots of examples, cautions on use of texts and trouble finding examples

Cons: some repetition, only 19 illustrations which are all black & white and all in chapter 6

The book consists of 6 chapters: 1 cook in context, 2 cottage cook, 3 fast food and catering, 4 comforts of home, 5 staging a feast and 6 the cook in art

It's quite amazing how much information the author managed to glean from the sources available, which are predominantly margin drawings from manuscripts.

- had to fetch water and fuel for fire, keep fire going through cooking (& heating), which took up a LOT of time
- had to grind grain at mill, often had to bake at baker’s (no oven at home but could bake in pan or on coals)
- wafers were popular
- could buy different foods from specialists
- had versions of ‘fast food’ for people in towns who had to work, students (no kitchen facilities)
- could bring filling to specialist who would make pie crust, could get it back cooked or uncooked (uncooked was cheaper but you’d need a way/place to cook it yourself), could also buy fully made pies
- high table at feasts got better food than regular tables, similarly higher ranked people got better/more food than lower ranked at high table
- couldn’t eat eggs or milk for lent, so pancake Tuesday (which was the day before lent started) was used to get rid of them (Calendar picture for February, book of hours, French, 2nd quarter of 16th C., Bodleian Library, MS Douce 135, fol. 2v)

- Tacuinum sanitatis (health handbooks) - group of manuscripts, show more kitchen details
- used white aprons without upper bib, use knotted strings to hold things on (no pockets)
- image of mobile oven, bringing pies to outdoor stall that also sells bretsels (Ulrich Richental, Richentalchronik, 1465. Rosgartenmuseum, Constance, MS Hsl, fol.23a)

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