At the Tables of the Monks: The Infirmary Cook

Lavander, St. Remy, France (Photo credit: Holly hayes)
Lavender, St. Remy, France (Photo credit: Holly Hayes)


[Note: The Abbey paid the infirmary cook for his services, since this person did not belong to the cloistered community.]

For the infirmary, and especially for the use of those who had been subjected to the periodical blood-letting, there was a special cook skilled in the preparation of strengthening broths and soups. He was the chief or meat-cook of the establishment, and had under him two boys, one as a general helper, the other to act as his “turnbroach.” He was appointed to his office by the abbot, and at least in the case of some of the greater houses it was secured to him for life by a formal grant. It was his duty to provide those who had been “blooded” with a plate of meat broth on the second and third day, and also to give them, and the sick generally, any particular dish they might fancy. Moreover, he had to furnish the whole community with soup, meat, and vegetables on all days when meat was eaten by the whole convent.

He had also to see to the process of salting any meat in the proper seasons, or whenever it might be necessary. He also prepared the various soups or pottages for the community ; for instance, “Frumenty” on all Sundays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays, from August 1st to September 29th ; or “Letborry,” made with milk, eggs and saffron on fish days, from July till October ; or “Charlet,” the same composition with the addition of pork, for other days during the same time ; or “Jussel,” from Easter to July ; or ”Mortews,” in which the quantity of meat was increased, and which was served on all days, except those of abstinence, during the winter months, from All Saints’ day to Lent.

One English Custumal warns the cook to reflect often that his work in the kitchen is necessarily heavy and tedious ; and that he should endeavour to keep up a goodly feeling between himself and his assistants, for “without this mutual assistance it is difficult” to do what his office requires of him for the good of others. For his trouble he had a fixed wage and a house ; and many recognized perquisites, the chopping of joints, and two joints from every other chine of pork, as well as half the dripping that came from the joints roasted for the community.

[Note: All information quoted from F. A. Gasquet’s English Monastic Life (1905, public domain, and transcribed by Richenda Fairhurst, July 2007).]

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