At the Tables of the Monks: The Fish-Cooks

THE FISH-COOKS (p. 206) [Note: The Abbey paid the fish-cooks  for their services, since these people did not belong to the cloistered community.] In the large monasteries, such as, for example, Edmundsbury, there were two cooks for the fish-dishes ; the first was properly called the “fish-cook,” the other was “pittance-cook.” Their appointment was made…

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At the Tables of the Monks: The Guest-Hall Cook

THE GUEST-HALL COOK (p. 206) [Note: The Abbey paid the gust-hall cook  for his services, since this person did not belong to the cloistered community.] The cook to attend to the needs of visitors was appointed by the cellarer, and had under him a boy to help in any way he might direct. His office…

At the Tables of the Monks: The Abbot’s Cook

THE ABBOT’S COOK (p. 202-203) [Note: The Abbey paid the abbot's cook  for his services, since this person did not belong to the cloistered community.] This official held more the position of a steward, or valet to the superior, than that of a cook. He had to go each morning to the abbot or prior…

At the Tables of the Monks: The Caterer (or Buyer)

THE CATERER, OR BUYER, FOR THE COMMUNITY (p. 202-203) [Note the Abbey paid the caterer for his services, since this person did not belong to the cloistered community.] The caterer, says one Custumal, “ought to be a broadminded and strong-minded man : one who acts with decision, and is wise, just and upright in things…

At the Tables of the Monks: The Kitchener

THE KITCHENER (p. 80-81) The office of kitchener was one of great responsibility. He was appointed in Chapter by the abbot with the advice of the prior, and he should be one who was agreeable to the community. According to the Custumal of one great English abbey, the kitchener was to be almost a paragon…

At the Tables of the Monks: The Refectorian

THE REFECTORIAN (p. 76-77) The refectorian had charge of the refectory, or as it is sometimes called, the frater, and had to see that all things were in order for the meals of the brethren. He should be “strong in bodily health,” says one Custumal, “unbending in his determination to have order and method, a…

At the Tables of the Monks: The Cellarer

Until June 2, because of a time-consuming project, "Gherkins & Tomatoes' " posts will cover the key players in medieval monastic kitchens.* We begin with The Cellarer. THE CELLARER (p. 71-73): The cellarer was the monastic purveyor of all foodstuffs for the community. His chief duty, perhaps, was to look ahead and to see that…

Monastery Kitchens

Abbatia quae vocitatur Bellus Locus Monasteries in the Middle Ages tended to follow similar layouts. Beaulieu Abbey, a Cistercian abbey in Hampshire, England, now in ruins, once supported a large number of people. It started out with 120 cows and 20 bulls, all very conducive to cheese-making. Beaulieu Abbey's floor plan shows a tiny kitchen…

Dame Alice de Bryene’s Household Book: Easter 1413

One of the most spectacular "finds" related to English medieval history, The Household Book of Dame Alice de Bryene (1931 edition) provides a detailed glimpse into the daily life of an English gentry household over the period 1412 - 1413, down to the exact food purchases and the price paid. It tells of widowed Dame…

A Dish (or Two) for Children in British Colonial Africa

(A tribute to those women who endured the challenges of living in unfamiliar and far-flung places, raising their children without their extended families around. And cooking what they could.) Sometimes it literally WAS a dog's breakfast. And mothers couldn't do anything about it. Feeding their children properly preoccupied those mothers who followed their English husbands…

George Washington’s Family Cookbooks

Martha Washington's cookbook tells a tale, one that really needs no elaboration:  George went through life toothless. Recipes for soft puddings, quidonys (a type of fruit preserve), and jellies abound. Of course, puddings testified in part to the, well, Englishness of the Father of Our Country and his wife. But the fact of the matter…

Plum Pudding & Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Christmas Message, 1944

During the Roosevelt years. FDR spent time talking to the American people via radio; these became his famous "Fireside Chats." On Christmas Eve, Roosevelt would do one of his chats and then read Charles Dickens's  "A Christmas Carol" to his grandchildren. This what he said in 1944, the turning point of World War II: "The…

George Washington’s Christmas Brunch, 1769

Happy/Merry Christmas/Hannukah/Holiday Season/Winter Solstice and a wonderful, hope-filled New Year. A big "Thank You" to each and every one of you for reading "Gherkins & Tomatoes." Seven years before the sonorous words of the American Declaration of Independence rang out in Philadelphia, George Washington ate the following Christmas brunch. Betty, the only sister of his…

Mrs. Charles Darwin’s Recipe Book

Nearly everyone on the planet, or at least those with access to education --- unfortunately many areas of the world and even this country lack miserably in the teaching of the young --- will know the name of Charles Darwin, as the blurb below allows. Now, maybe  some people don't buy into the theory of…

Celebrate Colonial American Cooking: Cookbooks for Thanksgiving and Christmas

Want to celebrate American food history and ingenuity this year? The great state of Virginia gave birth to eight U.S. presidents --- George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, Zachary Taylor, and Woodrow Wilson. And they all liked to eat, some more than others. In fact, Thomas Jefferson still…

A PASSAGE TO INDIA, REVISITED … SORT OF (AND BOOKSTORES)

For those lucky souls living in one of the larger cities of the eastern United States, bookshops purveying only cookbooks exist just around the corner. In Portland (Maine), Philadelphia, and New York City, to be exact. Who knows? You might find a copy of one of Elizabeth David's favorite books, a rather pompous Anglo-Indian cookbook…

EARLIEST ENGLISH COOKBOOK, FORME OF CURY, TO BE DIGITIZED

Yippee! Another ancient cookbook to be digitized so that all of us food history lovers can wallow in the old texts without sneezing from the dust or going broke on airfare fees flying to check out archival material in some out-of-the-way library half-way across the world. The Guardian announced recently that the University of Manchester…

IT’S LEEK TO ME

Fluellen: Your majesty says very true: if your majesties is remembered of it, the Welchmen did goot service in a garden where leeks did grow, wearing leeks in their Monmouth caps; which, your majesty knows, is an honourable badge of the service: and, I do believe, your majesty takes no scorn to wear the leek…

Turkey Talk and Stuff: A Gobble Ahead

"When the wine has stopped fermenting in November, the turkey is ready for roasting." --Italian Proverb-- The slight chill in the air lately conjures up dreams of fall nights replete with soup and crunching leaves underfoot and turkey dinners. Wild turkeys dart in and out of the bushes around the woods near my house. And…