Food in Medieval England: Diet and Nutrition

Food in Medieval England: Diet and Nutrition (Medieval History and Archaeology), by C. M. Woolgar, Dale Serjeantson, and Tony Waldron (paperback, 2009) In the unending quest to find models for culinary historiography, here's another fairly up-to-date addition to the growing list: This book draws on the latest research across different disciplines to present the most…

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Fish Stomachs?????

Fish Stomachs???? You might believe that fishcakes, along with fritters and croquettes, began as members of the thrifty Leftovers family. But in fact, early medieval English cooks made fishcakes from fish stomachs, which many might consider carrying thrift just a little too far. There is actually a fishcake recipe, on page 170 of Madeleine Pelner…

The Random Herbalist: The Church as Farmer

The Catholic Church influenced many things, even (especially?) agriculture, as this passage from History of the English Landed Interest: Its Customs, Laws, and Agriculture, by Russell Montague Garnier (1908) 2nd. ed, vol. 1, implies. The monastery libraries also held much treasure, opening up the monks to the wonders of old knowledge and enabling them to…

At the Tables of the Monks: The Infirmary Cook

THE COOK FOR THE INFIRMARY (p. 204-205) [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…

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…

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 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…

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…

At the Tables of the Monks: In the Beginning (Part II)

You’d never know a hermit started it all. St. Benedict of Norcia (ca. 480-547 A.D.), called the Father of Western Monasticism and the Patron of Europe, never intended to form a religious order. He just wanted to get away from it all, “all” in this case being Rome, where his noble Umbrian family sent him…

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…

Spice of History, or the Long Winding Road and Some Spice Blends for Today

"Variety's the spice of life, That gives it all its flavor." ~~William Cowper, English Poet~~ Picture narrow passages, in some exotic locale, thronged with humanity peering at bulging baskets of spices and herbs, heavily laden donkeys swaying along behind them. You're breathing the smoke-filled air, the smell of the smoke competing with the odor of…