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Medieval cooking and kitchens
cook books - kitchen tools
rural women - townswomen - noblewomen

Cook Books
There are a couple of well-known medieval recipe books, although perhaps, not quite the recipe books we might hope for today. The quantities of ingrediants were often described as a pinch, or some, or twice as much as, which makes for a great deal of sense to the person using the recipe, but less helpful to the modern cook hopeful of recreating a medieval dish.

Buoch von Guoter Spîs,
The first known German-language cookbook
from the middle of the 14th century.
Blog Von Guter Spice
, website.

Liber de Coquina
early 14th century.
The text consists of two independent parts, mostly cited as Tractatus (part 1, probably French) and Liber de Coquina (part 2, probably Italian). Both authors are unknown.
Liber de Coquina: Das Buch der guten Küche

The Forme of Cury: A Roll of Ancient English Cookery
English collection of recipes by the Master-Cooks of King Richard II,
compiled, about 1390
Information here. Recipes by Cindy Renfrow here.

Le Viandier de Taillevent
a recipe collection generally credited to Guillaume Tirel (Taillevent) master cook to Charles V.
The earliest version of the work was written around 1300, about 10 years before Tirel's birth. The original author is unknown

Take 1000 Egges
15th century. Recipes by Cindy Renfrow.

Pleyn Delit
based on manuscript readings verified by the authors. When this was not possible, as in the case of the Arabic recipes, the best available scholarly editions were used. Read more here.

Le Ménagier de Paris
edited by Jérome Pichon for La Société Des Bibliophiles François, also known as The Goodman of Paris. Dated to circa 1393. Recipes by Cindy Renfrow

Kitchen tools
Many manuscripts show women in a domestic setting with a large iron post over the fire, a spoon in her hand. We often see trivets, pots, bowls of different types and utensils. Extant finds also show various pots used for cooking. Wills of women often list valuable and broken cooking implements to give us an idea what kinds of items were used in a kitchen.

Women were also often beneficiaries of wills, which added to their own household goods in return for years of loyal service. The will of William Nunhouse, a fishmonger from York leaves his servant, Margaret, a number of goods:

Also I leave my servant Margaret, a Prussian chest, a brass pot of my wife's choosing, a coverlet, a blanket with a pair of sheets so that the aforesaid Margaret does not leave or depart from my wife Joan's service during the term of her hire and contract made between me and her.

The common tools we see in manuscripts which show cooking are:

Bowls and dishes
Cooking pots
Cauldrons, large
Slotted spoons

Hanging hooks

Cooking at home for rural women
Generally, the rural medieval woman made and cooked her own food for herself and her family, whether that be her husband and children or as part of her own family while growing up.

Kitchen implements may have been quite basic- an iron pot, wooden spoons, a trivet, knives, but all quite functional and there is no reason to believe that these things were in poor condition. A woman who has less to spend on replacing her kitchen things was more likely to take good care of the belongings. They might be patched or repaired, but they were taken good care of

Often we hear that a family may have had nothing but bread and cheese for their supper but consider homemade herb cheese with fresh baked bread and the picture is perhaps not so dim as it sounds. Of course, in times of little where a stew has been "extended" a few days, the food was not always the best. In times of hardship, bread and cheese may have been old.

Many dishes used milk and eggs, and since a rural family was likely to have a cow or goat or sheep for milk and chickens for eggs, this was able to be a staple in their diets. Bees provided honey for sweetening. Vegetables were seasonable and fresh fish may have been available from streams.

Meat itself did not play a huge part in the rural family's diet. Consider, if you kill the chicken or the sheep, you are killing your source of eggs, wool and milk- all precious resources for a family with little. Religion required many non-meat days, or fish days.

The modern picture of lamb shanks as a staple medieval food does not take this into consideration for the poorer family with limited livestock and a need for milk, wool, butter.

A woman made her own butter and cheese, bread and ale, but could possibly buy ale and bread. Making ale took a great deal of time which the busy woman did not have time for herself.

Bread might be baked in a communal oven owned by the landowner, and in many cases, housewives were obliged to not only grind the grain at the manor mill instead of grinding her own at home, but to pay for the use of it as well.

At home, it was the woman's duty to tend the fire and be responsible for keeping it alive.

Cooking for townswomen
The townswoman did most of her own cooking for herself and her family and served the food to the table herself. Her kitchen was a modest affair, with good quality cookware which was redily available at specialty shops in the town or city. These were quite valuable and occasionally mentioned in wills.

Many daily items were not prepared by the woman herself but bought from vendors as we do today- bread, eggs and milk. Townswomen often did not have land enough for a cow or chickens or a kitchen garden, like those out of town or in the countryside.

Since she was able to buy many foodstuffs almost prepared, her cooking options varied more than the woman in the country. She had no need to bake bread though she might, and meat was available already cut from a butchery. Spices and herbs were available to buy, although expensive and this all improved the variety of dishes that a townswoman was able to prepare.


Cooking for noble women
A noble woman neither did the cooking for her household herself nor did she wait on tables. Even female servants did not bring food to the tables in noble households; it was a job with a high status attached to it and was therefore not to be trusted to the lowly female kitchen staff. Manuscripts where nobility are feasting almost always show men cooking in the kitchens, preparing the food and serving it at the table.

A noble woman had no place in the kitchen although she might have an interest in what dishes might be served and menu planning. A great many imported spices were available to the upper classes, which offered more exotic recipes for special occasions.


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