The Medieval Cook

The 10th August is the feast of Saint Laurence, a Spanish deacon supposedly martyred at Rome in 258 by being roasted on a gridiron. In the somewhat obscure and slightly sadistic fashion of medieval associations, Saint Laurence has become the patron saint of grilling, baking and cooking generally, and hence of cooks. We have also just passed the feast of Saint Martha, also a patron of cooks, on 29th July. In honour of these feast-days, a feast of cooking notes for you!

The cook must be cleanly both in body and garments. She must have a quick eye, a curious nose, a perfect taste, and a ready ear; and she must not be butter-fingered, sweet-toothed, nor faint-hearted. For the first will let everything fall; the second will consume what it should increase; and the last will lose time with too much niceness.
Gervase Markham, The English Huswife, 1683
(An ideal for the Guild to aspire to!)

A COOK they hadde with hem for the nones
To boille the chiknes with the marybones,
And poudre-marchant tart and galyngale.
Wel koude he knowe a draughte of Loundoun ale.
He koude rooste, and sethe, and broille, and frye,
Maken mortreux, and wel bake a pye…
… For blankmanger, that made he with the beste

Geoffrey Chaucer, the General Prologue to The Canterbury Tales

…Woe was his cook but if his sauce were
Poynaunt and sharp, and redy al his geere.

Geoffrey Chaucer, the General Prologue to The Canterbury Tales

First you need a clerk or varlet to shop for the green herb, violet, bread-crumbs, milk, cheese, eggs, fire-wood, coal, salt, vats and tubs for the dining-room as well as for the pantry, verjuice, vinegar, sorrel, sage, parsley, fresh garlic, two brooms, shovel and such small things.
Item, a cook and his varlets who will cost two francs to hire, without their other rights, but the cook will pay the varlets and porters, and as they say: the more bowls, the more to hire.
Item, two bread-slicers, of whom one will crumb the bread and make trenchers and salt-cellars out of bread, and will carry the salt and the bread and the trenchers to the tables, and will provide for the dining-room two or three strainers for the solid leftovers such as sops, broken breads, trenchers, meats and such things: and two buckets for soups, sauces and liquid things.
Item, you need one or two water-carriers.
Item, big strong sergeants to guard the door.

Menagier de Paris, tr. Janet Hinson
(This is a fourteenth century French text in which a wealthy merchant instructs his young wife in household matters. I rather like the need for kitchen bouncers!)

… [the] Chief Cook should have supplied and dispensed to him, quickly, fully, generously and cheerfully, anything he may ask for or that may be necessary for his lord or lady, or for the both of them, so that he may serve them as he should.
Maitre Chiquart, Du Fait de Cuisine, 1420 Savoyard treatise
(The above serves well as an admonition to Shires on how they should treat their cooks!)

Jehanne de Huguenin