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Kentwell-Hall-art - 6/25/98


A series of messages detailing what it is like being headcook at an

English Living History site.


NOTE: See also the files: ovens-msg, castles-msg, p-kitchens-msg, utensils-msg,

feasts-msg, feast-decor-msg, headcooks-msg, p-cooks-msg, p-menus-msg.





This file is a collection of various messages having a common theme that I have collected from my reading of the various computer networks. Some messages date back to 1989, some may be as recent as yesterday.


This file is part of a collection of files called Stefan's Florilegium. These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org


I have done a limited amount of editing. Messages having to do with separate topics were sometimes split into different files and sometimes extraneous information was removed. For instance, the message IDs were removed to save space and remove clutter.


The comments made in these messages are not necessarily my viewpoints. I make no claims as to the accuracy of the information given by the individual authors.


Please respect the time and efforts of those who have written these messages. The copyright status of these messages is unclear at this time. If information is published from these messages, please give credit to the originator(s).


Thank you,

    Mark S. Harris                  AKA:  THLord Stefan li Rous

                                          Stefan at florilegium.org



Date: Mon, 23 Mar 1998 17:39:42 -0000

From: "Yeldham, Caroline S" <csy20688 at GlaxoWellcome.co.uk>

Subject: RE: SC - Kentwell - long!


I wrote

<< I've fed 50 to 100 people for 2 weeks out of a period kitchen (Kentwell

Hall if you know it)  >>


and I'm replying below to Lord Ras, who said


>If you feel that these

>observations are inappropriate to the list then please consider posting me

>privately with your insights. Thanks in advance. ;-)


I shall assume the list does not think they are inappropriate - actually I

think it is very appropriate - its very different cooking in a period

kitchen (either a permanent one, or a temporary one) to a modern kitchen.


>Would it be possible for m'lady to share a bit about what it's like to

>actually "cook" in the period way? It's pluses . It's negatives? Your personal

>feelings about period cookery so far as technique?


There's a can of worms - I stopped doing Kentwell a couple of years ago,

hence the past tense, but its still going - so some of the details may

have changed.    I think I'll start by giving an idea of how the Kitchen

works at Kentwell.


Kentwell Hall is a living history site, and as I said, the period kitchen

was cooking dinner (served at 1 pm) for about 50 people during the week,

up to c 100 at weekends (2 pm).  We usually fed about 20 people formally a

menu of 12 - 15 dishes, the other people dined informally (still in

public) on 5 - 6 dishes about half an hour earlier.  There are also

pottage cooks on site, feeding the other 200 - 300 people on site.  The

kitchen staff dined after serving on left overs


Equipment available - one c 8' fire (wood) with racked spit support

(brick) and several spits, cauldrons and hanging equipment and trivets. 5

charcoal fires, 2 brick wood-fired ovens, two large (10' x 3') heavy

wooden tables.  Reasonable number of cauldrons, frying pans etc, etc;

pottery bowls (chronic shortage of) sieves (usually broken), serving

platters (pottery), jugs (pottery), knives (mostly our own), spoons etc -

usual equipment, period versions thereof, and usually short of everything

ie SNAFU.  There is a separate bakery producing trencher bread and

manchets, a dairy producing soft cheeses and a subltety station producing



The cooks are all volunteers (unpaid) and the number of cooks varied, 2 -

4 expert cooks including the head cook (ie could be left alone to complete

a dish or two); 2 - 4 learners (constant supervision and teaching) and a

couple of 'pot boys' (what are we going to do with them) (oh, and the

occasional - how do I get rid of this person!), so varying between 6 and a

dozen, more at weekends.  We cooked in front of the public, during the

week a school party of 30 or so every 15 minutes, at weekends a constant

stream of the public - at some times we couldn't move in the kitchen for

the press of people.


A typical menu


Pottage - 1 meat, 1 vegetarian for everyone, plus emergency back-up if

something had gone wrong with a pottage cook station

Roast meat - whole animal if available

Meat stew of some type or pies

Offal of some type, probably in a sauce or as a pate

3 types of vegetable, including salad, often mushrooms, cabbage, carrots,

peas, beans

2 or 3 vegetarian protein dishes - brie tart, tart in Ember days,

chickpeas a la Chiquart, sod eggs

3 sweet dishes - 1 of apple or pear or seasonal fruit, a baked sweet

dishes (sweet curd tart, darioles etc), a 'compost' of dried fruits,

fritters sometimes

Trencher bread

Manchet bread

Soft cheeses



        Time scale - we started the previous day with a 'cooks meeting' at

about 6 pm when the menu for the following day would be set.  We all sat

around at the end of the day with the cookery books in hand, a good idea of

what we had in stock and what was due to come in from the suppliers, and

plan the menu.  Anything that needed to be pre-prepared was started - pulses

in soak, dried fruit in soak, meat taken out of the freezer.  Shopping list

drawn up for future days for the suppliers - covered fruit, veg and dry

goods.  Wood and charcoal stock take - if wood needed someone would have to

ask the woodmen - charcoal ordered in.


c 8 am the following the first person in lit the fires and cooks start

arriving after breakfast.  Up and running by 9 am usually, people

responsible for their own dishes get on with them - learner cooks being

taught skills as needed on their dish.  10 am the first schools come in

(11 am at weekend the first public come in) - engage in conversation, get

the schoolkids grating breadcrumbs, podding peas etc.


12 or 1 pm (or thereabouts) - tell the stewards/head of gentry how the

cooking is going - to time, ahead or behind.  Gives them warning to clear

and set tables and get the gentry organised.  This is about when people

turn up for pottage and other small dishes (housekeepers, schoolroom,

other groups who's pottage cooks have let them down). Half an hour later

the 'picnics' should be ready to go out - 6 dishes or so (Pottage, I meat,

1 veg protein, 1 salad, 1 sweet dish, bread and cheeses) to go to 3

different places.  Final panic, and 1pm or 2pm the main dinner is served -

cooks and stewards process out to Great Hall and Parlour - a couple of

cooks carve the meat dishes (I never could train the stewards to carve!).


Half an hour later the first left-overs get taken back to the Kitchen.

The cooks not carving have cleaned up the kitchen and get things ready.

Once the gentry have finished eating and the last left-overs come back to

the Kitchen, the cooks get a chance to eat.


By 3 - 3.30 pm we have finished and started to clear away and wash up.

However, we've still got the public in (5pm we are usually clear) so we do

sweetmeats, crystallised roses, conserves and biscuits, possibly

preparation for a future dish.


5pm clear of public and the dishes are washed.  the rubbish which has

accumulated under the table during the day is cleared away and the table

and floor washed.  By 6pm we settle down to plan the next days menu.  This

routine lasts for 3 weeks during the main event and several weekends in

the summer.  Having also done just weekends, and a one day feast - the

routine in itself is different.


The limitations there are ones I'm sure you are familiar with - allergies,

vegetarians, modern preferences and modern budgets.  As we were

representing (1st person) a gentry household,  the 'right' levels of meat

were a constant problem.  We did get to the point of having a whole animal

at weekends, usually a kid or a lamb.  Lots of offal, which people didn't

like.  Lots of vegetarians, so we had to provide higher levels of

'meat-free' than was authentic.  We did manage to start training

vegetarians/allergy sufferers to use the humours explanations for their

dietary preferences - and that worked very well.



I think this is quite long enough, so next time I'll talk about the

differences between cooking in a modern kitchen and a period one, and

possibly how what we did varied from the original (so you can pick me up



I might also cover what I do now, and how that is different!





Date: Wed, 25 Mar 1998 11:11:28 -0000

From: "Yeldham, Caroline S" <csy20688 at GlaxoWellcome.co.uk>

Subject: RE: SC - Kentwell


> I would be interested in attending a seminar in this place.


        The seminar mentioned would be in Colorado.  If you wanted to visit

this place the address is


        Kentwell Hall

        Long Melford




        the owner is a Mr Patrick Phillips - if enough people were

interested I expect he'd put on a seminar.





Date: Wed, 25 Mar 1998 16:35:34 -0000

From: "Yeldham, Caroline S" <csy20688 at GlaxoWellcome.co.uk>

Subject: SC - Kentwell Part 2 (also long)


        With your kind encouragement I shall move into Part 2, wherein, as I

said before, I'll talk about the differences between cooking in a modern

kitchen and a period one, and possibly how what we did varied from the

original (so you can pick me up there!)


        I might also cover what I do now, and how that is different!


        One thing I didn't mention was the Kentwell has a lovely walled

garden looked after by gardeners, so herbs, some vegetables, flowers, fruit

in season etc are all available on site.




        Now, I've done more cooking for large numbers in a period kitchen

than in a modern one, so some of my comments might relate to my ignorance of

modern kitchens, but I shall try.


        The big differences in my experience relate to planning and timing.

In a modern kitchen everything is available much more quickly.  In a period

kitchen things have to be planned around when the heat is available, and

what kind of heat is available.  You can have any kind of heat you want -

but you need to plan at least an hour in advance.  The charcoal fires are

more responsive than this, probably 15 to 30 mins is needed to get the

charcoal to the heat you need.




        The main wood fire needs constant supervision and you can achieve

the heat you want, but you have to plan ahead.  Secondly you have to learn

how the wood will behave, and each kind of wood behaves differently - I'm

still learning and probably will be for some time.  How it is chopped also

makes a difference - small pieces for a quick bright fire, larger pieces for

a long slow cook - but they will take longer to catch. Some kinds of wood

(I don't know the variety) hardly throw out any heat at all and need

constant bellows to keep them going - others burn bright and hot so roasting

is easy but won't settle down to a constant heat.  Looking after the fire

works best if it is one person's responsibility.  In a sizeable fire the

type of heat can vary in different places in the fire, so you can plan your

dishes around the fire - low simmer high above one area of the fire, quick

roast somewhere else.


        The good thing about a well-looked after, good fire is obvious, but

a big contrast to a modern kitchen - its always there.  We always ran a

stock pot over the fire, which is much easier than at home - make sure its

got enough water, add the bones and bits and leave it to boil (we did clean

it out every couple of days or so).  Several recipes are very difficult in

modern kitchen, in a period one par-boiling a piece of meat is easy - you

put it in the stock pot; moistening a dish getting dry - use some of the

stock, making a sauce which needs a bit of oomph - ditto. Keeping dishes

warm is easy - just put it by the fire (this is using pottery or cast iron

cooking vessels - this year I expect to have to cope with bronze, which

needs different treatment).


        Something that has struck me is how much gentler a wood fire is than

a modern oven.  This sounds silly, especially when standing near a hot fire

- - although a cooking fire is usually much lower than other kinds of wood

fires.  Its probably because it is a moister heat.  Its difficult to

describe, but things take longer to get up to heat (especially water) and

can sit quite happily close to the fire keeping warm for some time.


        The economical nature of the whole process becomes much clearer in a

period kitchen, being used over a period of time.  There is an elegant

interdependence between the different offices which adds to the economy.  We

had very little wastage, excluding modern wrapping, and in period there

would be even less.  Stale bread crusts and vegetable waste go to the pigs

and hens (or composted for the garden), egg shells for clarification (and

the alchemists used lots!), bones to the stock pot (and I have friends who

use the long bones for Viking re-enactment), fat is rendered down, blood to

sauces (we were always short on this!), feathers to the housekeepers for

cushions, pillows and for cleaning (the wings of geese etc are used).  About

the only wastage was bran from bolted flour - we always had too much of

that!  The dairy, since they were not making whey cheese, usually had whey

left over, which we used sometimes to soak goats in (it tenderises them

wonderfully).  Given that we weren't doing the slaughtering (legally that

had to be done in a local abattoir) so there would be wastage there (blood

and some of the guts).


        Brick Ovens - they work best if they are in fairly constant use -

getting them up to heat after being cold for a week or two is difficult.

Once up to heat they hold the heat for a long time, so more than one thing

can be cooked in them.  Bread or similar on first heat, tarts on second,

pies on third and the pies or biscuits can be left in overnight to finish

cooking - all from the same faggots heating the oven. Therefore the dishes

have to be planned around the available heat.




        A big difference from a period kitchen.  All the cooks are

volunteers, and regard their time at Kentwell as part of their summer

holidays.  Their levels of knowledge of ordinary cooking, period cooking and

how Kentwell works (an artform in itself) all vary enormously.  One of my

most vivid memories is the year I spent 10 days with 1 other cook who knew

what he was doing, 4 cooks who were willing but knew very little, and

nothing about period cookery, a small potboy and someone so unreliable I

threw him out after 7 days.  That was the year I was running pastry-making



        What I do now


        Well, I've stopped going to Kentwell for various reasons, and I now

cook with a couple of 15th century groups.  We are either in a house or

castle which has an operable kitchen, or in a greenfield site.  In a period

site with an existing kitchen, we have to use what fits in with the fire.


        On a greenfield site we either dig up the turf or use a firebed.

Both of the groups own a wooden rig which stand nearly 7 foot high and about

that in length - a log supported by tripods at either end - these support

cauldrons etc.  I own a copy of the spit rig shown in Scappi's drawings of

an outside kitchen, a tripod, and various other cooking equipment,

cauldrons, frying pans, pottery cooking pots etc.  We usually have trestle

tables to work at, a canvas covering, etc, etc.    We could use a charcoal

burner, but don't usually (partly safety considerations on a greenfield

site) and we very rarely have oven capacity, which does limit what we can



        These events are usually for a weekend, sometimes for a week and we

are cooking for between 20 and 40 with 3 or 4 volunteer cooks.  Because of

the dictates of the sites, we usually do a cooked breakfast, a simple lunch

(bread and cheese, fruit etc, and a dinner at about 5 pm of between 8 and 10

dishes.  Most sites don't open until 11 or 12, so if we served dinner at the

proper time the public would see very little cooking.


        One of the projects this year is to divide up the responsibility for

these meals, and the cooking more.  Most of the volunteer cooks only started

cooking last year, so much more fell on me last year.


        Thats all I can think of at the moment.  I have got photos of some

of the set-ups I mention, but since I don't have a web site, that's not much

help!  If you needed photos ffor a specific purpose I could probably help.


        Questions welcome!





Date: Tue, 31 Mar 1998 14:20:37 +0100

From: "Yeldham, Caroline S" <csy20688 at GlaxoWellcome.co.uk>

Subject: SC - Questions - cooking in period, and some answers


Questions from Stefan... and some answers ...


>In her comments about Kentwell Hall, Caroline said:


>>Keeping dishes

>>warm is easy - just put it by the fire (this is using pottery or cast iron

>>cooking vessels - this year I expect to have to cope with bronze, which

>>needs different treatment).


>How is working with bronze different than working with cast iron? Do you

>mean you canŐt set the bronze pots near the fire to keep them warm? Or

>that you have to cook in them differently?


You have to cook in them differently.  Cast iron reacts slowly with even

acid ingredients cooked in them, and a bit of extra iron in your diet will

not do you any harm.  Bronze contains copper, which is much more reactive

and will produce some nasty substances in contact with some food items,

including verdigris.  This also makes the food taste 'metallic', which

people don't like.  I am told (and I haven't done it yet), that the key to

cooking safely in bronze is to remove the food as soon as it is cooked (ie

don't keep it warm in the bronze pot) and to keep the bronze scrupulously

clean.  Unfortunately they used bronze in period.  I was told about this

dish of cabbage which was left to keep warm for about half an hour, and

ended up this lovely bright green colour ...


>What about the using the pottery? Did you cook over the fire in the pottery?

>Or use them beside the fire?


No, pottery cooking vessels get used over the fire. Sometimes they crack if

I'm careless and let them get too hot ...


>You may have mentioned this but I have forgotten. How did you support

>the pots over the fires? Hung on chains or hooks? Or sitting on grills?


Both these techniques - the first is more flexible.


>You mentioned ovens. Were these the single chamber type, where the

>oven was first heated by burning a fire in the chamber, then raked out

>and the food put where the fire had been?


This is the only (period) type I've used.


>Or did these have multiple

>chambers, one for the fire which was kept burning and a separate one

>for the food? I was under the impression that the two chamber type was

>late in the medieval period, if at all.


I haven't seen this type - tho' I have known writers misled by the space for

wood storage underneath the oven into thinking the fire was put there.

Every time I've seen a period oven its been in close association with an

ordinary fireplace, used for cooking, keeping the yeast barm warm etc, and

that's where the fire is kept in and the ashes are dumped.



One area I forgot to cover is the use of recipes in event. Naturally we

can't have the books out on display - they are modern and anyway would get

messy.  What we tend to do is keep copies hidden out of sight so if we

forget the details of a recipe we can check them - but mostly we work from

memory.  Sometimes we get it wrong and have to console ourselves with the

thought that at least we are in the right area.  One thing this does mean is

that each cook builds up a repertoire of dishes they are confident in

producing from memory.


Also we have no means of measuring items, so we just have to judge 4oz of

flour or whatever (English, remember! - but the same would apply to US

measurements).  We have to use our judgements as to whether a dish is the

right consistency.




<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
All other copyrights are property of the original article and message authors.

Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org