Cardiff Castle Garrison provides an authentic hot lunch cooked in our living history camp at many of our shows. For anyone interested in trying their hand at cooking for the group, or those who’d like to know a bit more about cooking authentically in camp, read on!
Cardiff Castle Garrison (and many other re-enactment groups from different periods), cook over a wood fire contained within a firebox, as you can see below.
This is a popular cooking method for re-enactors as it keeps the fire relatively safe and contained and also does not damage the ground underneath, as an open fire would. Be aware that cooking using this setup does usually take longer than cooking over a modern stove or a fire placed on the ground.
While the conditions may seem basic at first, there’s actually a huge variety of cooking methods you can use with a firebox, so don’t be scared!
Garrison has loads of authentic equipment that cooks are welcome to use.
Flat trivet – placed over the fire to hold pans or bakestones
Bakestone – flat cast-iron griddle, useful for frying.
Cauldron – cast-iron pot, useful for stewing and boiling. Garrison has several of these in different sizes.
Spit – cast-iron rod arrangement over the fire which can be used to roast meat – although please see advice below about this before attempting it.
Sundry pottery bowls, knives, spoons, chopping board, cups, etc.
What food did they have?
A lot of food we recognise today was readily available in the 14th Century. Salmon was a common staple for many (including the poorest in society). In South Wales cheese, fish and shellfish were also popular.Carrots were famously purple (but also came in white, yellow, red and orange varieties). Foodie staple Kale was readily available. As well as the cuts of meat we’re familiar with (chops, steaks, breasts etc.) medieval cooks would have used less well known cuts (like beef shin) and offal (hearts, liver etc.). Pies, breads, quiches, and tarts were also regular components of a medieval diet.
What food didn’t they have?
We’ve published a long list of foods not available in medieval England here for cooks to refer to, but in short: there were no potatoes, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, sweetcorn, peppers, turkey or chocolates because these are native to Central America, and so were not yet present in Britain. Caffeine lovers were also deprived with no tea or coffee available to medieval cooks.
Very popular in the fourteenth century. Often imported and highly sought after these are a great addition to camp cookery for a better and more authentic taste. Salt, pepper, ginger, nutmeg and sugar are often good ones to start with. Stay tuned for a more detailed post about spices in the fourteenth century.
While the seasons no longer dictate what food can be found in shops, looking up what food is in season and when can be very helpful when planning your meal, and is also an excellent talking point when discussing it with the public.
Feast and Fast Days
The medieval year was divided into feast and fast days. In a typical week, Friday was a fast day (only fish and vegetarian food eaten) whilst Sunday was a feast day. Please try to follow this, avoiding cooking meat on Fridays and fish/seafood on Sundays. There were, however, lots of additional feast/fast days within the calendar which you can follow if you wish, and a more detailed blog post is in the works.
The Garrison covers cooking expenses up to £30 for cooks. This is usually more than enough for typical meals we have, but if you want to try something extra special or there are due to be more than 15 members attending on the day you are cooking, please contact the Treasurer who may be able to increase this.
What to bring on the day
Ingredients for what you plan to cook as the main meal. Many people buy these on the morning of the show from local markets and shops to ensure freshness of ingredients.
Snacks for group members including bread, cheese, apples, pears, raisins, and other appropriate soft fruits.
General Advice for Garrison Cooks
Recipes – cooks are more than welcome to add recipes for the authentic food they’ve cooked to the blog. We have a whole series of these – see Living History>Food for ideas and if you’d like to add your own please speak to our Social Media Officer.
Roasting meat – we’ve tried roasting joints of meat or whole birds over our fire but after years of attempts our best advice is to avoid doing this. Spit roasting tends to take 6-8 hours with our setup. Thus, please speak to the Living History Officer before attempting this and note that if attempted it will require you to start cooking between 5am and 6am.
Sass, Lorna J., To the King’s Taste: Richard II’s Book of Feasts and Recipes Adapted For Modern Cooking, 1975
Mortimer, Ian, The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England, 2009, Chapter 8: What to Eat and Drink
Fearnley-Whittingstall, Hugh, The River Cottage Year, 2003 [very useful background on what will be in season when]
Pegge, Samuel, The Forme of Cury [late fourteenth-century recipe collection. Be aware that this is written in Middle English and does not have modern instructions such as ingredient quantities or cooking times, but it is nonetheless a great resource]
http://www.godecookery.com/how2cook/howto04.htm [a compilation of medieval recipes adapted for the 21st century]
http://medievalcookery.com/ [recipes and general information about medieval cooking]