Guide: Medieval camp cooking

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!

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Cooking Conditions
The 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 above.

 

This is a popular cooking method for re-enactors as it keeps the fire relatively safe and contained. It also does not damage the ground underneath as an open fire would – important when working on historic sites. 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!

Cooking Equipment
The Cardiff Castle Garrison has a selection of equipment that its cooks are welcome to use.

The key items you are likely to use include:

  • Flat trivet – placed over the fire to hold pans or bakestones
  • Bakestone – flat cast-iron griddle, useful for frying.
  • Cauldron – cast-iron or cast-brass pot, useful for stewing and boiling. We have two sizes of these.
  • Spit – a cast-iron rod arrangement held 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. The staples were bread, water, ale, grains, onions and ‘potherbs’ (which include lots of things we nowadays consider weeds, such as nettles). Carrots were famously purple (but also came in white, yellow, red and orange varieties). Foodie staple kale was readily available. In South Wales cheese, fish and shellfish were also popular.

The proscriptions of the Catholic faith meant that it was expected that everyone abstain from at least red meat on Friday, during Lent, during Advent and at various other times throughout the year. Thus, fish was a common staple for many, although the rich tended towards freshwater fish whilst the poor made use of ‘stockfish’ (dried cod).

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) as well as offal (hearts, liver etc.). Pies, quiches and tarts also regularly occur in medieval recipe books.

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.

Spices
Spices were very popular in the 14th Century. These were almost exclusively imported from the Far East and were highly sought after. These are a great addition to camp cookery when making more upper-class dishes. Salt, pepper, ginger, nutmeg and sugar are often good ones to start with.

Seasonal Food
While the seasons no longer dictate what food can be found in shops, researching what food is in season when can be very helpful when planning your meal. It 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 and fast days within the calendar which you can follow if you wish.

Expenses
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
On the day, bring ingredients for what you plan to cook as the main meal. Many members buy these on the morning of the show from local markets and shops to ensure freshness of ingredients.

Additionally, you should purchase and bring snacks for group members including bread, butter, cheese, apples and other appropriate fruits, e.g. pears, raisins.

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. If you’d like to add your own blogpost, 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.

Further Reading

Books

  • 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. [A very useful background on what will be in season when.]
  • Pegge, Samuel, The Forme of Cury. [A late 14th 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.]

Websites

 

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