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]
Following on from our camp cooking guide, here is a list of common modern foods which were unavailable in fourteenth-century Britain. This list is by no means comprehensive, but is intended to cover most of the basics.
Many staples of today’s diet originated in the New World, and were therefore unknown in medieval Britain before at least the fifteenth century. Even after exploration of the New World, these foods were often not commonplace or affordable to the average household for many years afterwards. Therefore, when cooking fourteenth century, steer clear of:
Fruit and Veg:
Red, yellow and green peppers
Old World but unavailable in Medieval Britain
These were known in the Old World, with coffee especially popular in Arabia, but were not commonplace in medieval Britain until much later.
Not yet bred
Sugar peas/mangetout (first bred in the 16th century)
Split peas (invention of the 19th century – although these are fine if added to soups harm as they look quite like un-shelled, un-split peas once cooked)
Cardiff Castle Garrison were thrilled to return to the Newport Ship for another open day. The charity are continuing to preserve the fifteenth-century timbers of the ship found in the River Usk in 2002, and hope to finish this process over the next year. They then plan to display the ship in a purpose-built museum.
Garrison gave several displays including medieval musical instruments, clothing, crafts, weapons, armour and food.
We enjoyed attending the medieval festival at Caldicot Castle on Saturday 17th and Sunday 18th September.
This event was a multi society event with members of the Early Medieval Alliance, The Vikings, Historia Normannis, falconry displays, fashion shows and the historic jousting group Destrier in attendance.
There were re-enactment encampments from various eras in and around the castle and a small variety of traders that came from as far as York and Ireland supplying everything from leather goods to armour, bows, padding and very large mallets.
Garrison did not camp at this show, but several members attended each day in their authentic kit.
A number of our group also took part in the battle, with dozens of knights on each side and a large detachment of archers and hand gunners shooting at fairly close range.
Though it was a bit warm with all the padding and armour we filled in the gaps in the battle and fought well, even defeating a few well-armoured knights.
On one day we took part on the Welsh side and on the next as the English.
Knights from historic jousting group Destrier
Knights from historic jousting group Destrier
Group members attending the show
Battle about to start with Caldicot Castle in the background
Another old favourite this weekend at Cardiff Castle’s Grand Medieval Melee: a show Garrison have been attending for many years. As usual, we had a wonderful time demonstrating crafts, clothing, arms and armour, and even had authentic music provided by one of our members. Have-A-Go archery was also a great hit with the public. Thanks so much to everyone who came along and made it such a special show for us.
NB: Garrison are going to be super-busy over the next couple of weeks. Please drop in and see us at the Newport Ship Open Day on 20th August, or at Caerphilly Castle on 28th and 29th August. See our event page for more detail.
Garrison Have-A-Go archery for members of the public
Garrison encampment with craft and armour and weapons displays
Mark Vance’s medieval combat group in a display fight
Members of the public try on armour
Two group members demonstrating fingerloop braiding while another member plays music on a symphonie, an authentic instrument
Medieval craft displays: spinning and derssmaking
Authentic cooking underway
Various medieval encampments, including Garrison’s to the right
Members of Cardiff Castle Garrison set up and attended a sewing workshop by Christine Carnie, aka ‘The Sempster’, one of the UK’s leading experts in making historical clothing using period techniques. The workshop was both fun and extremely valuable, with everyone who attended coming away with a great deal of information on authentic stitching techniques, and how and when to use them. Take a look at our day and some of the things we learned…
Unfortunately, there are few surviving seams in the extant garments that we have, due to several factors, including decay and in some cases bad treatment from archaeologists. There are, however, some details that have been deduced from what exists:
It was likely that seams were often stitched in linen thread, due to the fact that wool usually survives where linen does not and seams are not present where the wool garments are preserved. There is, however, also evidence for seams sewn with woollen and silk thread.
Stitches are usually tiny, to the point that they are hard or impossible to see, with stitch lengths of around 2 mm each, placed 2 mm apart. This is a good stitch length to aim form when sewing medieval garments, even if it does take some practice to achieve.
When hand-sewing, it is common for re-enactors to sew most of their seams using backstitch, and then flat-fell the seam allowance afterwards. While this can be effective, backstitched seams are not as common in the medieval period, and there are many different examples of seam-sewing methods which vary depending on the fabric used.
Christine was kind enough to show us a wide variety of examples based on historical finds which are appropriate for a variety of fabric types. Two very useful types are featured here:
A Seam For Wool
A simple and authentic seam used for attaching two pieces of woollen fabric: a running-stitched seam with both seam allowances then whip-stitched to the underlying fabric.
Christine pointed out that in her experience most 14th Century garments will hold very nicely using this technique, and that using backstitch to join the stitches often holds the seam too tightly which can lead to the fabric tearing when it’s placed under strain, rather than the stitching. Using running stitch is also more time and thread efficient.
Note: If you are using wool pulled from the fabric as thread, remember that this works perfectly on wool that has been woven with a higher-twist thread, but most soft wools nowadays are woven with a very fluffy thread, which will break easily, and a felted wool will make it very difficult to pull out a thread. If you have a non-fulled fabric, it should work very well.
A Linen Seam
Authentic seam suitable for joining two pieces of linen: a seam sewn with running stitch, then the seam allowances folded together and whip stitched down.
This seam is particularly helpful for making underwear as in the fourteenth century there is usually little strain on underwear seams, and it binds the fraying-prone linen fabric edges in nicely.
Buttons and buttonholes
Buttons were all the rage in the fourteenth century, and Christine showed us a helpful method for producing both buttons and buttonholes. Check out her video here to see the construction technique…
Christine’s workshop was an extremely valuable experience for those who attended it, and Christine and her work come thoroughly recommended by the Garrison.
Christine Carnie – The Sempster
Christine is available for talks and courses on historical clothing and dressmaking, and also accepts commissions for historical clothing. Her Facebook page has some wonderful pictures and videos of the techniques featured in this article, along with many more examples from across history.
She focusses on the mid-13th to early 17th century clothing of common people, and makes all of her garments herself.