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)
I’ve been re-enacting since 2002, and have made cotes, shifts, veils, hoods and surcotes. I have had a go at making almost every piece of standard feminine soft kit except hose! I had always been a little intimidated by footed hose. Every time I had looked into making some I saw tutorials which required so many measurements – 26 in one version – or required a complex pattern which I wasn’t happy scaling up to my big feet.
Thankfully Miriam Griffiths has a method that needs a few measurements and some careful fitting. This method is based on finds from excavations in London dated to the 14th century. I think this is one of my favourite ever projects; they sew up quickly and look fantastic. We took lots of pictures of how we made them and I have put them together in the following videos:
I believe I made a mistake and the front under foot seam should be lapped not plain but I am really pleased with the finished articles.
They are made from a lightly fulled wool twill and hand sewn with linen thread.
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.
Last year I was introduced to Jana Romanova, an artist who wanted to participate in the activities of Welsh communities as part of a piece exploring the nature of belonging and of Welshness. She wanted to join the Garrison for an event or two to immerse herself in our community and explore historic Welshness.
Jana was able to be with us for a picnic in Cardiff Castle where we enjoyed some medieval snacks and the sunshine, then later we were lucky to have her with us at Chepstow Castle for a weekend event featuring a full medieval living history camp.
The exhibition launched on Friday evening; when I attended I was able to meet Jana again and see the results of this project. It was fascinating to see the other groups involved, including churches, dog walkers and families. The images are haunting, showing moments of belonging and of loneliness. The exhibition also featured silent videos of people describing what it means to be Welsh, combined to show an almost hypnotising rhythm as many used the same gestures to express their identity.
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
At Joust! we decided to have a go cooking some less popular cuts of meat. We went straight to the heart of the matter (ha!) and asked our local butcher for some offal-based options. He kindly donated us four lambs’ hearts.
What you’ll need:
Some lambs hearts (we had four)
Sausage meat – enough to fill the hearts to bursting.
A bottle of ale (not lager!)
A litre of water
Cut into your lambs hearts and remove any congealed blood (this, if you have time can be mixed into stocks and pates). Make sure you cut out any overly tough muscle.
Stuff the hearts with sausage meat.
Roll the stuffed heart in a mixture of salt and rosemary.
Put your water and ale (you can also use wine), into a cooking put. Heat, but do not allow to boil.
Add the hearts to the pot.
Cook at a warm, but not boiling temperature, for two hours.
Voila – delicious tender stuffed lambs hearts!
One thing to consider if you are going to give this a try yourself, some of the sausage meat escaped in the pot – binding the hearts with strips of bacon would be an authentic and effective way of keeping it all together.
While most medieval peasantry were not feasting on meat every meal, they probably didn’t cater for vegans either. Along with vegetables, a typical medieval diet in south Wales would have included a lot of cheese, eggs and fish.
However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t dishes we can create now to cater for vegan diets using ingredients available to people living in the 14th Century.
Over the August Bank Holiday we set up camp at the magnificent Caerphilly Castle.
One of the dishes I prepared on the Sunday was a lovely mushroom and lentil main. It’s very simple, tasty and easy to recreate at home.
What you’ll need:
Half a kilo of mushrooms – I used traditional closed cap mushrooms but you can mix this up dependant on the strength of flavour you want
Two cans of green lentils (you can soak lentils from a bag, but I’m a bit of a cheat)
Quarter of a cup of olive oil
A pinch of black pepper
Mixed herbs (I used a combo of basil, rosemary and thyme)
These amounts serve 4-6 people. Halve the amounts for a good portion for two.