15th century castle kitchens

By the 1400s, castles were more and more residential and less and less military. When the government needed a real fortress, the king now built a compact stone fort with very thick walls and artillery stations. The castle residences could splash out more on conveniences.

A late castle kitchen approached a modern kitchen’s conveniences. First, it was designed. Someone sat down in advance and planned out where the fireplaces, doorways, drains, and lights would be. This level of attention had never been paid to room design in Northern Europe.

A really good castle kitchen had tiled floors. It even had a floor drain: a pipe built into the earth under the tiles, carrying away whatever splashed down it. The floor could be washed after a heavy cooking session, showing a new degree of attention to clean appearances.

Light was the really critical point of design; the kitchen was generally on the ground level and wasn’t supposed to have windows. But in late castle designs, they began to put glazed windows into ground-floor rooms. If the kitchen happened to be an attached outbuilding without any rooms directly over it, it could even have a skylight. Cooks spent a lot of time in dark hours, too, so a good kitchen had hooks for hanging oil lamps as well as stable places to set candles.

Monasteries were the pioneers for water engineering, but castle designers were now borrowing their ideas. A really good kitchen at this time had pipes leading water down from stored source. There were even simple designs for washstands: pipes carrying off the waste water, while taps set in the wall just above the basin carried in fresh water. Castle kitchens had a lot of white linen towels, perhaps sometimes as roller-towels.

Most of the utensils in a castle kitchen were made of copper or brass, though the heaviest kettles were probably iron. There was a wide array of pans and utensils by now: strainers, tongs, long forks, knives, slotted spoons, spatulas, skillets, sauce pans, warming pans. Wooden buckets and tubs were used for water, milk and butter, as well as for washing up. Glazed and unglazed pottery provided for pitchers, mugs and pie dishes, as today, but sometimes they also used tall pottery jars for cooking on a fire. The tall jar stood in the middle of the a fire, wood piled around it.

The late medieval castle kitchen may have turned a boar on a spit, especially at Christmas. But the rest of the time, cooks were making wine-based roux in a sauce pan, brewing meatless white soups, baking spiced pies and frying rissoles. Broad tables in the center of the tiled room displayed several different projects going on at the same time: plucking geese, chopping meat very fine, and preparing fruit for baking. Cooks had clean hands and were professionally trained. By the end of the 15th century, they may have consulted printed cookbooks by an oil lamp’s light or under an octagonal-tower skylight.

This entry was posted in Castles, Food and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply