European Cooking from Rome to the Renaissance II




A Study of Cooking Tasks, Methods, and Equipment

in the Renaissance Kitchen




by Chris P. Adler-France

(Dame Katja Davidova Orlova Khazarina)

Æthelmearc Æcademy, Stormsport, June 19, 2004

Originally presented January 20, 2002 in Colorado Springs


Looking at the menus suggested in A Noble Boke Off Cookry, Du Fait de Cuisine, Le Menagier de Paris, The Good House-wife, The Accomplisht Cook, and other period food resources, one is delighted by the array of savory roasted meats, fowl, and fish with sumptuous sauces, complex stews, rich pastries, and fancifully decorated sweets of sugarplate and almond paste.

Judging from these menus of foods selected not only for their taste and texture but also their color and smell, a meal prepared in the high Middle Ages for nobility was a lavish experience for all the senses.

But these menus also beg the question to the modern cook: how ever did a cook of that time prepare this variety of elaborate dishes in a kitchen with dirt floors, a wood- or coal-fired heating source, no running water, and no modern appliances such as food processors or spice grinders?

As history buffs and cooks, we look at period recipes and try to figure out how to recreate them. We rarely really think about how those recipes were prepared back then – not the proportions of ingredients and the timing of the cooking, but actually what equipment was used!

The answer might surprise you – both descriptions in period recipes and depictions in period artwork reveal that the kitchen of a manor or palace was a well-organized and meticulously coordinated operation with up to dozens of servants assigned to specific tasks (often in several different rooms). The kitchen was assiduously kept clean, and its success relied upon hours of manual labor rather than the time-saving devices on which we modern cooks depend.

As depicted in this 16th Century German woodcut of a cook testing the contents of a pot on a stove (Fig. 1), that necessary manual labor was accomplished with a variety of pots, pans, buckets and other storage containers, solid and perforated spoons, and other equipment that we recognize today… and some that we don’t commonly use, such as bellows, turn-spits, and mortars & pestles.

Fig. 1. "A Cook," Hans Burgkmair, 1542. (courtesy of

This paper is an overview of the Renaissance diet and kitchen, its layout and structure, the types of jobs needed to create meals, and the equipment used for those jobs. Due to a desire for brevity and the availability of online images of this subject, it focuses on the court or manor kitchens of the early to mid-Renaissance of Italy and Germany, with minor discussion of France and England.

While there are woodblock prints, paintings, tapestries, books of hours illuminations, and other artwork depicting cooking scenes of earlier Medieval periods (and other countries), the majority of information that I found on this subject is dated from the later period. Specifically, much of it is from the late 16th Century work of Bartolomeo Scappi, as well as some German works. I also looked at depictions of Hampton Court Palace during the 1540s.

I've focused on upper-class cooking simply because period cookbooks and most period cooking resources focus solely on food preparation for the nobility, rather than on more rustic cooking for the lower classes.

A Simple Kitchen Setup


Fig. 2. A man cooking with a three-legged pot. Unknown source and date. (courtesy of

Fig. 3. Closeup of a three-footed bronze pot, 14th Century. (courtesy of

For example, here is a woodcut of a simple kitchen set-up (Fig. 2): a three-legged pot over a small fire. Poorer European Medieval households generally had a kettle (Fig. 3) in which to simmer stews, porridges, and soups, an iron spit on which to roast meats over the hearth, and a skillet or frying pan for frying eggs or fritters.

This was generally supplemented with pottery or wooden bowls, a few spoons, a knife, and possibly a plunger churn to transform cream into butter.

The kitchen was not separate from the house, and there was no oven. To bake bread, pastry, or other dishes, the cook put a covered pot or food wrapped in clay into the fire embers, or he or she prepared the ingredients for bread or other baked dish and brought the item to be baked to the local baker.

The rustic diet relied on brown bread and other grains, onions and other root vegetables, legumes, eggs, cheese, and a lot of fish. The most common dish prepared in such a rustic kitchen was potage: a stew of legumes (peas or beans) and/or grains (oats, barley, etc.), onions, roots, greens, and herbs, supplemented on occasion with meat or a soup bone.

The Medieval Diet

In contrast, the diet of the nobility boasted a variety of roasted and boiled game meat with well-spiced sauces, poultry, fish, soup, pies and tarts; fine white bread; sallets of flowers and herbs, fritters and pancakes, and fruit and vegetable dishes. Le Menagier describes meals or a meal containing:

Beef and marrow pies, hare soup, a white broth of coneys, capons and venison, white beet, turnips, salted olives; carp and sea-perch, jellied eels, partridge, plovers, whiting, pheasants and swans, pies of turtle-doves and larks, the best roast, a grill of shad, a fricassee, numbles and tail of boar with hot sauce, fat capons in pies, fritters and rich pasties, frumenty, venison, olives, cream fritters and sugared fried bread slices, forcemeat in hot galantine, a jelly of capons, coneys, chicks, young rabbits and pigs, hippocras, wafers, pears, shelled nuts.

Besides its richness and variety, there were two other factors to consider when discussing Medieval noble food and the methods behind its manufacture in the kitchen: the Humoral Theory, and available dining equipment.

Dating back to the ancient Greek physician Galen, the Humoral Theory dominated early to mid-Medieval medicine (which was linked, by the theory, to cuisine). The concept that all living things contained four elements (blood, choler, phlegm, and melancholy – correlating to air, fire, water, and earth) corresponded in the kitchen to the cook's need to balance the four natures of these humors (hot, dry, wet, cold).

The simplest and quickest explanation of this theory is that it was widely believed that food not prepared with its humors in mind would be unhealthy to eat… or even cause harm to the person who ate such food!

Conversely, specific foods were specifically prescribed by the physician to treat ailments; the cook carefully planned meals to balance both his master's health and the various degrees of a dominant humor in each ingredient. A quick look through the Tacuinum Sanitatis and other health handbooks reveal detailed instructions as to how to prepare an ingredient, with what to serve it, and when during a meal to eat it.

The Humoral Theory directly influenced the preferred cooking methods for certain foods: beef was boiled because it was "dry" and "cold," while pork was roasted to dry out its "wet" humor. The theory also influenced texture: many period dishes contained well-ground, minced, chopped, or sieved ingredients because those techniques would completely "mingle" the ingredients and thus ensure the dish was easily digested.

Fish, for example, was considered to be dominated by the cold and wet humors, and thus generally was fried in order to warm up and dry it out so that it could be consumed without ill effect. (The importance of this theory in terms of food preparation waned in the 16th and 17th Centuries.)

In addition, the cook had to prepare food in such a way that it could be eaten on a knifepoint, with a spoon, a piece of bread, or by the fingers. Forks, although used for centuries in the kitchen to spear food out of the boiling cauldron, were not common on the dining table during this period of study.

Meats may have been presented to the table as mighty and impressive roasts, judging from depictions of grand feasts, but they weren't hacked apart into big chunks at the table; rather, servants neatly cut them into slices or small pieces that the diners could then eat daintily and use to swipe up the accompanying sauces. Similarly, "sops" or slices of bread scooped and soaked up potages, soups, and other stewed foods.

Overview of the Manor Kitchen Staff

Since the Humoral Theory and dining utensils necessitated foods be ground, pounded, and sieved, the kitchen needed a fair number of hands to accomplish those tasks. The staff might be as few as the head/master cook and three servants: one to do the vegetables, another to turn the roasting spit, and one more to wash the dishes.


Fig. 4. "A Large Kitchen," Bartolomeo Scappi, The Private Chef of Pope Pius V, 1570.

Fig. 5. Unnamed image of a kitchen work room, Scappi. (both courtesy of

More commonly, however, art and cookbook evidence show us that the kitchen of a great manor required more than just a few special jobs, as we see in Scappi's depiction of a late 16th Century kitchen in Fig. 4, and in this scholarly description:

While preparing a meal always required great stamina, the variety and organization of the tasks would vary greatly from place to place. In a team of cooks working in a royal or noble kitchen, the work was divided among specialists who were in turn assisted by numerous obedient helpers: from the hateur, who was in charge of roasting, to the potier, who saw to the pots and dishes, everyone had his own job to attend to. The saucier simmered the sauces; the potagier peered into the pots of potage; the broyeur manned the mortar; and, of course, the souffleur fanned and maintained the fires.

As described above, kitchen work was very labor intensive and physically demanding. While the head cook directed the overall work and tended to delicate tasks like the sauces, much of the day-to-day work was laborious and repetitive: pounding spices, sugar, breadcrumbs, and other things into fine powder, churning butter, tending the spit and pots, and other jobs which literally took hours of patient, constant manual work.

Unskilled labor was hired to chop and haul the wood for the fires, draw water for the pots and cleaning, and to wash the endless stream of dirty equipment and dishes. As depicted in the unnamed image in Fig. 5, more than half of the workers in a large kitchen were simple scullions. Period cookbooks' repeated instructions for "cleane," "faire," and "freshe" water, tools, and ingredients support the depiction of servants perpetually scrubbing worktables, utensils, and dishes.

Besides washing up, the other job of highest importance and continual nature was tending the fire; watching the pots and spits, banking the embers to keep them going all night, lighting dead fires with brands or coals from living ones, and hauling coals and wood.

In addition, various workers were needed to shape the pasta, knead the bread, form the pie coffins, sharpen the knives, and gut the animals. Finally, porters were needed to carry the finished dishes to the dining hall, carve and serve the food, pour the water and wine, and clear away the dishes.

It should be noted that women do not appear to have worked in earlier to mid-period kitchens as much as men, or even young boys. Only two of the images I've gathered for this paper depict women at all, and several academic historians support this observation. Several modern sources claim that Medieval cooks did not believe women were capable of the physical labor required in the kitchen of nobility.

General Layout of The Manor Kitchen

Now, we know what the diners ate, why they ate it, and how many kitchen hands were needed to make it. So what did a manor kitchen look like?


Fig. 6. "The Kitchen," Scappi. (courtesy of

Fig. 7. "Gutting A Hare," Hans Burgkmair, 1542. (courtesy of

If we look at Scappi's depictions (such as in Fig. 6) we see spacious rooms with very tall ceilings, shelving high up on the walls, lots of open space, some form of sink, little furniture other than simple (but large and heavy) worktables and large chopping blocks, and a bare floor. Indeed, most period kitchens had trodden-earth floors, although some had the luxury of easier-to-clean stone or paved tiles. Several household manuals stress the importance of daily sweeping the floor and strewing fresh rushes (and using the old rushes to light fires).

Note that both images show windows set high up on the walls to provide plenty of light, and hoods over the fireplaces to vent the smoke. Ventilation was obviously a necessity when working with open fire; some kitchens had merely a hole in the ceiling, but the manor kitchens generally depict chimneys to draw the smoke up and away from the workers. The fireplaces were wide and shallow, rather than deep.

The structure itself was often built of wood, but the preference was to construct kitchens out of stone or brick. Unlike the serf hearth, English and French manor kitchens tended to be separate structures from the rest of the manor -- either added onto the building or a completely free-standing structure apart from the manor -- in order to lessen the possibility of a kitchen fire destroying the entire manor.

In contrast, 14th Century Italian kitchens commonly were not a separate room or building; rather, they were part of a communal room. However, later Italian houses often had two kitchens (one on the ground floor and another on the first floor).

Hampton Court Palace, the home of King Henry VIII, boasted a veritable factory of numerous connected rooms and specialized kitchens: a spicery for beating spice into powder, dry fish house, pastry bakehouse, confectionery for turning pears, figs, raisins, and other fruit into candied dishes, boiling houses with wide-arched fireplaces and huge cauldrons, dry larder, buttery, wet larder, separate sculleries for pewter and silverware, wafery for making comfits and wafers, brewery, cellars for the storage of beer and wine, and poultry.

There were also storerooms, similar to Scappi's unnamed depiction in Fig. 5, which shows one man washing dishes while another sharpens knives on a whetstone; more knives lie waiting on a nearby table. Note that the room appears to be roofless, or perhaps a courtyard. There appears to be storage containers on the floor, which probably contain necessities like flour, oil, and sugar. There are also two gutted animals hanging on the wall, and a large bucket of live fish on the floor.

In addition to containers for fresh ingredients, long-term storage was needed for safely keeping foodstuffs. Meat and fish were often salted, smoked, or dried and hung high up on walls or in cold-storage rooms; fat was rendered and kept in glazed earthenware crocks. Greens were similarly packed in salt or brine in crocks, while fruits, nuts, and vegetables were stored in honey.

Fig. 8. Cooks in a kitchen, Rumpolt, Ein new Kochbuch, 1581. (courtesy of

Stovetops and ovens were separate structures, unlike the common modern range/stove combo. A stove was generally a long bench of masonry stone that held deep containers, possibly lined with iron or ceramic. See Figs. 7 and 8 for obvious brick stovetops. Peat or charcoal, rather than wood, was generally used as fuel for the stoves. Free-standing "beehive" ovens, as shown in Fig. 9, appeared only in the village baker or the manor kitchen; local laws tended to restrict their construction during this period to save fuel (which was expensive) and to prevent fires.

Fig. 9. "The Kitchen," unknown source and date. (courtesy of

However, most of the activities occurred around the fireplace. (See Fig. 6) Besides the chimney and hood, they often generally featured a series of wrought-iron pothooks for controlling the level of pots and cauldrons over the flames. Andirons, grill/grates, and spits were also part of the fireplace set-up.

Overview of The Equipment

The chief tools used in every kitchen were:

    1. knives (to carve, bone, or chop meat & vegetables; to mince stuffings for meatballs and pies)
    2. mortar & pestle (to grind spices, herbs, almonds, bread crumbs, cooked vegetables, and meat)
    3. strainer, sieve, and/or colander (to filter liquids or foods ground in the mortar)

In addition to these and the cauldrons on pot hooks, we see long-handled frying pans for frying eggs, fish, and fritters;, metal grids for broiling/grilling, waffle irons, cleavers, mallets, tongs for cutting sugar, bunches of twigs for whisking and scouring; cloths for filtering almond milk and cleaning surfaces, scouring sand, and tubs for washing. There were also weighing scales, roasting forks, skimming spoons, rolling pins, and cheese graters. The Accomplisht Cook cites the use of "Dutch iron handmils, or an ordinarie pepper mil" for grinding mustard seeds.

Chiquart, in his 15th Century treatise Du Fait de Cuisine, has some very specific requirements:

And for this there should be provided large, fair, and proper cauldrons for cooking large meats, and other medium ones in great abundance for making potages and doing other things necessary for cookery, and great hanging pans for cooking fish and other necessary things, and large common pots in great abundance for making soups and other things, and a dozen fair large mortars; and check the space for making sauces; and there should be twenty large frying pans, a dozen large casks, fifty small casks, sixty cornues [bowls with handles], one hundred wooden bowls, a dozen grills, six large graters, one hundred wooden spoons, twenty-five slotted spoons both large and small, six hooks, twenty iron shovels, twenty rotisseries, with turning mechanisms and irons for holding the spits. And one should definitely not trust wooden spits, because they will rot and you could lose all your meat, but you should have one hundred and twenty iron spits which are strong and are thirteen feet in length; and there should be other spits, three dozen which are of the aforesaid length but not so thick, to roast poultry, little piglets, and river fowl… And also, four dozen little spits to do endoring and act as skewers.

Chiquart further tells his prince that in order to create a grand feast, he requires:

And there should be two large two-handed knives for dismembering cattle, and a dozen dressing knives for dressing; and also, two dozen knives to chop for potages and stuffings, and to prepare poultry and fish…also, half a dozen scrubbers to clean the sideboards and the cutting boards, and a hundred baskets for carrying meat to the casks, both raw and cooked, which one brings to and from the sideboards, and also for bringing coal, for roasts and wherever it is needed and also for carrying and collecting serving vessels.

Looking again at the Italian kitchen scene in Fig. 4, we see cooks making pasta on one table, and two men straining something – perhaps cheese? Curds appear to be hanging from a tripod nearby, while a sugar cone sits on a small table. There are various pots, gutted animals, and a baker's peel. Fig. 5 has tables of finished pasta, a man tending a rabbit roasting on a spit, and an interesting basket (studded with knives) hanging in the corner. The ubiquitous mortar & pestle (which may have been wooden, stone, or ceramic) stands in the bottom left of the image.

The scene in Fig. 8, although German rather than Italian, contains much of the same equipment. However, it looks markedly more crowded and cramped, and the windows are much smaller. (I can't judge whether this is a cultural difference, or simply artistic license.)

Here again, we see a male cook surrounded by many pots and pans of differing sizes, many of which appear to be haphazardly piled on the floor. New equipment to note in this image include a spice box on the table, a bellows on the wall, and an interesting belt and gear system to turn the roasting spit.

This is one of the few Renaissance images I found of a female cook, who here is tasting the soup or stew in a pot on the stovetop. (Note the cat sitting in the alcove under the spit! Several Medieval kitchen scenes include cats.)

Large cauldrons and pots sitting in or hanging above surprisingly high flames dominate the German kitchen scene in Fig. 7. We see several perforated spoons hanging on the wall behind the cook, who is gutting a huge hare.

The cook in Fig 9, "The Kitchen," is surrounded by a cramped array of pots and pans hanging from the walls and sitting on the floor, a gear system turns the spit, and an open spice box is obvious on the table. A small beehive-shaped oven sits in an alcove in the back. Note the barrels high up on the back wall.

Throughout these images and texts, we will notice the absence of two things of primary importance in a modern kitchen: a temperature gauge and a clock. How did they prevent food from being ruined when they fried, roasted, or poached food?

The Medieval cook did know the importance of controlling the fire's heat in a fairly accurate and swift way. A survey of period recipes reveal that a roasted bird be quickly cooked over "bright embers" or a "quick flame," while a terrine needed a "gentle fire." To reduce broth into aspic, the cook needed a "strong fire." And bread and pye recipes often directed the cook to use a "slow oven."

As for the lack of timers or clocks, some recipes directed the cook to keep the dish on the fire for how long it takes them to say half an Ave Maria. Often, they told the cook to do a dish until it was golden, or simply "done."

Now, we will look in detail at a few of the most common cooking practices in the manor kitchen…

Specific Techniques & Equipment


But how did the cooks control the fire's heat? Looking at the images in Figs. 8 and 9, we see a variety of tripods, grills, pothooks, gears, pulleys, and weights that allowed the cook to quickly move a hung pot or turn spit closer or farther away from the fire. Fig. 10, another German scene, shows the same type of mechanism for turning the spit. If we go back to Fig. 6, we clearly see a man sitting by the fire manually turning the spit.

Roasting in Medieval times generally occurred on a single wrought iron "firedog" over a firepit in the middle of the room. The firedogs, or andirons, increased to two or more during the Renaissance, and sat on either side of the side-wall fireplace, as we see in Fig. 6. Now, instead of holding a single spit over the fire, they held several spits slanted at an angle in front of the fire.

Roasting, all done on spits, might take place here (the kitchen), or in a separate building because of the size of the fire needed to roast all the meat required, and the risk of conflagration. The king’s new separate kitchens at Claredon in 1206 each had fires which would roast two or three whole oxen… Roasting spits were still simple, propped on firedogs and turned by apprentice cooks or kitchen-boys. There were no women cooks or kitchen maids yet. Boy scullions cleaned the spits, basting ladles, and the brushes and bowls used for applying egg-wash to gild the near-roasted joints.

What do we see on these spits? Joints of large animals, roasts of large pieces of meat, and whole smaller animals (rabbit, birds, suckling pig). The less-fatty meats were larded and/or parboiled first to keep them tender. The whole animals were sometimes "farsed" or stuffed, and all roasts were often "endored" or glazed during or after the roasting.

In addition to the bellows we see in some of these images, roasting required flints for lighting the fire, tongs for moving spits and pots, and iron rests for the hot pots.


Behind the spits in these images, such as in Fig. 10, we see brass, iron, or copper pots of various sizes hanging from hooks at different heights above the fire. Earthenware pots might also be used (generally for low-heat simmering of sauces and vegetables).

Fig. 10. Unnamed woodcut, Johann Froschauer in Kuchenmeisterei, 1507. (courtesy of


Fig. 11. A covered pot, Scappi.

Fig. 12. Strainers, Scappi. (both courtesy of

Fig. 11 shows a covered pot, a "conserva," which may have been used for simmering (but more likely for baking). Fig. 12 shows two examples of the strainers needed to scoop food out of the boiling liquid. Figs. 13, 14, and 15 depict the variety of spoons, ladles, and other utensils used. Looking ahead, Fig. 21 is a typical three-legged pot with a lid.


Fig. 13. Utensils (perforated spoons), Scappi. (all courtesy of

Fig. 14. Barrel of utensils. Scappi.

Fig. 15. Pan and ladles, Scappi.

The manors sometimes had separate boiling houses; Hampton Court housed huge copper cauldrons that sat directly within a chimney to vent the steam and heat.

Looking at Fig. 16, "A Cook in His Elaborate Kitchen," we see an enormous cauldron on a raised platform or stage with a large hood overhead. Perhaps this was an "eternal kettle" in which liquid and food was continually removed and the equal amount added to ongoing slow simmering pot?

Fig 16. "A Cook in His Elaborate Kitchen," Scappi. (courtesy of

In these instances, "flesh hooks" were used grab the meat out of the hot broth, as depicted in Figs. 17 and 18. And, in keeping with the Humoral Theory, some food was parboiled first before being spitted and roasted. We also see two examples of knives, used to carve the meat, in Fig. 19.


Fig. 17. Cook using a flesh hook and a perforated spoon, Luttrell Psalter, 1340. (courtesy of

Fig. 18. Flesh hooks for collecting food from pots. Unknown source and date. (courtesy of

Fig. 19. Two knives, Scappi, 1570. (courtesy of

The big iron cauldron is the ancestor of the stockpot. Into it went anything to be boiled. The Medieval cook combined flavors in this pot – meats, poultry, game, vegetables, and sometimes even fish jostled each other… To boil something, the pot was swung above the hottest part of the fire. Control over the rapidity of boiling was achieved by moving the pot toward or away from the heat or by moving the burning logs and glowing coals.

Frying (Pans)

Flat-bottomed pots and pans had another use: frying fritters, fricassees, pain perdu (French toast), and other quickly cooked dishes. Figs. 8 and 9 particularly demonstrate the use of frying pans and pots on the stoves.

Since these dishes could not be placed directly on the hearth fire, the frying pots and pans often had short built-in legs, or were placed on portable trivets to prevent their burning and tipping. Frying mediums included oil (often olive) and lard for meats, and butter for sweet dishes.

Hearth Baking

Some foods could be baked in the hearth when an oven wasn't available. Braziers (such as in Fig. 20) and covered pots (see Fig. 21) acted as mini-ovens and provided gentle heat for slow baking.


Fig. 20. Brazier, Scappi. (all courtesy of

Fig. 21. Pot, Scappi.

Earthenware pots could be placed in the hot ashes on grills above the embers. Specialized equipment included the egg pan poacher depicted in Fig. 22.

Fig. 22. Egg pan, Scappi.

The simplest method was cooking foods in the ashes, truffles, for example, and eggs. One recipe for the latter… describes breaking the shell and dropping the naked egg onto the hot embers; when cooked it is removed and the ash cleaned off before serving. Iron and earthenware pots were set on three-legged rings (more stable than four-legged ones) above the hot coals, or the pots had the legs molded onto their bodies. Wrought-iron grills with feet were used to cook meats and fish and to make toast… Some cooking pots had flat or concave lids that overhung their edges; on these lids glowing coals were placed to provide more even heat. Pots with cooking oil for fritters were also set in the coals.

Oven Baking

However, bread and pies required an oven. As noted before, these were limited to the professional local baker and the manors. The bakehouse at Hampton Court boasted a large bank of over a dozen ovens. To use these, fires were built inside and allowed to die down, then the ashes were swept out and the pies or bread sealed inside.

The bakehouse was usually a separate building, with ovens built out from the walls. Wood, peat, or furze was lit in the oven and left to burn until the interior was hot enough. The spent fuel was then quickly drawn out, the floor of the oven was cleaned, and the bread was put in to bake, along with pies, tarts, and enriched bread-like pastries. Long-haired rakes were used to deal with fuel and ash, while flat hardwood peels were used to lift the loaves in and out of the ovens.

Fig. 23. "The Assyse of Bread," 16th century. (courtesy of

The Frontispiece to the Assyse of Bread, depicted in Fig. 23, shows bakers forming manchet loaves, using wooden peels to take the loaves in and out of the oven, and scales for weighing the flour and finished loaves. We also see a man tying faggots of wood to use in firing the oven, while a dog appears to be guarding the salt box.

Fig. 24. "February," Kalendrier des Bergeres, 1541. (courtesy of

We see similar bakeshop scenes in Figs. 24 and 25. While the former is quite cramped (with loaves of bread and pyes sitting on the floor!), the latter depicts a spare room with a tiled floor. (Note the hatchet in the stump in Fig. 24, ready for chopping more wood.)

Fig. 25. Bakers, Book of Hours, 15th Century. (courtesy of

Fig. 26 depicts the importance of sieving the flour; here, we see a man using a fine sieve rather than the boulting cloths often noted in period recipes.

Fig. 26. "Sieving Flour; Making Wafers." Velislav Picture Bible, 1340. (courtesy of


The dairy was another separate structure. Here, wide shallow panshons stood to hold the milk; ladles, skimmers, jugs, and brushes hung on the walls, and a heavy cheese-press stood in a corner, with a tall churn beside it, and perhaps the dairymaid’s pails and yoke.

Fig. 27. Cheese grater, Scappi. (courtesy of

Butter churning and cheesemaking are also common images in Renaissance artwork. As noted before, butter was needed as both a frying medium and an ingredient, while cheese was eaten raw, grated over food, (see the cheese grater in Fig. 27) and used as an ingredient.

Figs. 28 and 29 depict butter churning, curd washing, and formed wheels of cheese. Fig. 29 is particularly interesting: scholars debate over whether the man whisking in the center is making honey butter, or simply mixing curds. Fig. 30 is also supposed to depict butter churning, but I believe it is too wide and shallow to be a butter churn; I believe it is actually a large mortar and pestle.


Fig. 28. "Making Cheese," J. Stumpf, Schweizer Chronik, 1548. (courtesy of

Fig. 29. "Making Cheese and Butter," Scappi, 1570. (courtesy of

On large feudal estates, the milk was turned into cream, curds, soft cheese, and butter for the lord’s kitchen, and the residual whey and buttermilk made hard, skim-milk cheese for the servants and workers. This skim-milk cheese was sometimes so hard that it had to be soaked and beaten with a hammer before it could be eaten.

Butter was churned in the spring and summer, when the cows were milking, and the excess was salted for storage. Specifically, large dairies in Holland, Suffolk, and Norfolk potted or sold the excess butter. Cream could be kept safely only up to three days in the summer and up to six in the winter months.

Fig. 30. Churning milk? More likely grinding or pounding almond or herbs. Luttrell Psalter, 1340. (courtesy of


Finally, we come to the sweets!

Specialized equipment of note here included sugar graters for grinding the loaves of sugar (see Fig. 31), waffle-irons for baking wafers, and swinging chafingdishes suspended over small pots of burning embers.

Fig. 31. Sugar grater. Scappi. 1570. (courtesy of

The latter, in Hampton Court Palace, were used to slowly hand-stir and build up layers of sugar on caraway, coriander, fennel, and other seeds to make the comfits for sweetening the breath at the end of a meal. These were also used to coat dried fruits and nuts with sugar, and to gently simmer apples for appelmoise (applesauce).

To make the elaborate sugarplate and marzipan creations, cooks patiently kneaded and rolled out the pastes with pins or sticks, and delicately cut decorations with fine knives and wooden implements. Moulds were also commonly used, especially for creating the flat Marchpanes, or even fantastical subtleties like sculpted drinking cups. The English House-wife recommends using carved molds forms for finecakes, gingerbread, and aniseed cakes.



Black, Maggie, Brears, Peter, Corbishley, Gill, Renfrew, Jane, and Stead, Jennifer. A Taste of History: 10,000 Years of Food in Britain. English Heritage/British Museum Press. 1993.

Braziller, George. The Medieval Health Handbook: Tacuinum Sanitatis. (14th Century) George Braziller Inc. 1996. {Wonderful color plates of various gardening, animal husbandry, and other agricultural scenes}

Brears, Peter. All The King’s Cooks: The Tudor Kitchens of King Henry VIII at Hampton Court Palace. Souvenir Press. 1999. {Excellent resource on the day-to-day running of a period kitchen}

Caton, Mary Anne. Fooles and Fricassees: Food In Shakespeare's England. Folger Shakespeare Library. 1999.

Chiquart. Du Fait de Cuisine (On Cookery). (1420?) Scully translation (date?). {also online at:}

Curye on Inglysch: English Culinary Manuscripts of the 14th Century (including the Forme of Cury). (Hieatt, Constance B. & Butler, Sharon transcription. Oxford Early English Text Society. 1985.)

de Nola, Ruperto. Libro de Cozina. 1529. (Vincent F. Cuenca translation, 2001.)

(Digby) The Closet of The Eminently Learned Kenelme Digby, Kt. …Opened. 1669. (A Collection of Medieval and Renaissance Cookbooks, Cariadoc and Elizabeth, 1997.)

Henisch, Bridget Ann. Fast and Feast: Food in Medieval Society. Penn State Univ. Press. 1994.

Le Menagier de Paris (The Goodman of Paris). 1393. (Powers translation. Harcourt, Brace & Co. 1928.)


Libellus de arte coquinaria: An Early Northern Cookery Book. (13th Century?) (Grewe, Rudolf & Hieatt, Constance translation. Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies. 2001.)

Markham, Gervase. The English House-wife. 1649. (Falconwood Press, 1998.)


May, Robert. The Accomplisht Cook, or The Art and Mystery of Cookery. 1678. (Falconwood Press, 1999.)

Platina, De Honesta Voluptate et Valetudine (On Right Pleasure and Good Health). 1470. (Mary Ella Milham translation, Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies, 1998.)

Redon, Odile, Sabban, Francoise, & Serventi, Silvano. The Medieval Kitchen: Recipes from France and Italy. University of Chicago Press. 1998.

Renfrow, Cindy. Take A Thousand Eggs or More: A Collection of 15th Century Recipes. Self-published, 1990.

Santich, Barbara. The Original Mediterranean Cuisine: Medieval Recipes for Today. Chicago Review Press. 1995.

Scully, Terence. Cuoco Napoletano: The Neapolitan Recipe Collection. (15th Century?) Univ. of Michigan Press, 2000.

Scully, D. Eleanor, and Scully, Terence. Early French Cookery: Sources, History, Original Recipes, and Modern Adaptations. Univ. of Michigan Press. 1995.

Scully, Terence. The Art of Cookery in the Middle Ages. The Boydell Press. 1995.

Scully, Terence, editor/translator. The Vivendier: A 15th Century French Cookery Manuscript. Prospect Books. 1997.

Sim, Alison. The Tudor Housewife. Sutton Publishing. 2000.

Two Fifteenth-Century Cookery-Books. (Austin, Thomas, editor. The Early English Text Society. 2000.)

Wheaton, Barbara Keaton. Savoring The Past: The French Kitchen and Table from 1300 to 1789. University of Pennsylvania Press. 1983.

Wilson, C. Anne. The Appetite and The Eye: Visual aspects of food and its presentation within their historic context. Edinburgh University Press. 1991.

Wilson, C. Anne. Food and Drink in Britain: From the Stone Age to the 19th Century. Academy Chicago Publishers. 1991.

Artwork Sources

Courtesy of The Medieval/Ren Food Clip-Art Collection (

Bartolomeo Scappi, Il Cuoco Segreto Di Papa Pio V (The Private Chef of Pope Pius V), 1570: Figs. 4, 5, 6, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 19, 20, 21, 22, 27, 28, 31.

Hans Burgkmair, 1542: Figs. 1, 7.

Max Rumpolt, Ein new Kochbuch, 1581, Fig. 8.

"February," Kalendrier des Bergeres (The Shepherd's Great Calendar), 1541, Fig. 24.

The Assyse of Bread, 16th Century, Fig. 23.

J. Stumpf, Schweizer Chronik, 1548, Fig. 28.

Unknown source: Fig. 9.

Courtesy of A Feast for the Eyes ( :

Kuchenmeisterey, Johann Froschauer, 1507, Fig. 10.

The Luttrell Psalter, 1340. Figs. 17, 30.

Bakers, Book of Hours, 15th Century, Fig. 25.

"Sieving Flour; Making Wafers." Velislav Picture Bible, 1340, Fig. 26.

Unknown sources: Figs. 2, 3, 18.


Author information

Chris P. Adler-France has been an editor of newspapers, magazines, online journals, CD-ROMs, and books, and won two regional New England Press Association awards for general excellence in 1990 and 1993. She currently edits several books on commercial and municipal law for a legal publishing firm, Thomson-West ( She has B.A.s in English and Communications. Chris has a lifelong love of cooking and research, and has studied Medieval food as a hobby for the past decade. She enjoys yoga and bellydancing, and lives in Upstate NY with her husband and two spoiled cats.

As Dame Katja Davidova Orlova Khazarina, she has written papers and taught classes on Medieval cooking and food history, herbalism, the kingdom of Khazaria, and Middle Eastern dance for both the Society for Creative Anachronism scholas and for local museums, schools, and scout camps. She has cooked over two dozen Medieval feasts and weddings for up to 175 people. A member of the SCA for 18 years, Katja is a past seneschale, chronicler, and deputy senechale for the Barony of Thescorre, as well as the current archivist and waiver secretary for the Kingdom of Æthelmearc. She is a member of the Cauldron Bleu Cooks Guild in Thescorre, and worked in 2001 with other cooks to found the Æthelmearc Cooks Guild.

(Please see the group's webpage and discussion list at


Katja at Thescorre dot org

Katja’s Medieval Cooking & Food Page: