In medieval times, the lower classes lived in small huts, while the upper classes lived in great houses or castles. These houses and castles would have large kitchens staffed by many servants, as well as storerooms, pantries, a buttery and bottlery (a storage room for bottled goods). Medieval cooking relied on long hours of manual labour, and many of the cooking utensils were very similar to items we still use today.
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An open fire was used to cook most of the food during medieval times, whether in a rich household's kitchen or a poor family's hut. While the lower classes cooked over an open fire inside their huts, many kitchens belonging to the upper classes were often separated from the main building to prevent the spread of fire. Castle kitchens were generally located on the ground floor. Typical methods used when cooking over a fire were spit roasting, baking, boiling, smoking and frying.
Lower Classes' Cooking
The lower classes' diet consisted of brown bread and grains, cheese, and stews and soups made from root vegetables and legumes, with fish added occasionally. A kettle or pot would be suspended over the fire to cook these stews. A skillet or frying pan was used for cooking eggs, and the home would have a few wooden bowls, some spoons and a knife. Bread and pastry dishes would be made by wrapping the food in clay and placing it directly into the fire. Alternatively, the ingredients would be made and taken to the local baker to be baked.
Upper Classes' Kitchen
As in the poor homes, stews and soups were cooked on an open fire in the upper classes' kitchens. Rather than a simple kettle, however, the kitchen would use large pots placed directly onto the fire. These pots would be made from iron, bronze, copper or clay. An iron or wooden spit was used to spit-roast animals over the fire. A freestanding oven, a separate structure from the stove, would be used to make bread and pastry. Stoves were usually long stone benches, with deep containers set into the structure. The kitchen would also contain a large selection of knives, for carving and preparing the meat. Ladles, sieves and meat forks were commonly used in the kitchen, though forks did not appear on the dining table during this period. A mortar and pestle would be used for grinding herbs and spices.
Feasts were grand occasions in the great hall, where a wide range of roasted meats, fowl and fish dishes would be served. These would be served in a range of sauces, along with stews, pastries and decorated sweet dishes. Those at the high table in a castle would eat from silver dishes and plates, while everyone else in the hall would use a trencher to hold their food. This was a stale bread loaf, hollowed out to form a bowl. The trencher would not be eaten, due to the staleness of the bread. Silver knives and meat forks would often be used by the servants to cut and serve the meat.
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