Friday, June 1, 2012

My Own Tudor Kitchen

Not only do I like to try historical recipes at home, I sometimes demonstrate historical cooking techniques for the public.  This year, with a lot of help from my friends, I created a Tudor Kitchen -- as close to what was found during Queen Elizabeth I's reign as time and budget allowed.

It is actually a field kitchen because it is outdoors.  If a noble person or the Queen herself traveled, sometimes the Kitchen would travel ahead and be set up and cooking when the Lord or Queen arrived.  Or, in the too-often event of a kitchen building burning down (this is why they were built separately from the living quarters), a field kitchen would be erected so food preparation could continue.

The idea was to create a theater set that convinced people they were actually seeing a period kitchen in action.  Certain adjustments for modern fire regulations and to help control public access were made but overall, I thought it turned out well.

Here is the morning of the first day it was open, before the public arrived and before the tools, serving containers, and other items were out.  In other words, this is an undecorated set.

We made it visually interesting by using a lot of colors.  The red and brown box you see is both a counter and a place to hide the modern ice chest and other food supplies.  This is handy because you don't have to leave the set to get your food items and it keeps them shaded and therefore cooler.

Here is a close up of the fire pit.

It is built out of cinder blocks (unmortared) and has a cinder block base to keep the fire up off the ground.  I plastered it over with a mix of clay, sand, and water to make it look less like modern cinder block.  Unfortunately, most of that mix didn't survive the torrential rains that followed the first weekend.

Then we pulled out the props:  bowls, plates, platters, knives, fire tools, cooking pots, spoons, cooking forks, goblets, tankards, etc., and we decorated the set.

I had spent time examining pictures (drawings) of medieval and Elizabethan kitchens and realized that what made them interesting was the joyful clutter of items.  Perhaps those drawings were "condensed", meaning the items were more spread out or not always out but were put into the drawing just to show them.  But I was there to cook and entertain the public, so I reached for the cluttered look.

It turns out this was really too cluttered -- the entire counter top was full and there was almost no room to put food that was being pulled out from under it.  So after that we didn't put out as many props.

Here's what it looked like the second weekend:

That's not me.  That's my assistant, "Lizzie".
The wooden cabinet on the left was a wonderful place to stack the quantities of bowls and platters I would use throughout the day.

To the right of the cabinet we had shelves that were reserved for the "special" items, like glass (expensive at the time), nice tankards, a marble mortar, and fine pottery with turned wooden lids.  There is even a baker's peel and realistic-looking skinned hare.

By the end of the day, those "S hooks" near the hare were filled with fresh herbs tied and hung for drying.

Here are most of the cast iron pots and pans that I cook with:

This cook yard was put to use both Saturday and Sunday for seven weekends by me and by others.  It was functional, roomy, fun, and fascinating to observe.  Some visitors were pulled in by the smell of the cooking food -- especially when we had a chicken roasting on the spit!  Others were intrigued by all the items we had set out.

I had many a good conversation about what I was cooking, how I was cooking it, the various spices and preparation techniques utilized, and whether or not that rabbit was real.  (Of course it is real.  It is not imaginary!)

We produced a number of tasty dishes each day; I did mostly cooking and the person using it on Sunday did mostly baking.  Much of the food went to feed the rest of the people who were there to demonstrate and entertain.

The Verdict:  Success!  It was the best place I have ever had for demonstrating historical cooking techniques.  We got a lot of positive feedback from our fellow performers as well as the public and I have many fond memories of cooking, making mistakes (and laughing them off), learning new techniques, and having excellent conversations about it.

Look for a future posting that goes into detail about the cooking pots and special tools I used.


  1. Be still, my history geek heart!

  2. I'm glad you like it! It was great fun to play in, that is for sure.