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Medieval Cookery: Browning Chicken and Making Soft Cheese

What did medieval people eat…before tomatoes, cauliflower, broccoli, potatoes, and microwaves?  Most people had very little food, but when times were good, meals were great.

Browning chicken for a stew:  These iron pots, on tripods over a trench fire, were greased by cooking bacon.  The bacon itself was removed from the pot, put onto a wooden plate, and handed to hungry warriors. The fat was used to brown chicken thighs.   When they were done, the cook used wooden spoons to put them on a wooden platter, and spread a snow-white linen cloth over them to keep the flies off.  It was slow, hot work to brown all 40 thighs required to feed the warriors, the cooks, and the king and queen.

Making Soft Cheese:  This beautiful pot, with a lid, was placed at the very edge of the fire.  When it had heated enough (I forgot to ask how she could tell it was about 100 degrees), the cook poured in a small flask of wine vinegar and stirred to curdle the milk.  Within an hour she had separated the curds, mixed in cumin (to hide the taste of the wine vinegar), and was ready for lunch.

Even the King and Queen enjoyed this food.

This food was prepared by and for the members of the Society for Creative Anachronism who performed at Medieval Fest in Upper Canada Village.  I forgot to ask for permission to publish the pictures, but I assume that public displays are not private.

For more food ideas, see Homemaker Mondays, Works for Me Wednesday,  Raising Homemakers,  and Simple Lives Thursday.

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8 Comments

  1. Jenn4him says:

    I am sure it took a lot of time back then to make such a feast. I love going to history events. I think we are going to our living history museum tomorrow. Depends on the weather, as usual.

  2. Annie Kate says:

    Yes, I’m sure it did take forever!

    I also love history events, especially if they involve beautiful food….

    Our neighbor family has a hobby of participating in re-enactments, and Miss 13 would love it if we did that. Maybe someday.

    Annie Kate

  3. […] Medieval Cookery: Browning Chickena and Making Soft Cheese by Tea Time with Annie Kate. Traditional food cooked in traditional ways connects us with our past […]

  4. […] Medieval Cookery: Browning Chickena and Making Soft Cheese by Tea Time with Annie Kate. Traditional food cooked in traditional ways connects us with our past […]

  5. Galfrid Thynne says:

    I was actually the one working on the fire that day.

    The soft cheese is made by heating whole milk slowly up to 190-195 F. And then adding a acid that will cause it to separate into curds and whey. We were using white wine vinegar but any acid like for example lemon juice can work just as well. How much acid you adds depends on the acidity, generally we get the milk hot and the keep adding the acid until it separates.

    Then you strain the mixture through linen or cheesecloth and hang it to dry (length of drying is personal preference). And you can add salt and/or herbs (or anything you feel like) to flavour the cheese.

    As for the cumin, it was actually used in the chicken stew and not the cheese.

    1. Annie Kate says:

      Thank you very much for this information. I’m so pleased that you found this post.

      We really enjoyed watching you cook. It was such a treat!

      Annie Kate

  6. Helen says:

    Hello! I was one of the folks doing the demo at UCV and I thought I would help you with a few details….

    The chicken was being browned for Chicken in Cumin sauce (From the cookbook Pleyn Delit. This recipe is #71)

    1 boiling fowl, about 3 lbs, cut up, or 6 chicken legs
    2 strips bacon, blanched in boiling water for a few minutes
    1 cup ale or beer (English ‘bitter’, if available), or ½ cup each ale or beer and chicken broth
    1-2 slices bread (white or whole wheat)
    1 tsp ground cumin
    ¼ tsp ground pepper
    1 tsp salt, or to taste
    optional ¼ tsp ginger, pinch saffron

    Chop bacon into small pieces and cook in a frying pan over medium heat until it has rendered a good deal of fat and is brown and crisp; remove and reserve bacon pieces, and brown the chicken in the fat. Meanwhile, steep spices and bread in ale or beer (and broth, if used). When chicken is sufficiently brown, arrange it in a flameproof or oven proof pan and add the bacon. Blend sauce ingredients- adding a little more liquid if it looks too thick- and pour over chicken. Cover tightly, and simmer over low heat or in a 350 over about 30 minutes, checking every 10 minutes to see whether more liquid is required, and to stir. Salt to taste.

    The Cheese recipe is this: Put in a gallon/4 Litres of milk in a non reactive pot. Add some acid (like vinegar, or lemon juice) and a bit of salt. Heat the milk slowly til it reaches 190-195 F, stirring frequently so that it doesn’t stick to the pot and it heats evenly (very important over a fire!). Once it is up to temp (it is too hot for your finger, but not yet boiling) it should curdle (separate into white curds and yellowy clear whey) on it’s own. If it doesn’t, you must add more acid until it does (all acids are a bit different, so I cannot give you exact quantities). When it has curdled, strain it thru a cloth (a smooth tea towel, or a clean old t-shirt) and hang it. The longer you hang it, the drier the cheese. Taste the curds and add salt to taste. You can also add Herbs or honey to taste. I suppose you could add Cumin, but I think the chicken recipe got conflated with the cheese recipe here.

    Happy cooking!

    1. Annie Kate says:

      Thank you so much for sending me the recipe, Helen. I’ve been offline, and it was a great treat to find your comment when I logged back on. 🙂

      We really enjoyed watching the demonstrations, and now we can actually try it ourselves.

      Annie Kate

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