Cooking & Dining in Medieval England – Review

Cooking & Dining in Medieval England – Peter Brears

 

Ah Brears. Brears, Brears, Brears. This is my all time favourite cooking book. While it helps that the time period I re-enact is 14th Century English and this book is bang on for what I do, it is also a fantastic resource.

While I recommend Pleyn Delight to beginning cooks and those who just want recipes, Cooking and Dining is the one I recommend to anyone wanting a bit more depth and knowledge to their medieval cooking. Brears goes through all aspects of cooking and dining, describing in detail the places where cooking and dining happened and separating out by categories of food. The Dairy, the brewhouse, the bakehouse, the pastry, the kitchen etc. Brears goes through each one detailing finds and written sources to bring the areas to life.

 

Although it has recipes, it is not a recipe book. Brears does not provide the original transcript of the recipe before his redaction but does have a comprehensive bibliography. (Which is an excellent place to find the primary sources) and the recipes make up only a small fraction of this book. First and foremost it is one of the most knowledgable books about all aspects of cooking and dining and is a good information source to anyone wanting to take their medieval cooking to the next level.

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This new work by Peter Brears, perhaps Britain’s foremost expert on the historical kitchen, looks at these important elements of cooking and dining. A series of chapters looks at the cooking departments in large households: the counting house, dairy, brewhouse, pastry, boiling house and kitchen. These are illustrated by architectural perspectives of surviving examples in castles and manor houses throughout the land. There are chapters dealing with the various sorts of kitchen equipment: fires, fuel, pots and pans. Sections are then devoted to recipes and types of food cooked. The recipes are those which have been used and tested by Peter Brears in hundreds of demonstrations to the public and cooking for museum displays. Finally there are chapters on the service of dinner and the rituals that grew up around these. Here, Peter Brears has drawn a strip cartoon of the serving of a great feast (the washing of hands, the delivery of napery, the tasting for poison, etc.) which will be of permanent utility to historical re-enactors who wish to get their details right.

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