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Cooking & Dining in Medieval England


Brears, Peter.


The history of medieval food and cookery has received a fair amount of attention from the point of view of recipes (of which many survive) and of the general context of feasts and feasting. It has never, as yet, been studied with an eye to the real mechanics of food production and service: the equipment used, the household organisation, the architectural arrangements for kitchens, store-rooms, pantries, larders, cellars, and domestic administration. This new work by Peter Brears, perhaps Britain's foremost expert on the historical kitchen, looks at these important elements of cooking and dining. He also subjects the many surviving documents relating to food service, household ordinances, regulations and commentaries, to critical study in an attempt to reconstruct the precise rituals and customs of dinner.

An underlying intention is to rehabilitate the medieval Englishman as someone with a nice appreciation of food and cookery, decent manners, and a delicate sense of propriety and seemliness. To dispel the myth, that is, of medieval feasting as an orgy of gluttony and bad manners, usually provided with meat that has gone slightly off, masked by liberal additions of heady spices.

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. Then 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 (the service departments including the buttery, pantry and ewery) and the rituals that grew up around these. Here, Peter Brears has drawn a wonderful 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.

Peter Brears was formerly director of the museums at York and Leeds and has worked all his life in the field of domestic history. He has written extensively on traditional foods and cookery in Yorkshire, as well as a groundbreaking illustrated catalogue of domestic and farmhouse materials in Torquay Museum. He supervised the reconstruction of several important historical kitchens, including those at Hampton Court, Ham House, Cowdray Castle and Belvoir Castle.

Further details:

  • Softcover: 512 pages.
  • Language: English
  • Illustrations: 74 Black and White Illustrations
  • ISBN-13:9781903018552
  • Product Dimensions: 25.2 x 18.2 x 4.7 cm


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.

Staff member; R McDonald

Staff Comments:

I'm going to cheat and let Loreena handle this one. Though I do particularly like the section about kitchen layout and how it all relates to each area of food preparation.

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