Auld Time cookery
As I write, the Scottish countryside is quizzing by the train window and my head is filled with tales of William Wallace and Robert the Bruce, James V and other kings of Scotland. We learned about a huge parts of Scottish history by visiting a strategic place – Stirling.
We visited the village and its castle today and enjoyed the many stories and bits of trivia our tour guide shared with us. I could see the inner courtyard full of tradesmen and market stalls, and in the Great Hall I could hear the music of a 16th century feast and see the nobles in their dress tartans.
Of course another highlight for us besides the usual historical reference was the kitchen. Understanding how people cooked in another age is sometimes even more fun than knowing how they cook in other cultures. It seems odd to us that people would eat swans or peacock, but is that any stranger than say, turducken, that current Southern American specialty?
The kitchens were amazing, large rooms in the underground levels with huge work tables. The staff (mostly men) cooked everything over a large hearth. There was fresh bread, stewed or spit-roasted meat or fish, steamed veggies, and all manner of sweets.
All of the food had to be prepared for not only the guests of the royals but also the many staff, so two kitchens ran full tilt if there was a function going on. Mind you, if you were a simple “lackey boy” who mucked out the stables or stoked the fires, then your daily ration was only a pint of ale and a loaf of bread a day. (I think this is where the term Even youngsters drank ale as opposed to milk or water, as it was less likely to be contaminated. You only had milk if your family owned a cow, goat or sheep.
Interestingly enough, the food of the 16th century was more strongly flavoured, and coloured, than what we are used to today. This was in part to show off at a royal function, using imported spices and dried fruits to illustrate the grandeur that could be afforded. It also often helped with main dishes to disguise the less appealing flavours of pickled or salted meat.
It’s interesting to note too, that the 16th century is when they started to serve dinner in courses. They would start with a “potage” (thick soup), then roasted meat and/or fish, then tarts and small pastries, followed by a large assortment of fruit (dried or preserved usually) and “sweet meats” (cakes, sweet pastries, candies). Of course there would be plenty of imported French wines and beer or cider made locally to wash it all down.