The Vassal with the Vessel

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cooking-pots-art – 4/11/06
“The Vassal with the Vessel” by Mistress Andrea MacIntyre, OM, OSC, OBT.
NOTE: See also the files: iron-pot-srcs-msg, pottery-cookng-msg, utensils-msg, mortar-pestle-msg, iron-pot-care-msg, ovens-msg, cook-ovr-fire-msg.

This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set of files, called Stefan's Florilegium.

These files are available on the Internet at:
Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author or translator.
While the author will likely give permission for this work to be reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.
Thank you,

Mark S. Harris...AKA:..Stefan li Rous

stefan at


The Vassal with the Vessel

by Lady Andrea MacIntyre, OM, OSC, OBT
I have always been a champion of cooking in the medieval style and one can see by my past feasts that I strive to include as many medieval recipes as I can justify. It is a long time quest of mine to educate myself in all sources relating to medieval foods, and hopefully, along the way share my findings with my friends.
With the easier access of historical recipe books and the on-line documents being posted there, cooking in the medieval style has become much easier. Formerly unknown spices, such as grains of paradise and galingale have now become a staple ingredient in the reenactors kitchen. Even strange ingredients like partridge, pheasant, and quail can now all be found within minutes of an online search, Fed Ex, and a useable credit card.
So, with medieval cooking becoming easier, I find myself traipsing off into yet another direction of cooking. How does one cook medievally? Not what ingredients to use, but focusing instead on the implements one cooks the food in. While we strive to recreate the feast as medievally as possible, we often use modern methods and modern utensils to make the food. My future experiments seeks to offer yet another view of cooking medievally. I am currently focusing on the vessel in which we cook. Future experiments will be in the fire type, and different forms of ovens to use. This summer, I plan to harvest and dry peat and seaweed to experiment with the different sources of fire (different types of wood and charcoals will also be included), as well as experiment with clay, stone and brick ovens. I am sure the neighbors will be amused. (My neighbors raced to save my home from the smoke of my curing and smoking fires last summer. Let's just say they weren't pleased, even when they found nothing wrong.)
Below, I have chosen one specific recipe from Le Ménagier de Paris. It is a basic chicken pottage (what the modern world would call soup). I chose to recreate it three times. I have chosen the same medievally based ingredients (as much as one can get in our modern times) for all entries. I cooked each in my stone fireplace over a hardwood fire. However, I chose to cook each attempt in totally different vessels. These vessels were: Iron, Stainless steel, and copper lined with tin. I propose that each pottage will taste different and as a result prove that although we are currently "cooking medievally" in theory at our events, more emphasis' on techniques will further the knowledge of the cooking scholar. I don't suggest that we should all cook this way in our feasts, only that we can come closer to the original source in smaller setups (Like camp cooking).
The Recipe:

Soient plumés à sec, puis aiez du gras du lart décoppé comme par morceaulx quarrés, et mettez au fer de la paelle et en traiez la graisse et là les frisiez; puis mettez cuire ou boullon de la char, puis prenez pain hallé sur le gril ou chappelleures de pain trempées ou boullon de la char et un petit de vin; puis prenez gingembre, girofle, graine et fleur de canelle et les foies, et les broyez; et puis coulez vostre pain et boullon par l'estamine et les espices broyées à fin et sans couler; et mettre boulir avec vos oiselets et un petit de vertjus. - Item, qui n'a boullon, si mette purée de pois. - Item, ne doit point estre trop lyant, mais claret; doncques ne convient-il que le pain ou les foies pour lier. Le Ménagier de Paris 1393

The Translation:
SOUP of SMALL BIRDS or OTHER MEAT. Let them be plucked while dry, then have bacon fat cut into cubes, and put in the skillet and remove the grease from it and there fry them; then put on to cook in meat stock, then take bread browned on the grill or breadcrumbs moistened in meat stock and a little wine; then take ginger, clove, grain and powdered cinnamon and the livers, and grind them; and then sieve your bread and stock and the spices are not to be sieved but ground fine; and put on to boil with your small birds and a little verjuice. - Item, if you have no bouillon, use the water from cooking peas. - Item, it should not be too thick, but clear; so you only need the liver or bread for thickening.
The utensils:
Pots and pans made from iron or cast iron, both known for excellent heat conductivity. Modern-day ironware is either preseasoned or coated with a thick enamel glaze. The advantage of the enamel coating is the ease with which it cleans. Old-fashioned unseasoned iron pots and pans must be seasoned before using. The thick walls of the casting were designed to absorb and evenly distribute heat from a licking outdoor flame or the flat top of a wood burning cook stove.
Ironware may be a good choice for some cooks, although cast iron is heavy and takes a great deal of care to prevent rusting. Cast iron cookware releases some iron into food – one of the few instances where metal leaching into food from cooking utensils is considered desirable. Although the iron is not easily absorbed by the body, it interacts with foods and provides some beneficial dietary iron. Iron saves energy, since it retains heat after the element is turned off.
Stainless Steel
Cookware made of stainless steel strives to leave no influence of taste in foods. Stainless steel is relatively inert compared to other metals and the metals present in the alloy can be released into food in extremely low quantities. These metals can include nickel, molybdenum, titanium, aluminum and carbon steel. A recent study found that stainless steel pans contributed markedly to the levels of nickel in cooked food.
Recent research suggests that copper may be a better choice for cookware than stainless steel. According to a team of researchers from the University of Southampton in England, using copper pots may lower the risk of infection from potentially deadly bacteria such as E. coli 0157.
One must be aware of copper leaching that can occur when acidic foods are prepared in copper utensils, which can cause chemical toxicity and illness. Copper is both a toxic heavy metal and a mineral that is essential to good health.
Copper is an excellent conductor of heat, especially good for top-of-range cooking. Cooks often prefer copper cookware for delicate sauces and foods that must be cooked at precisely controlled temperatures.
Copper cookware is usually lined with tin or stainless steel. Tin is ideal to keep acidic foods from interacting with copper. However, tin is a softer metal than copper and the tin lining can melt if left over a high flame, or placed over any flame or hot coil when empty. Therefore, it's best to do your stirring with wood utensils to avoid cutting through the tin lining during extreme situations. A slight darkening of the tin is the result of normal use and does no harm to food.
The vassel with the Vessel conclusion??
After multiple blind tastings by wandering evaluators at an A&S exhibition in An Dubhaigeann, the one voted best tasting was the copper pot. The spices were well balanced and melded with the meat.
The second best was the iron ware pot. A stronger undertaste was noted, but it was still pleasant and tasty.
The last on the list was the ordinary stainless steel. Some people noted a sharp and bitter under taste. Still edible and tasty, but a definite difference from the above two.
My hypothesis was to prove that the vessel used does make the difference. My conclusion was that it did, period utensils truly fill out the accurate recreation of a medieval recipe.

Links of notice:

Cast Iron Cookware

Culinary History

Cindy Renfrow

The Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service

Goosebay Workshops



Historical reproduction. This really is a strikingly beautiful kettle! Completely handmade and carefully reproduced from the original, it is sure to catch everyone's eye, and is a delight to cook in as well! The original example was dated 1550 - 1650, however our research has found that this style kettle was in use for over 200 years. Examples can easily be found in Dutch paintings of the period. We are offering this kettle with two styles of handle, both documented and historically correct. Heavy copper, tin lined, with a sturdy hand forged iron band riveted to the edge. Iron ears attach the hand forrged iron bail. Bail "A" is plain, bail "b" has a swivel loop. This is a gorgeous kettle that you will be proud to cook in!

Dated: 1550 - 1650

Origin: Dutch for domestic use and trade to N. America

Materials: copper, iron, tin

Medieval and Renaissance Food Homepage

Stefan's Florilegium Archive


All Manners of Food: Eating and Taste in England and France from the Middle Ages to the Present, Stephen Mennell, University of Illinois, Chicago,1985

All The Kings Cooks: The Tudor Kitchens of King Henry VIII At Hampton Court Palace, Peter Brears, Souvenier Press, London, 1999
Fast and Feast: Food in Medieval Society, Bridget Ann Henisch, The Pennsylvania State University Press, University park, 1976
Food And Society: The Appetite and The Eye, ed. C. Anne Wilson, Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, 1987
Food in History, Reay Tannahill, Three Rivers Press, New York, 1988.
The Art of Dining: A History of Cooking & Eating, Sara Paston-Williams, The national Trust, London, 1993
The Magic of Fire: Hearth Cooking, William Rubel,Ten Speed Press, Berkley, California, 2002


Copyright 2006 by Denise Wolff, 48 Winnebago Road, Putnam Valley, NY 10579. . Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited and receives a copy.
If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate a notice in the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.

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