Sunday, April 08, 2007

Kitchen Utensil Appreciation Post

Walk into your kitchen. Look around.
Question: What's one item you couldn't live without?

For me, it's this:

For people in the Middle Ages1 it was this:

"An illustration of the cook from Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. Note the long meat hook in his left hand, one of the most common cook's tools during the Middle Ages."
- Wikipedia: Medieval Cuisine

I would never have guessed. I don't even own something that could substitute for a meat hook. This sure points to my lack of participation in the sourcing of my food. (Since, according to this same article, most Europeans couldn't afford meat during the Middle Ages, I suspect this more accurately applied to nobility.)

I can't say whether meat hooks were more prevalent than knives in the early 1400s, but apparently knives were in short supply:
"Knives were used at the table*, but most people were expected to bring their own, and only highly favored guests would be given a personal knife. A knife was usually shared with at least one other dinner guest, unless one was of very high rank or well-acquainted with the host."

* "... the medieval meal was a communal affair, like every other part of life. The entire household, including servants, would ideally dine together."
And forget forks:
"Forks for eating were not in widespread usage in Europe until the early modern period, and early on were limited to Italy."
At least they had plates:
"... diners would take their share from the [stew pots] and place it on trenchers of stale bread."
Well, some had plates:
"In lower-class households it was common to eat food straight off the table."
Besides acting as a plate, bread performed other functions:
"... bread was used to wipe off knives when passing them to the next diner."
They also used bread as pot holders. I guess it's understandable when you consider how much bread there was:
"Estimates of bread consumption all over Europe are fairly similar: around 1-1.5 kg (2-3 lb) of bread per person per day."
Another food eaten aplenty:
"The importance of vegetables to the common people is illustrated by accounts from 16th-century Germany stating that many peasants ate sauerkraut three to four times a day."

Illustration: "Harvesting cabbage. Tacuinum Sanitatis [a medieval handbook on health], 15th century."
- Wikipedia: Medieval Cuisine

On this day, I am giving thanks.

1 The Middle Ages were "a period roughly dating from the 5th to the 16th century," something I couldn't have told you off the top of my head. Thank you, Sans Fromage, for sending this fascinating article on Medieval Cuisine. I love it.
Another great site on medieval cooking, sent in by Melinda, is Gode Cookery. Lots of recipes and illustrations. Thank you, Melinda.

Photo: Homegrown. My trusty 8" pseudochef's knife - forged, full tang, riveted and dry-rotting handle, perfectly balanced in my 6-year-old-sized hands ... I can't tell you how much I love this knife. It's just about 20 years old, and not a day goes by that it isn't slicing, dicing, skinning , or smashing (garlic). I didn't pay a lot, but I sure did get a lot.

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