When one thinks of the logistics in medieval feast, the first things that usually come to mind are the vast amounts ingredients necessary to prepare all those fabulous dishes the cookbooks and chronicles tell us about. And yet, any cook, even the best one, would have failed miserably without an adequate supply of firewood to fuel the hearths and ensure that all the food was cooked to perfection.
Ordered by the cartloads, dense dry wood was continuously hauled into the kitchen, either through the wide doors or perhaps even some big windows. Toward the end of the Middle Ages coal became more and more popular as a fuel because it produced a more even and longer lasting heat. Fire irons were used to spark a fire, which with the help of kindling was gradually turned into the desired blaze.
Medieval feast, fabulous dishes, metal baskets
Air from the mouth of a kitchen boy or from bellows also helped in drawing up the flames. Instead of putting out the fire in the evening and starting a new one the next day, householders often chose to leave the embers dormant overnight. Since unattended embers were a fire hazard, a pottery cover with ventilation holes was put over the fire. In towns a special bell was rung in the evening reminding people to put out or cover up their fires.
The modern English word “curfew” is derived from the name for this bell, couvre-feu, which in turn was named after the above-mentioned pottery cover.
To make the most of the fire for cooking took a lot of skill, and medieval cooks were true masters in exploiting the heat for a variety of tasks simultaneously. Big cooking pots were hung above the fire on adjustable hooks that, when attached to swinging chimney cranes, allowed for heat regulation by moving the pot vertically and horizontally to or from the fire. The burning logs were placed in andirons under the pot, and if necessary could be removed to reduce the heat.
Sometimes small metal baskets were attached to the upright posts of andirons. Filled with hot coals, they were an extra heat source for a pan or pot placed over them. Bigger pots and cauldrons would be placed on tripods or the somewhat lower trivets set over or in the coals.