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Sunday, 23 March 2014

A Snapshot of Working Life in a
Fifteenth-Century French Duke's Kitchen ...

The type of spoon you would not want to get hit by! From BL MS Bodl/264 (c. 1340), The Romance of Alexander.

   The famous chronicler, poet, and autobiographer, Olivier de La Marche (1425–1502), left us with some interesting observations of kitchen operations in the household of the Dukes of Burgundy during the mid- to late-fifteenth century. No one is exactly sure of La Marche's occupation within the household, but some speculate that he was engaged as some sort of overseer related to food, beverage, or budgetary offices. Much of this speculation stems from the extremely thorough descriptions he offered of the kitchens and catering operations that fed the duke's household.

   There is much to say about La Marche's observations, and future blog posts may explore his Mémoires in more detail, but for now I am posting a short, poignant quote that offers a quintessentially medieval perspective of work in great household kitchens:
"The cook orders, regulates, and is obeyed in his kitchen; he should have a chair between the buffet and the hearth to sit on and rest if necessary; the chair should be so placed that he can see everything that is being done in the kitchen; he should have in his hand a large wooden spoon that has a double function: first, to test soups and stews, and secondly, to chase children of the kitchen back to their work, beating them when necessary."

Quote taken from: H. Beaune & J. d'Arbaumont, Mémoires de Messire Olivier de La Marche (1425–1502), T. IV (Paris: Renouard, 1888) 50. 

By: Ryan Whibbs 

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