In 2016 I visited the Museum of London to take a look at their iron roasting spit, item no. 84.314/10. Unfortunately there’s not a lot of detail listed for the item, and before I visited there was even less…one of the quid pro quo’s for having the item taken off display (it normally lives on public display in the medieval gallery ) was to provide detailed measurements to add to the catalogue description and I thought some of you might be interested in them.
Although it’s catalogued as late 15th/early 16th century in date, if my memory of the conversation is correct, it was a river find from the Thames so is speculatively dated and more likely to come from the latter end of that range, if not the early seventeenth century.
The spit is made from flat iron bar which has been forged to a point at one end and shaped into a crank handle at the other, leaving the working blade section in the middle.
The crank consists of a slightly barrel shaped axle, a vertical rectangular section and a cylindrical handle.
The 75mm long axle has been created where the bar has been forged down from rectangular bar to a roughly round section 12mm diameter at the junction with the main spit blade, 14mm diameter at the mid point and 10mm diameter at the junction with the vertical bar.
The vertical section of handle has been left rectangular, though slightly narrower than the main blade of the spit, and is approximately 18mm x 8mm x 70mm. This flat bar has been bent at right angles to the axle but shows signs of a fracture at the radius of the bend as if the bar was bent past 90 degrees whilst hot but straightened up when the metal was too cool to work efficiently
The last 90mm-110mm of the handle end of the bar has been forged down to a cylindrical shape approximately 15mm in diameter and then bent at right angles to the flat bar to create the hand grip.
The point end has been shaped in a similar fashion to the handle, with the bar being forged to a conical shape, 12mm in diameter at the junction with the main blade and approximately 7mm in diameter at the point. The last 15mm of the point have been left faceted rather than fully round.
The blade of the spit tapers in width and thickness along its length changing from 24mm x 8mm at the crank end to 16mm x 7mm at the point. This taper, though slight, has been seen in later period spits and from a practical standpoint assists with removing roasted joints of meat from the spit at the end of cooking. The item as a whole is in very good condition with only minimal nicks and damage.
The blade length of 950mm (around 3ft 1″) tallies quite nicely with the size of a statute billet (as I discussed back here ), especially as the 3ft 4″ length of each billet would include the carf or cut point meaning that most of the usable wood would be much shorter than the statute length…hopefully this appalling sketch will clarify that somewhat (though i really do doubt it!)
The gallery below includes all the halfway usable images that I took…typically the one thing I completely forgot to take was my camera so I had to rely on my mobile phone to do the job. Finally a huge thank you to Hazel Forsyth at the Museum of London for arranging to have the spit taken off display for me to view.
I had big plans a few weeks ago when home working was mandated as the way to cope with this current covid-19 situation…there’s lots of things I’ve never got round to writing about, so I could occupy my time writing a more regular series of blog posts while there was no kitchen to fret about or cookery to plan.
But, and there’s always a but, that was before the great furloughing of ’20! As I write this, around 75% of my friends and colleagues (including myself and all of the Kitchen Team) are on furlough or in the process of being placed on furlough. This is taking some getting used to…not working on plans for the year isn’t easy, and with no fixed end date it’s very much a state of limbo that I find myself in. With Easter upon us, this would ordinarily be one of the most busy and fraught times of the year. We’ve just gone through the process of “closing” one financial year and would be beginning a new one, setting up budgets, allocating spending plans and such like. The Easter cookery would be mid-way through, with the holiday weekend soon to be in full swing and with it the the thousands of visitors that would usually bring. There’d be planning for the upcoming bank holiday weekend’s in May to get finalised, shopping to order, roster planning to tweak and details for the summer of daily cookery to get on top of…but now…nothing. Life is strangely silent. With no rhythm and routine to fall back on, the days all blur into one, and I’m finding getting started on something meaningful is proving tricky; whether that be blog posts or thoughts and musings about how live interpretation will look in the future, where social distancing is the new norm and how my team will cope with that.
Then of course there’s the worry…who’d have thought that a global pandemic would be cause for anxiety attacks and moments gripped by sheer terror!?! It comes in waves, sometimes small, sometimes cripplingly large, always connected with the thoughts of losing loved ones to something that you have no control over. I know I’m not alone in having these thoughts, I know I’m not alone in experiencing these for the first time; it’s rational to be scared at times under the current circumstances. These are scary times and being pre-occupied with the pandemic and trying to live a life through it is fine. It’s one thing to realise that you’re living through history (Arab Spring anyone?!), but that’s usually history at a distance; history that comes with the comforting thought that it’s not on your own doorstep and that you are merely an observer, watching it unfold on a phone, TV or laptop screen. Covid-19 is history that’s hammering at the front door, everyone’s front door and I’d much rather have a thicker door if you please! I’m not afraid to say that with its arrival I’ve been found wanting at times, genuinely terrified as to what it would bring if it found a way inside but unable to distract myself with thoughts of other, less unpleasant things…oh how I long for the demands of constructing the staffing rota, or updating my cost plan spreadsheet…and THAT’S saying something!!
So that’s why posts haven’t been as forthcoming as I’d have liked…like many, I’ve had bigger things on my mind! Not that I need to justify my silence…hell, there have been much longer gaps that this in my posting, but consider this post a clearing of my mind…I needed to write it to throw the rubbish and clutter out of my head if you like, so in that regard it’s not that much different from the usual ramblings here.
The end of this week has seen me start to work through much of this, coming to terms with not being in control, switching off from the news more, searching for distractions (as long as it’s not DIY). I have plans for some posts for you and just need to get my proverbial finger out and write them. Can’t say when they’ll appear or what they’ll be about, just watch this space to find out.
For now though, and apropos the title of this post, I’ll leave you with some old photos of some of Adrian’s handiwork….a couple of miniature ploughs that he made for school sessions he runs on the history of agriculture. He used to cart full sized ploughs around to schools and harness up children to pull them, but carrying tiny versions is so much easier apparently!!
Obviously the Ikea sofa doesn’t do them the full furrow justice…but what are you gonna do eh!?
I wrote this back in 2015. Originally I’d tweeted throughout the Christmas cookery week with updates of the work being done, then after the dust had settled from the event itself, I used the now-defunct Storify service to tie all the tweets together and flesh out the background and information that 140 characters wasn’t nearly enough space for. With Storify set to be binned I managed to save the whole thing by exporting to a PDF and there this has languished for a few years…now re-purposed for you lucky people to enjoy.As it was originally a Twitter story, I’ve done my best to reconstruct it as per the original, dated pop culture references and all…
December 27th 2014 to 1st Jan 2015 the kitchens at Hampton Court Palace were
once again brought to life with Tudor cookery. Over the 6 days we made three
cokentryce, this is what happened and why.
So what’s a cokentryce, and why make 3?
There are a number of surviving medieval recipes for making
a cokentryce such as this one from Harleian MS 279:
Harleian MS.279 .xxviij.
Cokyntryce. – Take a Capon, & skald hym, & draw hem clene, & smyte
hem a-to in the waste ouerthwart; take a Pigge, & skald hym, & draw hym
in the same maner, & smyte hem also in the waste; take a nedyl & a
threde, & sewe the fore partye of the Capoun to the After parti of the
Pigge; & the fore partye of the Pigge, to the hynder party of the Capoun,
& than stuffe hem as thou stuffyst a Pigge; putte hem on a spete, and Roste
hym: & whan he is y-now, dore hem with yolkys of Eyroun, & pouder
Gyngere & Safroun, thenne wyth the Ius of Percely with-owte; & than
serue it forth for a ryal mete
[Take a capon and scald him [in boiling water] and cut him in half at the waist. Take a pig and scald him and gut him as the capon was, and cut him in half at the waist too. Take a needle and thread and sew the front of the capon and the rear of the pig together and the front of the pig and the rear of the capon together then stuff them both as you would stuff a pig. Now put them onto a spit and roast them until it is nearly cooked then coat with a mix of egg yolks, ginger and saffron followed by parsley juice then serve it for a royal meat]
“Clearly that’s a goose and not a capon…can’t you guys even follow a simple recipe?”
“at least you got the pig right…but hang on! I can’t
see a boiling pot and they don’t loook pre-boiled and to cap it all, that’s a
medieval recipe and this is supposed to be a Tudor kitchen so what the hell is
going on here??”
The recipe for cockentryce is an excellent example to use
to explain what our job in the kitchens at Hampton Court actually involves.
We’re employed to look at the kitchens of Henry VIII and to put them into context, both of the building and also in history. That means looking at ingredients, recipes, equipment, people, and documents….pretty much everything that might impact on our understanding of those rooms. We’re interested in process much more than taste or end result. It’s simply not possible to produce something that we can say tastes like it did in the past, we can though say that this is how it was made, and these are the techniques used and this is how it could have been done in this space. We are at times though limited by ingredients and equipment and the requirements for cockentryce are a good example of this. To fully understand we need to look at the rational behind the recipe and look at what it is calling for you to make. Although ostensibly telling you to “just” cut the two animals in half and sew the opposing front and back halves together that is missing the subtext which is the creation of, in the case of the recipe, two new animals. If you just cut ‘n shut the two halves together you end up with what Heston Blumenthal created for his Feasts programme…something that needs somewhat of an extensive tummy tuck to get rid of all the excess bunching at the join as clearly the two vastly differently sized animals are never going to marry together neatly
Heston’s version may be following the recipe, but it’s missing the spirit that I belive was intended. When you see fantastic creatures in medieval manuscripts, such as this image from the Luttrell Psalter, they look fantastic but they also look feasible with all the parts joining together in an animalistic way. Many of the illustrations are not simply fantasies constructed by the illustrator but were images of what were believed to be real animals that existed somewhere in the world, they may not have been roaming around Europe but roam they most certainly did to the medieval mind; this is what the recipe for cokentryce is trying to create…an actual animal, not simply 2 halves sewn together for comedy effect. It is supposed to be as real and believable to the medieval diners as the dinosaurs in Walking with Dinosaurs are to modern TV viewers; we know they aren’t real but we expect them to look realistic and I belive the same held true for the cokentryce recipe.
so it isn’t just a case of cut and sew if you want to make
a “realistic” looking animal, the old adage of measure twice and cut
once is true when making a cokentryce and it really helps if the ingredients
are of a similar girth, something which causes slight confusion when ordering
from the butcher as meat tends to be sold by weight not waist size!
It is also this need to create a new animal that means
making 2 as stated in the recipe isn’t particularly simple.
To make a good looking end result the two halves need to be
cut and joined so they look good and hold together so Adrian and Marc united
them with a scarf joint favouring the front of the goose and rear of the pig in
the cutting. This method allows the animals to be cut in such a way as to leave
more skin than rib and flesh to give more area for sewing. This meant that out
of each pair of animals only one new one could be created as the opposing
halves were not suitable for joining and were used for spare parts on the main
beast. I suspect that with more practice they would be able to end up with 2
new animals from each pair; practice as they say, makes perfect.
“Yes…but why the goose when the recipe calls for a
Capons are castrated roosters; the castration is done in one of two ways, either chemically or physically. Chemical castration of fowl has been illegal in the EU since the 1990’s…residual chemicals in the end product do the same to male consumers as they did the bird, and physical castration is illegal within the UK on animal welfare grounds, though it isn’t illegal to import true capons from areas of the EU where physical castration is still legal. This tends to mean that most birds labelled as “capons” in the UK are simply fat chickens, and they haven’t grown in quite the same way, aren’t quite the same shape, have too much breast and not enough leg and aren’t in great supply. Put simply, the goose is a substitute that we feel is acceptable given the restrictions on obtaining true capons and they have a similar measurement to the sucking pigs that we chose to use.
“ok, so you went with a goose that’s fine…but this is a medieval recipe and you’re in a Tudor kitchen….”
Well, leaving aside the argument that the first half of the
sixteenth century is still medieval, as I said before, it’s almost the perfect
recipe to showcase what we do in the kitchens at Hampton Court
Palace…research, reconstruction, investigation, interpretation,
experimentation and history all seen through the lens of food. We have no
evidence to say that Henry VIII ever saw this recipe presentented before him,
but likewise we can’t say it wasn’t. Just because the source material here is
from the previous century it doesn’t mean it was only made in that century;
cokentryce can be found in fourteenth century recipe collections and there’s
plenty of evidence to show that recipes from earlier centuries were included in
recipe collections in the sixteenth century and after all, the cokentryce
according to Harleian MS 279 is a “ryal mete”. so what better place
to make one than in a royal kitchen?
“and the boiling….or lack of it?”
quite simply we don’t have pots big enough to fit a goose or pig into! I also suspect that the scalding process referred to in the recipe is the scalding done as part of the slaughter process to make it easier to pluck or dehair the carcasses rather than an extra one done as part of the cooking process. Having tried scalding chickens before placing them onto a spit for roasting, their skin shrinks quite extensively which whilst making them look more rounded and smoother and neater to the modern eye, also has the effect of increasing any cuts or splits in the skin which, combined with the shrunken skin would make sewing the halves together that much more tricky than it already is. Oh, and before you ask about the stuffing, the flavour wasn’t important to us, the process was so we used bread as a stuffing. This had the advantage of being quick to insert, held the body out to a suitable dimension and held the animal reasonably firmly on the spit, which is the principle role the stuffing plays, but without the time consuming process or cost of mincing pork to use as a stuffing.
Sewing the halves together isn’t a quick job; the grease and fat in both animals starts to melt and makes everything extremely slippery.
and when it’s sewn together you need to think about how the beast will be posed, so in this case a stiff wire was inserted through the mouth and down the neck to provide an armature to allow the head and neck to be positioned well.
once on the spit, pins, wire and thread were used to position the legs and wings with the aim of cooking it in pretty much the final position it was wanted to be in as once cooked it would not be possible to move any of the limbs without breaking them off.
again, during the coating process we deviated somewhat from the recipe as previous experience has shown that using a green batter is more successful than simply coating with the parsley juice.
So the end of day 2 and the 1st of the 3 planned beasts was
complete. It was good….but not good enough for Adrian and Marc, they wanted
more, bigger and better and along with Jorge, set to discussing what
improvements the mk2 variant would have.
Jorge wanted to apply more colour and use different colouring techniques with the next version whilst Adrian and Marc wanted more legs and a better, more natural overall look to the 2nd….and a tail, a much better tail than the one provide by the pig.
“our butcher has just delivered the meat for the last cokentryce that’ll be started tomorrow. He left with the look of ‘what the hell have you done with my beautiful meat??’ on his face”
here you can see the tail that Marc made from the back skin of the goose,stitched into shape and cut so that as it cooked and shrank it would hopefully form a serpent/dragon like appendage.
Adrian was keen to try and add scales to the pig skin and used Jorge’s spare pen knife, which was the finest and sharpest blade to hand, to cut scales into the skin. His thinking was that as the pig skin cooked and formed crackling, the scales would be revealed like the score lines in a traditional roast pork joint and that these would then show up through the thinner batter that was to be applied at the last stage of cooking….it didn’t work.
So 2 down…1 to go, and as with the previous ones, the guys wanted bigger and better. They wanted to take what they had learned from the previous 2 (which were the first ones they’d ever attempted) and improve on that for the last. Chances are this would be the last cokentryce that they would get to made for a while so they wanted to go out in style.
unfortunately by the time it was all finished it was gone
half past three and what little light there had been in the kitchens had gone.
This meant that the flimsy cameras I had were simply not up to the task of
taking pictures of the finished beast in all its glory. Suffice to say it had a
golden bill and toes along with silver and gold tips to the dorsal spines that,
much to Adrians shock had stayed in during the cooking process; a miracle
considering they were just spare rib bones poked through the skin and into
pieces of bread stitched into position beneath.
The paper wings were ok, but it would have been much better
had they been real feather wings…something for the future perhaps?
You’ll notice that I’ve got all the way to here and not
actually mentioned what it or they tasted like; possibly one of the more
popular questions we were asked over the week. Well it is what it is, the front
tastes of goose and the back pork, because that’s what they are and I suppose
we should take it as a compliment at having produced a sufficiently convincing
series of animals that people would ask what it tastes like.
It’s also worth noting the reaction that our visitors had to the whole thing, which was very positive. Young and old seemed to be genuinely fascinated and even those who expressed a negative opinion for whatever reason, were still interested enough to ask questions and discuss the process and history of the dish. We all spoke to hundreds of people for great lengths of time and all in all had a great, if extremely tiring 6 days making these three animals. It was a genuine team effort and one I am very proud to have been a part of.
…and so with all the visitors having left, the washing up done and the tables and equipment returned to the store room, all that was left was to sweep the floor and think about what we might like to do for future events.
A quick diversion away from the sugar knot garden excitement to throw some fakery into the mix…fake food to be precise. Why? Why not? Also I was looking back through photographs and had forgotten all about some of this, so why not take the opportunity to remind myself while telling all of you?!
But why would we need to talk about fake food when we’ve a team dedicated to experimenting with and creating accurate (or as accurate as we think it’s possible to get) replicas of historic recipes. We’ve got a couple of historic kitchens to play in, and a shed load of tools and equipment, all available to make real food, so why think fake?
Well there are quite a lot of times when real food isn’t suitable for a project…we use “fake” meat and pies within the Kitchens at Hampton Court to give visitors a sense of some of the food preparation tasks that would have taken part there. Using replica foods means we’re not having to continuously remake thousands of pies and pieces of cooked meat all through the year, it also means we don’t have to fret about the health and hygiene issues…leaving large joints of raw meat hanging around unattended isn’t exactly going to win us any friends in the local environmental health department and the less said about the smell of rotten meat the better (NO, you can’t and NO ‘they’ didn’t disguise that with spices, people in the past ate meat before it went off, and threw it away when it did go bad…but that’s a subject for another time I think). So obviously, “fake” or replica meat is clearly the way to go sometimes, and it’s something we first did back in 2006 when we introduced spits full of raw, and plates of cooked meat into the Kitchen display.
Here we commissioned a company that specialises in replica foods to make us a load of meat; we provided pieces of raw and cooked meat and they made fibreglass replicas of the raw and PVC versions of the cooked. They’re pretty good, and many are still in use in the Kitchens today as they still look like the real thing.
The thing with food is, that there’s lots of other places that could benefit from using it as an interpretive device…that is after all one of the main reasons that we cook in the Kitchens at Hampton Court, it’s not from an interest in food, rather that it’s a great subject to use as a lens through which you can view all sorts of other topics, have a look at some of my papers that touch on this subject if you’re interested in why we do what we do! With that in mind, think about all of the rooms that are NOT kitchens that Historic Royal Palaces look after, but that due to their sensitive conservation needs, aren’t suitable to have real food in them at all (or at least unattended). How much might they benefit from using food interpretively…dining rooms with tables laid and sideboards full, larders full of produce, and Great Halls ready for feasting…then fake or replica food suddenly becomes something that could be really useful. The problem is, a lot of what’s available isn’t very good, or what we’re after is so specialised and specific that we have to commission it from scratch, which leads to very long discussions with modellers and a lot of R&D to try to get what we’re after all of which is very costly in both money but more importantly time…wouldn’t it be easier to make it ourselves?
Obviously in a lot of cases, no, it wouldn’t. We aren’t set up for it and don’t have all of the skills for working with the various materials that are involved….fibreglass for example is something that should be worked on with extreme caution and the correct protective equipment. However, there are some cases when doing it ourselves is absolutely ideal, and more so if we continue the experimental approach that’s taken with the real food. Rather than trying to replicate the final product, which could really just be carved out of a solid block and painted to look realistic, why not find ways of replicating the actual component ingredients and simply follow the recipe?? That way, as well as ending up with a finished item, we might also learn something about the recipe itself along the way, as well as saving some time in not having to try to explain to a model maker what a recipe that they might not even understand, should actually look like.
The first chance to try this out was a couple of years ago for Christmas at Kensington Palace. We wanted to display a selection of Victorian period Christmas dishes, but they would need to sit out on the conservation sensitive visitor route for the whole of December. Some things were easy to do…plastic mince pies were available to buy “off the shelf” and looked pretty realistic, others proved less simple. For some reason that I can’t recall, I insisted on having a boars head as part of the display, as nothing says ‘historic Christmas’ like a boars head…but not a meat one, Charles Elmé Francatelli’s mock boars head made from cake and ice cream; the recipe for which is in his book The Royal English and Foreign Confectionery Book. (London: 1862)
Click on the recipe to enlarge and read!
Obviously Ivan Day has been here before but I wasn’t that interested in how he did it, it was all about following the recipe…but without using food! Could I replicate the finished dish by using simulated ingredients and following the recipe, rather than just trying to make a model of the final thing? Fire retardant high density foam was to become the sponge cake, with caulking sealant coloured with acrylic paints substituting for ice cream and icing as appropriate. Over a number of days, the recipe was followed, with foam blocks being glued together as the cake would be if you didn’t have a boar head mould hanging around. These were then carved with a large ham knife for added irony, into the rough shape of a boars head which was then coated with “chocolate” icing once the ears had been added…though throughout this part I couldn’t help but think it looked more Muppet Pigs in Space Captain Link Hogthrob and less wild boar!
The back of the head was then cut out and filled with two separate layers of “ice cream”, teeth, tusks and eyes added and the whole thing touched up for colour…it really looked too milk chocolate rather than the plain I was after.
Meanwhile, a “cake” of foam was iced pink and glued to a ceramic dish to hold the base in place. When the head was dry, it was both glued to the cake base and skewered on, to hold it steady…these were the worst bits as I ran out of time and had to fashion hastelet skewers from brass rod and Fimo modelling clay in short order to meet the deadline…eventually I’ll replace them with something nicer (yes I know, the chances of that ever actually happening are remote at best, but I can dream!) Decorative croutons were made to resemble those shown in the Francatelli lithograph, and the whole thing was boxed and shipped off to Kensington for public derision.
This sense of making fake food from the ingredients up was one that also found its way to the fake meat for the Kitchen re-display in 2017/18. The original fibreglass and PVC models looked really great, but as they were originally made to be viewed from a distance, didn’t stand up to scrutiny when touched. In short, the realism vanished as soon as the joints of meat were touched, and we wanted to push that perception of realism so it lasted just a few seconds longer…could we make visitors unsure about whether they were looking at and touching models or the real thing?
Careful discussion with the same company that made the original meats lead to models made of a selection of materials, all designed to replicate the feel of raw and cooked meat…made up of differing densities of foams and rubbers to simulate the different muscle structures in the meat.
How good did they look and feel? Good enough for a visitor to pick one up on the opening day of the new interpretation and take a massive bite out of a “cooked” piece…oops! The sad thing was, they were too good…people just had to touch them to see if they were real or not, and that touching extended to pulling , hitting and tearing, so we had to take them off display and go back to the drawing board. Interestingly there must have been something subconsciously telling people it wasn’t real as I find it hard to believe that people would pull and tear at raw meat if it was on display for fear of getting it on their hands (though obvious caveat…people are weird 😎)
Unfortunately, the new “rubber” meat had spoiled me and I got a bee in my bonnet about replacing it, but how? At the moment I’m experimenting with making a solid silicone version…yes it’s not going to be as realistic, but possibly that’s a good thing; at least it’ll withstand biting! So far all I’ve made is a small test piece which now serves as a paperweight on my desk, but the process is relatively simple and produces a product that looks just like the real thing…or will do once coloured. First, make a mould of the meat. For this test, I used casting alginate to take an impression of a small piece of beef…as always, I took lousy images as a record of the work
The mould was opened by enlarging the hole at the top where I’d not covered the beef fully, and the meat removed. A two part platinum cure silicone was then mixed together and poured into the mould cavity…no colour, just the pink that it came as, it was only a test after all.
Yes, it was full of air bubbles (really need a vacuum de-gasser) but as a test it was ok. Yes, it feels like silicone rubber to me, but crucially it doesn’t feel like fibreglass or PVC so it may well work at pushing that sense of uncertainty a little further than it currently stands….even if in the end it turns out that I make a huge beef joint shaped bouncy ball! Consider this all a work in progress, and expect more news some time in the future.
Lapping it up
Another dish that has been completed, was made for Kensington Palace’s Christmas 2019, where a display needed to show the gifts that the young Queen Victoria left for her dog, Dash for Christmas 1833…a rubber ball, some gingerbread and a bowl of bread and milk. The ball and gingerbread weren’t an issue…a little paint to modify a stock fake “loaf” created the gingerbread and an online purchase sorted the ball…the bread and milk were a little more challenging. Continuing the thinking process as above, I wanted to simulate the ingredients separately and make the dish, not just think about the final appearance, so tried a couple of different methods using different materials. The first used a two part rubber which is used to simulate water, or any other liquid when it’s coloured.
A bowl was obtained and a base layer of high density foam stuck into the bottom just so I wasn’t having to use too much of the rubber milk. PVC bread slices brought off the shelf from a replica supplier were then glued to that foam and the “milk” was poured over the lot and left to set. As it’s a rubber designed to simulate liquid, it remains a little translucent at the margins which really adds to the sense of it being a liquid. It looks really realistic in the flesh, but the rubber isn’t particularly strong and after I’d made it I realised that visitors would be able to touch it if they wanted…the meat experience mentioned above meant I needed to try a different method that would be a little hardier and so a second version was made, this time using a 2 part hard plastic resin. Again the bowl (a new one) and PVC bread were prepared and the two part plastic mixed. When mixed, the liquid is clear and only turns white on curing…it really is quite magical watching it go from see through to opaque in around 10 minutes.
This one was much better, rock solid, yet once again made by combining separate simulated ingredients together. Compared to the first version, the milk is a little too white in some lights, but it serves its purpose well and you don’t tend to notice the brilliant whiteness…except in the image above! Making this used up most of the amount of chemicals that I’d purchased for the job, but did leave a small amount unused; I had no real use for them, there wasn’t enough for another bowl and they wouldn’t last in their containers as they’d been exposed to the air and would degrade over time…so mixing the last couple of slugs together with a good shake, the resultant liquid was poured into a container, set with a straw and left to harden. One of the good things about this plastic is its viscosity once mixed, it’s actually quite fluid and that helps any air bubbles that have been created by the mixing process to rise out through the mix to the top without needing a vacuum chamber…keep in mind this is a plastic designed to be cast in moulds, so in most use cases it’s actually the bottom (that would be in contact with the mould) that people want to have no bubbles in…having them rise to the top means they don’t mess up the final cast item. In this case, bubbles floating to the top was something I was counting on as it meant that I could create a plastic cup of frothy milk
so far, it’s fooled most people who have seen it.
Now this is all rather fun, and it means I get to do some interesting (to me) diversions now and then, but is there any real use for all of this? Well I say yes, there is. As I said at the beginning, we already use fake food for displays where we can’t use the real thing, so having more options opens up the possibilities of how we can interpret spaces. If we can try and make these things in-house where possible, we can see if we can apply the real cookery skills and knowledge that the team has to making more realistic looking fake food, we might even learn something in the process and there’s nothing worse than seeing crap fake food ruin perfectly good interpretation all for the want of 10 minutes work and a smidge of effort
So, almost a year since I bothered posting anything here, I suppose I should put some effort in eh?!
Well as I sit here on enforced sick leave I’ve got some time to think and write, which makes a nice change. First things first, and for the inquisitive…you know when you go into hospital for a procedure and they tell you there’s a xx% success rate, well earlier this year I fell into the other percentage and a septoplasty I had needed more corrective surgery which I got last week, leaving me high and dry away from work until after Xmas…though looking ever so stylish.
The second thing that makes a nice change, I think, is Xmas. We’re now less than a week away and the usual stress and panic about the forthcoming week of cookery in the Kitchens at Hampton Court is completely absent, mostly because the week of cookery is completely absent this year!! Yes, for the first time since 1991, when Christmas festivities were started at Hampton Court, there’ll be no cookery over the course of the week between Christmas and New Year and we all get the same Christmas you all normally get. Now to put that in some perspective, this is the first Christmas since 1992 that I won’t be with my friends at Hampton Court on Boxing Day, New Years Eve or New Year’s Day…it will be the first complete Boxing Day, New Years Eve and New Year’s Day I’ll have ever spent with my family… it’s quite a big deal; but why is it happening and why no cookery?
If you visit the official HRP website you’ll find full details here if you scroll down, but the important bits are…
Henry VIII’s Tudor Kitchens
Electrical upgrades, re-decoration and re-presentation works.
Henry VIII’s Tudor Kitchens and surrounding cloisters are now subject to major work as we lay down new electrical cables to power our palace in the years to come. Archaeologists are also using this opportunity to help us better understand the history of the Tudor Kitchens and passageways.
The existing electrical system is almost 70 years old, and the work will allow the palace to continue operating into the future – as well as giving a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to study buried archaeology in this part of the palace.
Unfortunately, this work will impact on what visitors to Hampton Court Palace can see in and around the Tudor Kitchen area. There will be no fire in the Tudor Kitchens for the duration of the works.
The long and the short of it is that access in and out of the main Kitchen building where we work and roast is extremely restricted due to the electrical upgrade, with the main Kitchen building having become a cul-de-sac because of the necessary closures and it’s simply safer to not try to cram hundreds of visitors into a space they wouldn’t be easily be able to leave if there was an emergency; so the painful decision was taken to cancel the Christmas cookery this year, but plan to bring it back bigger, brighter and bolder next year.
Just because there’s no cookery, doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty to see and do over the festive period at Hampton Court though, and the HRP website details all there is for you to enjoy here.
Special shout out to my colleague Hannah who now has the full weight of worry and stress about the Elizabethan Christmas event to see her through this week of technical rehearsals and soft openings and then through the Christmas festivities…I feel for you, and in a weird way, kind of miss the sleepless nights and panic….not! 😈
On the up side, the excavations to allow the new electrical cabling have turned up some interesting features..possibly a hearth feature from an earlier phase (Wolsey or possibly even pre-Wolsey when discussions were had during my visit to the site) of the building
Now all we have to do is wait for the dig report to see what else they found.
The electrical upgrade work is scheduled to last up until just before Easter 2018 and that’s the next time you’ll be able to see live cookery in the Kitchens at Hampton Court. This will also be the last time you’ll get to see the Kitchens as they currently appear as, another thing that’s taken up huge chunks of this year, we’re in the middle of planning an updated interpretation scheme for the Kitchens and Service areas…indoors and out…which will refresh the Kitchens for the next decade of visitors (the last refresh and re-interpretation was done for 2006 and is now showing its age and looking tired)…but more on that and the wonders it all holds in a future post…possibly next week once I’m back at work and can catch up on all the latest comings and goings and photograph some of the new stuff we’re having made.
Probably the biggest change over this year, and the main reason there’s been nothing much posted…even on Twitter, where I’m virtually attached at the hip, is that I’ve had a change to my job…a big change!
Previously, I planned and organised most of the nitty-gritty, day-to-day, on the shop floor details for the Kitchens Interpretation Team, but reported to a manager who dealt with the higher level things like budget responsibility, training, “how does this all fit into the big picture” sort of stuff, you know, all that grown up management sort of stuff. That left me time to do some research, do some work in the Kitchens with my friends, keep up with the idea of doing a blog again, Tweet interesting stuff…and well, do fun stuff. Well in April all that changed when we had a small department shuffle and I became the line manager for the Kitchen Team and went from a frantic, pushed to the limit, part-time position to full time…theoretically to ease the burden a little and smooth out the management.
Well that didn’t really work as hoped and the extra days of work a week were instantly taken up with the new work required as a manager…budget, team management, training, pastoral care etc, etc, and the work I hadn’t had the time to fit in beforehand still doesn’t get the time, and what’s had to give is all of the “fun” stuff…research, blog, Twitter etc…yes I still Tweet, but the quality, such that it was, has taken a bit of a nosedive!
So, is this the end of all this witter…not just this post, but me online in general? No, safe to say it’s not, it just might be that the sporadic nature of posting over the last year will be the norm for the future…believe me when I say I have lots of good intention, but little energy at the end of a day now.
As I said above, I’ll post an update on plans for the Kitchen as well as a likely update on plans for interpretation of live cookery into the future at a later date, possibly the week after Christmas when I’m back at work…and with no cookery to worry about it should be nice and quiet in the office. Work also continues on all the previous research I’ve posted about into fires and roasting, along with some interesting work that Barry has been doing on apotropaic marks in the main Kitchen building and he and I have been looking into drains and water too…all fascinating stuff that hopefully we’ll get time to work on and write-up this coming year.
Well, that’s about it for now as I’ve run out of steam and am struggling to write stuff that makes any sense…thank God for the ability to edit is all I can say.
If you’re interested in some more historic details regarding plaster of Paris, albeit a little later in history than the Tudors, then you should take a look at this blog post on plaster of Paris which is part of the ever excellent Recipes Project.
Enjoy that and I’ll furnish you with the next part of our confectionery capers early next week.
Just to let you know that some degree of concern has been assuaged today as I’ve heard from Adrian that the wooden former he was supposed to be making does indeed exist….hooray!
Unfortunately the wording of his text message read thus:
She’s looking more like ‘Davros’
Don’t be surprised to find that we may gravitate towards making the potentially more lucrative sugar Davros figures rather than the sugar woman…I’ll just have to square things with the boss and we’ll be good to go! ;o)
When I last looked at the subject of firewood I said that one of the next things to do was look at the fireplaces around the Palace and see how big they were….well I had some time this past week to do that as well as some other log related work.
First on the agenda was simulated logs! I wanted some life sized stand ins for no.1 size talshides (based on the details in the Arnolds Chronicle descriptions, so 4ft long and 20 inches in circumference). Why simulated logs rather than just getting some real logs you may ask…and you wouldn’t be alone in asking. Well there are a number of reasons why…ease of availability, weight, cost and not running the risk of introducing pests such as woodworm or other insect life into the Palace; but I must say that the weight was the principle reason. The simulated logs are intended to enable discussions regarding the size and transportation of the logs within the building, not their weight, and having lightweight simulations will allow children to safely handle them, something that would be much less the case if they were actual four foot long billets of timber!
So how did I make them? Simple…we had a very large roll of large cell bubble packing material (Fun* fact…BubbleWrap, as we ALL call this
stuff is actually a trademarked brand…and most of the wrap we all use isn’t actually BubbleWrap at all, it’s another plastic cell wrapping material that isn’t allowed to be called BubbleWrap…yet we still do! *not really fun, but hey, I used to work for a packging company, got to use that experience now and again 😉 ) and a roll of 2″ brown parcel tape. Roll the wrap into a cylinder that was 20 inches in circumference, then cut to 4 foot long and wrap with tape…lots of tape, the result…
Eventually I think I’d like to make a few more so that there are enough to
allow the laying of a “fire” so that people can get a better idea of the size it seems likely that the fires would have been, but for now two will suffice. I’m not sure what it is, but when you talk to people about talshides being four foot long, they nod sagely with that look of acknowledgement that says “I hear what you’re saying but that size really doesn’t mean much to me in this abstract form”…hand them a four foot roll and say, that’s how big we’re talking about and things take on quite a dramatic change and the response changes to “wow! That big?!?”; so for now, they’re proving very useful.
Mock logs aside, I’ve spent a fair time looking through the architectural plans and the brick typology of the building to pinpoint any and all of the surviving Tudor fireplaces dotted around the Palace (not including the roasting fireplaces in the Kitchen). Currently I’ve looked at all (I think) of those in areas that are easily accessible which leaves around 6 or 7 to find in various offices and stores at some time in the future. I’m interested to see if they would have been able to accommodate a standard length talshide (4 foot) or not…if so, then the firewood listed under Bouche of Court in the ordinances could have been standard, assize sized logs.
So it looks like 60 inches, or very close to it, is the commonest size for the domestic fireplaces used to heat rooms within the Palace (and over half of the ones I’ve yet to see in the flesh are around that size too according to the architectural plans), meaning they could all utilise an assize length talshide with inches (or feet in some cases) to spare…the first image of the fireplace within the Kitchen Office includes one of the aforementioned talshide simulators (and before you ask, no I did not carry them through the Palace to test fit them in all the fireplaces, I used a tape measure) to give you an idea of the scale and to show how easily they would fit.
Did they use the standard assize length for firewood is the next question to try to find an answer for. Why might they not use the standard assize length talshides? Well it’s possible that the 3 foot talshides the Northumberland Household used were related to the available timber, that dividing the trees into 3 foot not 4 foot lengths was more efficient for the trees at hand and the same might have been true for the Court. Likewise it could be a cost related reason, that shorter lengths cost less because they could get more from any given tree, or it could be a rudimentary anti-theft mechanism; with pilfered logs being unable to be sold on the open market as they would clearly be too short to be legal under the general assize and would stand out like the proverbial sore thumb. For now all I can say is that the officers of the Woodland were expected to see “the full measures of Coales and the Assize of Wood”
whether or not that was the national assize or a specific Court one will have to form the next steps in this investigation.
One of the questions we get asked a lot is “so what wood are you burning?” and the usual answer is something on the lines of “tree wood!” Yes it sound facetious, but it’s often the most accurate answer as the timber that we burn in the kitchens today is a hotch potch mix of whatever is in stock with our supplier at the time. We’ve had all sorts over the years from oak, beech and ash all the way to yew, some stunning box that was appropriated from the flames to make knife handles and a bowling ball…yes it was that thick!…and some eucalyptus that refused to be chopped into smaller pieces and simply wouldn’t burn it was that green…we were convinced that it you could have wrung it like a sponge it would have dripped everywhere. But the one thing almost all of it has in common is that it comes in short lengths, a bit like you see for sale all over the place for people with a fashionable log burner to buy, but perhaps a little chunkier.
So we know what we burn, but how much do we burn is a little more interesting. Until we embarked on five months of daily roasting last year, the State Apartment Warders that set and tend the fire each day would use up around 4m3 of wood each week; the fire is after all burning every day, whether we’re using it to roast or not. With the daily roasting that increased slightly to 6m3 a week, so over the five months around 130m3of timber was burned…give or take! Now that might sound like a lot, especially as we were only cooking one 6Kg joint of beef a day, but can we put that in any form of context and compare it to how much wood was used by the Tudors? Possibly…with a LOT of caveats and approximation.
So first off, what does 130m3 of wood look like? Well according to the Forestry Commission timber calculator, if you can imagine a tree 2ft in diameter that’s 50ft tall….and then imagine 25 more of them…that’s what it looks like (though presumably that’s the main trunk only and not the smaller branches). Now how does that compare to the amounts that the Tudor court burned?
First stop has to be the Eltham Ordinances of which the version published in A collection of ordinances and regulations for the government of the royal household, made in divers reigns : from King Edward III to King William and Queen Mary, also receipts in ancient cookery, by the Society of Antiquaries in 1790 is most convenient to work with (even though it is prone to errors and is a mash-up of numerous sources). The ordinances defined the operating procedures for the court and give us many clues as to the operation of the household departments; though remember, the instructions given were for the court wherever it was located and not just at Hampton Court. We must not let the fact that Hampton Court survives for us to work in, cloud and confuse the textual information that we have simply because the building as we see it doesn’t always fit with the Ordinances as written. Unfortunately, the evidence that the Eltham Ordinances present us is vague to say the least! Apart from the Bouche of Court references which includes among the daily ration of bread, beer/wine and lighting, the allowance of fuel various court members were to receive as part of their membership at Court, the only useful references which may also include the fuel burned within the kitchen departments are found within the estimation of the expenses of the various departments within the household over and above those costs listed within the diets. These include the costs for Wood for Furnage of Bread and the costs for the Woodyard at £40 and £440 over and above the cost for Bouche of Court. I’ll ignore the bakery fuel for the moment as that’s clearly just for baking bread and not related to the other fires within the court, and instead concentrate on the woodyard expenses.
The question is, how much firewood would £440 get you and for that we need to look elsewhere to find useable figures. So far I have only come across 4 sets of figures where a specific quantity of wood for a specific cost is given, it’s much more common to find expenses simply for “firewood” with no quantity; and of these 4 figures, one is slightly anomalous as the cost per unit works out to be nearly 10 times greater than the other examples…I’ve still got more work to do to see if there’s a reason for that so for now am happier to stick with the lower cost per unit rather than include this much higher figure….I did say it was going to get sketchy 😎
So what are those figures? For the meeting at Guisnes wood was purchased at a cost of 178l. 9s. 5¾d for 691,400 tallwood and billet. In the same accounts, the Bishop of Durham paid 6l. 8s. 4d for 27,000 billets and finally 17s. 8d was paid for 2,500 billets for wheel wrights to make tug-pins from in 1515, a figure which usefully points out to us that these talwood and billets may not have just been for fuel. If we take these costs and divide them by the amount of wood then a figure of 0.06d per unit is arrived at meaning that the £440 spent by the woodyard would have been able to buy around 1,760,000 talshide and billet for use by the court!
But what were talshides and billets?
The sale of fuel wood was controlled by the Assize of Fuel which set the size that certain types of fuel was to be sold at. An assize set in the 34th year of Henry VIII’s reign, and according to the details in the Edward VI assize was the same as issued under Edward IV, is known to have existed but it seems that no copy survives for us to study today. The next version that does exist was set under Edward VI and then reinforced and clarified by Elizabeth. There is also a surviving Assize for the City of London which can be found in The Customs of London, otherwis known as Arnold’s Chronicle which presumably dates from the end of the fifteenth century given that the chronicle was originally published in 1503.
All of these versions of the assize define the size in both length and circumference that certain units of timber should be sold at; these units are talshides, defined from a no.1 to no.5, and billets, which come in three differing sizes. The assize also covers faggots but these were probably only used within the bakehouse at Hampton Court and thus form part of a completely different subject to the one at hand! The 7 Edw.VI cVII assize defines the five sizes of Talshides as follows:
Circumference at middle in inches
All are four foot long, not including the carf (cut) at the end of the log, and should be of the statute diameter within a foot of the middle of the log. The assize of 43 Eliz. cXIV added half and quarter cut versions for the talshides, but in a move to protect consumers stated that should a log fall between two sizes it should be considered to be the smaller of the two so that the customer effectively got the difference in size free.
Circumference at middle in inches – full
Circumference at middle in inches – half
Circumference at middle in inches – quarter
Compare these to the figures found in Arnold’s Chronicle here:
Circumference at middle
and we can see that there was a marked reduction in the size of talshides destined for sale. According to the opening statement of the Edward VI assize, this was due to a scarcity of firewood through the previous sixty years and the “Greatness” of the previous assizes…a “Greatness” of approximate 1/3 of a cubit foot (0.009m3) difference between the previous version and the Edward VI assize (presuming the assize detailed in Arnold’s Chronicle is the same as set under Edward IV); which if one considers the 1,760,000 talshides previously mentioned, would equate to 15,840m3. So the Edward VI assize would have intended quite a saving in fuel use, over 3100 of those trees I mentioned earlier in this example, though to what extent changing the unit of fuel would have impacted actual fuel use is another matter.
After talshides, billets were categorized as either single, billets called cast or billets called two cast. All were three foot four inches in length, but unlike the talshide, the carf (cut) was to be included in the length…no free fuel here, unlike the talshides. The Edward VI sizes are given as:
Circumference in inches
whereas the Elizabethan ones, which were again separated into full round, half round and quarter round, were :
Full round in inches
Half round in inches
Quarter Round in inches
though single billets were only sold as fully round. The Arnold’s Chronicle figures are..complicated and are something I currently am not quite sure about. Billets are specified as :
and I am yet to get my head around how large “of resonable proporcio[n] and gretnes after the nombre of shyde that it be tolde fore” actually was.
Now I can only suggest that you get a tape measure out to get a sense of how large some of those logs were…until I did that they were just numbers on the page and you get a better understanding when you see what they actually looked like. To help with that, I did a quick recce through the woodpile in the Kitchens at work to see how close some of the logs we have waiting to be burnt actually are to the assize sizes. None come close to the length required, with the biggest ones we have coming in at around the 2ft 6 inch mark, but I was surprised at how many were pretty close to assize in circumference. To put that measurement in context I took some photos of three logs I pulled out at random that matched the circumferences from each of the different assizes above….I’ve used the internationally recognised standard measurement unit of the post-it note (not having a football field, London taxi or Olympic swimming pool to hand!) to give the scale as the ruler I had wasn’t particularly clear in the images. FYI the post-it note is 76mm x 76mm. (click on the images to enlarge them)
Once you start to be able to picture these sizes of timber, all of the surviving mediaeval images of firewood start to make sense…regular sizes, cut to regular lengths, and even if the images aren’t English and aren’t showing firewood of English assize dimensions, this uniformity of fuel makes perfect sense. In an age where timber forms a key part of so many facets of life, proper preparation, even in the growing, makes perfect sense. Why cut and split large trees down to size when you can just harvest them when they’re at the correct size? Yes we see images of wood being split down, but it’s not large trunk logs as we’d expect to be the case today, it’s much thinner, assize sized ones.
Now all this information regarding assize sized timber is all well and good, but it is also entirely possible that the talsides used within Henry VIII’s court were of a completely different size and specification set just for the Court, as was the case for the Household of the Duke of Northumberland :
Here, shides are specified as being split down to three foot in length by a span (around 8-9 inches) thick, which would correspond to a statute #2 or #3 talshide. But what is important is to understand that the fuel used by the court was of regular, standardised dimensions and not the random assortment of timenr we have to burn today.
So where next? Well one task is to look at all the surviving sixteenth century fireplaces in Hampton Court and see if they’re big enough for a 4ft
long log to fit into…so far, the first two I’ve looked at are certainly wide enough for a 4ft talshide to be burned lengthwise across the fireplace without needing to be cut into shorter lengths; only time and further measuring will tell with the rest. As for the kitchen fireplaces, well they’re easily large enough for statute talshides to be placed in a multitude of orientations so we aim to look at different arrangements of setting the fire through the year to see if we can learn anything from practical experimentation…though obviously the first requirements for this will be to talk to our firewood supplier to see if it’s possible to get wood supplied to statute sizes at all, and if not then we’ll have to progress purely on paper.
Header image: The Pierpoint Morgan Library, MS M.452 fol. 3r, http://ica.themorgan.org/manuscript/page/3/76930