To feed a ‘Riding Household’ the size of Lady Demowbray’s needs many hands in the kitchen. Every kitchen has a Head chef, and whether the kitchen is located in a castle or in a field under canvas, there is no difference. The Head of Kitchens is an important role - they have a responsibility and authority in the household that is not to be ignored. They are trusted with funds, stores and the well-being of the Duchess' reputation, as well as the well-being of her household!
Cooking in our period is not as simple as just turning the gas cooker on. Fires need to be lit every morning. Without these fires the camp does not run, the men and women go hungry. As soon as we stumble from our slumber and faces appear, the call goes out for firewood. Have you ever considered how often you use boiling water at home? How often you wash your hands with warm water? On a medieval campaign warm water comes from having the fire lit. A young squire from the retinue will usually go and find dry firewood and start chopping.
Cooks are punctual and efficient people (they won’t want to be late and risk the whip-like tongue of the head cook) and discussions are held in the morning for the day's menu. The Head of Kitchens will converse with M'lady ensuring her tastes are met and her guests will be impressed with the cuisine being served. This is a very important part of Medieval society – she must be generous and exotic if she can. M’lady is also very modern – she has a female running her kitchen after all, not a male. Very controversial!
Once the fires are lit, they stay lit all day, providing hot food for the retinue and M'lady. M'lady likes the fine things in life – and these take preparation. After the breakfast washing up is done (yes - some things don't change through time!) the kitchen springs into action again.
M'lady also decides what her troops will eat. With the menus decided the kitchens go to work. From the moment the cooks are awake to the time they go to bed they are chopping, stirring and creating an array of delicious dishes. So what could M'lady request? Salt dough fish? Lozinge? French beef, sweet dishes of Frumity? To keep the camp bellies from grumbling there might be pasties with cheese and mushroom or Tinkers Cakes. All made fresh on the day by the Kitchens. The Retinue get to eat the finest seasonal pottage, with pearl barley. Breads and cheeses are a staple part of the diet, too. We gather local ingredients; visiting local markets to get the produce as we travel.