Black Satchel: Historical Cookery: #researchtober: 4th

For today's #researchtober entry, we pay heed to the great Peter Brears, who is writing about the rise of the later Tudor merchant entrepreneurial class.

"Unlike the established families, they inherited neither responsibilties for, nor any relationships with, those who lived on their newly acquired estates. Most did not wish to provide employment for extensive numbers of serving men and retainers as these were now seen more as a drain on financial resources than as a source of status and influence. Why support hangers-on, when the costs of their wages and keep could be enjoyed in the form of fine clothes, fashionable luxuries, and high living in London? As food prices rose, the old established families began to see what their new rivals were doing, and decided to follow their lead."
-- Peter Brears, Cooking and Dining in Tudor and Early Stuart England, p. 14.

This change, away from large households and affinities, is what marks the end of the medieval era for me, principally because of the changes it brings with it in food and cookery. In addition, it marks a change between a fairly continuous spectrum of power from the lowest servant to the lord and a sharp boundary between the family and the staff.

The food change is essentially in volume - great houses went from feeding scores, maybe even hundreds, of servants, householders, tenants, and passers-by to feeding much smaller numbers, and from feeding everyone more or less the same food - even if the people at the top got it first - to serving different food to the masters and the servants. And with that change in volume, there's a move away from the vast quantities of roast meat and bread, and toward more complex and somewhat more delicate fare.

It's visible in the architecture around cooking, too. Kitchens of the medieval era in the largest dwellings were often separated from the main living quarters, so that the vast quantities of food that were being delivered, handled, cooked, boiled, baked, and so on in sometimes as many as ten or twelve different specialised rooms or buildings didn't disturb anyone. After this particular turn of culture, kitchens don't need to be separate anymore, and move into the main building - or more precisely, into the basement of the main building, literally below the masters above. And these houses weren't kept running when the master wasn't home; instead they were 'closed up', leaving only a caretaker or two, and whatever outdoor servants were needed.

In addition to all of this, it was one of the first major social changes that were visible to people within their own lifetimes. We're thoroughly used to this concept; the world 60 years ago was very different - but in the late medieval era, it was just about possible to believe that the world had always been the way it was then, and expect that it always would be. There is poetry written about the change, and it doesn't hold it in a positive light. In particular, one hard-to-scan song includes the lines:

"With a new fashion when Christmas was drawing on,
Upon a new journey they must all to London be gone,
And leave none to keep house in the country,
but their new man John,
Who relieves all his neighbours
with a great thump on the back with a cold stone."

... which pretty well sums up the new attitude.

I'm interested in food history both before and after this change, of course, but knowing about it gives a considerable amount more context to the later, more "refined" cookery.