Almost every group, and quite a few provincials and other individuals have fires and cook at shows. Subsequently cook ware is perhaps one of the most represented props in the LHE.
Cooking equipment falls into 3 categories ; the firebox & supports, pots & pans and utensils.
All metalwork, must look wrought or smithed and not be modern cast, pressed or machined. Modern welds should be avoided.
Fireboxes and accessories
Fireboxes should be smithed and not look modern. i.e. they should be wrought or fashioned from sheet metal of riveted construction. Avoid integral sliding grills and other modern attachments and accessories that can make a fire box look more like a modern heavy duty barbeque.
Other kitchen specific items are short metal double ended hooks, or ‘S’ hooks, which are used to suspend pots and pans over the fire. These can vary widely in size and design. For longer drops from high tri-pods a chain can be used, sometimes with a hook on the end. Chains should be forged and not have modern spot welded links.
A handled single ended hook can be useful to rescue pan handles that have dropped into the fire or with bad designs into the pan itself. It can also be used to lift pans off the suspension hooks etc. without needing to touch the invariably hot handles with the hand. (although an insulating cloth also works).
Other useful items are fire pokers and simple rakes. The rake being used to spread the fire embers evenly over the hearth to give a better control of the fire for cooking.
Pottery Cooking Pots
Pottery is in the minority but special large cooking vessels exist with internal lugs from which suspension cords can hang the pot over a fire ; the internal location of the lugs protects the cords and prevents them burning through. These ‘pottery cauldrons’ are specific shapes and you should consult a pottery expert and/or an authenticity officer before buying one.
Smaller jugs and jars can also be used to heat liquids by sitting them in the fire’s embers without needing to hang them over the fire. These however are ordinary tableware pots used for a different purpose.
Metal is by far and large the material of choice for cooking pots, and THE main style of pot is the cauldron. Made from sheet metal riveted together, the cauldron can range from relatively small to absolutely huge. Small cauldrons can be as little as 6 or 8 inches diameter. Large cauldrons can be up to three feet wide. All cauldrons should be circular at the top and half round in section. So in essence they are half a ball in shape. All have a solid bar semi circular handle fixed to opposite sides of the pot, sometimes using highly decorated mounts.
Cauldrons are commercially available or can be purpose made by a blacksmith, but the latter can cost several hundred pounds depending on size. There is one pattern of cauldron which is readily available and reasonably priced. It is therefore well represented within the Society despite the fact that it is not actually authentic. (note however that it is not banned).
The type in question has a more than half round section, with a straight top part so that the section through the pot looks a bit like a traditional magnet. This design is actually Turkish and came back to England after the Crusades, so it is too late for our period. This is however not the disaster that it might sound, because with judicious use of a hacksaw and a little riveting to re-attach the handle the offending item can be transformed into a truly half round period cauldron.
Cauldrons can be made from sheet iron or sheet copper alloy, but cast pots, such as Victorian jam pots (usually in copper) are not authentic and should not be used. Do not use acidic foods in copper cauldrons as the results can be poisonous. It is good practice to restrict the use of copper cauldrons to dying rather than cooking.
Sheet metal cauldrons inevitably leak when you first buy them and various suggestions as to how to seal them have been made, the most recommended being to make porridge in it and allow the porridge to seal the leaks for you. You then don’t fully clean the pot out otherwise you clean out the seals. Obviously you have to clean the pot and reseal it from time to time otherwise you die from food poisoning !
Cauldrons can also have lids. Made from wood these help keep the heat in and allow things to cook quicker.
Pots and pans other than cauldrons are allowed but should generally be in reasonably thick iron sheet which has been worked or wrought into shape. The most surprising of these is the traditional flat bottomed shaped frying pan, with an integral straight side handle, one of which was found at York.
A variation on the same theme is a round bottomed ‘frying pan’, but modern shaped ‘sauce’ pans are not authentic are therefore not allowed. Note that modern cast or shiny steel frying pans are not allowed.
The frying pan shape is also allowable in sheet metal, with cauldron style semi circular hinged handles, essentially a cross between a frying pan and a cauldron. The modern equivalent is called a paella pan.
As we work over open fires, many modern-ish pans can be used with discretion as the fire will blacken things over time. Even very shiny steel can be blued using oil as many a wok owner will tell you.
Essentially a flat piece of iron with a handle, but there are several variations.
Skillet handles can be fixed or hinged to drop flat, but all are essentially made out of thick iron strip bent into a round shape from each side of the flat cooking surface, and rigid enough so as not to flex. The cooking surface is traditionally a straight forward flat iron plate. Variations include lipped skillets with varying sizes of lips to stop food sliding off the flat plate.
Although not true pan, being a cross between a utensil and a pan, the handled skillet is effectively a skillet on a stick. The stick can be in iron and part of the ‘pan’, or in wood with the ‘pan’ attached with a socket in the same fashion as a spear head. The modern equivalent is perhaps the tool used to get pizzas out of the oven. A further variation of the flat plate skillet and usually only found in the handled variety is a spiral of metal strip wound to form a flat plate. Obviously this has small gaps between the windings and which allow heat through from the fire, and if the food being cooked is fatty, then fat will drain through… the Viking version of the George Foreman grill!!
Almost every household would probably have a version of a spit, because otherwise you cannot prepare roasts over an open fire. The spit is essentially nothing more than a couple of uprights with a bar between them, and which supports the meat and can be turned to rotate the meat and ensure an even cooking.
There are a multitude of variations which have refinements to ensure the meat goes around on the split, can be placed at varying heights over the fire, have different ways to rotate the meat… and so on. If you are contemplating making a spit then have a look at what others have already, and talk to an authenticity officer first.
A trivet is a metal stand, with an open ring, triangular or rectangular top supported by three or four legs. These are used as pan stands, with the trivet stood in the fire, as alternatives to suspending from a spit or tri-pod.
One very good use of a trivet is as a pan / cauldron stand away from the fire, as this keeps the hot pans away from the ground. It is a little known fact that a hot pan can destroy underground archaeological evidence to a significant depth, so where we have to use fireboxes we also need to keep hot pans off the ground.
In order to suspend cauldrons and other pans over the fire you need some sort of device to hold them there. The most used is a tri-pod. Rather obviously the size of your tri-pod must suit the size of your cauldron. (or largest pot/pan)
A very simple version can be made with three sticks stood in a Tee-Pee shape with the tops tied together with cord. This is obviously a makeshift device, probably used by hunting or raiding parties, and not meant to survive very long. If the fire gets too high then your tri-pod will burn as well.
A more permanent tri-pod can be made out of three iron rods as legs, starting vertical at the ground then curving in to meet at the top, and secured together with a huge rivet. The rivet base is often forged into a hook from which to hang pots via a chain or using S hooks. The Oseberg ship burial has two magnificent examples, with elaborate claw feet to the legs.
In general terms everyday cooking utensils are the same as tableware, with spoons and knives etc. all the same as eating utensils, only bigger.
Spoons and ladles should usually be in wood or metal.
Horn cooking spoons are rare because the size of the original horn and the laminate nature of the material limits the size of spoon that can be successfully manufactured. Bone spoons are limited by the size of bones available, but scoops for grain can be made from cow shoulder blades.
Ladles in wood would be carved from a piece of timber cut from a branch junction with the main tree trunk, so that the natural grain of the branch forms the handle, whilst the grain of the main trunk forms the ladle bowl (or vice versa depending on sizes).
With continuous use in hot cooking pots timber spoons, spatulas and ladles would not have lasted long, and the more affluent may have replaced them with metal versions. Again all metalwork should be forged and not be modern.
Drainers or colanders could be made by drilling holes in wooden spoons, and a shoulder blade of a cow found similarly cross drilled has also been taken to be a drainer.
Care of ironware
Storing iron cooking kit perhaps needs a mention as it will invariably go rusty unless oiled. One trick is to oil the pans with a piece of paper kitchen towel, and leave the paper in the pan. This keeps the oil where you want it, and also means that you have a few oily pieces of paper to start the fire with at the next show.