Thursday, April 30, 2009

Food Related Painting of the Week

January: A Kitchen
Antonio Tempesta (Italy, Florence, 1555 - 1630)

January: A Kitchen
(from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art)

It's been a while since I babbled on about a painting, so it's about time for another.

A few days ago, someone (thanks, Johnnae!) posted a link to this etching to one of the mailing lists I follow. There was a brief discussion about the items and equipment being used and the thread died down. Basically it centered around the spigots at the sink on the left, and the women nearby apparently plucking poultry. Those aren't what first caught my interest in this image.

The first thing I saw was the stark division of the kitchen.

The table in the center splits the kitchen in half, and separates the functions of cooking and service. It also serves to keep servers, dishwashers, and other non-cooks out of the way of the cooks (and vice-versa). This is surprisingly similar to my preferred setup for cooking medieval feasts (and how many - most? - modern restaurant kitchens work as well).

The second thing I saw was that the dining setup wasn't what I expected.

I'm used to seeing either a U-shaped arrangement of tables with the feasters sitting around the outside, or (in smaller or less formal settings) a single table with the feasters sitting around it. Here the tables are set out as one very long table, and it's hard to be sure but I think the feasters are seated only on the side at the far right. On the left side, opposite the table, is what I believe to be a side-board. It has big serving platters on display, and would probably also have an array of sweets or the like set out during the feast.

After these I started looking at smaller details.

Various pots and pans are being stored on high shelves over the sink. Presumably this would help keep them clean and out of the way. Similarly, there are a couple of cooking implements being stored on the hood over the fire.

The food on the plates (bowls? they look kind of deep to be plates) about to be served is covered with another plate. Is it to keep stuff from falling into the food? I don't think so, because the food on the flatter plates isn't similarly covered. Perhaps it's to keep wetter foods from sloshing, or maybe to help keep the food warm until it reaches the feasters.

I initially thought that the things sticking out of the meats being roasted over the fire were the small skewers that help keep the meat from sliding around and to turn when the spit turns, but it looks like they're still on the meat that the cook is putting onto the table to be served. So I suspect those are pieces of fat inserted into the meat to help keep it moist (a process called larding).

Finally, an odd little detail: on the table in the lower right corner of the image is a small round thing that looks like a drawer knob. Is that really a drawer? I don't think I've seen drawers in medieval artwork before, but then again that's not something I've been paying attention to - up until now.

Monday, April 27, 2009

It Must Be Spring!

Looking out the kitchen window this morning, I noticed something looked odd with my quince tree.

Quince Blossom

Yes, those beautiful pink blossoms are blooming! (Ok, so the picture above is one I took last year - I didn't have enough time this morning to take a new one. I'll try to take some new ones soon).

There are a lot more blossoms this year than last - which only makes sense given that the tree is about two feet taller than it was last spring. Hopefully I'll have better luck and actually get a couple quince from it this year.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

More Thoughts on "The Medieval Diet"™

It's been far too long since I posted last. Things got a bit nuts for a while there - a royalty lunch to cook, a feast to help with, taxes, vacation, minor illness, yadda yadda yadda. It's amazing how life can get in the way of the important things in life. Anyways, I thought I'd give a short update on this dietary experiment I've been toying with.

A while back I posted about the similarities between the diet in medieval Europe, the "Flexitarian" diet, and the advice of modern nutritionists. For the past couple of months I've had my family eating roughly according to the following guidelines.

  1. No meat (other than fish) on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays
  2. Lunch is the main meal, dinner is smaller
  3. Meat portions are small (~4 oz.) with the bulk of the caloric intake coming from other foods
  4. Seasonal, locally grown fruits and vegetables
  5. Carbohydrates from a variety of grains and tubers
  6. Reduced intake of sugars

Note that I used the word "roughly" above. There were occasions where we swapped the menus for a couple days of the week - usually due to having stuff in the fridge that needed to be cooked before it spoiled. However overall we had more meatless days than the required 3 out of 7 per week (vacationing on the Carolina coast was a bonus - it was more like 5 out of 7 days without meat).

The seasonal vegetables part has actually been kind of fun. I end up buying what's cheaper and having to be a bit creative with it to keep things from getting dull. Of course every now and then I need to resort to frozen veggies out of expediency. Mind you, it's spring. Living on seasonal produce will likely be much harder in the winter.

Was the produce locally grown? Probably not. I just don't have time to go to the farmers markets and such, which leaves me with what's available at the grocery. It probably was all trucked in from hundreds of miles away.

The biggest problem of course is having lunch be the main meal of the day. This has been a total failure so far. The kids are in school and I'm working a traditional 9-5, so we can't get together for a big, home cooked dinner in the middle of the day. I suppose I could pack a larger lunch and go light on supper, but somehow that just doesn't click with me.

Still, we're eating a better balance of foods overall with less red meat, and I'm losing weight (veeeery sloooowly). I guess it's one of those cases of incremental improvement, so I'll keep working at it.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Kalendarium Hortense - April

The Kalendarium Hortense was published by John Evelyn in 1683. It contains instructions for what a gardener should do throughout the year. The excerpt below is the list of what is to be done in the "Orchard and Olitory1 Garden" for the month of April.

Sow sweet Marjoram, Hyssop, Basil, Thyme, Winter Savory, Scurvey-grass2, and all fine and tender Seeds that require the Hot-bed.

Sow also Lettice, Purslian, Caully-flower, Raddish, &c.

Plant Artichoke-slips, &c.

Set French Beans, &c. And sow Turneps to have them early.

You may yet slip Lavender, Thyme, Peneroyal, Sage, Rosemary, &c.

Towards the middle of this Month begin to plant forth your Melons and Cucumbers, and so to the later end; your Ridges well prepared.

Gather up Worms and Snails, after evening showers; continue this after all Summer rains.

Open now your Bee-hives, for now they hatch; look carefully to them, and prepare your Hives, &c.

1 - Olitory: of or pertaining to, or produced in, a kitchen garden.

2 - Scurvey-grass: Cochlearia species; a.k.a. Scurvy grass, Scurvygrass, or Spoonwort.