In the Middle Ages, workers and townspeople organised themselves into fraternities, mysteries, and guilds. Some were religious, such as Parish Guilds, while others were engaged in particular trades, crafts, or occupations. In the City of London separate guilds were formed to protect, control, and manage their respective trades.
The first mention of Cooks in London is in Fitz-Stephen’s (Clerk to Sir Thomas à Beckett) Description of London of 1170. He thought the cook shops on the banks of the River Thames to be the acme of civilisation: “At any time of the day or night, any number could be fed to suit all palates and all purses.” The cook shops later moved to Eastcheap and Bread Street.
Few of today’s diners would enjoy medieval cookery. Meat was chopped or ground, seasoned and coloured beyond recognition. This was partly due to the fact that salted and over-kept meat needed disguising, and partly because Cooks, like most specialists, made an elaborate mystery of their art.
The first records of Cooks can be found in the Guildhall Library. Between 1309 and 1313, some 36 admissions are recorded. At the time, there were guilds of Cooks, Pastlers (makers of pasties) and Piebakers. By the time the first charter was granted to the Cooks’ Company in 1482, an amalgamation of these guilds had taken place.
To get a taste of medieval cooking (modern versions of the recipes) try: Wardens in Conserve; or, Stew Stekes of Mutton.
During the Christmas festivities of 1246, Henry III’s court ate 5,000 chickens, 1,100 partridges, hares and rabbits, 10,000 eels, 36 swans, 54 peacocks, and 90 boars.