[Sca-cooks] Above/Below the Salt was Greetings

Terry Decker t.d.decker at worldnet.att.net
Wed Mar 19 19:25:27 PDT 2008

> Ok, now I'm curious, as I have read repeatedly, in my research, that more
> elaborate foods were served to the higher ranking eaters, while messes of
> less elaborate foods were served to the waiting people and hangers-on, and
> that one way to show approval of a hanger-on was to send him food from
> your plate. I seem to place this custom in the 14th c. or before. On the
> other hand, other than a note that someone who seemed reliable mentioned
> this at Kalamazoo, I have no concrete citations to it.

This is correct, but it is not a matter of above or below the salt where the 
hall is divided by the position of the salt cellar.  In a household, 
everyone received the basic ration of a meal with some special dishes being 
prepared for the lord or lady of the household, who might or might not share 
them with others.  The High Medieval household was the retinue that 
travelled with and supported a lord or lady and it was common for everyone 
of the household to partake of the common meal, although I understand there 
are some records of grooms being fed separately because they were a rowdy 

In a situation where one person controls everything, there is no need for 
the concept of above or below the salt, because everyone knows their place 
in the organization.  From the evidence, the concept is roughly 16th 
Century, when wealth, power and privilege became more fluid and one needed 
cues to tell the Pros from the Joes, so to speak.

> I know that separate kitchens for kings and queens as opposed to other
> people in the castle is documented, and separate meals for king vs. queen
> is also documented... that's in various sets of inventories.
> Bear, could you share more about this? I'm perfectly willing to believe
> your research, especially as I can't put my finger on mine; I'm just
> wanting to hear more from you.
> -- 
> -- Jenne Heise / Jadwiga Zajaczkowa

Often husbands and wives maintained separate households, that would travel 
to different manors in their keeping and when they joined together at a 
manor, they would then function as a single household (but with two clerks 
of the wardrobe probably divvying up the expenses).  How much of this has to 
do with the actual ownership and inheritance, span of control, or spousal 
avoidance, I have no idea.  The separation of the King and Queen is likely 
to be because of all three, considering of the marriages of the Plantagenets 
and Tudors.

C.M. Woolgar has done some interesting work on household and household 
accounts and I highly recommend him.


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