[Sca-cooks] Book Review - WAS: Bread Labor

Lisa Sawyer ysabeau.lists at gmail.com
Wed Oct 31 08:25:05 PDT 2007

I've been meaning to post about this book I found that is really
fascinating. While this isn't exactly answering your question, it does
contain some interesting information about cooking.


The book is based on the daily accounts of the Countess of Leicester (Simon
De Montfort's wife). There are comparisons to the daily accounts of other
notables in the 13th century to determine if her accounts are common or

The part that pertains to bread was very interesting to me. It goes into the
prices of wheat, how the wheat was obtained by a large household and from
whom. Apparently, they had figured out exactly how many loaves of bread
could be baked from a set amount of wheat. They didn't use bushels but I'll
use that as an example. The amount of loaves from a bushel was a standard
that was used almost universally. They had standards for other products as

The accountant would record that he gave the cook so many bushels of wheat
on a particular day. The cook had to report back how many loaves of bread
s/he baked from the wheat. This implies that they ground the wheat in-house
and then baked the loaves. It doesn't say what the turnaround time was. If
there was a discrepancy between the amount of wheat given to the cook and
the loaves of bread returned, then they had to be accounted for (such as a
percentage of the wheat was moldy or something).

The book is fascinating with the little details. It isn't an overview...it
is a lot of little details. Sometimes, I wish it had more details but I
could see how that could bog things down considerably. It is a fairly easy
read as is. They give the prices for comparison purposes which is also
fascinating. The accounts also can give an indication of how the spices
where used...if you could see a specific page which the book unfortunately
does not do...At the top of the page it indicates how many people were in
the household on that particular day as well as all the pantry items
consumed. While you don't have a menu, you can sort of guess based on the
spices consumed how spiced the food actually was.

One of the interesting details was the fact that leather was purchased to
create something for the Countess that they think resembled chaps. It is
guessed that the leather garment was created to protect the Countess' legs
because she liked to ride astride instead of side saddle. The entry includes
the cost of the hide, how much the tailor was paid, etc.

One of the other interesting details fresh in my mind was that the Countess
borrowed a carriage from someone else for trip. She paid the driver 5s each
way. According to the book, this was a high amount because the carriage
required five horses to pull it.

Anyway, I'm over 3/4 through on my first reading and I'm fascinated by the
little details. None of the items are terribly new or shocking for most of
us, but they are interesting when put into perspective as they are in this
book. The one thing I need for the next pass is a clear understanding of the
monetary system...I understand the references to pounds, d, and s enough to
get a comparative idea but I would like to know how many s go into a d, how
many d go into a pound, etc.

In Service,
Ysabeau of Prague
Barony of Bryn Gwlad

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