[Sca-cooks] medieval/renaissance architectural construction crews &, related food references

Terry Decker t.d.decker at att.net
Mon Aug 13 18:00:07 PDT 2012

> I do not understand the question. Are we talking about 
> medieval/renaissance architectural constructions concerning alimentation 
> or about what construction workers ate? Are we talking about England or 
> Europe in general?

My understanding of what is being discussed is the diet and eating customs 
of construction workers in Medieval and Renaissance Europe.  English records 
are more accessible for most of us.

> Of construction we have several examples of English palaces and manor 
> houses with independent bakery and brewing houses and a kitchen being a 
> building separate from the castle as well. Today it is claimed that this 
> was because of the fire hazard. I have not run across that type of 
> documentation in Spain.

English cooks, bakers and brewers were independent contractors so each had 
their separate domain.  The isolation of kitchens and bakeries from the main 
structures of castle and manor is because of the fire hazard and continued 
in many places into the 20th Century.

> If talking about what construction workers ate  - J.C. Drummond in his 
> book "The Englishman's Food, Chapter III titled "Meals of the People," 
> divides the people of medieval times into four classes: the nobleman, 
> villager laborer, the artisan, and wealthy merchant, pp 47-64:
> . . . ordinary country people  . . . 'black bread' (maslin, barley, rye or 
> bean flour) milk, cheese, eggs and occasionally bacon or flour. Dairy 
> products . . . known as 'white meat'. . . consumed by all classes in the 
> country in medieval times. . .rising prosperity of the early sixteenth 
> century they came to be regarded as inferior food fit only for the use of 
> the common people.  - chief authority for this statement - from Harrison's 
> Description of England.
> Drummond continues: . . .  in the middle ages the peasant seldom ate meat 
> exempt when he did a little successful poaching or when the lord of the 
> manor gave a feast to celebrate the harvest . . food given to tenants at 
> ties of 'boon-work' seems to have been barley, oatmeal, wheat, herrings 
> and ale of beer ("The Economic and Social History of an English Village!, 
> N.S.B. Grass 1930.)  . . . peasants rarely drank anything stronger than 
> whey, buttermilk or simply water.
>      . . . the poor countryman's food seems to have changed steadily for 
> the better during the greater part of the fifteenth century. . . larger 
> quantities of beef, mutton and veal. . .
>     The second half of the sixteenth century saw a sharp turn for the 
> worse. It was a period of depression . .  sheep-farmer was popularly 
> blamed. .  .
> Drummond continues with "The Peasant's Diet," pp 75-76; "The Condition of 
> the Poor," 98-101 etc.
> Drummond also explains that he's key sources for information on English 
> diets was through chronicles of travelers to England. I have reviewed 
> receipts of Spanish and English households. As far as I can see they do 
> not enlighten me about eating habits of the classes beneath the nobles. 
> The poor scratched the land to eat. The rich had that and more. Although 
> Hispanics of the Middle Ages are quick to note there were so many classes 
> that even slaves had classes of menus. A 5 star slave received a liver or 
> a kidney while a run of the mill slave probably received lamb fat as a 
> prize.
> Drummond does not seem to get into guilds but aren't guilds a city sort of 
> thing? Where there guilds for construction workers? Although gremios 
> existed in Spain, I don't have as much information on them as I have on 
> guilds in London. - Food wise, I have menus for guild banquets in London 
> to which I seriously doubt that construction workers were invited.

Skilled construction workers (as opposed to day laborers who provided muscle 
as required) were of the artisan class and organized themselves and their 
political power through the craft guilds.  Most guilds were local to a city, 
but connected to other guild houses of their craft in other cities. 
Journeymen might serve masters in a number of guildhouses before find a 
locale where they could settle and become masters.  Masons were among the 
most powerful of the guilds because they were skilled labor in short supply 
often hired across national borders for major projects making them an 
international force.  Any guild might have a guild banquet, but it would 
have been for masters and high value journeymen of the guild and likely 
would serve as a forum for internal guild politics.

Consider also, that an engineer, such as Leonardo Da Vinci, would likely be 
a member of the household of his patron during a project, while a master 
craftsman and his assistants would likely be hired for the project, but not 
be part of the household.

There are differences in the relative power and position of guilds in 
different countries.

> In Spain, there is very little documented information on what classes 
> beneath nobility ate. There are a few references to slaves' food in areas 
> of Hispano-Arab domination but menu's of the poor are slim - as Drummond 
> points out pottage's and legumes were the poor man's food, Let's face it, 
> the medieval peasant did not need a recipe for a lard and black bread 
> sandwich and the noble would not want that recorded in his dairies!
> Suey

Household accounts have references to the wages paid to workers external to 
but working for the household.  In Northern Europe under the manorial 
system, slaves, serfs and external labor would likely be found in the manor 
accounts.  I am uncertain of how accounts were structured in Southern 
Europe, but I suspect that Spanish accounts, guild structures and power, and 
the like may differ from much of the rest of Europe due to the conflicts 
between the Spanish and Arab cultures.

> To conclude: if we are talking "diets of construction workers in the 
> Middle Ages/Renaissance" - I would take a gander at Charles Clyde Ebbets' 
> photograph of  "Lunchtime atop of a Skyscraper," and carry on from there.
> Suey

Perhaps, but I think the diet of construction workers in the Middle 
Ages/Renaissance might have more in common with a ploughman's lunch than 
what is in the lunch pail of a modern steel rigger.


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