Fire, Smoke, and Water…

These are the things which a pot boy must master.

Many of you are happy to grab a bowl of living history food and I thought you might find it enlightening to know how the humble pot boy aids to your gastronomic delight.

Having only been helping out as a pot boy for a couple of years now I can only begin to tell you some of the things that have appeared from the kitchen, but ask a master of his art and he is almost as knowledgeable about some of the dishes as the ladies of the kitchen.

So where to begin? Well thankfully for me the day starts at about 8am (whilst many pike men are still trying to figure out just how on earth they managed to sleep outside their tent and vomit into it the night before), however this is not true for the experienced pot boy who arises to get the fires going at about 6am so that lunch is ready on time, sorry Pete but I can’t get up that early. So the fire is lit, lets just make sure it keeps burning, surely that’s just about it? Well if that’s what you thought then you are sadly mistaken.

One thing which is crucial for a living history is boiling water, just when you think it is safe to have a rest, the boiling water has run out, whether it’s for the pottage, another round of washing up, boiling the eggs or the ladies of the kitchen need one of those bitter tasting drinks Lord Humphrey affords them, coffee I think it is, to ensure that lunch is served on time.

Right boiling water, check – wait a minute, where is the water coming from? Ah ha I spot a handy pike man. Speak nicely to these fellows and they might just oblige and fetch some of that heavy wet stuff that they swear they are allergic to, otherwise it’s time to go for a little walk.

Back to the fire, must make sure the fire is burning, but wait there’s more, not only do we need fire, but it needs to be at different temperatures? Fire just burns doesn’t it? No?!? But why do you need fire at different temperatures I once asked my mentor to which I promptly received a thwack round the ear from a gauntlet and told not to be so stupid. If you still haven’t figured out why go see Pete and he’ll explain it to you too. But to give you a hint, what happens when you put the pottage on the same heat as boiling water for 2 hours, or decide that the cream that will later become stoned cream can just boil away on a high heat?

It’s not all about the fire and water of course. Many of you will have hefted the cooking pots around at some point, so just fill them with lunch and you quickly realise that these things get very hot and heavy as lunch is being prepared. These infamous pots need to be moved around and the skills of the ladies of the kitchen are far to valuable to have them swing these things around, so guess what – add it to the role of the pot boy.

One more thing, there’s the task of washing up, whilst the ladies of the kitchen are forever washing up sometimes it becomes that little bit too much and a pot is required for some other task, that’s right time to get that fairy soft skin you’ve desperately wanted.

Hmmm, so playing with fire not quite selling this dutiful role to you? To borrow two phrases: it’s not what you know, it’s who you know, and location, location, location. That’s right, you’re in the kitchen! The idea is now starting to peculate, or maybe it’s just the coffee kicking in. I suspect many of you have wandered past the kitchen as the officers lunch is being prepared and thought I wonder what that is, or I hope they don’t finish it all (not for the first time have I heard, is there going to be any of that left?).

That’s right you guessed it – official tasters, not so stupid now are we. But we get used for other tasks, this stoned cream (another of the officers dishes) must be poured from a great height according to the recipe (how does 6ft sound?), that’s right you get to pour very hot cream from above your head into a bowl at your feet. Don’t  worry though you’ll also be licking the bowl later before it hits the washing up heap.

However no matter what I say here, the tasks performed by the excellent ladies of the kitchen staff are to be revered and if you have an interest in how some of these dishes are prepared, or how to cook a bag pudding they are only too willing to talk you through it as they prepare the fish in white wine and cream, or perhaps gilded meatballs, or even the oh so coveted tansy and they’ll event ask for your opinion on how it tastes.

So reckon you can wield a pot as well as you do that pike or musket, want to play with fire, try some officers dishes (sssh I didn’t say that) or learn a bit more about just how some of the dishes that tantalise the olfactory senses are made? Try your hand at being a pot boy, we could do with an extra pair of hands to burn. And don’t forget – the pie oven doesn’t run on electric – that needs fire too.