What did the late medieval kitchen look like?

Anna Marciniak-Kajzer

Uniwersytet Łódzki , Poland


The Polish word „kuchnia” (kitchen, cooker, cuisine, cooking in English) has at least a few colloquial meanings. Most frequently it is associated with a collec­tion of recipes. Another meaning of the word is a device for cooking, e.g. a gas or an electric cooker or until recently a coal-burning stove. It is also a room, where food is prepared. The word sounds similar in most of the European languages. It might have originated from the German etymon „küch” which means cooking. In many languages the room for food preparation and device for cooking have the same source word. Therefore it is worth considering why there are so few expressions with reference to this important sphere of our life. Historical sources containing information that would render it possible to reconstruct kitchens are scarce and relatively late. It may be suspected that for contemporary people an issue of such a self-evident nature was not worth noting. The paper treats both on written and iconographic sources. On their basis it can be assumed that kitchen as a room functioned only in large castles and monasteries, where meals were prepared for a large number of people. In other residences or even at knights’ manor houses or wealthy bourgeois houses, food was cooked in living (day) rooms, whereas initial preparation might have taken place in front of the building. The development of constructions used for cooking is another issue discussed in this paper. Iconographic sources reveal that meals were most often cooked in open hearths that were initially built on the ground level and subsequently they were placed higher. Another essential concern was smoke removal from above the hearth. Based on iconography it can be claimed that most frequently there was a hood protruding from a wall, the purpose of which was mainly protection against sparks. Not always do we know whether this hood was connected with chimney ducts. Today such a construction is called a fire place and it is used mainly for heating. It seems that placing a hearth in the so-called „wide chimney” was an essential stage in the development of a kitchen as a separate room. As a consequence the entire room „in the chimney” became a kitchen and this may give an answer to the question why there is a lack of extensive vocabulary with reference to the kitchen. Another problem mentioned in the paper are difficulties that archeologists face when they attempt to reconstruct equipment used for cooking on the basis of archeological records obtained during excavations.


medieval house, kitchen, stove, hearth

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Marciniak-Kajzer, A. (2013). What did the late medieval kitchen look like?. Vox Patrum, 59, 449–461. https://doi.org/10.31743/vp.4053

Anna Marciniak-Kajzer 
Uniwersytet Łódzki


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