Secrets of the Castle
If you’re not careful you can learn something every day. I learned something months ago and just remembered it this morning and realised Medieval housewives were not only innovative they were downright brilliant.
We’ve watched all of the living history series from the BBC available on You Tube. One, Secrets of the Castle has Ruth Goodwin, a woman with mad skills if ever there was one was today’s inspiration.
There is a project in France where they are building a castle using only the methods available during the height of castle building. Ruth was in charge of keeping house for the team of historians and archaeologists who came and filmed the process for the BBC.
She didn’t have much to work with, a drafty shell of a house, pretty much open at one end and a lot of daylight showing through the thatched roof. She started with a dirt floor and bare walls. She took her basket and searched out rocks to build a hearth to contain the cooking fire and hauled them home. A stop at the joiners earned a box to keep their grain in. He used a hatchet and wedges to rip planks from a log, smoothed and fitted the boards into a large box with a lid. The lid wasn’t flat, it was arched like a hip roofed barn and wasn’t attached to the box. Flipped over and set on top it formed a dough trough, the perfect tool for mixing and rising her bread dough.
Rushes from the edge of a pond cushioned and insulated the floor, the potter made her a cook pot with legs to sit above her coals, the clay dug from the side of the road, leaving a ‘pothole’. And here is where my spark of brilliance comes in. Cooking left the pot greasy and dirty. No brillo pads, no Dawn dish detergent (and apparently not at Walmart either). So she took a handful of ashes from the cookfire and a wadded up bundle of long grass and scrubbed the pot clean. Soap is made from fat and wood ash. How stupid simple is that?
Our breakfast this morning was pretty locavore, pancakes I made from scratch with our eggs and flour from the bulk Amish grocery. Sausage from our pig, potatoes we planted in the spring, syrup from Maple Bee Farms. And a mess, the cast iron fry pan the sausage and potatoes cooked in was a crusty, greasy mess I dreaded dealing with. I wiped it as clean as I could with the paper towels the sausage had drained on and when I threw them in the woodstove I saw the fluffy ashes from last night’s fire. I scooped up as big a handful as I thought I wouldn’t drop and added it to the greasy residue of a tasty breakfast.
I rubbed the ashes around in the pan until they were thoroughly mixed with the grease, and kept at the worst of the crusty bits until I thought I had them all. A quick rinse showed me a spot that didn’t want to come clean but I set the pan aside until I’d finished the rest of the dishes. When I rubbed the stubborn spot it slid right off, sitting for less than 5 minutes was all it needed.
The frying pan is an old one we picked up somewhere and it hadn’t been cleaned well at some point in its life and had an impermeable layer of crust around the sides. I simmered it for hours trying to loosen it up enough to scrub off a couple of times before I gave up and used it as it was. The wood ashes and grease with a bit of rubbing has removed half the layer.
This is such a revelation to me I feel like I could discover electricity if someone hadn’t beaten me to it. What will you learn today you didn’t expect? Candy