June 14, 2010

The crowberry twigs

Time for the thing I dread the most in the kitchen – cleaning. So far I have managed to clean most of the pots I have used by simply boiling some water, perhaps a bit exclusive way of cooking but easy enough and I did get a chance to practice my boiling techniques. However, with a more restrictive fire & smoke regime, I had to look into other ways of cleaning my dirty pots. I needed both a good replacement for a brush and for the washingup liquid. In the archeobotanical reports from Borg Ann-Marie Hansson writes about how the twigs of the crowberry has been used for scrubbing pots and pans (Hansson, Ann-Marie, 2003, p.92). Since they still grow here I just went down to the lake to pick some up, or more honestly I went down to get some suitable twigs and bushes but managed to get twigs of crowberries just by chance. This I tried to tie up in a bundle – though a brush like thingy would have made more sense perhaps.

The replacement for the washing up liquid was a bit more tricky. The main use of the washing up liquid is to dissolve the fat that is stuck in a pot or pan. Though boiling water will dissolve or rather melt some of the fat, I figured that I needed to find a way to get the fat out without resorting to boiling. As soap was usually made by lye, and lye from potash that had been dissolved I assumed that using some potash when cleaning the pot would help to dissolve some of the grease in the pot.

In both pots I put a handful of ash, and some hot water after which tried to scrub it clean. Though the hot water seemed to dissolve most, the actual scrub could have worked better as it left many green small leaves behind. It was difficult to say if the ashes did have any effect, though the pots did look clean afterwards. The twigs should probably have been cleaned of leaves and should possible have been put together in a more brushlike appearance.


6 Responses to “Cleaning”

  1. Kathleen said

    What evidence exists that they DID clean the pans? If it’s going to be used again within a few hours, does it matter if all the fat gets cleaned off?

    • eldrimner said

      Well from the time, nothing. Though in medieval recipes one are sometimes required to use a clean pot. However, I would guess that at most times you would get the fat or remains of by starting cooking the next batch of food, though at times taste or looks might have influenced hwo you kept a pot or pan. While fat may keep an Iron cauldron rust free, the soapstone vessels in which presumably porrige, pottages and similar dishes were made, there might be some need for cleaning from time to time.

      But you are right, this we do not know, and it is something I need to consider.

  2. JMH said

    It would seem logical that pots would be handled similarly to cast iron now. Get most of the access out, and leave the skin to protect/flavour the pot.
    The ash sounds reasonable. I have no sources, but I’ve heard the plausible notion of packing heavily soiled pots with hot coals, which is kind of like sticking cast iron in the oven now to bake off food, after which it flakes off and can be removed just by blowing or a light scrubbing with a towel or the brush. YMMV, but it’s my thought.

  3. Tchipakkan said

    Have you investigated the technique of putting a “lining” of boiled milk on a ceramic pot? It’s not documented to this period, but was known in the early modern (19th c) times, and is consistent with what was available. I have tried it on pottery, but not soapstone. It’ll keep porridges from sticking fairly well. After all, boiled milk protein is similar to plastic. If, say, a stew get stuck, one has to scrub it off and boil a new surface of milk onto the pot. Since they used milk, and unglazed pottery is rather porous (which tends to make things stick) I like to use this on my pots. (I’m a reenactor- 7th c Anglo-Saxon.) The only reason grease would need to be taken off is if it went rancid, other than that, why remove it? It’s not like most people would have more than a few pots.

  4. I think the fact ‘that a clean pot’ is specified in some medieval recipes indicates that, in some cases, pots were habitually re used without cleaning. I certainly do this in my kitchen, usually the frying pan. It depends what you are doing.

    A fascinating aspect of ancient cooking.

    • eldrimner said

      True to reuse the pots and pans, I would think was quite common, though some dishes and kitchen work would require some other treatment of the pots and pans. Beermaking does come into mind of course.

      I guess my investigation of this what somewhat influenced by my own laziness when it comes to cleaning pots and the requirements of the guides here.

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