Sunday, May 6, 2012

What Kept the Georgian Cook Happy, c 1750

Sunday, May 6, 2012
Isabella/Susan* reports:

When the Earl of Marlton, later 1st Marquess of Rockingham, expanded his country seat of Wentworth Woodhouse with an eye to entertaining on a grand scale, he invested considerably in the silver that would grace his dining table. But if he wanted to be sure the meals served were worthy of the silver, he also must have taken care to include the most up-to-date equipment in his vast kitchens.

The Georgian version of a top chef was often the most irreplaceable servant in a great house: an accomplished cook, frequently trained abroad, who could create elegant, sophisticated dishes for dinners with dozens of guests, and also manage the numerous support-staff in the kitchen. A cook like that expected the best equipment, and generally had it.

The cast-iron roasting jack, above, was costly, cutting-edge kitchen equipment in the mid-18th c. While this roasting jack has a steam-punk look sitting in a museum display case, the replica in use, below, in the Governor's Palace kitchen, Colonial Williamsburg. demonstrates how ingeniously it was designed.

To quote from the museum's description: "Spit or roasting jacks were among the most complex and demanding objects fashioned [of wrought iron.] These geared mechanisms were mounted above a kitchen fireplace. A loop of rope connected the wooden pulley wheel at the rear of the jack with a similar wheel at the end of a spit on the hearth. An iron weight attached to the rope coiled around the central drum of the jack was cranked to a high position. The descending weight drove the jack's rotation and that of the spit, thus turning the meat in front of the cooking fire. This jack is particularly large and its design and workmanship are exceptionally fine."

A roasting jack ensured that an expensive piece of meat was evenly cooked. Before roasting jacks (and in ordinary households) the spitted meat was turned manually, a job performed by a menial kitchen-servant or young child with often mixed results. The roasting jack never fell asleep or became distracted so that the meat burned, nor did it require a wage. It was instead wonderfully efficient – and an early example of a human being replaced by a machine.

Above: Spit or Roasting Jack, by unidentified maker. Probably England, 1720-1760, wrought iron. Collection, Colonial Williamsburg.

Yes, I'm a Gemini - but what's the real reason for the two names?


nightsmusic said...

But didn't the weight have to be reset every so often? Still, it's a pretty remarkable engineering design.

It always amazes me how so many people think we're the smart ones...

Jean | said...

If I had a fireplace, I'd have to get one of those! As it is, I do my roasting in an ordinary roasting pan in an ordinary oven. (Though I am such a "history girl" myself that friends think it's something of a miracle that I don't have a wood or coal stove!) Love Williamsburg, but I missed the roasting jack when we were there.

Grace Burrowes said...

Is there any factual basis for the spits turned by small dogs on treadmills? I've seen prints of them, but it strikes me was a dodgy set up upon which to base the week's cut of beef.

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