How to Cook Like the Knights Templar

Maeve L'Estrange

Maeve L’Estrange is a culinary archaeologist, studying for a PhD in experimental archaeology in UCD. Since no medieval Irish recipes survive, she tries to piece together what may have been eaten by examining the fauna and flora remains from excavation reports and combining these with spices and other foodstuff referred to in primary documents of the period.


In the Middle Ages, there were religious military orders whose members took lifetime monastic vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. One such order, that encompassed both religious and military practice, was The Knights Templar.

It appears the Templars followed the Anglo-Normans to Ireland in the following decades towards the end of the twelfth century, acquiring widespread properties in Ireland, mainly in the east of the country in counties Dublin, Louth, Waterford, Wexford, Kildare, but also in Tipperary, Sligo and Limerick.

But in 1312, the pope dissolved the order, and their lands and possessions passed on to the Order of the Knights Hospitaller.

Dietary rules were part of the Christian tradition, particularly for those in monastic orders. Food intake was restricted for a common purpose.

Some religious orders appear to have survived on stews made mainly from cereals and vegetables, with the occasional added flavouring of eggs, cheese, or fish.

The diet of the Templars was different. Periods of fasting were part of their dietary rules too, but these mainly took place in winter months, between Advent and Lent, so as not to interfere with the Templars campaigning season.

When allowed to do so, they ate meat three times a week, either mutton, beef, veal, or goat meat. The order kept pigs and hens, and cultivated kitchen gardens, which must have provided added interest to their meals, along with the cheese, lentils, beans, and cabbage they are known to have eaten.

At a time when physical work for monks often meant working in the fields or the kitchen, work for these fighting knights was based around the care of their horses and equipment, regardless of whether they were on campaign or not.

Whoever came up with the dietary rules for the Templars took into consideration the nutritional needs of the more physically demanding role of these knights, compared to other monastic counterparts.

There are no recipes to say exactly what the Templars ate, but they may have eaten something similar to the following simple dish.

It’s from a manuscript dating to 1500 known as A Noble Boke off Cookry for a Prynce Houssolde or eny other Estately Houssoldes (A Noble Book of Cookery for a Princely Household or any other Estately Households), reprinted verbatim from a rare manuscript in the Holkham Collection in Britain, and edited by Mrs Alexander Napier in 1882.

Stewed Mutton (Hashed in Onion and Spiced Stock)

Ingredients

  • 675 g/1½ lb lean roast lamb, finely chopped or minced
  • 150 g/ 6 oz onions, finely chopped
  • 450 ml/¾ pt wine
  • 1 tbs wine vinegar
  • ½ tsp salt
  • Pinch of saffron
  • ¼ tsp ground pepper and cinnamon

Method

Put all the ingredients in a pan. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 10 minutes, stirring from time to time. Serve.

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Maeve L'Estrange: Maeve L’Estrange is a culinary archaeologist, studying for a PhD in experimental archaeology in UCD. Since no medieval Irish recipes survive, she tries to piece together what may have been eaten by examining the fauna and flora remains from excavation reports and combining these with spices and other foodstuff referred to in primary documents of the period.

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