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Introduction Edit

The Canterbury Tales, written in the 14th century by Geoffrey Chaucer, are a collection of short stories told by several travelers on a religious pilgrimage. For some of these characters, the religious nature of this pilgrimage is rather ironic.Chaucer looks at the stereotypes of different people in the era, usually according to occupation, and creates their character to fulfill those stereotypes in every way.The stories not only tell of fictional characters, but they also give us information about the personalities of the (fictional) characters who tell them.

Cooks in the Middle Ages Edit

During the Middle Ages, the economies of Europe were changing drastically. Due to the new access to the Middle East and Asia, spices and exotic ingredients were in heavy demand. Not everyone knew how to cook with these ingredients, so the wealthier members of society hired cooks to do it for them. Sometimes, cooks also worked in inns or travel stops. Most people of the Middle Ages could not read or write; both were important skills for a cook to have.

Because he could read and write, the cook, according to the education of the times, should have been considered noble or, at the least, a higher ranking member in society. This, however, was not the case. Cooks were often taken for granted by their masters. They were under an extreme amount of pressure to prepare satisfactory food, or else they would be replaced. They made meager wages, especially when compared to the work they were required to do. Not only did the cook have to please his master, but he also had to impress his master’s friends. There are even instances on record of cooks going to prison because their meal was considered poor.

The cook was required to do most of the tasks associated with preparing food. He would make lists of what to buy, how much to buy and the prices. He would then go out and purchase the food. For the cooks of wealthy men, this often included international trade for precious spices. After purchasing some of the ingredients, they also had to determine which animals were to be slaughtered and which crops to harvest. It was the cook’s responsibility to preserve and store any food that was not to be eaten immediately. The cook also had to prepare the ovens or fire pits, and monitor all of the pots that were cooking. He then had to serve the food onto large platters before it could be taken out to the dining area. Because these meals were typically prepared for large groups of people, including the master’s family and the servants, the cook was under a lot of pressure to prepare healthy and tasty food quickly.

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Kitchen from the Middle Ages

The Cook Edit

My character, Roger, is a cook. He is rather notorious for his disgusting food: recycled meals, flies buzzing around in the kitchen and giving people food poisoning.

The cook’s modern occupation would probably be that of a chef at a busy restaurant. Obviously, he would still work in the food preparation industry; this is something that has not changed a whole lot since the Middle Ages. Another job that might fit him in modern times is a private chef or caterer, as they are responsible for all of the purchasing decisions and the cooking.


Some of the people brought a cook with them. He knew quite a bit about beer. He could roast, boil, broil, fry, make stew, and make yummy pie. He had an open sore on his shin, and he made a great dessert.

“But a pity it was, it seemed to me,

That on his shin an open sore had he

For sweet blanc-mange, he made it with the best.”

He has a huge open sore on his shin that resembled his blancmange.

In his tale, the narrator mentions how many flies are in the cook’s kitchen, how he has given people food poisoning, and how he has sold stale pies. The cook says that it isn’t polite to joke about things that are true. This shows that he has a sense of humor, but no qualms about harming others.

“Patted his back at pleasure of the joke”—this shows that he is a jolly man.

“From what I know”—he admits that he is not the most reliable source of information; he is probably rather humble.

“Am but a poor man”—he is not ashamed of his lack of wealth

“He did laugh, in great good cheer”—This is more evidence that he is a happy person.

Chaucer seems to have mixed feelings about the Cook. On one hand, he admires the cook’s food; he proclaims that it is very delicious. However, he is disgusted by the large open sore on the man’s leg. He also focuses on his drinking problem during the Manciple’s Tale. He discusses his excessive drunkenness for several lines. He has some characters, the Manciple and Host in particular, openly ridicule the Cook for behaving as he does. The Manciple is less rude than the Host; he mocks him in a more subtle way, which shows more about the Manciple’s character, as well. After the Cook gets angry about the Manciple’s and the Host’s mockery, the Manciple gives him more alcohol, to keep him from becoming quarrelsome. The Host pokes fun at the Cook’s head cold and physical state while intoxicated. This is clear proof of Chaucer finding entertainment in other’s vices. He does not despise the Cook; he simply thinks that he is fun to tease and laugh at, as he does with mostly all the characters. During the Cook’s prologue, the Host also discloses the many instances where the Cook’s food has caused harm to those who consume it, which shows that, although Chaucer may like the food, he does not entirely trust the Cook.

The Prologue: “But very ill it was…For sweet blanc-mange, he made it with the best.”

The Cook’s Prologue: “You’ve received Christ’s curse from many pilgrims.”

The Manciple’s Prologue: Host- “Are you so drunk that you cannot hold up your head?”

“But nevertheless, Manciple, you are too foolish, in faith, to reprove him so openly with his fault.”

Manciple- “Yet I would rather pay for the mare that he rides on than have him quarrel with me; I will not anger him, as I hope to prosper! What I spoke, I said in jest.”

“And he was extremely glad for this drink and thanked him in such a fashion as he was able.”

The Cook's Tale Edit

Chaucer does not include exactly where the cook learned to read and write, which would have been important at the time. The most interesting thing about his “Cook’s Tale” is that it is it was never finished. The story does not have a conclusion; in fact, it stops at an interesting part.

Literary Characteristics of the Cook's Tale, Including Wordage Edit

Certain words, such as ale and revel, are not used exclusively in Middle English, but they may be hard to understand for those who are not familiar with them, especially in this Medieval context. Most of the words in the Cook’s Tale are simple to understand, probably due to the laboring nature of the Cook; he is not supposed to know complex language, given his education level and occupation. The only truly confusing terms in the Cook’s Tale or description are the foods. The most important food item in the Cook’s description is sweet blancmange, as it is compared to the sore on his leg. Blancmange 'is a sweet pudding dessert, made with milk, sugar, cornstarch, and vanilla. It has a very white color, which explains why it was comparable to a nasty, open wound.


Words Commonly Spelled Differently Edit

“Spak”- spoke

“Seyde”- said

“yeve”- give

“Oghte”- ought

“Hadde”- had

“Coke”- cook

Resources Edit