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Wednesday, February 1, 2012


Armorial Basin, Spanish 1490
Photo by: deense 

OCast baçín, Eng. 1. basin. Earthenware, metal or silver basin for multi-uses from dressing food to washing kitchen utensils, feet and other parts of the body.  The nao was in the shape of a boat. It was used for discarded bones and other garbage from the table. 2. a silver plate used to hold items from linen cloths to clean knives. [Villena/Calero. 2002:18b:19b]


  1. Today I offer a bit of philological discussion, because "bacín" is not such a simple word. I imagine you are following Autoridades or Covarrubias dictionaries, which I have not at hand, but in anycase there are other meanings not so culinary...
    1) chamberpot: the common kind that comes in mind today and another one, made of glazed earthenware, high and cilindric, in show in some museums (Museo de la Villa in Madrid). Sorry, but it is the first meaning that jumped into my mind!Count Duke of Olivares, "prime minister" and chamber gentleman of Philip IV,whose portrait by Velázquez hungs in the Prado Museum, had the right to enter the Royal chamber to awake the king. As a sign of reverence, he used to raise the Royal "bacín" and kiss it, before taking it away. The story is referd by John H. Elliot. We don't know if after this "ceremony", Philip's bacin was emptied throwing the contents through the window, without regard to the passers-by, as was the use still in the XVIII century...
    2) bacín was interchangeble also with bacía, used by barbers and famously by Don Quijote as a helmet.
    Then there comes the family of "bacinillas", smaller recipients with as many uses as their big sister.

  2. JaJaJa, love your comments! As this is a blog on medieval cookery, I try to limit my comments to that although I sometimes go beyond.
    Your comments are superb.
    I have a signed copy of John's "El Conde-Duque de Olivares" right here on my desk and I can't for the life of me remember that about the chamber pot!
    I did not know that throwing urine out the window was common until the 18th century! There is a 16th century story about the famed Don Carlo, the son of Philip II, who received a shower from a basin overflowing with urine when a maid threw it out the window onto a street in Madrid . He was so angry he had the house burned down.
    Absolutely, Don Quijtoe held a basin or his helmet under his chin while being shaved. This was necessary as knives were so blunt, men's faces could not take daily shaving. I forget how often but not until there was a fine growth of hair.
    I have never heard of the big sister reference. As I have two, I am all ears!

  3. I'm happy you have not included any recipe here, else people should be discouraged by our not very clean comments, but sorry: Middle and Modern Ages were not so very proper as we should have liked!
    Barbers as everybody knows used to act as surgeons and dentists, and that was another use for the "bacía": bleeding people whe they were ill (in order to kill them, I think!)
    Throwing the contents of the bacín out of the window (or dirty water, or waste in general) was so in use that when Charles III came to Madrid in 1759, he inmediately gave orders to regulate this practice and clean the town (not that Paris, if you read The Parfum by Patrick Süskind, was much better). Even so, the thing must have gone on for a while (specially in the villages), for my Grandma knew a song (cuplé) about these kind of "accidents", and she was born in the turn of the XXth. century... To alert people passing in the street, those in the window screamed: ¡agua va! or even ¡agua sucia va! (water coming!!)

  4. There is no entry for "bacín" in Covarrubias. but "bacinada" appears which means the excretions collected from the chamber pots - how gross! I do not have Authoridades at hand.
    My "bacines," thank heavens were not used for such mundane things but as items used in the kitchens and dining rooms. It is interesting to note that the meanings in the Dictionary of the Royal Spanish Academy lists the meanings for "bacín" as:
    1. an alms bowl
    2. a urinal
    3. a despicable man for his actions
    4. shaving basin
    I have never heard of the third meaning.