Archive for April 20th, 2015

April 20, 2015

Turnspit Dog

turnspit by Sarina Nihei

In medieval and early modern kitchens, the spit was the preferred way of cooking meat in a large household. A servant known as the ‘spit boy’ or ‘spit jack’ sat near the spit turning the metal rod slowly to cook the food evenly.┬áMechanical turnspits (‘roasting jacks’) were later invented and were first powered by dogs on treadmills (and then by steam power and mechanical clockwork mechanisms, and presently by electric motors). The Turnspit Dog was a short-legged, long-bodied dog bred to run on a wheel, called a ‘turnspit’ or ‘dog wheel.’

It is mentioned in ‘Of English Dogs’ in 1576 under the name ‘Turnespete.’ English naturalist William Bingley’s ‘Memoirs of British Quadrupeds’ (1809) also talks of a dog employed to help chefs, known as the ‘Kitchen Dog,’ the ‘Cooking Dog,’ the ‘Underdog,’ and the ‘Vernepator.’ In Swedish zoologist Carl Linnaeus’ 18th century classification of dogs it is listed as ‘Canis vertigus’ (‘spinning dog’). The breed was lost since it was considered to be such a lowly and common dog that no record was effectively kept of it. Some sources consider the Turnspit a kind of Glen of Imaal Terrier, others make it a relative of the Welsh Corgi.

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