Even for the rich, however, meat was not always abundant, and so those around in the Medieval era would essentially settle for whatever meat they could get: usually birds such as swans, cranes, and peacocks; and fish and sea mammals, like whales, seals, and even porpoise. Suckling pig was considered the ultimate delicacy among all Medieval food, and holidays typically involved a feast of umble pie , a meat pie composed of the entrails of a deer or wild game.
Whatever the type of meat that used, every dish was improved by a generous dash of spices, mainly clove, cinnamon, and nutmeg. The use of plant-based milk sources is a fairly new occurrence in Western culture, although the trendy variety of the moment, almond, was actually quite commonly used in the Medieval era. And perhaps the most surprising aspect of Medieval life? While certainly not featuring a menu consisting of burgers, fries, or comically over-sized fountain soda options, the Medieval era did have its own form of fast food-type establishments which usually served ready-to-eat breakfast fares such as pancakes and wafers, and small meat pies one could easily eat on the go.
Unlike modern fast-food restaurants, which cater to convenience, the eateries of Medieval times were born out of necessity , often feeding artisans and the urban-dwelling poor whose homes read: single rooms or shacks were usually not equipped with cooking facilities. After this look at Medieval food, read on to find out why the Medieval era was perhaps one of the worst times to live. Then, take a look at this roundup of the most unbelievably gross foods from around the world.
Vegetables which came from the ground were only are considered fit to feed the poor. Only vegetables such as rape, onions, garlic and leeks graced a Noble's table of the Medieval era. Dairy products were also deemed as inferior foods and therefore only usually eaten by the poor. Little was known about nutrition and the Medieval diet of the rich Nobles lacked Vitamin C and fibre.
This led to an assortment of health problems including bad teeth, skin diseases, scurvy and rickets. This change extended to food preparation and presentation resulting in fabulous food arrangements and exotic colors and flavorings. Their food was highly spiced.
In northern France, a wide assortment of waffles and wafers was eaten with cheese and hypocras or a sweet malmsey as issue de table "departure from the table". Like their Muslim counterparts in Spain, the Arab conquerors of Sicily introduced a wide variety of new sweets and desserts that eventually found their way to the rest of Europe.
From the south, the Arabs also brought the art of ice cream making that produced sorbet and several examples of sweet cakes and pastries; cassata alla Siciliana from Arabic qas'ah, the term for the terra cotta bowl with which it was shaped , made from marzipan, sponge cake and sweetened ricotta and cannoli alla Siciliana, originally cappelli di turchi "Turkish hats" , fried, chilled pastry tubes with a sweet cheese filling.
Even if food was plentiful in the summer, it was rarely so in the winter. Food had to be preserved to carry people through to the next season of plenty. Also preserved food became even more important in times of siege. Food preservation methods were the same as had been used since antiquity and did not change much until the invention of canning in the 19th century. The most common and simplest method was to expose foodstuffs to heat or wind to remove moisture, thereby prolonging the durability if not the flavour of almost any type of food from cereals to meats; the drying of food worked by drastically reducing the activity of various water-dependent microorganisms that cause decay.
In warm climates this was mostly achieved by leaving food out in the sun, and in the cooler northern climates by exposure to strong winds especially common for the preparation of stockfish , or in warm ovens, cellars, attics, and even in living quarters. Subjecting food to a number of chemical processes such as smoking, salting, brining, conserving or fermenting also made it keep longer.
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Most of these methods had the advantage of shorter preparation times and of introducing new flavors. Smoking or salting meat of livestock butchered in the fall was a common household strategy to avoid having to feed more animals than necessary during the lean winter months. Vegetables, eggs or fish were also often pickled in tightly packed jars, containing brine and acidic liquids lemon juice, verjuice or vinegar. Another method was to create a seal around the food by cooking it in sugar or honey or fat, in which it was then stored.
Bacterial modification was also encouraged, however, by a number of methods; grains, fruit and grapes were turned into alcoholic drinks thus killing any bacteria, and milk was fermented and cured into a multitude of cheeses or buttermilk. Both Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches exercised control on eating habits - most npotably through regulations about fasting.
Consumption of meat was forbidden for a full third of the year for most Christians. All animal products, including eggs and dairy products but not fish , were prohibited during Lent and on other fast days.
Additionally, it was customary for Christians to fast prior to taking the Eucharist. In most of Europe, Wednesdays, Fridays, sometimes Saturdays and various other days on the calendar, including Advent, were fast days. During particularly severe fast days, the number of daily meals was also reduced to one.
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Even if most people respected these restrictions and usually made penance when they violated them, there were also numerous ways of circumventing the problem, a conflict of ideals and practice summarized by writer Bridget Ann Henisch:. Although animal products were to be avoided during times of penance, people found ways to vary their diets. The definition of "fish" was extended to marine and semi-aquatic animals such as whales, barnacle geese, puffins and beavers. The choice of ingredients may have been limited, but that did not mean that meals were smaller.
Neither were there any restrictions against moderate drinking or eating sweets. Banquets held on fish days could be splendid, and they were popular occasions for serving illusion food that imitated meat, cheese and eggs; fish could be molded to look like venison, ham or bacon. Almond milk replaced animal milk as an expensive non-dairy alternative;. Faux eggs made from fish roe and almond milk were cooked in blown-out eggshells, flavoored and colored with exclusive spices.
While the poor were required to conform to the Church's rules, nobles and churchmen were not.
Nobles could buy exceptions - many so caled "butter towers" around Europe were funded by selling excemptions from the requirement not eat dairy products. Monstic orders simply ignored therules for themselves, often justifying themselves by improbable interpretations of the Bible. Since the sick were exempt from fasting, there often evolved the notion that fasting restrictions did not apply in hospitals and this was extended to anywhere outside the refectory. Monk and Friars would simply eat their fast day meals outside the refectory. Food was an important marker of social status. According to Christian teaching of the time, society consisted of the three estates of the realm: nobility, clergy, and commoners - the working class.
The relationship between the classes was strictly hierarchical, with the nobility and clergy claiming worldly and spiritual overlordship over commoners. In the late Middle Ages, the increasing wealth of middle class merchants and traders meant that commoners began emulating the aristocracy, and threatened to break down some of the symbolic barriers between the nobility and the lower classes.
The response came in two forms: didactic literature warning of the dangers of adapting a diet inappropriate for one's class, and sumptuary laws that limited the lavishness of commoners' banquets. Moralists frowned on breaking the overnight fast "breakfast" too early, and members of the Church, the nobility and cultivated gentry avoided it.
For practical reasons, breakfast was still eaten by working men, and was tolerated for young children, women, the elderly and the sick. Because the church preached against gluttony and other weaknesses of the flesh, men tended to be ashamed of needing to eat additional meals. The latter were especially associated with gambling, crude language, drunkenness, and lewd behavior. Minor meals and snacks were common although also discouraged by the church, and working men commonly received an allowance from their employers in order to buy nuncheons, small morsels to be eaten during breaks.
Medical science of the Middle Ages had a considerable influence on what was considered healthy and nutritious among the upper classes. One's lifestyle including diet, exercise, appropriate social behaviour, and approved medical remedies was the way to good health, and all types of food were assigned certain properties that affected a person's health. All foodstuffs were also classified on scales ranging from hot to cold and moist to dry, according to the four bodily humors theory proposed by Galen that dominated Western medical science from late Antiquity until the 17th century.
Medieval scholars considered human digestion to be a process similar to cooking.
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The processing of food in the stomach was seen as a continuation of the preparation initiated by the cook. In order for the food to be properly "cooked" and for the nutrients to be properly absorbed, it was important that the stomach be filled in an appropriate manner. Easily digestible foods would be consumed first, followed by gradually heavier dishes. If this regimen was not respected it was believed that heavy foods would sink to the bottom of the stomach, thus blocking the digestion duct, so that food would digest very slowly and cause putrefaction of the body and draw bad humors into the stomach.
It was also of vital importance that food of differing properties not be mixed. A meal would ideally begin with easily digestible fruit, such as apples. It would then be followed by vegetables such as lettuce, cabbage, purslane, herbs, moist fruits, light meats, like chicken or goat kid, with potages and broths. After that came the "heavy" meats, such as pork and beef, as well as vegetables and nuts, including pears and chestnuts, both considered difficult to digest. It was popular, and recommended by medical expertise, to finish the meal with aged cheese and various digestives.
The most ideal food was that which most closely matched the humor of human beings, i. Food should preferably also be finely chopped, ground, pounded and strained to achieve a true mixture of all the ingredients. White wine was believed to be cooler than red and the same distinction was applied to red and white vinegar. Milk was moderately warm and moist, but the milk of different animals was believed to differ.
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Egg yolks were considered to be warm and moist while the whites were cold and moist. Skilled cooks were expected to conform to the regimen of humoral medicine. Even if this limited the combinations of food they could prepare, there was still ample room for artistic variation by the chef.
In Europe there were typically two meals a day: dinner at mid-day and a lighter supper in the evening.