Medieval Banquets gave Royals and nobility the opportunity to show off their wealth and entertain their favourite quests Read more about the Medieval Banquets >>
Water could be poluted so many people drank ale and wine Read more about the Medieval Drinks >>
A medieval feast was commonly served in the great hall of a medieval castle Read more about the Medieval Feast & Banquets >>
The wealthy nobility and royals enjoyed extravagant meat recipes that included more spices and flavourings. Read more about the Medieval Recipes >>
During the early years of the medieval era, food was very basic and most of the ingredients were grown locally. This changed in during the 10th and 12th centuries with the Norman Conquest. The Normans were influenced mostly by French and Scandinavian food, as they were also known to document their recipes which were handed down from master to apprentice.
Medieval food was primarily determined by class. People who belonged to different classes ate different kinds of food.
Noblemen ate freshly killed meat and river fish, as well as fresh vegetables from aristocratic estates. They were also mostly cooked with heavy flavors and valuable spices with added special ingredients.
People of the peasantry class such as Serfs ate a more basic diet and preserved food that had been salted and pickled as soon as it was harvested. Peasants tended to cows so a large portion of their diet included buttermilk, cheese, curds, and whey.
Medieval Peasants such as Serfs commonly ate a stew called Pottage or potage, the old French word pottage means ‘food cooked in a pot’.
Basically whatever food the peasant could lay his hands on at the time was thrown into a large pot to make a thick soup or stew. Often Vegetables and grains were added and possible fish or meat, commonly wealthier medieval people would add better ingredients.
The great advantage of ‘Pottage’ was that it could be easily cooked over an open fire and lasted for many days, also more ingredients could be added as and when required. For this reason, Pottage was popular for many centuries during the medieval period.
Most medieval people lived in the countryside in villages, and peasants such as Serfs lived on manor estates that were controlled by a local Lord who was known as the ‘Lord of the Manor’.
Crops and vegetation were cultivated and grown on the land of the manor estate until they were ready to be harvested by peasants who toiled in the fields such as Serfs.
The farmlands on the manor estates on which food was grown were the primary sources of medieval food for most medieval people.
Medieval peasant food was mostly made of grains such as wheat, oats, rye, or barley. They were boiled whole or stewed. Some of them were ground into flour and made into bread, commonly bread was made by a miller in a mill that was housed on the manor estate.
Peasants also got their protein from legumes such as beans, lentils, and sometimes fish. They also got additional nutrients from fruits and vegetables. Their diets were very high in nutrients. However, food scarcity due to a poor harvest could at times cause poor nutrition among peasants and people of the lower classes.
Royalty and nobility on the other had an abundance of highly nutritious food that was served in castles and noblemen’s houses and included a variety of different meats such as venison, beef, pork, goat, lamb, mutton, heron, and poultry.
Sometimes, they also served fish in their daily meals. Far away farmlands were also sources of food for the Royals and Nobles.
Banquets and great ‘Medieval Feasts’ were also very common amongst royalty. During these events, decks of spectacular food were served as these were perfect opportunities for noble families and royalty to show off their wealth.
Because the land and animals belong to the Lords, only the Nobles were allowed to hunt during this medieval period. They were free to hunt boars, deer, and other animals in the forest.
People of the lower classes were prohibited to hunt on the Lord’s properties or take anything from the Lord’s lands, including wild animals.
The wealthy people of the medieval era also treasured goods imported from other lands. Most of these goods were also expensive. There was an ancient department at the Royal court called a “spicery” that specialized in spices. These spices were bought by wealthy people of the middle ages.
Knights mostly served the Lords and more often than not, they hunted with the Lords as well. Beef and mutton were the most common meats that knights ate.
They usually got them from hunting. To avoid spoilage, meats were mostly kept close to the kitchen after slaughter. Knights also ate poultry and eggs. They also enjoyed common harvest depending on which part of the world they were and of course wine was something that knights could not do without.
Because home appliances such as fridges were not invented during the medieval period, slaughtered animals usually stayed close to the kitchen. It was important for medieval people to preserve food for the winter season and they usually did this during the summertime.
Medieval foods such as meat were usually preserved with salt. Some historians believed that pepper was also used as a preservative during this time. However, pepper was more expensive so it was not usually used. Dry-salting was a common method for preserving food then and meat or fish were buried in salt and brine curing.
The methods used for food preservation caused the meat to taste saltier than necessary so they introduced the use of spices during cooking. It was also common for them to cook fruits and vegetables as they believed that raw food could cause diseases.
Several cooking methods were employed during the medieval period. However, these methods were highly Dependant on class. People who belong to the upper class cooked their food in kitchens serviced by servants. The lower class and peasants cooked their food on an open fire.
It was believed by historians that there was a good amount of spices and flavorings during medieval times, however, the demand for food flavoring was not equally high. It was only during the late medieval period that refined cooking became a trend. There was widespread use of sugar and honey as a flavoring for dishes during this time.
During the 13th century, flavoring with spices became a trend, especially when preparing food during fasting. The wine was flavored with spices and new flavors were introduced within the process of preserving food, apart from the conventional salting method.
The Normans had the biggest influence on medieval food. They were highly influenced by Scandinavian and French food. Normans were also known to document their recipes and hand them down to their apprentices, passed on from generation to generation.
The influence of Normans on medieval food had a more sophisticated effect than that of the English. However, it was the French who produced the first recipe books in the 13th century.
Forme of Cury was the first cookery book written in 1390.
It contained about 200 recipes and 196 of them were contributed by Royal cooks.
The water was often unclean during this time so the poor drank ale. Some people of the lower class drank mead and cider, while the nobles and royal families drank different kinds of wine.
Banquets and Feasts were also common during the medieval period. Different kinds of meat such as peacocks, seals, porpoises, and whales could be served during banquets and feasts, primarily because the meat was a sign of wealth during this era.
Several dishes were laid out in a luxurious manner. Everyday pies, jellies, fritters, and stews were also served. Custards were dyed in vivid colors accompanying other dishes. Other banquets provided special courtesy books to their guests. This was popular at the time as it gave instructions on how to behave during banquets.
For most noble and royal families, it was also a great opportunity for them to show off their wealth.
Medieval food was not ideal in medieval times, especially for the rich. Even if they had access to highly nutritious food, they did not eat a well-balanced meal. This was the cause of various illnesses such as bad teeth, scurvy, and rickets to mention a few. Nevertheless, medieval times showed how food defines culture and history.
The several influences during the medieval period also reflected how food and cooking evolved through time, especially with the recipes that were handed down from generation to generation.
The Forme of Cury Paperback – August 20, 2016
Food in Medieval Times (Food through History)
Food and Feasts in the Middle Ages (Medieval World) Paperback – March 1, 2004
The Medieval Cookbook: Revised Edition Hardcover – May 8, 2012