Medieval Cuisine: What Did People Eat in the Middle Ages?
Medieval cuisine is often thought of as bland and boring, but the reality is quite different.
The food people ate in the Middle Ages was rich, flavorful, and often spiced with exotic ingredients.
While the diets of the wealthy were certainly more varied than those of the poor, medieval food was an important part of daily life for people at all levels of society.
Meat & Game
Meat was a staple of the medieval diet, with beef, pork, and mutton being the most commonly consumed meats. Game such as deer, boar, and rabbit were also popular, especially among the wealthy. Fish was an important source of protein for those living near rivers or the sea, and salted fish was a common food for those living inland.
Wheat, Barley & Oats
Bread was a staple food for medieval people, with wheat bread being reserved for the wealthy and rye or barley bread being more common for the poor.
Vegetables such as onions, leeks, and cabbage were also a part of the medieval diet, as were fruits such as apples, pears, and berries.
Herbs and Spices
Herbs and spices, such as cinnamon, ginger, and saffron, were used to flavor dishes and preserve food.
Popular & Famous Foods
One of the most famous dishes of medieval cuisine is the roasted boar’s head, which was often served at feasts and banquets.
Pies and tarts were also popular, with savory meat pies being served as main courses and sweet fruit tarts being served as desserts. Wine was the most common alcoholic beverage, although ale and mead were also consumed.
While the diets of medieval people may seem limited by modern standards, the reality is that they were able to create a diverse and flavorful cuisine using the resources available to them.
Medieval cuisine was a reflection of the culture and society of the time, and it continues to be a source of fascination for food lovers and historians alike.
Peasants Food and Diet
Peasants in medieval times had limited access to food resources and primarily consumed simple, hearty fare. Here is a list of common foods that peasants ate during the medieval period
Bread: The staple food of medieval peasants, bread was typically made from coarse grains like rye or barley. It was often dark and dense, providing sustenance for the lower classes.
Porridge: A common breakfast or dinner option, porridge was made by boiling grains such as oats or barley in water or milk until thickened. It was a filling and nourishing dish.
Root Vegetables: Peasants relied heavily on root vegetables like turnips, carrots, and onions. These vegetables were hardy, easy to grow, and provided essential nutrients.
Cabbage: Another readily available vegetable, cabbage was often used in stews and soups. It was a versatile and affordable ingredient for peasants.
Peas and Beans: Legumes such as peas and beans were an important source of protein for peasants. They were often cooked in stews or added to bread dough.
Salted Meat: Peasants typically consumed preserved meats like salted pork or beef, as fresh meat was scarce and expensive. These meats were salted to extend their shelf life.
Cheese: Peasants made and consumed cheese from milk obtained from their livestock. Cheese provided a valuable source of protein and fat.
Eggs: Eggs were a valuable food source for peasants, especially during the spring when hens laid more eggs. They were used in various dishes or consumed on their own.
Pottage: Pottage was a thick soup or stew made with a mixture of grains, vegetables, and sometimes meat. It was a common meal for peasants, often cooked in large communal pots.
Ale: Ale, a type of beer, was the most common beverage for peasants. It was safer to drink than water due to the fermentation process, which killed off bacteria.
It’s important to note that the availability and variety of food varied depending on the region and social status of the peasants. The diet of peasants in medieval times was generally plain and focused on basic, affordable ingredients that provided the necessary sustenance for their physically demanding lives.
Nobility & Royalty Food and Diet
The diet of nobility and royalty during medieval times was significantly different from that of peasants. They had access to a wider range of ingredients, exotic spices, and elaborate dishes. Here is a list of some foods commonly consumed by the nobility and royalty in medieval times
Game Meat: Nobles and royalty enjoyed a variety of game meats, including venison, boar, pheasant, and swan. Hunting was a popular pastime for the aristocracy, providing a fresh and prized source of meat.
Fresh Fish: The elite had access to fresh fish, especially those living near rivers, lakes, or the coast. Salmon, trout, and eels were commonly consumed by the nobility.
Exotic Spices: The nobility used an array of spices to enhance the flavors of their dishes. Spices such as cinnamon, cloves, saffron, and ginger were imported and added to various recipes.
Poultry: Roasted and spiced poultry, such as goose, duck, and peacock, were delicacies enjoyed by the nobility and royalty during feasts and banquets.
Fine Breads and Pastries: Unlike the coarse bread of peasants, the nobility and royalty savored fine white bread made from wheat flour. Intricate pastries and pies with elaborate designs and fillings were also popular.
Exquisite Fruits: Nobles had access to a wide range of fruits, including apples, pears, plums, cherries, and figs. These fruits were often consumed fresh or used in sweet and savory dishes.
Dairy Products: The nobility enjoyed an assortment of high-quality dairy products. Cream, butter, and a variety of cheeses were common in their diets.
Sugar Confections: Sugar was considered a luxury during medieval times, and the nobility relished sugary treats like marzipan, candied fruits, and sweet preserves.
Fine Wines and Mead: Nobles and royalty indulged in fine wines imported from various regions. Mead, a honey-based alcoholic beverage, was also enjoyed by the upper classes.
Banquets and Feasts: Elaborate banquets and feasts were a hallmark of noble and royal dining. These lavish events featured multiple courses, extravagant displays of food, and entertainment.
It’s important to note that the availability of certain foods varied based on factors such as geographical location, seasonal availability, and social status within the nobility and royalty. The diet of the aristocracy was characterized by luxury, exotic flavors, and a wide variety of ingredients that were often inaccessible to the lower classes.
What People Ate in the Middle Ages | Great Books
“Food in Medieval Times” by Melitta Weiss Adamson This comprehensive book delves into the culinary culture of the Middle Ages, covering various aspects of medieval food and dining habits. It explores the ingredients, cooking techniques, and social significance of food during this period, offering a detailed understanding of medieval cuisine.
“The Medieval Cookbook” by Maggie Black This cookbook takes readers on a culinary journey through the Middle Ages, presenting a collection of authentic medieval recipes. It provides historical context and commentary alongside the recipes, shedding light on the tastes, flavors, and ingredients that shaped medieval cuisine.
“A Feast of Words: For Lovers of Food and Fiction” by Anna Pavord Although not exclusively focused on medieval cuisine, this book features a section on medieval food and its portrayal in literature. It explores how food was depicted in medieval texts and provides insights into the culinary culture of the time.
“The Medieval Kitchen: Recipes from France and Italy” by Odile Redon, Françoise Sabban, and Silvano Serventi This book presents a collection of translated medieval recipes from France and Italy. It offers a glimpse into the ingredients, cooking methods, and flavors that were prominent in medieval culinary traditions.
“Pleyn Delit: Medieval Cookery for Modern Cooks” by Constance Hieatt, Brenda Hosington, and Sharon Butler This cookbook combines medieval recipes with modern adaptations, making it accessible for contemporary cooks. It provides detailed instructions, historical background, and insights into the ingredients and techniques used in medieval cooking.
These books offer a range of perspectives on medieval cuisine, from historical analysis to authentic recipes and modern adaptations. They provide a deeper understanding of what people ate during the Middle Ages and the cultural significance of food in that period.