Medieval Food! Who else is hungry?

To celebrate the up and coming Medieval Jousting Spectacular, this blog post is all about food and drink in the Middle Ages! We love Medieval Food and it is always a big drawcard for visitors to our events.

Medieval Bread, Medieval Food

As with any historical period, what a person ate and drank depended on how rich they were. We’ll start with a typical diet of a peasant, and move up to the aristocracy.

Peasants

The average peasant’s diet in Medieval times consisted largely of barley. They used barley to make a variety of different dishes, from coarse, dark breads to pancakes, porridge and soups. After a poor harvest, when grain was in short supply, people were forced to include beans, peas and even acorns in their bread. Peasants also grew carrots, onions, cabbage and garlic to flavour their breads, porridges and soups, made cheese to eat with their bread, and gathered apples, pears and mushrooms in order to make pies and tarts. They also grew herbs like parsley, chives, basil and rosemary to further flavour their food.

Medieval Food

Peasants also ate a great deal of pottage. This is a kind of stew made from oats. People made different kinds of pottage – some added beans and peas, while others included vegetables such as turnips and parsnips. Leek pottage was especially popular, but the crops used depended on what a peasant had grown in the croft around the side of his home.

Medieval Food

Most people ate preserved foods that had been salted or pickled soon after slaughter or harvest, such as bacon, pickled herring, and preserved fruits. The poor often kept pigs, which, unlike cows and sheep, were able to fend for themselves in the forest, and were thus cheap to keep. Peasants were forbidden from hunting animals such as deer, boar, hares and rabbits that lived in woodland surrounding most villages, as they were deemed to be the property of the lord and strict punishments were handed out to those who ignored the laws. 

The Wealthy

In contrast, a nobleman’s diet would have greatly differed from the diets of those lower down the social scale. Aristocratic estates provided the wealthy with freshly killed meat and river fish, as well as fresh fruit and vegetables. Cooked dishes were heavily flavoured with valuable spices such as caraway, nutmeg, cardamom, ginger and pepper. Other ingredients that were commonly used included almonds and dried fruits such as dates, figs or raisins. Spicy sauces were also very popular. These foods were treasured by the rich because they were transported from far away lands and were therefore very expensive – they became a symbol of their wealth.

Cooked food

Most fruit and vegetables were cooked as it was a common belief of people in the Middle Ages that raw fruit and vegetables caused disease. In 1500, the Boke of Kervynge carving warned cooks to ‘beware of green sallettes and rawe fruytes for they wyll make your soverayne seke.’ (Beware of green salads and raw fruits, for they will make your master sick.) Gardeners grew fresh herbs which were used for both medical remedies and cooking, and were therefore an essential part of the nobleman’s garden.

Grilled Smoked pork with stewed cabbage flavoured with saffron, medieval food

The meal above is grilled smoked pork with stewed cabbage flavoured with saffron, or a modern interpretation of the Medieval dish. This is something the rich members of Medieval society may have eaten for dinner or supper. 

Banquets

Banqueting tables at grand feasts were decked with spectacular dishes – providing the perfect opportunity for the host to show off his wealth. Everyday jellies, pies, fritters and stews were accompanied by exotic animals such as peacocks, seals, porpoises, and even whales. Jellies and custards were dyed with vivid natural colourings – sandalwood for red, saffron for yellow, and boiled blood for black. But the most visually alluring pieces at the table were special sugar sculptures known as sotiltees (or subtleties). These sculptures came in a range of different forms, from castles to ships, famous philosophers, or even scenes from well-known fables. Sotiltees were served at the beginning of a banquet to  notify the guests of the approaching dinner. Meals were not separated into savoury main courses and sweet desserts like they are today – instead, many dishes were laid out together in one massive course.

The daily diet

This handy table gives you an idea of what both the rich and the poor’s daily diet would have looked like. It certainly highlights the differences!

Meal Lord Peasant
Breakfast Eaten between 6 and 7 in the morning. A lord might have white bread, three meat dishes, three fish dishes (more fish on a saint’s day) and wine or ale to drink. Eaten at sunrise. It would consist on dark bread, probably made of rye or barley, with ale to drink.
Dinner Eaten between 11 in the morning and 2 in the afternoon. A lord would usually have three courses but each course might have between four to six courses in it. There would be meat and fish on offer with wine and ale. Similar to a “ploughman’s lunch”, it was eaten at around noon in the fields where the peasant was working. He would have dark bread and cheese. He might have some meat. He would carry a flask of ale to drink.
Supper Eaten between 6 and 7 in the evening. Very similar to dinner but with slightly more unusual dishes such as pigeon pie, woodcock and sturgeon. Wine and ale would also be available. Eaten towards sunset, so this would vary with the seasons. The main meal was vegetable pottage. There might be some meat or fish to go round. Bread would be available and ale.

For Medieval recipes to try, check out this website.

There will be a host of delicious medieval food on offer at the Jousting Spectacular, including:

Meat Pies, Venison Pies, Roast Rolls, Lamb Shanks, Chicken Drumsticks and Quiche.

For dessert, there will be Warm Apple Pies, Warm Raspberry Pies, and Cold Caramel Tarts. 

For snacks, there will be Warm Roasted nuts, Cheeses, olives and chunky bread and yummy Toffee Apples. 

Finally, to drink, there will be a range of alcoholic drinks, including: Celtic Heather Ale, Elderflower Sumer Ale, Peroni, Apple Cider, Pear Cider, Mead, Mulled Wine, Red and White Wine. 

And Non Alcoholic drinks including: Elderflower Cordial, Apple Isle Cider, Apricot Nectar, Norfolk Punch, and Bottled Water. 

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