The medieval period, sometimes referred to as the Middle Ages or Dark Ages, is popularly known for, among other things, violence and political upheaval. However, within all that chaos, the civilizations that existed at that time somehow lived what many would consider “normal lives.” This post examines a specific aspect of the Middle Ages – their cuisine. How does the food people eat at the time compare to what we have now?

Cereals Were a Staple Diet

From 500 to 1500 AD, cereals were the staple diet. The Medieval people mostly consumed wheat, barley, oats, and rye. Together, the ingredients made bread, one of the most popular foods known to humankind. If not ground into flour, people would boil or even bake cereals to supplement their cuisine.

Vegetables Followed Closely

After cereals, vegetables came second in the medieval diet. The likes of cabbage, onions, and carrots were common because they were widely available and affordable. They would be boiled or cooked in a stew.

Vegetables were served to people of all classes because of their nutritional value (perhaps unconsciously to them). Climate significantly affected the types of vegetables eaten during a particular season. One of the most popular vegetable recipes of the Middle Ages was the cabbage chowder. It was a soup comprising cabbage, onions, ginger and pepper. It served as the main course.

Meat Was Reserved for the Upper-Class Households

Amongst the relatively modest and upper-class households, meat was a must-have during the Middle Ages, with beef being the first option. Other types of food that people consumed included mutton, pork, and poultry. The nobles enjoyed exotic meat, such as seals and peacocks. In other cases, they would dine on large sea life, such as whales.

Most communities kept cows and other livestock. This made dairy products an essential part of the medieval community. Milk was a popular drink. They would also make cheese, buttermilk, and curd. The noble class mostly enjoyed the latter. In contrast, the lower social classes would mostly drink milk from their cows.

Civilizations that lived closer to water bodies opted for fish and seafood. People in the medieval era used fishing techniques such as nets, traps, rods, and lines. Their type of fish included trout, perch, carp, and pike. They also extended their seafood to crayfish, scallops, oysters, and scallops.

Usually, the wealthy were the only ones who had immediate access to fresh meat. The less fortunate would mainly consume dried meat.

Fruits Were a Luxurious Add-on

While fruits also made up a considerable percentage of medieval cuisine, they were mostly consumed by the middle and upper classes. At the time, fruits were luxury items, with the go-to options being dates, figs, apples, raisins, prunes, and pears. As is the case today, fruits were served as desserts.

What Drinks Did People in the Medieval Period Drink?

To wash down their meals, people living during the medieval period preferred ale or beer to water. The Northerners drank beer, whereas the Southerners preferred wine. The medieval people didn’t love alcohol just because it made them feel good; they thought it was safer than water because it had no contamination. Also, the local cultural practices encouraged the consumption of beer produced using locally available ingredients and herbs.

Who Influenced Medieval Diet?

The impact of class on the medieval cuisine cannot be overlooked. As is the case today, the wealthiest enjoyed the best food. The upper class would have access to all types of food, whereas the lower social class was only confined to cereals and vegetables. All kinds of meat were associated with the wealthy. The same applied to spices. Ingredients like cloves, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, and black pepper were luxury items that only the rich could afford.

Although class was the main factor influencing medieval cuisine, the Church also had a key role to play. The Catholic Church, especially, significantly impacted politics in Medieval Europe. Therefore, it makes sense that this impact would extend to the cuisine.

For instance, the Church regulated when Christians were allowed to consume meat. If anything, Christians were only allowed to eat meat for two-thirds of the year. They also have to fast during celebrations such as Lent or Advent.

How People in Medieval Time Preserved Their Food

Food preservation was vital for people of all classes in the Middle Ages – drying was the most commonly used technique. All foods, from meat to vegetables, would be dried and stored. Smoking and salting were also used to preserve suitable foods. As for vegetables like cucumbers, pickling was the preferred method.

Did People in Medieval Times Observe Eating Etiquette?

Yes, they did! During the medieval period, the communities had a unique eating etiquette. Foods were served communally because most families were big. There was a round table, and people would sit next to each other. The heads of the families would serve first, and everyone would eat with their hands. However, eating utensils such as spoons and knives were still used in medieval times.

Is There Evidence of What Medieval Food Was Like?

Evidence of Medieval foods can be traced back to cookery books that were unearthed by archeologists; Jean de Warvin’s Chronicles of English History is a perfect example. This manuscript highlights famous recipes amongst the wealthy during the Middle Ages.

In the same book, Jean de Warvin talks about popular ingredients of that era, such as cane sugar, figs, raisins, almonds, and spices like pepper, ginger, and cardamom.

Another notable cookbook that captures the Medieval era’s cuisine is The Forme of Cury, which entailed recipes for King Richard II of England. It is one of the most famous medieval guides to cooking.

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Food, Lifestyle,

Last Update: July 5, 2024