Medieval Food - Life in Medieval DaysMany foods eaten by the medieval English would not be recognizeable today; much of what we expect to see on the table was not even known. Until the Crusades in the 1200s, there were few spices. Fruits were rarely eaten; the apple and pear were the basic ones available in England, along with wild cherries. These were seen as "peasant food". Only dried figs, raisins and lemons were easily imported. They did have wild raspberries.
Foods Not Found
Potatoes (only arrived in 1550)
Blueberries (only arrived in the 1900s!)
Vegetables were rarely eaten; the few used were the onion, leek, pea, beet, carrot, and bean. As a result, scurvy was quite common in the winter.
The average person ate beef, pork, mutton, poultry and fish. For larger animals, the animal was worked to death before it was eaten, though, so the meat was often tough. People tended to eat the fresher meats on a daily basis - fresh eggs, chickens, geese and fish. Pork was a special treat for holidays such as Easter. It's important to remember that all wild animals - deer, rabbits, bear - belonged to nobility. A peasant who "poached" wild game could be slain in punishment.
Turkey - a bird native to the Americas - was only brought to Europe in the 1500s.
Medieval people did not have refrigerators. Meat was either eaten fresh, or was salted for long term storage.
Medieval homes did not have an oven - rather, they had an open fire which they hung a pot or skewers of meat over. Each village would have one or two bakers who maintained a large oven and he would then sell bread to the community. This was a staple, and was made from a variety of sources. Wheat, because it is so time intensive to grow, was primarily for the rich. Poor people ate bread with beans, peas, or oats. The crust, in all circles, was considered quite unhealthy and was often donated to beggars.
Filling out this diet was soups and stews of all kinds. A popular dish was 'pease pottage' - pea soup left to solidify for a week or so. Just about any random meat, veggie or other item could become a stew.
In general, medieval people ate "fresh". They ate what was in season the moment. Summertime meant fresh greens of a changing nature as the crops were harvested. Keep in mind that this means all winter long they had to eat dried and stored items. They could not go to the supermarket to get imports from China.
Nobles had a wider range of raw material to work with. They had numerous farm animals plus the wealth of the forest to draw on. In addition they would important exotic materials such as peacock and African spices for their meals. They employed chefs who worked to create a variety of dishes. The fork did not arrive until well into this era, so many dishes were mushy / stewlike. Typically, solid pieces were small enough to be easily picked up with fingers or spoon.
Most spices were expensive and brought in from distant lands. Salt, for example, was used as a currency in many locations. Other popular spices included pepper, saffron, ginger, and cinnamon. Again, these would be typically reserved for nobility.
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