Food and Feasts in the Middle Ages

I adore the Middle Ages and have a substantial library on the topic. This book here is definitely INTENDED FOR CHILDREN which, of course, is quite fine. It's just good to be aware of that up front. It's only 32 pages and each page is perhaps half big text, half image. So this is ideal for an 11-yr-old who is writing a report on food during the Middle Ages. It's less useful for a 30-yr-old bride-to-be hoping to plan out a medieval themed banquet for her wedding.

The information here is good although necessarily sparse, given the few pages and the intended reading audience. In the preserving food area, the text explains that medieval folk would salt meat and fish so it could last three months. But it doesn't give youthful readers a reminder that, back then, food would otherwise spoil quickly, in a world without fridges or freezers. There's no surrounding discussion of "otherwise the meat would go bad in a day".

I appreciate that the book doesn't assume readers only want to hear about British customs. There are a few pages which cover traditions in Africa, South America, and other locations during this time period.

I like how the book dispels some modern notions that medieval people only ate gruel and rocks (ok, I jest, but some modern readers aren't far off). It discusses how, because of the intricate trade routes in place, people in this time period had access to oranges, apricots, sugar, pomegranates, and other items. Sure, they were special treats rather than daily fare, but they were known and understood by people.

On the down side, the section on herbs and spices in medicine make it sound like simpleton medieval people put myrrh on their cuts and that was all they knew about medicine. Nothing could be further from the truth! They could do successful brain surgery in those days! Sure, their medicine wasn't up to modern standards, but it wasn't at a caveman-level either. They had quite talented doctors. Heck, they were doing cataract surgery. So I found the medical section a bit misleading.

Still, all in all, the book does a reasonably good job of giving young readers a grounding in what it was like to live in medieval times. Hopefully this is enough to whet their appetite to then pick up some of the more in depth books to truly learn what this fascinating time period was all about.

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