Medieval Style of Eating - Life in Medieval DaysNobles would often flaunt their spices as a form of wealth. As an example of the zealous spicing of dishes, read this standard recipe:
"Take figs and grind them in a mortar all small with a little oil and grind with them cloves and maces. And then take them up into a dish and cast thereto pines, saunders, currants, minced dates, powder of pepper, cinnamon, saffron, and salt. And then make fine paste of flour, water, sugar, saffron, and salt, and make thereof fair cakes. And then roll the stuff in thy hand and lay it in the akes. Cut them and so fold them together as rissoles, and fry them in good oil, and serve them forth hot."
Chefs would try to come up with new, exotic dishes. Food was often colored in whole or part with saffron for yellow, blood for red, and so on.
It's always interesting to think of things that people would eat. For example, we love lobster as a luxury in modern times - but not so long ago lobsters were considered cheap, disgusting food. Some people eat live eels. The same was true in medieval times. People would eat lampreys - i.e. leeches!
"Take and make fair round coffins (pastry shells) of fine paste, and take fresh lampreys, and let them bleed four fingers within the tail, and let them bleed in a vessel, and let them die in the same vessel in the same blood. Then take brown bread, and cutit, and steep it in the vinegar, and draw through a strainer. Then take the same blood, and powder of cinnamon, and cast thereto until it be brown. Then cast thereto powdered pepper, salt, and wine a little, that it be not too strong of vinegar. And scald the lampreys and pare them clean, and lay them round ton the coffin, till it be covered. Then cover it fairly with a lid, save a little hole in the middle, and at that hole blow in the coffin with thy mouth a good blast of wind. And suddenly stop the hole, that the wind abide within, to raise up the coffin that it fall not down. And when it is a little hardened in the oven, prick the coffin with a pin stuck on a rods' end for fear of breaking of the coffin, and then let it bake and serve forth cold. And when the lamprey is taken out of thereto and powdered ginger, and let boil on the fire. Then take fair paindemain wet in wine, and lay the sops in the coffin of the lamprey, and lay the syrup above, and eat it so hot, for it is good lords' meat."
Yummm, leaches in coffins.
It's important to remember that you get accustomed to the tastes you grow up with. If you grow up with really spicy food, you find it normal and you find non-spicy food to be boring. If you grow up with bland food, then the slightest spice can blow you away. Similarly, by all accounts, the taste of even the mildest of some medieval food would probably be unpalatable to our tastes. We'd do fine with the onions, leeks and raisins. On the other hand, these people ate cormorant, whale, and seal - all quite nasty tasting to most modern humans. They used very strange combinations of spices and meats, such as oysters with ginger, sugar, saffron, and salt.
It's important to remember, though, that they were raised with these flavors. If you grow up eating seal, you probably come to love it. Some people love the taste of whale. A venison stew with onions would probably be really tasty. A cormorant stock with lots of salt - less so.
It was not until the laste 1700s that food preparation and storage underwent a revolution. The new books praised these changes, as food became more simple, recognizeable, healthy, and edible. Interestingly, many feel a similar revolution happened in the 1960s, when we went from plain "home cooked food" of a given region to having foods of numerous regions, numerous influences and very fresh tasting.
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