This morning, I went down a research rabbit hole. I intended to answer a quick question on medieval widows. Instead, I ended up looking at all sorts of interesting medieval history. One of the most intriguing tangents I took was about food.
Even back then, most people had three meals a day, though the timing and content shifted a bit from what we are used to now. Breakfast was a simple meal, usually bread and cheese, and was generally eaten around sunrise. Dinner, served between 10:00 AM and noon, was the biggest meal of the day. While still a relatively simple meal for the lower classes, a lord might expect to see more meat, fruit, etc. at his dinner. A lighter supper was served close to sunset. This included more of the bread and cheese, and perhaps a simple stew for most people.
People had fruits and vegetables available, especially during the summer months. They also consumed a large amount of fish. Since every location in England was less than 100 miles from the shore, fish was generally inexpensive and easy to obtain.
When a lord had a reason to celebrate, simple meals went out the window. I stumbled across a few records of what was consumed at specific banquets, and it was eye-opening. Lords used banquets as an opportunity to demonstrate their wealth, with both the quantity of food provided and the variety of expensive spices used.
Here is a listing of foods consumed by the 6,000 guests at a feast after the installation of the Archbishop of York in 1467. (I must digress for a moment here. How does one serve 6,000 people at a meal? The mind boggles.) Anyway, here a partial list:
A discussion of medieval eating and drinking would be incomplete without some mention of ale. This was the second most popular way of consuming grain, after bread. However, ale in those times was very different from what we think of today. It had less alcohol, and was actually relatively nutritious. Many people either brewed their own, or acquired it from a local brewer. Interestingly, brewing ale was such a common occupation for women, the surname “Brewster” today is derived from the label for those female brewers.
I am. It’s a good thing I ate lunch. One of the biggest lessons I learned while down this food rabbit hole was that, contrary to myth, people in Medieval England actually ate about as well as we do now. Granted, they didn’t have ice cream or chocolate yet, but they did have access to a wide variety of foods.
Since collecting recipes is a mild obsession of mine, I am tempted now to start collecting medieval recipes. If anyone knows of some sources, I would love to hear your suggestions. In the meantime, I guess it’s back to writing my actual story for me.
I write historical fiction, and I invite you to share the journey to published author with me.