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The Middle Ages
The terms Middle Ages and Medievil are interchangeable. Both terms refer to the same period of history, just following the dark ages and befor the rennaisance. The Dark ages assumes a time of barbarism, following the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition whereas the Rennaisance assumes a time of enlightenment and appreciation that life is about more than mere survival.
As far as culinary style, this would suggest the period after roasting hunted animals on spits and before the use of napkins and delicate sauces. With food nothing changes, whatever the age the wealthy always eat meat and the poor the remainder. Why do the poor have anything to eat at all, well many do not as is the case today in 2015 with millions dying from starvation and mal-nutrition yearly. However, if we simply starved the poor then how would the would progress without a slave population. In essence the poor are alweays the slave element of any civilisation.
When looking at the cuisine of a time or a peoples, we see what was available to the rich and also the poor. Of the products sourced locally and those that are imported, Those items which provide the most nutritional value to allow the human bhody to survive are the most valued and respectively the most expensive.
Meat is a perfect example. A poor man may keep a goat feed on grass from his land, and his gain is the milk it provides, to kill it for the meat would be squanderous, unless the meat could fetch a price that would allow another goat to be raised. In this cycle the wealthy person consumes meat and the poor person cannot afford to.
In the Middle Ages, the advanced societies were in Europe, so to discuss the food of the time we are looking at Europe and the ingredients available at that time locally in addition to the available ingredients imported as a result of trade connections.
As with most civilisations, almost everyone in Medievil times depended on barley as a staple. The barley was made into bread and pancakes or a dough type like pizza. It could also make barley porridge (like oatmeal) and barley soup.
In the castle kitchen the cook and his staff turned the meat – pork, beef, mutton, poultry, game – on a spit and prepared stews and soups in great iron cauldrons hung over the fire on a hook and chain that could be raised and lowered to regulate the temperature. Boiled meat was lifted out of the pot with an iron meat hook, a long fork with a wooden handle and prongs attached to the side. Soup was stirred with a long-handled slotted spoon.
Whether in castle or humble home, meat was preserved by salting or smoking. Salting was either packing the meat in salt or placing the meat in a brine. The preferred choice was to keep the animal alive until it was needed for the pot.
It follows that fish was taken from nearby water and vegetables taken from local husbandry. Fish examples of the time are: mullet, sole, plaice, mackeral, salmon, and trout. Vegatable examples are: onions, garlic, peas and beans.
Fruit came from the castle orchard including apples, pears, plums, and peaches and meals were supplemented with wild fruits and nuts from the forests. Imported ingredients from Roman Roman Britain were available at markets including: rice, almonds, figs, dates, raisins, oranges, and pomegranates.
The Middle Ages were a time of transition from barbarism at the table to the practice of etiquette. Along with the code of a Knight and the rules of galantry and bravery, a Knight commanded a squire to attend to him. Part of a squire’s training was learning how to serve his lord at meals: the order in which dishes should be presented, how many fingers to use in holding the joint for the lord to carve. Ceremony ensured there was a correct way to do everything, from laying the table to carving the meat.
Middle Ages Food and Diet
article source: www.lordsandladies.org
Did the people of the Middle Ages eat food which constituted a good balanced diet? No! And especially not for the rich! The wealthy nobles ate few fresh vegetables and little fresh fruit – unprepared food of this variety was viewed with some suspicion. Fruit was only usually served in pies or was preserved in honey. Vegetables and fresh fruit were eaten by the poor – vegetables would have been included in some form of stew, soup or pottage.
Vegetables which came from the ground were only are considered fit to feed the poor. Only vegetables such as rape, onions, garlic and leeks graced a Noble’s table of the Medieval era. Dairy products were also deemed as inferior foods and therefore only usually eaten by the poor. Little was known about nutrition and the Medieval diet of the rich Nobles lacked Vitamin C and fibre. This led to an assortment of health problems including bad teeth, skin diseases, scurvy and rickets.
Middle Ages Food and Diet of the Upper Classes / Nobility
The food and diet of the wealthy was extensive, but only small portions were taken. A change in culture emerged during the Middle Ages when the travel prompted by the Crusades led to a new and unprecedented interest in beautiful objects and elegant manners. This change extended to food preparation and presentation resulting in fabulous food arrangements and exotic colors and flavorings.
Their food was highly spiced. These expensive spices consumed by the wealthy included Pepper, Cinnamon, Cloves, Nutmeg, Ginger, Saffron, Cardamon (aka Cardamom ), Coriander, Cumin, Garlic, Turmeric, Mace, Anise, Caraway and Mustard.
The diet of the Upper Classes would have included:
• Manchet bread
• A vast variety of meats and game including venison, beef, pork, goat, lamb, rabbit, hare, mutton, swans, herons and poultry
• Fish – fresh and salt water fish. The range of fish included herring, salmon, eel, whiting, plaice, cod, trout and pike
• Shell fish included crab, oysters, mussels and cockles
• Limited number of vegetables
Middle Ages Food and Diet of the Lower Classes / Peasants
The Middle Ages food and diet of the peasants was very much home grown. They were unable to afford luxury items such as spices and only Lords and Nobles were allowed to hunt deer, boar, hares and rabbits. The punishment for poaching could result in death or having hands cut off. The staple diet of the lower classes included:
• Rye or barley bread bread
• Pottage ( a type of stew)
• Dairy products such as milk and cheese products
• Meat such as beef, pork or lamb
• Fish – if they had access to freshwater rivers or the sea
• Home grown vegetables and herbs
• Fruit from local trees or bushes