Meals in the Middle Ages

Like the medieval society on the whole, the culinary art of this epoch was characterized by many contrasts.


Rare opulent meals for guests stood in opposition to times of hunger and malnutrition, also at aristocratic courts. The harvest of cereal (as backbone of nourishment) was too little to assure a constant supply of the population.


Bread and poor in meat

In medieval times, people baked bread out of rye because it was fertile and easy to store. Only around the year 1300, the typical medieval flatbread/pita was replaced by sourdough, which was baken with yeast. Oats were used for mash and soups as it had a high share of protein and grease. To a lower extent, barley and wheat were also used for mash or porridge.

In contrast to the cotemporary culinary art, the medieval food can be considered as poor in meat; even though several animals like rabbits, wild game or birds, storks, swans, hedgehogs and squirrels were being eaten by the people. Cattle and pigs were the main suppliers of meat, while the latter was more appreciated due to its higher nutritional value.
Nevertheless, the function of the ox as draught animal and the production of milk and cheese by sheep and goat were of much higher priority than using them for food.


Chicken, fish and products of the garden

Meals made of chicken and poultry were the most common receipts in medieval cookbooks because the keeping of chickens was very popular in former times. People also used the richness of the watercourses: fishes like dried codfish or salted herring were known and well-liked. In contrast, crawfish was a meal for poor people!

In times without meat, men and women got back to products of their garden: onions, garlic, cucumbers, beans and especially cabbage were grown. Corn and tomatoes were not known in Europe at this time.
Beside wine, vinegar and honey, many spices refined the meals: caraway, fennel, mint, sage ato name a few. Imported spices like valerian, saffron and pepper were mostly used in wealthy households and only in small amounts.