British Culture

Daily life during the Middle Ages is hard to understand for some people. Movies and other influencing propaganda like to focus on exciting parts of the old days like battles, sword fights, and controversy between kings but, breakthroughs and discoveries in history made these more realistic. Life for your average person during the Middle Ages was very routine, and activities revolved around an agrarian calendar.

Most of the time was spent working on the farm land, trying to grow and harvest enough food to survive for another year. These were hard times for crops, droughts and locusts plagued this time period. Church feasts, marked sowing and reaping days, and occasions when peasants and lords could rest from all the hard work they did. Social activities were very social, and every citizen in a town would be expected to go. Fairs with troubadours and acrobats performing in the streets, merchants selling goods in the town square, games of chance held at the local tavern, tournaments featuring knights from near and abroad, these were just some of the ways medieval peasants spent their leisure time. Medieval weddings were reason for the entire town to enjoy celebrate. Medieval superstitions held influence over science, but traveling merchants and returning crusaders told of different cultures in Asia, the Middle East and Africa that had advanced learning techniques of the earth and the human body.

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Middle Age food found new flavor courtesy of new and rare spices that were imported from the East. Schools and universities were forming across Western Europe that would help medieval society evolve from the Middle Ages on its way to a Renaissance of art and learning.Cooks of the time used many of the same type of foodstuffs that are in use today, in addition to forms of food preparation that would be familiar to any of us. The dishes and recipes they prepared were neither inedible nor dangerous, but extremely delicious and tasty products that employed the finest meats, grains, fruits, and vegetables their society was capable of developing.Remember that a lot of the ingredients we take for granted in modern cooking are new world species which entered European traditions well after 1600.

Some Foods like Potatoes, tomatoes, green and red peppers, sweet corn, and turkey were not known of in the middle ages. The use of a fork was unknown until very late in period. Foods were usually cut small so that they could be eaten with a spoon, or, if left in large chunks, were eaten with the fingers and a knife.

Sauces were often served separately, or meat was cut up into broths which could be eaten with a spoon.It would have been rare for people in the medieval age to be vegetarian, unless they were particularly holy religious figures. However, we have a large number of vegetarian recipes from our period because of the church-enforced fast days several days a week, as well as Lent. There were different types of fast days; some forbade all meat or animal products, while others allowed eggs and milk. Fish was not considered meat and could be eaten on fast days.

Geoffrey Chaucer, the great English poet and author of The Canterbury Tales, used food as a literary device to enrich the personalities of his characters. A Chaucerian Cookery examines the references to food and medieval dishes in all of Chaucer’s writings, studies the dietary habits of his characters, and gives a complete list of all foods Chaucer refers to. Included is A Chaucerian Feast, which presents an authentic medieval feast, based on the writings of Chaucer and 14 corresponding 14th century recipes, as well as detailing the presentation and courses of a standard medieval feast.Even though the cooks of this time didn’t have all the spices, and equipment we have today they came up with some pretty delicious dishes. I wouldn’t suggest eating these foods yourself but, if you like to experiment these are the foods for you.

These cooks were truly master chefs.