Let us take you back to the time of lords and ladies, peasants and servants. Where meals were cooked over an open flame and fire while cooking was an everyday danger. (Hmm…with some cooks today, fire still is a danger!) There are two perspectives we’ll journey through today, that of a noble feast/dinner and the meager meal of a peasant.
As it is still today in most cases, what type of food you ate in medieval times set you apart in social classes. Nobles and the rich had a vast variety of foods and spices, their meals often rich and plentiful. With lots of sugars used in their foods, it wasn’t uncommon for people to have blackened teeth… As medieval history is often romanticized, thinking of a king or queen with black teeth is not often spoken of. I have read before that Good Queen Bess (Elizabeth I) had very black teeth, but I’d prefer not to think of such a strong and intelligent woman with rotten teeth *shudder* And you certainly won’t find any heroes or heroines of romance with anything other than pearly whites. (For more on medieval dentistry, click this link for a previous post.)
Those of the poorer social classes, had quite meager foods, and with hardly any spice the foods were quite bland.
Some of you may think of dinner as your evening meal, but in medieval times (and still today throughout many countries in Europe) dinner, the heavier fare, was served mid-day, and your evening meal was a small repast called supper.
The mid-day meal was a big to do, with everyone dining together, and for nobles a grand affair. Having your meal served alone was often an affront to your company. This big fare of consumption was often the highlight of the day.
Let me take you to the castle kitchens in The Conqueror, (Kris's debut novel!) The Nest, the main residence of the lords of Everoot earldom, where Cook rules and delights the watering palates of Griffyn, Gwyn and their guests…
As the noblemen and women sit on the dais and watch the crowd of knights and other guests talk merrily, they are entertained by musicians, bards and jongleurs. Servants scurry around to pour the various beverages of ale, wine, mead, etc… (Curious about their beverages? Check out this previous post on medieval beverages.)
Today is a slightly more extravagant meal, because several nobles have come to pay a visit. Nobles will eat off of silver dishes while everyone else will make do with pewter, and even lower, the servants may eat from hard bread trenchers, which is typical of most when the meal is not so lively. The tables are covered in white cloth, the table on the dais has a cloth of white silk. Candlesticks line the top of the tables, and roped flowers adorn the skirts. Fresh rushes have been placed on the floor, which has been swept celan of debris. Servants are coming around with bowls of water and linen cloths so that the people may wash their hands.
After the blessing is given, servants swarm into the great hall with platters of marinated vegetables and succulent fruits, fish cooked in savory sauces, meat pies filled with pork, beef and raisins, rabbit with gravy, capons smothered in a creamy sauce, herb salads, aromatic breads, roasted cheeses with nuts, steamy stews filled to the brim with melt in your mouth meats and vegetables, and of course since this is a special meal, our guests will be delighted with a Coqz Heaumez, a redressed goose riding the back of a pig, and a Cockentrice, a capon entered in the center of pig making for a very entertaining meal. *Note, please click on the links to read a more detailed account from the Boke of Gode Cookery, as I could never do it proper justice*
Also good to note, forks were not widely used in England until 1611. They were used in Italy starting in the 11th century, but those in England considered it an effeminate Italian tradition. In France, they began using forks in the 14th century. Most forks were only 2 tined, with 4 tines coming later. What did they use to eat? Wooden spoons, knives, bread and of course their fingers.
After tasting small bites of each delicious dish, deserts are presented to the group, bread puddings, fruit tarts and pies, seed cakes, to die for pastries, elderflower cheesecake, and pears seeped in wine sauce.
All of these tantalizing creations were slaved over starting before dawn, by Cook and his helpers, in the kitchen a separate building from the main castle. The cook used spit boys to turn the meat on spits over an open fire. There was usually several others cutting vegetables, preparing the meat, and scullions doing dishes and other cleaning. Stews, sauces and soups were cooked in large iron or copper pots in the hearth. Bread and pies were usually baked in an oven or bakehouse, or when an oven wasn’t available the cook would use braziers or clay pots that went into the hearth for baking, but they didn’t turn out as well here. How did the ovens work? The ovens were made of brick, and a person would fill the over with peat or wood and burn it. Once the oven was hot enough, the embers would be removed, and the bread or pie placed on a flat hardwood peel that was then lifted and placed the food into the oven. This same tool would be used to take the food out later.
As I am not a medieval chef, I found these recipes for your viewing and tasting pleasure, from The Boke of Gode Cookery, if you click on each link the website will give you a little background about each recipe.
2 tbs. olive oil
1/2 cup grated or shredded cheese
1/2 tsp. each salt and ginger
1/4 tsp. pepper
one 9" pie shell (lid optional)
Parboil or sauté the mushrooms; drain. Add oil, cheese, and spices. Mix well. Place in pie shell, add lid if desired, and bake at 350° F for 35-40 minutes, or until pastry is a golden brown.
While I prefer using grated parmesan or a combination of parmesan & cheddar cheese, feel free to use any variety of cheese or combination that suits you. Finer cheeses, such as brie, also work quite well, and brie itself is very appropriate for a recipe of French origin. Some other period cheeses include Farmers and Mozzarella.
1/4 cup water
2 cups milk, scalded
2 tbs. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 tbs. oil
6 1/4 cups flour, sifted
To Make Pyes
½ tsp. pepper (or to taste)
½ tsp. salt (or to taste)
½ cup beef suet or marrow, diced or cubed
1/4 cup vinegar, red wine or cider
½ cup prunes, sliced
1/3 cup raisins
1/3 cup dates, chopped
1-2 cups beef broth
4 cups pastry flour
1 tsp. salt (optional)
1 1/2 cup butter
4 egg yolks, slightly beaten
2-4 Tbs. ice cold water (optional, but potentially necessary)
Henne in Bokenade
1 whole chicken
fresh chicken broth (optional)
1 small bunch parsley, chopped
2 Tbs. chopped sage leaves
1 Tbs. chopped hyssop
1 tsp. each mace & cloves
1 dozen egg yolks, beaten
1 Tbs. ginger
1/2 cup verjuice (red wine vinegar)
1/8 tsp. saffron
1/8 tsp. salt
1 cup beer or ale
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 tsp. salt
3 Tbs. parsley flakes
1 tsp. thyme
1 tsp. rosemary leaves
4 Salmon steaks (or any variety of fish)
Combine all ingredients except fish in a saucepan; bring to a boil. Reduce heat & simmer. Place fish in a shallow baking dish, then add enough of the beer mixture to immerse 2/3 of the fish. Cover baking dish, then place in a 400° F oven for approx. 15-20 minutes, or until fish becomes tender and flakes with a fork when pierced. Remove fish from baking dish & serve.
Sambocade (elderflower cheesecake)
1 nine-inch pie shell
1 ½ lbs. cottage cheese
1/3 cup sugar
whites of 3 eggs
2 Tbs. dried elderflowers
1 Tbs. rosewater
Combine all ingredients and blend thoroughly. (A food processor or blender will do the job nicely.) Pour mixture into pie shell. Bake at 350° F for 45 minutes to an hour, or until filling has set and the crust is a golden brown. Let cool and serve.
2 Tbs. cinnamon
1 Tbs. sugar
1/2 cup sliced dates
4-6 pears, peeled, cored, and sliced thin
drop or two of red food coloring
Boil the pears until they are tender but not too soft; drain well. In a separate pan heat together the wine, cinnamon, and sugar. Remove from heat, strain the mixture to remove the cinnamon (I recommend using a sieve or China cap lined with cheesecloth or paper towels), then return to the fire. When hot, add the dates, pears, salt, and food coloring. Bring to a boil, allow to cook together for several minutes, then remove from heat. Place pears and wine in a wooden dish and allow to cool slightly before serving.
That ought to be an enjoyable feast for you! If you do try it out, please tell me what you think.
Meanwhile if we travel through the bailey and the outer gates, across the fields to the little hovels that provide housing for the serfs and peasants who work the land, the meal is quite different. Unlike the lords and ladies who eat their meal in grand style during the day, most peasants eat what is sometimes referred to as a “ploughman’s” meal, meaning their mid-day meal is consumed in the fields, often consisting of one or several of the following: salted meat, bread, cheese, onions, apples or nuts. It should be noted that if the peasant had meat it wasn’t all that often. The meats they would eat were generally pork/bacon, deer, squirrel, rabbit, and the occasional sheep.
***I wanted to note here that while doing research for this blog, I came across a few articles that indicated the medieval peasant’s diet was much healthier than our diets today. Their diet consisted of a lot of vegetables, whole grains and a small portion of meat. Does it not sound similar to fad diets of today, like Zone and South Beach? Hmm…it is true that you’d never find a fat peasant, yet you often hear of the overly large nobles. Sure peasants died a lot sooner than the nobles, but I personally think that had a lot more to do with cleanliness, lack of healthcare and being worked to the bone from the time they could walk until their last breaths.***
Mother peasant’s shoulders stoop from years of labor as she stirs the concoction in the pot over the fire. One scrawny chicken runs around the only room in the little house, but she dare not kill it and pluck its feathers, because it will bring her some coin at the next market day so she might buy some grains. As her children and husband meander into the little space, the scents of dinner cooking are appealing to their starving bellies, but were Griffyn to walk through the door, he might rather wait to break his fast in the morning… What is the meal for the day? Pottage, a thick soup she’s made with vegetables and barley. Mother quietly serves her family’s meal, and breaks apart a stale loaf of brown bread for her children to soak up the soup’s juices with. There will be no meat today, but still she smiles secretly, because she has a surprise for her large hungry family.
Earlier while gathering rushes, she found a berry bush, plentiful with ripe juicy fruit, and they will have a nice dessert tonight of fresh berries.
I know I said I’m not a medieval chef, but I did make up these recipes *smile* perhaps I used to be a peasant.
Here is our peasant’s recipe for pottage:
1 head of cabbage
5 handfuls of peas plucked from their pods
4 handfuls of barley
Several sprigs of parsley (peel off the leaves)
Pot ½ full of water
Chop the vegetables, combine all the ingredients. Cook in large pot over fire for several hours or days. (For a tastier pottage if you have any spare salt pork or fatty bacon, add that too. Wild mushrooms make a nice addition, as does garlic. If you can come by saffron, salt or coriander, you’ll make it even more mouth watering.)
6-7 Handfuls of flour (Use Barley, rye or oats as wheat is very pricey and grind it into a flour)
Some leavening agent – use ale yeast known as “barm” Take the sediment from the ale, mix with water and then dry it out for the “yeast” or strain the dregs from the ale to use as your leavening agent. (In modern times, I would use two packets of ready yeast)
A pinch of salt if you can get it
Enough water to bind the ingredients, add more flour as needed
Mix the ingredients together and knead for eight – ten minutes.
Roll into a round shape. Place in tin box that is nestled near to the flames for a few hours, or take to the village communal oven for baking, but remember you will have to pay a fee to the baker, who then pays a portion of it to your lord. Bake your bread the day before, as if it isn’t ready by meal time, hungry bellies will be disappointed. (Or bake at 350 for 30-40 minutes, top should be golden brown and sound hollow when you tap on it.)
Just for you fabulous History Undressed readers, Kris has a very special treat for you! Something unheard of and completely exciting! Drum roll please… For your reading pleasure, a deleted scene from The Conqueror, which just so happens to have a lot to do with today’s blog topic!
Look for Kris’s medieval romance, The Conqueror, coming to stores in May of 2009 from Kensington!
Back Cover Blurb:
England, 1152. Stephen is king. The country is wracked by bloody civil war. Griffyn Sauvage is a valiant knight with a strict moral code of honor. But when his family’s estate and vast treasures are seized, he becomes hardened by the betrayal. Now he will go to any lengths for vengeance—even if it means forming a union with his most despised enemy by marrying his daughter, Lady Guinevere de l’Ami. Then, Griffyn lays eyes on Gwyn and is completely disarmed…
As war strikes, Gwyn is left alone to fight her enemies who want control of her ancestral lands. When Griffyn comes to her rescue, she is grateful that the mysterious, brave knight has risked his life to protect hers. With each passing day, she finds herself drawn to him even as she senses he’s hiding a dark secret from her. And when another dangerous adversary closes in on both of them, Griffyn and Gwyn’s trust in each other will be put to the ultimate test…
Visit Kris at http://www.kriskennedy.net/
I hope you enjoyed today’s special post. As always, if you have any comments, suggestions, questions etc… please feel free to share!
Eliza and Kris