People in the Middle Ages got their food from four major sources such as the garden, field and surrounding territory, similar to today's world. During the Middle Ages, sheep and cattle were mainly used in North Europe. In South Europe, vegetables, herbs and fruits were also used. They used olive oil instead of butter.
During the Middle Ages, the quality, quantity and type of food consumed by the nobility and the royalty was considerably different from the diet of the lower classes. Both the upper and lower classes usually had three meals a day. Royalty and the nobility used to eat their foods in the silverware or even gold dishes. Lower classes ate their foods in the wooden dishes.
Sources of Food in the Middle Ages
Medieval people ate a lot of grains such as barley, oats, wheat and rye. During the Middle Ages, bread was the most important part of the diet. People in the medieval ages made use of fruits, vegetables and herbs that were grown in the small gardens found in every villager's home and every noble's manor. The gardens consisted of a large variety of vegetables such as spinach, lettuce, cabbage, turnips, carrots, onions, broccoli, beans, celery, etc. A garden also had a pear or apple tree, berry bushes and other fruit-bearing plants.
Livestock such as pigs, chickens, eggs and dairy products like milk and cheese were also important ingredients. People also gathered food from the surrounding land and water. Mushrooms and wild plants were gathered from the fields and woodlands and the meat was obtained by hunting the wild animals. Nobles used to hunt boar, geese, ducks, and other larger animals. Peasants hunted squirrel, rabbit, pigeon and other small animals. Rivers and oceans were a good source of food including fish, shellfish and seaweed.
During the medieval period, the cooking of the food was conducted in such a way that a person could digest it well and remain healthy. A banquet sometimes consisted of 6 courses. There were some specific rules about how to eat, how to sit and the table manners. People used knives and spoons for eating.
During the Middles Ages, an aperitif was consumed before having the meals in order to open up the stomach and prepare it for the heavier food. An aperitif should be dry and hot in nature. Honey or sugar- coated confections made with anise, fennel, cumin, ginger and caraway are some of the common examples of aperitif. Wine and almond milk or sweetened milk was also taken before the meals. Then the meals started.
A meal started with fruits such as pears or apples. It was followed by vegetables such as carrots, cabbage and lettuce, some types of herbs and juicy fruits. Potages were famous as the meal starters. A potage is a thick soup made from the meat, vegetables and water boiled together. Sometimes, lighter roasted meats such as lamb or chicken were included in the meal. It was followed by the heavier meats such as pork and beef along with sauces and nuts. At the end of the meals, a digestive aid known as a dragee was taken. It included spiced lumps of sugar, spiced wine or aged cheese.
For a common peasant family, bread as well as the dishes made from wheat or cereal grains were the staple foods. Sugar and honey were the main spices. Expensive foreign spices were used by the wealthy. Vinegar or wine was popularly used in several dishes. Fish were eaten especially in the Northern areas. Almonds were used as a thickening agent or to produce the almond milk.
The poor people in the Middle Ages used to drink mead, ale or cider, while the rich could drink different types of wines. Beers such as godale beer or small beer were also popular during that age.
Food in the Middle Ages was preserved in various ways. Fish and meat were dried or smoked. Fruits and vegetables were pickled for the sake of preservation. Sometimes, fruits and meat were stored together in the barrels. The blazing hearth was the warmest place in the kitchen, which was a huge fireplace. Meat and fish were preserved by means of smoking, salting and the cold climes.