At Mama Natural, we talk a lot about eating unprocessed, real foods – like our great great grandmothers ate. But what if we went back further? What if we went back to… the Middle Ages?
Watch this fun video to see what people ate back then
Back in the Middle Ages in Europe, what you ate depended a lot on how rich you were.
Middle Ages food for poor people revolved around barley
Barley bread, porridge, gruel and pasta, for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Grain provided 65-70% of calories in the early 14th century.
Middle ages food for rich people included wheat and meat
Both of these items were expensive and prestigious.
Wild game was common, as was pork and chicken. Beef, which required lots of land, wasn’t very big yet.
Vegetables were considered peasant food
So along with their grains, peasants ate cabbage, beets, onions, garlic and carrots.
Seasonings for upper-class people
Common seasonings for upper-class people included verjuice, wine and vinegar with black pepper, saffron and ginger. These, along with the widespread use of honey, gave many dishes a sweet-sour flavor.
Almonds were common
Almonds were commonly used as a thickener in soups, stews, and sauces, and almond milk was hugely popular.
Cow milk, not so much
Cow milk wasn’t popular because it spoiled so quickly.
Cheese was kind of a big deal
Cheese was the most common source of animal protein for the lower classes, and many of the varieties would look familiar today, like Edam, Brie and Parmesan.
What people cooked with
Butter was a popular cooking medium in Northern Europe – but it was super salty (5–10%) so it wouldn’t spoil.
Other parts of Europe cooked with lard or oils of olive, poppy, walnut, and hazelnut.
Legumes like chickpeas and fava beans were viewed with suspicion by the upper class, in part because they cause flatulence.
But the regular folks chowed down on them.
Don’t mess with that bread!
Since bread was so central to the medieval diet, tampering with it or messing with weights was considered a serious offense. This gave rise to the “baker’s dozen”: a baker would give 13 for the price of 12, to show they weren’t cheating.
Middle ages food: HOW PEOPLE ATE
In the middle ages, food and eating was very different.
Medieval Europeans typically ate two meals a day: dinner at mid-day and a lighter supper in the evening.
During feasts, women often dined separately from men due to stupid social codes. Or, they sat at the table and ate very little.
Plates were non-existent. Instead, people used the bottom part of a loaf of bread.
Or, in lower-class households they ate straight off the table.
At a big meal, spoons were provided, but it was bring your own knife.
Forks for eating weren’t widely used until the early modern period.
The church had strict rules around eating. Consumption of meat was forbidden for a full third of the year for most Christians.
But, there were ways around this. Monks in particular raised rabbits because the newborns were declared “fish” (or, at least, not-meat) by the church and thus could be eaten during Lent.
Middle ages food: HOW MUCH?
In the Middle Ages, food was consumed at about 4,000 calories a day for peasants, but they burned around 4,500 calories each day in manual labor.
Compare that to modern Americans, who eat about 3,000 calories a day but burn only 2,000.
Medieval monks were a little more like us. They consumed 6,000 calories/day on “normal” days, and 4,500 calories/day when fasting.
Needless to say, middle ages food meant the common people were thin, while obesity was prevalent among monks and the upper classes.
Then again, plump people were considered more attractive back then.
In the Middle Ages, alcoholic beverages were always preferred over water, which could be contaminated.
Wine was regarded as the most prestigious and healthy choice, but the average person drank beer. A LOT of beer.
At Westminster Abbey, each monk was given an allowance of one gallon of beer per day.
Middle ages food: DESSERT
The term “dessert” originated during the Middle Ages.
It started off as mulled wine aged cheese, but by the Late Middle Ages could also include fresh fruit covered in honey or syrup and boiled-down fruit pastes.
Sugar was less common and, from its first appearance in Europe, was viewed as much as a drug as a sweetener.
Which diet looks more like YOURS? The rich people’s fare of meat and wheat? Or the more vegetarian diet of the poor?