Food color, sex also: what was eaten in the Middle Ages (foodies are forbidden to read late at night)

2016-03-14 Aoba Shi picked up historical events

Eating is always the theme of human life, and there is an old saying: “Food color, sex also.” “Food is in front of color, and it can be seen that food is the first place in the material base. Our Chinese national food culture has a long history, and a variety of dishes are still active in the north and south of the motherland. So, what was the diet like for medieval people? What are the characteristics of their food? Let’s take a look with me.


The diet of the Middle Ages was very different in the early and late stages, and after the outbreak of a series of diseases such as the Crusades and the Black Death, great changes have taken place in the types of food and cooking, and at the same time, diet is also different for people of all levels of society, just like why today why do you eat steamed buns with boiled water every day, but others are delicious seafood? At that time, the staple food eaten by people of all classes of society was mainly bread made of barley or rye, and rye in the Middle Ages occupied a very important position as the main grain. However, the lack of grain caused the famine of the 14th century, and hunger is still the main theme of that era. Grains were followed by peas and broad beans (both important vegetables), and potatoes had not yet appeared (potatoes were brought back to Europe from South America by Western colonists to grow them). In Corsica in France and in the mountains of Severn, chestnuts are a basic food for people and animals; On the Mediterranean coast, grain still retains a special status, while bread remains the exclusive staple of the wealthy.

Meat was only available to the nobility in the early Middle Ages, as the average commoner could not afford it. With the development of the times, by the late Middle Ages, especially after the Great Famine, people realized that they could not rely solely on grain for calories, so meat gradually became popular. The continuous economic development of various places, especially the agricultural boom brought about by population growth, is also the reason for the popularity of meat. People like to eat beef, pork, sheep and goat, and the proportion of meat varies depending on the diet. At that time, there were no meat livestock that are specially fed today, but took advantage of the natural geographical advantages to raise meat livestock on a small scale, and after the 12th century, the Normandy region became the main meat livestock breeding base because of its natural and high-quality pastures. The source of meat is mainly domestic animals, in addition to the above-mentioned cattle, pigs, sheep, including chickens, geese, pigeons, rabbits, swans, peacocks, which are used to supply people’s tables. In addition to entering people’s belly, small poultry feathers are often used as bedding in beds. Hunting also adds a variety of game to the table, which has become an indispensable source of food for nobles, farmers and other adventurers, and prey in addition to pheasants, hares, etc., wild boar and deer, and nature has also abundantly given people these.

However, if the meat has no taste, it is better to eat bread. In the Middle Ages, in order to meet the needs of seasoning, but also to promote the digestion and absorption of meat, people often added some seasonings to cook. The most widely used are garlic and mustard, but when eaten in this way, the fresh aroma of the meat is not raised, which is equivalent to wasting pure natural ingredients. However, after the Crusades, the way meat was prepared was revolutionized. Many of the Crusaders lived in the area around Jerusalem for many years, gradually adopting the Eastern food culture and, more importantly, bringing back Eastern spices to Europe: pepper, ginger, cinnamon, saffron, sugar, and a variety of other condiments. Europeans have a soft spot for sweets, but before sugar was introduced to Western Europe, people could only taste sweetness through honey, and the crusaders of the Crusades first tasted sugar in Syria and brought it back to Europe.

As we all know, meat is a good thing for people, but excessive meat eating will bring “three highs”, for the toiling masses in the Middle Ages, they have to bear a certain amount of labor on weekdays, which can speed up the absorption and digestion of meat; However, for the citizens of the city who did not engage in physical activity and those nobles, it was not easy to maintain health, especially after entering the spring and summer, excessive consumption of meat products could cause outbreaks of disease, and in severe cases, violent death. So, the solution to such health problems at that time was bloodletting therapy or the use of decoctions, and the church invisibly helped people through such a health crisis, that is, fasting on a specified day of the year, abstaining from meat, and most monasteries fasted throughout the year.

On the days of fasting, meat other than fish is not allowed to be eaten. Common fish sold in the market are fresh, salted, smoked and dried fish, while crustaceans, shellfish and oysters are also consumed. Some saltwater fish, which must be transported from coastal to inland areas through long-distance trade, include horned sharks and whales, which are now almost all protected species. In England, only kings could enjoy whales, sturgeon, and dolphins, and pickled salmon was ridiculously expensive and had to be imported from Ireland and Scotland. The interior of Western Europe is also rich in freshwater fish, which ordinary people can afford, and the river fresh and river crabs that are often eaten have been integrated into ordinary people’s homes.

Of course, in addition to eating meat, medieval people also ate fruits and vegetables containing fiber. Vegetables are protein-rich broad beans and peas, fresh or dried beans, lentils, cabbage, carrots, lettuce, kale, onions… Fruits include cherries, strawberries, peaches, figs, almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, chestnuts, plums, pears, apples, papayas…. After the crusades, there were more apricots and melons.

Dishes are cooked in a variety of ways, from rural people to make fatty cabbage soup in pots, and more delicate and delicious dishes include iron-brazing grilled meat, grilled meat, boiled meat, thick vegetable stew, fried fish, etc. There are also various methods for making condiments. The often used condiments are prepared in a way that uses a lot of vegetable puree to thicken the juice of the dish; Instead of bread or eggs, soaked and strained bread hearts are used as a seasoning and wine and sour grape juice to make the flavor stronger. Now we have many juicers to extract juice, and in the Middle Ages people generally used mashing to extract juice. In the preparation of condiments, people use cinnamon, saffron, pepper, ginger or other spices to prepare, these condiments are made, or used in vegetable stews to complete the aroma, or spread on the roast to add meat aroma, or mixed with tasteless peas and broad beans to make it flavorful.

When it comes to the love of pastries, the people of the Middle Ages are unabashed. A variety of dairy products have become the most critical raw material in pastry making, people will make fried cakes, honeycomb cakes, egg rolls, spiced honey bread, cheese fruit pies and other kinds of buckwheat flour or corn flour, while people also make lacque products and milk egg scones, people can eat cheese alone or mix cheese in fruit to eat together, boiled milk can be made into a variety of milk liqueur and soup, such as cream sweet soup, milk cake and so on. In addition to pastries, jam making is also very attractive, and people in the Middle Ages generally used jam instead of sweets, including honey jam, pear sauce or papaya sauce made from grape juice, and so on.

When it comes to beverages, wine is mainstream. Wine has not only become a popular drink among people, but also because it is used in masses. The production of wine in Western Europe began with priests, some monks who bought plots of land to grow vineyards and make wine. Later, with the transfer of land, the business of making wine was dispersed into the hands of various European nobles, and in the hands of these rich people, wine was gradually divided into grades, and some famous vineyards were divided into “top” and “first-class”. The Romani Conti from Burgundy in France, the Château de Peter in Bordeaux, and Duque on the Rhône became the best of wines, of course, in the subsequent development. In addition to wine, cider and pear wine are also dotting people’s lives, and beer enters people’s daily life through a painful process. The first beer in Western Europe is brewed with barley malt and local spices and some additives (including pine resin, juniper berries, etc.), called “herbal beer”, herbal beer has a low degree of fermentation, turbid color, few bubbles, sweet taste, and can not be compared with today’s beer, in the 9th century, southern Germany began to use hops as a medicinal introduction and beer raw materials, and began systematic cultivation, late Middle Ages, spread to other regions. Hop beer is easy to store, the taste is similar to today’s beer, compared to wine is mainly suitable for the middle and upper class people to drink, naturally, beer has become the general public’s consumption drink, and gradually become a drink second only to wine. In the 12th century, grain shochu was distilled, and in the 14th century, fruit shochu was distilled, and the style of people’s drinks gradually increased.

Regarding the ritual of dining, it was more particular for the wealthy families in the Middle Ages, and the nobles with fiefdoms could set up a feast at home every day to entertain guests. During the meal, the guests were seated according to their status, and the servants and family members were arranged to be seated at the farthest table of the head of the family, and teacups, wooden plates, and wooden plates were placed on the table. The host and guests on the chair use tableware made of tin, silver and even gold. In the 14th century, tablecloths began to be popular on the dining table, which often hung to the floor, and were mainly used by guests to wipe their fingers, and in grand dinners, the tablecloths were changed after the main course.

Before the meal, first pray. After prayer, people wash their hands before the meal at the beginning of the meal. In the monastery, the abbot will personally pour water for the guests out of hospitality to wash their hands on their fingers, and at the feast in the noble family, the meal generally begins to “play music”, that is, someone must specially blow the “water trumpet”, and the magistrate will pour water for the guests to wash their hands, and some nobles in order to highlight the nobility, the water for washing hands is specially added with spices (rose petals, mint, verbena, etc.) to brew water.

After that, a slice of bread soaked in soup or wine (this is called broth….. Poured into a basin, people drink the soup with a spoon. The meat is thinly sliced, placed on top of the sickle and served in, and the bread is soaked in gravy. After that, the meat cutter comes to the table, symbolically cuts a small piece of bread, and then asks the chef to try each dish to prevent food poisoning.

At banquets, servants walked around carrying plates full of meat to let the guests take what they needed, and people were more accustomed to eating standing up. At that time, a main course would be accompanied by a rousing trumpet or drum, and even the singers would sing and dance, and the atmosphere of the banquet would reach its climax. The tableware used by people included spoons and knives and forks, and drinking cups were made of leather, wood, tin tea, or clay cups, and even more money, goblets. Only those with higher status can enjoy wine, while those with lower status and younger qualifications drink ale, apple juice, pear wine (drinking also discriminates…). )。 After eating, people will also have dessert, including various fruits and pastries.

For the feast of the upper class, the matching on the table is also exquisite. Before the 10th century, the main color of the banquet was red, symbolizing dignity, when vermilion food was popular with cinnamon-colored salmon, by the end of the 14th century, yellow, green and golden yellow have become the main color of the table banquet, between the 14th and 16th centuries, blue suddenly became popular, such a cold color also has a day to be elegant.

For eating, people’s ideas are always strange, in order to satisfy their appetites, people in the Middle Ages also fought hard, how, are you hungry?

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