Traditions of eating

Food in the castle was served in the great hall, a large room usually on the upper floor. There would be a high table in the centre, the lord's table, upon which the nobles and important family would dine. Other tables, called trestle tables, would be placed lower than the lord's table and seated with benches, not ornate chairs.

Breakfast usually consisted of a small snack after morning mass. A cold hunk of bread and cheese was considered the medieval breakfast of champions. Dinner, served between 10 A.M. and noon, was the main meal of the day. A trumpeter or crier would announce the meal. When a guest entered the castle, the ladies would curtsey and take their seats.

Dinner was served in order: first the clergy, then the nobles, then the lord and his family, and then the servants and peasants. Dinner begain with a blessing from the chaplain, followed by a procession led from the unoccupied side of the lord's table by the steward who oversaw the staff. Next came the pantler who distributed bread and butter, the butler who poured the wine and other spirits, and the kitchen assistants who brought in the next course. Because of the fact that food was almost always brought in from outside kitchens up to a quarter of a mile away in the castle gard, people were used to and even developed a taste for lukewarm food.

Dinner typically had two or three courses each (for everyday!) and the last course, ironically, are what we would consider the beginning hors d'ouerves today: fruits, nuts, cheeses, and wine. Food was a grand affair in the Middle Ages for those who could afford it, and the number of courses and variety of foods (and their shades of different spices and flavors) would boggle the mind today.

Table settings

Table settings included a silver salt cellar, a nef (a gourd for holding pepper), and cups. The cups would be made of silver, pewter, wood, or horn, although it was considered fashionable to have the castle's platware made of coconut shells, ostrich eggs, agate, or gourds. Interestingly enough spoons were provided ,but guests were expeceted to dish out their own knifes and forks (the Boy Scout medieval sojourner should always be prepared and take his own silverware in his lapel). But don't worry, foods were mostly eaten with the fingers anyway.

Plates as we know them today were non existent for a long period on the Middle Ages, instead, people would use trenchers ( the bottom side of a bowl of bread, the rest having been eaten with the meal ) were used as the plates. The plus to this was that you had even more food after the courses were done ,the minus was that the bottom side of your bread had touched the table (although medieval folk weren't exactly the most hygeinic.)

Eating and other social classes

In the long-standing English feudalistic society, only little room was provided on the pyramid for the nobles to eat. The everyday man couldn't always treat himself to subtle delights of confits, nini sherini, or chicken and wine pie. While the upper class of England enjoyed a surfeit of meat at their disposal, the merchant and peasant class had to rely on vegetables and dark bread (less expensive to produce than white bread) as their main staple of food. While some scholars dismiss vegetables as an unimportant food staple because of their rarely being mentioned in vellums about cooking, vegetables were in fact a staple food. They were simply not mentioned mainly because knowing how to cook vegetables was considered common sense.

A peasant's meal usually consisted of porridge, turnips, dark bread, and beer or ale. A salad might be added that would consist of parsley, borange, mint, rosemary, thyme and a vinegar dressing. It goes without saying that the peasants were usually lithe,healthy people, while the richly fed noble class bred the future generations of McDonald's consumers. Villagers would eat supper at the castle, and would be entertained by traveling minstrels, acrobats, or storytellers. The hours after supper were the villager's only leisure time.

The clergy ate only one meal a day, due to a religious regard for the sin of gluttony. However, this law relaxed over the centuries. Meals in a monastery were almost always eaten in silence.

Food anachronisms

Certain foods were NOT a part of English/Saxon cuisine until after the New World. These foods include:

Cocoa beans
Sweet potatoes

Venturing out on your own

There are some great resources out there besides the internet for finding recipes from the medieval times. However, I'll let you do the searching; you'll be surprised at what you find. There are some general guidelines to remember before you decide that Capon Farcede is a piece of cake:

Remember that recipes from the Middle Ages rarely included specific times, measurements, or temperatures. You're going to have to improvise. Use common sense here. If the recipe calls for a dash of syrup, don't squeeze in the whole bottle.

Do try to stick as closely to the recipe as possible, don't try to emulate modern day dishes. The point of medieval cooking is to grasp the differences and subtleties in the flavoring of the period, not find a new twist on yourchicken cacciatore.

Have fun, and enjoy your own cultural anachronism straight out of the oven!