| Meat | Fish | Spices
Bread was the most common
food in Medieval times, along with grain that was used to make bread.
People spent more on grain and bread than anything else. An unmarried
working in the 1300's spent at least 1/3 of his wages on bread or wheat.
Large noble households used about 300 pounds of grain daily! Grain
was so important that town and city governments guarded its transportation
routes against thieves and pirates.
Meat was mostly considered
as luxury food because it was so expensive at the time, except for those
who lived in regions where livestock was raised. As the standards of living
rose, meat became a more common food group.
The most common and cheapest
meat was mutton from sheep. But pork, beef and veal (from calves) were
also popular. Many people bought sheep, pigs or other animals live
and then slaughtered them and salted the meat themselves. Others bought
their meat fresh from butchers. Cooks and innkeepers sold the meat they
prepared in the form of roasts, meat pies or stews.
The high price of meat and
the high demand for it made butchers quite wealthy. Meat merchants
were make the best living than any other food traders, and were one of
the first ones to form a guild.
The slaughter of animals
and disposal of their bones, organs, blood and waste caused many disagreements
between the public and the butchers. The stench and mess created
by the slaughter of animals on yards, slaughterhouses, and in the marketplace
was unbearable. Many butchers cut up the remains into small bits
and dumped it into rivers and streams. Some butchers took the remains
to pits dug for waste disposals outside of own.
Fish was a common food in
the middle ages because church prohibited eating meat on Fridays and Saturdays
during Lent, and on religious festivals throughout the year. These
meat prohibited days which added up to more than one third of a year, encouraged
people to catch, sell and eat fish as a supplement. Fish were sold salted,
dried pickled or fresh, and shellfish were sold fresh in bushels.
Freshwater fish were considerably more expensive than preserved fish which
lasted a lot longer. Freshwater fish were so valuable that feudal lords
guarded their rights to rivers, streams and ponds. Because fresh
fish spoiled so quickly, it was allowed to be sold in the streets.
It could not be sold after the second day it was caught unless it was properly
salted. The sale of fish in the marketplace was subject to regulations
similar to those imposed on meat. Sales took place in special sections
of the market and the quality of the fish sold was carefully observed.
Fish sellers were fined if they poured water onto the fish to keep them
Spices were used quite commonly.
Cinnamon, cloves, mace, saffron, and especially pepper were savored.
nutmeg are also mentioned
along with many common (and not so common) herbs such as parsley, basil,
(mentioned in Shakespears'
"Hamlet") and thyme. Vegetables were also a common part of the menu, though
the medieval feast did not follow our appetizer-entree-dessert pattern.