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Food Preservation


Without the advanced low-temperature technology of freezers and refrigerators used today, the medieval cooks were forced to preserve food with methods that would result in extreme tastes. The most common practice was to preserve the food through the use of salt, usually at abundant amounts. It was used on all types of ingredients, from an assortment of meats to various vegetables. Salt helped to extract the water from the tissues of the meat or the vegetable, while preventing the growth of bacteria. As a result the preserved food tasted extremely salty and lost its texture, causing many to believe such types of food was the norm during the medieval period. Yet, most historians would disagree with such stereotypes, since fresh food most likely composed of the majority of the diet. Furthermore, some historians also believe that the dried food was somewhat "restored" prior to being consumed. Such theory believed that the cooks of the medieval period preferred soups and gruel a special reason. They argue that salted dried meats and vegetables were cooked in a soup form to allow water back into the tissues, while providing the soup with flavour. The "restoration" effects are said to be similar to the type we see today in the dried food found in instant noodles.


Aside from salt, large amounts of honey was often used to preserve food also. During the medieval period, people often kept vegetables and fruits in honey filled jars. The high concentration of sugar in honey inhibits bacterial growth, thus, allowing the food to be stored for prolonged periods. In addition, the honey acted as the sweetening agent for the fruits, which were rather poor during the Middle Ages.

Lastly, the other widely used medieval food preservation method is pickling. The medieval cooks used the most primitive pickling methods, using only the basic ingredients of vinegar and sugar. Also, unlike honey which was used almost exclusively on fruits and vegetables, pickling was used to preserve both meat and vegetables. Due to the wide array of application, one might find medieval recipes in which pickling is used on food that we are accustomed to being prepared in other methods. (Also, see picked fish in recipes section)