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Food In The Middle Ages - Medieval Habits

In the medieval period human digestion was thought of as extension to the cooking of food and therefore had to be conducted correctly in order for a person to remain healthy and digest well. In order for food nutrients to be absorbed correctly it was believed that easily digestible foods had to be eaten first and then heavier foods. This was the proper way to fill the stomach. If you did not follow this, heavier foods would sink to the bottom of the stomach and light foods, being on top would not be able to get through to digest quickly enough. This would cause bad gases in the body and putrefy it resulting in all sorts of ailments (actually many modern nutritionists believe the same). As well there was a philosophy on which food could be properly mixed inside and outside the body.

The technique for eating food in the middle ages went something like this. An aperitif was to be consumed before the meal in order to open up the stomach and prepare it for heavier food. It was recommended this be of a hot and dry nature. Sugar or honey coated confections made with ginger, anise, cumin, fennel and caraway were common, among those that could afford it. There was also wine and sweetened milk or almond milk. Then the meal could begin.

A meal might begin with fruit such as apples or pears which were considered less taxing to the bowels. Next might come vegetables like cabbage, carrots and lettuce, some moist fruits and herbs. Potages were popular as meal starters and the poor many times only ever ate potages. Sometimes lighter roasted meats such as chicken or lamb were next. The heavier meats such as beef and pork came after this, along with nuts, and heavy sauces. Beef was actually rarely eaten as the raising of cattle took too much land. Most of the poor could not afford much meat and so lived on various potages alone. A potage is a thick soup with vegetables, meat and water boiled together until very thick. But potages vary in their makeup. A Frumenty potage consisted of boiled wheat with possibly eggs, milk or broth. To this could be added currents, rum, sugar, orange flower water or saffron. A mawmenny potage was made of boiled fowl. Some potages were simply mashed pears or other fruit in water, thickened milk or almond milk, sometimes even with mashed flowers.

At the end of the meal the stomach was to be closed by a digestive aid called a dragee. This aid could be spiced wine, spiced lumps of sugar or more popularly, aged cheese.

What kind of food in the middle ages did the common peasant family consume? For the commoner, bread was the main staple as well as dishes made from wheat or cereal grains. Meat was rare and usually chicken or pork when it could be had. The main spices were sugar (expensive then) and honey. Expensive foreign spices were acquired by the wealthy. Wine or vinegar was popular in many dishes. Fish was eaten as well, in the northern areas especially. Almonds were used as a thickening agent or to make almond milk, when dairy milk was not to be consumed because of lent. A minor few of the poor had fruit trees as well. A bland diet for sure compared to today.

Mark Jordan is a researcher and writer living in Pennsylvania. Other informative sites can be seen at , and

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