Mad og drikke i middelalderen

Artikler

The food of the Middle Ages is known primarily via surviving cookbooks from the thirteenth century onward, and they mainly concern the food of the upper class. When this information is supplemented with archaeological evidence and accounts, however, it forms a larger picture that, among other things, shows that the medieval Danish kitchen was surprisingly international. Obviously, the produce was predominantly local, but the preparations often correspond to the ones found in French, English and German sources and the spicing was hot and Middle Eastern.

Fasting

An important element of the medieval food culture was the many fast days. The medieval Catholic church demanded regular fast every Wednesday and Friday, besides a stricter fast during the 40 days leading up to Easter and in shorter periods leading up to other religious festivals. Altogether, this added up to 180 days a year that were subjected to special fasting rules. The fast leading up to Easter required abstaining from all animal foods, while butter, cheese and eggs were allowed on the weekly fast days. Fasting therefore primarily meant abstaining from meat, and eating fish instead.

Produce

The basic diet for most of the population consisted of bread and porridge, made primarily from rye and barley. In addition to these, oat, wheat, buckwheat and millet were also used. The everyday bread was made of rye, while the general population would only have eaten wheat bread during festivities. Barley was used for brewing beer and making porridge. Grain could be stored and used all throughout the year, but apart from that, food was highly dependent on the season.

Cattle and pigs were usually slaughtered in November and December, after which most of the meat was conserved via salting. Poultry such as chickens and geese, on the other hand, could provide fresh meat all throughout the year. Cows and sheep provided milk only during the summer, but not the winter, as the feed was too poor. Milk was not drunk by itself, but conserved as butter and cheese. Meat was also available from game, but hunting was increasingly becoming a privilege for the king and nobility.

Because of the many fast days, fish played an important role and was consumed fresh, salted and dried. Vegetables are almost absent from written sources, but must have been a large part of the diet, and even in the towns many people owned a kitchen garden where curly kale, peas, beans, onions, beetroots and herbs were grown.

Spices

The salted meat had to be soaked in several bodies of water before consumption, and this was one of the reasons for the strong spicing. One of the myths concerning medieval food is that the powerful spicing was supposed to mask the taste of tainted produce, but this seems highly unlikely; spices were expensive, so simply getting proper meat must have been cheaper.

Royal accounts show that Middle Eastern and Indian spices such as saffron, cinnamon, pepper, ginger, nutmeg and cumin were bought in large amounts. Most likely it was only the upper class who could afford the exotic spices for ordinary days, while those of limited means attempted to imitate the high-class food for celebrations and festivals. An example of the medieval preference for spices has survived in our Christmas food, where the combination of cinnamon, ginger, cardamom and cloves date back to the fine cuisine of the Middle Ages.

Herbs such as parsley, marjoram and thyme, along with garlic, horseradish and mustard recur in the recipes and must have been readily available for all classes, since these can grow in Denmark.

Sugar must also be mentioned along with exotic spices, and since it was available in the form of cane sugar imported from the Middle East it was very expensive. In order to sweeten the dishes, honey and raisins were often used instead.

Beverages

Another myth surrounding medieval food is that everyone drank beer all the time – which might not be entirely wrong. On the other hand, most beer was very weak and low proof. The water quality, particularly in the towns, could be very poor, which is probably one of the explanations for the preference towards beer. The water was boiled during the brewing process, and even though bacteria were not known at the time, people likely observed that beer caused fewer diseases than well water. Beer was brewed in most larger households for consumption by both children and adults. Stronger beer was brewed for festivities and, if one could afford it, imported beer was available from Germany, which had a reputation of being strong and being of high quality. Wine was also imported, and here the preference was on sweet wine, often sweetened with honey and spices.

Om artiklen

Forfatter(e)
Ane Bysted
Tidsafgrænsning
1200 - 1536
Medietype
Tekst
Sidst redigeret
8. august 2011
Sprog
Dansk
Litteratur

Skaarup, Bi og Jacobsen, Henrik: Middelaldermad. Kulturhistorie, kilder og 99 opskrifter (1999)

Udgiver
danmarkshistorien.dk

Relateret indhold

Om artiklen

Forfatter(e)
Ane Bysted
Tidsafgrænsning
1200 - 1536
Medietype
Tekst
Sidst redigeret
8. august 2011
Sprog
Dansk
Litteratur

Skaarup, Bi og Jacobsen, Henrik: Middelaldermad. Kulturhistorie, kilder og 99 opskrifter (1999)

Udgiver
danmarkshistorien.dk