Cooking in the medieval times was performed on very big scale, and food was cheap and plentiful. Foreign goods had to be bought at the nearest large town. Food trade was a primary business. It was also a way of determining class. The nobles would eat meat, white bread, pastries, and drink wine. This sort of diet caused many health problems, such as skin troubles, digestive disorders, infections from decomposed proteins, scurvy, and tooth decay. A peasant would eat porridge, turnips, dark bread, and in the north they would drink beer or ale. Women were the expert cooks, and they seasoned their food heavily with pepper, cloves, garlic, cinnamon, vinegar, and wine. They paid close attention to the appearance of their meal. For instance, they might spread the feathers of a peacock that they are serving. Also, if a the eggs of a batter didnt make it yellow enough, they would add saffron (saffron is orange of yellow powder obtained from the stigmas of the saffron flower).
Meat was expensive, so it was considered a luxury. This made butchers prosperous. The most common and least expensive was sheep. They would also eat birds: gulls, herons, storks, swans, cranes, cormorants, and vultures, just to name a few. Animals were cut up immediately after killing and salted to be preserved. Most meat was boiled because it the animals were wild, and the meat was sure to be tough. Also, almonds were often cooked with the meat for flavor. Fish was also popular. Part of this was because the church required that you eat fish on Fridays. Fish was often cooked in ale.
People spent more on bread and grain then anything else, even though England had a national bread tax, which fixed the price of bread. Pastries were expensive because sugar was an import. Because medical opinion advised that fruit shouldnt be eaten raw, it was preserved in honey and cooked into pastries. Almonds were often cooked into pastries as well. Fruit was more wild back then than it is today, so it may have been more flavorful. Most people grew their own vegetables. Also, many people owned their own cow and made cheese with its milk. They would sell most of the cheese at the local market.
Only gentleman had wine, which was often diluted with water or mixed with honey, ginger, or cinnamon to sweeten it. The only hot drink that they had in those days was mulled wine, and that was served only at festivities. Monks enjoyed mead, which is an alcoholic drink made by fermenting honey with water and adding spices.
Cooking in the medieval times was a big project. When preparing a most honorable feast, back then a cook may have been cooking for kings, queens, dukes, duchesses, counts, countesses, princes, princesses, marquis, marquises, barons, baronesses, lords and nobles alike. That could be a lot of people. These feasts also seemed to last more then one day. There were many many supplies that were needed for a feast of this size and at the great length of one hundred and twenty days: one hundred cattle, one hundred and thirty sheep, one hundred and twenty pigs, one hundred piglets, and sixty large flattened pigs. Also needed was: six pounds of nutmeg, six pounds of cloves, six pounds of mace, six pounds of galingale, 30 loaves of sugar, 25 pounds of saffron, two charges each of ginger, Mecca ginger, cinnamon, grains of paradise, and pepper, six charges of almonds, one charge of rice, 412 gallons of wheat flour, 120 quintals of cheese, 30 pounds of amydon, 12 baskets of candied raisons, 12 baskets of candied figs, eight baskets of candied prunes, 110 pounds of dates, 40 pounds of pine nuts, 18 pounds of turnsole, 18 pounds of alkanet, 18 pounds of gold leaf, one pound of camphor, and one hundred ells. Also they would need: 110 gallons of white vinegar, 110 gallons of claret vinegar, 275 gallons of verjuice, and 137 gallons of oil. For each day a cook in medieval times would need: two hundred kids, two hundred lambs, one hundred calves, two thousand chickens, and six thousand eggs. To cook all of this, the cooks would need: twenty large frying pans, twelve large casks, fifty small casks, sixty bowls with handles, one hundred wooden bowls, a dozen grills, six large graters, on hundred wooden spoons, twenty-five slotted spoons, six hooks, twenty iron shovels, twenty rotisseries, one hundred iron spits (strong and 13 feet long), and one thousand cartloads of dry firewood and a large supply of coal. So much was cooked that there was enough for seconds, and there was still some left over.
It took a lot of preparation for an event this size. Even before they could choose what to make, they had to make a rough estimate of their available resources, like how many people are willing to spend most of the day helping them cook, how many more are willing to do the chopping and things, how many ovens and burners the kitchen they will be using has, and how much money will be available to them. Back in medieval times, they had to do this preparation three or four months before hand, and had to start to get the food together six to eight weeks before the feast. Everything was to be gathered three to four days before so the meat could be hung and treated with as they wished.
As you can see, food was very important to the people back then. It also took a lot of time, effort, and spices to cook. We could say that the maniple had a great big job on his hands on the trip to Canterbury because he had to get enough food to supply thirty people. The cook also had it tough too, having to cook for all of those people. The Franklin probably held many events like this, but they may have not lasted as long as 120 days. And maybe the monk drank just a little too much mead.
Works Cited
Bishop, Morris. The Horizon Book of the Middle Ages. Ed. Norman Kotker. New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., Inc, 1968.
Chiquart, Maistre . “To Prepare a Most Honorable Feast (Translated).” 1992. Http://
“Food.” The Middle Ages.Edition. Vol. 2
Hodges, Kennith . “Medieval Prices.” February 2000.
“mead (1).” Microsoft Encarta World English Dictionary. 2000 Edition
Rowling, Marjorie. Everyday Life in Medieval Times. New York: Dorset Press, 1968.
“To Make a Feast.” 1992.
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