Some thoughts on Food in Medieval England.

19 Mar

The Medieval period in Britain was a time of much unrest especially during The War of the Roses in l455,a fierce battle fought to protect the crown.

Food however, was as important then as today. At a feast during these times, all manner of dishes were presented. It was popular to have swan or peacock dressed up as a centre piece for the head table.

At each feast, there might be as many as twenty dishes. Other meal choices would be crane, young herons, quail,  plover, blackbird and curlew. Most dishes were served with a strong savoury sauce flavoured with spices such as mace, cayenne pepper, cloves and ginger.

A medieval Kitchen scene

A Medieval Kitchen scene.

Scene of a Medieval Banquet Medieval Banquet.

The poorer people lived mostly on pottage which was a broth or stock in which Chopped meat and vegatables were boiled with herbs and often pulses added. Most  people in Medieval England had to make their own food. There were food shops in the towns but most people were peasants who lived in villages where these did not exist . If a villager, you provided for yourself and family and farming was a way of life.

Peasants life in the middle ages.

The Peasants way of life.

Typical_Medieval_Farm_House  Medieval Peasant Farmhouse

Bread was the staple food, but the poorer people had to make do with the cheap breads of all grains. The wealthy, however were able to eat the more refined bread and used the poorer quality brown bread as trenchers (plates). These trenchers were made by cutting thick slices of bread and making a hollow in the centre. Several of these would be placed on the table and used until they became too soft to use for a further course of the meal. The trenchers would then be gathered up and given to the poor

Rye and barley produced a dark heavy bread. Maslin bread was made from a mixture of rye and wheat flour. After a poor harvest, when grain was in short supply, people were forced to include  beans and peas, even acorns. Lords of the manor did not allow peasants on his land to bake their bread in their own homes. All peasants had to pay to use the lords oven.

Whole Bread for the peasants

Whole bread for Peasants


Medieval Pie Baker on wheels.

Peasants Meal

A typical peasants meal.

The villagers drank water and milk. The water from a river was unpleasant to drink and the milk did not stay fresh for very long.. The main drink in the medieval village was ale. It was dificult to brew ale and the process took time. Usually the villagers used barley. This had to be soaked for several days in water and then carefully germinated to create malt. After the malt was dried and ground, the brewer added it to hot water for fermentation. The villagers were not allowed to sell their beer unless they had permission from the lord.

Fish was as vital as bread to medieval people as everyone had to eat fish for about half the days in the year. This was because the Roman Catholic Church laid down the rule that on Fridays, and until late in the period Saturday and Wednesdays, no one could eat meat. During Lent, eggs and dairy foods were also forbidden.

Preparing for a fish meal.

Medieval scene preparing for a fish meal.

Because it was almost impossible to transport fish from ports to places inland, large artificial lakes known as “stews”  were created so that fresh water fish could be stocked until needed. In Tudor times, deep sea fishing was well established, and fishermen sailed as far as Newfoundland looking for cod. Most of the saltwater fish eaten during this period was preserved by salting, pickling in brine, or sundried.

A General idea of meals eaten in Medieval times.


BREAKFAST  would consist of white bread, Three meat dishes, Three fish dishes( more fish on a saints day  and wine or ale to drink.

DINNER    A lord would usually have three courses but each course might have between four to six courses in it! There would be meat and fish with wine and ale.It is likely that only small parts from each dish were eaten with the rest meant to be thrown away- though the  lords kitchen workers and servers might be able to help themselves, thats if the lord himself was not paying attention

SUPPER   This would be very similar to the dinner but with slightly more unusual dishes such as pigeon pie, woodcock and sturgeon. Wine and ale would also be available.


BREAKFAST  This would consist of dark bread (probably made of rye ) with ale to drink

DINNER    Peasants eat their meals in the fields while they were working. He would have dark bread and cheese.We know this as   “ploughmans lunch”  and if he was lucky he might have some meat.He would carry a flask of ale to drink

SUPPER   The main meal was vegatable pottage and if the family was lucky there might be some meat or fish with this meal. Bread would be available and ale to drink.


Note:-  You will see on my sidebar there is a recipe for ” My Medieval Sauce.”


Posted by on March 19, 2013 in Medieval Period


15 responses to “Some thoughts on Food in Medieval England.

  1. Ancientfoods

    March 20, 2013 at 5:54 pm

    Reblogged this on Ancientfoods.


  2. Amy

    March 20, 2013 at 9:15 pm

    That is so interesting, Joanna. They ate a lot of breads 🙂


    • ritaroberts

      March 21, 2013 at 2:16 pm

      So pleased you enjoyed reading about Medieval Food Amy


  3. A Lady

    March 20, 2013 at 9:48 pm

    Reblogged this on Food, Farming and Faith in Snohomish County and commented:
    Fascinating historical information on Medieval English foodways!


  4. aquacompass7

    March 21, 2013 at 1:12 am

    I was able to feel familiar to Britain’s life of medieval times from your blog. Thank you.


    • ritaroberts

      March 21, 2013 at 2:13 pm

      Thank you for your nice comment. Pleased you enjoyed it.


  5. Valentina Author

    March 21, 2013 at 3:33 pm

    Poor people ate healthier than their lords and didn’t suffer gout, the rich people disease from eating rich food. Thank you for your interesting article.


  6. nutsfortreasure

    March 23, 2013 at 2:49 am

    I loved this story. We have some Medieval happenings one a place to dine out where you maybe asked to perform a song or dance for your supper another is King Richard’s Faire every weekend in October down on Cape Cod lots of drinking and turkey legs to be eaten by hand and Jousting 🙂


    • ritaroberts

      March 23, 2013 at 2:23 pm

      Sounds like great fun Eunice. Thanks for reading.


  7. Elisabeth

    October 22, 2013 at 4:07 pm

    Could we have the sources for the painting of the medieval banquet (with the peacock) please (author, date…) Thank you.


    • ritaroberts

      October 23, 2013 at 8:02 am

      Hello Elisabeth. I’m afraid I don’t have the authors name of the medieval banquet painting, but you can Google— ” Medieval Banquet Tables ” and that picture is on the page which comes up. Maybe you can follow from there. Good Luck.


  8. Elisabeth

    October 23, 2013 at 10:50 am

    I did but unfortunatly Any of the sites with this picture was able to give the sources. Anyway your blog is very interesting, thank you for all this informations !


    • Elisabeth

      November 2, 2013 at 4:52 pm

      I finally found the source of the peacock picture and thought you might be interested ! It comes from the Book of Conquests Of Alexander written by Jean Wauquelin for Phillip the Good. It is one of the 204miniatures and has probably been made by Willem Vrelant.


      • ritaroberts

        November 2, 2013 at 5:07 pm

        Thank you so much, I am really pleased you found this and many thanks for your interest in my blog and for commenting. Best wishes Rita.



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