Alright, I know people eating “gruel”, what a cliché right, but it worked for the story line so I just made it happen. In reality though meals of this time period could be very elaborate or very disgusting depending…
Around the 14th century (aka 1300’s for those who prefer to not do math) a slight shift in diets started to happen. Although what people ate then would most likely make most of us gag today meals and food were a very important and generally ceremonial event.
To start; you must remember that there was no refrigeration. Food “preservation” consisted of heavy salting and still rarely prevented rot. Foods therefore were highly “spiced” to hide the flavor of the rot.
For nobility meat was the main staple. Nobility ate so much meat it should be no wonder so many including our famed Henry VIII ended up suffering from gout. Pastries and white breads were also consumed most by nobility and while the developing merchant class also ate meats they tended to supplement meals with some vegetables.
Common meats (and fish) for the time included what you might think; beef, deer, sheep, pork, and chicken as well as cod, salmon, and sardines. But nobility also consumed frequently peacocks, storks, dolphins, eels, and until banned by the church, horse.
Nobility tended to avoid vegetable as they were seen as “commoner’s” foods but when they were consumed they were very basic. Peas, beans, cabbage were the main vegetables although things like leeks (which are an onion if you didn’t know) and cucumbers were available they were not often eaten. Potatoes did not become available until the late 16th century although yams were eaten.
Now by contrast commoners ate mainly vegetables, salads were a dietary staple. They also consumed dark breads such as rye and wheat. Oatmeal and fish were part of the “everyday” diet as well. On slaughter days common people would have a supply of pork and bacon but they ate far less of it than their noble counterparts. We could assume then that their diet was the better and their lives in general healthier because of it. Only there is a problem with this theory.
That problem would be Alcoholism.
Everyone in this period drank. They drank all the time and not milk and water. They drank wines, meads, ales, beers and just about anything that could be distilled. There are some records indicating that there were more deaths caused by drinking, such as alcohol poisoning, liver disease, and accidental deaths than deaths during the outbreaks of plagues. Although no one could have ever seen drinking as a problem by today’s standards most of society would be considered legally drunk for the most part of every day.
There is more to know about the meals of this time period and I will be elaborating more on some of the other aspects in blogs to come but as it might be close to your meal time I think I will stop for now.
Hope this makes you think and READ ON!