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  • Ancient Egypt
  • Bible food: New Testament
  • Ancient Rome
  • Ancient Celts
  • Viking fare
  • Anglo-Saxon/Norman food
  • Robin Hood foodways
  • Medieval fare
  • Marco Polo & the Merchants of Venice
  • Shakespeare's food (includes Romeo & Juliet)
  • Safe to eat?

    How did the first peoples know which foods were "safe" to eat? Excellent question!
    Food historians make educated guesses based on ancient records and modern practices. Based on this evidence, they presume foods were selected or rejected based on observation (they were avoided by the other animals in the area) in conjuction with basic trial and error (if it made the taster sick, it was unlikely others partook). Berries, nuts, fungus, and water sources were especially complicated and concernful.

    Myths and legends perpetuated the warnings against consuming known poisonous foods. Advances in technology eventually resulted in the ability (again, probably a matter of trial and error) to modify potentially harmful foods into consumable staples. Meat was preserved; nuts were boiled, vegetables were peeled. Explorers throughout history employed similar techniques when foraging edibles in new environments.

    "Considering how few plants are used by the great food, in comparison with the very great number eaten by primitive peoples in recent times, the experimental consumption of an ever-increasing variety of food-stuffs may be regarded as one of the important conquests of human evolution. Before the domestication of animals, it is unlikely that potential vegetable food would have been given to any other animal species first, to see what effect these would have (perhaps one of the earliest functions of the dog, besides scavenging, was an 'experimental' animal to test 'new' foods--a procedure known to have been practiced in some recent African communities). Thus, even with the exercise of considerable caution, it is likely that many degrees of food poisoning, from mild stomach disorders to death, occurred before man became fully aware of the limits of his food resources-- both plant and animal. It is, of course, impossible to gauge with any certainty as what stage in the million of years of human evolution the quest for a much wider food horizon began. Probably the utilization of new vegetable foodstuffs was a gradual development; it would obviously vary according to the plants available in a particular area. Although a simple knowledge of edible plant resources could be transmitted easily enough in Pleistocene times, it seems unlikely that special methods of food preparation were devised before the Neolithic cultural level. In the case of manioc tubers, for example, which are rich in starch, fat and protein, it is necessary to eliminate...hydrogen cyanide. In order to render them non-toxic, the roots need to be sliced or pulped, soaked in water for a day and the juice then expressed. Such a long, complicated procedure seems unlikely to be pre- Mesothilic in date..."
    ---Food in Antiquity, Don Brothwell and Patricia Brothwell [Johns Hopkins University Press:Baltimore] expanded edition, 1998 (p. 189-190)

    First cooks

    Why did humans start cooking their food? Food historians, archaeologists, and paleontolgists do not have exact an answer due to the age of the evidence. They do, however, have theories. While roasting over an open fire appears to be the first method, boiling was not far behind.

    "For hundreds of thousands of years the evolving human race had eaten its food raw, but at some time between the first deliberate use of fire--in Africa in 1,400,000BC or Asia in 500,000BC (depending on which theory happens to be the flavour of the month)-and the appearance of the Neanderthals on the prehistoric scene, cooking was discovered. Whether or not it came as a gastronomic revelation can only be guessed at, but since heat helps to release protein and carbohydrate as well as break down fibre, cooking increases the nutritive value of many foods and makes edible some that would otherwise be inedible. Improved health must certainly have been one result of the discovery of cooking, and it has even been argued, by the late Carleton Coon, that cooking was the decisive factor in leading man from a primarily animal existence into one that was more fully human'. Whatever the case, by all the laws of probability roasting must have been the first method used, its discovery accidental. The concept of roast meat could scarcely have existed without knowledge of cooking, nor the concept of cooking without knowledge of roast meat. Charles Lamb's imaginary tale of the discovery of roast pork is not, perhaps, too far off the mark. A litter of Chinese piglets, some stray sparks from the fire, a dwelling reduced to ashes, and unfamiliar but interesting smell, a crisp and delectable assault on the taste buds... Taken back a few millennia and relocated in Europe this would translate into a piece of mammoth, venison or something of the sort falling in the campfire and having to be left there until the flames died down. But however palatable a sizzling steak in ice-age conditions, the shrinkage that resuts from direct roasting would scarcely recommend itself to the hard-worked hunter, so that a natural next step, for tough roots... as for meat, would be slower cooking in the embers or on a flat stone by the side of the fire. Although the accidental discovery of roasting would have been perfectly feasible in the primitive world, boiling was a more sophisticated proposition."
    ---Food in History, Reay Tannahill [Three Rivers:New York] 1988 (p. 13-14) [NOTE: This book contains much more information on early cooking techniques than can be paraphrased here. Your librarian will be happy to help you find a copy.]

    "Homo erecutus may have used fire to a very limited extent some 300,000 years ago, but the evidence is sparse and questionable. Fire's general use, according to both paleontological and archaeolgical records, began only about 40,000 to 50,000 years ago...The use of fire, extended to food preparation, resulted in a great increas of plant food supply. All of the major domesticated plant foods, such as wheat, barley, rice, millet, rye, and potatoes, require cooking before they are suitable for human consumption. In fact, in a raw state, many plants contain toxic or indigestible substances or antinutrients. But after cooking, many of these undesirable substances are deactivated, neutralized, reduced, or released; and starch and other nutrients in the plants are rendered absorbable by the digestive tract. Thus, the use of fire to cook plant foods doubtless encouraged the domsetication of these foods and, thus, was a vitally important factor in human cultural advancement."
    ---Cambridge World History of Food, Kenneth F. Kiple and Kriemhild Conee Ornelas [Cambridge University Press:Cambridge] 2000 (p. 1571)

    "Just as we do not know how, where or by whome fire was first domesticated, we cannot really tell anything about the way food was cooked in the most distant Paleolothic period. We can only base conjectures on the customs of existing primitive peoples. Bones and walnut or hazelnut shells have been found on excavated sites, but there is no means of knowing whether they are the remains of cooked meals, the debris of fires lit for heat, or even the remnants of incincerated raw waste matter...[researchers] are inclined to think the meat was roasted, from the evidence of Mousterain sites in Spain and the Dordogne..."
    ---History of Food, Maguelonne Toussaint-Samat [Barnes & Noble:New York] 1992 (p. 90)

    "Food has long been baked in coals or under heated rocks, steamed inside animal stomachs and leaves, boiled in rockpots by heated stones, and so forth. An oven could be as simple as a hole in the ground, or a covering of heated stones. However, improved textures and flavours may not have been the reason fire was first controlled. People could have employed fire to keep wild beasts at bay, to trap them, to scare them out or to create open grassland, where tender shoots and leaves would be more accessible. People have long used fire to harden wooden weapons, and to keep warm at night. But even these uses, while not cooking in the narrow sense, improve the cooks' supplies, expanding the human niche."
    ---A History of Cooks and Cooking, Michael Symons [University of Chicago:Urbana] 2000 (p. 221)

    "French prehistorian Catherine Perles accepts that we share many aspects of feeding with other animals: other animals carry food to their lairs or transform it before consumption. However, she says, we transform food on a different level. The human species prepares its food by heat...and combines ingredients...She proposes that the culinary act distinguishes the human species, and is not just a symbol of, but a factor in, that very humanisation...Cooking is highly intentional...the culinary act is essentially sharing."
    ---A History of Cooks (p. 213)

    Food historians generally agree the first cooking method was
    roasting over an open fire. Discovery is attributed to happy accident. Boiling was no accident. It was a carefully considered process achieved with tools crafted specifically for the purpose.

    Discovery & early primitive methods
    "Although the accidental discovery of roasting would have been perfectly feasible in the primitive world, boiling was a more sophisticated proposition. According to conventional wisdom, prehistoric man went to a good deal of trouble for his boiled dinner. First he dug a large pit in the ground and lined it with flat, overlapping stones to prevent seepage. Then he poured in large quantities of water, presumably transported in skin bags. Other stones were heated in the campfire and manhandled by some unspecified means (possibly on the bat-and-ball principle) into the water to bring it to a simmer. The food was then added and, while it was cooking, more hot stones were tipped in from time to time to keep the water at the desired temperature. it is possible. There is no law that says thing have to be done the easy way, and the method is still used by modern tribals. But, in terms of discover, it makes sense only if the idea evolved, imitatively, in some isolated part or parts of the world blessed with hot springs--as in New Zealand's North Island. Hot water being a rare natural phenomenon, both idea and method would subsequently have to be disseminated by migrating tribes--which could explain why there is no indication of the technique being used before 5000 BC. One reason for the anthropological popularity of the pit-boiling theory is the belief that until the advent of pottery, cooking potential was severely restricted; that, lacking containers that were both heat-proof and waterproof, boiling was impossible except by the pit method. But that is not the case. Several perfectly viable alternative containers have been available for thousands of years, and the idea of boiling could well have been suggested by the fact that when meat or vegetables with a high water content were crammed into one of these containers over the fire, they sweated out an appetizing liquid. In many parts of the world large mollusc or reptile shells were used for cooking in, as they still were on the Amazon in the nineteenth century...In Asia the versatile bamboo supplied hollow sections of stem that could be stoppered with clay and one eng, filled with chopped-up raw ingredients and a little liquid, then stoppered again at the other. The method is still used in Indonesia today. In the Tehuacan Valley of Central America, in about 7000 BC, the people who lived in rock shelters and gathered wild maize for their food had already begun to use stone cooking pots. These, once made, were cited in the centre of the hearth and, too heavy to move, left there permanently. Long before the advent of pottery and bronze there was one kind of container that was widely distributed, naturally waterproof, and heatproof enough to be hung over, if not in, the fire. This was an animal stomach...With the advent of cooking, the notion of simmering the contents of the stomach in the stomach-bag itself would emerge quite naturally...By about 13,000 BC leatherworking techniques had improved so much that skins had come to replace many of the older containers. After skins same pottery, which was succeeded by bronze and then iron, from which most cooking pots continued to be made until the twentieth century."
    ---Food in History, Reay Tannahill [Three Rivers Press:New York] 1988 (p. 14-16)

    Ancient civilizations
    "Boiling or stewing was done in small pots placed near the fire or in cauldrons suspended over a fire by chains attached to a beam or hung from a tripod formed by three poles joined at the apex. Meat was probably boiled first, with the vegetables added later. A basic peasant dish was pottage made from grains, beans, or lentils. A large cauldron could easily hold a pig, which was a desired dish of the Celts. Apicius [Ancient Roman cookbook writer] advised that cranes should be boiled in a 'large saucepan.' A cauldron would be idea...The Egyptians used cauldrons or large straight-sided pots supported on stones, or a tripod set over a pan of glowing charcoal."
    ---Food in the Ancient World, Joan P. Alcock [Greenwood Press:Westport CT] 2006 (p. 105-106)

    Native American
    "'...before the Europeans brought them kettles or pots from across the ocean they made use of earthen vessels, which they manufactured with some skill, giving them a spherical form at the bottom and considerable width at the top; and after having dried them in the sun, they burnt them in a slow fire made with bark. The more migratory tribes possessed only wooden cooking utensils, less fragile, but easier of transportation. They cooked their food in these by throwing into the water, one after the other, heated stones. This gradually heated the water, and caused it to boil sufficiently to satisfy people who were accustomed to partly-cooked food.'...Informants at Grande River and elsewhere state that boiling was sometimes practiced by placing a bark vessel in direct contact with the fire...'they cooked their meat in a bark kettle, which they made by using a flint axe or chisel to separate the bark from an elm tree. They tied the large pieces of bark together at the ends with strips of inner bark, making a dish large enough to hold the meat, with water enough to boil it. This bark kettle was suspended between two sticks over the fire, and before the kettle was burnt through the meat was cooked.'...the greater part of the foods used by the Iroquois seems to have been prepared by boiling."
    ---Iroquois Foods and Food Preparation, F. W. Waugh, facsimile 1916 edition [University Press of the Pacific: Honolulu HI] 2003 (p. 54-55)

    Recommended reading (general history of cooking):

    Ancient Mesopotamian foods

    There are several sources you can use to find information on the foods, agricultural practices, and dining customs of ancient Mesopotamia. Most of this information (the credible sources your teacher will accept) is still contained in books. Did you know Ancient Mesopotamia is also credited for the first written recipes?

    Some notes to get you started:

    "The raw materials of the Sumerian diet...were barley, wheat and millet; chick peas, lentils and beans; onions, garlic and leeks; cucumbers, cress, mustard and fresh green lettuce. By the time Sumer was succeeded by Babylon a special delicacy had been discovered that was dispatched to the royal palace by the basketful. Truffles. Everyday meals probably consisted of barley paste or barleycake, accompanied by onions or a handful of beans and washed down with barley ale, but the fish that swarmed in the rivers of Mesopotamia were a not-too-rare luxury. Over fifty different types are mentioned in texts dating before 2300 BC, and although the number of types had diminished in Babylonian times, the fried-fish vendors still did a thriving trade in the narrow, winding streets of Ur. Onions, cucumbers, freshly grilled goat, mutton and pork (not yet taboo in the Near East) were to be had from other food stalls. Meat was commoner in the cities than in the more sparsley populated countryside, since it spoiled so quickly in the heat, but beef and veal were everywhere popular with people who could afford them...although most beef is likely to have been tough and stringy. Cattle were not usually slaughtered until the end of their working lives...Probably tenderer and certainly more common was mutton. The incomers who had first put the Sumerian state on its feet were originally sheep herders..."
    ---Food in History, Reay Tannahill [Three Rivers:New York] 1988 (p. 47)
    [NOTE: This book has much more information than can be transcribed here. Your librarian can help you find a copy.]

    "Mesopotamian food is known from archaeology and written records on cuneiform tablets, including bilingual Sumerian-Akkadian word lists. These sources indicate the importance of barley bread, of which many kinds are named, and barley and wheat cakes, and grain and legume soups; of onions, leeks and garlic; of vegetables including chate melon, and of fruits including apple, fig and grape; of honey and cheese; of several culinary herbs; and of butter and vegetable oil. Sumerians drank beer often, wine seldom if at all; wine was better known in northern Mesopotamia and in later items. Animal foods included pork, mutton, beef, fowl including ducks and pigeons, and many kinds of fish. Meats were salted; fruits were conserved in honey; various foods, including apples, were dried. A kind of fermented cause is identified in Akkadian texts."
    ---Food in the Ancient World From A-Z, Andrew Dalby [Routledge:London] 2003 (p. 216)

    "Gardens in fertile Mesopotamia flourished, and onions and leeks and garlic were amongst the most frequently cultivated plants. They were grown in the gardens of King Merodach Maladan II of Babylon, and Ur-Nammu of Ur (2100 BC) records that by constructing a temple to Nannar he saved his garden, wherein grew onions and leeks...The cucumber was much cultivated in Egypt in Pliny's day and known in early Mesopotamia far earlier, being recorded as growing in the garden of Ur-Nammu at Ur."
    ---Food in Antiquity: A Survey of the Diet of Early Peoples, Don Brothwell and Patricia Brothwell [Johns Hopkins University Press:Baltimore] expanded edition 1998 (p. 109, 124)

    "The staple crop of ancient farmers around the world was always grain...In Mesopotamia, the chief crop was barley. Rice and corn were unknown, and wheat flourished on a soil less saline than exists in most of Mesopotamia. Thus barley, and the bread baked from its flour, became the staff of life. Mesopotamian bread was ordinarilly coarse, flat, and unleavened, but a more expensive bread could be baked from finer flour. Pieces of just such a bread were...found in the tomb of Queen Puabi of Ur, stored there to provide her spirit with sustenence in the afterlife. Bread could also be enriched with animal and vegetable fat; milk, butter, and cheese; fruit and fruit juice; and sesame seeds....The gardens of Mesopotamia, watered by irrigation canals, were lush with fruits and vegetables...Among the fruits were apples, apricots, cherries, figs, melons, mulberries, pears, plums, pomegranats, and quinces. The most important fruit crop, especially in southern Mesopotamia, was the date. Rich in sugar and iron, dates were easily preserved. Like barley, the date-palm thrived on relatively saline soil and was one of the first plants farmers domesticated...As for vegetables, the onion was king, along with its cousin, garlic. Other vegetables included lettuce, cabbage, and cucumbers; carrots and radishes; beets and turnips; and a variety of legumes, including beans, peas, and chickpeas...Curiously, two mainstays of the Mediterranean diet--olives and grapes...were seldom found in Mesopotamian appreciate Mesopotamian daily life our imagination must breath in the pungent aroma of the seasonings that once rose from ancient stoves and filled the air...Coriander, cress, and sumin; fennel, fenugrek, and leek; marjoram, mint, and mustard; rosemary and rue; saffrom and thyme...Cumin...Sheep played an important role in the Mesopotamian economy...Like goats and cows, ewes produced milk that was converted into butter and cheese, but sheep were also slaughtered for meat. Beef was in short supply...pork from pigs [suppelmentd]...Game birds, deer, and gazelle were hunted as well. On farms, domesticated geese and ducks supplied eggs...and from canals and private ponds, came some 50 types of fish, a staple of the Mesopotamian diet. Generally, meats were either dried, smoked, or salted for safekeeping, or they were cooked by roasting, boiling, broiling, or barbecuing."
    ---Handbook of Life in Ancient Mesopotamia, Stephen Bertman [Facts on File:New York NY] 2003 (p. 291-293)


    Sumeria, Babylonia, Judea, Purdue University lecture notes
    Babylonia, Catholic Encyclopedia
    About Mesopotmia banquets (with picture)

    Food historians trace the earliest written recipes to the second milennium BC. However, it was many centuries afterward that usable recipes (lists of ingredients, really, no cooking times and measurements like we have today) were transcribed for posterity. This means what we know about the foods of Mesopotamia are educated guesses based on scientific archaeological and biological evidence. Notes here:

    "Mesopotamian recipe collections, three cuneiform tablets at Yale University containing recipes in Akkadian. Probably originating from southern Mesopotamia in the seventeenth century BC, these are the oldest known food recipes anywhere in the world."
    ---Food in the Ancient World From A-Z, Andrew Dalby [Routledge:London] 2003 (p. 217)

    "The earliest known recipes date from Mesopotamia in the second millennium BCE. It would be rash, however, to conclude that the Mesopotamians invented cooking. They simply had reasons to write down their recipes and were the first, along with the Egyptians, to possess the means to do so; without writing, recipes cannot survive. Yet the absence of written recipes does not rule out an interest in gastronomic matters of the existence of sophisticated culinary techniquees. For example, the ancient Egyptians apparently felt no need to write down their recipes, yet we find instructive traces of their cooking methods in tombs dating from as early as the fourth millennium."
    ---Food: A Culinary History, Jean-Louis Flandrin & Massimo Montanari [Columbia University Press:New York] 1999 (p. 16-17)

    "Babylonian cookery by which is meant that of the Mesopotamians in what is called the Old Babylonian period, has been the subject of recent resarch, based on a study of three tablets of ancient cuneiform text. These, which are dated to around 1700BC and were probably found in the south of Mesopotamia, constitute between them a collection of recipes, perhaps the oldest surviving one. Eveline van der Steen gives reasons for thinking that these recipes were intended for use in a religious context; and that what would otherwise be puzzling reatures of them can be explained on the assumption that they are all for versions of a meat-in-sauce dish which would be served to a god in his temple, accompanied by bread (probably mixed barley and wheat) and date cakes, etc. The god (probably Marduk in this instance, as he was the city god of Babylon) would eat behind closed curtains. Leftovers would go to the king. It was only in 1995 that Bottero published a full translation and commentary; and discussion will no doubt continue. It does seem clear, however, that these fragments of evidence should not be interpreted as reflecting the food of the common people of the time."
    ---Oxford Companion to Food, Alan Davidson [Oxford University Press:Oxford] 1999 (p. 47)

    What was the oldest menu? First recipes on the Internet?

    Need to make something for class?

    "Sasqu (Porridge with Dates)
    Sasqu is a cream porridge described in the palace records at Mari. It could be made from ground emmer or barley cooked of a soupy consistency with milk, oil, or water. Dates were added on ritual occasion for elite tables...
    2 cups milk or water
    3/4 cup barley flour
    Salt and date syrup to taste
    3/4 cup chopped dates
    1. Place the barley flour in a saucepan. Slowly whisk in the milk, stirring constantly. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and cook for 5 minutes.
    2. Season with salt and date syrup. Turn into serving cups and scatter with the chopped dates."
    ---Cooking in Ancient Civilizations, Cathy K. Kaufman [Greenwood Press:Westport CT] 2006 (p. 14)

    "Palace Cake
    Records from Ur identify cakes 'for the palace' as containing 1 sila of butter, 1/3 sila of white cheese, 3 sila of first-quality dates, and 1/3 sila of raisins. A sila equaled a little more than 3 cups. This recipe has been scaled back by one-third to make the quantities more manageable, but it is extremely rich due to the large portions of butter. Presumably there would be flour and other ingredients that a competent baker would infer to assemble this cake. The dried fruits will stick to the bottom of the pan; if you want to unmold the cake after it cools (rather than serve it from the pan), line the bottom of the pan with baker's parchment, or, to be more authentic, grape leaves. Invert the cake onto a plate and peel off the leaves...
    3 cups dates, finely chopped
    1/3 cup raisins
    2 teaspoons ground fennel or aniseed
    1/3 cup cottage cheese
    1 cup (2 sticks) butter, melted and at room temperature
    2 eggs, beaten together, at room temperature
    2/3 cup milk, at room temperature
    1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
    1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Combine the dates, raisins, and spice and scatter in a 10-inch cake pan.
    2. Press the cottage cheese through a strainer to break up the curds. Combine the cheese with the melted butter, eggs, and milk and slowly stir into the flour, moistening thoroughly. Pour the batter over the dried fruits and bake for 45-55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the centers comes out clean."
    ---ibid (p. 32-22)

    "Dried Fruit Compote
    Dates, figs, and grapes and something called candy were offered every day to the gods of Uruk. Softening dried fruits would make them easier to chew, and advantage in an era of primitive dentistry.
    1/2 cup dried figs, quartered
    1/2 cup dried sour cherries
    3/4 cup dried apricots, sliced
    2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
    2 tablespoons date syrup
    Water, as needed, to cover the dried fruits.
    Combine all of the ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Simmer until tender, about 10 minutes. Remove the fruit with a slotted spoon and reserve. Reduce the cooking liquid by boiling to a light syrup. Combine with the poached fruits."
    ---ibid (p. 34)

    About Ancient Mesopotamian recipes (includes two)

    Ancient Egypt

    "Egyptian civilization probably began about 3100 B.C., following a predynastic period from 5500 B.C. during which time hunter-gatherers settled in agricultural villages and animals and people migrated into the region from western Asia...During this time, as revealed by evidence from sites in the Fayum region, the population supported itself first by hunting the many wild species that lived in and around the Nile. These included wild fowl, fish, pigs, cattle, antelope, and gazelle. As the population began to establish agricultural communities, the wild pigs and wild cattle were domesticated. Hunting became more of a sport for the wealthy than a means for obtaining food, although poorer people continued to hunt game and wild fowl, and to snare fish to augement their mainly cereal and leguminous diet. Cattle, sheep, and goats were more useful to the poor for their milk, cheese, and butter than for their meat. Agricultural communities grew grains as well as legumes, and these became the major crops of the Nile valley. They provided the two main staples of Egyptian life--bread and beer. Grain was used as a currency, something with which to barter or to pay taxes and wages. The main grain cultivated in Egypt until the fourth century B.C. was emmer; barley was also grown and was probably the grain of the poor. Production of these grains throughout Egyptian history was the main agricultural activity and provided the basic diet of bread for the Egyptians...Grain was also used to make pottage or thicken soup or added to pulses, for lentils, peas, and fenugreek were also common at this time, and were the most important pulses until fava beans were introduced in the Fifth Dynasty. Honey or dates might be used to sweeten the bread...dates were culitvated and...also used to produce a sugary drink...other sources of food were lotus and aquatic plant seeds...Melons, watermelons, and chufa, or yellow nutgrass, were grown. Bread as also used to make the other staple, beer, which was part of the daily ration given to soldiers and workers....The making of beer was woman's work...Wine seems also to have been drunk at this early period."
    ---Food in the Ancient World, Joan P. Alcock [Greenwood Press:Westport CT] 2005 (p. 136-8)

    "It is clear that the Egyptians enjoyed their food. Nobles and priests were particularly well served, with at least forty different kinds of bread and pastries, some raised, some flat, some round, some conical, some plaited. There were some varieties made with honey. Others with milk, still others with eggs. And tomb excavations show what a wide range of other foodstuffs the great had set before them even as early as the beginning of the the third millennium BC--barley porridge, quail, kidneys, pigeon stew, fish, ribs of beef, cakes, stewed figs, fresh berries, cheese...Much time was spent organizing supplies. Until about 2200BC the Egyptians perservered with attempts to domesticate a number of animals like the ibex, oryx, antelope and gazelle, and then, abandoning this fruitless occupation, turned to the more entertaining pursuits of hunting in the marshland preserves, collecting exotic vegetables like wild celery, papyrus stalks and lotus roots, trapping birds and going fishing. The Nile marshes and canals contained eel, mullet, carp, perch and tigerfish...The origins of salting as a preservation process remain obscure. Although in Egypt there was a positive link between salt's use in preserving food for the living and embalming the bodies of the dead. Preservation by drying presents fewer questions, if only because figs, dates and grapes fallen from the tree or vine would dry themselves on the hot sandy soil, and no lengthy period of experiment would be needed to establish that fish, for example, responded well to the same treatment...The peasants' food, like their way of life, was more circumscribed than that of the great officials...Their standard fare may have been ale, onions and common flatbread... bought from a stall in the village street, but they could look forward to quite frequent days of plenty when they feasted on the surplus from temple sacrifices or one of the great high festivals. They ate pork, too."
    ---Food in History, Reay Tannahill [Three Rivers Press:New York] 1988 (p. 53-4)
    [NOTE: These books contain much more information than can be paraphrased here. Your librarian will be happy to help you find a copies.]

    How did Ancient Egyptians preserve their food?
    Ancient Egyptians employed a variety of methods for food preservation. Great silos were constructed to preserve grain for long periods of time. Fish, meat, vegetables and fruits were were preserved by drying and salting. Grains were fermented to create beer.

    "There is evidence that as early as 12,000 B.C., Egyptian tribespeople on the lower Nile dried fish and poultry using the hot desert sun. Areas with similar hot and dry climates found drying to be an effective method of preservation...Herodutus, writing in the fifth century B.C., describes how the Egyptians and their neighbors still dried fish in the sun and wind and then strored them for long periods."
    ---Pickled, Potted and Canned: How the Art and Science of Food Processing Changed the World, Sue Shepard [Simon & Schuster:New York] 2000 (p. 31)

    "...the Babylonians and Egyptians pickled fish such as sturgeon, salmon, and catfish, as well as poultry and geese. Sometimes salt was relatively easy to extract; in other parts it was more difficult."
    ---ibid (p. 76)

    "Salt has been used to preserve fish since ancient times, possibly even before meat was cured. The early Mesopotamian civilizations relied on a staple diet of salt fish and barley proridge...Fish curing, depicted in the tombs of ancient Egypt, was so highly regarded that only temple officials were entrusted with the knowledge of the art, and it is significant that the Egyptian word for fish preserving was the same as that used to denote the process of embalming the dead."
    ---ibid (p. 79)

    "For thousands of years the survival and power of a tribe or country depended on its stocks in grain. Harvesting, processing, and storing grain stocks was of huge importance, and war was declared only after harvest...One of the earliest records of large-scale food preserving was in ancient Egypt, where it was enourmously important to create adequate stocks of dried grain to insure against the failure of the Nile to flood seasonally. Huge quantities of grain were stored in sealed silo, where they could be kept for several years if necessary. Records from 2600 B.C. show that the annual flooding of the Nile produced surpluses of grain that were stored and kept to feed builders of irrigation schemes and pyramid tombs. The Great Pyramid of Cheops at Giza was built around 2900 B.C. by slaves fed with stores of grain and chickpeas, onions, and garlic."
    ---ibid (p. 51)

    "Dried saltfish was part of a soldier's rations. Roe from the mullet, a periodic visitor to the canals of the Nile, was also extracted during the drying process of the fish, to be pressed into large flat cakes and preserved."
    ---Food: A Culinary History, Jean-Louis Flandrin & Masimo Montanari [Columbia University Press:New York] 1999 (p. 42)

    Meals & dining customs
    "In Egypt banquets started in the early or middle afternoon, but few details are available about the eating of ordinary meals. The basic Egyptian meal was beer, bread, and onions, which the peasants ate daily, probably as a morning meal before they left to work in the fields or on works commanded by the pharaohs. Another simple meal would be eaten in the cool of the evening, probably boiled vegetables, bread, and beer; possibly wild fowl...The wealthy would expect to eat two or een three meals a day comprising vegetables, wild fowl, fish, eggs, and beef. Butter, milk, and cheese were also easily obtainable. Dessert would c onsits of fruit--grapes, figs, dates, and watermelons. In a Saqqara tomb of the Second Dynasty, a full meal was found that had been laid out for an unnamed noble. It included pottery and alabaster dishes containing a porridge of ground barley, a spit-roasted quail, two cooked lamb's kidney's, pigeon casserole, stewed dish, barbecued beef ribs, trianguar loaves of bread made from ground emmer, small round cakes, a dish of stewed figs, a plate of sidder berries, and cheese, all accompanied by jars that had once contained wint and beer. In the Old Kingdom, the Egyptians are around a small table a few inches high, using their fingers to eat. Normally dishes were placed in the center of the table, and each person sitting around dipped berad or a spoon into it. The lower classes continued this form of eating in the New Kingdom, but the upper classes then preferred to sit on tall cushioned chairs. Servants brought around water in small bowls to that guests could wash their hands before and during the meal."
    ---Food in the Ancient World, Joan P. Alcock [Greenwood Press:Westport CT] 2005 (p. 181-2)

    "The Egyptian Banquet. For Egyptian peasants there were some feast days, as at the New Year and after harvest and local religious festivals, but the peasants preferred to be offered sports and pastimes rather than elaborate dining. Meat was probably given to them after religious sacrifices. Dinner parties or banquets appear to have been one of the favorite entertainments for the middle and upper classes of the Egyptians, but literary evidence is scarce. There is no word for banquet in Egyptian...The information for feasts or banquets comes almost entierly from scenes found in tombs. In the Old Kingdom they seemed to be mainly family gatherings...Banquets in the New Kingdom were more elaborate, with family and guests enjoying the meal. Pharaohs gave official banquets...Banquets usually began in midafternoon...The tomb scenes show the guests being greeted by their hosts and servants coming forward to offer garlands of flowers. Next basins of water are offered for the guests to wash their hands...Tomb scenes show men and women on alternate panels as if they ate in separate groups or in separate rooms...Guests seated on...[chairs]... stools or cusions...They ate from small tables, but side tables were seemingly loaded with food in the almost buffet style, although servants would bring the food to the guests and offer them napkins to wipe their mouths. Jugs and basins were placed on stands nearby, ready for washing of hands and feet...The main food would be bread, fruits, pulses, and vegetables. Fruits would have included dates, figs, melons, and possibly fruits imported from other countries. Meat could be in abundance at banquets. Whole oxen were roasted; ducks, chickens, geese, and pigeons were served. Fish seems to have been less popular...Honey was a precious food, mainly the preserve of the wealthy, and therefore expected at feasts. Jars underneath the table held beer, wine, and fermented fruit dirnks...Toasts were drunk to the goddess Hathor...The meal would be accompanied by music...After the meal there might be storytelling or acrobats."
    ---Food in the Ancient World, Joan P. Alcock [Greenwood Press:Westport CT] 2005 (p. 188-191)

    "Cuisine and Social Class. Elite Egyptians ate three daily meals: morning, evening, and night. Laborers probably ate twice daily...Social superiors might include lower-status diners at banquets, with different foods offered to each guest dependign on his or her rank. tablewares varied from magnificent gold, alabaster, and class for the elites to earthenware and base metals for workers. Spoons and knives appeared the table. High-status banquets were often segregated by gener...The genders mixed at family meals, regardless of status. Egyptians buried food with their dead to ensure a comfortable afterlife. Diversity in diet was a mark of wealth...Beer and bread appeared on everyone's table and were the most common form of payment..."
    ---Cooking in Ancient Civilizations, Cathy K. Kaufman [Greenwood Press:Westport CT] 2006 (p. 43-44)

    In ancient Egypt, what would pharaoh feed his guests?
    Same as most rulers, the very best his land and wealth had to offer. And??? Plenty of it!

    "The Ancient Egyptians lived well. Although they left no recipe books, we can still get a good idea of what the pharaohs and their people may have eaten from the wall paintings in their tombs, the meals they buried with the dead to ensure that they did not go hungry in the next world, and from the tales of travellers such as the Greek Herodotus."
    ---Food Fit for Pharaohs: An Ancient Egyptian Cookbook, Michelle Berriedale-Johnson [British Museum Press:London] 1999 (p. 7)

    The feast given by King Mereptah in his eighth year for the Festival of Opet served these items: fish (filleted and salted), oxen, ducks (spit roasted), oryx, gazelle (basted in honey), beans, sweet oils (for sauces), celery, parsley, leeks, lettuce, bread, pommegranates, grapes, jujubes, honey cakes, heads of garlic, figs, beer and wine.
    ---Ancient Lives: Daily Life in Egypt of the Pharaohs, John Romer [Holt, Rinehart and Winston:New York] 1984 (p. 51-3)

    "A typical, lavish banquet consisted of a group sitting on the floor or at individual round tables. Often they reposed on low chairs or stools under which lay a basin for washing their hands, sometimes with a pet cat or monkey beside it. Men and women ate together, both dressed in flowing linen gowns that reached the floor The women held lotus flowers in one hand for the perfume and wore a perfume cone on their head made of a fatty substance that released a pleasing aroma as heat from the head slowly melted it during the course of the evening. Heaps of food completely covered the small tables There were breads of several shapes and varieties, whole roasted trussed fowl and joints of meat, several kinds of vegetables and assorted fruit...At an actual banquet...various courses would have been served one after another in containers. Plates were not used, but ceramic bowls, or more likely at such formal affairs, blue glazed and painted faience dishes would have held the food. Cups of similar material stood ready for wine and were continually refilled from large pitchers carried by circulating servant girls."
    ---Daily Life of the Ancient Egyptians, Bob Brier and Hoyt Hobbs [Greenwood Press:Westport CT] 1999 (p. 111-2)
    [NOTE: this book has a "meaty" chapter on period foodstuffs (p. 99-115) and several references for further study.]

    Recommended reading

    Egyptian Flat Bread
    Makes about 8 pitta
    500 g /1 1/2 lb spelt or other strong bread flour (brown or white)
    1/2 tsp salt
    7-g/ 1/3-oz sachet easy-blend dried yeast (1 packet)
    300 ml /1/2 pint/ 1 1/2 cups tepid water (one-third boiling to two-thirds cold)
    Mix the flour with the salt and yeast in a large bols. Make a well in the centre and our in the water. Gradually draw the flour into the water and mix to a soft dough. Knead by hand on a floured board for 15 minutes, or for 10 minutes in a food processor fitted with a dough hook. Pour a little oil into the bottom of a bowl, roll the dough in it and cover the bowl with a clean damp cloth or cling film. Put in a warm place for 1 1/2-2 hours or until the dough has almost doubled in size. Remove the dough from the bowl and 'knock back' or punch it down. Knead it again for another 3-4 minutes, then cut into eight pieces. On a floured board, flatten out each piece into a round (about 5 mm / 1/2 inch thick) with your hand or a rolling pin. Transfer to a floured baking tray and bake in a preheated hot oven (220 degrees C/ 425 degrees F/ Gas mark 7) for 8-10 minutes. Do not open the oven door while the bread is baking. each bread should puff up, leaving a pocket in the middle. Remove from the oven and cool slightly on a wire rack." ---Food Fit for Pharaohs: An Ancient Egyptian Cookbook, Michelle Berridale-Johnson [British Museum Press:London] 1999 (p. 61)

    Sesame Rings
    Makes 2 rings
    500 g /1 1/2 lb strong white bread flour
    1/2 tsp salt
    1 tsp sugar
    7-g/ 1/3-oz sachet easy-blend dried yeast (1 packet)
    300 ml/ 1/2 pint/ 1 1/2 cups tepid water (one-third boiling to two thirds cold)
    2 tbsp olive oil
    1 egg
    sesame seeds for sprinkling
    Mix the flour, salt, sugar and yeast in a large bowl and make a well in the centre. Pour in the water and oil and gradually draw in the flour. Knead on a floured board for 15 minutes, or for 10 minutes in a food processor fitted with a dough hook. Pour a little oil into a bowl, roll the dough in it and cover the bowl with a clean damp cloth or cling film. Put in a warm place for 1 1/2 -2 hours or until the dough has almost doubled in size. Take the dough out of the bowl, 'knock back' or punch it down and knead again for a further 5 minutes. Cut the dough in half and roll each half into a sausage shape that you can form into a ring with a diameter of about 20 cm/ 8 in, about 5 cm/ 2 in thick. Lay the rings on an oiled baking tray. Beat the egg wtih 2 tbsp water and glaze the tops of the rings. Sprinkle generously with sesame seeds and bake in a preheated hot oven (220 degrees C/ 425 degrees F/ Gas Mark 7) for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 150 degrees C/ 300 degrees F/ Gas Mark 23 for a further 15 minutes. Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack."
    ---ibid (p. 62) [OUR NOTE: You can also knead this bread yourself. You do not have to have a food processor and/or dough hook.]

    Bible foods: New & Old Testaments

    Bible based cook books (history notes & modernized recipes)

    Scholarly reading (Christian)
    [all of these works are scholarly and contain extensive footnotes/bibliographies for further study] Food in Antiquity (general) Bible plants (edible & not)

    What did the Vikings eat?

    Common foods & farming
    "The main items in the Vikings' diet were wholemeal bread made from rye and oats, porridge containing oatmeal and barley, eggs, milk, cream, butter and cheese. They ate mutton, goats' flesh, horseflesh, beef and pork; in the far north, the meat of reindeer, polar bears, whales and seals could be obtained. Herring, haddock, cod and eels were favourite delicacies. The most commonly eaten vegetables were cabbages, wild greens, and onions. For fruit they had apples and all kinds of berries and nuts. They drank great quantities of milk, buttermilk and whey, as well as a weak beer brewed from barley and a much stronger mead made from fermented hone and water. Many kinds of wine were imported from Europe and faraway Byzantium. The food was cooked over the open fire in the middle of the hall. Meats were either roasted on the spit, boiled in great cauldrons or fried in deep pans. Bread the oatcakes were baked on flat stones laid across the firepit...archaeologists have found stone ovens where food was cooked between layers of red hot stones. The Vikings enjoyed plain food and preferred boiled to roast or fried meat--the heroes in Valhalla feasted off boiled pork. They loved rich stews made up of all the scraps and leftovers. Their food was sweetened with honey and flavored with pepper and many other spices, imported from the East...Farming took much of the time of most Vikings. They grew rye, barley and oats in small homefields which were enclosed by dry stone walls...They had small vegetable patches and orchards of apple trees...They bred sheep, goats, cattle and chickens. Cattle were by far the most important as they provided so much of their food as well as hides for boots and clothes...they went out hunting for elk, wild boar, deer and even bear...Fowling was another favourite pasttime, and source of food. Much of their time was spent fishing in the fjords or at sea. They caught herring in the Baltic, cod and haddock in the Atlantic, and whales, seals and walruses in the cold northern seas...They collected seaweed and spread it over their fields as a manure. Seaweed was also stored and given to the cattle during the winter, and when times were bad, the Vikings ate it themselves."
    ---The Vikings, Michael Gibson [Wayland Publishers:London] 1972 (p. 29-33)

    "Milk from cows, sheep, or goats was drunk or used in the preparation of various dishes or processed. It was often separated into curds and whey or buttermilk and made into butter or cheese...meat came primarily from domestic animals: pigs, cows, sheep, lambs, boats, and horses. The slaughtering of animals typically took place in the fall, so that they would not have to be fed during the winter. Hens and geese offered the possibility of fresh meat throughout the year and...provided eggs. Other birds and animals were hunted. These included seabirds of all kinds, hares, rabbits, wild boar, elk, deer, seals, whales...reindeer. Both whale and seal meat were considered delicacies...The meat was prepared in a variety of ways. It might be boiled in a cauldron of iron or soapstone suspended over the open fire from a tripod or hung on chains from a roof beam. For preservation, meat was pickled in whey or brine, smoked, dried, or salted. Salt was obtained from boiling sea water or seaweed after which the crystals were played an important part in the diet. Cod and coalfish were the most important fish in Norway, western Jutland in Denmark, and the Norse colonies in the North Atlantic. In the Baltic and in the Danish waters, herring was the most important fish. When not eaten fresh, herring was typically salted, whereas cod was...wind dried. The dried cod was called stockfish because it hung over a rod, or stock, while drying...Freshwater fish...salmon, perch, and pike was also consumed, as was shellfish...shrimp, mussels, and oysters... Barley as the main Iceland it was probably the only grain cultivated. It was used for making porridge and for baking bread. Malted barley was used for making ale, to which hops might be added for flavor. Rye...was commonly used for baking bread, as was oat, which was also used for porridge. Although wheat was grown in Scandinavia, it appears to have been rare and expensive, and 'white bread' was probably a luxury reserved for the wealthy...Some breads were unleavened while others were leavened with yeast. Barley is the main ingredient, but some breads are mixed with other grains, linseed, pea flour, or pine bark...Vegetables, fruits, berries, and nuts provided important nutritional supplements. The most common vegetables were probably cabbages, onions, peas, beans, beets, and endives, which were all locally grown...fruits, such as apples, pears, cherries, plums, blueberries, cloudberries, raspberries, blackberries, and strawberries, were found in large areas of Scandinavia and could be picked wherever they grew. The were eaten raw or dried and may also have been used to make fruit wine...The only wild nut known in Scandinavia in the Viking age was hazelnut. Shells of walnuts have been found in excavations, but these nuts are believed to have been imported. ...To season the foods, salt, herbs, and spices were used. Cumin, mustard, and horseradish...parsley, dill, cress, mint, marjoram, thyme, angelica, and wild garlic may probably have been added. Other more exotic species would have been imported. Honey was the traditional sweetener and was used as a base for sweet, fermented mead."
    ---Daily Life of the Vikings, Kirsten Wolf [Greenwood Press:Westport CT] 2004(p. 82-83)

    How did the Vikings preserve their food?
    "The Viking invaders came from a region where conditions had favored drying as a method of food preservation form the earliest times of settlement in Scandinavia. The long, cold winters had made food preservation a priority, and the abundant supply of fish, together with the cold, dry air, fostered a long and resilient practice of drying fish. Even while at sea, the Vikings crucified their catches of cod in the rigging of their ships to dry in the freezing sea winds until the fish were as hard a planks. In the Lofoten Islands in northern Norway, where the Gulf Stream delivers giant shoals of fish, they still hang sides of cod on high hurdles in the cold, spring air to dry until exceedingly hard and amost indestructible. The Norwegians have successfully exported this resulting stokkfisk (stockfish) for many years."
    ---Pickled, Potted and Canned: How the Art and Science of Food Preserving Changed the World, Sue Shepard [Simon & Schuster:New York] 2000 (p. 37)

    "Meat and fish were preserved by smoking (the smoky upper reaches of the longhouse helped to keep meat hung there from spoiling), pickling in brine or whey (in which the lactic acid prevented food spoilage), salting, or drying. Smoked lamb hanging from the kitchen beams in the longhouse at Eir¡kssta ir is shown to the left. Despite its thoroughly unappetizing appearance, the meat is delicious. On the right are fish drying outdoors in an open shed in modern Iceland. The dry, cold winds remove the moisture and preserve the fish."

    "With no fridges or freezers our Viking family has to take special measures to stop their food going bad. Meat and fish can be smoked or rubbed with salt. Fruit can be dried; grains are made into bread or ale. Dairy produce such as milk is made into cheese. Cooking the meat will make it last a little longer, making sausages will make it last longer still."
    SOURCE: Viking Food/Russell Scott [BBC]

    Everyday meals
    "Viking-age Scandinavians ate two meals a day, one on the morning and one in the evening. The food was served in the main hall, and people ate sitting in the raised platforms along the long walls of the house. Well-to-do people probably had tables and tablecloths. People normally ate with their fingers off flat wooden trenchers. A sort-bladed knife, which they typically carried around with them, was used to chop up food. Some foods, such as porridge, soups, and stews, were served in wooden bowls and eaten with spoons of wood or antler. Ale and mead were drunk from the horns of cattle, which might be ornamented with metal mounts...Other beverages were drink from wooden cups or silver bowls. The latter were probably reserved for wine. Glasses, which had to be imported, were uncommon and used only by wealthy people. The types of food consumed...varied from region to region and depended upon available resources, but it is reasonable to assume that the diet was based primarily on dairy produce, meat, and fish."
    ---Daily Life of the Vikings, Kirsten Wolf [Greenwood Press:Westport CT] 2004(p. 81)

    Feasting time
    "Feasts called for more elaborate preparation: 'The lady of the house spread an embroidered cloth of white linen on the table and placed loaves of white wheaten bread on it. Then she set out many dishes of fine ham and roasted fowls as well as silver jugs containing wine. They ate, drank and talked until the day was done."
    ---The Vikings, Michael Gibson [Wayland Publishers:London] 1972 (p. 31)

    "Feasting was the most common social diversion in the Viking age. It provided respite from labor and opportunities for physical relaxation. The feasts included seasonal celebrations and commemorations of personal events. In origin both were associated with pagan sacrifices, and although Christian leaders tried to purge these ceremonial feasts of pagan elements, they retained the timing of them and associate with commemorative days of Christianity or the feast days of saints...the size and grandeur of the feast depended on the occasion and the host's social and economic status. A royal feast would no doubt have been quite extravagant with an elaborate spread of food and drink and lasted several days...The feasts probably did not differ substantially from those held elsewhere in Europe, but there is reason to believe that they were rowdier and involved heavier drinking...When the drinking horn was passed, a man could not refuse unless he was old or sick."
    ---Daily Life of the Vikings, Kirsten Wolf [Greenwood Press:Westport CT] 2004(p. 144-145)

    Additional history

    Recommended reading
    An Early Meal: A Viking Age Cookbook & Culinary Odyssey/Daniel Serra & Hanna Tunberg
    ...excellent introduction to the ingredients, cooking technology, and dining customs of the Vikings. Includes modernized recipes. Food Culture in Scandinavia/Henry Notaker
    ...basic overview of cooking methods, ingredients & dining customs
    Libellus de arte coquinaria: An Early Northern Cookery Book /edited and translated by Rudolf Grewe & Constance B. Hieatt
    ...Academic treatise featuring commentary of a medieval Scandinavian cookbook. Includes index of utensils, procedures, ingredients and dishes. Original (transcribed) recipes here.

    Anglo-Saxon and Norman Britain Foods

    The food of Anglo-Saxon England was an ecclectic mix of invader cuisine. Bronze-age Celts, Ancient Romans, Scandinavians and conquering Normans played major roles.

    About Anglo-Saxon food
    Food and drink
    Feasting and fasting
    Oven building & bread making


    Scandinavian foods in Scotland
    According to the food historians, at some point Scottish and Scandinavian food and diet (think:
    Vikings) converged, creating some notable culinary similarities:

    "Scotland to venture an understatement, is not at all difficult to distinguish from England; the difference leap to the eye in many different aspects of the two cultures, including notably food and cookery. In these and other respects the people of Scotland have closer links with Scandinavia and France...than do the English...The Scottish links with Scandinavia are most visible in Orkney and Shetland, but continue to be evident down to the Border Country (and indeed into the north of England, which has much in common with the Lowlands of Scotland). The contrast is heightened the further north one goes, partly because of changing geographical features."
    ---Oxford Companion to Food, Alan Davidson [Oxford University Press:Oxford] 1999 (p. 706)

    "Scottish food derives from several cultures. First the Celtic culture, which makes good use of oatmeal and the griddle or girdle...There countries, too, were visited by Norsemen and this led to Scandinavian methods of curing and salting fish and also pork. Salted and smoked mutton is a traditional food both in Scotland and Scandinavia. It is probably that the original Aberdeen Angus cattle were of Viking stock."
    ---Traditional Scottish Cookery, Theodora Fitzgibbon [Fontana:Suffolk] 1980 (p. vii) [NOTE: Theodora Fitzgibbon has written several books on Scottish cookery.]

    Recommended reading (general)

    Food in Norman Britian
    The Normans were ancient Scandinavian peoples. They began invading England (from the North) in the 9th century. In 1066 they conquered England, installing William, Duke of Normandy, to the throne. What kind of food did the Normans eat? Most likely an ecclectic mix of ancient Scandinavian recipes and local fare. Major culinary influences of this era were the Romans and the Celts.

    "The Normans were acquisitve, greedy and ambitious; they absorbed the culture of others, whether it was France, Sicily, England or North Africa...It was clear then that if these peoples liked a new food, flavourings or ingredient, they would take it over and make it their own...The earliest extant recipes were written down sometime before 1280, and are likely to have been court favorites passed down from master cook to apprentices over decades, if not for almost 200 years, from the time of the Conqueror...These early recipes show a high degree of gastronomic sophistication...Of course, these dishes were made for the nobility so this is food for only two per cent of the population. Animal protein comprised a third to a half of their consumption, for everyone in a magnate household would have had about a pound of meat of fish per day. The fact that these recipes were written down at all shows that they were used for special celebrations. Here is a description of a selection of them:
    noodles, ravioli, oranges, white pancakes, jelly (made from animals, not fruit), sage sauce, nag's tail, white elder (chicken chunks cooked in soup stock), veal stews, poached chicken, chicken, mawmenny (minced chicken and pork poached with wine flavoured with spices including cloves and fried almonds), nut tarts (small pastries with almond milk custard), rose pottage (almond milk flavoured with ground rose petals sprinkled with sugar), and food of Cyprus (almond milk flavoured with ground ginger and pistachio nuts, thickened with rice flour)."
    ---British Food: An Extraodinary Thousand Years of History, Colin Spencer [Columbia University Press:New York] 2002 (p. 36-41)
    [NOTE: This book contains information on common foods, courtly feasts, peasant fare, and preservation techniques.]

    What did Robin Hood & His Merry Men eat?

    Robin Hood is generally thought to be set in late 12th century England, during the reign of Richard I (the Lionhearted). Food plays a central role in these tales; poor people were starving with wealthy landowners enjoyed abundance. Robin Hood and his Merry Men celebrated their victories by feasting. In this context, a "feast" meant having enough to eat.

    Literature provides a wealth of detail when it comes to telling us what people ate. From this tale, we find the Merry Men typically ate bread, cheese and portable meat pies (pastys). They ate their entire meal at one sitting, no courses. They dined outside and in local inns. Presumably, pies were purchased (or stolen?) from bakeshops or street vendors. Foods were roasted, baked, boiled, and stewed. Everyone washed everything down with beer, ale, and fortified wine.

    Robin Hood's foods:
    "WHEN THE four yeomen had traveled for a long time toward Sherwood again, high noontide being past, they began to wax hungry. Quoth Robin Hood, "I would that I had somewhat to eat. Methinks a good loaf of white bread, with a piece of snow-white cheese, washed down with a draught of humming ale, were a feast for a king.""

    "So Robin straightway left the Beggar, who, upon his part, went to a budding lime bush back of the hedge, and there spread his feast upon the grass and roasted his eggs upon a little fagot fire, with a deftness gained by long labor in that line. After a while back came Robin bearing a goodly skin of ale upon his shoulder, which he laid upon the grass...So the one seized upon the ale and the other upon the pigeon pie, and nothing was heard for a while but the munching of food and the gurgle of ale as it left the skin."

    "He saw a great venison pasty and two roasted capons, beside which was a platter of plover's eggs; moreover, there was a flask of sack and one of canary—a sweet sight to a hungry man."

    "After a time he came back, bearing with him a great brown loaf of bread, and a fair, round cheese, and a goatskin full of stout March beer, slung over his shoulders."

    "...boiled capons, Malmsey, white bread, and the like, with great tenderness. Quoth he to himself, "I would I had Willie Wynkin's wishing coat; I know right well what I should wish for, and this it should be." Here he marked upon the fingers of his left hand with the forefinger of his right hand those things which he wished for. "Firstly, I would have a sweet brown pie of tender larks; mark ye, not dry cooked, but with a good sop of gravy to moisten it withal. Next, I would have a pretty pullet, fairly boiled, with tender pigeons' eggs, cunningly sliced, garnishing the platter around. With these I would have a long, slim loaf of wheaten bread that hath been baked upon the hearth..." [NOTE: Malmsey is "A strong sweet wine, originally the product of the neighborhood of Monemvasia (Napoli di Malvasia) in the MOrea; but now obtained from Spain and the Azores (Oxford English Dictionary)]

    ""I find here a goodly piece of pigeon pie, wrapped in a cabbage leaf to hold the gravy. Here I behold a dainty streaked piece of brawn, and here a fair lump of white bread. Here I find four oaten cakes and a cold knuckle of ham. Ha! In sooth, 'tis strange; but here I behold six eggs that must have come by accident from some poultry yard hereabouts. They are raw, but roasted upon the coals and spread with a piece of butter that I see—"

    "Thou shalt eat sweet venison and quaff the stoutest ale..."

    "...feed upon venison and sweet oaten cakes, and curds and honey."

    "Then, while beyond in the forest bright fires crackled and savory smells of sweetly roasting venison and fat capons filled the glade, and brown pasties warmed beside the blaze, did Robin Hood entertain the Sheriff right royally."

    "At the fire were roasting juicy steaks of venison, pheasants, capons, and fresh fish from the river."

    "a venison pasty with suet and raisins is to stout King Harry."

    ""Firstly, I would have a sweet brown pie of tender larks; mark ye, not dry cooked, but with a good sop of gravy to moisten it withal. Next, I would have a pretty pullet, fairly boiled, with tender pigeons' eggs, cunningly sliced, garnishing the platter around. With these I would have a long, slim loaf of wheaten bread that hath been baked upon the hearth..."

    "Brown ale lies ripening in the cellar, hams and bacon hang in the smoke-shed, and crabs are stowed away in the straw for roasting in the wintertime..."

    "sweet cakes and barley sugar were sold..."

    "So presently a savory stew of tripe and onions, with sweet little fat dumplings, was set before him, likewise a good stout pottle of Malmsey..."

    "...while roasted crabs[Small sour apples] bobbed in bowls of ale upon the hearthstone."

    "...sweetly roasting venison and fat capons filled the glade, and brown pasties warmed beside the blaze, did Robin Hood entertain the Sheriff right royally."

    " Then some built great fires and roasted the steers..."

    "...roasting chestnuts..."

    "...I smelled the steam of a boiled pullet just now..."
    SOURCE: Project Gutenberg's
    The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood, by Howard Pyle
    [NOTE: There are several versions of this tale. Modern interpretations can vary through time. Project Gutenberg offers several. We used our browser's "find" feature to identify the food references. Search terms: feast, food, pie, meat, eggs, stew, soup, roast, boil, cake, bake, chicken, ham, bacon, beef.]

    Medieval fare

    The study of Medieval culture and cuisine is a complicated and facinating topic. There is plenty of information available, from comprehensive academic sources to simple children's books. The sources cited here are selected primarily for teachers and students who want to learn the basics of European Medieval cuisine, find out what was eaten by the rich and poor, try cooking some authentic recipes, or recreate a feast for class.

    Web sites with authentic Medieval recipes, modern redactions and general information:

    Books: (your librarian can help you find them!)
    There are hundreds of books on Medieval cuisine. If you are looking for a good overview of the topic we suggest:
    A Baronial Household of the Thirteenth Century, Margaret Wade Labarge
    Early French Cookery, D. Eleanor Scully & Terence Scully
    Food: A Culinary History, edited by Jean-Louis Flandrin & Massimo Montanari
    Food and Eating in Medieval Europe, Martha Carlin and Joel T. Rosenthal, editors
    Food and Feast in Medieval England, P.W. Hammond
    Food in History, Reay Tannahill
    Food in Medieval Times, Melitta Weiss Adamson
    Living and Dining in Medieval Paris, Nicole Crossley-Holland
    Medieval Arab Cookery, Maxime Rodinson, A, J. Arberry & Charles Perry

    These books have both historial notes and recipes adapted for modern kitchens:
    Fabulous Feasts: Medieval Cookery and Ceremony, Madeleine Pelner Cosman
    Medieval Celebrations, Daniel Diehl and Mark Donnelly (basic how-to manual for re-enactors)
    The Medieval Cookbook, Maggie Black
    The Medieval Kitchen: Recipes from France and Italy, Odile Redon et al. (sample recipes)
    Pleyn Delit : Medieval Cookery for Modern Cooks, Constance B. Hieatt, et. al., 2nd ed., 1996
    Take a Thousand Eggs or More: A Collection of 15th Century Recipes, Cindy Renfrow, 2 volumes
    To the King's Taste: Richard II's book of feasts and recipes adapted for modern cooking, Lorna J. Sass

    This is by no means a comprehensive bibliography. You will find many more books listed on these Web sites:
    [NOTE: your local public librarian can borrow them for you]

    How much did food cost in Medieval England?

    Foods by social class
    What people eat in all places and times depends upon who they are (religion/ethnicity), where they lived (London? Seville?), and how much money they had (rich people alway eat better than the poor). Most of the people living in Medieval England were Roman Catholic. Religious doctrines regarding fast and feast days were observed on all levels. Compare and contract these two diets from Medieval England:

    The Forme of Cury, (cookbook of the court of Richard II, 1390)
    [NOTE: This information, along with original and modernized recipes, is printed in the book To The King's Taste, Lorna Sass]

    "The basic diet of the peasant consisted of carbohydrates in the form of grain, mostly barley and oats, which were baked or bewed into bread and ale. Protein, in the form of meat and eggs, was in shorter supply, particularly in the earlier part of this period, the thirteenth century. Some fruit and vegetables (such as beans and onions) would have been included in the diet. Not all of the food of the country dweller was grown; some was bought, in most cases in the ubiquitous fairs and markets which were frequently held in towns...There are several descriptions in contemporary poems of food eaten by peasants. There is a list of the food eaten by the shepherds in the Shepherds play in the Chester Mystery Cycle. This consisted of bread, bacon, onions, garlic, leeks, butter and green (fresh) cheese. To this was added ale, hot meat (apparently supplied as part of their wages), a pudding (type unspecified), a jonnock' (an oat cake), a sheep's head soused in ale and sour milk (that is curds). Another of the shepherds added to this fairly large amount of food a pig's food (apparently originally part of a sausage mixture) and a third added smoked ham, other meat and another pudding. This list probably dates back to the origin of the play cycle, early in the fourteenth century, and have been intended to describe the usual food of shepherds at that time. Another list occurs in Langland's Piers the Plowman as a description of food given to the character Hunger' by the poor man Piers and his neighbors. Piers first of all described the food that he had in his cottage: two green cheeses, some curds and cream, an oat cake, and two loaves of bran and beans. He also has parsley, no eggs and no salt meat..." (P. 26-28)

    "Manorial servants were often fed very well. On at least one manor, in 1272, they fed on beef and ale, both largely provided from home-killed or home-brewed stock, fish in the form of herrings and cod, cheeses, and pottage made from peas and beans. Their bread was made from both rye and wheat...In 1289 carters on Ferring Manor, Sussex, had a morning meal of rye bread with ale and cheese; at noon they received bread, ale and a dish of fish or meat; and in the evening they were given a drink only. The main meal was, however, mor usually given in the evening. Later servants, in this case court clerks and the yeomen of the household in the Northumberland Household in 1512, received for breakfast on meat days a loaf of household bread, a bottle of beer and a piece of boiled beef. It appears that at other meals they probably had much the same food as their fellows of 230 years before, except that on flesh days' the meat given was beef not bacon."
    ---Food and Feast in Medieval England, P.W. Hammond [Wren's Park:Gloucestershire] 1993 (p. 32)
    [NOTE: This book contains far more information than can be paraphrased here. Ask your librarian to help you find a copy. Chapters Three (Food of the Town Dweller), Four (Food of the Gentry) and Seven (Feasts) provide similar information for other classes of people.]

    Order in the feast
    A grand Medieval feast served many purposes. For the host, it was a public demonstration of power. For the guests, it was a public reminder of their social status. For the cook, it was a chance to showcase his skill and climb the career ladder. For modern scholars, it is a complex socio-economic-technological convergence pieced together with shards of primary evidence. Imagine a great hall where large numbers of invited diners were served different dishes of varying quality and number courses according to social status. A "commoner" in this context could be the Lord Mayor of London or a foreign dignitary. Next came the lords, ladies and knights. The highest ranking feast participant was generally, but not always, the host. Leftover food was subsequently distributed to the household help and their leftovers were donated to the working tenants living on the host's property. We wonder: (1) What did the one-course status diners do while the king grazed three and (2) Which foods were left, and in what condition, when they were consumed by the lower classes.

    "The table of contents of B.L. MS Sloane 1201, which can be dated to c1470, divides...the pottages into those for the first course and those for the second. All these manuscripts confirm the existence of a perfectly rational serving order in medieval England: the yearty basics first, and then--for those luck enough to be served further courses--more interesting dishes, with the rare delicacies and dainties saved for the end of the meal. It is true that at least two later coronation feast menus are anomalous in that every one of the three courses ends with a fritter; perhaps those responsible for planning great feasts in England at the end of the 15th cnetury were beginning to over-elaborate and were losing track of the essential principles involved. The coronation feast of Richard III, one of the those with a fritter in every course (if only for the king's table), got so out of control that the last of the three elaborate planned courses could not be served. Those who wonder what the lower on the social ladder got to eat will find it instructive to examine the menus for that feast. The difference between ranks are far more marked than those between the king's table and the knight's table in the menus from MS L. Only the king was served three courses: lords and ladies were to be served only two, and commoners one, although the commoners involved were such dignitaries as the mayer of London. The order of serving was roughly equivalent for the king and for the lords and ladies, but the later got lesser delicacies--for example, they were to be served lamb and kid at the point where the king was to have the ultimate piece de resistance, a peacock. Commoners were to have only the simplest and generally heartiest dishes, including one which does not appear at all on the more aristocratic menus: roast beef. Perhaps this suggests one reason why roast beef is not mentioned in the vollection of MS B: it may not have been considered aristocratic enough to be worth bothering with. Our collection was obviously intended for a household of uncommon pretensions, and includes some dishes which are...extremely complicated to prepare."
    ---An Ordinance of Pottage: An edition of the fifteenth century culinary recipes in Yale University's MS Beineck 163, edited by Constance B. Hieatt [Prospect Books:Devon] 1988 (p. 17-18)
    [NOTE: This book offers three sample menus: For the Knight's Table, For the King's Table with sugar and assorted spices, and For the King's Table on Fish Day (p. 110). Includes original transcribed & modernized recipes.]

    Planning a Medieval feast?
    Most of the sources listed above will provide you with sample menus and authentic recipes redacted (adapted) to modern kitchens. Oven temperatures and standard measurements will save you a lot of time and aggravation! On the other hand, if you are truly courageous you can try deciding how much butter is the size of a [medieval] hen's egg and guess when the food is done (oven temps & timing did not appear in recipes at the time). When you present your food to the class include BOTH original recipe (or translation if it was originally written in another language) and the modern interpretation. This will give your classmates an idea of how recipes have changed through time.

    Basic notes: despite what we see in the movies, Medieval Europeans did not dine on huge turkey legs (turkeys are a "new world" food! and were not introduced until the 16th century). Liquidy foods (soups, stews) were served in "bread trenchers" or bowls made of bread. People often carried their own knives & spoons, forks were not considered standard utensils in Medieval European culture!


    Gode Cookery offers professional catering services for Medieval/Renaissance feasts and special events. Serve it forth!

    Society for Creative Anachronism
    Society for Creative Anacronism is an organization dedicated to recreating Medieval life. Some of the members of this organization specialize in cookery. If you are new to this group and need to document the foods you are cooking for an event please contact your Kingdom officials and ask them for the official SCA guidelines. We can help you find sources/additional information required for this research. If you are a teacher and would like to connect with a Medieval cook (perhaps he/she might give a demonstration for your class?), find your nearest kingdom and drop them a note.

    Shakespeare's food

    COMMON FOODS IN 16TH CENTURY ENGLAND What people eat in all times and places depend upon who they are (religious/ethnic heritage), where they live (city, countryside) and how much money they have (wealthy generally have more choices than poor). This was certainly true of the folks living in Shakespeare's Britain. Then, as now, it is almost impossible to relay what the "average" person ate at any one given meal. Choices varied according to season, year, location, and circumstance. We do know, however, which foods were commonly available in Tudor England. Notes here:

    "In general terms, the foodstuffs enjoyed in sixteenth-century England were almost identical to those of the medieval period. Roast and boiled meat, poultry, fish, pottages, frumenty, bread, ale, wine and to a much lesser extent, fruit and vegetables, formed the basis of the diet of the upper classes. The range and qualities of these comestibles are best described in Andrew Boorde's Compendyous Regyment or Dyetary of Health of 1542, where he writes of venison:

    A lordes dysshe, good for and Englisshe man, for it doth anymate hym to be asis he is, whiche is, strong and hardy...;Beef is a good meate for an Englysshe man, so be it the beest be yonge, & that it be not know-flesche; yf it be moderatly powdered [i.e. salted] taht the groose blode by salt may be exhaustyd, it doth make an Englysshe man stronge; Veal is good and easily digested; Broawn [boar's meat] is an usual meate in winter amonges Englisshe men; Bacon is good for carters and plowmen, the whiche be ever labouringe in the earth or dunge...I do say that coloppes [slices of bacon] and egges is as wholesome for them as a talowe candell is good for a blereyed mare...Potage is not so moch used in al Crystendom as it is used in Englande. Potage is amde of the lyquor in which fleshe is soden [boiled] in , with puttyng-to chopped herbes and otemel and salt. Frymente is made of whete and mylke, in the whcihe if flesshe be doe nourysshe, and it doth strenght a man. Of all nacyons and countres, England is beste servyed of Fysshe, not onely of al manner of see-fysshe, but also of fresshe-sater fysshe, and al maner of sortes of salte-fysshe.'
    He also advised his readers to eat vegetables such as turnips, parsnips, carrots, onions, leeks, garlic and radishes, and fruit in the form of mellow red apples. Even so, raw vegetables and fruit were still regarded with great suspicion by most Tudor diners, who preferred to follow the advice given in the Boke of Kervynge of 1500: Beware of green sallets & rawe fruytes for they wyll make your soverayne seke.' It was for this reason that the sale of fruit was banned in the streets during the plague of 1569. In aditon to the apples, pears, plums, cherries and woodland strawberries which had been grown here for cneturies, new fruits from southern Europe were now introduced into the gardens of the wealthy. These included quinces, apricots, raspberries, red and black currants, melons, and even pomegranates, oranges and lemons. The last were never really successful however, and citrus fruits continued to be imported from Portugal, the bitter Seville type of orange now being joined by the improved sweet oranges carried from Ceylon into Europe by the Portuguese, and therefore known as Portingales. Dried fruits, such as raisins, currants, prunes, figs and dates, together with almonds an walnuts, were also improted in large quantitied to serve the luxury market. As a result of the mid sixteenth-century Spanish exploitation of their great South American colonies, a number of rare and exotic vegetables slowly began to arrive in Elizabethan England. Tomatoes or love apples' came from Mexico, and kidney beans from Peru, for example, while the potato originated from Chile and the Andes. Centuries were to pass before the true value of these new foods was fully appreciated, however, and they continued to be served largely as unusual delicacies in the well-to-do households. A much more popular introduction form the New World was the turkey, a native to Mexico and of Central America, which had already found its way to to English tables by the 1540s...Of all the changes concerning food in the sixteenth century, the most important and influential was the growing popularity of sugar. Now, in addition to the old-established sources of supply in Morocco and Barbary, increasing quantities were coming into Europe from the new Portuguese and Spanish plantations in the West Indies...From the 1540s a refinery in London was carrying out the final stages of purification, converting the coarse sugar into white crystalline cones weighing up to fourteen pounds. These could then be used to prepare a great variety of sweet meats, crystallized fruits, preserves and syrups, in addition to being employed in seasoning meat, fish, and vegetables."
    ---"Tudor Britain," Peter Brears in: A Taste of History: 10,000 Years of Food in Britian [English Heritage:London] 1993 (p. 139-143)

    What did Tudor-period people eat for breakfast?

    Dining customs & recipes

    Web sites with recipes

    The Bard himself referenced food throughout his plays. For example, in The Winter's Tale Act IV Scene iii Lines 36-49 the Clown plans this menu:

    "Let me see: what am I to buy for our sheep-shearing feast? Three pound of sugar, five pound of currants, rice...I must have saffron to color the warden [winter pear] pies; mace; dates none--that's out of my note; nutmegs, seven; a race or two of ginger, but that I may beg; four pounds of pruins, and as many of raisins o'th' sun."
    Want to make a rice pudding similar to the one mentioned here? Try this adapted recipe from Gervase Markham's The English Huswife, 1615 [NOTE: if you don't have suet you can use butter].

    If you are hungry for extra credit use a Shakespearean concordance (a book that lists every time a word is used in his works) or check this site to locate references to selected foods (apples, rice, milk, cheese), recipes (pie, pudding, salad) and feast menus. Bring something authentic to class. Be sure to include the citation to the play and a copy of the recipe. Need something very easy? Assuming you want to bring a sweet dessert, try these. (skip the alcohol [sack/sherry] if you are under 21). Over 21? We recommend the book Wine in Shakepeare's Days and Plays, Andre Simon, 1964.

    This play takes place in Verona, Italy. Romeo and Juliet would have been eating 15th/16th century Italian food, not standard English roasts and puddings.

    About Italian Renaissance food
    The culinary history of Italy during the Renaissance was one of innovation, economic thrust, and historic weaving. It was a complicated time of exotic food introductions (courtesy of New World explorers), political pressure (spice trade), socio/ecomonomic stratification (the richer you were, the better you entertained/ate), scientific advancement (how best to reconcile classic food conceptions...The Humors, The Great Chain of Being...with new scientific discoveries?), and culinary mythology (Catherine De'Medici Transformed French Cookery).

    The following notes are based on the recipes, ingredients, and instructions offered by Martino diComo's Art of Cooking, published in Italy during the late 15th and early 16th centuries. This book is considered by many culinary history experts as one of the first truly modern cookbooks. The departure from strict Medieval rules makes this book even more compelling in the light of Romeo and Juliet's tragic plight. It was the dawn a new age on more ways than one.

    "While Martino's approach to cooking is somewhat influenced by the tradition of the banquet-as-spectacle, as well as by the nearly dominant modus coquinandi derived from Arabic culture, it is not the product of thoughtless observation and mechanical repetition. Martino's habit of sprinkling victuals with sugar and spices, as well as the idea of flavoring sauces with raisins, prunes, and grapes, undoubtely reflect practices fundamental to Arabic cooking. The same can be said about the employment of such staples as rice, dates, pomegranates, and bitter oranges--the availability of which goest back to the Arabic occupation of Spain. First introduced by the Arabs to the island of Cyprus, the subsequent presence of sugar cane in Sicily, on the other hand, accounds for the passion Italians developed for sweets in the thirteenth century. As Anne Willan notes, "Martino is one of the first cooks to use sugar in large quantities to make dishes that are specifically sweet, such as fritters, almond paste cookies, and sugared apples, rather than treating it as a seasoning like salt, in the medieval manner." But Martino's most remarkable talent lies in his subtle ability to combine old and new ingredients. it is perhaps the most salient aspect of his art--a trait which makes him the first incarnation of a modern cook. For it is a mark of sophisticated artistry to know..wehn one drop of oil adds flavor but two ruin a dish, or to appreciate that different cuts of meat manifest textural differences that require specific methods of cooking...With regard to ingredients, Martino...advises his readers that proximity to regional sources is often synonymous with quality. When in Rome...cook the unusual varietal of Roman broccoli; when in Lombardy, the unique species of pike found in Lake Garda...Staples and condiments must be combined in such a way that they render more flavor than when they were in their natural state...In a departure from past practices, in which meats, fish, cabbage, and eggs were assaulted from the outside and drowned in spices or sauces, Martino stipulates that the ingredients employed to enhance the flavor of foods should be sought by keeping in mind the nature of the staples themselves...The development of new culinary habits...did not depend at all on the discovery of new ingredients. Long before corn, potatoes, and tomatoes brought from America revolutionized the diets of European...a systematic interest in wheat flour and common backyard vegetables (such as carrots, celery, and onions) and herbs enabled the formation of a radically new diet that ony recently has been dubbed "Mediterranean" by shrewd mass-media publicists. Typically, flour led to pasta...If eaten bore the connotation of luxury and gluttony. Eating food that could spoil gave the consumer an enhanced social status. This is indeed the image of "maccheroni or lasagne that we can glean from books of 'high cuisine' where such dishes are depicted as richly buttered, smothered in cheese, and dusted with sugar and sweet spices."...[Martino] devotes an equal amount of space and attention to fava bans, peas, chickepeas, squash, cauliflower, elderberry, fennel, eggplants and still other vegetables. Thanks to Martino, vegetable dishes that had been the hallmark of the pauper's diet for centuries shed their demure aspect andound a dignified place next to the roast and brined fish on the tables of the rich."
    ---The Art of Cooking: The First Modern Cookery Book, Martino of Como, edited and with an introduction by Luigi Ballerni, translated and annotated by jeremy Parzen [University of California Press:Berkeley CA] 2005 (p. 28-30)

    These foods were commonly prepared in Renaissance Italy
    Bread, hard biscuits, wine, rice (rissoto),
    pasta: lasagne, ravioli & pizza WITHOUT TOMATO SAUCE, cheese: mozzarella (from buffalo milk), Pecorino, omelettes, meatballs, pork, small birds & game, and sausages. Fresh fruits and vegetables were eaten in season; dried items consumed in other seasons. Soups and stews were eaten by rich and poor alike. Fish was also popular, especially in Lent. It was served fresh, dried, and salted. Cheesecake and flan were often served for dessert. Olive oil was used for flavor and as a cooking medium.

    Genoa's foods at the time of Columbus (slightly earlier period, but useful information).

    "To illustrate the pomp and cicumstance of the banquet tradition, let us turn to the Renaissance Chronicler Bernadino Corio (1459-1519?), who in his Historia di Milano described in great detail a fabulous feast hed in Rome in 1473..."The banquet... took place in a great hall ...where there was a sideboard with twelve shelves on which the gem-studded trays so silver and gold were featured. Two tables covered by four tablecloths were prepared in the middle of the hall: the first was for the seven nobles of the highest station while the other table was for the lesser among them. In accordance with the custom in uage since the beginning of the century, the guests were still standing when they were served a meal that included trays of candied fruit covered with gold leaves and accompanied by painted glasses of malvasia. Once the guests were seated, musicians with horns and pipes announced the next dishes, which were divided into four serves in correspondence with the four tablecloths that covered the tables. The first service combined pork livers, blancmange, meats with relish, tortes and pies, salt-cured pork loin and sausage, roast veal, kid, squab, chicken, rabbit...whole roasted large game, and fowl dressed in their skin or feathers. Next came golden tortes and muscat pears in cups."...And this was just the first service!...list of foods brought forth in the remaining there services (at the end of each the tablecloth would be removed, and the guests washed their hands because they served themselves from comunal trays and forks were not in use): fried dough shaped like pine cones, smothered with honey and rose water, silver-wrapped lemons in sugary syrup; relishes; lies; sturgeon and lamprey; aspics, more tortes; junket drowning in white wine; Catalan-style chicken; green blancmange; stewed veal; mutton and roebuck; suckling pig; capon; and duck and black and sour cherries mascreated in Tyrian wine. And dulcis in fundo: ices, almonds, coriander seeds, anise seeds, cinnamon, and pine nuts..."
    ---The Art of Cooking: The First Modern Cookery Book, Martino of Como, edited and with an introduction by Luigi Ballerni, translated and annotated by jeremy Parzen [University of California Press:Berkeley CA] 2005 (p. 4-5)

    "Banquet thrown January 23, 1529 by the son of the Duke of Ferrara for his father and various dignitaries. The total guest list numbered 104. Sugar suclptures of the labors of Hercules appeared first, in deference to the host himself, named "Hercole." The antipasto course consisted of cold dishes: a caper, truffle and raisin salad in pastry, another salad of greens with citron juice and anchovy salads. There were also radishes carved into shapes and animals, little cream pies, prosciutto of pork tongue, boar pies, mortadella and liver pies, smoked mullet served several different ways, and gilt-head bream. The first hot course had capon fritters sprinkled with sugar, quails, tomaselle (liver sausage), capon liver stuffed into a caul (netting of pork fat) and roasted pheasants, an onion dish, pigeons in puff pastry, tarts of fish ilt (spleen), fried trout tails and barbel (a fish), quails, meatballs, white servelat sausage, veal, capon German style in sweeet wine, pigeon pastries, carp, turbot, shrimp, trout roe pies, a yellow almond concoction, and pastires. The third course had partridge, rabbit, turtledoves, sausages, boned capon, pigeons and more fish. This goes on to a fourth course, again with birds, fish, a rice pie, and other dishes. A fifth course with some suckling pig, veal and more birds and fish as well. A sixth course with more veal prepared a different way, peacock, goat, boar and also more fish. The seventh course finally sees some vegetables, fennel, olives, grapes, pears, and other pastries; the ninth citron, lettuce, cucumbers and almonds in syrup, various fruits and confections...What is immediately striking is that guests were given individual plates for many of the dishes, only larger foods or presentations of several ingredients together came out in multiples of 25 or 50, and would have been divided up and served. Many of the foods came out in multiples of 104 on 25 larger plates as well. Because Messisbugo specified the number of plates needed for each food in each course, they can be counted. This meal used 2,835 plates."
    ---Food in Early Modern Europe, Ken Albala [Greenwood Press:Westport CT] 2002 (p. 124-5)
    [NOTE: This book is an excellent source for common foods and regional variations. See: Italy (p. 111-140). Your librarian can help you find a copy.]

    Recommend reading:

    Primary material
    1. Platina: On Right Pleasure and Good Health, Mary Ella Milham translator [Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies:Arizona] 1998 This books was first published in 1475; much of the information is borrowed from earlier [Medieval] texts. Dr. Milham's translations and notes provide an excellent insights into the early transitional period of Italian Renaissance cuisine.

    2. The Neapolitan Recipe Collection [Cuoco Napoletano] is another 15th century Italian text. Terence Scully's translated critical edition published by the University of Michigan is excellent.

    3. The Art of Cooking: The First Modern Cookery Book, Martino of Como, edited by Luigi Ballerini and translated by Jeremy Parzen [University of California Press:2005]. This 15th century book was to the Renaissance as Escoffier was to 19th century haute cuisine. Contains selected recipes adapted for modern kitchens. No menus.

    English translation of 14th/15th century Italian cookbook here.

    Need to make something for class?

    Lasagne (with creamy white sauce), ravioli (filled with cheese or meat), and spaghetti (topped with freshly grated perorino romano, nutmeg & black pepper) are all period. NO TOMATOES!! Broccoli (with olive oil & garlic), fava beans, peas, carrots, and onions serve well for vegetables. Tortes (meat, cheese or vegetable pies) were commonly served on the tables of the Capulets. These modernized recipes are based on Martino's originals:

    Neapolitan Rustic Torte
    Maestro Martino's white torte calls to mind this Neapolitan torta rustica and many other southern Italian tortes. In Naples, salami or prosciutto is added to the filling for seasoning, but in this recipe only sweet spices are useds to evoke the flavors of medieval cuisine.
    Serves 6
    For the crust:
    2 1/2 cups flour, plus extra for dusting
    3/4 cup sugar
    1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
    8 tablespoons butter, softened, plus extra for greasing the pan
    3 egg yolks

    For the filling
    1 1/2 pounds ricotta
    4 eggs
    3/4 cup freshly grated parmigiano Reggiano
    1/3 pound mozzarella, diced
    1/3 pound smoked provola, diced
    1 tablespoon finely chopped Italian parsley
    1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
    Salt and freshly ground black pepper
    Make the crust by combining the flour, sugar, ginger, and salt in a well on a well-dusted surface; place the butter and egg yolks in the center of the well, and then use a fork to beat the eggs; slowly incorporate the flour, beginning with the inside (without breaking the wall of the well); when you have obtained a firm mixture, begin to work it with the tips of your fingers and continue until all of the ingredients are combined (short crusts like this one should be worked as little as possible so that they do not lose their flakiness); shape dough into a ball, and let it rest for 30 minutes, covered, in a cool place. Preheat the ovent o 400 degrees F. In the meantime, make the filling. In a mixing bowl, crust the ricotta with as fork, and then add the eggs and mix until you obtain a creamy consistency; add the Parmigiano, mozzerella, provola, parsley, cinnamon, and nutmeg, and season with salt and pepper to tastet. next assemble the torte. Grease with butter a 9-inch tart or quiche pan with 2-inch walls; divide the dough in half and roll out each half into disks with a diameter of about 11 inches; place on the of disks in the pan, add the filling, top with the remaining disk, remove the excess dough, and pinch to seal around the edges; season the crust with salt. Bake the torte in the preheated oven for about an hour or until the crust has become golden brown. This torte can be served hot, but it is best served at room temperature." ---(p. 172)
    [NOTE: Period feasts did not include appetizers, as we know them today. If your assignent is to bring an appetizer, tortes may be your best bet. They are easily transported, do not required immediate consumption, and can be cut into individual servings. The result will be quite similar to fancy appetizers served in modern banquets. If you want to really *period correct* do not give your guests forks. Small portions are readily managed finger foods.]

    Puff Fritters
    Maestro Martino called these "wind-filled frotters" because when they are fried, they puff up. In modern-day Naples, these puff fritters are called pizzelle, litterally, "little pizzas," and they are generally served as a savory dish. The present recipe is a sweet version.
    Serves 6 2 1/2 cups flour
    Pinch of salt
    Olive oil for frying
    Combine the four, salt, and enough water as needed to obtain an even, elastic dough. Work for 30 minutes and then let it set for 1 hour. Roll out into a thin sheet and use a glass to cut into disks. Fry the disks in the olive oil until golden brown, drain on 2 layers of paper towels, sprinkle generously with sugar, and serve." ---(p. 191)

    Additional recipes & banquet notes here:

    Marco Polo & the Merchants of Venice
    Historians confirm 13th century (Polo) Venice was an wealthy, active urban center. The city played a key role in the spice trade. The foods, agricultural practices, trade/market activities, dining customs and social strata established by the ancient Romans remained influencial. Food historians also warn us primary sources for researching 13th century Venice are scarce.

    "The city Marco Polo had to learn to call home again was an emporium for the world's goods, a teeming city of merchants and craftsmen. Venetians bought and dols in the trade fairs for Champagne and the ports of the Low Countries and England, in Constantinople and on the rivers of southern Russia, in Cyprus, Damascus, and Alexandria...The story that it was Marco Polo who imported noodles to Italy, and thereby gave birth to the country's pasta culture, is the most pervasive myth in the history of Italian food. The facts of the matter could not be clearer. The Chinese were cretainly eating noodles thousands of years before the Italians...But however ancient it is, China's noodle culture is nonetheless distinct from Italy's because the Chinese have never cultivated hard grain durum wheat. According to al-Idrisi, pasta secca was already present in Sicily at least a century before Marco Polo was born. So the nothion that he brought pasta back from the Orient is implausible...But even if Venice was not the port through which pasta entered Italy, Marco Polo's city did have a huge influence on medieval Italian cuisine. In fact the reason why Venice occupies such an important place in food history, the reason why Venetians found Polo's tales about China so compelling, and the reason why Venetian merchants were inspired to both greed and greatness, are all one and the same: spice. Pepper, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, and cinnamon had already made the air of the Rialto heavy with their scent even before a seventeen-year-old Marco Polo set off on his adventures...Venice's ascent to power followed the soaring curve of Europe's addiction to spicy food. The sheer extent of that addiction in Italy is clear from manuscripts that began to spread at exactly the same time that the tales of Marco Polo's exploits were proliferating. The first recipe books to be written in Europe, since late antiquity, started to appear in the late thirteenth century. All told, about a hundred survive, whole or in fragments, from the age before printing. Two complete manuscript recipe collections, both of which are anonymous, compete for the honor ob being the earliest surviving cookbook written in an Italian vernacular rather than in Latin. One of them is in Tuscan, which is the native tongue of Marco Polo's contemporary, Dante. The other is in Venetian, the language that Marco Polo himself would have spoke. The Libro per cuoco (Book for Cook), as this Venetian manuscript has become known, is difficult to date precisely, but it was probably written in the mid-1300s...Its recipes are arranged in alphabetical order and numbered from 1 to 135. These facts suggest that the recipe collection was designed to be consulted regularly by people who really cooked. its recipes are generally more precise than those in the Tuscan manuscript; crucially, they specify the amount of each ingredient in such a way that many dishes are easy to reproduce today. A Book for Cook offers us one of our earliest and best insights into how food was prepared for those fourteenth-century Venetian slave traders and spice dealers...Book for Cook contains a number of dishes that would be sophisticated even without spices. Recipe 45 is for "Martarolo," an elaborate pie containing chicken, whole dates, and deep-fried pellets made from pounded cheese, eggs, dates, pine nuts, and pancetta. But spices enter every stage of the cooking process for Mortarolo; even the dates are stuffed wtih ginger, cinnamon, and cloves...Pasta recipes are the best measure of what is familiar and strange in medieval cooking compared to what is now eaten in Italy. In recipe 58, "Ordinary ravioli with enhance herbs," the ravioli in question are, like today's ones, small envelopes of pasta. Book for Cook advises a filling of herbs which are lightly boiled before being finely chopped and mixed with fresh cheese and beaten egg. The ravioli are then cooked in broth and covered with a grating of good cheese to create a dish that could plausibly appear on an Italian table today--except that the filling contained "sweet and strong spices" and "a lot of spices" are also sprinkled over the top before eating. Lasagne are another example: preapered for Lent with ground walnuts...they are given a last-minute coating of spices and sugar without which no medieval pasta dish was complete. It could be made clear that the sugar sprinkled on lasagne and ravioli did not make them into puddings. Savory and sweet tastes were not yet segregated, and the sequence in which the dishes were served had different far the greatest share of food eaten in medieval Italian cities would have been local, prdouced within th city walls and in the countryside around...The merchants of Venice did not aspire to eat Venetian food: they wanted the same healthy, exclusive, spicy tastes as other wealthy Italians."
    ---"Venice, 1300s," Delizia! The Epic History of the Italians and Their Food, John Dickie [Free Press:New York] 2008 (p. 45-58)

    What were the "average" folks eating?
    "Early in the morning, as soon as they heard the tolling of the bell in the Campanile known as the marangona after the carpenters who were the most numerous class of artisans in the city, the streets were filled with men on their way to work. At nine o'clock the marangona rang again to mark the time for their prima colazione; at twelve a bell sounded to summon the workers to their midday meal; and, three hours after sunset, another bell was tolled for the curfew. The meals eaten by workers were simple enough, composed largely of vegetables, fruit and bread but sometimes including dishes of beef and pork, kid and wild boar, fowls from Padua, and, more often, fish--mullet and sole, pike and carp, gudgeon and tench, sea scorpion and flounders--accompanied by the sweet, strong wines of Crete. As in kitchens elsewhere in Europe food was highly spiced with ginger, nutmeg and coriander, cloves and cinnamon, pepper and anise, and all kinds of herbs, and with roots, seasonings and condiments from the East."
    ---Venice: The Biography of a City, Christopher Hibbert [W.W. Norton:New York] 1989 (p. 36)

    "The oarsmen of the the travellers' galley were free boatmen of the Lagoons and Adriatic fishermen, well paid and well fed, with allowances of between eleven and twelve pounds of biscuit a week, twelve ounces of salt pork, one and a half pounds of beans, nine ounces of cheese and a gallon of wine."
    ---ibid (p. 39)

    Scappi [16th century] was is considered among the first Italian cookbook writers to define regional cuisine. His notes on Venice summed up here:
    "Recipes in the 'Venetian style' consitute another important group in Scappi's work. Here fish dishes dominate: grayling, bass, turbot 'in pottage,' and small stuffed squid in fish broth. We also find turnip soup, brisavoli made from veal cutlets, braised loin of beef (from the seccaticca ox), fritters made of milk and eggs, marzipan caliscioni, and cinnamon cakes."
    ---Italian Cuisine: A Cultural History, Alberto Capatti & Massimo Montanari [Columbia University Press:New York] 2003 (p. 15) [NOTE: This book contains much information regarding the early roots of Italian food. Your librarian can help you obtain a copy.]

    Twelfth-Century Italian Prices: Food and Clothing in Pisa and Venice, Louise Buenger Robbert Social Science History, Vol. 7, No. 4 (Autumn, 1983), pp. 381-403 lists Venetian prices [1172] for beef, pork, meat from Romania or Slavonia, turgeon, trout, sole, sea bass, shellfish, fish (all others), wine and oil. It also references bread, ducks, birds, chickens, grains and fruit. This economic article does not address dining patterns, banquet menus, or recipes. This article is available full-text via JSTOR, a database available at most colleges & universities.

    Food of Andalucia/Clifford A. Wright

    What did Elizabethans eat at the Globe theatre?

    "The food seems principally to have been apples [there are several references to 'pippins' being used as ammunition], and nuts...John Tatham mentions pears [again used as ammunition] in 1641, and Overbury's Character 'A Puny Clarke...eats Ginger bread at a Play-house'. The drink offered was either water or bottle-ale."
    ---Playgoing in Shakespeare's London, Andrew Gurr (p. 36-7)
    [NOTE: this book contains many footnotes citing to original sources. It is interesting to note that most of what we know about theatre food comes from poems, plays, and diaries describing the experience."

    "Vendors offered beer, water, oranges, nuts, gingerbread, and apples, all of which were occasionally thrown at the actors. Hazelnuts were the most popular theatre snack, the Elizabethan equivalent of Raisinets."
    ---The Friendly Shakespeare, Norrie Epstein [Viking:New York] 1992 (p. 45)
    [NOTE: this book does not contain footnotes back to original sources. It does contain a long bibliography of works consulted.]

    It is interesting to note that 16th century London theatres [such as the Globe] evolved from the tradition of innkeepers offering street entertainers a place to perform:

    "Gradually, the innkeepers learned that when the Players came to town business was brisk; entertainment in those days was not easily come by and the arrival of the Players brought everyone out on holiday. The labourers and their families rubbed shoulders with the farmers and the foremen, as they all went to watch the plays. Thus, the innkeepers began to offer the shelter of their inn-yards for the performances and the Players would stand their carts at one end of the inn-yard whilst the local audience stood around to watch, buying their ale and mead and treating it as a festive occasion...Many of these inns had tiers of galleries all round the yard and some of them became for a while almost permanent theatres. Most such inns are long disappeared but slide number 4 gives us a modern view of the Oxford Arms in London which remained standing until a few years back; you can see the present-day St Paul's in the background. It was the inn-yards that later dictated the shape and form of the custom made open-air theatres built in the last quarter of the sixteenth century."
    --Elizabethan Theatre/Hilda D. Spear, University of Koeln [Germany]

    The University of Reading is considered to be the foremost authority on the original Globe Theatre.

    What did the peasants eat in the 16th century?
    In sixteenth century Europe many peasants were dispossesed from their agrarian way of life. The quality of their diet plummeted, meat was a scarce commodity. When they ate at all? They were lucky. Food historians tell us they subsisted primarly on bread and rudimentary soups/stews. These were both cheap and easy to prepare. Notes here:

    "Dispossesion of the Peasantry.
    The upheaval in rural landownership, which in countries such as England was a prerequisite of the agricultural revolution, also contributed to the impoverishment of the peasant diet, especially in the more prosperous regions strategically located with respect to the market. In these areas, nobles, royal officeholders, and bougeois had, by the end of the sixteenth century, grained possession of most of the land--land that at the end of hte Middle Ages had still been in peasant hands...In France and other western European nations, the degree of rapidity of the dispossession of the peasantry were greatest in the regions that were richest, closest to big cities, and most advanced in the use of agricultural technology. In regions were small farms dominated (in the mountains, in vine-growing areas, and in copse or hedgerow country), and in poorer, less populous regions generally, where land was less attractive to noble and bourgeois landlords, peasant ownership held up better."
    ---Food: A Culinary History, Jean-Louis Flandrin & Massimo Montanari [Columbia University Press:New York] 1999 (p. 352-353)

    "Only crumbs from these developments fell, however, to the kitchens of the peasantry. The custom of giving regular rations of meat to workers and apprentices dies out after 1500. The sixteenth century brought a period of relative stability and of agricultural expansion that were paradoxically accompanied by an inexorable decline in the quality of the peasant diet...Meat slowly disappeared from the peasants' diet, returning to their tables once or twice a year for the big holidays, and for the next three centuries a major concern of those governing the island [Sicily] was that of producing bread in sufficient quantity to keep the population from either starving or rebelling."
    ---Pomp and Sustenance: Twenty-Five Centuries of Sicilian Food, Mary Taylor Simet [Ecco:Hopewell NJ] 1989 (p. 108-9)

    Help! I have to make a Shakespearian-era cookbook!
    If you need to make an "authentic cookbook" for Shakespeare's day, excellent! You will find plenty of source for learning about food availability and period recipes
    here. In addition to this you also need to know:

    1. Elizabethan cookbooks were either printed and leather-bound (if you were rich) or handwritten manuscripts (these traditional wedding gifts passed on family recipes). Either way? They looked pretty differentfrom today's cookbooks. Period fonts (typefaces) and handwriting styles are worth studying. Can you get your hands on parchment? Many office supply stores sell paper that will be close enough for the real stuff (look in the resume stationery section).
    2. Elizabethan recipes were written and worded quite differently from what we see today. Two Renaissance cookery books

    What did the Tudors eat for dessert?
    Historic cookbooks confirm 16th century folks in Great Britian enjoyed several interesting desserts. Many are still enjoyed today.

    New Book of Cookery [1615]
    ...Tart of Pippins (apple tart), Gooseberry Tart, Cherry Tart, Quince Pye, Pippin Pye, Fritters in the Court Fashion (like doughnuts), Cambridge Pudding, Ryce Pudding, Apple Pufs, Italian Pudding

    Proper New Book of Cookery [1545]
    ...Tarte. Chese, Figges. Raisyns. Apples. Peares. Almondes blanched, Custarde, Gensbread (Gingerbread), fritters

    Good Housewife's Jewel/Thomas Dawson [1596] ...fine biscuit bread (like sugar cookies), Tarts: butter & egg, damson, medlars, prunes, rice, strawberries, wardens (pear), marchepan (marzipan=almond paste), cheese and cream, almond custard, icing puddings, trifle, dates and orange juice, baked wardens, preserved whole quinces


    Dining with William Shakespeare/Madge Lorwin (your librarian can help you obtain a copy of this book) Cheesecake, almond cake, Banbury cake, marchpane, shellbread cake, Shrewsbury Cake, spiced bread cake, snow, gooseberry cream, Italian cream, almond custard, cheese cake, gooseberry tart, mincemeat pie, epar pie, plum tart, quince pie, rice tart, sweet potato pie, quaking pudding.

    Sallets, Humbles & Shrewsbery Cakes: A Collection of Elizabethan Recipes Adapted for the Modern Kitchen/Ruth Anne Beebe Apple moye (appelsauce), fine cakes, Iambles (like sugar cookies), Shrewsbury cakes, Snowe, Rice tart, Strawberry tart, berries,

    Recommended reading

    If you need more books check the food bibliography from Stratford upon Avon, Shakespeare's birthplace.

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    Research conducted by Lynne Olver, editor The Food Timeline. About this site.
    © Lynne Olver 2000
    20 January 2015