Medieval Castle Food

Whilst hunting would contribute meat to the table of any medieval castle, by far the most common food was bread.

Bread was generally course and unattractive. It was baked in a communal oven usually found outside the castle walls. The official name for this was the "four banal". The fact that everyone had to eat the bread made the word "banal" synonymous with commonplace.

The best quality of bread would be reserved for the lord of the Castle. This was called "Manchet". It was made of properly ground wheat.

Descending down on the social scale most of the bread would be made from rye. Those living outside the castle would often have bread made from peas or beans.

It is interesting to note that this heavy reliance upon one basic cereal, rye, meant that a bad or diseased crop would be a problem for both rich and poor.

As an aside here, there are records of extraordinary times when whole districts would go mad and start dancing. It is said that this was tied to disease called "ergot", which in turn is related to rye. Ergot is a fungus which grows on the grain. The other name for this disease was "St. Anthony's Fire".

Bread was not only vital to eat, it was also necessary to eat with. Effectively the bread would be used as a plate, or, as it was known a "Trencher".

It would take about four days of baking to produce a workable trencher. It was common practice to place the meat on the trencher between mouthfuls. Once the meat was finished a generous man would often donate the trencher to someone less well off.

The bread was also used to mop up the extraordinary amount of grease which would be included in the cooking. The main source of grease was lard. The majority of the cattle and sheep would be killed and salted down in autumn. Some animals would be left for breeding but their chances of surviving the winter were not good. In medieval times every person carried their own knife. This was essential to eat with and at the end of the meal the knife would be wiped and returned to sheath on the belt. There were no forks, although spoons were used. This meant that hands became very greasy and had to be washed both before and after the meal. This in turn gave rise to a little ceremony with assistance bringing water on ewers or aquamaniles as they were known.

Finally it is worth thinking about what we eat now which was not available then. For example, tea, coffee, sugar and many fruits, though some fruits were available in medieval times as they grew naturally in the Northern Hemisphere - fruits such as the wild or what we today call the woodland strawberry which is believed to have been around in the 14th century.