For the Europeans of the Middle Ages, eating too early in the day was a form of committing the sin of gluttony, even the intellectual priest Thomas Aquinas said it.
Nowadays we are told that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but in the past it was only eaten by the poor and greedy workers!
Workers and farmers could eat a small piece of bread in the morning to avoid fainting in the field. They often ate bread with cheese or milk.
The ideal daily diet would start with a light meal at lunch and end with a hearty dinner in the evening. Some people also ate a third meal at night which was called resoper and included beer and wine.
Bread and cereals were a major part of the medieval diet. Europeans ate between 1 and 1.5 kg of bread daily.
Bread was such an important part of the medieval diet (it symbolized THE BODY OF CHRIST after all) that baking was a highly profitable industry. Bakers formed powerful guilds, similar to trade unions, and often functioned as a kind of medieval mafia!
Wine was important because it symbolized THE BLOOD OF CHRIST, and Europeans cultivated grapes on a large scale. Wine, beer and milk were related to thirst in times when water from ponds, lakes, streams, springs and wells could be contaminated.
Common grains, such as rye, oats and barley, were turned into porridge, and at the end of the meal, Europeans downed a pint of low-alcohol barley beer.
One of the strange beliefs circulating in medieval Europe was that raw fruits and vegetables were dangerous. They were believed to spread disease.
For this reason, all vegetables and even fruits were roasted before consumption. A lot of vegetable stews and barrels of canned fruit were being prepared.
Meat was a valuable commodity that most peasants could not afford to eat very often. As a result, most people were happy to eat the flesh of hedgehogs, swans, peacocks and seagulls.
Game meat, such as rabbit, deer or wild boar, was expensive or difficult to obtain, especially if free peasants or commoners were prohibited from hunting in the forests owned by the nobles.
It was recorded that Archbishop Neville of York had a lavish meal in 1467, where his guests consumed “104 oxen, 6 wild bulls, 1,000 sheep, 304 calves, 400 swans, 2,000 geese, 1,000 capons, 2,000 pigs, 1,304 peacocks, 5,004 pigs, 500 deer, roe, 1,500 venison pies, 608 pike and bream, 12 porpoises and seals”.
Free peasants could own pigs, cattle, chickens, sheep and goats, but they slaughtered them only on holidays and rationed the meat.
Drying meat was also a common practice among peasants. They salted and smoked it.
Oddly enough, pork chicken was considered the greatest delicacy. The lactating sow was also appreciated, the “sow’s belly” being a gourmet treat.
There were fast food stalls in medieval towns. The townspeople could eat popular snacks on the run, such as meatloaf, apple tarts, hot cakes, pancakes, egg-yolk-glazed pies, and wafers that were produced and sold quickly. The concept of fast-food originated in ancient Rome. .
Baklava was also sold in the Balkan region under Ottoman occupation, probably also in the Italian cities where Turkish traders used to travel.
As a mention, the strudel would appear in Austria in the 18th century.
Since the average worker couldn’t afford to eat a lot of meat, growing beans was a game changer.
The Italian medievalist Umberto Eco claims that the widespread introduction of beans into the medieval diet is responsible for the survival of Western civilization in the Middle Ages!
Before this point in history, the average person could not find enough protein for a healthy diet. Beans were a source of protein and easily accessible.
Eco theorizes that the introduction of the bean helped build a strong and healthier population, able to work properly in the fields, produce more children, and live longer lives than the Greeks and Romans did in classical antiquity.
The population of Europe has doubled in a few hundred years!
Even more surprising is that medieval Europeans consumed almond milk if they did not have access to cow’s milk or if they were fasting.
At Christmas, Europeans consumed roast birds, either goose or rooster, and the rich consumed swan meat, accompanied by savory pies with entrails, liver, kidneys, deer heart.
Copious meals could cause cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, cirrhosis and morbid obesity to medieval Europeans, moreover, medieval paintings and paintings have been preserved to this day that indicate a high degree of overweight among royal and noble families.
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