Collect pepper. Fragment of a medieval miniature.
To begin with, the era of the Middle Ages, as they believe, lasted from the V to the XV century. And it was during this period that the foundations of modern European cuisine were laid. As for the characteristic features of the food of that time, it was the cereals that remained the most important source of energy in the early Middle Ages, since rice appeared late, and potatoes got to the food system in Europe only in the 1536 year, with a much later date for its widespread use. Therefore, they ate a lot of bread, about one kilogram per day! Barley, oats and rye were the "grain of the poor." Wheat was "the grain of those who fight and those who pray." Cereals were used as bread, porridge and pasta (the last in the form of noodles!) By all members of society. Beans and vegetables were important additions to the diet based on lower grains.
Meat was more expensive and therefore more prestigious. At the same time, the meat produced during the hunt was found everywhere only on the tables of the nobility. Violation of the rules of hunting in the same England was punished very cruelly. For example, if a villein was hunting in the land of a seigneur with a falcon, then as much meat was cut from his breast as this falcon weighed, and then fed to this falcon in front of Villan! No wonder it was in England that ballads about Robin Hood were in such honor. Shooting the royal game was at that time a terrible crime and the height of free-thinking!
The most common types of meat were pork, chicken and other poultry; Beef, which required large investments in land, was much less common. Cod and herring were the basis of the nutrition of the northern peoples; in dried, smoked, or salted form, they were brought far inland, but other marine and freshwater fish were also consumed. However, it was only in 1385 that the Dutchman Willem Jacob Beykelzon invented a method for salting herring with spices, which improved its taste and increased its shelf life. Before that, the fish was just sprinkled with salt and that's it. Now the herring has fallen on the tables of the nobility, and its consumption has increased dramatically.
Interestingly, during the years of the Hundred Years War 12 in February 1429, even the so-called “Herring Battle” (Battle of Ruvray) took place, just north of the city of Orleans. Then the French tried to seize the British wagon train from about 300 carts, loaded mainly with barrels of herring. The British built fortifications out of carts and barrels, and such “herring” defense brought them success.
In addition to fish, they ate mollusks - oysters and snails, as well as crayfish. In 1485, in Germany, for example, a cookbook was published, which gave five ways to cook delicious dishes from them.
Slow transportation and primitive methods of food preservation (based on drying, salting, drying and smoking) made the trade in many products very expensive. Because of this, the cuisine of the nobility was more prone to foreign influence than the poor; because it depended on exotic spices and expensive imports. As each successive level of the social pyramid imitated all of the above in different volumes, innovations from international trade and wars from the 12th century continued to spread gradually in society through the upper middle class of medieval cities. In addition to the economic inaccessibility of luxury goods, such as spices, there were also decrees prohibiting the use of certain foods among certain social classes and luxury laws that restricted consumption among the nouveau riche. Social norms also dictated that the food of the working class should have been less subtle, since it was believed that there was a natural similarity between labor and food; manual labor requires coarser and cheaper food than, say, a prayer to the Lord or an exercise with a sword! Nevertheless, the tables in the knightly castles did not disdain to serve hedgehogs, squirrels and dormice.
What distinguishes the food of the nobility and the poor in the first place is the use of spices! Cloves, cinnamon, pepper, saffron, cumin, thyme - all this was added to any dish and the more, the better. Spices were added to wine and vinegar, especially black pepper, saffron and ginger. They, along with the widespread use of sugar or honey, gave a lot of dishes that had a sweet and sour taste. Almonds were very popular as a thickener in soups, stews and sauces, especially in the form of almond milk. A very popular dish in the Middle Ages was ... milk with bacon! The milk was boiled together with slices of lard, saffron, and beaten eggs until the mixture was curried. The liquids were allowed to drain overnight, after which the “milk” was cut into thick slices and fried in a pan, adding cloves or pine seeds!
Red wine made jelly. They took strong meat broth from the head and legs, defended it to transparency, and then mixed it with red wine or brandy, poured it all into forms and carried it out in the cold. Forms were multi-separable, so in other parts they made “white fill” with milk and “yellow” with saffron. Then the separate parts of this kind of “jelly” put everything together and served on the table a dish of segments or even in the form of a chessboard!
The same miniature from the book "The Adventures of Marco Polo." (National Library of France)
Since ancient times, the cuisines of the cultures of the Mediterranean basin have also been based on cereals, especially different types of wheat. Porridge, and then bread, became the staple food of most of the population. From VIII to XI century, the proportion of different cereals in the diet of the Mediterranean increased from 1 / 3 to 3 / 4. Dependence on wheat remained significant throughout the medieval era and spread to the north with the growth of Christianity. However, in colder climates, it was usually not available for the majority of the population with the exception of the upper classes. Bread played an important role in religious rituals, such as the Eucharist, and it is not surprising that he enjoyed high prestige among other foods. Only (olive) oil and wine were of comparable value with it, but both of these products remained completely exclusive outside the warmer grape and olive regions. The symbolic role of bread as a source of food and as a divine substance is well illustrated in the sermon of St. Augustine: "In the oven of the Holy Spirit you were baked in the true bread of God."
Slaughtering sheep and meat trade. "The story of health." Upper Italy near 1390 (Vienna National Library)
Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox churches and their calendars had a great influence on eating habits; meat consumption was banned for a full third of the year for most Christians. All animal products, including eggs and dairy products (but not fish), were usually banned during Lent. In addition, it was decided to fast until the adoption of the Eucharist. These posts sometimes lasted a whole day and demanded complete abstinence.
Both the eastern and western churches prescribed that meat and animal products, such as milk, cheese, butter and eggs, should not be allowed on the fast table, but only fish. The goal was not to portray certain products as unclean, but rather to give people a lesson in self-restraint through abstinence. On particularly harsh days, the number of daily meals was also reduced to one. Even if most people complied with these restrictions and usually repented when they violated them, there were also many ways to get around them, that is, there was a constant conflict of ideals and practices.
Such is the nature of man: to build the most complex cell of the rules in which you can catch yourself, and then, with the same ingenuity, direct your brain to bypass all these rules. Fasting was such a trap; mind game was to find loopholes from it.
Interestingly, in the Middle Ages it was believed that beaver tails were of such a nature as fish, so they could be eaten on fasting days. That is, the definition of "fish" often extended to both marine and semi-aquatic animals. The choice of ingredients could be limited, but this did not mean that there was less food on the tables. There were also no restrictions on (moderate) sweets. Feasts held on fast days were a great reason for making illusionary products that imitate meat, cheese and eggs in the most varied and sometimes ingenious ways; the fish could be molded so that it looked like venison, and fake eggs could be made by stuffing an empty eggshell with fish and almond milk, and cooking them on charcoal. However, the Byzantine church did not encourage any culinary refinement of food for the clergy and advocated "nature." But their Western colleagues were much more lenient towards human frailties. A touching unanimity was also observed in the opinion regarding the severity of fasting for the laity - “for this leads to humility.” In any case, during Lent, both kings and schoolchildren, commoners and noblemen, all complained that they had been deprived of meat for long and hard weeks of solemn contemplation of their sins. At this time, even dogs were hungry, disappointed with "hard bread crusts and fish alone."
And now let's look at these miniatures, specially prepared for our cat lovers. Although the Middle Ages was not the coziest time for a feline tribe, as noted in the very first material, cats were appreciated for catching mice and thus protecting barns. Therefore, they are often portrayed even in cookbooks, indicating that no kitchen can do without a cat. “Hours of Charlotte of Sawai, approx. 1420-1425. (Library and Museum of P. Morgan, New York)
From the 13th century, a freer, so to speak, interpretation of the concept of “fasting” began to be observed in Europe. The main thing is not to eat meat on fast days. But he was immediately replaced by a fish. Almond milk has replaced animal milk; artificial eggs made from almond milk, flavored and colored with spices, were replaced by natural ones. Exceptions to the post are often made for very broad populations. Thomas Aquinas (approximately 1225-1274) believed that for children, old people, pilgrims, workers and beggars, permission should be given from the burden of fasting, but not for the poor if they have some kind of shelter and have the opportunity not to work. There are many stories about monastic orders that violated the limitations of fasting through intelligent interpretations of the Bible. Since the patients were relieved of fasting, often many monks declared themselves sick and received nourishing chicken broth. Moreover, for the sick and pregnant, wheat flour or potato flour was added to it. The soup with the roots of fatty chicken was considered an excellent dish for colds. So sometimes the monk should have just coughed loudly to get it!
Medieval society was highly stratified. Moreover, political power was manifested not only in the force of law, but also through the demonstration of wealth. Noble people had to dine on fresh tablecloths, by all means give the “plates” of bread to the poor, and be sure to eat food seasoned with exotic spices. Accordingly, the manners at such a table should have been appropriate. Workers could get along with coarse barley bread, salted pork and beans and should not have any kind of etiquette. Even the dietary recommendations were different: the diet of the upper classes was based on their sophisticated physical constitution, whereas for rude men it was completely different. The digestive system of the Lord was considered more refined than that of his village subordinates and demanded, accordingly, more refined food.
But this is especially touching picture, apparently drawn by the artist from life or a good connoisseur of cats. “Hours of Charlotte of Sawai, approx. 1420-1425. (Library and Museum of P. Morgan, New York)
One of the problems of medieval cuisine was the lack of many well-known types of food raw materials there. For example, in Europe for a long time there was no rice or “Saracen millet”. Rice began to sow the fields in Sicily and in Valencia only after the plague epidemic, when the cost of labor increased. At the same time, rice grown in Italy and Spain was round, medium-grained and did not require a lot of water, although it yielded good yields. It is clear that at first it was a rare and valuable product used to prepare desserts and sweets.
Having many vineyards, Europeans nevertheless did not know how to make raisins from grapes, which they received from the East and called them “grapes from Damascus”. Plums were known, but prunes could not be made from them either and called this export and expensive product “plums from Damascus”, that is, its name contained a direct indication of the place from which it came.
To be continued ...