Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. This old adage has now been taken to a whole new level in the northeast of England. A team of university history professors and top chefs, passionate about medieval food, have come together to teach online students how to source and create entire medieval feasts.
The term “Medieval Cuisine” describes the foods, eating habits, and cooking methods of various European cultures between the 5th and the 15th century. Now, scholars at Durham University in the United Kingdom have collaborated with Eat Medieval and chefs at the Blackfriars Restaurant , Newcastle, to explore the medieval culinary world. According to the Eat Medieval website, the team seeks to “rediscover old flavors, re-trace ancient food sources, traditions, trade routes, and re-vivify centuries-old dishes for modern palates.” The aim is to highlight the broader cultural messages related to medieval food.
The courses at Eat Medieval are ideal for anyone interested in medieval food and food culture. ( Eat Medieval )
Food and Class in Medieval England
Much about food and eating during the early Middle Ages reflects the diets we have today, but at the time social classes were far more defined and this is clearly evident on dining tables of the era. Rice and wheat were upper class staples, until the potato was introduced in 1536 AD, while barley, oats and rye were eaten by the poor. All of these foods were consumed as breads, porridge, gruel and pasta, while beans and vegetables were important supplements to the cereal-based diet of the lower orders.
According to an entry on Old Cook , the most used vegetables in the north of England were: leeks, onions, cabbage, peas, and hunted game, which was only served on the tables of nobility. Meats consumed during the medieval era included chicken, beef, pork and fowl. According to the 2017 paper Dietary and behavioral inferences from dental pathology and non-masticatory wear on dentitions from a British medieval town , “dried, salted and smoked herring and cod were popular among northern English folk.” In addition to fish, a wide variety of other mineral-loaded saltwater and freshwater shellfish and seafood were also consumed as part of medieval menus.
These kinds of online courses help to dispel myths about medieval food and cooking . ( Blackfriars Restaurant )
Busting Old World Food Myths
In this new project, Eat Medieval has brought together cooking and scholarship by partnering chefs with academic researchers to explore all aspects of medieval food and medieval food culture, including “seasonality, sustainability, and provenance.” An example of this dynamic union is described in an article in The Telegraph , where Andy Hook, the owner of Blackfriars Restaurant worked together with Giles Gasper, Professor of Medieval History at Durham University’s Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies .
The Eat Medieval website claims this combination of academic research and its practical application provides “a creative edge.” Among the food myths dispelled on these courses, for example, is that spices were applied to hide the taste of bad meats, where in reality, meats were most often eaten from animals killed on the same day, making them generally fresher than those we consume today.
You Can Be a Medieval Cook Too
Now, you can enroll for a week long online course covering “almost” all aspects of medieval food history and culinary culture, featuring some of the earliest medieval recipe collections from 1170 AD, from “the monks of Durham Cathedral Priory .”
Guided by expert chefs, you, the student will watch films and join in on interactive sessions learning how to prepare and cook fifteen recipes. The website also promises “top-tips for the kitchen and myth-busting the Middle Ages.” On the 7th November Dr. Eric Cambridge delivered “Reconstructing Medieval Blackfriars,” with another being planned for May 2021. But that’s not all! A three-day online cooking course begins on the 14 th December entitled “A taste of Christmas past.”
You can even learn about medieval butchery, with online courses from The Quality Chop House. ( The Quality Chop House )
Become A Medieval Butcher
The reason I said the new online course covers “almost” all aspects of cooking, is because it begins after you’ve bought your raw materials. However, in the medieval world no such thing as supermarkets or butchers existed. Most people had to know how to prepare animals for the stove, so any veggies reading this had best turn away now. These days, most people wouldn’t know where to begin with a whole pig carcass, but there is also an online class that will show you what to do.
The Quality Chop House offer online butchery classes for those of you who want more control over the preparation of their food and are interested in knowing its provenance. You’ll learn not only about pig farming and breeding, but also how to best chop it up , or break it down, ready for the pan. You will also learn how to use all the innards and guts, most of which are eaten too. Oh, stop flapping! I told you to turn away.
The Medieval Period was one of contrasts. Often referred to as the Dark Ages, reflecting its decline in scientific accomplishments, culture, education, and a rise of superstition, religious zealotry and the curse of the Black Plague, out of the Middle Ages also came new technologies, beautiful art and architecture, and an agricultural boom. The first universities were first created and the Magna Carta was signed. Visit Medieval Times and discover the fascinating and the strange of this unforgettable period of history. Buy this Ancient Origins Special here.
Top image: Andy Hook from Blackfriars Restaurant in Newcastle has joined forces with Giles Gaspar from Durham University’s Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies, along with a group of scholars and chefs, to create a series of courses aiming to teach students about medieval food. Source: Eat Medieval
By Ashley Cowie