Nursery Rhymes

Middle Ages Food - Meat

Middle Ages - Lords and Ladies

Middle Ages Food - Meat
Middle Ages food included a vast range of different meat, especially for the wealthy royalty and nobles. The meats included venison, beef, pork, veal, goat, lamb, rabbit, hare, mutton, swans, herons and poultry. Chickens were believed to have been introduced to England by the Romans. Only Lords and Nobles were allowed to hunt deer, boar, hares and rabbits.

The punishment for poaching could result in death or having hands cut off - these types of meat were therefore not available to the poor. The more exotic game birds including thrushes, starlings, blackbirds, quail, cuckoo, lark. peacocks etc, which were eaten during the Middle Ages, have been detailed on:

Middle Ages Food - Game

Middle Ages Food - Pork
Pork made up much of the domestic banquets. There was no great feast at which hams, sausages, and black puddings were not served in profusion on all the tables; and as Easter Day, which brought to a close the prolonged fasting of Lent, was one of the great feasts, this food formed the most important dish on that occasion. The pigs were inspected to ensure that they did not have not white ulcers under the tongue, these being considered the signs that their flesh was in a condition to communicate leprosy to those who ate it.

Middle Ages Food - Lamb and Veal
Of all butchers' meat, veal was reckoned the best. In fact, calves intended for the tables of the upper classes were fed in a special manner: they were allowed for six months, or even for a year, nothing but milk, which made their flesh most tender and delicate. Contrary to the present taste, kid was more appreciated than lamb, which caused butchers to attach the tail of a kid to a lamb, so as to deceive the customer and sell him a less expensive meat at the higher price. Regulations, sometimes eccentric, but almost always rigidly enforced, to ensure a supply of meat of the best quality and in a healthy state. In England, butchers were only allowed to kill bulls after they had been baited with dogs, no doubt with the view of making the flesh more tender. To the many regulations affecting the interests of the public must be added that forbidding butchers to sell meat on days when abstinence from animal food was ordered by the Church. These regulations applied less to the vendors than to the consumers, who, by disobeying them, were liable to fine or imprisonment, or to severe corporal punishment by the whip or in the pillory.

Middle Ages Food - Poultry
The established custom of certain parts of Christendom was that poultry and fish were identical in the eyes of the Church, and accordingly continued to eat them indiscriminately. We also see, in the middle of the thirteenth century, St. Thomas Aquinas, who was considered an authority in questions of dogma and of faith, ranking poultry amongst species of aquatic origin. the Church eventually forbade Christians the use of poultry on fast days, it made an exception, out of consideration for the ancient prejudice, in favour of teal, widgeon, moor-hens, and also two or three kinds of small shell fish. As far back as modern history can be traced, we find that a similar mode of fattening poultry was employed then as now. Chickens were fattened by depriving them of light and liberty, and gorging them with succulent food.

People during the Middle Ages also ate fattened geese. For some time geese were more highly prized than any other description of poultry, and flocks of geese, which were driven to feed in the fields, like flocks of sheep. This bird was considered a great delicacy by the working classes, as were ducks. The pea-fowl ( peacocks and peahens)  played an important part in the chivalric banquets of the Middle Ages. According to old poets the flesh of this noble bird is "food for the brave." A poet of the thirteenth century said, "that thieves have as much taste for falsehood as a hungry man has for the flesh of the peacock". As time passed the turkey and the pheasant gradually replaced them, as their flesh was considered somewhat hard and stringy.

Middle Ages Food - Venison, Beef, Hedgehog and Squirrel
The hedgehog and squirrel were also eaten. Roe and red deer (venison) were seen as food fit for kings and rich people The "fried slices of the young horn of the stag" was referred to as the daintiest of food. In France in the fourteenth century, beef was dished up like bear's-flesh venison, for the use of kitchens in countries where the black bear did not exist. This proves that bear's flesh was in those days considered good food.

Middle Ages Food - Meat
The following meats were available during the Medieval era, some of which were reserved for the Upper Classes. The following list of meats were available during the Middle Ages:

  • Pork
  • Lamb
  • Veal
  • Venison
  • Poultry and Game
  • Bear
  • Hedgehog
  • Hare and Rabbit
Middle Ages Food
Middle Ages Index

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