Article

Food, Drink, and Diet

Constance B. Hieatt and Johnna Holloway

in Medieval Studies

ISBN: 9780195396584
Published online December 2010 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0038
Food, Drink, and Diet

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  • Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)
  • Literary Studies (Early and Medieval)
  • Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy
  • Byzantine and Medieval Art (500 CE to 1400)
  • Anglo-Saxon and Medieval Archaeology

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Most of our information about this subject comes from the very end of the medieval period, the 14th and 15th centuries, the only time from which we have extensive written records. All that can be known about the earlier centuries comes from archaeology and medical texts, although the latter are not reliable sources of information about normal, everyday consumption of food and drink. Furthermore, the records of the later centuries mostly concern the households of the upper classes, and have little to say about the food and drink of the less well off. However, what records there are from earlier centuries suggest that medieval eating habits changed only very slowly, and some of the records in art suggest they hardly changed at all: the food served to the diners in the Bayeux tapestry hardly differs from that shown as served to countless notables in the centuries following. We have records of various sorts, which record charitable, and other, allowances to the poor. And for the better off, there are extensive records from the late period found in recipe collections; records of menus—most of the historical ones for special occasions like coronations, weddings, and Episcopal inductions, but also some suggested menus; and household records of purchases, and, in some cases, what foods were served on a day-to-day basis—which sometimes included what were served to the harvest laborers and others not necessarily included in the normal “household.” Further glimpses of eating and drinking, and sometimes cooking, are to be found in literary sources, but here again later works are far more informative than those of earlier periods: Chaucer, for example, has many references to food and drink, and even to the way cooks prepared the food, while Beowulf never mentions what food was served in the “mead hall,” although the drinks are mentioned many times. The present bibliography cannot attempt a guide to such literary references, but they are referred to frequently in many discussions of the subject. The art of the period is also an important source of information about food and dining customs: a good selection of such pictures will be found in many of the listed books. Most of the information here bears primarily on England and France, where the most work has been done. However, an attempt has been made to include material from elsewhere in Europe, even Scandinavia and eastern Europe, which are often excluded in discussions of the food of the West.

Article.  8496 words. 

Subjects: Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500) ; Literary Studies (Early and Medieval) ; Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy ; Byzantine and Medieval Art (500 CE to 1400) ; Anglo-Saxon and Medieval Archaeology

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