There are so many aspects of the Medieval era one needs to research and keep in mind while writing hist-fic set during this wide-ranging era. It’s so important to pin down specifics for a particular country, century, and decade. The way people lived in Italy, France, England, Germany, Russia, Sweden, and Hungary was radically different. The Middle Ages never had a one size fits all culture.
19. Common foods differed depending on country. Italy, for example, had access to a wider range of foods due to its convenient coastlines and location along major trade routes. Returning Crusaders brought back exotic food like citron, cinnamon, caraway, ginger, nutmeg, halvah, durum wheat, oranges, and nougat. Also keep in mind that certain foods, like tomatoes, cranberries, corn, and chocolate, were completely unknown to Europeans until the conquest of the Americas.
20. Utensils weren’t commonly provided when eating at someone else’s house. It was the custom to carry them on one’s own belt. Many people also ate directly off of the blade of a knife. Spoons were most frequently made of wood, unless one were wealthy. With the notable exception of Italy, forks were very uncommon in Europe. It wasn’t until the 18th century that forks had become normal, acceptable table utensils.
21. Apéritifs were eaten at the start of every meal to open the stomach, as was the Medieval belief in how digestion worked. Popular solid apéritifs were ginger, anise, fennel, cumin, and caraway coated in sugar or honey. Liquid apéritifs included wine and sweetened milk.
22. After apéritifs came easily digestible foods like fruit. The second course consisted of cabbage, lettuce, herbs, broth, more fruit, and light meats like goat and fowl. Then came heavy food like vegetables, beef, pork, nuts (esp. chestnuts), and pears. The objective was for each course to gradually build up in heartiness instead of immediately eating heavy things that take longer to digest and don’t go so well on an empty stomach.
23. Dragées were eaten at the conclusion of every meal for the opposite reason of apéritifs, to close the stomach. These included lumps of spiced sugar, honey-covered almonds, aged cheese, and hippocras. Hippocras, hot wine mixed with spices, cinnamon, and sugar, was also popular at holidays, weddings, and other celebrations as a main drink.
24. Beef and wheat were expensive and largely confined to the wealthy, while game was mostly eaten by nobles. Polenta, made of spelt, millet, chestnut flour, chickpeas, or farro, was associated with the poor and working-class. Tea and coffee were only available in East Asia and the Islamic world.
25. The most common cooking spices were sage, parsley, mint, mustard, caraway, fennel, dill, salt, and anise. Cinnamon, clove, ginger, cumin, nutmeg, and black pepper were more expensive, and saffron and turmeric were the most exclusive.
26. Pizza didn’t exist. Italians had a pizza-like dish in the form of focaccia with various toppings, sometimes drizzled with olive oil.
27. Many modern sweets didn’t exist either. Cakes were much more bread-like than their modern counterparts, and frequently topped by things like eel, chicken, marzipan, custard, and hemp. Forget about frosting! Pies were filled with fruit, meat, eggs, or vegetables. Instead of things like cookies, cupcakes, and candy, most people ate fruit like figs, dates, and raisins.
28. Water wasn’t a common drink. More popular were wine, fruit juice, ale, beer, cider, mulberry gin, and mead. Milk was mostly for the young and elderly, esp. whey and buttermilk.
29. Rich people ate many things which seem abhorrent to the average modern person, like lark and other songbirds, whale, porpoise, peacock, swan, porcupine, stork, hedgehog, crane, and beaver.
30. Breakfast was seen as gluttony and weakness by the Church, and usually only eaten by children, working men, and some ladies. The word “breakfast” also didn’t exist. It was just a light morning meal.
31. The first meal of the day for most people was the mid-day dinner. Supper, the final meal of the day, was typically lighter fare. Ladies frequently ate apart from the rest of the household to uphold the idea of delicacy and neatness. After they were done eating, they joined the menfolk and children.
32. Between each course, shallow handwashing basins and linen towels were brought around in households of means. Also between each course, servants wiped down tables and changed tablecloths.
33. Shared cups were common, and many people used their hands or spoons to put food from stew pots and plates into their own trenchers. Trenchers were flat wooden or pewter plates that evolved from flat, round, stale bread.