Would We Find Medieval Dining Habits Gross?

I always wondered how I would react, if I were transported to a banquest, ca. 1300 AD or so.
I know that people ate mostly with their fingers (forks were not yet common), and people would wipe their greasy hands on the backs of the dogs (who roamed the banquet halls).
There was also a loy of communal sharing (a bowl of milk would be passed around).
How about meat? Would it be sent to the table sliced? Or did you hack your own hunk off the joint?
How about vegetables- would you be served mashed beets/turnips/etc., or would there be whole ones on the platter?
And beverages-I know there were wine stewards who would refill your cup-what about cyder or water (bleeech)?
Are there any places in the USA, where you can experience a real medieval banquet?

Look up your local kingdom.

No water except to maybe wash with. Too dangerous to drink.

Having lived in an all-male dorm, I think I’d be able to cope.

There were certainly table manners in the Middle Ages - just different ones from the sort you grew up with. I doubt it would be too disgusting - it’s not all “crazed drunken debauchery”, more like “going to a country where they eat with their hands”. In fact, when forks came in from the south, a lot of people from northern Europe were all, “So… what have you been doing with your hands that they’re too gross to touch the food with, dude?”

People in the Middle Ages were more fastidious than we give them credit. Just because you ate with your fingers doesn’t mean you’re a slob; you can be perfectly dainty about it. Napkins were used, as well as tablecloths in the upper classes.

Another huge misconception is that people ate rotten food and overspiced it to cover it up. Please - spices were too expensive to do that, and anyone who thinks that someone of that era wouldn’t notice that their meat has gone rotten is crazy.

And yes, try the link silenus posted. There are some very good feasts put out by the SCA, if I do say so myself. If you’d like to see a menu for some of the ones I’ve prepared, I’ll be happy to post some.

Known in the Society as THL Maud Aleyns, APF, CW, CE (Middle Kingdom)

Forks weren’t common, but knives and spoons were.

I’m sure that happened, but generally pitchers and napkins were sent around after each course. The servant who job it was to do that was called a ewerer.

There was a lot of communal sharing.

Generally, the meat would be carved at table. But it wasn’t a matter of “hack your own hunk off the joint.” Think more the stereotypical thanksgiving dinner, where the turkey is brought out and admired, and then the person at the head of the table carves it and serves everyone.

Vegetables were served mashed, boiled, stewed, raw, pickled, etc. The ways we prepare vegetables are the same ways they prepared vegetables. I know the French ate more green vegetables than the English, who ate more herbs.

Cider yes. Water, not so much. People didn’t really drink water at meals if they could help it, largely for potability issues. There’s the old German saying, “Water rusts the stomach”.

Don’t have an answer for that one.

Ha, Philippa the Farrier is our roommate, and Stefan li Rous is an eternal Pennsic campmate =) and I have hosted Andrew MacRobb =)

Nope. Mostly, they ate with spoons. But they did use fingers, picks, knives , and forks in Southern Europe from at least the 10th Century. They weren’t used in Northern Europe until later because they were considered an affectation. A lot of food was in smaller pieces, anyway, like meatballs or stews, or else easy to eat with the hands, like many, many kinds of meat pie.

Not generally, no. Mostly they’d wipe their hands on napkins, and use water bowls.

Yes, and no (I don’t know about this “bowl of milk” story, though. But sharing did happen, usually in the sense of 2 or 3 people to a serving bowl.

Usually already sliced. In fact, this was one of the jobs of the King’s favourites in royal courts, but just kitchen knaves in other places. But it depends - small birds like songbirds or squab were likely served whole. This is not so different from how I plate things today, BTW.

Everything from mashed, boiled, fried, sliced, diced & roasted, salads, stews…Generally, something rooty would be done either mashed, boiled, fried as chips (parsnip chips are om-nom-nom!) or in a complete side dish like armoured turnips (sliced turnips layered with cheese & spices - think potatoes au gratin). I’ve never just done a whole boiled turnip or beet in all my years of medieval cooking, and I can’t offhand recall a recipe for it either.

People didn’t generally drink water at table, more for humoural theories than any other reason. But often you’d share a pitcher with a couple of people.

The SCA? Do NOT go to Medieval Timesor a RennFaire if you want to experience anything mildly authentic.

Note - this of course pertains to feasting, middle class and up. Peasants generally made do with pottages, gruels & bread, and I’m sure even the king would eat a drumstick with his hands if he was just getting a midnight snack (although - witness Count Gaston Phoebus’ idea of a quick snack while hunting.

Indyellen, I’d love to see some of your menus and/or recipies!

On the whole, manners were very important, and (depending on their station in life) children were carefully trained in proper manners–much more so than today. They weren’t the manners we’re used to, but it was entirely possible to be dainty, clean, and elegant at a medieval feast. Both men and women did so.

SCA feasts at least the ones I have been to are an attempt for a Medieval feel, hardly an authentic Medieval feast. While some have food painstakingly researched they are usually prepared in a modern kitchen with modern food stuffs and for a modern audience and often served on modern serving dishes. An audience dressed in costumes ranging over 1000 years in the middle ages not to mention the folks who are wearing modern clothing and everything from handwrought cutlery to paperplates and plastic spoons. So not the authentic Medieval feast requested by the OP.

However, they are probably the closest you will find you can actually participate in. The food is usually quite good; plentiful and tasty. The company interesting, and the effort to believe goes a long way to result in amazing experience.

THL Alexandra Stremouchova; Glen Abbhain

There’s been a recent movement in the SCA towards greater authenticity in table manners, and table service, but we’ve still got quite a ways to go. One of the main problems is a modern people can’t unlearn germ theory when they sit down for a “medieval” dinner. In most of the carver’s and servant’s manuals from the early modern period (1450-1600), to make something clean, you wiped it off. No visible dirt= clean. But for a modern person that’s really not good enough, we except things to be washed with hot water and soap before it’s clean again.

I always try and cook not just authentic medieval food with as period ingredients as humanly possible, but food authentic for one narrow range of time and place, possibly only from one cookbook or a few select ones if there’s a larger selection e.g. when doing Chaucerian England.

Err, not in MY kitchen or feast hall. Yes, modern kitchen, usually (We’ve done enough over fire too), but that doesn’t affect the food. We serve on earthenware, tin plate and the like.

Yes, a range of times (although we’ve had fixed time-period feasts too), but *modern *clothes and *plastic *utensils are not allowed at all. One is against the *only *overarching rule for attending an SCA event, and the other is a Kingdom no-no by law. I shudder to think what an overseas feast might be like, then. Maybe Adamastor’s lucky to be the most isolated shire in the world, after all.

I was not trying to insult you or any of the awesome cooks in the SCA, just pointing out that the OP would not be able to go to an SCA event and participate in a truly Medival feast without a lot of suspension of disbelief.

I applaud you on your adherance to reenacting a Medieval feast, I think that would be very incredible to attend one of your feasts. It would be interesting to discuss with you at another time and place as to whether our consumables are the same or close enough to Medieval consumables to be considered the same (I fall on the side of close enough).

re the overarching rule of attending an SCA event :
Per the Corpora of the SCA
“B. Requirements for Participants at Society events
Anyone may attend Society events provided he or she wears an attempt at pre-17th century clothing,
conforms to the provisions in Corpora, and complies with any other requirements (such as site fees or
waivers) which may be imposed. At business meetings and informal classes, the requirement to wear pre-17th
century dress may be waived. All participants are expected to behave as ladies or gentlemen.”

What constitutes a resonable attempt varies greatly, a t=tunic thrown over bluejeans tennis shoes and modern headgear to some is a reasonable attempt. Actaully the worst attempt I have personaly witnessed was a coin belt over camo cargo pants with a sports bra for a top and Doc Martins for footwear.
I have also seen clothing where the owner grew thier own silkworms, reeled and wove the silk then handsewed an underdress. That attention to detail for a garment essentillay not seen blew me away. the rest ofr the outfit was as incredible.

The SCA is a wonderful magical place filled with people who for the most are attempting to fulfill an ideal. When it works it is a really incredible time. That is what keeps me coming back for more.

THL Alexandra Stremouchova
(who is anxiously awaiting Gulfwars and not ready all at the same time)

Here’s a menu for a feast I did 3-4 years ago:


• Sallat for fish days (Carrot & Shrimp Salad)
• Hard boiled eggs
• Genovese (Spinach) Tart
• Bread

• Roast Chicken with three sauces
o Lombard Mustard
o Sauce of Apples
o Green Garlic Sauce
• Roasted Roots (Parsnips & Onions)
• Rys (Rice in Almond Milk)


• Stewed (Braised) Beef
• Buttered Wortes (Greens)
• Barley

I also did baked pears with almonds & spices for a desert in the last course. This was for a winter feast.

We did the Medieval Times in Toronto a number of years ago.

From their website FAQ

If eating utensils are forbidden on historical grounds, why on earth are New World vegetables like tomatoes and potatoes allowed? :confused:

Well, the first and most obvious problem with the “Medieval Times feast” is that both tomatoes and potatoes are new world foods, and wouldn’t have been part of an actual 11th century meal. (In theory, in the middle ages, you could have had garlic bread, because they had all the ingredients, but the first bruschetta recipes only date from the 15th century).

Also, of course, the middle ages had eating utensils, just not forks, which I hope is also true of the Medieval Times meals, because it’s going to be awfully messy to eat that tomato bisque soup with your hands.

I was going to say that about the Medieval Times meal too. You pick up the bowl of soup and drink it. It is called Dragon’s Blood soup.

From what I recall on eating meat, it was picked up in one hand, then you got your teeth around a piece, then used your knife to slice (upward) the piece off. As opposed to simply ripping at it with your teeth.

If you’re looking at foods eaten during the middle ages, and the similarities and differences between medieval and modern food, check out Terence Scully’s “The Art of Cooking in the Middle Ages”.