marycatelli (marycatelli) wrote,

A Second Handbook of Anglo-Saxon Food

A Second Handbook of Anglo-Saxon Food:  Production and Distribution by Ann Hagen

Longer and I think even better than the first one (which it occasionally refers to and occasionally duplicates).  Weaving through all the sources like archeology -- a lot of archaeological digs get mentioned -- to coronation blessings -- one king's coronation included, among other requests for food such as grain, a specific petition for apples and grapes.

Grapes, indeed, get a lot of mention, with many textual references to legal documents, to establish that yes indeed they did grow grapes.  Particularly monasteries that needed the wine.

Grain was the big one, of course,  Rents were paid in grain, sometimes specified as wheat, or barley, or oats.  Beans were very important, though carrots and mushrooms and other vegetables were also known.  By the end of the era, at least, they had orchards to raise apples and pears and peaches.  Berries were also known.

Cattle and sheep and goats and pigs -- all unimproved breeds, of course, so that they ate much less food, and much rougher food, and had less saturated fat.  The fattier the meat was the more it was prized.  Leechdoms often prescribed the fattest meat on the animal.  Since an Anglo-Saxon writer mentions that the Irish didn't cut hay for animals, presumably the Anglo-Saxons did.  Pigs had the advantage of eating during the winter, and some laws said pannage was "free" -- meaning that if you paid the landowner, he had to let your pigs forage on the acorns and beechnuts.  Fish were big, especially fatty ones, but the fishermen generally stuck to estuarine ones, to avoid the rowing.

Horses were sometimes eaten, especially given that there were still feral ones in the island.  Then, horses are both useful for working and rather inefficient sources of meat, being slower growing and needing more feed.  Not only was there pressure not to eat them -- from those rich enough to afford to ride them -- there were also stories that tagged the Danes as pagans for eating horses.

Honey was big, too.  The big sweetener and a necessary component of mead, that popular drink among the nobles and royal.  In spite of not being domesticated in the early times.  (The Romans did, but the Anglo-Saxons didn't.)  But they figured it out.

Wine was a prestigious drink, too.  There was also ale, and beor, which is not beer because it is much too alcoholic (pregnant women are particularly cautioned against it) and appears to be hard cider of some kind.  There was also milk, of course, and wort drinks, which are what we would call herbal teas.

Spices were important.  Particularly pepper was -- apparently the salt and pepper shakers go back to an old tradition.

And it goes into how all this stuff and more got onto the plates of those eating it.  A unit of land was a farm of one night, which could support the king and his household for one night.  Monasteries had grants of land.  Towns had particular problems, though it was not unknown for them to have cook shops where you could buy your meal.  Hospitality and charity were big things, though it was not unknown, nonetheless, for the poor to sell themselves into slavery for food.

Lots of interesting stuff.
Tags: history reviews: medieval, world-building: food

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