Medieval Food for Kids

Medieval Food

In the Middle Ages in Europe, what people ate depended a lot on how rich they were. Poor people (which was almost everybody) ate mainly barley. Sometimes they made their barley into bread, and sometimes into pancakes or pizza, and sometimes into barley porridge (like oatmeal) and sometimes into barley soup. But every day, breakfast, lunch and dinner, most of every meal was barley. It must have been very boring!
As much as they could, the poor people found other things to eat with their barley to make it less boring. They grew carrots and onions and cabbage and garlic to put in their soup, and they made cheese to eat with their bread and melt on their pizza, and they gathered apples and pears and mushrooms as well, so they could make apple pies or baked apples. And they tried to get honey or sugar to sweeten their treats. They grew herbs like parsley, chives, basil and rosemary to flavor their food. Mostly poor people drank ale (kind of like beer) or beer in England and Germany, wine in France and Italy and Spain. Even the beer was made from barley!

Rich people also ate a lot of bread, but they made their bread out of wheat so it tasted better. And they had more choices of other things to eat with their bread. Rich people ate meat - pork and roast beef and stew and lamb chops and deer and rabbit. And they had spices to put on their food, expensive spices that had to come all the way from India like pepper and cinnamon. Even salt was often too expensive for poor people, and only rich people had it. In fact, when you were eating in a medieval castle, the salt would be on the table in a huge fancy salt cellar, and the rich people would sit near the salt so they could use it, while the poor people sat further down the long table and couldn't use the salt. We still use the expression, "above the salt" to mean a rich person.

These are medieval glass cups.
Notice how you can't put them down when they are full.
Why do you think they would want cups like that?

During the Crusades, though, the French and English and German soldiers who were fighting in West Asia ate a lot of West Asian-style food while they were there, and they got to like it. When they came home, a lot of them still wanted to have fancier food than they had had before, and they missed the oranges and lemons they had eaten in the South. So in the Late Middle Ages, European cooking became a lot more Mediterranean than it had been in the Early Middle Ages.

Food in the Islamic Empire
Food in Central Asia
Middle Ages projects
Medieval Europe
Kidipede home page

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