My Hood College students have hosted two medieval feasts: English 253 in November 2011 and English 318/518 in November 2013. Here is some info about these events and medieval feasting in general.
It’s a widely-held misconception that medieval folks had no interest in table manners. This is simply not true! Yes, they did eat with their fingers (and, if you attend a feast hosted by my students, so will you!), but napkins and bowls of clean water were provided at feasts so that guests could clean up before, during, and after the meal. In fact, forks were thought to be an affectation of people whose hands simply weren’t clean enough to touch food.
Seating and service arrangements at a feast were highly organized. Where you sat depended on your status, your age, your popularity, and your manners. The Lord and the most important guests sat first, and then everyone else was seated. The Lord was served first, but no one ate anything until all had been served.
At our feasts, the food is served buffet-style to allow our guests to sample the dishes that appeal most to them. However, our distinguished guests are served first, and we observe proper medieval etiquette as much as possible.
It might seem that eating at a medieval table called for nothing more than knowing how to use a knife, spoon and fingers (forks had yet to come). In fact the process was as fraught in terms of proper behaviour as any Victorian dinner party. Far more than today, eating and drinking provided a primary framework for conversation and conviviality, and the importance of every gesture at table was thus enhanced.
(Roy Strong, Feast: A History Of Grand Eating, 2002).
If your knowledge of medieval food is based on the giant turkey legs and funnel cakes served at a Renaissance Fair, you will likely be surprised by the food that was served at our feast.
While some great medieval banquets had up to seven courses, with 20 or more dishes in each course, the norm for a English feast was three courses. Each of the courses could have a mixture of meat, fish, and vegetable dishes, and sweets and savoury foods were served side-by-side. The kind of meal that we are accustomed to today, which begins with a light “appetizer” or salad before the main course and ends with a sweet dessert, was not common until much later. Rather, medieval chefs believed that a balance of flavors and types of food enhanced the eating experience.
At our feasts, we serve a variety of medieval foods. All are prepared with traditional ingredients, but modern cooking methods are alwasys used to ensure food safety.
Many medieval recipes are vegetarian and vegan, so there is something for everyone at a medieval feast.
Here are some sample dishes from our menu. If you’d like to learn more about the recipe, just click the link.
savories – meatless
Makerouns (Medieval Mac and Cheese)
Chyches (Roasted Chickpeas) Vegan
Lens at hordeo (Lentils and Barley) Vegan
savories – poultry, meat, and fish
Tartes de chare (Pork Pie)
Bokenade (Stewed Chicken)
Esicium ex Carne (Chicken and Cheese meatballs)
grains and breads
Cruste Rolle (Pan-cooked bread)
Daryoles (Strawberry and Cream Pie)
Honey Nut Candy Vegan
Pommesmoille (Apple Pudding) Vegan
what medieval people didn’t eat
Many of our most common foods today were completely unknown to the medieval English palate. Foods like potatoes, bell peppers, bananas, peanuts, tea, coffee, cranberries, tomatoes, and yes, turkey, were later additions to the European diet, thanks to trade and colonization.
want to learn more?
There are some great resources about medieval food and feasting online. Two helpful sites, with lots of recipes, menus, and serving tips, are Gode Cookery and Medieval Cookery.