Jemma Gibson looks at the Medieval dining experience.
Food in the middle ages doesn’t sound like a particularly tasty topic-and if you were in the vast majority, it probably wasn’t. But, that isn’t to say that the stereotypical student couldn’t have survived.
Bread was baked in communal ovens in villages and eaten in abundance. It was usually made from rye or barley, and eaten with other staples like cheese and meat-indeed the ‘Ploughman’s Lunch’ was popular among workers.
A turning point occurred when crusaders invented the biscuit. This revolution of convenience surely made life a lot more bearable (as they continue to do so today).
However, perhaps the best thing to happen to cuisine was in fact the Black Death-as long as you survived of course- for there were far fewer people for food to be distributed among so even the poorest could buy a wider variety of foods including more meat.
There was, conversely a huge downfall to medieval dining: the frequency of fasting. Some religious traditions banned meat on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, as well as during Lent and Advent. In fact, it’s thought there were more days per year when meat was banned than when it was allowed.
Saying this, the methods used to preserve meat from one slaughter to the next were probably enough to put most people off anyway. While the wealthy were able to add spices to meat preserved in salt, the poor couldn’t afford such luxury so most had to get used to a strong taste of salt, smoke or vinegar.
The lack of variance, novelty of biscuits and communal oven facilities described in this glance at medieval cuisine certainly smack of student living as we know it today. Perhaps we aren’t so different after all.
Bethany Gent investigates fashion of the so called Dark Ages
The most common reaction when hearing the word ‘Medieval’ is to think of knights fighting gallantly and Courtly ladies, which is hardly surprising when it is depicted this way in popular Hollywood movies such as ‘Braveheart’ or ‘A Knight’s Tale’. However, there is a lot more to the medieval times than dashing chivalric princes and fair maidens and the glamorous clothing associated with them.
There have been many findings of ornate jewellery, brooches, belt buckles and shoulder clasps from the 6-8th centuries, which shows a particular example of Anglo-Saxon awareness of fashion and identity. Many of the items found at a particular burial site, the infamous Sutton Hoo, were made of gold and had complex and intricate designs, such as snake and bird heads.
The fashion of the Lords and Ladies of the day inevitably influenced those of a lower class, however much of it would have been far too expensive, so simple shapeless dresses of coarse woollen cloth held together with a plain belt or girdle would have been worn by the women, and for the men a similar tunic would have been worn, mainly of plain colours such as off-white, grey or brown as dyes would have been costly.
There was usually always a common standard of fashion and clothing throughout Europe in Medieval times, which varied from time to time according to particular custom of each country and race, although broadly speaking they would imitate the fashions and clothing of each other while still retaining a certain identity.
A comparison can be made between the heavy and massive appearance in Scandinavian clothing due to its weather conditions, the influence of antiquity on the prevailing grandeur of Italian dress, and the more elegant and proper clothing of the English court. This shows there is no reigning factor of continuity when describing Medieval clothing, and that there is much more to the fashion of the Middle Ages than meets the eye, or our cinema screens.