Food and Feastware of the Middle Ages

Food in the Middle Ages was not very dissimilar to what we have today, though there was a distinct difference in food of the rich and the poor, especially during harvest or extreme circumstances like famine.

What of medieval utensils then? It is quite ironic that notwithstanding evolution and modern-day sophistication, we still love to eat with our fingers. Our ancestors were high-level practitioners of that art. They had no choice. The fork came into its own only in the Renaissance period, in Europe. Spoons, which were made of wood or horn, were used mostly to serve food, as people preferred to consume soup directly from the bowl.

Personal daggers were to that period what forks are to the 21st century. People stabbed and cut meat with the knives. However, it is their disposable dishes or “trenchers” that has to be among the most ingenious of medieval “feastware.” Trenchers were made of slices of heavy bread and could be eaten with the meal. (Just consider an environment-friendly picnic without Styrofoam!)

Trenchers gradually gave way to pottery, silver and gold plates, even though the tasty bread that made up the trencher remained as a popular side dish.

The most widely used vessel for drinking was a “tazine,” which was about the size of a teacup and did not have a handle. Larger tumblers, also without handles, made from wood were also common.

The affluent owned drinking goblets, of gold and silver, which were too delicate for regular use. “Flagons” (massive mugs), less popular, were exclusively used for beer and ale. Then there were “Jacks,” lightweight mugs made of boiled leather, which were easy to carry.

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