There is sufficient documentation on the medieval dietary practices of the nobility and ecclesiastical institutions, but, until now, we did not know what food the medieval peasantry consumed. A team from the University of Bristol has been able to examine the daily food of the inhabitants of a small village of West Cotton, in Northamptonshire, from the remains of some vessels.
These 73 worn-out pots were discovered three decades ago, when a group of archaeologists was digging in one of the oldest villages in England. They still retained remnants of their last meal, which has provided a fascinating insight into how everyday life could go for these people. Researchers at the University of Bristol have chemically extracted food waste from the clay of these pieces using a modern technique called organic waste analysis.
For the first time a combined molecular and isotopic approach of absorbed waste has been used, coming from a ceramic assembly 500 years ago. Its content reflects the importance in the diet of these people of products from ruminants and leafy vegetables that, surely, served to dress stews and stews, pillars of the medieval diet. Together with meat and cabbage stews, dairy, butter and cheese, known as the fats of the poor, formed the basis of their diet.
Stews and stews
“This confirms that pottery would probably have played an important role in medieval cooking, allowing slow cooking of casseroles and potajes,” the researchers write in an article published in the Journal of Archaeological Science.
Apart from a few documents and historical accounts, the discovery represents the first direct evidence of a medieval menu in England. And even though the real diets are quite well documented, until now, historians were not sure what the lower classes ate.
“The association between cabbage and stewed meat is particularly notable, as there are few references in other sources for peasant culinary practice and such a stew was not found in high-status kitchens,” the authors continue. “There is also some evidence of pig product processing, but, interestingly enough, it seems that fish did not stand out significantly in the medieval peasant diet . “
From these results and comparing them with the remains of medieval animals that were also found on the site, the team has been able to write a kind of peasant cookbook with very precise details about what they ate and how they killed and prepared it and how they removed their waste. “Too often in history the details, for example, food and clothing, of the everyday life of ordinary people are unknown,” says lead researcher Julie Dunne, a geochemist at the University of Bristol.
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