Apartment Food Hobos


Posted in Epic Movies by apartmentfoodhobos on August 14, 2007

So we were going to go see The Sword last night but instead got all wound up with a different, yet equally awesome sword….


Yes, we watched the epic film of the same name.

For those of us wondering what people were eating in the year 1000 in the Europe of old (me), here is the dirt:

Y1K was a superstitious, fearful time without science, technology or any of the culinary benefits the Romans enjoyed. Ten percent of the population of Y1K were nobility or clergy enjoying some bodily comforts. But life was extremely difficult for the other 90 percent who lived their lives close to the earth for sustenance and close to their farm animals for warmth in winter. They also shared the straw they slept on with lice and fleas.

The possibility of famine and starvation was always present and when crops failed, children might be sold into slavery or become victims of infanticide.

Of those who survived infancy, few lived longer than 40 years. If they didn’t die of accidents, infections and diseases, such as leprosy, smallpox and tuberculosis, they worked themselves to death. Still without the horse collar that kept horses from choking in harness, farmers who didn’t own oxen pulled plows themselves. Food historians estimate First Millennium peasants might have worked off 6,000 calories a day. The modern, average daily requirement is about 2,000 calories.

Their “staff of life” was flat, unleavened, whole-grain bread, usually eaten with broth. They also made cheese from the milk of a variety of animals. Much like the Victorians, beer and pork were also household staples. In fact, people drank beer or ale or cider for breakfast. Coffee, tea and chocolate weren’t as yet introduced.

And, when they could get it, they hashed and mashed the stringy pork or tough mutton or rubbery chicken (only after it had stopped laying eggs) into “soft,” curry-like dishes. Their teeth were worn to stumps from gnawing bones and munching coarse grains or else so full of cavities it was too painful to chew anything stiffer than peas porridge, a sticky mass of dried legumes they made into dumplings then steamed in a linen cloth hung from a hook above the ever-simmering soup.

Most kept poultry so they could count on (very small) eggs from their own flocks, as well as from the nests of any and all wild birds — from swans to sparrows.

They fished the rivers when they weren’t frozen and hunted deer and small game, adding whatever they had to the one large pot they owned. The only other kitchen utensils were a dagger-like knife, a ladle and a shallow, probably earthenware, frypan. They had no ovens and few Roman “cookbooks” had survived though even if they had, not many besides clergy could read.

There was no pasta, no potatoes, tomatoes or corn; no spinach, broccoli or brussels sprouts. But they had cabbage, spinach, watercress and kale, which they referred to as “herbs.” They had most of the root vegetables we know today, as well as onions and leeks, which they grew were supplemented with wild plants and grasses. These they foraged from local forests full of hungry bears and wolves also out foraging — sometimes for peasants.

There was no sugar or maple syrup with which to make desserts, but they enjoyed a porridge called frumenty, made from boiled wheat berries. It was served cold with cow’s or ass’s milk and honey.

Everyone in a household ate out of the same wooden trencher using unwashed fingers or a wooden spoon. The two-pronged fork, imported from Turkey, wasn’t known in Europe until 1071.