Feeding the Masses: Food for the Common Folk During the 16th Century

Feeding the Masses: Food for the Common Folk During the 16th Century

This is a class structured for both a discussion and a hands on demonstration of a selection of dishes the typical yeoman farmer would have eaten throughout the agricultural year.


If you are looking for this class after the Myrgenfeld Cooking Collegium, thank you for taking my class! I’m still working on getting everything up and written out for this one, so your patience is appreciated. Check back for a completed class later. Good Day.


The Context:

Within the Society for Creative Anachronism, we enjoy experimenting with medieval recipes and trying out the flavor pallets of the many times and cultures that existed throughout the period of time we study. Often, we look at various manuscripts that have been written by head cooks within either a royal court or noble household. These are foods rich with exotic spices, meats, and desert subtleties. They make a fantastic basis for our own feasting within the SCA, but what about the rest of medieval society? What did the other 97% of society eat at any given time? This class seeks to explore that question on a generalized level. What did the average medieval person eat?

For the sake of this class, we will base our discussion around the lifestyle of a yeoman farmer sometime after the 14th century in western Europe. This places our family among the vast numbers of peasantry, but with a comfortable status above common laborers as well as land to farm that they are most likely renting from the local nobility (either minor or major gentry) or the nearby monastery (who had vast holdings and rented out land to be farmed/grazed/etc.). Our family most likely has a decent house and employs several farm laborers (some permanent, some temporary for harvest times), it’s not a bad life. They have fields of cereal crops (wheat, barley, oats, and peas depending on the region); large gardens for herbs and vegetables; as well as an assortment of livestock that provided meat, dairy, hide/wool, and cash income. While it sounds like times of plenty, everything that they grew not only had to feed their own family but also the laborers under their employ every single meal all year long – without any sort of modern preservation methods or failsafe. Cyclical patterns of starvation happened, and people did quite literally starve to death. One bad harvest, and you might not make it. But enough about that.

A Note About The Food:

The recipes prepared during this class partially reflect the highly seasonal nature of food within the agricultural year, the regional differences of medieval cuisine, and what I can successfully cook and talk about within two hours over an open fire/brazier. It is worth noting that while we have a stable supply of fruits, vegetables, and meat year around within our modern society, we have less variety of foods within our diet than the typical medieval person. Some of these, let’s call them, heritage varieties, are now becoming more available in seed form within the US. Which means that the medieval minded gardener can now grow exciting vegetables like skirret, angelica, and rocket….

To be continued with pottage…