Meat was critical to survival during the Middle Ages

Old booksDuring the Middle Ages in Europe, meat was relatively plentiful yet still depended heavily on one’s place in society. The Catholic Christian church dominated Europe during this Middle Age period and declared that certain days, especially Friday’s, were to be days on which no meat was consumed. Despite this, most people enjoyed meat regularly and European rivers were always teeming with fresh fish available to everyone.

  • The wealthy that lived in manors and castles, had, for the most part, their own fresh supplies of meat, fish and poultry. Game from nearby forests on their lands was plentiful and varied and included deer and wild boar as well as smaller game such as rabbits and squirrels. The wealthy could well afford a farmyard full of various livestock that included beef cows, sheep, goats, as well as chickens and pigs. Nearby rivers and lakes provided them, also, with a multitude of fish in their diets. Meat stocks were butchered and consumed on the same day. If there were leftovers from a meal or a feast, they were taken into the nearby town and passed along to the townspeople or the poor.
  • If meat had to last a few days before a big feast, it was often transported from the forest and heavily salted to make it last for several days. There were, also, proper manuals used by butcher’s and others for the proper stripping away of the top meat that had gone bad so as to make the most of the still good meat that was left.
  • The peasantry rarely ate meat, especially fresh meat. Generally, what wild game they wanted had to be poached from nearby forests that belonged to a wealthy lord as did the fish from the local rivers. They had to eat it that day or risk being caught and likely put to death. There were cows and sheep, of course, but they were usually saved for a feast day when there was a large gathering because the animals were far too large to be enjoyed every day. Chickens, of course, were everywhere in the European Middle Ages. Mostly, the poor ate a grain based porridge with plenty of vegetables on a daily basis with the occasional chicken that was consumed and turned into soup.