Medieval Diet by Erin Kautza


Dig it out from under fires. The bread, thin, hard as blades, eaten when and while saturated. Mutton juice. Seepage of marrow. South of Paris, a wild rumor of leavened loaves white as mice. Still, rye becomes the tonic, rising from its station. Bad blood (plenty) scavenged with wheat. New dawn artichoke held high. A mutant thistle. Just wait: potatoes.

Fruit-Vegetable-Nut Meats

Senlis boasts rare cabbages exhaling perfume headier than musk. Soup it. Ferment it. Rub a leaf behind an ear and lean toward unwashed suitors. Melons appear. Currants too, black, black and painful red. Cucumbers, plentiful, and lentils. Both unwholesome: one forcing French fevers, the other, cold-sweat nightmares. Turnip is the thing. Peas and peas and peas. Heralded lettuces. Small feral cherries. Green and golden pears, plum, apple, but quince wins. Glossing meats. Jellied in jars. A right hand man. The raspberry remains untamed. Citrus fruit fails at first, a boon for scurvy, but crates still roll from Portugal in waves. Pence for a paper cone of steaming chestnuts. Almonds, slightly out of reach, milked. A sweet, buff thickener. Gauls acclimatize grapes, little silent nods toward Italy. Sun-shrunk into mid-winter delicacies. A pocketful for the carriage and key to a comfortable pantry. The peasants stink of onion.

Beef/Pork/Goat/Poultry/Dipping Into Warrens

Ham, boiled sausages, hoof-black pudding: wide swaths of hornbeam, of oak, protect and produce salted swine for masses. Some still suckling, whole. Some struck down, impaled for the spit. Work fattening into the calendar. Every family must. Normans, however, betray a bovine bent. Cleaner, they say. Three upstanding citizens must witness a heifer’s last warmth, the surge of life, before those long throats are smoothed for slitting. Butchery: an extraordinary privilege, a high station.
     Turtledove pie. Also, legions of force-fed geese cough up fatty livers, lending particular grease. In addition: common swan (milling, ornery), peacocks, falcon-hunted pheasant and impotent capons. The most beautiful birds redressed after roasting in their own cured skins, feathers fanned.
     Hare trumps rabbit. Wild is the prize. Heavily peppered blood sauces showcase purple meat. In ale and sour milk: a soused sheep’s head. Goat and kid, less popular. Tough. Venison is completely out of reach without a poach. As is anything larger than the smallest rabbit in the chase. Punishable by mutilation.

The Fishes

Friday, wipe the table of red meats. The Catholic Church deemed a frog a fish, so if one must have a leg, recognizable joints, there they are. Otherwise, haul out the white flesh of: bottom-feeders, trout, carnivorous pike, the highly esteemed barbel. Whiting, eel, salted steak of whale. For the coarser classes, dried codfish that must be beat with hammers. Bream in the moat. Everything caught more easily in stagnation. A tin full of mackerel blazes new trade routes. A lamprey and a lamprey. Technically, parasitic. Cockles. Pre-pearl oysters. Mussels will have to wait.


Hand-churned. Poured animal butters turned semi-solid in earthenware. Cloves of garlic calm rancidity. A forced love of the curdled. Edam, beige and mild, from Belgium. Champagne and Brie: bring out your cheeses! Salt it all.

Ovate: Pre-Birth

Scramble. Or, jumble. Fry heavily in heavy pans with above. Much later, rich golden yolks showcased in brioche tartlets. Later still: soufflé. The dramatic rise, the inevitable fall. To preserve: coat in slaked lime, ash, salt. Bury in shallow graves for 100 days. Unearth, chop, and ignore the pervasive ammonia. A good egg should sink.

The Sugars

Milled sugarcane up top near crowns, clean white, and dark raw honey down below. Syrup. Syrups. Fermented mare’s milk. Alcohol – barley wine, mulled blackberry, perry, ale after ale — for one and for all. See also: Black Death.

Seasonings: “For Christ and Spices!”

From Tripoli to Essex, a hobbled pilgrim with a stolen bulb hidden in a hollow staff set England on fire for saffron. The most delicate auburn filaments! The most valuable crocus. A horse for a pound. A mere hangover cure in Egypt, stuffed into pillows. On lesser tables: salt, salt, wild mustard, salt. The expansive set boasted ginger, cinnamon, tawny galangal, cloves and sandalwood powder. Twin Indian monsoons produced the best pepper, a fact that outraged Da Gama only after he begged a stalk on the sly. Centuries later, a hundred drowned sailors pulled up with pocketfuls of peppercorns. Portable value. A lust stoked past insatiable. In its place, Grains of Paradise for fragile systems. In another part of the world, anise and marjoram cured the innards of worthy dead. Cassia kept skin intact. Despite popular belief, there were many other reasons to overuse spice than cloaking rot.

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