Cooking and eating

Food was cooked in pots with lids by the hearth, roasted on spits, stewed in an iron cauldron suspended over the fire, grilled, boiled, fried, steamed or broiled.* There is documentary and archaeological evidence for cookware such as jugs, kettles, pans, mortars and  sieves.  There was probably always something stewing in the pot, which could be added to with whatever came to hand, and which provided something to offer to guests, whenever they might appear at the doorway.

ovenOvens for baking bread or cooking meat seem to have been housed in communal baking-houses, so that loaves and pies would have to be marked to indicate their owners. Richer families had their own ovens, cooks and servants.

Food was eaten from wooden bowls or plates, or possibly from knifebread ‘trenchers’.  It was eaten with knives, fingers and spoons, but forks were unknown to the Anglo-Saxons. People drank from wooden mugs, drinking horns for the feast, or even glass goblets for those who could afford them.

The evidence suggests there were two main meal-times in the day, around noon and in the evening. They were communal occasions, and snacking secretly on one’s own, or between meals, was frowned on.  There were plenty of feast-days during the year, which needed careful preparation. Other feast-days might be at the lord’s expense, where the whole village ate and drank together.

family eating mealGrain could be stored in barns, and threshed and ground as needed through the year, but more perishable food could be preserved by drying, smoking or salting.

For the typical Anglo-Saxon family, most daily work was directed towards having enough food to get through the year. Skeletal remains suggest their diet was a healthy one – by necessity rather than by choice – but if things went wrong, there was a real risk of starvation.

*cooked over hot coals