Medieval Studies Food, Drink, and Diet
Constance B. Hieatt, Johnna Holloway
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 April 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 December 2010
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0038


Most of our information about this subject comes from the very end of the medieval period, the 14th and 15th centuries, the only time from which we have extensive written records. All that can be known about the earlier centuries comes from archaeology and medical texts, although the latter are not reliable sources of information about normal, everyday consumption of food and drink. Furthermore, the records of the later centuries mostly concern the households of the upper classes, and have little to say about the food and drink of the less well off. However, what records there are from earlier centuries suggest that medieval eating habits changed only very slowly, and some of the records in art suggest they hardly changed at all: the food served to the diners in the Bayeux tapestry hardly differs from that shown as served to countless notables in the centuries following. We have records of various sorts, which record charitable, and other, allowances to the poor. And for the better off, there are extensive records from the late period found in recipe collections; records of menus—most of the historical ones for special occasions like coronations, weddings, and Episcopal inductions, but also some suggested menus; and household records of purchases, and, in some cases, what foods were served on a day-to-day basis—which sometimes included what were served to the harvest laborers and others not necessarily included in the normal “household.” Further glimpses of eating and drinking, and sometimes cooking, are to be found in literary sources, but here again later works are far more informative than those of earlier periods: Chaucer, for example, has many references to food and drink, and even to the way cooks prepared the food, while Beowulf never mentions what food was served in the “mead hall,” although the drinks are mentioned many times. The present bibliography cannot attempt a guide to such literary references, but they are referred to frequently in many discussions of the subject. The art of the period is also an important source of information about food and dining customs: a good selection of such pictures will be found in many of the listed books. Most of the information here bears primarily on England and France, where the most work has been done. However, an attempt has been made to include material from elsewhere in Europe, even Scandinavia and eastern Europe, which are often excluded in discussions of the food of the West.

General Overviews

Most of the works included here cover a very broad variety of topics. Adamson 2004, Laurioux 2002, and Scully 1995 discuss what was eaten, by whom, and how it was prepared, among other things. Adamson 2004 includes a helpful “timeline” in the beginning of the book, and Scully 1995 provides the best inclusive discussion of the field. Santich 1999 is a very good introduction to the field, much longer than the number of pages suggests, since they are very large pages with three columns each. Henisch 2009 has a heavier emphasis on cooks and kitchens, with many illustrations. Albala 2006 is an introductory treatment dealing with Europe in general. Woolgar 1999 is limited to the “great households” and the later period, but has much useful information.

  • Adamson, Melitta Weiss. Food in Medieval Times. Food through History. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2004.

    Includes a section on regional cuisines and discusses the roles of religion and medical theories of the time in determining what food and drink was appropriate for whom, and when, with attention to the diet of the peasants and townspeople. Drinks are included.

  • Albala, Ken. Cooking and Dining in Europe 1250–1650. Greenwood Press Daily Life through History Series: Cooking Up History. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2006.

    Introductory volume and overview on what was eaten during this period, with recipes. Includes glossary, sources for unusual ingredients, and information on components of the banquets ranging from sweets to drinks to main dishes.

  • Henisch, Bridget. The Medieval Cook. Woodbridge, UK: Boydell, 2009.

    Basically a study of cooks and their activities, as found in historical and literary sources as well as in medieval art. Many well-chosen illustrations. Written primarily for the general public, this would be an excellent introduction for students new to the field.

  • Lambert, Carole, ed. Du manuscrit à la table: Essais sur la cuisine au Moyen Âge et répertoire des manuscrits médiévaux contenant des recettes culinaires. Montreal: Presses de l’Université de Montréal, 1992.

    Essays by twenty-five scholars on many aspects of the subject; some included under other headings here, all worth attention. Convenient one- or two- paragraph summaries of the articles, each in both English and French, are given in pages 293–313. For the “Répertoire,” see Hieatt, et al. 1992, cited under Culinary References.

  • Laurioux, Bruno. Manger au Moyen Àge: Pratiques et discours alimentaires en Europe aux XIVe et XVe siècles. La Vie Quotidienne Histoire. Paris: Hachette, 2002.

    Looks at the diversity of medieval European cuisine in various regions, table manners, and other matters, with a tendency to emphasize the ways in which medieval tastes and preferences differed from our own. A good introduction for those who can read French.

  • Santich, Barbara. “Medieval Cuisine” and “Medieval Cuisine: The Sources.” In The Oxford Companion to Food. 2d ed. Edited by Alan Davidson, 491–494. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

    A thoroughgoing introduction to the field, geographically wide-ranging.

  • Scully, Terence. The Art of Cookery in the Middle Ages. Woodbridge, UK: Boydell and Brewer, 1995.

    The most comprehensive treatment of the subject from a scholar with a particular interest in the medical background. Includes an extensive section on beverages (chap. 6) and discusses the training of a professional cook.

  • Woolgar, Christopher M. The Great Household in Late Medieval England. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1999.

    Contains detailed chapters called “Food and Drink” and “Cooking and the Meal,” and some interesting information on mealtimes and fasting practices in the chapter “The Rhythms of the Household.”

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