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An overview of the stories

Comparison of early/mid and late medieval food



Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries

Louis VI the Fat (1108-1137)

Louis VII the Younger (1137-1180)

Philippe Auguste (1165 – 1223)

Louis VIII the Lion  (1223– 1226) 

Louis IX (St. Louis) (1226-1270)

These centuries were in general ones of increasing prosperity and structure for France, but the reigns of Philip II (Philippe Auguste) and Louis IX (St. Louis) were particularly notable. Philip's reign has been described as a second “rebirth” (after that of Charlemagne) and brought great prosperity to the country as well as a number of lasting changes (including new walls around Paris, parts of which still stand). Louis' time has been called “the golden century of Saint Louis”.

Overall, France at this point seemed well beyond the instability and upheavals of its early centuries.


The increasing luxuriousness of dining was suggested by attempts to restrict excess in this area. Elements began to appear which would become characteristic of what is now most well-known as “medieval food”. Pepper still seems to have been the dominant spice, but the Oriental spices – cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, garingal, mastic, etc. – were now widely available (to the affluent) and mentioned more often in relation to specific foods. Verjuice, the tart juice of a particular young grape, appears both as a product and an ingredient; verjus de grain (beer from young wheat) is also mentioned. The grape version resembles Persian ab-ghooreh and may have been introduced after the Crusades (though the Romans had omphacium, which was similar, but not mentioned in the centuries before this).

Texts increasingly began to record the food of the period. Sometime before 1257, an Italian who lived in France, Aldebrandin of Sienna, wrote a general work on health, Le Regime du Corps (“The Body's Regimen”) which gives both an idea of what foods were then eaten and in some cases how to prepare them.

Louis the Fat acquired land at the Champeaux (then outside Paris) to found the Halles (originally a textile market). Philippe Auguste built two buildings there and surrounded them with walls which were locked at night. Several later kings confirmed and extended the drapers' privileges.

Fairs (often granted by counts rather than the king) multiplied, with opportunities for exchanges of food. The clergy was not supposed to trade at fairs, but often did, taking advantage of their status to avoid paying rights.

St. Louis' cook (Isembert) was noted, but for his loyalty to the imprisoned king, not his cooking. He became rich and his son inherited his office.

The word “entremets” (then meaning an entertainment between meals) first appeared.

Poets mention varied soups: of purée, lard, vegetables, and gruel. In Brittany, only the last were eaten, with egg yolks, spices and saffron added.

Rents due lords included money and grains, as well as “regards” (regardamenta), smaller supplements which might consist of poultry, eggs or various forms of bread, as well as game birds or other items. Rents were sometimes given in lieu of former services, for one's home, for cattle, for pasturage, etc.


The number of butchers in Rouen was limited, in return for a payment on their part.

Beef tongues were popular enough to be demanded as rent in several old charters. White oxen were treated as special in Normandy, awarded as special payment or fine in certain cases.

Pigs were imported from England. Brittany was known for its pigs and cattle. Pigs continued to be fed in the woods, though some in Normandy had pig houses. Pigs were fed with peas, bran and barley and sometimes even meat. The first of a number of formal trials of pigs for eating babies is mentioned (several would be executed over subsequent centuries, sometimes being dressed in human clothing before being hanged). Pigs ran free in the Paris streets, even after Louis the Fat implemented the first of several (equally unsuccessful) laws against this after his son was killed when one startled his horse.

Blood sausage, then made with the blood of fowls, was declared unhealthy. It was later made with pigs' blood.

Sheep fed along salt flats (prés salés) were already known for their flavor. Residents on one abbey's land who had sheep of their own were each obliged to care for one of the abbey's and to give the abbey its fleece and lambs.

Butter is mentioned as a tithe in Normandy. Parisians favored the cheeses of Champagne, especially Brie. English cheese was often imported, even in Normandy.The Roman de Claris (started 1268) mentions cheese for roasting.

Royal households included poulterers to fatten poultry. Capons – castrated roosters – are mentioned, but not poulardes (“castrated” pullets), which only appeared in France in the sixteenth century. No other birds seem to have been treated in this way. Geese and suckling pigs were both stuffed with sage (and nothing else).

Peacock (prestigious but not always praised for its taste) is actually mentioned as appetizing; a poet wrote of a liar who loved lies as much as a hungry man loved peacock. Poets also praise the meat of heron, crane, and crow, and mention stork, swan, cormorant, and butor as well.

In 1170, Louis VII mentioned salted herring from Normandy in patent letters for the new “Company of Merchants by Water”, which would become so powerful in Paris that its ship symbol is still that of the city. The retailers who sold them became known as harengères ("herring-ers", very literally).

Fish were divided into fresh, salted and smoked, with different sellers for each. The sellers of salted fish – “marchands des salines” – were later known as forains (a word that today describes traveling entertainers). Other fish trades included the wagoners who brought fish and the retailers, who were divided by a statute into fish-sellers [poisonniers] who sold fresh fish and herring-sellers [harengers], who sold smoked and salted fish. The same statute names the different fish which came to Paris: salted mackerel, flounder, gurnards, rays, celerins [a type of sardine], salted or fresh whiting, fresh or salted cod, fresh, salted or smoked herring. Other fish did not make it to the capital, probably indicating that they were less prized. Villeneuve mentions among others eaten in France at this time the hog-fish, dog-fish, dolphin, red mullet, gurnet, sturgeon and the cuttlefish. Other fish eaten throughout France included: porpoise, spiny dogfish, goatfish, robin fish, windowpane, salmon, hake, sturgeon and cuttlefish.

Whale and porpoise meat was sold in Paris.

Etampes was known for its fish. Specialties of other regions were cited: eels of Maine, barbels of St. Florentin, pike of Châlons, loach of Bar-sur-Seine, pimpernau [bream? a type of eel?] of Eure, salmon of the Loire, trout of Andely, dace of Aise. shad of Bordeaux, conger eels of la Rochelle, sturgeons of Blaye, herrings of Fécamp, cuttlefish of Coutances, andcrayfish of Bar.

Mackerel was important enough that, in 1290, part of the Bishop of Auxerre's rent consisted of three thousand mackerel. In 1215, 500 herring were given to a hospital. In 1260, St. Louis granted 78,000 herring to various monasteries, hospitals and leprosariums. Twelfth century poets often mention salted eels.

Villeneuve says the taste for shellfish was particular to the French .

Hunting remained important both as a diversion and a proof of male prowess. Larded stag tongue is mentioned as a delicacy.


In a time of relative peace, a number of natural disasters – earthquakes, drought, famine – occurred.

Still, peace and prosperity overall led to a large population with a correspondingly larger need of land. St. Louis had vast tracts of land in Normandy cleared for cultivation. Monks often cleared land as well for its tenants, since this led to villages which then paid tithes.

In the 12th century, tillable land sold at an average of 93 (estimated nineteenth century) francs. In the first fourth of the thirteenth, this rose to 135 francs; in the next twenty-five years it reached 232 francs; that is, land prices tripled in 150 years, almost doubled in half a century. The last was the highest price land reached in all the Middle Ages.

A hectare of land within Paris on average cost 652 francs in the thirteenth century; by 1894, it cost 1,297,000. It was not quite three times the highest of land elsewhere. On the right bank, near the Louvre (outside the walls, where much land was still swamp) a hectare cost about 9 centimes the meter in 1212; on the left bank, near Notre-Dame-des-Champs, 22 centimes in 1285. A hectare outside the walls cost on average 625 francs from 1201 to 1250, 717 francs from 1251 to 1300.

Serfs were increasingly liberated. If tenants remained attached to the land, their relations with their lords were more clearly defined and they were less subject to arbitrary rules.
Farmers were often obliged to fertilize and marl land as part of their contract. Sometimes the collectors of tithes of straw were obliged to keep it until farmers had bought what they needed. Terms for marl might be set for long periods, such as every 15 or 18 years. Marled land was distinguished from unmarled land.

A number of collective tasks on estates were performed as parts of corvées, tasks owed to the lord which were apparently differentiated from the (typically individual) services given as rents in former times.

Beach sand was sometimes used as fertilizer, under the name of tangue. Gathering this was sometimes explicitly authorized, sometimes explicitly forbidden (because of its affect on salt flats). Later charters talked of “tangour roads” or “sanding roads”.

Marshland, which could, depending on the water level, provide pasture, fishing, thatch, peat, etc. was often subject to special clauses. Normans helped drain swamps in England early on, but do not seem to have had success at this point in their own marshes. Heath was not generally cultivated either, though some people were fined in Normandy for trying (probably on unauthorized land).

People began to cede certain rights of use in forests in exchange for receiving a portion of these for their own.

Garlic and onion were often mentioned as rents in Normandy.

A type of apple, celebrated in song, was called “Richard's”, after Richard I, who supposedly discovered it in a forest. Peaches are mentioned in an official document. The word aigrun was applied to a class of items which included chestnuts, walnuts and fruits with thick skins.

Poets of the time mention, as preferred in Paris: garlic from Gandeluz, shallots from Etampes, onions from Corbeil; blandereau apples from Auvergne, rateau apples and red apples; and the hativeau, caillou, saint-rieul and d'angoisse [“of anguish”] pears. Lombardy chestnuts, figs from Malta and grapes from (surprisingly) overseas were all cried in the streets of Paris.

In Alsace, at least three types of pears were known: royals, Regelsbiren and Gigilsbiren (the last common and cheap). In Strasbourg, 1 pound of figs was worth 1 pound of peas. In Alsace, the poor sold strawberries from the mountains.

Doctors recommended eating fruit at the start of a meal because they were said to be “cold” (unlike stews and spices, which supposedly heated the stomach). But poets already mention the custom of eating them after the meal was “de-served”; i.e., as dessert, after the meal. One man was sentenced to eat dry fruit as a penance (for killing someone).


The price of wheat went down through the start of the 13th century, then suddenly doubled after 1240.

A kind of three-grain maslin was mentioned called terceil, consisting of wheat, oats and either barley or standard maslin (rye and wheat).

Philippe Auguste released Paris bakers from the obligation of using the communal ovens (this and later liberties may have been intended in part to weaken the power of the nobility). Many in France were still required to use them and also to help with the upkeep of the millstones, lumber, etc. and (as applicable) the waterways around them.

St. Louis excused bakers and millers from military service and released cities from using communal ovens (with some exceptions). Paris bakers could sell bread on Sunday; those from beyond the city could only sell defective bread then.

Fourniers (“oven-ers”) became pannetiers (“bread-makers”) because of the bread they made; the royal officer in charge became the Grand-Pannetier (until the eighteenth century). In statutes, they were referenced as boulangers-talmeliers (“ball-makers”-sifters), only later known by the first. Round breads were sometimes called tourtes or tourteaux, names later found in the provinces.

Breads were now made in many different forms, many mentioned in charters, etc. of the time. These include pain primos [“first bread”; made for wagon drivers doing corvées], pain de Pape [“Pope's bread”], pain de cour [“court bread”], pain de la bouche [“bread for the mouth”, as opposed to trenchers, for plates], pain de Chevallier [“Knight’s bread”], pain d'Escuyer [“Squire's bread”], pain de Chanoine [“Canon's bread”], pain de salle pour les hôtes [“room bread for the guests”], pain de Pairs [“Peers' bread”], pain moyen [“middling bread”, or possibly half a loaf given to monks], pain vasalor or de servants [servants' bread], pain de valet [“valet's bread”], pain truset [apparently a superior bread, possibly the same as tribolet], pain tribolet [“good white bread”, weighing 7 ounces, given by lord to abbot], pain férez [“ironed bread”; that is, a waffle], pain maillau [“stained bread “ or bread costing 1 maille?], pain de malt [“malt bread”], pain choesne [white bread, household bread], pain chonhol [possibly corrupt for "pain curial", that is, prelate's bread], pain denain [dwarf's bread?], pain salignon [salty bread], and pain siméniau [a bread - or possibly pastry - from Picardy].

Biscuits were eaten in some monasteries, since they saved time and lasted longer. They were sometimes broken up with a special weight and put on vegetables.

In Alsace, bread was often mixed with black coriander, poppy and especially cumin. The best bread was from Strasbourg and Schwindratzheim, the latter's bread being less mixed with aromatic grains than was common in the region.

Bread bakers and pastry makers (then “waferers”) were now distinct. Tavernkeeps who made pastries (at this time mainly meaning pasties, rather than the sweet baked goods made by the wafer-makers) were given statutes as pastry-makers.(patissiers). Pastries became more and more differentiated. Échaudés (“scalded”) pastries began to be mentioned. Also mentioned around this time were the patés of Paris, the flans of Chartres, the tarts of Dourlens and flamiches (today an onion tart that is a specialty of Picardy) and galettes, the latter sold hot in the streets of Paris, as were waffles and wafers (then like miniature waffles). Hot wafers, warm galettes, hot tarts, rissoles, échaudés, hot flans, cakes with beans [surprises in them], and simeniau breads were all cried in the streets of Paris.

Pastries were sometimes made in obscene shapes.

Beignets are mentioned as familiar.

A cake with a bean in it (like the later gateau du roi) is mentioned as a treat eaten in ordinary times.


Bordeaux was exporting wine. Orleans wine was prized. Wines were mentioned of mulberry, dates and pomegranates (reflecting Arab influence?). Roses and sage are among the items added to grape wine. A French engineer's ornate hydraulic machines for wine is mentioned. Communal (banal) wine-presses received rent of up to one third of wine pressed there; some lords began to convert this right to a monetary rent. Spiced wines (piment, clairet, hypocras) are increasingly mentioned.

In 1152, 1253 and 1254 there were wine shortages (implying other agricultural problems as well).

Cider was increasingly mentioned in Normandy; wine production fell away as competition from other areas increased with change in French borders. Wild fruit was often gathered for this. “Apple verjuice”– a cider made from green apples – was later mentioned.

At the same time the number of breweries in Normandy greatly increased. The beer of Cambray (near Flanders) was considered the best. Cervoise was still made under that name and was variously said to be made from wheat, oats, barley, maslin (mixed rye and wheat) or draguées (today meaning candies but then grains, like lentils, given to horses). (Since most of these were inferior to wheat, they may have been used to avoid diverting that grain from bread-making.)

Spices were sometimes added to beer. “Godale” (from “good ale”?) was mentioned as being stronger than beer (godailler meant hard drinking). Cervoisiers were forbidden to add pitch to beer (recalling its use in wines from Gaul.)

Hydromel was still being made, with one part honey to twelve parts water. Aromatic herbs were now added, resulting in a drink called borgérase. Monks drank this on feast days; the rules of the Cluny order refer to a potus dulcissimus (“extremely sweet drink”) which may have been the same thing.

Villeneuve was the first to describe spirits extracted from wine (though a Florentine, Thadeus, is said to have used these in remedies). For a long time it was strictly regarded as medical and sold by apothecaries and chemists. He also mentions a flavored spirit (eau d'or).

Villeneuve also discussed the idea that getting drunk once or twice a month was good for you, discouraging this except for people on a poor diet (!) and then not to excess.


At the start of the period, pepper was still the most prized spice and was demanded as a tribute in certain cases. Some people would soak pepper with the foam of melted lead to make it heavier. But poets began to increasingly mention cinnamon, clove, nutmeg and ginger. In 1163, an abbot sent a request to the king accompanied with several spices (all imported): sumac, cinnamon, cardamom, clove, nutmeg, zedoary, celtic nard, cubeb. One poem mentioned ginger, garingal, saffron (“to make towels yellow”), pepper, cumin, and “other spices” (as well as figs, dates and almonds).

Spices were increasingly added to drinks, candy etc.

The word “spices” (epices) often referred to various candied treats, rather than aromatic spices. Thomas of Aquinas said that these did not break a fast if used moderately. These were often given as “tips” to judges by the winning party. St. Louis forbade judges to receive, within a week, more than ten sous' worth of spices. Philip the Fair, forbade them to accept more than they could consume daily in their house without waste.

Complex sauces already existed; for instance, the cameline (cinnamon-based) sauce mentioned by Aldebrandin.

Salt mines were mentioned in Lorraine.

Dijon mustard was already praised.

Sugar (sucre/çucre ) was increasingly found in France (and often used in medicine). Marzipan was made with pistachios, almonds and sugar. Preserves (made with sugar) begin to appear. Honey continued to be gathered, often by special serfs called bigres.


The corporations (guilds) which had been developing informally for over this period began to be mentioned formally. Louis VII mentioned the head of the butchers' corporation (and later kings confirmed the prior existence of this corporation). Bakers under Louis IX claimed that their corporation had received rights under Philip-August, who also mentioned several other corporations. The most extensive and explicit mention of corporations came under Louis IX, when, in 1268, many received specific statutes from Etienne Boileau, establishing a fundamental structure for French production and commerce for centuries and documenting the responsibilities of many of the trades mentioned.

In 1188, a council at Mans restricted everyone “without exception” to two services per meal.

In 1215, Innocent III's Fourth Lateran Council said specifically that scoter duck was forbidden on fish days, but various popular ideas that the duck had been born in various ways – out of pine sap, from seashells, etc. – continued to justify, many thought, eating it then.

Grants of herring show that fasting was now enforced in hospitals as well.

In 1237? Gregory IX forbade eating meat hash as a meatless dish.

St. Louis allowed bourgeois to hunt as well as nobles, but they had to give the local lord a piece of the meat. (Presumably this only applied in certain areas, since later suits show that nobles did not yet have a general monopoly on hunting elsewhere.)

In Alsace, fishing rights were sometimes limited.

Curates in Paris had the right to demand several pieces of meat for performing weddings (though they were supposed to wait until after the nuptial blessing).

A local statute specified "If someone makes cakes, or flans, or other such things, which are harmful to the town, the mayor may forbid anymore being made.” The same charter specifies that only bread of 1 obole could be made.


Food for French crusaders on Fourth Crusade:

Boiled beef and salted bacon, garlic, flour, broad beans and "a strong sauce" (mustard?).

Food given by congregation to heretic preachers in Languedoc:

Eel, fish pâté, a salmon head, salmon pâté, a gourd full of wine, “cakes” called fogasse [today fougasse is a type of regional bread].

Distribution from legacy in Savoy:

For the poor: a quarter loaf of rye bread with a piece of cheese.

For general population: salt pork and chickpeas.

Meals for canons in Basel over several days:

1.Hams; that is the feet and head of the pig in brine or in a "jelly of young pigs".

2. The innards, prepared in nine different ways; that is, three sorts of boudin sausage (Magenwurst, Lungenwurst, Bratwurst); andouilles; leg, tongue, filet, cheek, all well peppered;

3. Smoked beef on a bed of cabbage

4. Fat bacon from a fat pig, and the bacon of a young pig, with pepper;

5. Roast and grilled pork.

6. Boar garnished with venison.

7. Fat bacon with strong mustard.

8. A dish of millet with eggs, milk and pig blood.

9. Larded and roasted pork shoulder.

On Easter, the beef was replaced with a roasted pork shoulder with vinegar, the boar by quarters of lamb garnished with eggs fried in lard.

On fast days at Easter and Christmas, this was replaced with salmon seasoned with jellied brine, cod with mustard, salmon cooked with oil and leeks, trout in vinegar, peppered pike, and bleaks fried in oil. With this were wafers, fruit, three pounds of ordinary bread and a "cloister bread" (panis claustralis) (which may merely have been a whiter bread).

A 13th century abbot's meal in Lorraine

"He had arranged the dinner service as follows: what was needed for washing was given and, during this operation, skillful servants set the tables. The abbot sat down and indicated the guests' places; then the salt cellars, knives and spoons came in, the bread and the wine, then the viands; the first service came in with chatting among individuals. Minstrels, dancers and jugglers came in to stir up the company; they were followed by servants refreshing the wines and viands. Then the fruit was brought in. The dinner finished the tablecloths and the scraps were taken off, the tables taken down, then washing materials were brought in...."

Rations for workers building church in Alsace

In a good year, garlic and as much bread as they wanted during the week. On Sunday, meat and "everything else in abundance".

Pay for stonecarver near St. Omer

1 sterling (coin), bread and a bowl of broad beans.

Pay for a carpenter at a Paris abbey:

White and brown bread, broad beans, wine; meat on feast days.

Food from abbey to man and his wife (for life):

Large loaf, two small loaves, “the convent's drink” or beer or cider; a plate of meat three days a week, other days, six eggs; in Lent, four herring; every month a bushel of peas.

Aldebrandin - recommended preparations for health:

Pheasant meat

And the right seasoning with which it must be eaten is cameline sauce in which there is enough cinnamon and cardamom.”

Peacock (and crane) meat

...If in summer, it is appropriate they be killed one day before, and if it is in winter, let them be three days dead, and after if one must eat them, ... the seasoning is black pepper.”


...But eat it seasoned with vinegar, and pepper, and ginger, and cinnamon, and mint, and other such things.”

June 16, 2012