FRENCH FOOD BEFORE TAILLEVENT
the Short (752–768
[co-ruled with Charlemagne] (768–771)
the Pious [or Debonaire or Fair] (814-840]
II the Stammerer (844-875)
the Bald (840-877)
the Fat (885-888)
of Paris (888-898)
III the Simple (893-922)
V the Lazy (986-987)
Pepin the Short's grandson,
Charles, established so effective a monarchy that his dynasty –
the Carolingians – bears his name and he himself was called
“Charles the Great” - Charlemagne (Carolus Magnus).
Ultimately he ruled, as Holy Roman Emperor, over most of Europe.
His reign constituted a “renaissance” after the
decline of the Merovingian period, but his successors were less
successful and his grandsons divided up the empire, leaving France
much reduced. Meanwhile Viking incursions and other disasters
further weakened the country.
Over subsequent generations the
area ruled by the French kings grew smaller and their rule less
certain. By the time Hugh Capet, a powerful noble, assumed power
in 987, he ruled over an area of about 400 square miles and the
rest of the country was divided into numerous fiefdoms or was part
of other nations.
A wealth of information exists on
the agricultural products and even some customs of Charlemagne's
own time (too much to present at all comprehensively here), but
frustratingly little on specific dishes, spices, etc. Information
is far sparser on subsequent reigns.
Charlemagne himself ate simply
(four services and a roast), but could entertain lavishly when
required. He also had ample contact with Byzantine, Persian and
Arab cultures, all of which had complex cuisines. This and passing
mention of ornate meals suggests that cuisine remained very
complex (at least for the rich) in his time and probably still
made use of various spices; but virtually no specific meals or dishes are recorded.
Continued use of garum and
specifically Roman spices suggests the persistence of (probably much
declined) Roman cooking. But already at the end of the period
Hincmar, a French bishop visiting the East, spoke with disgust of
garum, which is not mentioned after this time (until Rabelais
tried to recreate it).
Soups, mentioned previously but
rarely, are mentioned more.
One later author said that on
feast days monks ate such delicacies as pies with peppered meats,
eels with eggs, lampreys, fish stuffings beaten in a mortar, pike
with black pepper, beaten milk, flans, roasted pork, all with wine
and hypocras. (To verify with period sources..)
The senechal (later administrator
of a region) managed a great household, much like a head butler.
The hunters reported to him and administered game stocking, etc.
Falconers and a “bottler” (responsible for drink, not
then in glass bottles) similarly reported to the senechal. He
could also direct the actual service of a meal.
In 793 and 868, famines were said
to have led to cannibalism; in 821 continual rain ruined crops and
led to little wine, sour and flat; in 843, unrest led to
desperation, such as people mixing flour with dirt.
Louis the Pious is described as
sitting on couches (Roman style) for an official meal. His
tablecloth was laid over fleece. Hands
were washed before meals, but napkins are now mentioned as well.
MEAT, DAIRY, FISH AND GAME
Meat on Charlemagne's estate was
to be taken from lame but healthy cattle (others were reserved for
work). Fattened cattle and
pigs were kept for both tallow and lard.
meat of a hare was said to be good for dysentery and its gall,
mixed with pepper, a cure for pains of all sorts.
anecdote tells of Charlemagne eating parsley-ed cheese.
'ornamental birds' – peacocks, pheasants,
ducks, pigeons, partridges, and turtle-doves – were probably
also eaten. Among other things, this shows the continuity of peacock as a royal food across the centuries. Fattened
geese and (more) chickens were kept as well.
of whales by Flemish fishermen is described using spears and
and buffalo were still hunted in France.
After a hunt (by Louis the Pious),
a meal was held in a hunting lodge built of branches and covered
with cloth. Fatty entrails of the slain animals were roasted and
served. The animals killed included stags, bears, does, and boars.
is probably during this period that the mortarboard plow and the
three-field system of rotation came into general use in France.
The latter implied the increased use of legumes.
known to the Gauls, seems to have fallen away and carrying it was
resisted as a new obligation by tenants in 864. Medieval peasants
soon used a great deal of it, distinguishing between black and
white marl, and the names of both localities and families reflect
this. In practice, the word referred to a wide range of
substances, peat among them.
Grown in Charlemagne's gardens (translations and identifications vary): Fenugreek, costmary,
sage, rue, southernwood, cucumbers, pumpkins, gourds, kidney-bean,
cumin, rosemary, caraway, chick-pea, squill, gladiolus, tarragon,
anise, colocynth, chicory, ammi, sesili, lettuces, spider's foot,
rocket salad, garden cress, burdock, penny-royal, hemlock,
parsley, celery, lovage, juniper, dill, sweet fennel, endive,
dittany, white mustard, summer savory, water mint, garden mint,
wild mint, tansy, catnip, centaury, garden poppy, beets,
hazelwort, marshmallows, mallows, carrots, parsnip, orach,
spinach, kohlrabi, cabbages, onions,
leeks, radishes, shallots, cibols, garlic, madder, teazles, broad
beans, peas, coriander, chervil, capers, clary. and house-leeks.
audits of specific estates: Lily, putchuck (costus), mint,
parsley, rue, celery, libesticum [ligusticum] sage, savory,
juniper, leeks, garlic, tansy, wild mint, coriander, scullions,
onions, cabbage, kohlrabi, betony
Apple, pear, plum, sorb, medlar, chestnut and peach; filberts,
walnuts; quince, hazel, almond, mulberry, laurel, pine, fig, nut
GRAINS AND BAKED GOODS
Charlemagne's estate inventories
mention wheat, oats, barley, rye and spelt.
In 794, the price of bread and
wheat was regulated.
Bread was still referred to only
as “pain”, without differentiation (beyond the
grain used). It was long-lasting enough to be given as a rent by
serfs (and simple enough to be made by them). Charlemagne's own
cooks made “works of fine flour” – meaning
better breads? Pastries? Rye bread was mentioned for servants.
Biscuit – twice baked bread
for travel, etc. – was also mentioned.
Communion wafers and pain benit
(better bread given by congregant) were the first signs of baking
beyond breadstuffs; that is, of the basis for pastry and cake. In
862 ingredients for a pastry were specified: wheat, eggs, honey.
(It may be that some Roman ideas of pastry persisted; but if so
these did not survive into later centuries.)
In the ninth century, a. monastery
got thirty flans a year. Flan (formerly a flat cake) may now have
been slightly raised and filled (like pizza).
stewards are to see to it that no one dares to crush the grapes
with his feet”. The wine press may have been new. Grapes
were probably brought to the press straight from the vine (not
Hops are mentioned in association
with malt, but their use in beer is not yet specifically recorded.
brought mash to the palace along with brewers capable of making
cervoise (which therefore – lacking hops – probably
did not keep). Cervoise was also delivered pre-made however.
cider, perry or any other suitable beverage” was kept ready
for the emperor. An audit of one estate mentions mulberry wine,
cooked wine, and mead.
allowed monks “a honey potion”.
SPICES, HERBS AND OTHER SEASONINGS
Charlemagne was given large
amounts of Eastern spices by Persian ambassadors; a visitor to his
palace spoke of “spiced” dishes. One anecdote hinges
on a rat being preserved in “aromatics”.
There is evidence of the import of
cinnamon, nard, and clove, but pepper was becoming the dominant
One of the spices grown on
Charlemagne's estate was putchuck (costus), which may or may not
have been the actual Indian spice, but presumably was thought to
be (by its name). Costus and nard, two characteristically Roman
spices, would soon disappear from lists of French spices.
Garum was still used but sometimes
was made in France. One period recipe survives: “Take fish,
salt, anise, stir it each day, mix in herbs: mint, fenugreek,
laurel, sage, etc. All this must be half-cooked, taken off the
fire, strained, then kept in tightly closed vessels.” (This
is very different from the Roman version.)
for commoners: Pork fat, vinegar, and mustard; even
nominally vegetarian monks might flavor greens with pork fat. The earlier use of honey on vegetables may have persisted but is not mentioned.
STRICTURES AND STRUCTURES
Charlemagne listed foods for fast
days: “Vegetables, fish, cheese, butter, honey, mustard,
vinegar, millet, panic, dried and green herbs, radishes, turnips,
Charlemagne himself “bent”
the rules for Lent. But his laws for the Saxons prescribed death
for anyone who failed to keep the fast . This has been cited as
saying he made death the penalty for not observing fasting, but
the rule was limited to the Saxons (who had been a thorn in his
side; and even for them it allowed exceptions).
Keeping fast days became more
regulated. In 797 Theodulf allowed eggs and milk during fast days;
in 817 a Council at Aix-la-Chappelle forbade poultry to monks
except at Easter and Christmas; most people continued to regard
birds as “fish”. The council acknowledged the
difficulty of getting oil in regions where butter was forbidden as
seasoning during Lent, etc., and allowed the use of animal fat or
lard “juice” in its place.
The same council forbid monks from eating fruit and greens (their ordinary fare) between meals.
(not always approved by the Church) laid out strictures such as
these: a wounded stag touched by a wolf, dog, bear or fox was not
to be eaten; if a chicken drowned in a well, it was to be emptied;
if certain small animals fell in a barrel without dying, the wine
had to be purified with holy water; if the animal died, it could
not be drunk at all; oil or honey contaminated by an animal could
be used for lighting or medicine; a dead fish in a fish pool was
not to be eaten; pigs and hens which had touched a human cadaver
were to be thrown to the dogs and not eaten or used to breed, but
a fish in the same case could be so used.
Christians were forbidden to eat
Jewish unleavened bread. (In the East, where everybody ate
unleavened bread, this was problematic and had to be clarified as
meaning only the bread used in Jewish rites.)
Saxons who ate an accused witch's
flesh were to be punished with death.
Charlemagne forbade sworn
associations of any sort, probably including nascent guilds. But
in 831 the St. Riquier Abbey already collected rents from trades
as groups (bakers, butchers, winemakers, taverners, etc.), showing
a de facto organization.
Fines distinguished between nobles
SAMPLE MEALS OR LISTS
Bishop's ornate feast (which
went well beyond the emperor's and embarrassed the latter's
of every shape, filled with diverse drugs and perfumes [probably
meaning spices], and crowned with herbs and flowers which had all
the brilliance of precious stones and the shine of gold, and
spread a vivid scarlet. On their side, pastry-makers, butchers,
cooks, pork butchers prepared everything which could stimulate the
appetite of stomachs already full, and put into this an art which
was never used in the meals of the great Charles.”
Supplies for missi (royal
Under Charlemagne (echoing
Constantine's specifications; i.e., some of this may have been
White bread, wine, cervoise,
bacon, butcher's meat, pigs, suckling pigs, sheep, lambs, geese,
pheasant, chickens, eggs, oil, garum, honey, vinegar, cumin,
pepper, costus, clove, spikenard, cinnamon, mastic, dates,
pistachios, almonds, salt, oil, vegetables and grains.
Under Louis (817)
(specified to limit abusive demands):
Bread, pigs, 1 suckling pig,
drink, hens, eggs.
Under Charles the Bald
wine, oats, a suckling pig, two chickens and eggs.
Food for canons:
Bread, wine, cheese, dry legumes
(broad beans and peas), poultry, eggs, fat.
Some had spiced wine, pork and
Benedictine monks during Lent
(once a day):
Eggs, fish, cheese. For Christmas
and Easter, poultry added for eight days.
Fast days, Fridays and
Saturdays: Two cooked soups allowed, but some had bread and
garden greens without wine.
Other days: Three cooked
soups, a fourth on Sundays. Drink at noon.
Summer: A fruit and a glass
of wine after nones, honey wine for those who had done
Two daily soups, a dish of
vegetables, a pound of bread, and wine.
Fat (grease) allowed on daily
food, fat in soup except Fridays.
Poultry allowed at Christmas and
Canons at Metz:
2 meals a day, bread as needed, a
soup at noon, one ration of meat for two; if no soup two rations
of meat and bacon.
Lent: at noon, one portion
of cheese for two and a soup. If no fish or vegetables, a third
Evening one soup for two.
Wine (in different amounts); beer
allowed (greater quantity) if no wine.
Bread for poor of meteil
(maslin, a wheat-rye mix)
Better for field workers:
"vassals' bread" (wheat and spelt)
For monks: small, medium and large
loaves (presumably of wheat)
Field workers got bread, "beer"
(cervoise) and vegetables, "bacons" (approximately,
shoulder or buttock hams).
sick and poor at abbey: Bread, cheese or bacon,
vegetables, eels or fresh cheese [probably on fast days],
meat (veal, mutton or horse - but no pork). Drink: cervoise
Monks: Bread, wine, a
pulmentaria (soup with garden greens, etc); allowed to put
bacon in soup.
ration for traveling judge-advocate in Alsace:
lamb, bread and wine for summer sessions, with a year-old pig
replacing the lamb in winter.
same period, for other areas in Alsace: Bread, wine, pepper,
wax, goblets and plates and a pig or a lamb, depending on the
season; capons, hens, and hams are mentioned as well.
Another area provided bread, wine and cheese (also oats, which
could be for people or horses).
June 16, 2012