FRENCH FOOD BEFORE TAILLEVENT
THE EARLY CAPETIANS
I the Amorous (1060–
Capet (depending on the account) either usurped or was called to
the throne, displacing the last Carolingian king. His most
enduring accomplishment was to found the dynasty that bears his
name and only ended its reign with the execution of Louis XVI; his
direct line remained in power until the start of Taillevent's
period in 1328. He and his immediate descendants ruled over a very
weak France which shrunk to its smallest during this period; but by the reign of Philip I
the country had begun to expand again.
the Conqueror's 1066 invasion of England put it under a form of
French rule. English rulers would remain closely linked to France
for several centuries.
first Crusade (1095-1099) occurred
during this period and was followed by several others. A number
of developments in food and agriculture are believed (on more or
less solid evidence) to have grown out of the resulting contact
with the East.
number of disastrous famines occurred during the start of this
period, with accounts of cannibalism and even human meat being
sold in markets. It has been suggested that subsequent efforts to
improve farming were in part a reaction to these disasters. Though
famines continued to occur over the centuries in France, none of
the later ones gave rise to accounts (credible or not) of
(a type of stew that became a common late medieval dish) begins to
early Parisian markets were on the Ile de la Cité,
in front of the church of the Madeleine. The Saint-Denis fair was
still the major regional market for goods from afar.
The Bayeux Tapestry (soon after 1066) shows the first meal the Norman invaders had on English soil and includes a number of details, including what
might be meat being cooked in the animal's own skin, a portable
stove for smaller items, officers eating on a shield as a table, a
servant “horning the water” (calling people with a
horn to wash their hands and eat), and high-status people eating
with their hands. This at the least is a rare image of an army
eating on the march; some of the elements applied in normal dining
as well. The feast itself may have been a way of declaring
possession of the land where it was held.
MEAT, DAIRY, FISH AND GAME
Cheese was often given as a tithe
Whale-hunting is mentioned off
Normandy using a net. Whale meat was sold near Arras.
Herring and mackerel fishing was
recorded in the Atlantic ocean. (Herring were not found in the
Mediterranean, which might be why they are not mentioned in Gaul
by classical writers.) The abundance of herring made it the
default fish-day option for many.
Sturgeon was caught in the Rhone.
Tenants, essentially owned if not
officially slaves, were ceded with the land. In Normandy, three
classes existed: “hosts”, who had restricted holdings,
paid rents, and sometimes acted as actual hosts to visiting
dignitaries (and may have sometimes had a free status); peasants,
the most numerous, had larger holdings and both paid rents and
owed services; bordiers, who also paid rents and performed
more onerous tasks, often domestic rather than agricultural.
The “despotism” of
Henry I's reign is said to have brought security which was
propitious to agriculture.
Clearing of land begins to be
mentioned more often. But it was still fitful and even sometimes
intentionally limited (William the Conqueror granted forest land
to some monks in Normandy on condition that they never clear it).
Land was often divided into
or “plowings”; that is, land that required the work of
one plow (this generally equaled one English “hide”).
In practice, this was often set at 60 acres (Norman acres, roughly
three times the size of the English). But this may have
corresponded to two-field cultivation; some records mention 90
acres, which might have corresponded to three-field cultivation.
The measure was often theoretical, since many peasants did not
least two types of plows existed, one, shown in the Bayeux
tapestry, with wheels, the other without. Typically oxen or horses
pulled the plows; the one in the tapestry is pulled by an ass.
a common measure, is first mentioned in Normandy.
GRAINS AND BAKED GOODS
The windmill appeared in France.
It probably originated in Persia, though scattered references to
pre-Crusade European windmills can be found. A mill existed in
Dover which used the incoming and outgoing tide to power it (a
“tide mill”). These would be found elsewhere later.
Some bread was still made in the
fireplace, probably on metal or earthen plates (panes
subcinericios). Fouace (one such bread, usually local)
is also mentioned. Bread could also be prepared at home and then
baked at the local lord or monastery's banal (common) oven. There
is some retrospective evidence that bakers were already (again)
established in cities, but they were then required to use the
communal ovens. Around Paris, one of these belonged to the
monastery of St. Germain (then outside Paris) and gave its name to
today's Rue du Four (“Street of the Oven”). Another
was associated with the Church of St. Eustache. Bakers at this
point were called talmeliers (“sifters”), since
the mills did not yet fulfill that function and the bakers, in
turn, were limited in what else they could do without their own
The distinction between
bakers and pastry-chefs was not yet official, but baked treats
were already recorded (oublies – wafers –
which have been variously cited as the same thing or as different
and much lighter). An Arab recipe for a “French” flan
suggests that what had been a flatcake was now somewhat like a
pizza, with slightly raised sides and a cheese filling.
Normans introduced panis
piperatus (a type of gingerbread), simnel (seminel,
made with eggs and so probably like a brioche) and “wasted
cakes” to England, no doubt based on breads/cakes at home.
Monasteries continued to
brew the beer-like cervoise,
recorded as being made from barley or oats.
vineyards reached their peak, primarily for local production.
bishop of Paris abolished a custom (coemptio vinearum)
which existed in one of his territories of wine-makers (not always
willingly) accepting a loan from the local lord which they then
reimbursed with wine of greater value. The custom existed in parts
of Normandy as well.
monks sometimes drank hot water (not often mentioned on its own)
and also used it to soften biscuit.
(clairet and piment) begin to be mentioned.
SPICES, HERBS AND OTHER SEASONINGS
Based on very sparse records,
pepper seemed to be the dominant spice. But a richer variety of
spices still came to Europe, at least as far as Italy, where
dishes “reeking with Indian spices” were mentioned before the first Crusade.
Sugar was first noted by a French writer in Tripoli
in 1099; in 1106, Bauduin (French king of Jerusalem) captured
eleven camels loaded with sugar.
STRICTURES AND STRUCTURES
In 1000, a church
council made Saturday a fast day (in theory, it still is today).
But this was never widely observed.
Monks were allowed to use pork fat on their
vegetables; in 1092, a Paris council allowed monks to let their
pigs graze in the forest without paying local lords any fee.
SAMPLE MEALS OR LISTS
Special meals for canons in
St. Quentin established between 1085 and 1288:
or chickens, eggs and pepper.
chickens: for each chicken, 4 eggs and a quarter pound of pepper in
all the chickens.
Half a pig
and a sheep, eggs, and pepper.
with their skins.
or a whole duck, called marlot, for two canons.
shoulders [of pork?].
For afternoon snacks:
and lighter pastries (nieules)
with wine and mulberry wine.
June 16, 2012