FRENCH FOOD BEFORE TAILLEVENT
I the Old (558-561)
I ( 561-567)
II the Great, the Young (584-629)
II the Lazy (639-657)
III the Just (695-711)
In 486, the Merovingian Franks,
under Clovis I, defeated the last Roman official in northern Gaul
and took over much of Gaul. The Burgundians and Visigoths had
taken over other parts of Gaul, but ultimately the Franks
won control of most of it. All had their laws written down in
Latin; the Franks' Salic Law would apply in France for centuries.
Though the groups the Romans
called “barbarians” were capable of wholesale
destruction and violence, they largely adopted both Roman customs and institutions; it would take centuries
for these to decline and ultimately disappear. Clovis and many
(not all) of his followers converted to Christianity, thus allying
themselves (not incidentally) with the existing Church
hierarchy. His three sons maintained control and much of the
existing Roman infrastructure, but subsequent rulers were (with
some exceptions) less successful and Gaul (as the kingdom of the
Franks – Francia – was still called) often
lacked central control.
The Church's role in preserving
learning and history, especially through monasteries, became more
important, even if paganism of various sorts – Roman, German
and perhaps even Celtic – persisted. Meanwhile, a household
official, the Mayor of the Palace, became increasingly powerful
until one, Charles Martel, assumed de facto power. In 751, his
son, Pepin the Short, became king, ending Merovingian rule.
For more about Merovingian food, see Feasting with the Franks.
Upper class Franks adopted Roman
ways, but many Roman innovations would disappear over time before
being reinvented in a French way, including a great deal of
Unlike the other Germanic legal
codes, the Salic law begins by addressing livestock and
agriculture. It includes entries on pigs (above all), cattle, falcons
and dogs, vineyards, grain and vegetables, and beehives and briefly mentions
Dagobert I established the St. Denis
fair (long one of the most important of medieval times).
A breakfast is cited of bread
dipped in wine (same as Romans)
Tools listed for a cook
include: a stewpot, a frying pan, a
cauldron, a tub, dishes, and three-footed andirons. (These are far simpler than for a Roman kitchen.)
"This year , a
great famine ravaged almost all of Gaul: many people made bread
with grape seeds, filbert blossoms and dried fern roots reduced to
powder mixed with a little flour; others did it with wheat that
was still green; others, completely lacking flour, gathered
different herbs; when they had eaten this, they swelled up and
The Franks ate large meals
on benches (“bancs” whence 'banquet'). Sometimes
the upper class ate on couches, like Romans, some curved (sigma).
Upper class plate could be of silver, marble and glass.
Napkins and spoons are
mentioned (in palaces).
MEAT, DAIRY, FISH AND GAME
The Franks loved raw bacon and used it
medically as well .
The Germans in general ate horses,
though the Franks are not specifically recorded as doing so.
The size of domestic animals again
declined. Pigs still roamed free and were lean; their meat was
regarded as dark or “red”. They were still closer to
boars overall. Pork shoulder was more valued than ham, because the pig's
rear was then lean. Suckling pigs and castrated pigs are both singled
out for mention. People began to have to pay for letting pigs graze in other
Sow's womb and sow's teat, both
Roman specialties, were still considered delicacies.
Cattle were eaten more than
previously thought, but usually after some years of labor. There
is evidence that the poor ate beef (as well as the rich).
All Germanic tribes loved dairy;
Burgundians used butter in their hair.
Crane, geese, and swans are mentioned
along the Meuse. Chicken/poultry soup is mentioned (soup rarely is
otherwise). Chickens, which later were often mentioned in
association with geese, then were more often mentioned with
The salmon of the Rhine are mentioned.
Game in general remained available to all
classes. It included aurochs, wild
asses, wild goat (recorded later), and probably elk. Some (like boar and stags)
were raised within special parks. Fish was already raised in
The use of marl largely
disappeared for a long time.
Salic law mentions turnips,
broad beans, peas and lentils specifically; other vegetables are
referred to generally.
Chick peas were sometimes
Fruit trees were sometimes stolen
(as saplings or were they in containers?). Peaches were still
called “Persian apples”.
Chestnuts (rare in later
centuries, except in certain regions) are mentioned as a treat.
Pistachios and almonds were imported together (pistachios are
mentioned less later).
Beehives (the sugar refineries of
the time) were a major concern, sometimes kept under enclosures and
GRAINS AND BAKED GOODS
Resistance to Christianity in the
countryside may in part have been inspired by farmers' trust in
Ceres, the Roman goddess of wheat.
Wheat, rye and barley were the
most mentioned grains; rye is mentioned more than before. The
wheat from Syrtes (Libya) was considered superior.
Many mills were still hand-turned. More
water mills are mentioned and bridge mills (floating water mills
docked under arches of bridges) first appeared (both from Rome).
Bread was made at home or by
pistores. (NOTE: An item repeated since the eighteenth century claims that Dagobert I gave statutes to the bakers in 630, but no such clause appears in Dagobert's laws from that date.)
Many people still ate porridge;
eating a person's pultis (porridge) was viewed in the same way as it
would later be to “eat a man's bread”.
The flan (flado) was then a
flatcake (possibly a honeycake).
a common drink, the standard “beer” for centuries to
”Alongside the basic starch
source, the early European “beers” might contain
fruits, honey, numerous types of plants, spices and other
substances such as narcotic herbs.”
Perry (pear cider) was drunk,
probably had low alcohol (apple cider seems not to have appeared
Wine was still rare in some parts
of Gaul. Wine near Dijon was praised. Wine was made near Rennes
and Nantes, in Alsace. Wine is mentioned near Laon, Treves, and in
the Moselle region (even on mountainsides, where harvesters hung
to gather it). Wine was said to be the chief wealth of Marseille (though it continued for centuries to be a main hub for international trade).
The better imported wines included
those from Gaza, Chio, Falernum, and Sarepo.
At one point, a tax of one
amphora per arpent of land created violent protests – but
the amphora then was very big (240 liters).
In 584 and 587 frost killed vines.
Aloxinum, a mixture of
absinthe and wine, is also mentioned (absinthe was also used to
cure an eye ailment).
Both honeyed water and mead were
drunk. Some monks drank a “juice of
SPICES, HERBS AND OTHER SEASONINGS
Burgundians were said to smell of onion and garlic.
entioned by Anthimus (northeastern Gaul): Salt,
pepper, sweet pepper, clove, coriander, costus, dill, fennel,
ginger, leek, mint, pennyroyal, spikenard, leaf of nard (or
possibly tejpat), sumac, and water celery.
from Asia and Africa 7th-8th
pepper, cumin, clove, cinnamon, nard, costum, “the aromatic
called hidrium” (known, but little mentioned, in modern
was still relatively recent at this time; cinnamon may not yet
have been used in food.
Honeyed vinegar (oxymel)
was often used; honey or pork fat was put on vegetables.
STRICTURES AND STRUCTURES
The Kingdom of the Franks (later
France) began as a Catholic nation, implying, over time,
distinctions between meat and meatless meals. Both practice and
the official distinctions, however, would shift over time. Fowl,
dairy, greens with lard or fat (all later forbidden) were first
In 541, a Church Council at Orleans made it obligatory for everybody (not just the clergy) to observe the Lenten fast.
Pope Zachary banned the eating of
horses (always) and raw pork (during Lent) (mainly targeting Germanic tribes, but
Paganism (Celtic, Roman and
Germanic) persisted in many places for centuries, with
corresponding disregard for these strictures.
Salic law punished a witch who had eaten human flesh with a fine
of 8000 deniers, or 200 golden sols.
Visigothic law (which briefly
applied in Aquitaine) forbade keeping kosher.
SAMPLE MEALS OR LISTS
for a bishop:
“A superb piece of meat
set in the form of a mountain, and flanked by high hills whose
intervals were filled with gardens of varied stews made from the
most delicious products of the land and water”
“On a silver platter, a
fine piece of meat, accompanied by vegetables swimming in a very
fatty sauce; then on a marble platter on which are products of the
garden, whose honey seasoning ravished my palate. A platter of
turned in glass is piled high with chickens, who even without
their feathers are enormously heavy. “
Peaches were served before
“mountains” of food, surrounding fish swimming in oil.
(Germanic tribes) ate only “meat and milk” (the latter
probably meaning butter and cheese as well as milk; Caesar said essentially the same thing.)
Franks ate raw bacon (possibly
but not certainly salted) and were said to love bacon in general,
Roman style food included
peacock and sow's womb. Condiments include garum mixed with wine,
honey and vinegar mixed with honey.
Drinks mentioned include
cervoise, mead and wine with absinthe, as well as wine.
White, leavened bread is said
to be best, preferably served warm.
for traveling bishops and officials:
Specified quantities of
loaves of white bread, wine, beef and pork, lambs, chickens,
pheasants, oil, honey, pepper and (other) spices.
Ration for monastery
cellerar and companions on voyage:
White bread and more of lesser quality, wine and
beer, lard/salted pork, meat, cheese, peas, 1 kid, chickens, eggs,
oil and garum, pepper and cumin; salt, vinegar, and vegetables.