Jim Chevallier's Web Site



French Food Before Taillevent


An overview of the stories

Comparison of early/mid and late medieval food



Taillevent's time

Louis X (1314-1316)

John I (1316)

Philip V (1316-1322)

Charles IV the Fair (1322-1328)

Philip VI the Fortunate (1328-1350)

John II the Good (1350-1364)

Charles V the Wise (1338-1380)

Charles VI the Beloved (1380-1422)

William (Guillaume) Tirel, later called Taillevent, was born around 1315, at the start of a century the historian Barbara Tuchman has called “calamitous”. In 1337, the Hundred Years War began; the plague known as the Black Death peaked between 1348 and 1350, wiping out from 30 to 60 percent of Europe's population. A number of this period's kings had very short reigns. Yet not only did France not sink back into the anarchy of the late Merovingian and late Carolingian periods, for some Life appears to have been quite luxurious; notably the dukes of Burgundy, whose court was increasingly known for its magnificence.

Taillevent's own career is a case in point: having started in 1326 as a kitchen boy for Queen Jeanne d'Evreux, in 1347 he became Philip VI's chef; in 1355, he joined the Dauphin of Viennois' staff; in 1359, he became the Duke of Normandy's chef and continued in that role when the duke became Charles V in 1368; from 1381 on, he held various positions on Charles VI's staff, before dying in 1395.

It is impossible, in other words, to guess from Taillevent's career that his century was one of the most perilous France had seen since the end of the Carolingians. He and those around him no doubt were touched by the worst of this era, but clearly they and many like them lived in a reality different from that which ravaged much of France.


The most common modern image of medieval cuisine began to be established in this period by Taillevent's Viandier and by Le Menagier de Paris (supposedly by a rich burgess, but possibly by a noble). But both represented the cuisine of the upper classes, even if some aspects of this began to “trickle down” over time (not least because of the popularity of Taillevent's (probably not very original) work). Food for most people was far different and remains under-documented today.

Aristocratic food seems to have continued advancing in complexity and sophistication even as disasters ravaged much of France. The recipes in the Viandier already differ from those of the lesser-known earlier works in several regards, for instance in “refreshing” the meat before cooking it and in using a wider range of thickeners, whose production was described in more detail.

Charles V and Charles VI had complex household staffs, reflecting elegant dining. Forks are mentioned in an inventory of Charles V's silverware; but these would not come into general use for centuries. When Charles VI's wife arrived in Paris, the royals were given a wide selection of tableware, all in gold.


Pork consumption remained high. But consumption of pork by the upper classes began to decline; beef and lamb began to be more popular and would be mentioned more in the coming centuries. Butchers sold both beef and pork, though others began to sell the latter and later had to be restricted. Statutes regulated the languayeurs (“tonguers”) who checked for pustules under pigs' tongues (called "leprosy" at the time) and marked the ears of pigs who had them.

Blacksmiths acted as veterinarians to horses and presumably other animals.

In Avranchin sour milk was given as a rent.

Philip de Valois eliminated the distinction between fish and herring sellers. Lamprey was popular enough that there were lamprey dealers and it was given yearly by one king to his confessor. Merchants of Rouen and Dieppe joined to explore the African coast (for fishing?).

King John had whale meat brought from Bruges to England (where he was a hostage); the poor would keep salted whale meat on hand for Lent.

Animals hunted included bear (hunted with a crossbow, spear and net) and wild billy goats; one, the isarus, the size of a domestic goat, the other said to be monstrously large.


The ravages of war and the attendant taxation, extortion, etc. particularly impacted peasants and sometimes even drove them from their land, greatly disrupting agriculture at times. In general, the lot of peasants (which had largely improved over the previous centuries) would get no better over future centuries. A long series of natural disasters – frosts, heat waves, shortages, etc. - added to the other troubles of the times.

Records mention “common peas” (which were mature, and so white, at the time) and “white peas” (which were beans (haricots) ).

Evidence of “improvement” (probably draining) of marshes in Normandy begins to appear. Hazelnuts, rarely mentioned earlier in Normandy, are mentioned more often. One load of manure was sold in Normandy for a golden ecu (crown).

At Dieppe, the executioner received five pears or apples out of those brought to the town market; he had similar rights on cherries, plums and nuts (the Paris executioner later had a similar right). Figs (probably from the south) were popular at Rouen and Dieppe; a fig tree is also mentioned in Normandy itself.

Orange trees and oranges begin to be mentioned.

Truffles were popular at court.


The number of grain measurers in Paris markets was regulated.

Several laws addressed the weight and price of bread, the difference between baked and unbaked dough, and who would inspect it. In Rouen, the authorized weight for a loaf changed in accordance with the price of wheat (as opposed to later practice in France when the price of a loaf of a standard weight changed).

Trenchers are increasingly mentioned, and distinguished from pain de bouche (“bread for the mouth”).

In 1365, a Council at Angers forbade using butter and milk in bread during Lent, showing that both were already in use. In 1396 Parlement set prices for bread.

The bread of Chailli was the best (as that of Gonesse would be later) in the Paris region. Millet bread was now said to “not be in the French nature” (though the grain was probably still eaten in some regions). Breads were mentioned in Alsace that went beyond a man's knees when set on his feet – i.e., long loaves, unlike the round loaves more commonly known in France.

Ovens were authorized in Amiens for tarts, flans and other pastries, showing both the difference in heat needed for these and that pastry had become important beyond Paris.


Wine merchants and wholesalers were regulated; the number of wine merchants was limited. In Limoges, sale of wine from elsewhere was banned for part of the year. Duguesclin is said to have drunk three wine soups before going to fight the English.

Cervoise was taxed in Paris.

Cider began to replace beer as the dominant drink in Normandy.

Charles the Bad, wrapped in a brandy-soaked cloth for medical reasons, was burned to death when it caught fire.

A work on alchemy suggested putting gold flakes in one's drinking water.


Spices of Taillevent: Anise, cinnamon, clove, costmary, cumin, galanga, ginger, mastic, nutmeg, paradise seed, pennyroyal, pepper (long, yellow, and black; “bitter pepper” was probably cinnamon and ginger together), saffron, and sage. (Note the absence of costus and nard, both popular under the Romans, and zedouary, the ginger-like root, that only made a brief appearance in French usage.)
Duke's powder (sometimes simply “powder”), a blend of some of the key Oriental spices which varied by household, begins to be mentioned. One mention for a public (ie, not aristocratic) meal suggests it might have been an economic alternative to using the individual spices.

Specific sauces were increasingly mentioned. Saucemaking became a profession and the sauciers received statutes as a group.

Water pepper” was sometimes used as a native alternative to pepper (which would still be imported for centuries).

White sugar is mentioned in accounts. A statute refers to it as cafetin, saying that preserves meant to be made with it should not be made with honey. Pomegranate seeds are ofen mentioned as being sprinkled along with it.


Philip the VI established the gabelle on salt in 1343, by one account prompting Edward I to call him “the king of Salic law”. Charles the V later made it a perpetual tax. Salt became a state monopoly.

In 1351, the council of Beziers insisted monks observe abstinence on Saturdays; in 1368 another at Lavaut reiterated this with stronger sanctions.

In 1365, the Council of Angers forbade milk and butter for everyone during Lent “even in bread and vegetables”.

In 1367, a local law forbade ovenmasters from demanding “tips” (in bread, flour, etc.) for baking bread (which suggests the custom had existed for some time before being banned).

Kings began to reclaim the right of granting fairs.

A Rouen law forbade dumping manure or trash in local streams (manure from the archbishops' stables was often thrown in the Seine).


Shepherds' food described by satirist:

“Dark bread, sloe [like plum] and buds [?],

Cheese and milk is their lot.”

Food for farm workers in Picardy:

Wheat, gruel, pork, beans, dairy, including butter and cheese, and sometimes herring; verjuice (to drink?) and goodale, more rarely wine.

Food for farm workers in Normandy:

A loaf of friar's bread, peas good for soup, eggs and cheese, unlimited drink; at Lent, herring and nuts.

Food from priest in Dijon to workers putting up bell:

Bread, wine, meat and verjuice.

Food for prior staying several days in the country:

Bread, mutton, beef, bacon, two pairs of partridge, 12 fougasses (usually flat breads cooked on the hearth, but here apparently bread or cake with walnuts), 200 waffles (!), 3 pounds of oil, spices.

Large public meal:

5 oxen, 20 pigs, pasties, 3000 eggs, white wine, coarse salt and a smaller quantity of white, cakes, spices, verjuice, mustard.

Supplies requisitioned for expedition against England (partial list):

Wines, salted meats, hay in barrels, oats, onions, salt, verjuice, biscuit, flour, fat, beaten egg yolks in barrels.

Bishop's meal for guests:

13 partridges, 6 capons, 14 fat hens, 1 snipe and 13 thrush, 5 suckling pigs, 12 local waterbirds, cabbages, 1 ham, 2 bags of bread.

Bishop's meal criticized for excess:

Three pairs of soup, of various colors, sugared, and sprinkled with pomegranate seeds; with six pairs of dishes [twelve entrées]; without counting the entremets, in which were the richest meats.”

Meals for noble on tight budget:

For Sunday and Thursday dinner, two patés, each made up of a hen and two chickens.

Monday, Wednesday, purée of peas or of broad beans, with two pounds of salted pork; good tripe, cooked in water. For the second service, two portions (rotulos) of beef and mutton, boiled and served with a hot pepper sauce as a roast, six capons, or six large hens...
Tuesday, instead of soup, rice with cabbage, with root vegetables [raves], and with leeks, served with mustard; twelve chickens, or six hens, cut in half; and, for the second service, a serving of fresh pork.
A half portion of roast beef; ox feet, prepared with vinegar and parsley; grilled beef tongue, with cameline sauce.
Dessert: cheese and fruit.
Meager days:
Friday, two soups, either with purée, either of peas or of cabbage; fish, if any is to be found; twenty-four fried eggs, with a good sauce; Lorraine pates; something fried.
Saturday, two soups with a purée of broad beans and almonds, seasoned with onion juice and olive oil; fish, if there is any; twelve poached eggs, with a good sauce; tarts with greens, eight hard-boiled eggs.

Dinner for royal guests:

First service: Crane and stag venison.

Entremets: Lamprey sprinkled with nails of clove, with the appropriate sauce.

Second service: Roast peacocks, Limoges cocks [pheasant], partridge, heron, bittern, and rabbits, with the appropriate sauces.

Entremets: Pike and large pike fondis [melted? molded? sunk?].

Third service: Blanc [white] manger and dark red, in the same bowl, the white sprinkled with sugar and pomegranate seeds, the dark red with almonds fried in honey.

Entremets: Jelly of several fish.

Fourth service: Loach fried in young garlic.

Entremets: Pasties of preserves and pasties of eel.

Fifth service: Pricques [?] in galantine.

Entremets: Fried pipits stuffed with crespes [beignets?] with raised peacocks, herons and Limoges cocks over them.

Sixth service: Crayfish.

Entremets: Whole boars' heads and sliced friture [fried foods?], with the appropriate sauces.

After: Figs, medlars of Saint Lievin, followed by clairet [spiced wine] with large round waffles.

Wines: Saint-Jangon, Aussoire, Beaune, Rhine, Tubranne.

June 16, 2012