During the Middle Ages, roughly dating from 5th to the 15th century, European meals were very simple. In the beginning they were primarily based on cereals such as barley, oat and wheat and later on rice when it was finally introduced to the continent. The types of food people could access depended strongly on which social class they belonged to. The poor ate mostly barley, which was often accompanied by vegetables. Remember that potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, beans and corn came to Europe when the Americas were discovered!
Until then people satisfied their hunger with what they could grow in their gardens. Of course, they had meat too. However, farming animals cost more because the livestock required more territory called pasture lands. The kind of meat they produced was mostly pork, chicken and beef. Some of the population in the North (like Scandinavia) had more fish in their daily meals.
When it comes to sweets and desserts, people preferred fresh fruit covered in sugar, aged cheese, honey and later biscuits and wafers.
The upper class required more sweet and sour foods and, since the Crusades had begun and contact with the East and Asia had been made, some spices and seasoning were brought to the attention of the Europeans. For example, vinegar, black peppers, ginger, sugar and even almonds.
Of course, these were products which only the upper class could afford to serve on their tables. They enjoyed coffee and tea as well.
In a word the meals became delicious and sophisticated for some people. The nobles used to have long, lavish meals whereas the lower class diet didn’t changes so much even when the new ingredients were available on the continent.
It took some time before everyone could enjoy them too.
Lower class basically kept eating barley, carrots, onion, cabbage, garlic and apples for dessert.
Eating goes hand in hand with drinking! And, what did the Middle Ages people drink?
Of course, water, in the early Middle Ages and maybe some milk and juice. However, in late Middle Ages the simple diet started changing and some alcoholic beverages like beer, wine and brandy were more consumed.
One can see how much our diet has changed throughout the years! Today we consider ourselves lucky because we could always go to the supermarket and enjoy our favourite food! All kinds of imported products are available on the market. It makes it difficult for us to choose what we want for dinner! It is hard to believe that only about 500 years later, we have what we want and when we want it to satisfy our appetite!