Kings, knights, monks, peasants – everyone in the Middle Ages ate bread. It was also the food that caused bitter religious disputes and could make you go insane.
The history of bread dates back as far as 22,500 years ago – it was the staple of life for the ancient Mesopotamians and Egyptians, and was eaten throughout the Roman Empire.
It was made by grinding cereal grains, such as wheat, millet or barley, into flour, then kneading it with a liquid, perhaps adding yeast to make the dough rise and lighten, and finally baking.
Bread comes in all shapes and sizes, but in his book Bread: A Global History, William Rubel notes that Europe has had a “loaf-bread culture” for the last 2,000 years, while flat bread remained popular in the Middle East and Africa.
By the beginning of the Middle Ages the preference was to eat white bread made from wheat – medieval physicians also recommended it as being the healthiest – but poorer peoples would bake darker breads with oats or rye.
If one needed too, people could also add rice, peas, lentils, chestnuts, acorns or other foods into the mixture.
In medieval France, most people would eat a type of bread known as meslin, which was made from a mixture of wheat and rye.
Terrence Scully notes “that bread was the basis of the medieval diet” and the amount that people ate throughout Europe was remarkably similar. He finds that records from England, France and Italy that workmen, soldiers and even patients in hospitals were supposed to get about two pounds of bread per day.
Besides using bread just for food, medieval people often used it as their plates: known as trenchers, these were breads that were cut into thick flat slices.
Then others foods like meats or thick sauces would be served on top of them. Once the meal was finished, the bread could then be eaten.