Talk:Medieval cuisine

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Featured article Medieval cuisine is a featured article; it (or a previous version of it) has been identified as one of the best articles produced by the Wikipedia community. Even so, if you can update or improve it, please do so.
Main Page trophy This article appeared on Wikipedia's Main Page as Today's featured article on April 5, 2007.

Seriously needs editing for tone[edit]

If you're talking about the way a culture eats, and you use phrases like "regime of stern collectivism" (i.e. it's considered rude to eat away from the rest of the household) and "social hierarchies were often brutally enforced" (compared to other pre-modern societies, e.g. Joseon Korea?), it is fairly evident you are blatantly hostile to that culture. Doesn't using terms like that pretty much define NPOV? Certainly food was a status symbol...unlike every other period in history.

The section on etiquette, especially, needs to be rewritten. Nagakura shin8 (talk) 00:31, 21 March 2010 (UTC)

How is it a problem to describe medieval society as either highly collectivist or even extremely hierarchical? You're right that one shouldn't openly scorn past cultures (as did previous generations of scholars with the spices-on-rotten-meat-myth), but we have to view them from our own vantage point, ie as members of modern, industrialized, largely democratic societies. I have trouble seeing how any of these examples can be considered openly prejudiced or unneutral. The things you mention would be a perfectly natural state of affairs to anyone living at that time, as is evident from contemporary sources.
I'm not sure exactly how to interpret the last sentence, but are you dissatisfied about the article stating the obvious?
Peter Isotalo 07:36, 21 March 2010 (UTC)
You really don't see the problem with characterizing the fact it was considered rude to eat away from the rest of the household as a "regime of stern collectivism"? Aside from "regime of stern collectivism" being incredibly loaded language, it's not even accurate.
The Middle Ages was probably the first era in Western history—probably history generally—to be non-collectivist; it was the first time individuals, rather than clans, owned property, for instance. They didn't simply deny the existence of collectives, as later eras did (with the rise of Calvinism's extremely individualistic theology), but to pretend "not a radical, atomized individualist" is the same as "collectivist" is to assert a false dichotomy. If anything, medievals had the first formulation of a Social Contract idea—an individual owed duties to the groups he had membership in because they gave advantages to him, as an individual.
And the hierarchical element in medieval table manners only comes in with the fact that everyone at a lord's table, apart from his family (which had its own hierarchy) would either be his retainer or servant (i.e. employee), his guest, or his tenant: all of which are hierarchical elements present in the etiquette of our own "largely democratic societies"—if by "democratic" you mean run by industrial and bureaucratic elites rather than military ones. Nagakura shin8 (talk) 00:55, 22 March 2010 (UTC)
I do recall reading the occasional comment on how modern, individualist ideas, like capitalism, began to take shape during the (late) Middle Ages. But I've never seen anyone present the period as thoroughly modern as you are doing here. If anything, I believe it flies in the face of the near-axiomatic historiographical view of pre-modern history, which usually is defined as everything before 1650 at the earliest, if not anything before Industrialization. I'm sure there are a lot of differences compared to, say Ancient Egypt, but Id doubt it's quite as unique as you're implying here. And since this is not a comparative study of Ancient and medieval foodways, it seems quite unavoidable that the perspective would be more attuned to that of the reader, ei a member of a thoroughly modern(ized) society. You're welcome to suggest that modern society is basically no more democratic than was the case in the Middle Ages, but then you'd have to ignore some pretty glaring anomalies, like the absence of centralized nation-states, government bureaucracies, professionalization, democratic ideals, rule by law, the separation of public and private, universal suffrage, etc, etc, etc. Our respective opinions on this issue are probably more closely associated modern political debate than what we actually known about medieval society.
That aside, I still believe the article reflects the view of the sources, not merely my own opinions. I could be wrong about that, and I urge you to review the sources yourself to double-check my interpretations. If you think the choice of sources is too selective, it might be a good idea to suggest alternative sources, as per the following policies: WP:Verifiability and WP:No original research. That way we won't get bogged down in merely debating our own views on what the most neutral point of view should be.
Peter Isotalo 10:13, 22 March 2010 (UTC)
I'm not sure how to act on this issue, but I think the tag might be a tad exaggerated. Does anyone else have any input on this matter?
Peter Isotalo 09:22, 2 May 2010 (UTC)

Food before Columbus[edit]

Hello, I'm not a specialist of medieval cuisine, but I believe it's interesting and probably studied because it's very different from modern cuisine, and the main explanation of these differences maybe is the discovery of new food in America by Columbus, isn't it? If someone can find reliable sources that support this explanation, I think it should be included to the article's introduction, because it's important to remember it before reading more information.

El Comandante (talk) 22:02, 4 October 2011 (UTC)

It is mentioned. See the second paragraph. Overall, though, there's a limit to how much one can point out what didn't exist. It's supposed to describe the period in of itself, not merely in comparison with modern cuisines.
Peter Isotalo 09:04, 5 October 2011 (UTC)
New foods were part of the changes between then and now, but not all of it; there were several centuries of changes in availability of foods, social status and meanings of cetain foods, agricultural and cooking methods, costs, fashions, and tastes that have intervened. If you think about how different, say, American cuisine of the 1900s was compared to American food of this decade, you can start to see the changes that have occurred. A really good book if you want to understand the kind of changes that have taken place is Londoner's Larder: English Cuisine from Chaucer to the Present, by Annette Hope, which talks about exactly this. That said, I agree with Peter that this article isn't really comparative in that way, and plus this is an absolutely enormous topic - trying to cram it into the lede would do neither the topic nor the lede justice. Kate (talk) 13:43, 5 October 2011 (UTC)


In the Food Preparation section, first paragraph, it states that the stove did not appear until the 18th c. It's a bit puzzling, then, to see an illustration from a late 15th c. cookbook showing a stove in use. I suspect that the illustration actually depicts not a stove but a raised hearth: you can see the coals scattered over the surface and an open flame with cauldron suspended over. I shall revise the caption accordingly, but chiefly for the coherence of the article. I can't pretend to have thorough knowledge of the evolution of stoves. I'm also changing the Stoves link to go to the Kitchen Stoves article rather than the general Stoves article. Richigi (talk) 16:53, 16 July 2012 (UTC)

I agree with your correction. I'm fairly certain I wrote that caption, and I suspect it was simply a "slip of the finger", so to speak. Of course it's a hearth, because I do remember reading about how stoves weren't invented until much, much later. Thanks for pointing it out, Richigi.
Peter Isotalo 23:11, 16 July 2012 (UTC)

Dessert edits[edit]

I have reverted recent changes to the section "Sweets and desserts" since they are based on a source that specifically discusses 18th century dessert habits. The content was re-inserted immediately with an explanation that I couldn't quite make sense of.[1]

To avoid any misunderstanding, here are the specific problems:

  • The voidée is an early modern (or late medieval) custom that involved taking dragées and the like in a specific setting. This is stated quite clearly in the source itself. There is no discussion of its being synonymous with "dessert".
  • The terms "fruit", "bourgeois" and "pastillage" are very obviously early modern in nature and have nothing to do with the Middle Ages. Which is also obvious from the source (Ivan Day).
  • "Customs were imitated throughout the levels of society, from royalty, nobility, wealthy merchants to commoners." Day says nothing about commoners eating dessert. And, again, he refers to the 18th century.
  • Adding words like "decadent" is extremely subjective and should be avoided.
  • None of the sources I've used for this article describe the dessert as a medieval part of a meal that involved magnificent sugarpaste showpieces. That was mostly reserved for the entremets/subtleties.

As I see it, the text I reverted confuses two different time periods and introduces hints at unnecessary subjectivity and personal conclusions that aren't even in the referenced source.

Peter Isotalo 07:27, 28 December 2012 (UTC)

I've reverted again. Either there's some confusion about whether the 18th century is "medieval" or not (I'm with you, Peter, it's not) or the editor hasn't read the sources too carefully. Some of the additional sources this time around don't seem to quite match up with the text either. There would also be some copyvio/close paraphrasing problems as well. Hchc2009 (talk) 08:44, 29 December 2012 (UTC)
Yes, and I wouldn't really consider the Goode Cookery[2] a reliable source. It's perfectly acceptable as a suggestion for an external link, though.
I think the anonymous user needs to have a look at the existing references before trying to fill in facts that simply don't fit the context.
Peter Isotalo 16:24, 29 December 2012 (UTC)

Bland, unpalatable food before imports arrived[edit]

This article doesn't mention the absence of much flavor or flavoring in medieval cuisine, and how they were improved using imports of flavoring and spices from Asia, and food from the Americas. Shouldn't this be mentioned? And how did the Europeans survive eating all that unpalatable, nasty food with no flavor? The only reason why the European cuisine is better nowadays is because they took food from other places to flavor up the bland porridge, cabbage, and fatty meats they ate. Sucks to be a European when you have to take spices from India and China, and other foods from the Americas. And nowadays, Scandinavian, Eastern European and Russian food is still bland and disgusting, while the other European countries copied and took foods from other cultures to improve their nonexistent cuisine. A bit funny. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 21:32, 2 March 2013 (UTC)

There's already a section on herbs, spices, and condiments. What do you think needs to be added to it? PepperBeast (talk) 23:02, 3 March 2013 (UTC)


Should there be an annotated list of major primary sources and their availability today? A few are mentioned in the section on "Cookbooks", but I don't see "Guter Spise", or "A noble boke of cookry", or "Manuscrito anonimo", or various others that any modern scholar of the field would recognize immediately. Sbloch (talk) 00:09, 19 August 2013 (UTC)

There's the section "Cookbooks" which summarizes the topic. The article is about food in general, though, not primary sources. What you're suggesting seems more relevant in cookbook or perhaps something like list of cookbooks. Either way, this is an article, not a guide to historical sources. Mentioning all titles familiar to experts just isn't practical.
Peter Isotalo 21:03, 19 August 2013 (UTC)

Shortened footnotes[edit]

Great article. Due to the way references are used here, it's an ideal candidate to benefit from conversion to using shortened footnotes, which would hyperlink citations to reference details without otherwise altering the way they are presented. If this idea is met with approval, I'm happy to do it myself. For an example of how it works, you can see the results of a similar conversion I undertook at The Hardy Boys. — Scott talk 13:56, 23 October 2013 (UTC)

Thanks for the compliment and the offer. However, I tend to actively avoid the use of citation templates and additional code for the sake of new editors. And I prefer to have just one set of notes.
Peter Isotalo 11:58, 26 October 2013 (UTC)

From Narrow Sources a Narrow Article[edit]


At what point do we start to see when a large chunk of a category is suspiciously absent?

As historians when we discuss the Middle Ages we are referring to a period in the development of the Western world (more or less the Christian cultural sphere) from the disintegration of the Classical Greco-Roman civilization to the beginning of colonialism led by the Atlantic European states.

Contemporary European historiography was largely driven by the nationalist project of the Romantic age of the late 18th and early 19th century. Therefore we cannot expect historiography in English, French, Spanish, and German to include much about Southeastern Europe, which at that time was under Ottoman domination and technically considered a part of (that gruesome colonialist term) the Middle East. Historians from Western Europe and to some extent Russia were simply ignoring national projects outside of their immediate scope and this tradition continued to a large degree even after the countries of Southeastern Europe won their independence. But the fact that there's not enough research in English, in particular, about the culinary habits of the part of Europe whose cultural values were informed by the Byzantine civilization does not mean there is no such research at all.

With their subtle claims for geographic exhaustiveness the articles Medieval cuisine and especially Regional cuisines of medieval Europe quietly sneak into the conversation a narrow approach dressed in an inclusive title. It's like an argument from ignorance: we don't know much about the pre-Ottoman Balkans because our secondary sources are very mysterious about that part of Europe, but we'll hope for the best.

Just have a look at the scope of three of the most extensively used sources in both articles: "Food and Eating in Medieval Europe" edited by Martha Carlin and Joel T. Rosenthal, and Melitta Weiss Adamson's "Food in Medieval Times" (pp. 83 - 155) and the especially annoying "Regional Cuisines of Medieval Europe." It makes you wonder if there really was anything outside of an arc beginning in Italy culminating in the British Isles and finishing in Scandinavia. The quick (and obvious) answer is: there was.

Unfortunately, i cannot provide a longer answer, as i haven't done research in that area. Perhaps we should reach out to Wiki editors from Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Albania, and former Yugoslavia and hope they can provide carefully sourced scholarly material.

But until then please don't revert small improvements like my clarification that there was wine consumption outside of the Western Mediterranean. (Does it sound silly? Perhaps. Why should we even need to clarify that there was wine in the Eastern Mediterranean? Isn't it obvious?) The current text says "Wine was consumed on a daily basis in most of France and all over the Western Mediterranean wherever grapes were cultivated." That is absolutely true and Adamson has done some solid research on that. Is it exhaustive? Certainly not. And this is why my only redaction was deleting the word "Western." Seriously: that was all. My little edit made the article more precise by expanding a small part of it to include the Eastern Mediterranean. This is correct information despite that i don't have a scholarly source to provide; i have read such sources in Bulgarian years ago, but even if i hadn't - it really is common sense. Let's not forget our mission here: we need to crowdsource accurate information for the benefit of humanity. Sometimes that means that we will be encountering true statements that exist outside of the literature we're familiar with. To assume that what we've read is all there is is bad taste at best.

And that's precisely the problem with the two reverts to my rather innocuous edit. The first one did not even deem it worthy of explanation as though it was some kind of vandalism. The second politely referred to Adamson's "Food in Medieval Times" - the text, as though it's some kind of a scripture, you see, says that wine was consumed on a daily basis in France and the Western Mediterranean and that's that. Period. You can't argue with the sources.

Yes, but you actually can. And when they are limited in scope, you absolutely should. Otherwise wiki editing is mistaking the forest for the trees: the source is rarely more "sacred" than common sense. Let's not relapse in some Kafkaesque nightmare of rigid and unimaginative formality of editing. Let's embrace creativity in our methodology.

And a Bulgarian with a US History degree and many connections with people from the wild mysterious Southeast of Europe tells you that wine making and drinking is an intrinsic part of the cultural memory and national identities of Greeks, Bulgarians/Macedonians, and Romanians/Moldovans, please consider that person a reliable source ;)

With that said, this is probably not the place for this last comment, but now that i have your attention, i might as well: the way Regional cuisines of medieval Europe is structured - obviously very closely following Adamson's 2002 compilation - is quite odd. So the categories are: Central Europe Northern Europe Northern France Western Mediterranean Byzantine Empire

Now, i don't know about you, but if i were from Northern France, i would be offended. It's not a thing on the same categorical scale as Northern Europe unless i'm missing something. If i am, please tell me. It seems much much more logical if we start with the compact geographical divisions to continue this way and have Western Europe, Southern Europe, and Eastern Europe.

Much obliged,

Pavel Stankov (talk) 01:29, 18 May 2014 (UTC)

You really need to come up with some references to support your claims. WP:V is as true here as anywhere else. I don't know why sources on medieval Slavic and Balkan food culture (except for Dembinska) are rare or non-existent, but if you know of any, please cite them instead of merely alluding to them.
Peter Isotalo 10:01, 18 May 2014 (UTC)

"Feast" or "Etiquette"[edit]

Recently, an anonymous user,, changed a section heading from "Etiquette" to "Feast". I disagreed with the change and to make it obvious what the section was about, I renamed it "Meal etiquette". Pepperbeast disagreed with me, saying "Feast" was better. However, feast does not describe everything in that section when etiquette does. There are entire chunks of the section that are about etiquette and not a feast, such as:

  • When possible, rich hosts retired with their consorts to private chambers where the meal could be enjoyed in greater exclusivity and privacy. Being invited to a lord's chambers was a great privilege and could be used as a way to reward friends and allies and to awe subordinates. It allowed lords to distance themselves further from the household and to enjoy more luxurious treats while serving inferior food to the rest of the household that still dined in the great hall.(Dining in the great hall doesn't necessarily mean they would be having a feast)
  • Although there are descriptions of dining etiquette on special occasions, less is known about the details of day-to-day meals of the elite or about the table manners of the common people and the destitute.

In fact, as there were usually two meals a day in medieval Europe, pretending the section is only about feasts excludes most meals, as a feast was, as the section says, "a special occasion". The section even starts with "As with almost every part of life at the time, a medieval meal was generally a communal affair." This is evidently not about a feast, so why would we pretend it was? Etiquette describes the entire section perfectly, and this article was featured with that section being "Etiquette", so evidently the reviewer agreed. I'd like to find consensus before I change it back to "etiquette" so I'll wait for comments. Thanks, SamWilson989 (talk) 07:39, 9 March 2015 (UTC)

Primary contributor here. The section is clearly about behavior at meals, not feasts per se. In the context of foodways, this is commonly known as etiquette. And it's a sub-heading of "Meals". The section heading has been stable for years, so I'm changing back per WP:BRD.
Peter Isotalo 12:39, 9 March 2015 (UTC)

Enforcement of social hierarchies?[edit]

I don't think that it can be stated as a fact that "social hierarchies were often brutally enforced". That may have been the case in parts of Europe, but mostly there was no "enforcement of social hierarchies", and in fact there was a lot of social mobility, in England for instance.Royalcourtier (talk) 18:06, 25 January 2016 (UTC)

All pre-modern societies were inherently non-egalitarian and lacking in even the most fundamental democratic concepts. The level of violent crime was extreme by modern standards and you had severe capital and corporal punishment doled out by the authorities. Different social classes were judged by different standards and were not equal before the law in any meaningful sense.
The text is aimed at modern individuals who have grown up with the idea of basic human rights, so "brutal" seems entirely appropriate, even for England.
Peter Isotalo 12:58, 26 January 2016 (UTC)

Note about kitchens[edit]

Hello, as this is a Featured Article I'm cautious about making significant changes but how about this edit – undone temporarily in case anyone objects, but it was easier to put it straight into the article to show how it would fit. Richard Nevell (talk) 18:41, 3 April 2017 (UTC)