Food,fruit And Vegetables

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Fruit and Vegetables

When we visit the shops in England today, we are presented with a wealth of fruit and vegetables from all corners of the planet from which to choose. For people in this country in the tenth and eleventh century this could not happen. They had only such foods as could be cultivated seasonally or found wild. Exotic foods such as potatoes, tomatoes, bananas, pineapples – fruits and vegetables of the New World, were unknown here. Mediterranean fruits, such as lemons and oranges were, as far as we know, not imported, although we have documentary proof for the importation of such things as figs and grapes (Viking Age England, Julian Richards, p94).

We know that they grew wheat, rye, oats and barley. Wheat for bread, barley for brewing and oats for animal fodder and porridge. Along with these crops grew various weeds of cultivation – some of them poisonous. The harvesting methods made it difficult to separate the cereal from the weed, and many illnesses must have been caused in this way.

It is known that they had carrots, but these were not the large, orange coloured < href=”>vegetables that we are used to today. They were much closer to their wild ancestors – purplish red and small. ‘Welsh carrots’; or parsnips were also availablae (S Pollington – ‘Leechdom’). Cabbages were also of a wild variety, with smaller tougher leaves. They cultivated legumes such as peas and beans. Various ‘wild’; roots were probably collected, such as burdock and rape. Onions and leeks were cultivated as flavourings and wild garlic may have been used.

One way in which the people made up for the poor quality of these vegetables would have been to flavour them with native and imported herbs and spices. In Aelfric’s Colloquy, the merchant speaks of importing spices, and in the Leechbooks, some imported spices are mentioned. Among them may have been ginger, cinnamon, cloves mace and pepper. We have no way of knowing how these spices were used , as the earliest recipe book only dates from the 14th century. Home grown herbs would have included coriander, dill, thyme, opium poppy and summer savoury. (Eighth-Eleventh Century Economy and Environment in York in J Rackham Environment and Economy in A/S England. CBA Res Rep 89.)


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