The Anglo-Saxon diet was simple but nutritious. People would have eaten fruit and vegetables in season, and meat when it was available and affordable. Anglo Saxons' food was rich in nutrients, with lots of vegetables and grains. Bread was a staple of every meal.
The typical diet would have been quite healthy overall, with a lot of fresh produce, little meat and no sugar. They did wash it all down with beer, however, so may have exceeded modern daily alcohol unit recommendations.
What Food Did The Anglo-Saxons Eat?
These Anglo Saxon food facts are sure to inspire imagination.
- Anglo-Saxons were mostly vegetarian.
- Pigs were reared for meat alone, whereas other animals served other purposes and were only killed when old or ill.
- Anglo-Saxons ate small, round loaves of wholemeal bread baked on hearthstones. Bread would have accompanied almost every meal.
- Leeks were the most popular vegetable used by the Saxons. Onions, garlic, a kale-like cabbage, beetroot, turnips, peas, beans and carrots were also popular. Carrots would have been reddish-purple and small.
- Saxon food included a variety of fresh fish and preserved it by smoking, salting, drying and pickling.
- Herbs were mainly used to make medicines although pepper, ginger, cloves, cinnamon and mace were sometimes used in wealthy kitchens. Honey would have been used to sweeten dishes as there was no sugar. Salt was extracted from salt mines in Worcestershire.
- Foods such as potatoes, tomatoes, bananas and pineapples were unknown to the Saxons. They wouldn't have had Mediterranean citrus fruits such as oranges or lemons either, as these had yet to be imported.
- Saxons grew wheat, rye, oats and barley. They used the wheat to make bread and used the barley for making beer. The oats would have been used to feed animals and to make porridge.
- Anglo-Saxons ate a lot of fruit. They would have eaten crab apples, plums and cherries. They likely made cider from the crab apples and this would have been sweetened with honey.
What Did Poor Anglo-Saxons Eat?
- Most meals would have been a soup or stew cooked in a cauldron over an open fire in the house.
- Rich people ate more meat than poor people. Meat was generally used sparingly to give flavour. Wild animals like boar and deer were inaccessible to poor Anglo-Saxons as they could only be hunted by the people who owned the land they were on.
- Sheep and goats would have provided milk to make cheese and butter.
- A staple of Saxon diets was pottage or 'briw' which was a barley or wheat stew with vegetables.
- Most people drank weak beer instead of water due to water pollution. Only the very wealthy would have drunk wine. The rich would also have drunk mead. Only water from springs would have been safe to drink, so even children habitually drank beer over water.
How Did The Anglo-Saxons Cook Their Food?
- The Anglo-Saxons would have cooked on an open fire in the centre of their living area, which would usually have been a single room. In good weather Saxons would have cooked outdoors on open fires, lessening the risk of their wooden houses setting alight and decreasing smoke inhalation.
- Anglo-Saxons would have dried and stored a lot of food to eat in winter. They also salted meat and fish which was later eaten in colder months when fresh meat was unavailable.
- We don't know whether Saxons cultivated root crops such as onions and carrots, or whether they went out to gather them in the wild.
- Anglo-Saxons used clay ovens to bake their bread and used large iron skillets or griddles over open fires to make pancakes and other small cakes.
- Meat was roasted on a spit or could be boiled in vats with vegetables to make stews. Fish was wrapped in leaves and cooked between stones.
- Anglo-Saxon cooking featured frying in pans or griddles, baking in clay ovens, grilling on a spiral or hanging griddles and barbecuing. They also spit-roasted and skewered meat into kebabs. Food could be wrapped in leaves and clay and baked in the embers of fires and this would have been the most common way to prepare food along with boiling.
Questions To Think About
- Were Anglo-Saxon diets more or less healthy than ours today?
- How different would rich and poor diets have been?
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