Scotlands History

Food and drink

Down in the castle’s kitchens a small army prepared the food for the household. The cook led the undercooks and the bakers. Larderers made sure the kitchens were well stocked. Poulterers prepared the birds. Bread was made fresh and baked in huge ovens. Fruit and vegetables were gathered from the castle’s orchards and gardens. Some castles had deer parks for hunting and game was a regular source of meat.

Many of the foods found on medieval tables are familiar - mutton, beef, veal, venison, fish, apples, pears, cherries, leeks, onions and cabbages. Honey was used to sweeten food. Some foods we eat today, including potatoes, were unknown in medieval Scotland.

Food was often strongly seasoned with herbs and spices, including garlic, rosemary, fennel, mint, parsley, cinnamon, peppercorns, root ginger, cloves and nutmeg. Some spices were imported via the Pilgrim routes to the Holy Land after they were brought back by crusaders. Salt was very expensive; it became a status symbol for kings and rich nobles. Some medieval dishes, such as meat jellies, seem very strange today.

Medieval Scots also ate all sorts of creatures we don’t eat today including swans, peacocks, seals, lampreys and porpoises. They ate lots of birds including small wild birds as well as geese and pheasants. Fish was a regular dish as the church forbade the eating of meat during Lent and on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Herring, pike, salmon and bream were commonly eaten as well as eels, which were caught in lochs with wicker eel traps and barbed eel spears.

A few medieval recipe books survive. One, called 'A Forme of Cury', was written in around 1390. It includes a recipe for 'Cockatrice' - a legendary creature that was half serpent and half rooster, like a winged basilisk. The Cockatrice recipe called for half of a 'capon' - a chicken - to be sewn onto half of a roast suckling pig.

  • Photograph of a girl in medieval clothing carrying a long wooden tray of bread

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La quatre Estampie Royal is an anonymous piece from the 13th century French manuscript Chansonnier du Roi. It is played here on the harp, soprano shawm (an early oboe) and daf (frame drum). The repeated musical sections may have corresponded to the recurrent movements needed for dancing