Getting Your Daily Bread – Breads in Medieval Society, Jessica Banks, Penn State University, 2005
Bread was the essential food for all classes of society in the Middle Ages.*
Over time, the whiteness of pure wheat flour and the bread made from it became a sign of times of plenty and of high social status because of its relative scarcity in the medieval diet.
Wheat had historically held the place of primacy among grains for bread baking because of its prevalence in the Mediterranean lands, but was not always the most commonly available grain in Northern Europe. … Rye, on the other hand, was the grain most easily grown in the British Isles and northwestern Europe (Scandinavia, Germanic lands, Netherlands, and much of France), and remained the most common cereal crop until the end of the eighteenth century.
[The] majority of the population ate meslin or maslin** bread (Fr. metail), a mixture of unbolted*** wheat and rye flours that was most economical in the growing climate of Northern Europe. … [A] mixture of flours acquired the mark of lower status, signifying the adulteration of pure wheat flour; peasants became associated with blackbread, the dark ryes and whole grain varieties.
Quantities of bread consumed were comparable across all social classes, as revealed by recent studies of medieval and colonial households. Each individual in houses of late medieval English nobility received standard daily food ration of 2-3 lbs. of wheat bread and 1 gallon of ale. … Soldiers posted at local castle garrison, and inmates at the local hospital, get almost exactly the same rations as the nobles.
The vast majority of the bread consumed in the Middle Ages was produced in commercial bakeries. The best indication of the importance of their product and their profession in medieval society was the amount of regulation placed upon them. [Both internal regulation through guilds, a type of trade union, and external regulation – the king’s court deemed only two foods were important enough to legislate: beer and bread.]
So, the majority of people in the Mediterranean region during the Middle Ages were of a lower class and ate some kind of mixed-grain, coarse-meal bread. That’s where a bulk of their calories came from – starch.
Their diet sounds a lot like the diet of modern-day Sardinians (at least before the end of World War II), who are known for living long, healthy lives. Here’s What Dan Buettner writes about Sardinians’ diet in his book, The Blue Zones:
Bread is by far the main food. Peasants leave early in the morning to the fields with a kilogram of bread in their saddlebag … At noon their meal consists only of bread, with some cheese among wealthier families, while the majority of the workers are satisfied with an onion, a little fennel, or a bunch of ravanelli. At dinner, the reunited family eats a single meal consisting of a vegetable soup (minestrone) to which the richest add some pasta.
In most areas, families ate meat only once a week, on Sunday. In 26 of 71 municipalities surveyed, meat is a luxury eaten only during festivals, not more than twice a month. Interestingly for a Mediterranean culture, fish did not figure prominently into the diet.
Ravanelli are radishes. A kilogram is 2.2 pounds.
* From Wikipedia: In the history of Europe, the Middle Ages (or medieval period) lasted from the 5th to the 15th century.
** I guess you could call my Heritage Loaf a type of maslin bread. It’s a mixture of whole grain wheat and spelt flours, whole grain rye flour, and whole grain corn meal. Here’s a photo of my Heritage Loaf from a few days ago. I really like it.
Here’s another “Maslin Bread Recipe” by Jennifer Ah-Kin.
*** Bolted means sifted. Bolted flour usually just had the bran removed. Unbolted flour was very flaky and coarse.