|Mediaeval farmers, paying the "Urbar"|
Today, it is very difficult to reconstruct the life of a peasant in the middle age. If for the upper classes there are plenty records, for the serfs historians have to dig realy dip for a piece of information. The documents that they can find are tax records, donations, wills, household inventories or funeral banquets. One of these documents shows us that in 1268, in the domain of Beaumont-le-Roger, in France, a couple would rcieve one large and two smaller breads, 2.5 a gallon of wine, 250 gr. of meat or eggs and a bushel of peas. And this pay was considered high.
These serfs were populating the rural areas and they accounted for the majority of population of a country (or kingdom). Around the house, they were given a small piece of land, like a regular backyard today, where they were allowed to do whatever they wished. Almost all families were growing some kind of animals and birds and cultivating a small garden. They usually had a pig, few goats or sheep, few chickens or geese. For everything they grew or raised they had to pay taxes to the landlord, in the form of produce they got: eggs from birds, meat and milk from animals.
Their diet was very boring, in terms of modern eating habits. The base of a daily meal was the bread. Often made by secondary cereals like barely, rye, spelt or a mixture of grain. Today we would consider these breads healthy compared with the withe bread but long ago, it wasn’t as easy as now to process cereals (and deplete them of all the good nutrients). The bread of peasants was very dark in color. The lighter the color of bread, the higher the social status.
The other product in their daily diet was wine. Grapes are easy to grow in a good soil and the wine making process is an old discovery. In the middle age, having a winery was such a common thing that everybody knew how to make wine. Remember, peasants got wine in exchange for their labor. If they did own a small piece of land they cultivated some grapes too. This habit had survive till these days in Europe and we can still find many family farms that cultivate grapes to make wine. So, wine was popular and was consumed by everybody in the family, like beer.
Meat was another important part in the middle age diet. People got the meat either as a pay for work, either from their own small backyard. Sometime they hunt small game but hunting big game was mostly a privilege of the nobles. The meat was consumed mostly fresh and sometime was salted and smoked to be preserved over the winter. Again, the ratio of meat was very small and most days it was not even part of the meal. Along with meat, as a product of the sustainable small economy, went cheese, milk and eggs.
Vegetables were largely consumed in the middle age. The little backyard of a cottage that belonged to a peasant had a garden were women, children and elderly folks that lived in the house would cultivate legumes, greens and leaves such as cabbage, onion, garlic, turnips, a variety of beans and peas, leeks, spinach, squash, etc. From the wild, they would complement with mushrooms, asparagus and watercress and few of the aromatic herbs like basil, fennel, marjoram or thyme.
These folks in the middle age were completely dependent of the weather for their survival. If the year was bad (too dry or too wet) and the cereal crop was compromised then they could face famine. In between 1000 and 1300, four major food crises affected Europe (1005-6, 1032-33, 1195-97, 1224-26). Though, the human species survived till these days and writes stories like tis one on the Internet!