Guest Author - Laura A Zennie
Food in the Renaissance was largely the same as that of the Middle Ages. Root vegetables were a staple by both the rich and the poor. Carrots, parsnips, caraway and turnips were popular with everyone. These were easy to grow and store. Asparagus was a popular vegetable, but only the rich could afford to serve this at their tables. Salad greens were also popular, made of lettuce, chicory, endive and watercress.
The average person, or peasant, did not have access to meat most days, and what meat people had was either very fresh or heavily salted to preserve it, and then boiled and heavily spiced to disguise the taste of the heavy salt needed to keep it. Most people kept chickens, so they had eggs. Bread was a staple of everyone, although most bread was made with rye or barley and not with wheat, unless one was a noble.
Fish was important, as there were many fasting days when meat was not allowed had it been available, and so fish was used, although usually it was salted unless one lived near a port city. Fruit was also rarely fresh, as it had such a short season, it was usually preserved, either wet, like marmalade, or dry such as orange peels.
Feasts were popular with the nobility during the Renaissance, and there were many special occasions to have them on such as holidays, weddings, and saint's days. This gave people a chance to show off their largess. Most people did not have meat on a daily basis, so most feasts were laden with meat dishes to show they could afford meat. They also displayed the meat to its advantage. Birds would be redressed in their feathers, and displayed to their advantage.
After the discovery of America by Columbus in 1492 however, gradually new foods started to be added to the Renaissance table. This would start with the nobility, then the merchants, and eventually it would find its way to the peasant's table. This was because initially importing them was expensive and they were considered exotic and the peasants would not have the money to try new things.
One import from the Americas was the turkey. The large size was impressive, especially when redressed with its feathers and plumes it made a wonderful centerpiece for a banquet. This bird caught on quickly in Europe after Cortez discovered them in Mexico, and they were called the Indian Chicken.
Potatoes and corn were a new crop that were introduced during this time that soon became revolutionary new foods for Europe. Others such as tomatoes would be viewed with too much suspicion and not accepted for two more centuries.