Guest Author - Helen B. Wharton
During the Middle Ages and Renaissance, food preparation was one of the duties of women, for their own families. In some instances a part of the job of preparing food was done by people outside the family, as a way to make their living.
Most slaughter of animals for food was done by the family that owned the animal. It was the norm for every family who could afford to feed it, to raise a pig. The slaughter would generally be done at a set time of the year and the meat dried, salted or pickled to preserve it. This was one way that a family could insure their survival through the winter.
During the Middle Ages and Renaissance, a butcher became a highly respected and well paid member of the community. Butchers became so powerful that they held government posts in France and were so wealthy that master butchers rarely did the actual cutting of meat. Rather they employed servants and apprentices to do the work and they kept the accounts and books in order.
All house wives brewed beer for their family to drink. This was before the advent of clean water to drink. Water was not sanitary and could easily carry disease, so most common people drank beer. The alcohol content was much lower than it is today, but it is still interesting to remember that bread and beer was what most common folk at to break their fast. There is some evidence to suggest that Americans drink more beer than wine because the climate in England during the Little Ice Age prevented wine grapes from growing. Cereal crops, from which beer and hard liquor is made, were still raised.
During the reign of the Roman emperor Domitian there was a great famine and the emperor ordered all grape vines in Gaul (present day France) to be removed and the fields to be planted in corn. This lead to the popularity of beverages made with cereal crops. It was not until 200 years later that grapes were again planted. Wine quickly became popular again and it was felt that wine was a more "high class" drink. Anyone who raised grapes made wine and sold what they did not consume. In 1264 in France, statutes were put into place dividing up sellers of alcoholic beverages into 4 groups: People who ran a hotel and could serve food and drink as well as accommodations, people who could sell wine to be taken home to drink, People who could run a public house and serve food and drink to be consumed on their premises and those who ran a tavern which served alcoholic beverages to be consumed on the premises.
In rural areas, during the early part of the period, the miller was also the baker. It was efficient to have the oven near the source of the flour. In more populated areas the baker had his own oven and would bake the kneaded bread brought to him by the women. The baker also made his own bread which was sold as finished loaves. Most common people did not have an oven in their homes so a village oven was also frequently in use and shared by all. The phrase "Baker's Dozen" first began because many bakers were making loaves which were less in weight than people had paid for. Severe penalties were put into place for a baker who cheated his customers. To prevent that possibility bakers began putting an extra loaf in to make sure the customer got what was paid for.