Food and drink in a castle

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What did people eat during the time of medieval castles?

In this article you can find out:

  • What food might be found in a Scottish castle
  • The difference between rich and poor people's diets during times
  • How food was kept fresh in castles

This resource is suitable for Castles topics for P2, P3, P4, P5, P6 and P7 (First and Second Level Curriculum for Excellence).

What food could be found in a Scottish castle?

Table of medieval fruit at a historical reenactment

Fruit

Fruit was very popular and could be eaten fresh, dried or preserved. At the time, there were fruits like apples, pears, plums and quinces grown in the castle gardens. (Tim Gainey / Alamy Stock Photo)

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Did everyone eat the same food?

No! During the time of castles, rich and powerful people would eat very differently from the common people who lived in the towns and burghs and on the farms around the castle.

  • Meat was quite expensive during times so it was mostly eaten by wealthier people.
  • Spices, like ginger, were also very expensive in medieval Scotland so it would likely only have been eaten by rich people.
  • Poor people would mostly eat food that could be grown locally.
    • vegetables like leeks, cabbages, kale, onions and peas
    • fruit like apples, pears, plums and quinces
    • other crops like oats

Keeping food fresh

When food is left out too long, begins to grow and make the food unsafe to eat. There were no fridges or freezers to keep food fresh during medieval times. People had other ways to food so it was safe to eat.

How did people preserve

  • storing - Food was usually stored underneath the castle or on the ground floor of the tower keep where it was cooler - and safe from thieves!
  • salting - Salt can kill some types of bacteria so it was used to dry out fish or meat so that it wouldn't go off. Covering meat or fish in salt drew the moisture out and killed bacteria. The problem was everything tasted very salty - yuck!
  • drying - Most meats, fruits and grains (like rye and wheat) could be preserved through drying. In Scotland it was often too cold to dry food outside, so ovens were often used instead.
Food was usually stored underneath the castle or on the ground floor of the tower keep. Keeping food underground meant it was harder for thieves or enemies to get to it. In this photo, you can see the underground storage at Dirleton Castle in East Lothian. (David Kilpatrick / Alamy Stock Photo)

Test your knowledge

Create your own castle feast menu

Design a menu fit for a king, queen or clan chief.

Remember, rich and powerful people could afford to eat expensive food (like meat, herbs and spices) that poorer people in the towns and burghs could not.

Explore more

There were no supermarkets, fridges or freezers during the time of castles. People mostly ate what they could grow or hunt nearby, like local fruit and vegetables.

How have changes in food processing, technology and transport changed the way we eat today?

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