Food and drink: Diet in Anglo-Saxon Times

Fifteen centuries is a long time and the average diet of men and women can change a lot. What then was typical food and drinks for our ancestors who lived her around the 6th to 7th century and during the centuries following?

  • CerealsBarley, wheat, rye and oats were grown and made into bread and beer. A popular use was pottage: a stew of cereals, pulses and vegetables. This was called briw in Old English.
  • DrinksBeer which was made from malted barley was the main drink consumed. This was really a type of ale, meaning it did not contain hops (later centuries would classify beer as ale made with hops). Mead was also made but more rarely. In Old English ale was called alu or ealu.Wine was very rare and only available to very wealthy individuals.Milk was occasionally drunk but often used for cheese.
  • PulsesBeans and peas were commonly used in briw
  • VegetablesTypically used again in briw, these included leeks, onions, garlic, cabbage, turnips, beets, parsnips, carrots.  They did not include potatoes – a much later 16th century import.
  • HerbsGinger, coriander, pepper and other herbs and spices were known but were mainly used in medicines. 
  • FruitVery commonly used in diet although often dried or boiled and stored for later use, these included apples, pears, plums, cherries, rasberries, strawberries and blackberries. Nuts included hazelnuts.
  • Eggs were an easily available food which also included ducks and goose eggs as well as hens.
  • Meat and FishPretty much all of an animal would be consumed. Red meat was rarer in the diet; pork and chicken being much more common.  Game and fowl was eaten.  Shellfish such as oysters were much more a standard part of the diet than in our day where it is considered a luxury item. Eels and other fish were often eaten on fast days when meat was off the menu.

Read more: For those wishing to find our more about food eaten at this time period I refer you to Anglo-Saxon Food by Ann Hagen (published by Anglo-Saxon books)I mention a number of Anglo-Saxon dishes in  The Amber Treasure ( ) . In my next Blog I will look at some specific dishes popular at the time.

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