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Food, Eating and Identity in Early Medieval England

Food, Eating and Identity in Early Medieval England

Allen J. Frantzen
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Food, Eating and Identity in Early Medieval England
    Book Description:

    Food in the Middle Ages usually evokes images of feasting, speeches, and special occasions, even though most evidence of food culture consists of fragments of ordinary things such as knives, cooking pots, and grinding stones, which are rarely mentioned by contemporary writers. This book puts daily life and its objects at the centre of the food world. It brings together archaeological and textual evidence to show how words and implements associated with food contributed to social identity at all levels of Anglo-Saxon society. It also looks at the networks which connected fields to kitchens and linked rural centres to trading sites. Fasting, redesigned field systems, and the place of fish in the diet are examined in a wide-ranging, interdisciplinary inquiry into the power of food to reveal social complexity. Allen J. Frantzen is Professor of English at Loyola University, Chicago.

    eISBN: 978-1-78204-264-8
    Subjects: History, Archaeology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-ix)
  5. Abbreviations and Citations
    (pp. x-xii)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    The Anglo-Saxons understood material things in a way most people no longer do. Yet their relationship to objects is not entirely beyond our grasp. In the 1950s, when I was a boy, rural life in the United States bore some resemblance to conditions in Anglo-Saxon England. Animals, plants, and the tools needed to manage and process them filled our living space. Cows had to be milked and fed every day, including Thanksgiving, Christmas, and all the other holidays. Family feasts included meat from our own animals – pork sausage in the turkey stuffing, perhaps – and canned or frozen vegetables...

  7. Part I: Food Words

    • 1 The Symbolic World of Food
      (pp. 9-33)

      Many more objects than words survive from Anglo-Saxon England. The objects reveal more sides of lived experience than do words and texts, but the objects are more difficult to study, or even to see. Some of them, especially those found in the millions, including pottery fragments, coins, nails, broken stones, and bones, have never been photographed. Those that have been photographed are difficult to reproduce if money is an object. In contrast, Anglo-Saxon texts have been cheaply available in editions and translations for decades and can be accessed in electronic form as editions or digital facsimiles, often at no charge....

    • 2 Food Knowledge: Texts, Feasts, and Objects
      (pp. 34-58)

      Everyone who has read Old English literature knows about Cædmon and his gift of song. The cowherd of Whitby abandoned a feast at which he was about to be called on to sing, retired to watch the cattle, and in his sleep was visited by a messenger who commanded him to sing, which Cædmon then did. This remarkable event, seen as the invention of Christian poetry in English, took place because Cædmon declined to sing at thegebeorscipe, a “carousal” according to theDictionary of Old English, or what Bede, in theEcclesiastical History, calls aconvivium, a feast. He...

    • 3 Food Words and Old English Genres
      (pp. 59-80)

      Texts are much easier to study than are things, since texts are more readily available and finite. Objects from the Anglo-Saxon world will continue to be discovered so long as humans dig into the soil, whether the objects are removed from it or, as may soon become possible, thoroughly examined without being extracted. It is very rare indeed that new words are discovered, although the meanings of some words long known will long be debated. How close texts can bring us to the material world of eating in early medieval England depends on the food vocabulary and its disposition within...

  8. Part II: Food Objects

    • 4 The Quernstone
      (pp. 83-105)

      Most objects essential to food networks – pots for cooking and storage, and iron tools – had to be readily obtainable and easily replaced. Hence they would have been produced in many small settlements and would not appear in long-range trading networks. Among such objects, the quernstone, a hand-mill for grinding grain, is an exception. Although found in nearly every settlement, this implement was not usually produced locally. Most quernstones excavated at Anglo-Saxon sites came from the Rhine Valley, although some were quarried in England. Imported quernstones had penetrated the hinterlands already in the ninth century. Quernstones were large objects,...

    • 5 Pots for Cooking and Storage
      (pp. 106-131)

      An object with a single but essential purpose, the quern acquired its final form before it became a fixture of Anglo-Saxon settlements. Quernstones varied only slightly from one period of Anglo-Saxon history to the next or from region to region. They broke – most survive only as fragments – but not so often as objects made of clay, wood, or iron. Querns could be repurposed, but they could not be repaired. This was true of pottery as well. Imported pottery followed the same international trade routes as querns, but in most other respects pots form a contrast to quernstones. Most...

    • 6 Food Objects in Iron
      (pp. 132-155)

      Simply by virtue of its abundance, pottery contributes to our understanding of Anglo-Saxon identity at many social levels. We can tell that certain forms and fabrics were valued for certain tasks and can see that ordinary wares were sometimes retained when they might have been replaced by newer pots, perhaps because what was ordinary was also familiar and traditional. Ironwork was also ubiquitous in Anglo-Saxon settlements, but not all of it yields insights into social identity. Food objects in iron did not last. When they broke they were not discarded or put to new uses, as were fragments of quernstones...

    • 7 Food Objects in Wood
      (pp. 156-174)

      The Anglo-Saxons lived in wood, sat on it, and ate and drank from it. Food was eaten from bowls and platters with wooden spoons, stored in jars and cooked in pots, some with wooden lids. Even feasters, as we know from the feast of Isaac’s weaning in theOld English Heptateuch(Genesis 21:8), drank from wooden cups.¹ Households used wooden troughs for kneading bread and employed butter churns, trays, baskets, and other tools and containers made of wood. From hall to hut, tub to trough, bowl to barrel, wood was the most pervasive medium of their age. It is probable...

  9. Part III: Food Offices

    • 8 Food Officers in Handbooks of Penance
      (pp. 177-205)

      Objects communicate the presence and identity of those who use them. Knives, hooks, bowls, and cups served as badges of identity among the Anglo-Saxons, just as objects today are one way we show others how we see ourselves. Many people who worked with food are identified in Old English sources, including the beekeeper, the cheesemaker, and others. Some food workers also acquired identities as food officers, the term I use for those who monitored supplies to last through the winter; managed the diet during fasting periods; and, when necessary, assessed the quality and acceptability of the food and drink. When...

    • 9 Laws, Food, and Settlement Change
      (pp. 206-231)

      Early law codes, like early handbooks of penance, offer detailed accounts of obligations involving food and food purity. They are rich in kinds of information missing from later codes. Certain aspects of the treatment of food in later law codes can be illuminated by texts about status, works that are sometimes (misleadingly) called legal tracts. In this chapter I describe food culture in the laws and analyze the most important of the tracts that help to bridge gaps between ecclesiastical and secular views of food culture. I then describe a form of fasting in theOE Handbookthat introduces some...

    • 10 Fasting and the Anglo-Saxon “Fish Event Horizon”
      (pp. 232-245)

      Many of the foods known to the Anglo-Saxons remained the same throughout the Anglo-Saxon period. Studies of fauna note changes from settlement to settlement and period to period, but they generally report more or less beef, pork, or mutton.¹ Animal bones are among the factors that reflect settlement wealth. Older animals were killed for consumption when they became less efficient at traction, the chief task they performed. Butchery of young animals is evidence that their value as food exceeded their work capacity – obviously a sign of wealth.² Anomalies in patterns of animal bone distribution that show a preponderance of...

  10. 11 Conclusion: Anglo-Saxons at the Table
    (pp. 246-258)

    One of the subjects of this book is the importance of coordinating textual and material evidence of food culture. Few texts about food are poems, making “The Seasons for Fasting” a rarity. The poem is cited by James H. Barrett, Alison M. Locker, and Callum M. Roberts as evidence of the “fish event horizon” discussed in the last chapter.¹ I suggest that the poem should be read as an example of estates literature and grouped with other texts that lament the loss of old ways and criticize new ones. “The Seasons for Fasting” addresses a controversy about the fasting periods...

  11. Works Cited
    (pp. 259-278)
  12. Index
    (pp. 279-290)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 291-293)