Matthew is part of our Visitor Services team and he is very partial to chocolate so we thought who better to write a blog about Easter food..!
Chocolate is high on the agenda for some people at Easter, whether they decided to give up chocolate for Lent or not..! Some of us are successful at giving it up and others less so. Some people don’t even bother to give anything up however, in the medieval period giving up foods was commonplace.
Christian customs shaped much of medieval life, especially food consumption.
There were three seasons in the year which were marked by food abstinence: Lent, Advent and Pentecost. Lent was the most widely observed and during this period neither meat nor dairy products could be eaten.
So, what did people in the medieval times eat during Lent? Almond milk was commonly used for dishes that required cow’s milk, cream or eggs. Figs were eaten in Lent but particularly in the week before Easter to commemorate Christ’s last ride into Jerusalem. They were also a special sweet and spicy treat for monks and nuns.
Medieval food customs over Easter often had their inspiration from the life of Christ in the week leading up to Easter. Maundy Thursday which marked the occasion of the last supper saw widescale almsgiving. The poor would be able to eat barley bread which was quite a luxury in the medieval times. Good Friday was the closest people would have come to fasting, their only nourishment would have been bread and water. Easter Day marked the end of the fast and then the celebrations could begin. Eggs and meat could once again be consumed. Poorer people who could not necessarily afford meat would have particularly welcomed the sight of eggs again.
Imitation food is exactly that; dishes made to look like other food. Imitation food became incredibly popular during Lent as a way of overcoming the restrictions imposed during this period. By eating imitation food, you could break the fast without actually committing a sin. One could indulge without feeling guilty afterwards; sounds perfect to me!
Imitation food was also a way of medieval chefs showing off as these foods often took quite some skill to make. Heston Blumenthal eat your heart out! Towards the end of the medieval period sugar was increasingly used to make imitation foods; some people dyed the sugar to create imitation bacon!
Eggs were prohibited during Lent partly because the number of eggs laid by hens in the winter were drastically reduced. Eggs that were laid would be boiled and preserved until Easter Day. So, what if you really wanted eggs but didn’t want to the break the fast? Well you could have imitation eggs! One version includes filling an egg shell with almond paste and if you want to have the yolk as well you mix saffron in with the almond paste. The more recent tradition of chocolate eggs likely derives from the practice of creating imitation eggs during Lent.
Whilst there were no chocolate eggs in the medieval period, eggs were decorated as a way of celebrating the end of Lent. An early example of this practice is when Edward I ordered 420 eggs to be decorated with gold leaf to be distributed amongst his court.
We’re not quite sure whether gold leaf tastes better than chocolate but we’ll stick with the chocolate eggs..!