My garden has been very productive this year and I've kept busy canning food to eat the next year. I was wondering about how my ancestors may have preserved food without the luxury of food processors, pressure canners and specially made jars and seals. The following article gives an insight to how they did it. There are also links to look at other articles concerning food in the medieval days.
Medieval Food Preservation
Facts and interesting information about Medieval Food and meals,
specifically, Medieval Food Preservation
Medieval Food Preservation
It was important for the Medieval people of the Middle Ages to preserve food in the summer to be eaten during during the winter months. Foods which could not be preserved were only eaten when they were in season. It was not economic to keep and feed animals during the winter so animals were slaughtered in the autumn. The meat during the Medieval times of the Middle Ages was preserved in salt. Some historians believe that pepper was also used in food preservation during the Medieval times of the Middle Ages, however pepper was even more expensive than salt that its use for such a purpose must have been extremely limited.
The use of Salt in Medieval Food Preservation
There were two methods of food preservation using salt as a preservative. Dry-salting where the meat or fish was buried in salt and brine-curing where meat was soaked in salt water. Each year households prepared tubs of a thick saline bath and undertook to preserve fresh meats for the coming winter. The problem was that any food preserved in salt had a constant salt taste. Methods were therefore introduced to disguise the salty taste. Spices form the East were added to cooking recipes. These spices included Pepper, Cinnamon, Cloves, Nutmeg, Ginger, Saffron, Cardamom, Coriander, Cumin, Garlic, Turmeric, Mace, Anise, Caraway and Mustard. Food was also served with a variety of sauces which also disguised the salt taste. Salted meats and fish were generally rinsed in several changes of liquid before they were added to a dish.
Methods and Techniques of Medieval Food Preservation - Pickling, Gelatine, Smoking
There were several other methods used during the process of Medieval food preservation:
Pickling - Pickling in a salt brine was the standard method of preserving meats and fish. Typical pickling agents included brine (high in salt) and vinegar
Gelatine - Jelly or gelatine was used for preserving cooked meat or fresh fish. Food may be preserved by cooking in a material, such as gelatine, that solidifies to form a gel. Some foods naturally form a protein gel when cooked such as eels
Smoked Food - Wood smoked food was a method use to preserve pork or fish
Drying - Most meats and fruit can be preserved through the drying process. Drying is also the normal means of preservation for cereal grains such as wheat, oats, barley and rye.
Candies - Fruits & nuts could be candied in order to prolong their life
Honey - Was used a preservative in mead
Principle of Medieval Food Preservation
The principle of food preservation was to treat food in such a way as to safely stop, or slow down, the spoilage of food. The preservation methods require the food to be sealed after treatment.
From: Medival Food Preservation. http://www.medieval-life-and-times.info/medieval-food/medieval-food-preservation.htm (accessed July 24, 2011).
Here's a short video on the history of food preservation: