The Culture of Food in England 1200–1500 by C M Woolgar - review by Louise Wilkinson

Louise Wilkinson

Menus of the Middle Ages

The Culture of Food in England 1200–1500


Yale University Press 341pp £30 order from our bookshop

The economic, religious and social importance of food in the Middle Ages is a subject that is attracting increasing attention from historians. It’s a reflection, perhaps, of our own society’s obsession with culinary experiences and the senses. In this meticulously researched study, Christopher Woolgar serves up a feast of information about food in medieval England. Drawing on a wealth of material, including household accounts, cookery books (more than four thousand medieval recipes survive to this day), literary works, miracle stories, monastic regulations, town ordinances, coroners’ rolls, and contemporary illustrations, architecture and objects, he explores both perceptions of food in the period from 1200 to 1500 and the manner in which foodstuffs were obtained, prepared and eaten. At the heart of Woolgar’s study is a highly compelling argument that food occupied a more significant, sophisticated and meaningful place in medieval culture than has often been recognised. 

The book opens with a lively discussion of food cultures in the Middle Ages. This highlights the importance of food in the Christian calendar and religious practice; after all, two of the seven deadly sins – greed and gluttony – are connected to food. The late medieval Church strictly prohibited

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