Friday, November 8, 2013

Host a Medieval Holiday Feast

Host a Medieval Holiday Feast
For a fun spin on Thanksgiving or Christmas, why not host a medieval feast? It’s easier than you may think, although the philosophy menus were based on in the Middle Ages seems a little strange to us today.

Similar to the modern adherence to the food pyramid, medieval meals adhered to the four humor system. This system was founded on the belief that all Creation labored under the influence of four conditions:  melancholy (cold and dry), choler (hot and dry), phlegm (cold and moist), and blood (hot and moist). Variations on these names existed but the principles were the same. If a person suffered an imbalance, he or she was said to be “out of humor.”

Physicians advised medieval cooks to balance the four humors in the foods they served to keep diners properly balanced. For example moist foods served cold (like some meats) aligned to the property of Phlegm and as a counter-measure called for sauces or spices that were hot and dry. Foods that were on the dry side were boiled, never roasted. Moist foods were baked to dry them.

That sounds like a lot to keep track of, but surprisingly, medieval feasts were not all that different from those of today. That’s because modern eating habits have their roots in history. A medieval feast often started with a soup, salad, light fruits, or light meats. Foods more difficult to digest like beef, pork, and heavier fruits and vegetables followed. The meal wound down with something sweet. As today, special occasions called for elaborate desserts.

Cheese was taken as a digestive aid prior to the meal and after consuming meats. Similarly, fish was followed by nuts. Medieval cooks were not afraid of spices, since they also were thought to aid digestion.

A medieval feast was served in courses, with each course composed of several offerings. There might be many courses of a few items each or only a few courses made up of many dishes. Diners ended the evening with wine and sweet fruits and cakes.

Royal feasts featured lavish spectacles called solteties, elaborate creations crafted mostly from sugar in the likeness of warriors, heroes, mythical tableaus, or whatever other shape might be desired. Another medieval amusement was to disguise one food as another. A cake might appear as a realistic-looking fish, for example.

Here’s a quick guide to blend old with new and create your own medieval-inspired feast:

Course 1: bread and cheese, soup or salad, peaches
Course 2: green vegetables, fish, lean pork or chicken served with a spicy sauce
Course 3: roasted beef or turkey (if you must), cranberry sauce, poached pears, or figs, potatoes or yams
Course 4: a selection of two or three desserts in small portions

Investigate medieval recipes at

Medieval diners drank a variety of wine and ale throughout the meal, but if you prefer, you can substitute apple cider, grape juice, and water flavored with lemon or mint.

To replicate a medieval dining experience, take time to talk, listen to music, or enjoy a holiday presentation between courses. Your feast should span several hours. Give guests a final sweet snack and drink at the end of the evening.

The post is brought to you by Janalyn Voigt. Escape into creative worlds of fiction. 

When Janalyn was a child, her father read classic literature to her at bedtime, instilling in her a love of story. With a teacher's encouragement, she decided to become a writer at the tender age of twelve.

Beginning with DawnSinger, Janalyn's medieval epic fantasy series, Tales of Faeraven, carries the reader into a land only imagined in dreams. Janalyn is also working on a romantic suspense novel set in a castle. She is represented by Sarah Joy Freese of Wordserve Literary.

When Janalyn is not writing, she loves to find adventures in the great outdoors.

Janalyn posts interesting details from her research, travel journals, author journals, and updates about her books at her Creative Worlds website.  


  1. Janalyn, Love your name, the post today is quite different but still something to learn. I can see a Thanksgiving meal in all of this...
    I have not read your books but they sound so interesting love the name Faeraven also, is this made up or is there one out there...thanks for sharing today.

    I was a winner in October and got my book yesterday thanks to Susan Davis and CFHS...

    Paula O(

    1. Hi, Paula.Thanks for your comment. I'm going to use this information to create at least one holiday feast, myself.

  2. Janalyn, I found this article fascinating. Never would have thought they put so much meaning into what they served back then. Thank you

  3. I've attended two Madrigal dinners, and they were very enjoyable events. I can't imagine cooking up such a feast without the aid of modern appliances.

    1. I imagine they were set up for convenience in some ways, but that's an interesting point, Vickie. As part of a medieval reenactment group I've attended feasts, and that last parting gift of food is really special.

  4. Fascinating post, Janalyn! I had no idea Medieval menus were based on the four humors. I could totally do a Medieval Thanksgiving and Christmas! Now if I could just get the outfit. . . :) Thanks for sharing this!

  5. I enjoyed learning about Medieval feasts. Thank you for sharing such food for thought! :)

  6. I wondered where this was going with the photo. Tomatoes had not be discovered yet (originating in South America) during the Middle Ages. But the rest looks good. :)

  7. Oops. Yes you're right about that Pegg. They were thought to be poisonous.

  8. Yum. Looks like an ad from my favorite whole foods market. The Medieval dietary philosophy sounds much like one we'd find promoted today. I'd never thought about this much before. Very interesting. Thanks for sharing!

  9. You're welcome. Julia. I love to experience history through cooking, and I'm glad to share what I discover.