The Middle Ages

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About
During the European Middle Ages, bakers were specialists, producing either common brown or luxurious white bread. It wasn’t until the 17th century that improvements in milling and in per capita income led to the wide availability of more or less white bread and the dissolution of the brown guild as a separate body. In northern areas, rye, barley, and oats were more common than wheat and were made into coarse, heavy breads. One use of flat bread at this time was the “trencher,” a dense, dry, thick slice that served as a plate at medieval meals and then was either eaten or given away to the poor. And pastry was often made to serve as a kind of all-purpose cooking and storage container, a protective and edible wrapping for meat dishes in particular.