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The Food of Bretonnia PDF Print
Friday, 13 May 2011
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The Food of Bretonnia
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The Food of Bretonnia

Dedicated to the memory of my cat, who Morr took this Friday, May 13th of 2011. A fitting tribute, as he was a great lover of food (particularly if it wasn‘t his and nobody was watching).

1. General clarifications

Greetings and thank you for your interest in my ramblings!
I have based this article mostly on the book Essen und Trinken im Mittelalter (Food and Drink in the Middle Ages) by the legendary (all right, by a historian‘s standard) Professor Ernst Schubert (if you speak German, READ IT!), as well as the combined background from 5th and 6th edition (including most miniatures). I have no doubt that further publications by GW could well contradict what I‘m writing here, but from a scientific viewpoint (and what we have on background so far), this is probably very close to what we can expect Bretonnian cuisine to be like.
A note of caution, though: I have to admit that I‘m changing quite fluently between "our“ real Earth history and Old World history. I hope that this is not too confusing - should any need for clarification arise, please do not hesitate to tell me so!


2. Foodstuffs common to all classes

  Firstly, it should be pointed out which foodstuffs would not have been available to the Old World at all, as this already seriously limits the items on the menu: Potatoes, tomatoes, corn, paprika, chili, pumpkins, chocolate, and certain species of beans (such as kidney beans) all came from America and probably would not have been known yet (though we cannot, of course, say with any certainty what some daring crusader might have brought along from Lustria...). Also, while noodle dough was known, pasta as we all love it today was not - medieval noodles were either roughly cuneate (and then eaten as a dessert rather than as a salty dish) or much like ravioli (though generally somewhat larger - and the filling would make it more of an upper class dish). Furthermore, the large garden strawberry made its first appearance roughly between the 17th-18th century and would probably be missing from Bretonnia‘s desserts too (only much smaller wild species were common).

In medieval cuisine, almost as much effort was put into preserving food as into preparing the respective dishes themselves (considering that preserved food could, in dire times, mean the difference between life and death - and the Old World has all too many dire times...). As most food preservatives were an invention of the Napoleonic era, it is unlikely that the Brets would have jam or foods that require similar additives. While pickling cabbage was known - Sauerkraut was virtually ubiquitous in Middle Europe - the most common methods of preserving food were salting, smoking, and drying. Every Bretonnian‘s diet, regardless of social standing, would include items that have been treated in such a manner - though the amount would vary depending on the season. Hence, salt was a sought-after commodity - also known as „white gold“, it was either mined or harvested from the sea. It is for a good reason that we use the term „salary“ - it derives from the Latin word sal = salt, as people were sometimes paid in salt (since there was no place in the world where salt was unwelcome, it was just as good as money). While the nobility could afford enough salt to season their dishes as they pleased, the peasantry would probably have to use virtually their whole (moderate) supply for preserving food.

Similarly, honey was also used as a food preservative - though I suspect that very few beekeepers in Bretonnia would be private men. While in the Middle Ages beekeeping was mostly an occupation for monks or professionals in the employment of a feudal lord, in Bretonnia, the situation would not be very different: Beekeeping requires specific skills and is time-consuming to the point of not allowing the beekeeper enough time to provide sustenance for himself while at the same time meeting the extremely high tithes. Hence, while some peasants might keep a small beehive, the greater amount of honey would go to the nobility. The peasantry will probably have to make do with a few spoonfuls for the holidays.

As to the foodstuffs themselves, there are quite a few items we will find in all social stratae. Several vegetables would inevitably appear on the tables of both noble and peasant households. Cabbage in virtually all forms was, as I‘ve said, ubiquitous, though it was the peasantry that relied in particular on that item. Peas, lentils, green beans, and turnips were very common (and I believe the Archer sprue includes one of the latter...), as well as onions (see the Men-at-Arms sprue). Onions were popular as they were both comparatively easy to grow and extremely rich in both fiber and vitamins - and that is without counting their medicinal value!
Herbs were equally appreciated as a cooking ingredient and for their medicinal use. Basil was, among other things, used to alleviate bad breath (although the plant fares poorly in colder weather), whereas rosemary was used against headaches. The refrain from „Scarborough Fair“ does not list „Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme" for no reason - those actually were the most common kitchen and medicinal herbs.

Fruit is a problematic affair - as most fruit trees require special tending, most of them would (at least in Bretonnia) probably be in seigneurial hands. The most common fruit would be grapes, apples, and pears, though these would almost never have been consumed raw by the higher classes - it was thought that unprepared, „cold“ food was actively unhealthy, as medieval scholars were of the opinion that such food would be detrimental to the body‘s equilibrium of cold and warm aspects (hence our common „cold“ - the term comes not from catching said illness by sitting in the cold, but rather from the idea that it is simply a surplus of „coldness“ in our system). However, as those were rather the concerns of the educated élite, we can readily assume that some raw consumption must have gone on among the peasants! Grapes, however, were mostly turned into wine. Apples could be dried out and serve as an extra source of vitamins during the winter (the concept of vitamins was of course, yet unknown - people simply knew what one had to eat to stay relatively healthy, though there were some kinks in that system, such as the ignorance of ergot - see below).

The one item all classes would keep finding on their respective menu would be grain and everything made from grain - bread, gruel, and bran in particular. However, the percentage of grain products would vary with regard to the social standing, as well as the types of grain. Nobles would be more likely to eat bread made from wheat flour, whereas the peasantry would have had to make do with barley and rye flour. As with many foodstuffs, grain could not be stored indefinitely; also, many grain crops, the refined sorts in particular, require relatively stable weather conditions, which is probably expecting a bit much from the world of Warhammer (where it occasionally rains blood). But even if the weather were to play along, grain was not at all risk-free - for instance, it has been proven that a majorly frugal diet can wreak havoc with your teeth (archaeologists can, these days, tell apart a meat-eating caveman from a prehistoric farmer by the respective state of their teeth).

But even so, there were two more major disadvantages to our most common food. Firstly - bread with finely ground flour in particular - it was full of pulverized stone from the millstones, which would only hasten the degeneration of the teeth (it‘s like chewing fine sandpaper). Secondly, most grains - rye in particular (a fungus known as ergot) - were prone to fungal infections (particularly after long periods of rain or in swampy terrain), which were not recognized as such. The mycotoxins included in those could cause seizures, hallucinations, internal bleeding and organ damage, weeping pustules, fever, gangrene in fingers and toes, diarrhea, vomiting, even death in severe cases or after prolonged exposure. As we are talking Warhammer here, it is likely that the effect of such tainted grain would be even worse! There could be quite a few mutants and beastmen out there who simply had the bad fortune to chow down on the wrong loaf of bread...
Finally, it should be pointed out that the basic ways of preparing food were generally identical for all classes, as the relatively simple medieval hearth put certain constraints on cooking techniques - even the kitchens of the nobility were still comparatively simple by the end of the 15th century. The only things that would hugely differ were the ingredients and their quality, plus the time invested in the preparation of the respective dish (as a noble could afford a professional cook). 
This, however, is where the common ground ends. As probably everybody here has expected, the differences were more than staggering...




Last Updated ( Monday, 27 June 2011 )
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