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Medieval food and colour

Woolgar, Christopher (2018) Medieval food and colour Journal of Medieval History, 44, (1)

Record type: Article


For medieval people, colour provided important information about the nature of objects, and that was no less true of what they ate than of anything else. On one level colour might expose moral and spiritual connotations, on another it might offer indications of characteristics of a foodstuff according to medieval humoral theories. Moreover, it was to form an important element in the elite cuisine that developed across Europe from 1200 and perhaps earlier. Display was a crucial part of this cuisine, and this paper demonstrates how and why it was employed, and the ways in which these culinary practices were emulated elsewhere in society. Recipes instructed cooks in colouring dishes, and in ways of adding verisimilitude to made dishes. Heraldic colours and designs were employed for ‘subtleties’, the set pieces that came to table with wider messages. There were general cultural associations between colours and culinary preparations, and some types of dish show common patterns of colouring. However fleeting the colours of foodstuffs, they offer a further dimension to our understanding of meals, the material culture of dining and medieval mentalities.

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Accepted/In Press date: 15 August 2017
Published date: 1 February 2018
Additional Information: Chris Woolgar is Professor of History and Archival Studies at the University of Southampton. He has a long-standing interest in the history of the everyday. His publications include three volumes published by Yale University Press: The Great Household in Late Medieval England (New Haven: YUP, 1999); The Senses in Late Medieval England (New Haven: YUP, 2006); and The Culture of Food in England, 1200–1500 (New Haven: YUP, 2016); as well as editions of medieval household accounts and testamentary records. He is the editor of the Journal of Medieval History.
Keywords: food; colour; mentalities; feasting; display; sensory perception; humoral theory; food systems


Local EPrints ID: 413144
ISSN: 0304-4181
PURE UUID: 3f8e36c0-91b2-4b78-af6b-9c9f811b8afb

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Date deposited: 16 Aug 2017 16:30
Last modified: 16 Aug 2017 16:30

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