The Renaissance was not only a period of the reemergence of art and literature in Europe, but it was also the era where cooking was taken to new heights in terms of its complexity and artistry. During that period, cooking was considered as essential to the culture as art, and many people, especially the nobles, took cooking and dining seriously.
There are many cooking techniques that were created in the Renaissance, and some methods originating from the Middle Ages were refined and enhanced as well.
The Renaissance Diet
The diet during the Renaissance is divided into two categories; the first one is the diet of the poor, while the other one is the diet for the rich.
Those who belong to the lower class usually ate fish as a source of protein, as meat from pigs and cows are usually expensive. To get better flavor, they would often add fresh fruits and vegetables to the dish to get a little bit of sweetness, sourness, or bitterness from the otherwise bland-tasting fish.
From the time of the ancient Egyptians up to the Middle Ages, most of the lower class people cannot afford dairy products like milk and cheese due to its high price caused by low stocks. However, cheese and milk were abundant in the market during the Renaissance, which makes it much more affordable than before. Peasants would usually partner cheese with bread during breakfast.
The nobles and the rich people typically have a wide array of ingredients and dishes to choose from, but they widely favor eating meat because it tastes the best, and it raises their status in society. They typically pair meats with spices that came from different countries while cooking. These spices include red peppers, paprika, and cayenne.
As the nobles’ diet is predominantly made up of different meats, their bodies lack sufficient minerals and vitamins that come from fruits and vegetables. The imbalanced diet made them much frailer compared to the peasants that usually have a balanced diet of vegetables, fruits, and meat with only a few fats.
Despite their differences in diet, there are several dishes that both the rich and the poor to eat, and these dishes are soups and stews. The ingredients used for these dishes may differ for each social class, but they are primarily cooked the same way.
Renaissance Cooking Methods
The nobles can sometimes get tired of eating the same dish over and over again, and as their homes or castles have an abundance of ingredients, they are commonly adventurous when it comes to what they are going to eat for lunch or dinner. They, along with their chefs, started to create different dishes during that period, which led to the birth of popular dishes like pasta and sausages. Although these dishes may have already existed, and the nobles may have eaten these while visiting other countries, the rich people have created their own versions and made them staples in Renaissance dining.
Baking has also been popular during that era, and the nobles were also quite adventurous when it comes to baking bread. They were able to make cakes and flan, which they eat for dessert.
Salting also came back as the primary preserving method for foods, particularly meat, after the dominance of smoking during the preceding periods. The preservation method of salting involves covering meat with salt, and the salt will then start to draw the water out of the meat. By taking out the meat’s water, you will also be able to take out its moisture, which is where bacteria grow and live in.
After proper preservation, the meat is often cooked over an open flame while inside a pot or a pan. Once it is cooked, the meat is then sliced into pieces using a knife made of steel.
For the nobles, their chefs typically have their own cookbook so that they can memorize the recipes that they have created or that have been given by their masters. Baking requires precise measurements when it comes to the amount of ingredients that should be used, and by having a cookbook, chefs would be able to know the measurements immediately without relying on their gut feel.
The first meal of the day, which is either breakfast or lunch, is served from 9 am to 10 am, and the second meal called dinner is consumed from 6 pm to 7 pm. For religious people during the Renaissance, meat is banned on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. In addition, fasting is done during sacred seasons like Advent and Lent.
Today, fasting during the Lent and Advent seasons is still being practiced by some people in Europe as well as other countries where Christianity is prominent. However, that is not the only tradition connected to food from the Renaissance that is still being used or implemented in the present time. Salting meat is still being in some countries, although there are already better preserving methods existing thanks to the advancement of technology. Baking cakes is still quite popular, and many bakeries that have been founded right after the Renaissance are currently open.