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Brakng-t-Fast-art - 4/27/01


"Breaking the Fast or What did they eat for breakfast?" by Mistress Christianna MacGrain, OP,OL, Meridies.


NOTE: See also the files: breakfast-msg, eggs-msg, pancakes-msg, beer-msg, bread-msg, porridges-msg, French-Toast-art, sops-msg, sausages-msg.





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                                    Mark S. Harris

                                    AKA:  Stefan li Rous

                                         stefan at florilegium.org



Breaking the Fast


What did they eat for breakfast?

By Mistress Christianna MacGrain


'The 14th century romance Sir Gawain and the Green Knight notes that the poet Bercilak, up before daybreak for a hunt, "ete a sop hastyly" only "when he hade herde masse."... a sop being a sliver of bread dipped in wine or some other liquid.'

            "Fast and Feast" B.A. Henisch



"The Northumberland Household Book", contains the household records of an English noble establishment from 1512. It details what various members of the household were given for breakfast on fish and flesh days. Here are a few details, paraphrased.


"Breakfasts in Lent:

My Lord and My Lady -- a loaf of bread in trenchers, 2 manchets, a quart of beer, a quart of wine, 2 pieces of saltfish, 6 "baconn'd" herrings, 4 white herrings or a dish of sproits [sprats?]

My Lord Percy and Master Thomas Percy -- half a loaf of household bread, a manchet, a potell of beer, a dish of butter, a piece of saltfish, a dish of sproits or white herring

My Lord's clerks -- a loaf of bread, a potell of beer, 2 pieces of saltfish


Breakfasts on flesh days:

My Lord and My Lady -- a loaf of bread in trenchers, 2 manchets, a quart of beer, a quart of wine, half a "chyne" of mutton or a "chyne" of boiled beef

My Lord Percy and Master Thomas Percy -- half a loaf of household bread, a manchet, a potell of beer, a chicken or 3 boiled mutton bones

My Lord's clerks -- a loaf of bread, a potell of beer, a piece of boiled beef"



Thomas Tusser's poem "The Good Housewife" reads:

'Call servants to breakfast, by day star appear/

a snatch to wake fellows, but tarry not here./  

Let huswife be carver, let pottage be eat,/

a dishful each one with a morsel of meat.'  



Boorde talks of 'bean butter' which was used in Lent in place of real butter.  ... He also recommends a little green ginger first thing in the morning. Andrew Boorde, Dyetary of Helth, 1542


Thomas Cogan, too talks of brown bread and butter as

being a good breakfast for a countryman, although fine white manchet

bread, the most expensive form of bread, was usually that recommended for more gently-bred stomachs. 32."

32. Thomas Cogan. _The House of Health_, London 1584.



Hugh Plat _Jewel-house of Arte & Nature_ 1594


2. How to make sundry sorts of most dainty butter with the saide oils

[refers to earlier section on distilling essential oils]


In the month of May, it is very usuall with us to eat some of the smallest, and youngest sage leaves with butter in a morning, and I think the common use thereof doth sufficiently commende the same to be wholsome, in stead whereof all those which delighte in this heabe may cause a few droppes of the oile of sage to be well wrought, or tempered with the butter when it is new taken out of the cherne, until they find the same strong enough in taste to their owne liking; and this way I accoumpt much more wholsomer then the first, wherin you will finde a far more lively and penetrative tast then can be presently had out of the greene herbe.

This laste Sommer I did entertaine divers of my friends with this kinde of butter amongst other country dishes, as also with cinnamon, mace, and clove butter (which are all made in one selfe same manner) and I knew not whether I did please them more with this new found dish, or offend them by denying the secret unto them, who thought it very strange to find the naturall taste of herbs, and spices coueied into butter without any apparent touch of color.  But I hope I have at this time satisfied their longings.  2re, if by som means or other you may not give a tincture to your creme before you chearne it, either with roseleaves, cowslep leaves, violet or marigold leaves, &c. And thereby chaunge the color of your butter.

And it may be that if you wash your butter throughly wel with rose water before you dish it, and work up some fine sugar in it, that the Country people will go neere to robbe all Cocknies of their breakfasts, unlesse the dairie be well looked unto.  If you would keepe butter sweete, and fresh a long time to make sops, broth or cawdle, or to butter any kinde of fishe withall in a better sorte then I have seene in the best houses where I have come, then dissolve your butter in a clean galsed, or silver vessell & in a pan, or kettle of water with a slow and gentle fire, and powre the same so dissolved, into a bason that hath some faire Water therein, and when it is cold, take away the soote, not suffering any of the curds, or whey to remain in the bottome: and if you regarde not the charge thereof, you may either the first or the second time, dissolve your Butter in Rosewater as before, working them well together, and so Clarifie it, and this butter so clarified, wil bee as sweet in tast, as the Marrow of any beast, by reason of, the great impuritie that is remooved by this manner of handeling:

[rest snipped]



When good King Stephen ruled this land

He was a goodly king;

He stole three pecks of barley-meal

To make a bag-pudding.


A bag-pudding the King did make,

And stuffed it well with plums,

And put thereto great lumps of fat,

As big as my two thumbs.


The King and Queen did eat thereof,

And courtiers beside,

And what they could not eat that night,

The Queen next morning fried.


Not that bag-puddings would be period for Stephen, who's mid-twelfth century.



Quote taken from the _Liber Niger_ of Edward IV (in Bibl. Harl. No. 642, fol. 1-196) as found in _A Collection of Ordinances and Regulations for the Government of the Royal Household, Made in Divers Reigns, From King Edward III. to King William and Queen Mary; Also Recepts in Ancient Cookery._ London (Society of Antiquaries), 1790.

(Commonly referred to as _Household Ordinances_) on page 27:


"...THE KYNG for his brekefast, two looves made into four manchetts, and ii payne demayne, one messe of kychyn grosse, dim' gallon of ale. Item, at none for his bourde sitting allone, viii loves, with the trenchers; his servyce of the kychyn cannot be expresses at certeyn but the noble Edward the Third, in comune dayes seryall, beying no prees of lordes or straungers at his bourde, was served with viii diverse

dissches; and his lordes in hall and chamber with v, his gentylmen in court with iii dissches, besides porage; and groomes and others with ii disshes diverse. Then the Kinges meate, two pitchers and dim' wine, ii gallons ale. Item, for his souper by hymeslf, viii loves, with the trenchers...,ii pitchers wyne, ii gallons ale, besides the fruter and the waferer.  ~1550


"and ii payne demayne," Pan de maine is bread of the first quality also referred to as the Lord's bread.

"One messe of kychyn grosse" is very likely describing one serving of the basic fare from the common kitchen which would be served to all members of the household.  This basic meal would be supplemented with various dishes depending on the recipients rank, position, contract, etc. - Bear (Terry Decker, Norman, OK)



A Book of Cookrye (1591) or Epulario (or The Italian Banquet) (1598) contains a recipe for a chicken pottage good for the morning.

From "Fast and Feast"  by Bridget Ann Henisch

      "The ideal number of meals was considered to be two, dinner and supper.  An everyday supper was a much lighter affair than dinner, and eaten at sunset.  In his sixth-century Rule for monks, St. Benedict stressed the point: 'At all times, they must so manage the hour of the meal ... that it is in daylight.'

      "It is hard to decide how widely accepted breakfast became in the period.  In theory it had no existence: grown men held out until the proper time.  In practice it was not unknown:  grown men were human.  As a result, breakfast leads a slightly furtive existence in the records.  To compound confusion, until the meal had been established, the word could be applied with perfect propriety to dinner. ... (the writer) Caxton, in his English and French Dialogues begins a specimen menu with the ominous words 'We shall breke our fast with trippes [tripe],' goes on to list as the other features of the meal an ox foot, a pig's foot, and a head of garlic, and ends with evident satisfaction 'So shall we breke our faste.'  ... Caxton's bill of fare seems dauntingly substantial for anyone to face fresh from his bed, and we may assume that here too the "break fast" intended is dinner.

      "Breakfast may perhaps be described, by the later Middle Ages, as an optional extra.  Those who did hard, heavy work could expect to have a bite to eat before the midday meal, though Tusser briskly reminds employers that this is to be regarded as a privilege, not a right:

            'No breakefast of custome provide for to save,

            but onely for such as deserveth to have.'

      Other groups of people sometimes indulged with breakfast were the old, the sick, and the very young. Even in monasteries the invalids and the young novices were allowed to eat something before none.  

      Perhaps because of ... associations with childhood and infirmity, there lingered on for a long time a certain feeling of apology and embarrassment when a grown man admitted to eating breakfast.  It was often regarded as a weakness, to be disguised if possible as something quite different: 'This is no brekefast: but a morsell to drynke with.' (William Horman, Vulgaria  1519)  A businessman in fourteenth-century Prato carefully explained that the only reason he ate some roasted chestnuts every morning before going out was to please his wife: 'she pampers me, as I do her.'  

      Not only did workmen usually eat breakfast; they were also fortified in the course of the day with 'nuncheons.'  These little snacks had become accepted fringe benefits by the 15th century, and they were noted down on wage sheets as a matter of course. In 1423, the Company of Brewers in London listed two kinds of payment, in money and in food, for the casual laborers it employed: 'Robert, dawber, for his dawbyng'  received four pence 'with his noonnchyns'; two carpenters making a gutter got eightpence each 'with here Nonsenches.'(The Brewer's First Book - 1423)"


Elizabeth Burton says that artisans  ate a breakfast of 'bread, salt herring, cold meat, pottage, cheese and ale'.  The fish would be more important in fast days.

She also says that Queen Elizabeth's breakfast was 'manchet, ale, beer, wine and a good pottage made of mutton or beef'.



And for the Bacon and Eggs Crowd...


      While we know that eggs and such were probably not eaten for breakfast in the period we study, old habits die hard.  There are, however, plenty of recipes available for what the modern palate considers breakfast foods.

From the English translation of Le Menagier, ~1390, in the Odds and Ends section.

Rique-Manger. Take two apples as big as two eggs or a little more and peel them, and take out the seeds, then chop in small pieces, then parboil in an iron skillet, then pour off the water, and let the rique-manger dry: then add butter for frying, and while frying and stirring, drip in two eggs; and when it is all cooked, throw on powdered spices, and saffron, and eat with bread during September.



It was most definately NOT mentioned as a breakfast dish, and in fact has nothing to do with any of my research on appropriate breakfast foods. I was feeding a campful of "but you gotta have sausage and eggs for breakfast!!!

- Anne-Marie Rousseau


Herbolat: ("Forme of Curye" 180)

Take persel, myntes, saverey and sauge, tansey, vervayn, clarry, rewe,

ditayn, fenel, southernwode; hewe hem and grinde hem smale. Medle hem up

with aryen. Do buttur in a trap and do the fars thereto and bake it and

mess forth.


One Herbolace Or Two of Eggs (Le Menagier de Paris, p. 274)

Take of dittany two leaves only, and of rue less than the half or naught, for know that it is strong and bitter; of smallage, tansey, mint, and sage, of each some four leaves or less, for each is strong; marjoram a little more, fennel more, parsley more still, but of porray, beets, violet leaves, spinach, lettuces and clary, as much of the one as of the others, until you have two large handfuls.  Pick them over and wash them in cold water, then dry them of all the water, and bray two heads of ginger, then put your herbs into the mortar two or three times and bray them with the ginger. And then have sixteen eggs well beaten together, yolks and whites, and bray and mix them in the mortar with the things abovesaid, then divide it in two and make two thick omelettes, which you shall fry as followeth.  First you shall heat your frying pan very well with oil, butter or such other fat as you will, and when it is very hot all over and especially towards the handle, mingle and spread your eggs over the pan and turn them often over and over with a flat palette, then cast good grated cheese on the top, and know that it is so done, because if you grate cheese with the herbs and eggs, when you come to fry your omelette, the cheese at the bottom will stick to the pan, and thus it befals with an egg omelette if you mix the eggs with the cheese.  Wherefore you should first put the eggs in the pan, and put the cheese on the top, and then cover the edges with eggs, and otherwise it will cling to the pan.  And when your herbs be cooked in the pan, cut your herbolace into a round or square and eat it not too hot nor too cold.


From "AN ORDINANCE OF POTTAGE" Hieatt, Constance B.. Prospect Book. 1988.  

Leche Lardys, recipe #19. p. 132.

To make leche lardys of iii colors

Take clene cow mylke and put hit in iii pottys.  Breke to everych a quantyte of eyron as thu seist best is to do.  Coloure one rede colour with saundres & anothyr with saveryn, the iii with grene herbys. Puit to everych a porcyon of clene larde of fat of bacon well sodyn & pertyd in iii pottys; put to salt.  Boyle hem all at ones; stere hem well for brennyng yn the boyling.  Take hem downe.  Cast hem into a cloth, everych above other, and wynd the cloth togedyr & presse out all the juse.  Than take hem out all hole and make leches of hem, and do iii or iiii leches in a dysch, and serve hem forth.


Constance Hiett's Redaction:  

Milk and egg curd, with bacon  

4 eggs            

4 slices bacon 1/2 tsp. Salt

2 cups milk

for green colouring: a handful of parsley and/or spinach, plus and other herbs which appeal, e.g. summer savory               

for yellow: a pinch of saffron  

For green coloring, grind the herbs as finely as you can, or boil them for a minute or so and grind with a spoonful of the cooking water, so they will be reduced to juice.  For yellow, you can either steep the saffron in a small amount of boiling water or grind it.

      Cover the bacon with cold water and bring to a boil; then drain and cut the bacon into small pieces.  If you prefer bacon slightly crisp, fry these lightly.

      Beat eggs and milk thoroughly, and stir in the bacon.  Colour as desired.  Cook over low to medium heat, stirring constantly, until the milk is thickly curdled.  This is one 'custard' which should actually curdle.

      When the mixture is very thick, pour it into a cloth and set this in a colander to let the whey run out; then fold the cloth and press down firmly to get out more whey and to press the curd together.  Place a heavy weight on top for a few minutes while the curd cools enough to be handled; then wring it again in its cloth, pressing it firmly together, before laying it on a board and slicing it.

The traditional way was, apparently, to divide it and color it, serving slices of the different colors in the same dish.


169.  Sawgeat. Book IV, "Forme of Cure"

Sage.  Take sage; grind it and mix it with eggs.  Take a sausage and dice it, and put it in a small pan, and add grease and fry it. when it is fried enough, add the sage and eggs; scramble lightly.  Add powder douce and serve it.  If it is an Ember Day, take sage, butter, and eggs, and let it stand well by the sage, and serve it forth.

This is the modern English transliteration.  What it means by 'let it stand well...' means to leave it a while before cooking, so that the flavors of the sage will permeate the egg mixture, becoming strong enough to overcome the lack of sausage. - Allison

Sodde Eggs:  Seethe your Egges almost harde, then peele them and cut them in

quarters, then take a little Butter in a frying panne and melt it a little browne, then put to it in to the panne, a little Vinegar, Mustarde, Pepper and Salte, and then put it into a platter upon your Egges. [J. Partridge, "The Widowes treasure," London 1585 - Leeds University, Preston collection P/K1 1585.]


Civet of Eggs (Civi d'oeufs, from "Le Menagier de Paris", recipe 174**p. 179 -)

Poach some eggs in oil, then take onions, cut into circles and cooked, and fry them in oil, then boil them in wine, verjus, and vinegar, and boil everything together; then put three or four eggs in each bowl and pour the brouet over; it should not be thick.

[The complete redaction considers the eggs to be fried sunnyside up and the

topping to be "ruby-red onion 'jam'"]



Sippets in mustard (Soup en moustarde, from "Le Viandier de Taillevent", Bibliothque Nationale de France, ed. Scully, recipe 150**p. 180 )


Take eggs, poached whole in oil without their shells, then take some of that oil, wine, water, and onions fried in oil, all boiled together; take slices of bread browned on the grill, then cut them into square pieces and put them to boil with the other ingredients; then remove the broth and dry your sippets of bread, then put it on a platter; then add mustard to your broth and boil; then put the sippets into your bowls and pour it over.

[what happens to the eggs isn't exactly clear from the above. The redaction

sets an egg fried sunnyside up on each slice of bread and tops with mustard




**p. 182 - Thickened cow's milk (Lait de vache lyi, from "Le Menagier de

Paris", recipe 175)


Take best-quality milk...;bring it to the boil then remove from the fire;

then put through a sieve many egg yolks, their filaments removed, and then

crush a knob of ginger and some saffron and add them; and keep warm near

the fire; then take eggs poached in water and put two or three poached eggs

in each bowl and pour the milk over them.



White Torta


Platina book 8


Prepare a pound and a half of best fresh cheese, chopped especially fine. Add twelve or fifteen egg whites, half a pound of sugar, half an ounce of white ginger, half a pound of pork liquamen and as much fresh butter. Blend in as much milk as you need. When you have blended this, put it into a pastry crust rolled thin and put it all in a pan and set it to bake on the hearth with a gentle flame. Then, to give it color, put coals on the lid. When it is cooked and taken from the pan, sprinkle ground sugar over it, with rosewater.


The interpretation as found in Cariodoc's Miscellany although I think  that we used all butter or either half butter half shortening instead of the lard.  


1 lb fresh cheese: ricotta

8 egg whites

2/3 c sugar

1/3 oz fresh ginger

1/4 lb lard

1/4 lb butter

1/2 c milk

10" pastry shell

~2 t sugar

1 t rosewater


Beat egg whites to soft peaks. Soften butter and lard together at room temperature. Fold together cheese and egg whites, then add sugar, minced ginger, lard and butter. Mix until fairly uniform. Add milk, fill shell. Bake at 325deg. for 40 minutes. When oil separates, it is done. Put under broiler to brown top lightly. Sprinkle sugar and rosewater, spread on with spoon bottom. Cool until set.


This is a little less butter and lard than Platina suggests, but we found it too fatty using his quantities.




From Katie Stewart's book "The Joy of Eating",pages 86-87.  

Unfortunately, Ms. Stewart does not give us the name of the artist or the name of the painting, but the painting appears to be dated 1560.  We see a

multigenerational family, grandparents, parents and baby. Next to the grandfather is a plate of waffles, next to the mother is a plate of pancakes.  The grandmother is making the pancakes in the background, using a skillet to make the pancakes.  The skillet is suspended over the fire by a large ring attached to a set of chains.


From Peter Rose's book, "The Sensible Cook", we find these paintings:


Page 2: Jan Steen, "The 12th Night Feast" Jan Steen 1626-1679.

Page 15: Willem Buytewech, "Interior" 1610.

Page 22: Jan Steen, "The St. Nicholas Celebration"

Page 77: Nicholas Maes, "The Pancake Maker" Nicholas Maes 1634-1693.

Page 117: No artist or date: "Sweet meal"


From "De Verstandige Kock" [Dutch 1667, the preface says that many of the recipes in this cookbook copy those from "Eenen Seer Schonen/ende Excellenten

Coc-boeck" published in 1589.  This is the only period Dutch cookbook that has been translated into English. There are many paintings of pancakes and waffles that are pre-1600.   -Huette


1) To fry common Pancakes.

For each pond of Wheat-flour take a pint of sweet Milk and 3 Eggs.  

Some add some sugar to it.


2) To fry the best kind of Pancakes.

Take 5 or 6 Eggs with clean, running water, add to it Cloves, Cinnamon, Mace, and Nutmeg with some Salt, beat it with some Wheat-flour as thick as you like,

fry them and sprinkle them with Sugar; these are prepared with running water because with Milk or Cream they would be tough.


3) To fry Groeninger Pancakes.

Take a pond of Wheat-flour, 3 Eggs, a quarter pond of Currants and Some Cinnamon, this is fried in Butter.  Is good.


4) To fry Waffles.

For each pond of Wheat-flour take a pint of sweet Milk, a little tin bowl of melted Butter with 3 or 4 Eggs, a spoonful of Yeast well stirred together.


5) To fry Wafers.

Take a pond Wheat-flour, a loot Cinnamon, a half loot Ginger, 2 Eggs, a half beer glass Rhenish-wine, a stuyver Rosewater, a small bowl Butter without Salt, a little Sugar; beaten with some lukewarm water until the thickness of Pancake [batter] and fried in the iron.  Is delicious.


There is some evidence for eggs cracked into boiling leftover soup being used by Anglo-Saxons.

In Spain in the Renaissance a common breakfast was old women with little pots of boiling olive oil who would crack an egg into it when you showed up and handed them money. Somebody painted a picture of one, with her pot heating over a clever little charcoal brazier.

The Lowlander dairymen drank the buttermilk, again with bread soaked in it. The Norse liked cottage cheese with honey, or salted oatmeal patted flat on a fireplace rock to bake.

Everybody ate leftovers.

Don't remember which reference, but Germans began to eat as many as 5-6 meals per day.  Nuremburg was one place, I think.  Certain dishes began, in the 16th C., to be considered appropriate.  Weissewurst, a small, white sausage, is only eaten before noon, I think.  If it isn't all finished, it is thrown out.  Made of fresh veal, with no preservatives, IIRC. You can actually find it in the evening, as late as 12 years ago,

but they were disapproving of our eating it.  The German breakfast today is usually bread, cheeses, cold cuts, jam and spreads like Nutella [choclate hazlenut paste].



Apart from bread and perhaps, in households without ovens, porridge of some kind (although that can smack suspiciously of dinner if the period menus are to be believed), possibly a bread companion like soft cheese or a fruit cheese, the foods that seem most likely to me are the remains of a previous night's roast (you sometimes see poultry or game mentioned in connection with breakfast, or possibly a piece of boiled bacon). Another possibility that might be considered by some a fine breakfast are pancakes and fritters of various kinds.

Breakfast for the nobs seems often to have been a meal taken on the fly, and fritters, pancakes, and other little crunchy finger foods seem to have been eaten on the streets in the cities, so they would probably make a good breakfast, in the same way some people eat doughnuts of a morning.

It also occurs to me that a cup of plain broth might make a decent and

not-impossible medieval morning pick-me-up. The stockpot has presumably been going all night anyway...

FWIW, just as an interesting bit of culture shock, there are wildly OOP (19th century) accounts of those pesky English travelers in the Scottish Highlands, which describe families seated around a single large bowl of porridge, with each diner issued his/her own horn spoon, with a cup of skimmed milk for dunking spoonfuls of porridge.



> Yogurt?

Definitely! You might also have feta cheese, olives, and maybe a rice-pudding type dish. Soft, white pita bread (not pita pockets, but flat bread), is wonderful drizzled with warm honey for breakfast.

The Caliph Mu'awiyya (May Allah be Content With Him) used to break his fast with the leftovers from the previous night's dinner.



Copyright 2000 by Christine Seelye-King. 1039 E. Confederate Ave., Atlanta, GA 30316 <kingstaste at mindspring.com>. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited and receives a copy.


If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate a notice in

the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also

appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being

reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.


<the end>

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Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org