Friday, January 18, 2013

Bread and Butter in the Medieval Household

Detail from The Nativity with Donors and Saints Jerome and Leonard 

Bread was made in the bakery and butter in the dairy, usually by separate people, although in peasant households they might be done by the same person.


The type of bread eaten depended largely on what flour you could afford. White bread was eaten by nobles with common people generally eating a variety of brown bread.

Wastel or Panis Domini is from fine white wheat flour which had been sieved (known as bolted)
Maslin uses a mixture of wheat and rye unbolted flour
Rye is much hardier than wheat and the poorer the years crops the more rye was in the bread.
Barley was common in the north of England and Scotland where it was easier to grow than the other grains.
Pea and Bean bread was also made, and known as Horsebread. This was probably served to horses in years of a good harvest and eaten by the poor in leaner times, often mixed with other grains.

Instead of using plates Bread Trenchers were used by many people. These were slices of brown bread usually about four days old.

Flour was generally ground in the Manorial mill, and there were fines for grinding your own flour.

Bread was baked in ovens in manors and religious houses. The ovens were placed next to the chimney. Common people could pay to bake their bread in these ovens or could bake their bread on a griddle with an overturned bowl to make a makeshift oven for use over an open fire.


To make butter the milk is first churned in a barrel with a plunger with holes in it, gradually after a lot of work the milk separates into butter and buttermilk.

This mix is strained to remove the butter pieces, the buttermilk makes a refreshing drink or can be used for cooking.

Sweet butter is for immediate use and is rinsed in water before patting to remove all the excess water.

Salted butter for storage was patted without rinsing, to remove all the buttermilk, it was then heavily salted. This salt was washed out before it was used for eating.

Butter for cooking was first melted and strained before putting into pots a process known as clarifying.

Butter for health purposes was left in the sunlight for 12-14 days, this bleaches it and removes the Vitamin A, whilst adding Vitamin D. This was given to children to help prevent rickets.
Information about 13th Century Bread

Eleanor de Montfort's household generally had 5-6 bushels of grain per day. But this rose to 45 when the Earl (Simon) and his retinue were at home.


From this their resident baker was expected to make per quarter (8 bushels)

A profit of 4d plus 2 loves baking fee
Around 418 pounds of bread.

He could claim as expenses
1 ½ d servants
1/2d boys
1/2d yeast
2d wood
1 ½ d bolting cloths
Farthing for a candle

A Bakers wages were 2 shillings twice a year, and his boy got 3shillings once a year.

An oven cost 6s 6d and took 9 days to build.


The average day would see around 210 1lb loaves of bread, and 2350 when the whole retinue were at home ! Wow!!

It is recorded that

3/4 of the grain would go to dog feed for 10 days
1/8 to bread for the poor for 8 days along with 13 gallons of beer


These are the types recorded finest first:

Wastel-fine white bolted
Simnel (biscuit)
Cocket small-from the same flour as Wastel
large-from less expensive wheat
Treet-from unbolted wheat
Common wheat


Many complaints were that the bakers put in too much yeast, making the bread too light thus the customer was paying for air.

Corn crop information in Leicestershire

Leicester Abbey tithe corn in 1393(by %):
Wheat 14
Rye 5
Oats 9
Barley 40
Peas 32
By field name analysis we see Rye only in some small areas with distinctly differing soils
Barley, wheat and rye would occupy the same field, whereas peas and beans were in another field ie the pease field. So you have pease field & Barley field, which altered depending on the rotation point.
Records for the abbey are pretty similar until the 16th Century percentage wise, if we assume that this was the same for the small farmer data from 1558 runs thus:-

Acres underAcres underAcres underAcres underAcres under%%%%%
NoAcres sownPeasBarleyWheatRyeOatsPeasBarleyWheatRyeOats

Bakers in Leicester

Leicester Bakers were unusual in at least two respects.

Common ovens

Firstly for several centuries after the conquest not only were they compelled to grain their corn at the Earl's mill, but they were also compelled to bake their bread at his ovens. These were maintained near the Castle and the lane was names Bakehouse Lane. The nearby gate is recorded as Hot Gate in the 14th Century due to the warmth from these ovens. Baker's row is also mentioned in the Mayor's account of 1306.

This right of the Earl's of Leicester is confirmed agai in 1200 when Petronilla, Robert Blanchmains mother, allowed a grant to another Petronilla Rogerson, with a property including a bakehouse for the men outside the South Gate to use, with all the liberties and free customs, saving the customary tenants of the Countess within the town of Leicester who were bound to the bakehouses of the Countess within thr town. This is followed by two similar grants by Robert Fitzparnel, the Earl and Saher de Quincey in the next few years.

It would appear that with permission a burgess might make anoven in his own right, but this would be by grant or "furnage" or toll to the lord.

Thomas Earl of Leicester (d1322) owned 6 common ovens rented a £10 a year.
John of Gaunt in 1375 reserved all his bakehouse rights.
Thomas Harding in 1422 took a thirty year lease from the Duchy of Lancaster of the common oven outside North Gate, Leicester for 20s, a bargain !

Defective bread fines

The second notable right of bakers in Leicester concerns the leniency with which they were dealt for selling defective bread.

They claimed a right to a custom where the first default was a fine of 1s 4d, the second 2s 8d, third 5s 4d only on the fourth were they to be put in the pillory or pay 40s. Fines against bread assizes in 1462 were 4 pounds 2s 9d.

In London fraudulent bakers were pilloried with lumps of dough round their necks !

Number of bakers

In 1196 15 bakers are recorded serving an estimated population of under 2000, as this was just over 20 years since the catastrophe of 1173, where Leicester was all but deserted, this is quite a reasonable recovery.


Bread was not to be sold that had been kept more than a week.

In 1357 if bread was needed and the bakers had flour in their house that they would not bake, they had to forfeit it.

Women selling bread should put it in their windows and not hide it and must not sell their bread with butter, cheese or eggs, but each separately.

In 1467 a measure was passed "that the town lack no manner of bread, white or brown, nor no other kinds of bread, in pain of imprisonment as long as the Mayor likes when the town is breadless" This holding to ransom of the townsfolk is demonstrated by the bakers strike of 1484 in nearby Coventry, where all the bakers left and went to Bakynton, leaving the City without bread. They were fined 20 pounds but 10 was returned to them.

No baker was allowed into the country with bread, without his bread being weighed first and check that it was wholesome. It had to be weighed the day it was presented.

In 1520 no country baker could bring bread into the town except on markets days , namely Wednesday and Friday. No foreign bakers could bring bread except on the Saturday markets.

Country bakers took the following oath

"You shall swear you shall well and truly observe and keep all and everything contained in the three branches in the Bakers' Ordinal and which concerns the Bakers of the country and do perform all other matters and things as in any sort concern the good orders and rules of the said trade so far forth as concerns you to the best of your knowledge, skill and ability. So help you God."

Bread forfeited under assize was usually given to the poor.

Whilst the cost of a loaf remained fairlt constant, the changes in assizes was usually by the weight of the loaf.

Thus in Act 51 of Henry III (1266-7)

If 1/4 wheat is 12d, wastel bread of a fathing shall weigh 6 pounds and 18 shillings

Bread typeweightcost
white loaf13p(pounds)16s1/2d
wheat loaf20p 14s1/2d
horse loaf27p 12s1/2d

Price of wheat/quarterWeight of loaf

The weights, incidentally, corresponded to the weights of coins

The Ordinance of the Bakers

The Ordinance of the Bakers of Leicester is not known to us. But it is assumed it would have been similar to that of Hull in 1598.

One warden and two Searchers were chosen yearly. Sworn in the day after their election before the Mayor.
Only freemen admitted to the company.
No innholder or other person within the town should bake bread for sale nor for serving their guests, or bake cakes to sell or serve their guests.

No inhabitant or person from outside the town may sell bread except on Market days and then only by retail.

The Bakers must serve the town well will all kinds of bread, pay half the fines to the Mayor and 10s year compensation.

No apprentices to be taken without the Mayors consent.

Warden and Searchers were to take weekly their assizes to sell by,the company must deliver bread to poor women and other of the town to retail again, 13 loaves to the dozen

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