Cooking with the Celts
Ever wondered what it would have been like to eat with a Celt? What do you mean, “no?” Go with me on this anyway.
The answer depends on the location and time period. I’m confining my discussion to Britain because that’s what I know best.
The pre-Roman Celts ate with fingers and dagger off of plates made from wood or bread. Food was either passed around or served at a low table. They sat crossed legged or squatted on floors covered in rushes or animal skins. Food was usually cooked over a central fire in a round house. We know the Celts ate well, with pork or beef being boiled in large cauldrons or roasted on a spit. It was also salted for later use. Fish, bread, honey, butter, cheese, venison, boar and wild fowl were also common. A favorite was salmon with honey. Porridge was a typical breakfast, possibly along with ale or mead and maybe a few bannocks (flat cakes made from barley or oats).
Hospitality was highly valued, so much in fact that strangers were allowed to eat before being asked their name or what they needed. At banquets, the chief or king gave the “hero’s portion,” the choice thigh, to the bravest man in the clan.
After the Roman invasion, kitchens of Celts who adopted the Roman ways weren’t too different from yours, at least in terms of cooking implements. They didn’t have microwaves, but they did have ovens to bake bread and stoves/hearths on which to boil, fry or stew. They also had sieves and ladles, chopping boards, baking sheets, and pots and pans of iron or bronze. They could even adjust the heat level of their stoves by placing the cooking vessels over metal tripods of varying heights.
The Romans brought with them many new foods, such as onions, leeks, lettuce, lentils, celery, plums, apples and walnuts. They also brought herbs used in healing and cooking such as dill, garlic, fennel, sage and rosemary. Their love of food was accompanied by a great love for wine, which had been imported by the southern and eastern Celtic tribes before the invasion, but was in high demand after. Oddly enough, the Celts were known for their dislike of olive oil, something highly prized by the Romans.
With these new foods came new table manners. Roman men ate on couches, their left hand supporting them, right hand used in eating. Women sat on basket chairs. They used finger bowls to cleanse the fingertips and napkins to wipe their mouths. Napkins were also used to take home leftovers (ancient doggie bag!) According to Gifford, they ate with knives and spoons of bronze, bone or silver. Other historians claim the spoon wasn’t invented until much later on. Those people say soup was eaten out of a communal bowl that was passed among the dinners. (Eww…Soup is off the menu in my books just because I can’t verify which way is correct for eating it.)
What about you? What have you heard, read or seen in books (fiction or non-fiction) or movies about the eating habits of the Celts?
Alcock, Joan. Food in Roman Britain.
Alcock, Leslie. Kings, Warriors, Craftsmen, and Priests: Britain AD 550-850
Duffy, Kevin. Who were the Celts?
Gifford, Clive. Food and Cooking in Ancient Rome.
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