Fasting With Fish

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Last week I mentioned fasting during Advent and said that it wasn’t necessarily a deprivation.  I’m reading The Road to Crécy at the moment and this week I came across the list of what Edward III ate on the day he landed in Normandy in July 1346.

On Wednesday 12th July the king and his household sat down to 93 cod, 16 salted salmon, 24 stockfish (dried cod), 11 conger eels and 4 lampreys (from the Kitchen Accounts quoted in The Road to Crécy). They also ate some geese and hens, since poultry was permitted on Wednesdays. The fish were served with sauces of garlic and mustard.

Two days later, on Friday 14th July, the king’s household ate 38 cod, 16 stockfish, 8 salted salmon, 100 quarters (a weight) of pimpernels (small eels),  200 lampreys and 7 ‘shaft’ eels. I’m afraid I don’t know exactly what type of eel these are. Again, they were served with sauces and peas. On Fridays the rules for fasting were stricter and no meat at all was allowed.

In addidtion to the ones listed above, the types of fish that were available from the sea were plaice, bream, sole, haddock, turbot, halibut, sea bass, mullet, sturgeon and mackerel. Crabs and lobster were also considered fish, as were whelks, oysters, mussels and shrimps. Slightly more surprisingly so were seals, whales and porpoises. River and lake fish included trout, pike, grayling, bream and tench.

Given that England has a lot of coastline and many rivers, to say nothing of fishponds at monasteries and some large manors, you would think that there would be plenty of variety for people, even if they did have to fast for about half the days in the year. This was not the case. The definition of a fish – something created at sea or in water – could include many different creatures. Barnacle geese and puffins counted as fish, as did beavers, because they had tails like fish.

Although salting fish was a way of making it available to people who lived more than a day’s journey from the coast, fish could also be transported live in barrels of water for those who had the money to pay for it.


The Road to Crécy by Marilyn Livingstone and Morgen Witzel

The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England by Ian Mortimer

Food and Cooking in Medieval Britain by Maggie Black


April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

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Filed under Fourteenth Century, Medieval Life

28 responses to “Fasting With Fish

  1. Great post, April! Why are stories about food always so fascinating? Or is it just me?

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Wow, that’s a lot of fish! Not sure about the eels myself.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Portia Kitcher

    I agree that posts about food are so fascinating. My boys used to fish with their father and we would eat what they caught. Eels are quite solid so I can see the attraction as a substitute for meat. However, i didn’t like them brought to me live-too much like snakes. Eek!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I don’t think I could deal with eels, but I generally enjoy most seafood. It is interesting to realize the there is such a thing as “fish in a barrel”.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. I am surprised at the wide definition of the word “fish”. Geese? Puffins? Beaver? I can see the stretch for lobster, mollusks and the like, and can even buy into seals and whales. But I think someone must have been out of fish when he caught a Puffin and called it close enough. LOL Great info as always April.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I’d like to order a live fish in a barrel special delivery via Amazon Prime, please. And make it snappy! :p

    Liked by 1 person

  7. lydiaschoch

    Wow, that’s a lot of fish! Yum. I was just about to ask about the mercury in them, but then I realized that this almost certainly wasn’t an issue back then.

    I’ve read that the Catholic church classified beavers and capybara as fish for fasting days purposes. It’s so interesting to see how people divided the various types of animals up back then.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Food is a fascinating subject and really interesting to know how our ancestors ate, (wow, they went through a lot of fish!!). I absolutely love food and do enjoy trying different things, particularly from different countries. As is one of the people who commented here, I too am trying to eat less meat & embrace more variety from the vast veggie recipes too 😊 great post April

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Fascinating – as always, April. It looks like they weren’t getting their 5 a day… Sorry I’ve not been popping in much of late – but I take the opportunity to wish you a very Merry Christmas.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Pingback: Medieval Otter Hunters | A Writer's Perspective

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