What did the Teutons eat?

In Travian mainly crop is present as the staple of the tribes. But what did the Teutons actually eat?

Much of the food we are familiar with would have been unknown at the time our tribes lived (around 0 AD), since they came from America or Asia. Potatoes and corn, tomatoes and peppers, but also rice and noodles played no role in the Teutons’ diet. Moreover, apart from salting, drying and smoking there were no other alternatives to cure food and hence the diet depended much more on the seasons.

Meat

According to Roman written sources, Teutons ate mainly meat and dairy products. In his reports of Gaul, the book “De Bello Gallico”, Julius Caesar writes: “They have little agriculture and their diet consists mainly of milk, cheese and meat.” Tacitus adds: “The diet is simple: Wild fruits, fresh meat or curd.” The men’s main occupation was hunting, and aurochs, deer and wild boar were their important prey.

Hunting methods: Caesar’s moose test

Gaius Julius Caesar tells his well-disposed readers about a particularly odd method the Teutons used when hunting moose:
27. Also the moose. With its shape and change of coats it is similar to the deer, although a bit larger; its horns are only stubs and its legs are without ankles or joints. (2) If it wants to rest, it doesn’t lie down and, if it falls by accident, it cannot sit or stand up. (3) Trees therefore serve as its shelter; it leans on them and rests while bent slightly backwards. (4) If a hunter now notices the resting places of these animals by their tracks, they will undercut either the roots of all trees, or cut them down to the point that they only seem to be merely upright. (5) Should a moose then lean on it by habit, its own weight will fell the weakened tree and the moose itself will also fall.
(Source: Gaius Iulius Caesar De bello Gallico 6,27)

Archaeological finds and human remains like the teeth of skeletons and the stomach contents of bog people show a different picture however. While at some dwellings large amounts of wild animal bones were found in the middens, in most cases only a few bones were discovered and those belonged mainly to domestic animals such as cattle, pig and different kinds of poultry, mainly geese and ducks.

Vegetables

It is difficult to establish which vegetables the Teutons mainly ate. There have been pollen finds in examined dwellings and burial objects, but it is not known in what quantities vegetables were grown and how they were prepared. What is certain is that different legumes were known and widely popular. Lentils, peas and different kinds of beans were often on the menu.

Depending on the season, the different vegetables and legumes were cooked in a stew with grain. The ingredients varied according to the season: Cabbage and mushrooms in the fall, in spring and summer they cooked carrots similar to those we know today, yet with a different color. The bright red that we are used to was only cultivated later.

Cheese, cheese, cheese

In contract, the importance of dairy farming has been well documented and finds and sources also agree. It is mentioned in different forms as curdled milk, set milk and cheese. Archaeological finds support this. The typical Teutonic long-houses usually served as both, dwelling and stable and provided room for scores of cattle. It is possible that the Romans mistook the dairy cows as beef cattle and hence assumed a diet mainly comprising meat.

Crop

Crop was the most vital part of the Teutons’ diet. Based on examinations of bog people, it is estimated that meat only contributed about 5% of the overall food consumption, with a higher share reserved only for those at the top of society.

People mainly ate barley, but also oat, wheat, spelt and millet. The crop was usually cooked as mash in clay or, in richer families, also metal pots. Bread was less common since baking was a very laborious task.

Baking

Life was tough for a Teutonic baker, since all the work steps had to be done with the most simplistic of tools and usually no oven was available. If he wanted to bake bread, he had to start with a dough made from water and milled crop. The grain was ground by hand with grindstones, a task that could take hours, and eventually mixed with water. It then had to settle and the baker could only hope that the microorganisms in the air would start the fermentation process and produce sour dough.

If the wrong bacteria were in the air, the dough would start to rot and become inedible. If the attempt was successful, the Teuton was well-advised to also prepare a bowl of crop and keep the fermentation process going to make beer, since the same microorganisms are required for that. This is probably also reflected in the German version of Rumpelstiltskin’s song in the same-titled fairy tale: “Today I’m baking, tomorrow I’ll be brewing…”

Beer

Beer is a typical Teutonic drink and it was widely popular there. While even the old Egyptians used beer as drink and currency – it was part of the pay of workers – beer was very uncommon to be found with Romans. They preferred their wine, which they drank diluted with water and with added spices.

To start the fermentation process, yogurt or curdled milk could also be added to the dough, but it is not known whether the Teutons applied this method.

If the dough was good a fire was started on a large stone. Once the stone was hot enough the embers could be removed and fist-size chunks of dough were baked to bread. A pot put over the dough could accelerate this process. Alternatively the dough could be spread out thinly in a pan and baked as flat-bread.

Spices

Tacitus wrote about the dishes of the Teutons: “They stave off hunger without any decent food preparation and without spices.” It is right that spices we take for granted today were unknown to the Teutons or simply too expensive to get. Pepper for example was regularly imported to Rome from Asia, but was only rarely traded north of the Alps. It is likely that the Teutons used local herbs to season their dishes, for example mugwort, ramson, dill and laurel.

Recipe

If you want to treat your taste buds to some really typical Teutonic food, you should douse two handfuls of barleycorn and one handful of lentils overnight and then cook it together with two carrots and a few local herbs. The luxury variant is with a slice of pork belly.

Another popular treat, similarly baked in Germania, is the so called “Celtic ring”:
Mix 500g spelt flour with some curdled milk. Add some water if required to make the mixture smooth. Leave the dough to settle for two days. Now add 500 grams of honey, 50 grams of butter and one egg. Let the dough prove, knead it and split it into little portions of roughly 30 grams each. Roll them into the form of little rods and on the griddle form them to ring-shaped pastries. Bake for 10 minutes at 200° centigrade.

If that takes too long for your taste, you can replace the curdled milk with yeast. Just add all the other ingredients with the yeast and let the dough prove as usual.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *