Pandemain, Cheat, Tourte, Clapbread, Horse Bread .... these words may sound strange today but in medieval times they were everyday terms. Pandemain was made from wheat and mainly enjoyed by the rich whilst the general fare of the common man was a choice of tourte, horse bread or clapbread.
"The king was in his counting house
Counting out his money;
The queen was in the parlour,
Easting bread and honey"
From "Sing A Song Of Sixpence"
Bread was the key staple food for medieval people and there was a surprisingly wide range of types of bread eaten. Bascially, different grains made different bread so the bread you ate would generally be dictated by the grain grown in your local area. The quality of the soil and the type of climate were the biggest influences on what grain was grown. People in generally warm, dry areas would eat bread very different from people in colder, wetter areas.
Here are the main grains used in medieval bread making:
Wheat – this made the finest, whitest bread. It was generally only eaten by the wealthy landowners because it required good soil which had to be cultivated and maintained properly.
Rye – this made a darker bread. Sometimes rye was blended in with wheat to make a bread called maslin.
Barley – this and other oats were more commonly grown in wet and cold areas.
Poor harvests were commonplace in medieval times and this meant a shortage of grain for bread making. So poor people had to supplement the little grain they had with peas, beans and even acorns in order to make their bread. This was the cheapest type of bread.
There was a variety of names for bread in medieval times including:
pandemain – deemed the best as the flour was sifted 2 or 3 times
wastel – a good quality bread
cocket – a cheaper, white bread
cheat – wholewheat bread with the bran removed
tourte – bread containing husk as well as flour (known as brown bread)
horse bread – beans, peas and any general grain was used
clapbread – barley bread or oatcakes
Above: Painting of a medieval queen in her parlour eating bread & honey by British painter Valentine Cameron Prinsep
Plain or toasted bread was used a lot in cooked dishes with breadcrumbs used to thicken sauces and stiffen custards. Adding spces and a honey mixture to the breadcrumbs made gingerbread.
Peasants living in the countryside generally baked their own bread – read the medieval bread recipes page for more on this. People living in the towns, on the other hand, were able to buy bread from professional bakers.