So, one thing I've wondered a lot about is period cooking. For the Celts, that can be a difficult subject to find information on. For one thing, we still have only scant archaeological evidence for those peoples known as the Celts compared to other time periods and places. For another thing, ingredients that may have been popular and/or easily available there and then may not be available here and now.
So where should I start my search? It seemed to make sense to me to begin with finding out a few things:
- What is the primary method by which Celts acquired their food?
- Which foods were available readily, and which foods were used but rare?
- Which foods were not available at all?
- How did trade and travel influence food availability?
The I came across is at this website has excellent information, and decent sources. It includes quotes from several period historians as primary sources, however, the author failed to include any secondary sources that may have been used.
What is the primary method by which Celts acquired their food?
Based on the information in this article, the Celts began farming around 5,000 years ago. Through their Bronze and Iron Ages, they saw a great number of advances in farming techniques and tools, and during the Iron Age, the Celts in Britain were primarily settled in communities that farmed and tended livestock. Therefore, it seems reasonable to assume that with meat readily available from livestock, hunting was limited to sport, specialty meats, or special occasions and was used to supplement the food supply, though I can't find any confirmation on this at this time. Likewise, with many plants and crops being cultivated, it is reasonable to assume that the Celts were not dependent on gathering foods, but rather used gathering as a way to supplement their diet with items they were not cultivating (berries, some herbs, etc). The author indicates that period historians regarded the British Celts as skilled arable farmers, and that archaeological evidence shows a mixed bag of arable and pastoral farming, but the author fails to make note of which archaeological find this information is based on.
Which foods were available readily, and which foods were used but rare?
According to the aforementioned article and this one, the known crops produced by the British Celts include einkorn, emmer, spelt, oats (cultivated and uncultivated varieties), rye and millet.
According to the first author mentioned, "Few vegetables were known in Britain prior to the Roman Invasion of the country. However, Celtic beans and fat hen were grown and a kind of primative parsnip was found in Britain at that time. Herbs would probably have been the main way to get your 'greens'."
According to this article by the same article, the list of vegetables introduced to Britain by the Romans includes garlic, onions, shallots, leeks, cabbages, peas, celery, turnips, radishes, and asparagus. Herbs such as rosemary, thyme, bay, basil and savoury mint were also introduced to Britain by the Romans, as well as herbs used for brewing and medicinal purposes. A variety of fruits such as apples, cherries, mulberries and grapes were also introduced by the Romans.
Which foods were not available at all?
The practical answer to this question is "new world foods". These include tomatoes, corn (maize), potatoes, peppers, squashes and any other foods that were not imported, traded, or native to the island.
How did trade and travel influence food availability?
Strabo wrote that Britain:"produces corn (cereal wheat), cattle, gold, silver and iron. These things are exported, along with hides, slaves and dogs suitable for hunting."
Unfortunately, at this point in my less-than-extensive research, I have not yet found a more thorough answer to this question. However, learning and research are a process, and the point of this blog is to share that process with you.