What people ate and drank in Jorvik (York)

What did the population of Jorvik eat and drink? The evidence is that the people in Jorvik ate well and were not, in normal times, likely to have experienced much of a ‘hungry gap’ towards the end of winter. The main meat in the diet came from the domesticated animals – beef, pork, mutton and lamb, chicken and goose. Sometimes the meat of hunted animals and birds (especially deer, hares, moorland birds, woodland birds and waterfowl) was eaten. Fish also featured in the diet of the townspeople of Jorvik, both from the rivers and from the sea, though sea fish became more important in the eleventh century. Shellfish were eaten.

Bread was made from wheat, barley and rye. Oats were grown and made into bread or cakes. Oatcakes were still made and called ‘havercakes’ or ‘haverbread’ in Yorkshire right up to the early twentieth century, from the Old Norse word for oats, ‘hafre’. Sometimes the cereal grains would be steeped (or ‘creed’) in milk, or milk and water, to soften them; the mixture would then be cooked as porridge. Nuts such as hazelnuts and walnuts were eaten.

Some of the vegetables we are familiar with today would have been available, including leeks, carrots, peas, field beans, parsnips, beet and the cabbage family. A variety of fruits and berries were eaten, amongst them plums, cherries, sloes, apples, blackberries, raspberries, dewberries, elderberries, hawthorn berries and rowanberries. Honey was used for sweetening and was also fermented to make mead. Hop remains have been found in the Jorvik excavations, showing that beer brewing went on..

As with any town, most of the food would have come from the surrounding countryside. Though the townspeople may have kept a few poultry – and sometimes perhaps a pig – they were generally too busy and had too little room to produce much of their own food. They would have relied mainly on produce from the rich farmlands of the Vale of York. The town would have provided a steady, rich market for the people round about who worked the land and could produce more than they needed for themselves.