By Judith M. Bennett
Women and Work in Preindustrial Europe, edited by Barbara A. Hanawalt (University of Indiana Press, 1986)
Introduction: The medieval peasant diet was plain and basic; most peasant meals consisted only of bread, ale, and soup with some variation provided by seasoned fruits, legumes, and vegetables. But the simplicity of the fare did not guarantee that most families could fill their daily needs by domestic production alone. Because the manufacture of bread and ale necessitated expensive equipment and required considerable labor, medieval households were seldom able to stock these products without recouses to commercial markets. In the towns and villages of medieval England, most families depended heavily upon commercial bakers and brewers to provide the basic foodstuffs that were consumed daily. Even in the countryside, where so many of the everyday needs of the family economy were met through direct production, dependence upon the purchase of bread and ale was common.