A Spanish hodge-podge and some heron on the side

Dietary practices on the 16th- to 17th-century castle of Middelburg-in-Flanders (Belgium)

Maxime Poulain

During 2002-2004, archaeological excavations were conducted on the castle site of Middelburg-in-Flanders (Belgium). Considerable amounts of ceramics, metal objects, pollen, fruits, seeds, and animal remains were recovered, mostly dating to the 16th and 17th centuries. In this period, the town had become a pawn in the Eighty Years’ War and the castle had lost its elite character as various military units and poorer families moved in.
This paper discusses how the material culture of cooking tools (e.g. ceramics) sheds light on the dietary practices of the different social groups inhabiting the castle. For example, the small volume of cooking pots, as compared to other contemporaneous sites in Flanders, may indicate the heating and consumption of food in individual portions, what is to be expected in a military context. Preserved food crusts associated with these cooking pots create an additional layer of materiality and were recently analyzed (with the help of the Professor J.M. van Winter Stipend). This confrontation of cooking tools with the organic residue analysis and cooking books questions our understanding of early modern cuisine and, in doing so, pleads for a closer cooperation between food historians and archaeologists.