Seasonal, Local Dining in Pre-Modern Europe

Paul Theerman's picture
November 19, 2015
New York, United States
Subject Fields: 
Cultural History / Studies, Early Modern History and Period Studies, European History / Studies, History of Science, Medicine, and Technology

In the days before modern transport, preservation, and production technology, all chickens were local and free-range, and it was difficult to escape the constraints imposed by distance and the seasons. Difficult, but not impossible, as elite dining was defined by the challenge in obtaining ingredients, from hothouse peaches in the north in winter, to ice cream in Syria in the summer. In this talk, historian Dr. Paul Freedman of Yale University focuses on dining through the seasons. Eating was affected by medical theories about the four bodily humors thought to control the body’s health and equilibrium. To maintain a proper balance of the humors, in summer one should eat cold foods and in winter, hot, and beyond this lay many complexities of what physicians considered appropriate. In catholic Europe fasting was another factor affecting diet, especially in Lent, the longest and most rigorous period, but throughout the year as well. Ultimately, medical considerations were bound up in aesthetic judgments—when was the best time to eat certain foods to ensure they tasted best. Information on this is found especially with regard to fish—while available over a range of months, certain fish were thought best at particular times of the year.

Paul Freedman is Chester D. Tripp Professor of History at Yale University and was chair of the History Department from 2004–2007 and 2010–2011. Currently he is acting chair of the History of Science, Medicine, and Public Health program. Freedman is the author of two books on medieval Spain, including The Diocese of Vic (1983) and The Origins of Peasant Servitude in Medieval Catalonia (1992). In 1999 he published Images of the Medieval Peasant, which won the Haskins Prize from the Medieval Academy of America and the Otto Gründler Award from the International Medieval Congress. Out of the East: Spices and the Medieval Imagination (2008), considers why spices were so popular in the Middle Ages as to become major items of trade and the stimulus to exploration of Asia and the New World. In 2007 Freedman edited Food: The History of Taste, a book about cuisine from prehistoric hunter-gatherers until present-day trends. This received a prize from the International Association of Culinary Professionals and was nominated for a James Beard award. It has been translated into nine languages.

In the field of food history, Dr. Freedman has written on luxury dining in nineteenth-century America, and on women and restaurants. He is working on a book entitled “Ten Restaurants That Changed America”.


This lecture is part of our “Eating Through Time” series, focusing on food, food systems, and health.


Date:                     Thursday, November 19, 2015

Time:                     6:00 pm – 7:30 pm

Location:               The New York Academy of Medicine, 1216 Fifth Avenue at 103rd Street, New York, NY 10029


Free and open to the public; advance registration is requested. To register for this event, click here: Dining in Pre-Modern Europe


For more information about this and other upcoming history of medicine events in the New York area, see the calendar page of our blog, “Books, Health, and History”:


Contact Info: 

Paul Theerman, PhD
Associate Director
Center for the History of Medicine and Public Health
212.822.7350 office

The New York Academy of Medicine
1216 Fifth Avenue | New York, NY 10029 

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