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How medieval chefs made fast days easier

Natasha Frost at Atlas Obscura described how medieval chefs handled meat-free days. It wasn’t just Fridays, she noted, but Wednesdays, to observe when Judas betrayed Christ, and Saturdays, to commemorate the Virgin Mary – not to mention the whole of Lent.

Those living inland, she said, were forced to endure “weeks upon weeks of muddy-tasting freshwater fish or salted herring and cod”. One 15th-century schoolboy wrote: “Thou will not believe how weary I am of fish … I have eat none other than salt fish this Lent, and it has engendered so much phlegm within me that it stops my pipes that I can scarcely speak nor breathe.

“Robbed of their eggs and dairy,” Frost wrote, “medieval chefs were forced to get creative, often plumping for the same substitutes many 21st-century vegans choose.” Almonds were a “crucial tool”, used to make cheeses and turned into foods that masqueraded as eggs and bacon.

There were also “flagrant misinterpretations” of what was or was not a fish. Sea mammals such as dolphins and porpoises were allowed, as were beavers’ tails, “which were scaly and apparently tasted enough like fish to qualify”.

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