By the time of the Bronze Age, hunted and "wild" gathered food was no longer a main part of the diet, as farming could sustain more people in one area. However the first field systems came to Britain, indicating growing pressure on the land as the numbers of people and animals increased.
Bronze Age crops (examples below) could also be stored of use out-of-season or bartered for other goods.
A central fire would have been lit inside the family roundhouse for both heating and cooking. There was not a smoke hole/chimney in the apex of the roof, for this would have caused an updraft that would have rapidly set fire to the thatch. Instead, smoke would have accumulated harmlessly inside the roof space (above head height) and slowly leaked out through the thatch and also kill any unwanted insects.
Another possible method for food preparation that survives in the archaeological record is a Burnt Mounds (known as fulachtaí fia in Ireland). These are a type of archaeological site whose defining characteristic is large quantities of heat shattered stone, charcoal and normally with an adjacent hearth and trough for water. Mounds are almost always found on the banks of a loch or stream.
These sites commonly date to the Bronze Age and have been primarily interpreted as cooking places. Experiments show that a joint of meat could be fully cooked in about three to four hours through this method. However animal bone is rarely found at these site, so alternative explanations have been given, including beer making, leather treatment and salt production
Bronze Age food pots introduced by the Bell-Beaker people are squat jars often with decorated bevelled rims and decoration over the body on the exterior from the rim to the base. Decoration consists of circling lines of twisted cord and tooth combed impressions.
Reconstructed Bronze Age pottery by Ancientcraft
Grain Preparation ~ Saddle Quern Stones
Saddle querns were used for grinding corn during the Neolithic and Bronze Age. The grain or seeds were placed on the concave lower stone (bedstone) and crushed (rather than ground) by moving the long rounded stone (rubber/mouler) backwards and forwards over it. The surface of the bedstone would often been "dressed" by pecking it to make it into a more efficient grater.
In Abu Hureyra (Syria), archaeologists have found abnormalities in the bone structure of ancient skeletons which they believe to have been caused by prolonged use of a saddle quern. Saddle querns were gradually replaced by rotary querns which were easier to use and caused less physical strain
Evidence of Bronze Age food and ingredients often comes from "middens" - the term for a pit or dump of domestic waste. Microscopic examination of the middens provides valuable evidence of what people ate. Damp, anaerobic conditions can preserve organic remains and middens may contain animal/fish bone, shells, plant material, human excrement, pot sherds, lithics and other materials associated with human occupation.
Obviously as no Prehistoric Recipe Book exists, ingredients and cooking methods are based on research, experimentation and some guesswork. A research team, commissioned by UKTV Food in 2007 and lead by Dr Ruth Fairchild from the Food Science Department of the University of Wales Institute (Cardiff), spoke to food experts and experimental archaeologists, such as Jacqui Wood (below), to compile a list of Britain's oldest recipes (with three or more ingredients):
(© Chris Saville - with kind permission)
Recipes: Jacqui Wood's books - "Prehistoric Cooking" & "Tasting the Past" and from Jane Renfrew's "Prehistoric Cookery: Recipes & History"
NOTE: RECIPES ARE FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY ~ NOT INTENDED AS CULINARY GUIDANCE
Barley Beer Bread
Cooking Time: 5 mins each side
Start by picking the nettles, carefully, using only the small, young ones, as they grow more bitter with age. Wash the nettles one by one, to remove soil and insects (note: Acetylcholine and histamine are the primary nettle toxins; the latter causes dermal vesiculation. Formic acid was formerly thought to cause the persistent stinging action but it is now only associated with the initial pain at contact).
Kefir Cheese is made using a yeast and bacterial culture called "kefir", rather than an additional acid or rennet, to separate milk into curd and whey. Kefir grains look like little cauliflower florets and are quite rubbery.
Smokey Fish Stew
From about 2,000BC; among the fish remains found in middens (waste pits) in northern Europe are: eel, carp, pike, perch, trout, salmon, plaice, bass, mullet, cod and spurdog
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