anglo saxon guide


Back to the Anglo Saxon Survival Guide Index

Harvest time was a very important and serious point in the year associated with rituals and thanksgiving after it was completed.

There was no Asda or Wallmart to go to. Our ancestors lived much closer to and were far more dependant on the land than we are today.

How did they preserve food and store it through the long winter? Read on:

Grains crops

These included wheat, barley and corn.

Grain crops would be harvested and then taken to barns. Here there were thrashed with wooden or metal flails to bring off the grain. This winnowing was done on the floor of the barn in the early winter.


Different technologies were used to grind grain into flour:

1. Pestles and mortar

2.Saddle querns: These consisted of an upper convex stones and lower concave or hollow stone. The two halves would fit together and by rocking the upper stones the grain was crushed.

3. Rotary querns with handle. These were two flat stones. Both round in shape which would rotate one upon the other.

4. Mills were introduced in 8th to 9th centuries. The mill stones were powered by water wheels or by animal power.


Animals were typically killed in the winter as meat was easier to store in the cold months than the heat of summer. Because of the greater risk of infection pork was never eaten in the summer.

A smaller household might employ a professional to slaughter their animals. Animals would be killed using the spike on the rear face of an axe – this is the origin of the expression ‘poleaxeing’.  This butcher would usually be paid in meat from the animal.

Meat was usually hung for up to 3 weeks  for beef or 1 week for lamb.

Most of an animal would be used for food including the tongue, offal and brain. Even bone marrow was used in salves and ointments, soups etc.

Preservation and Processing of Food

There were various methods used to preserve food:


This was done in the sun, in open air, by a fire, in an oven or in a kiln. It was used for beans, cereals, herbs, mushrooms (threaded on string), seaweed, peas and even some meat and fish.


Birchwood, oak, juniper wood or even seaweed was used to smoke hams, and some fish such as herring.


Some fruit or vegetables were preserved this way in vinegar, alcohol or honey


This method was used for fruit which was boiled down to mush and stored in sealed jars


Dry salting:

Mix of salt, pepper and honey was used for hams turned and rubbed in mixtures twice weekly for a month. Then they were hung up to dry


Again hams could be soaked in brine

After salting the pork or ham might be smoked.

How to make Salt?

Lead Pots were used to dry out salt. Salt deposits were located in brine pits near sea inlets


How was food stored through the winter?

Cereals: Threshed in barn / granary pit. Flour and meal put in chest

Fruit: Boiled and the put in a crock jar sealed with greased lid – maybe using butter or wax.

Meat and Cheeses: hung up in “Bacon House”

Eggs stored in Ash or straw

Root vegetables in cellars/ dark storehouses

The Key Holder

The food would be locked away in a store room. The room was locked and the key kept by a key holder. This was a very important role. It was usually a woman. Sometimes women were buried with their keys and have been found by archaeologist which is how we know about this.

Problems of food storage.

Other than lack of refrigeration, pests were a real problem. These might include mice and  rats. The Anglo Saxons kept cats and even weasels  to keep the mice and rodent population low.

Flour and cereals could get infected by flour mites causing bowel disorders like diarrhoea.


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