Some movies and cartoons show the Celts eating big joints of wild boar around
blazing campfires every night. But it’s important to remember that neither ancient
Greek Olympic athletes nor Roman Gladiators ever ate red meat. In fact Gladiators
were some of the fittest individuals at this time in history and they were nicknamed
In my opinion, even in an Iron Age community such feasting would have happened
only on special occasions and the Iron Age people probably ate some of the following
food on a day to day basis instead:
Vegetable soups with onions, wild garlic, turnips, parsnips and cabbage.
Wild berries like Gooseberries, blackberries and blueberries
Porridge made from rolled oats
Eggs from their hens and wild birds eggs
Honey from local bees
Chicken and fish like trout, mackerel and salmon
Seaweed, crabs, mussel’s molluscs
Nettles, Fennel, Common Sorrel, Wild Garlic, Parsley, Spinach
Wild Animals like Bear, Fox, Beaver, Deer, Wild Boar,
Ducks, Wild Birds, and Frogs etc.
Black Puddings and Bacon and Sausages
Some domesticated animals like goats, sheep and pigs.
Further, of course the Gauls and Britons would not have known what coffee or fizzy
drinks were and no doubt, they were better off for it. But what choices did they have
when they were thirsty?
Milk or Water
Undoubtedly milk from goats and cattle was a staple drink amongst both children and
adults with water from a natural spring also being in plentiful supply.
They certainly didn’t have tea as we know it, but they must have found comfort in a
bowl of herbal tea. By adding different herbs to hot water various minor ailments
could be relieved. For instance, living close to the smoke from an open fire on a daily
basis, Sage could be given to ease asthma and pleurisy; wild mint would be given to
settle and upset stomach, chamomile to help relax the whole body. They would have
sweetened all of the above by simply adding honey.
Even in ancient times, alcohol was very important, especially amongst the Iron Age
People whom drank it as part of their many social activities. Ancient writers tell us
that the poorer folk drank a honey beer and that very strong mead was fermented
also. However, the higher up the social ladder you were, you would more than
likely want to be seen to drink red wine.
Red wine would have had to have been imported from Europe and by drinking red
wine, you were showing your neighbours that you could afford to do so.
But let’s get back to the food..
Salting, Drying, Storing,
The Iron Age people didn’t have electricity so preserving was the only way they could
ensure they had food through the winter
Salt-cured meat or salted meats, like bacon or kippered fish, was a way of preserving
or curing meat in salty brine. Salted meat and fish are still commonly eaten as a
staple of the diet today in many parts of the world.
How did it work?
Salt helped stop the growth of microorganisms and killed unwanted bacteria which
would otherwise have made the food unfit to eat.
One of the oldest recipes for salting was to half fill a barrel with 1 cup salt for every
4.4 litres of hot water. That’s about 34 parts water - 1 part salt plus a little vinegar.
Before placing meat into the barrel, the Ancients would have cut and jointed the meat
into manageable ham sized pieces. Next they would have soaked the meat in the
barrel for a week, 7 days.
When they removed the meat from the barrel, they would have dried it off with a cloth
and kept it covered to ensure it didn’t attract flies. Next it was time to hang it up in a
cool dry place to dry. If they were successful, the meat would keep for a minimum of
5 weeks in hot weather. During winter, the meat remained edible for two months or
Most importantly, if they didn’t get it right, it will be very obvious quite quickly.
When they were ready to eat the meat they rinsed the salt out by placing the meat in
a tub of water and kneading the meat to force out the excess salt. They probably had
to do this two or three times, pour out the water and repeat again.
Drying is arguably the oldest method of food preservation known to man. Drying was
a very simple way to preserve food. It didn’t need salt, vinegar, sugar or anything
else. Depending on the time of year in which the Iron Age people prepared their food
for winter storage, all they needed was either sunshine or a warm, dry place so that
the fruit or vegetables could lose all their moisture. Drying was a simple way to stop
harmful Bacteria growing.
The Iron Age people would have known the art of drying wild fruits, fish and meats to
ensure they had enough food through the winter time.
The number one rule when drying was to choose fruits, vegetables and herbs in top
quality condition. If the Britons and Gauls had attempted to dry half-rotten, overripe or
wilted picks, the food would spoil before the drying process could take place.
Food would be sliced, diced or chopped uniformly so it could dry properly. If some
slices were thicker than others, half the batch would have over-dried by the time the
other half was ready. Fruits and vegetables would have been sliced about 1/4 inch
thin for drying. Or a fine dice or medium chop can be used depending on pick
ensured uniform size and cut down on drying times.
Archaeology tells us that most Iron Age villages, farmsteads had access to granaries.
These structures are perfect for allowing air to circulate around and under the food.
Though there is no such evidence, an educated guess supposes that linen may have
been hung up, around the food inside the granaries to ensure flies can’t get in, but
the air can still circulate. The linen also would help trap moisture in the air.
The fact that we find evidence of numerous granaries on Iron Age sites suggests that
each held different food stuffs in storage and may have featured racks at different
levels as opposed to food hanging from the ceiling.
It is unlikely that these dried foods were stored in subterranean cellars as dampness
ruin the food and caused bacteria or mould to grow. When I tried this, I found that
leaving them strung up also brings the nuisance of mice, rats and squirrels into your
house. Earthenware pottery jars with close fitting lids are good.