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Building a Castle: Food Supply

Because a castle was built to withstand a siege, it was necessary to include gardens, food stores and areas for keeping poultry and livestock inside the walls. In peacetime there were fields outside the castle for herds and crops, and also a watermill or windmill to grind the grain.

Kitchen Garden


A typical kitchen garden grew vegetables and herbs. Some vegetables not known today were alexanders (like asparagus) and skirrets (with sweet-tasting white roots). Herbs were used in cooking and medicine, but also scattered among the rushes on the floor to combat smells and pests.


They farmed pigs, poultry, pigeons, geese, goats and a limited number of cattle. In winter the cattle had to be fed from stores of straw, which were needed for other things. The pigs, however, would eat anything, and were turned out into the forest in autumn to fatten up on nuts. The cattle and goats provided milk for butter and cheese.

They made sure to use every part of the animals, nothing went to waste. The sheep provided wool, meat and leather, the other animals meat and leather too. Even the horns were hollowed out and worked by horners. Beehives on the castle walls provided honey for sweetening.

Grinding Wheat

Since the watermill was outside the castle there had to some way of grinding the wheat if the castle was under siege. The kitchen contained one or more querns, a hand-operated set of millstones (a runner and a bedstone). The runner stone was turned by hand using a pole. The flour produced was coarse, but better than nothing.

Store Rooms

A storeroom needed high windows and a secure door to prevent stealing. There was a pantry, a buttery and barrels of salted meat and fish. Also a lockable chest for the grain. Some of the food was from the lord’s estate, some was from tenants as payment, and some was more exotic food bought in, such as spices, wines, shellfish, raisins, figs and fruit from elsewhere.

Security was also important since some products were extremely expensive because they came from foreign lands. An ounce of pepper cost a day’s wages for a labourer.

[adapted from The Medieval Castle Haynes Manual by Charles Phillips]

Ann Marie Thomas is the author of four medieval history books, a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel. Book one, Intruders, and book two Alien Secrets, are out now. Follow her at