Most meals would have been some form of stew, soup or pottage cooked in a cauldron over the central hearth of the house. Bread, baked in a clay oven or on a griddle, would also be a daily foodstuff. Flour could be ground at a water mill although more usually it would be done in the home using a hand quern. Wealthier people would have been able to afford an imported rotary quern from the Rhineland. When the flour is freshly querned from recently cut grain, little yeast is necessary to be added to the dough as there is a reasonable yeast content in fresh grain.
Most of the time, especially amongst the poor, meat would only be used in small quantities to give extra flavour. This did not mean that Saxons were vegetarians, in fact they would eat as much meat as they could afford to. The wealthier a person was, the more often meat would figure in their diets.
The vegetables used in cooking would have been those that were in season at the time, although some may have been preserved by drying or pickling. Similarly, meat would have been used more in summer and autumn when domestic animals were killed and game was more readily available, although pigs, sheep and cattle were killed during the winter to provide fresh meat and save too much depletion of winter fodder. When the animals, especially pigs, were killed the blood was probably collected to make a form of black pudding. This is made by stirring the blood until it is cool to stop it congealing and then adding flour and herbs. The animal fat was used both for cooking and to make tallow for lamps and dubbin. Meat was preserved by salting and smoking and some may have been dried. No doubt herbs and spices were used to disguise the unpleasant taste that these may have had. Fish as was said earlier could be preserved by salting, smoking, pickling or simply drying.
Milk would have been used to make butter and cheese, especially sheep's and goat's milk. Eggs from chickens, ducks and geese would also have been eaten although the fowl of the period would not have laid as often as their modern counterparts.
One of the most important foodstuffs was honey as this was the only sweetener available. A good hive could produce about 100lbs of honey in a year. (A family of 6 would require about 1/2lb honey per day.) Sweet foods like honey and almond cakes were popular, but usually not an everyday foodstuff. There is some suggestion that gingerbread and cheeseckes may have been fare on the Anglo-Saxon table, but the only references that still exist imply that these are introductions that occur later in our history. Sugar, whilst used in North Africa, was not much used in Europe. If it ever found it's way to Britain, it makes one wonder what it may have looked like by the time it reached our damp shores.......
Other methods of cooking used included; frying in a frying pan or griddle (similar to a chestnut roaster), baking in a clay or turf oven, grilling on a spiral griddle, hanging griddle or on a 'barbecue' (similar to that shown on the Bayeux Tapestry). Spit roasting was done on a large rotary spit or using small skewers like a kebab skewer or food could even be baked in the embers of a fire usually wrapped in leaves and clay. By and large though, food was almost always boiled in a cauldron or baked in the embers of a fire usually wrapped in leaves and clay, as it was a more economic way of providing well cooked nutritious meals.
Specific evidence for banquets and feasts comes from the court of Charlemagne where he is described as being served 'in four courses only, exclusive of the roast, which hunters brought in on spits' (Eginhard 'Early Lives of Charlemagne' Ed A J Grant).
As to whether Charlemagne was being deliberately restrained is unknown. Some experts believe that later in the period, banquets and religious feasts held by the nobility (and sometimes the lower ranks too), would have as many as ten or twelve courses/dishes, although each course was fairly small. Fish and meat would make up several of the courses, although some courses would be purely vegetable. Much alcoholic drink was also served at banquets. There is some suggestion that the finds of large cauldrons from a variety of sites were almost always used for brewing beer, and not for cooking porridge etc; indicating the status of such beverages in their society. An honoured guest would be served drink by the banquet giver's wife and/or daughter or the banquet host if they happened to be a woman.
Food was eaten from wooden or clay bowls using only a knife and spoon (forks do not seem to have been used for eating until much later in the medieval period). There are however Scandinavian finds of pointed 'food sticks' made of wood or bone which may have been used for picking up pieces of meat and larger vegetables. Wooden plates were used for some food although pottery ones are very rare. Drinking vessels were made from a variety of materials in a number of styles. The commonest would have been wooden or pottery cups and mugs. Horns (often highly decorated) were also used and conical glass vessels were used in the early period, but were rare, giving way to glass vessels shaped more like beakers that we have today. Small wooden cups were used for very strong drinks. Leather was also used for drinking vessels although there is little evidence of this other than a passage in Ælfrics Colloquy. There is no evidence for drinking vessels with handles ever being used. Drinks were served from pottery jugs and pitchers or from bottles made of wood, clay or leather. Wooden tubs and ladles were probably used for serving drinks, some of which were served hot.