Perhaps not the most important question out there, but one that I find interesting and allows me to add a bit more ‘world-flavour’ on the few occasions it comes up in-game. Again, I am going to combine various bits of historical information in with some basic information extracted from D&D style games.
So first a quick analysis of costs of basic food types, from the various rule sets.
- The cheapest type of food, at 1cp per pound, is wheat. I am going to assume that is for barely processed grain – and class it as covering all types of cereals. In my game world that is oats, wheat and barley as cash crops, with maize as a small-holders crop. In other words, maize is only found in the countryside.
- Most vegetable come in at 2cp per pound, and I found turnips, beans and potatoes listed, there were others, but these three were fairly consistent. In my game world I add cabbage, onions and peas as basic vegetable crops in the same price range.
- Flour also costs 2cp per pound, and I extend that to all simply processed grains, such as rice, oat-meal or couscous – although only oat-meal is common in my game.
- I make common fruits just a bit more expensive at 3cp per pound. In my world that generally mean apples, as they are the only local fruit that travels well, or a few plums in season.
- Interestingly, bread works out something like 5cp per pound/loaf, which is much higher than I remember it. However, that is probably a reasonable price, when you consider that flour costs 2cp per pound and it still needs processing to make the bread, I would use the same price for pasta and any other cereal based products.
- That about wraps it up for food stuff that falls easily into my definition of the Copper Economy.
- Eggs are the cheapest form of protein at about 1cp each, and will probably be the most common addition to the Copper Economy diet. However, they are likely to be mode common in the countryside or hinterlands, than in the city itself.
- The cheapest fish works out at about 5cp per pound, although the prices in the books are all for preserved fish. Fresh fish will be a bit cheaper if you live in a smallish port that exports fish. However, it is getting closer to the Silver Economy than the Copper.
- Cheese is much more expensive and comes in at over 2sp per pound – and is well into the Silver Economy. However, that (in part) represents the labour and processing required before it can travel.
- Meat is also about 2sp per pound, unless you want some very dodgy street meat, and may not even be eaten every day by less well off members of the Silver Economy.
- Fancier cuts of meat, imported vegetables or anything that requires complex preparation or cooking just slots straight into the Gold Economy.
With a list of ingredients, we only need to have a basic understanding of the cooking facilities to work out a likely menu. For this I am going to take a historically informed view that fits my setting – although I really wouldn’t want to argue it in any depth. In broad terms the kitchen stove was invented in the 18th century and became a fixture in large houses fairly soon afterwards. The stove didn’t move to smaller houses until the 19th century. Chimneys didn’t become common until the 16th century in Europe.
I interpret this as most people cook over an open fire, much as if they were cooking over a camp fire – however they have the advantage of a solid chimney and fireplace to work with. This means most people are ‘down hearth’ cooking using kettles and cauldrons suspended over the fire, or pans set on a trivet. I also decided that small fireplaces (in cheap accommodation) don’t have ovens built into the chimney breast. Larger houses, with designated kitchen staff, might well have a stove – but certainly have a selection of fires and ovens they can cook with.
Taking all that into consideration – most commoners and other members of the Copper Economy eat a lot of porridge and vegetable stew – partly because they can only really have one pot on the fire at a time. The stew is occasionally spiced up with some cheap fish, which for my game world means a portion of Mud Eel. Lunch might be a flatbread, that can be cooked in a flat pan over the fire, with an apple, or perhaps an egg to liven it up.
Most NPC class families, and other members of the Silver Economy have a fuller diet, but they are still restricted to how many things they can cook at once. They probably still eat flat breads (because they are quick) but now they can bake their own loaves, and even make simple baked desserts, such as apple pudding. Stews are still an important part of the diet, but fish stew (perhaps with a more appetizing type of fish) is fairly common and there is even meat (probably game, chicken or bacon) on the menu occasionally. Lunch might run to bread, cheese and an apple, and there might be an egg for breakfast – after you have had your porridge, of course.
At the top end of the economy, things really open up. Pot-roasts or spit roast meat, perhaps even grilled fish becomes a possibility. There is enough room on the fire to cook more than one thing at once, so vegetables and other dishes can be prepared seperately. In part, it comes down to how good the cook is and how my the Aristocrat (or PC) is prepared to spend.
When the PCs eat out, that guides what dishes are on the menu. Most places will have a vegetable stew, a fish stew and a meat stew on offer – all served up with a hunk of bread. Lower status eateries might just have a veggie stew and flat breads to offer, and if you want something different you have to go to a restaurant serving ‘good’ food.