It takes place in a world with the knowledge and the technology similar to the early Middle Ages. The climate is moderate.

People had to store a large amount of food for a long time. The food should be diversified enough to ensure the survival of the people when they have to consume it (let's suppose they can't eat anything else than the stored food).

My question is, how long this food can be stored and remain eatable?

As example, can I take one thousand people, tell them to store as much food as they can, and allow them to survive only with this stored food after [X] months for a while?

Bonus questions:

  • What kind of food it should be?
  • What kind of technology or resources (from middle age) is required to ensure this storage?
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    $\begingroup$ Climate is going to have a huge part to play in this question. Storing meat in extreme northern Europe is going to be entirely different than storing the same meat in Jakarta, Indonesia. Average temperatures, and humidity levels will require different storage techniques. In colder climates, you may need to dig a deep enough hole to get to permafrost and wrap up the meat tight enough to prevent freezer burn. $\endgroup$
    – Green
    Jul 9, 2015 at 13:07
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    $\begingroup$ You don't mention it in the question but have you accounted for how large stores of food by a lightly defended group can actually be a liability in the event of warfare? As a raider, if I know you have lots of food, I'm going to attempt to get it from you. $\endgroup$
    – Green
    Jul 9, 2015 at 13:09
  • $\begingroup$ @Green I agree. I guess seasons are important too. That's why I said "moderate climate", something like "average" Europe (France, Germany, UK, etc.). $\endgroup$ Jul 9, 2015 at 13:18
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    $\begingroup$ How plentiful is their access to preserving stuff (e.g. salt)? $\endgroup$
    – user4239
    Jul 9, 2015 at 14:58
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    $\begingroup$ How long a time? There are plenty of foods that could be stored through a long winter, and still be edible by spring, but that would go bad over the summer. Or that you could store for 1-2 years in proper conditions, but would go bad if you kept them much longer than that. $\endgroup$
    – Karen
    Sep 18, 2015 at 16:58

4 Answers 4


With candying, salting, fermenting, smoking, or drying your foods, you could store all sorts of meat and fish for entire winters, and fruits and veggies for years. Also, fermented drink can be a source of nutrition and lasts for years if preserved properly (casks). This website has a decent set of possible techniques you could use.

If you dug a deep well in a temperate climate, it was even possible for old-timey people to store ice in the long-term. So you could imagine a thousand people digging some deep caves to store food/drink in, and lasting on it for at least a year. Entire sieges lasted longer than that in ancient times, even though people started starving towards the end.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ The answer is generally ok but the reference to long sieges is misleading, those sieges lasting for years and years often did so not because stored food, but because the defenders were not completely blockaded and support and supplies did come in, usually through sea or rivers. $\endgroup$
    – SJuan76
    Jul 9, 2015 at 18:45
  • $\begingroup$ @SJuan76 You may have a point. I'm not an expert on medieval military history, but I just knew that it was common for cities to last for a while only on food stores. Maybe these longest sieges were too much of an extreme example $\endgroup$
    – toasty
    Jul 9, 2015 at 18:59

Fatless fish like cod can be dried and will keep good (including nutrients) for years. This is what the vikings used for their long sea journeys, and the method is still in active use today. The vital aspects were low-fat fish and temperature just a little over 0C. Fat fish like salmon or mackerel will not last since the fat will get bad.

The most valued cod type is the Arcto-Norwegian cod ("skrei" in Norwegian) that spawns every year just outside the Lofoten islands in Northern Norway. The fish is easy to catch and they are huge in size, well over 10kg.

The oldest method here is stockfish. The fish is gutted and the head removed. Then they are just left hanging in the cold winter winds for 3 months maybe. After that they are hard as rock and very easy to transport and store for years. To eat a stockfish, you first need to keep it in water for 3-5 days. After that, it's used as regular fresh fish. The taste is good, a bit stronger and the meat is a bit firmer.

A more expensive method is salting and drying, "klippfisk". The fish is gutted and the spine is removed and the fish is "opened" as a book. A generous amount of salt is poured over the filet, the filets are stacked and there's a weight over them. The fish is kept like this for weeks, and the wet salt is changed once. Once ready, the filets are nailed on boathouse walls for further drying. When almost completely dried, they can be cut into smaller parts and put in freezer. Or kept further drying and preserved as-is. Before using, the fish needs to be (de-salted) in water for 2-3 days.

Read more about preserving cod: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stockfish https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dried_and_salted_cod

I've did both of these methods this year and I just think it's amazing how a delicate fresh fish becomes this rock-solid thing that you can just toss around :)

Cheers from Tromsø, Northern Norway, Niklas

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for this really interesting answer about preserving cod :) $\endgroup$ Jul 10, 2015 at 7:10

Well considering that is exactly what Europe did, I would say look to what they stored and how they did it.

Grains kept dry and away from rats (biggest problem) can last for centuries. Meat dried (jerky) or salted can last for months to years as long as it isn't damp. Honey lasts a very long time merely sitting in a jar, keep out pests and it will be there fine for many years to come.

Fruits and veggies are a little harder, but tubers kept in a cellar last all winter long (potatoes, carrots, beets, turnips). Apples can also last a long time, though by spring they are a little withered. Corn is a grain and once dried can last forever as well. Pickling can preserve almost anything, fish, meats, vegetables (pickles, beets!). We tend to can, but what they had was barrels.

And of course fermenting.

  • $\begingroup$ Honey is really amazing, probably the longest lasting food that can be preserved in an edible form (four thousands of years). $\endgroup$
    – fantasia
    Jul 9, 2015 at 15:49

In addition to the other answers, an interesting line of research would be on food preservation methods used by sailors and navies for extended sea voyages. This will provide insights into how missing vitamins/minerals cause a particular disease such as scurvy from a vitamin C deficiency. Also, there are plenty of stories/examples about how food preservation fails over long periods. Weevils and worms infested hard tack or beer would become contaminated and go bad.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Also consider how food was stored to last through sieges. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Jul 9, 2015 at 17:55

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