Where would large amounts of food be stored in a medieval setting? For example stockpiling for winter.

Would there just be one large place to store all food, like a cellar, or would different foods be stored in different places? I'm looking for the name of these places and what can be stored in each.

My continent is loosely based on England between 1100 and 1200 AD.

The seasons would play a large factor in deciding what storage is most suitable for each food.

Each season is similar to the location and time period, but they have been amplified, for maximum effect.

Winter is like an Arctic winter, and summer reaches temperatures of the Sahara, at its peak.

Spring and Autumn are transitional seasons with both being quite wet. Spring starts off cold and gets warmer. The opposite is true for the autumn.

Magic is out of the question for now as it is going to be discovered, but it hasn't happened yet.

I've tried searching the web for an answer but keep getting preservation methods and not where the food (preserved or not) would be stored.

  • $\begingroup$ I don't know enough to do a proper answer, but a granary is where grain is stored, although generally for feeding animals. Each type of food has a different set of conditions in which it is stored best, although many don't have particularly long shelf-lives. $\endgroup$
    – Andon
    Jun 30, 2017 at 20:51
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    $\begingroup$ Are you asking about real world history? Because there is history.stackexchange.com . If you are building new fictional world, please share basic ideas behind what you want to build. "Medieval" is awfully broad term that includes many cultures and hundreds of years. $\endgroup$
    – Mołot
    Jun 30, 2017 at 23:00
  • $\begingroup$ Edited to include a brief description of the setting and seasons of my world. $\endgroup$ Jul 1, 2017 at 7:55
  • $\begingroup$ In what kind of place a village, a single farm, a city what? different food had different ways of storing and scale and population play a big part. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Nov 15, 2021 at 21:49

3 Answers 3


Generally, food storage is located in rooms in a castle or other fortified building because otherwise bandits and neighboring feudal lords would steal it and everyone in the victimized fiefdom would die.

Grain storage is usually in a tower-like silo or other granary. Root vegetables are stored in cellars (often called root cellars or dugouts). Preserved meats, seeds, and picked goods are stored in storage rooms or small warehouses. Hay and other cattle feed is stored in barns or stables, often in tied hay bales or barrels or casks. You might want to look at architectural drawings for medieval castles and manorial estates to get a feel for what these areas were called, and how many of each were present.

But, keep in mind that in most medieval settings that food storage was not very viable for many kinds of foods. Many communities lacked any capacity to freeze or refrigerate food produced in warmer months (like fresh fruits, fresh vegetables and fresh meat) for the winter, hunting as well as gathering of edible plants was much less abundant in the winter, and caloric consumption typically went way down in the winter as people went a little hungry and tried to cope by being less active - a situation that continued through the spring when the first new crops would be available.

Bread made from flour (that could be preserved and stored) in casks in a storage room or in part of the mill where it was ground; water; local alcoholic beverages in wooden or ceramic casks, in bottles, in leather skins, or in ceramic beakers; small portions of meat that could be preserved with salt or vinegar in barrels or ceramic or glass or leather containers, together with potatoes and onions stored loose in bins or fiber bags in a root cellar, and milk from dairy cows or goats that were kept in a barn (including cheese from their milk which lasts a little longer depending on how dry the cheese is) would typically be the main sources of winter food.

Because food storage was poor, you tried to have kids in the spring so that infants would be mature enough not to die of malnourishment when winter arrived and reduced food for a breast feeding mother reduced nourishment available for the breast feeding child.

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    $\begingroup$ Interestingly enough, that last paragraph is pretty much how every other larger species of animal on the planet handles the same problem -- through one mechanism or another, ensure your offspring is born at a time when food is plentiful, and likely will remain plentiful for some time. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Jun 30, 2017 at 21:33
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks, this is a perfect answer. Exactly what I was looking for and more! $\endgroup$ Jun 30, 2017 at 21:42
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    $\begingroup$ Tied hay bales is a very modern invention, and only came about with the invention of the mechanical baler. In a medieval setting, hay was stored in haystacks. $\endgroup$ Jul 1, 2017 at 2:51
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    $\begingroup$ N.B. Potatoes were a New World crop not introduced to Europe until the 16th century (and later locally in many places) but your world could differ. $\endgroup$
    – ohwilleke
    Jul 15, 2020 at 3:33

From the article Medieval Food Preservation - Keeping Food Edible for Months or Years during the Middle Ages :


Today we understand that moisture allows for the rapid microbiological growth of bacteria, which is present in all fresh foods and which causes them to decay.

But it isn't necessary to understand the chemical process involved in order to observe that food that is wet and left in the open will quickly start to smell and attract bugs. So it should come as no surprise that one of the oldest methods of preserving foods known to man is that of drying it.

Drying was used to preserve all sorts of foods.

Grains like rye and wheat were dried in the sun or air before being stored in a dry place. Fruits were sun-dried in warmer climes and oven-dried in cooler regions. In Scandinavia, where temperatures were known to plunge below freezing in the winter, cod (known as "stockfish") were left out to dry in the cold air, usually after they were gutted and their heads were removed.

Meat could also be preserved through drying, usually after cutting it into thin strips and lightly salting it. In warmer regions, it was a simple matter to dry meat under the hot summer sun, but in cooler climates, air drying could be done at most times of the year, either outdoors or in shelters that kept away the elements and flies.


Salting was the most common way to preserve virtually any type of meat or fish, as it drew out the moisture and killed the bacteria. Vegetables might be preserved with dry salt, as well, though pickling was more common. Salt was also used in conjunction with other methods of preservation, such as drying and smoking.

One method of salting meat involved pressing dry salt into pieces of meat, then layering the pieces in a container (like a keg) with dry salt completely surrounding each piece.

If meat was preserved this way in cold weather, which slowed down the decomposition while the salt had time to take effect, it could last for years. Vegetables were also preserved by layering them in salt and placing them in a sealable container such as an earthenware crock.

Another way to preserve food with salt was to soak it in a salt brine. While not as effective a long-term method of preservation as packing in dry salt, it served very well to keep food edible through a season or two. Salt brines were also part of the pickling process (see next page).

Whatever method of salt preservation was used, the first thing a cook did when he got ready to prepare the salted food for consumption was soaking it in fresh water to remove as much of the salt as possible. Some cooks were more conscientious than others when it came to this step, which could take several trips to the well for fresh water.

And it was next to impossible to remove all the salt, no matter how much soaking was done. Many recipes took this saltiness into account, and some were designed specifically to counteract or complement the salt flavor. Still, most of us would find preserved medieval food much saltier than anything we're used to today.


Smoking was another fairly common way to preserve meat, especially fish and pork. Meat would be cut into relatively thin, lean strips, immersed briefly in a salt solution and hung over a fire to absorb the smoke flavoring as it dried -- slowly. Occasionally meat might be smoked without a salt solution, especially if the type of wood burned had a distinctive flavoring of its own. However, salt was still very helpful because it discouraged flies, inhibited the growth of bacteria, and hastened the removal of moisture.


Immersing fresh vegetables and other foods in a liquid solution of salt brine was a fairly common practice in medieval Europe. In fact, although the term "pickle" didn't come into use in English until the late Middle Ages, the practice of pickling goes back to ancient times. Not only would this method preserve fresh food for months so that it could be eaten out of season, but it could infuse it with strong, piquant flavors.

The simplest pickling was done with water, salt and an herb or two, but a variety of spices and herbs as well as the use of vinegar, verjuice or (after the 12th century) lemon led to a range of pickling flavors. Pickling might require boiling the foods in the salt mixture, but it could also be done by simply leaving the food items in an open pot, tub or vat of salt brine with the desired flavorings for hours and sometimes days. Once the food had been thoroughly infused by the pickling solution, it was placed in a jar, crock, or other airtight container, sometimes with a fresh brine but often in the juice in which it had marinated.


Although the term confit has come to refer to virtually any food that has been immersed in a substance for preservation (and, today, can sometimes refer to a type of fruit preserve), in the Middle Ages confits were potted meat. Confits were most usually, but not solely, made from fowl or pork (fatty fowl like goose were particularly suitable).

To make a confit, the meat was salted and cooked for a very long time in its own fat, then allowed to cool in its own fat. It was then sealed up -- in its own fat, of course -- and stored in a cool place, where it could last for months.

Confits should not be confused with comfits, which were sugar-coated nuts and seeds eaten at the end of a banquet to freshen the breath and aid the digestion.


Fruits were often dried, but a far more tasty method of preserving them past their season was to seal them up in honey. Occasionally, they might be boiled in a sugar mixture, but sugar was an expensive import, so only the cooks of the wealthiest families were likely to use it. Honey had been used as a preservative for thousands of years, and it wasn't limited to preserving fruit; meats were also stored in honey on occasion.


Most methods of preserving food involved stopping or slowing down the process of decay. Fermentation accelerated it.

The most common product of fermentation was alcohol -- wine was fermented from grapes, mead from honey, beer from grain. Wine and mead could keep for months, but beer had to be drunk fairly quickly. Cider was fermented from apples, and the Anglo-Saxons made a drink called "perry" from fermented pears.

Cheese is also a product of fermentation. Cow's milk could be used, but the milk from sheep and goats was a more common source for cheese in the Middle Ages.


The weather of the greater part of Europe throughout much of the Middle Ages was rather temperate; in fact, there is often some discussion of the "medieval warm period" overlapping the end of the Early Middle Ages and the beginning of High Medieval Europe (the exact dates depend on who you consult).

So freezing was not an obvious method of preserving foods.

However, most areas of Europe did see snowy winters, and freezing was at times a viable option, especially in northern regions. In castles and large homes with cellars, an underground room could be used to keep foods packed in winter ice through the cooler spring months and into the summer. In the long, frigid Scandinavian winters, an underground room wasn't necessary.

Supplying an ice-room with ice was a labor-intensive and sometimes travel-intensive business, so it was not particularly common; but it wasn't completely unknown, either. More common was the use of underground rooms to keep foods cool, the all-important last step of most of the above preservation methods.


Smoked and salted meats have been around for a very long time. Many times in our history salt was worth its weight in gold because it was so rare to find in nature. The salt trade also started many wars.

Grain Silos have been around for well over 2000 years.

Caves were used quite a bit to preserve food and is still in use today for artisan cheese crafting.


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