Much medieval food and drink underwent significant processing. This was partly to ensure preservation, as well as for reasons of taste and nutrition. Food production and processing made up a large proportion of the medieval economy in Perth and Kinross, and is well evidenced in both the written and archaeological record.
Cereals were a key part of the medieval diet in Perth and Kinross, and often went through a number of different processes in their journey to the table. There is evidence for a considerable number of watermills in medieval Perth and Kinross. The main mill lade, and related features, in the burgh of Perth have been surveyed, although more research into this aspect of the burgh would be desirable (Barton and Perry 2011). Across the wider region medieval mills have not received the attention they deserve. As mills often leave both documentary evidence and significant traces in the landscape, this is a topic which should be further investigated. It seems likely that many mills first recorded in the post-medieval period had earlier origins, but further research is required to confirm this assumption.
Several medieval corn-drying kilns have been discovered in Perth and Kinross, including those recently excavated at Peterhead Enclosure near Auchterarder (MPK1287; Dingwall 2019). These appear to have been in use until the improvement period, another reminder of continuity between medieval and post-medieval landscapes and industries. Urban evidence for a medieval grain-drying or malting kiln was excavated at Canal Street in the 1980s (MPK3376; Coleman 1997). This was located near to a clay-lined pit, which appears to have served as a coble for preparing barley for malting. Medieval written evidence also supports the theory of malting in the Canal Street area. Grain-drying or malting kilns were likewise found at Mill Street in Perth, where they may have been deliberately sited near the water (MPK3359; Bowler et al 1996). Malt kilns and cobles are features commonly mentioned in property records, and interdisciplinary approaches may well prove helpful in identifying possible locations for this industry.
Another relatively well-documented urban industry is baking. Although the Perth baxters’ guild minutes only survive from the 17th century onwards, there is considerable evidence about bakers in charters and other medieval legal documents. A probable medieval bakery was identified on Kirk Close in Perth (Coleman and Smith 2005, 307). The number of excavated medieval ovens in Perth is lower than one might expect from the written evidence. In theory all burgesses were entitled to have an oven on their premises, quite apart from those used by professional bakers. It seems likely that a number of ovens may have been misidentified as ordinary hearths by previous excavators (Coleman and Smith 2005).
The burgh of Perth has provided extensive evidence for the activities of medieval fleshers or butchers (Hodgson et al 2011). Live animals were brought to Perth in large numbers for slaughter. However, we should not automatically assume that meat production was the most important factor in this trend. Many of the cattle, sheep and goats in Perth appear to have been killed primarily for their skins, with meat as a ‘by-product’ (Hodgson et al 2011, 44). Analysis of the age of animals at death and the types of bone found can provide clues as to the reasons for slaughter. Further research regarding this topic, including comparative work on any collections of animal bones excavated outside of Perth, would be beneficial.