No one envied medieval monks for their diets. On the four days a week they didn’t fast, meat was still largely forbidden, barring illness or special occasions. Their one carnal luxury was fish; they made sure to keep plenty on hand.
Many abbeys featured early fish farms called stew ponds, where fish could breed, live, and grow into monks’ favorite lunch. With the dissolution of monasteries in the 1500s, many stew ponds were reclaimed by nature. The one at Newstead Abbey, on the other hand, still ripples with the lazy meandering of carp, descended from medievally farmed fish.
The pond was made possible by the Newstead Abbey monks’ deft hand at irrigation engineering. They redirected water from a nearby lake to feed gardens, horse-ponds, waste disposal systems, and keep fresh water flowing into their nearly century-old community carp-pool. Their mastery of aquaculture was evident in having prevented wintertime freezing, keeping a steady supply of live, fresh, fish year-round.
The monks of Newstead Abbey didn’t craft beer, wine, or candy, but when they allowed themselves fish, they knew how to put on a decent dinner.