Elizabethan England, Puritans, Country Food

Food: A Cultural Culinary History—Episode 21

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English cookery’s unflattering reputation really conceals a rich and varied culinary past. In today’s podcast we’re going to look at the religious and political factors that ended up producing multiple different versions of English gastronomy. We’ll see how native and foreign influences colored recipes, and how courtly and country cooking diverged further during this era. We’ll even compare recipes that use odd, baroque embellishments against ones that promoted simple, traditional fare.

Images for this Episode:

Culinary Activities for this Episode:

• To Make a Chickin Pye

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Today’s chicken pot pie is a direct descendant of this recipe

Chicken pot pie is a direct descendant of the following recipe, but notice how much the contents have changed. Also consider how, though it is directed toward housewives (meaning relatively small households), it still contains a very large presentation dish. Could you infer from this that housewives were expected on occasion to entertain large numbers of guests? Or is this perhaps merely aspirational—much like a person today reading a recipe or entertaining instructions or even watching it on television but never actually intending to cook the meal? The historian can only guess, but it is an enticing pie nonetheless, and it can certainly be made on a smaller scale for your friends or family, as the opening lines suggest. Don’t be tempted to skimp on the sugar; it is delectable. This is before sugar was banished from savory dishes, and it also reflects the serious Elizabethan sweet tooth.

If you will make one so bigge, take nine or ten Chickins of a moneth olde, trusse them round and breake their bones, take to season them withall a quarter of cloves and Mace, a litte Pepper and Salte, as much as you think will season your Pye two or three Orenge peeles small shread, take the marow of a shorte marow bone cleave it long waies and take out the marowe as whole as you can, then cut it in foure or five peeces and put it in your pie take halfe a pounde of Currans, a food hand full of Prunes, eight Dates, fower cut in halfe and fower shred, a pounde of Suger with that in your crust and all, half a dossen spoonefuls of Rosewater, so heate your Oven reasonablye, and let it stand in two howers and a halfe or three howers, a quarter of an hower before you draw it take three yolkes of egges, fower or five spoonefulles of Rosewater, beat them together and let them boyle a waume stir it still till you take it off, when it is somewhat coole put in three or foure spoon full of Vergis and a little suger, and put it into your pye quish your cover and so serve it in.

• To Make a Potato Pie

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A modern version of potato pie

From William Rabisha’s The Whole Body of Cookery Dissected of 1661, the following recipe is a good example of how new ingredients were appropriated in traditional recipes and garnished with a strange mixture of local and exotic items. The effect is very much Baroque.

Boyl your Spanish Potatoes (not overmuch) cut them forth in slices as thick as your thumb, season them with Nutmeg, Cinamon, Ginger, and Sugar; your Coffi n being ready, put them in, over the bottom; add to them the Marrow of about three Marrow-bones, seasoned as aforesaid, a handful of stoned Raisons of the Sun, some quartered Dates, Orangado, Cittern (citron), with Ringo-roots sliced, put butter over it, and bake them: let their lear be a little Vinegar, Sack and Sugar, beaten up with the yolk of an Egg, and a little drawn butter; when your pie is enough, pour it in, shake it together, scrape on Sugar, garnish it, and serve it up.

• To Make a Dyschefull of Snowe

In addition to appearing in A Proper Newe Booke of Cokerye, the following recipe is found in Scappi’s cookbook and other continental cookbooks and was apparently very popular across Europe.

Take a pottell of swete thycke creame and the whytes of eyghte egges, and beate them together wyth a spone, then putte them in youre creame and a saucerfull of Rosewater, and a dyshe full of Suger wyth all, then take a styke and make it cleane, and than cutte it in the end foure square, and therwith beate all the aforesayde thynges together, and ever as it ryseth take it of and put it into a Collaunder, this done take one apple and set it in the myddes of it, and a thycke bush of Rosemary, and set it in the myddes of the platter, then cast your snowe uppon the Rosemarye and fyll your platter therwith. and yf you have wafers caste some in wyth all and thus seve them forthe.

Suggested Reading:

Bennet, Ale, Beer, and Brewsters in England: Women’s Work in a Changing World.

Dawson, The Good Huswifes Jewell.

Glasse, The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy.

The Good Huswifes Handmaide for the Kitchen.

Hess, Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery and Booke of Sweetmeats.

Lehmann, The British Housewife.

Markham, The English Housewife.

Mennell, All Manners of Food: Eating and Taste in England and France from the Middle Ages to the Present.

Sim, Food and Feast in Tudor England.

Smith, The Compleat Housewife.

Thirsk, Food in Early Modern England: Phases, Fads, Fashions, 1500-1760.

Images courtesy of:

• Henry VIII: By Workshop of Hans Holbein the Younger 1497/8 (German) Details of artist on Google Art Project [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
• Glastonbury Abbey: Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
• Cardinal Wolsey: Sampson Strong [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
• Hampton Court Kitchens: By Gail Frederick (https://www.flickr.com/photos/galfred/94188577) CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
• Wynkyn de Worde: By Henry Curwen (A history of booksellers) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
• Edward VI: Circle of William Scrots [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
• Mary I: Antonis Mor [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
• Elizabeth I: Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
The Good huswifes jewell: Burnet Reading [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
• Gervase Markham: Jusepe de Ribera [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
• Charles I: Gerard van Honthorst [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
• Cromwell: By Samuel Cooper (died 1672) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
• Charles II: After Peter Lely [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The Accomplisht Cook: See page for author CC BY 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
• Robert MaySee page for author CC BY 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
• Hannah Woolley: By unknown. Original artwork is 17th century [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
• Frontispiece of Hannah Wooley Cookbook: By Hannah Woolley [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
• The Compleat Housewife: By Eliza Smith [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
• The Complete Art of Cookery: See page for author CC BY 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons