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Eating Through Time: Part 1 – The Tudors
As a self-proclaimed ‘foodie’ with a thirst for historical knowledge, the evolution of our greedy table has always fascinated me.
Throughout these blogs, I’ll be exploring the best and worst of the past, searching for historic recipes, and timeless recipes; from the banquet halls of Henry VIII to the famine of the French Revolution.
Come with me as I take you on a culinary journey through time, exploring the customs and traditions of today.
The Tudor period
We begin our series on the Tudor period; or more specifically the reign of Henry VIII.
We all know perhaps the most famous king in history. His reign saw England break away from Rome, the establishment of Parliament, the foundation of our modern Royal Mail and, of course, his six wives.
But what happened to the English palette in the 36 years Henry VIII reigned?
When Henry succeeded his brother to the throne in 1509, he inherited a united post-monarchy state, a fixed estate, and his brother’s wife.
Fruit was a staple of the Tudor table, with selections grown in England such as apples, pears, cherries, plums, and strawberries being imported from Spain upon the arrival of Queen Katherine of Aragon.
The orange became the symbol of his house, and he helped popularize oranges at court. Records show that Henry was particularly fond of oranges; have them easily for eating fresh and preserved as marmalade.
Fruits were grown at Hampton Court by Cardinal Wolsey to eat the King.
English food would not be interesting to the new queen of Spain, who would have been used to the Mediterranean tastes and cuisine, which is strongly influenced by the Moors and the use of spices and fresh vegetables.
In my search for recipes from this time, I have come across this from 15th Century Andalusia; an independent village in southern Spain near Katherine’s hometown of Granada.
Recipe for Thumlyya, A Garlicky Dish
An Andalusian recipe of the 15th Century
Adapted from ‘How to Bake Almonds, Eggs and Turnips: A Thousand Years of Recipes’
by David Friedman and Elizabeth Cook
5 oz garlic 1 t ginger
1 chicken ¼ t cloves
6 T oil 15 thread saffron
½ t salt ½ c whole almonds
½ tsp pepper? c crushed almonds
1 t cinnamon ¼ c murri
2 t lavender – 1 c powder – water
Take a fat chicken, take out the insides; Then take four uquias (ounces) of peeled garlic and crush them until they are like brains, and mix them with what comes out of the inside of the chicken. Fry in enough oil to cover, until the smell of garlic comes out. Mix this with the chicken in a white pot with salt, pepper, cinnamon, lavender, ginger, cloves, saffron, crushed almonds, both crushed and whole, and a little murri (there is no modern version of murri, which is similar to Chinese soy sauce ). Close the pot with the dough, put it in the oven and leave it until it is done. Then take out and open the pot, and pour out its contents into a clean bowl, and the fragrance will come out of it and smell the place.’
As Henry’s reign progressed, his well-written story with Anne Boleyn began. Anne spent most of her youth at the French Court, first accompanying Henry’s 18-year-old sister Margaret on her journey to France to marry King Louis XII.
Henry and Anne’s courtship lasted seven years before his worst reputation ended with his leaving the Catholic Church in Rome and their marriage. His French influence would have played a major role in changing the tastes and customs of the Court.
In the 1500s, bread and cheese were staples of the French diet, meat and fruit were considered fit for royalty, and vegetables were considered common food.
Pears poached in wine are often eaten as an ‘end’ to a meal, which may have been adopted by the English when Anne Boleyn became Queen.
A Day in the Life of Henry VIII’s Womb
Henry usually started his day with Pike, Plaice, Roach, Butter and Eggs by choosing to eat with 30 of his officers at 10am.
Henry would have a choice of at least 13 freshly cooked dishes for each lunch and dinner, choosing from a wide range of pies, meats, recipes, jellies and fritters all prepared by his chef Pero Doux.
A must in the Tudor kitchen was a spit for roasting meats. Pig, Lamb, Venison – they are on the spit every day, ready to serve the King and his Court.
The most exotic animals were kept for feasts and events such as swans, peacocks, deer and deer.
Despite his growing belly, Henry and England followed a strict rule of fasting on Fridays and Saturdays and sometimes on Wednesdays which forbade eating meat and was only allowed to eat fish. During Lent (2 March – 14 April) butter, eggs and dairy foods were also prohibited.
To break the fast was to risk being accused of heresy, however, fasting did not mean that Henry ate less than usual.
Every other day was considered ‘flesh day’. Below is an example of what Henry would expect to see.
ANNOUNCEMENT OF CERTIFICATE PROPERTIES
SUBMITTED TO THE COMMANDMENT OF THE KING, THE GRACE OF THE KING, AND THEIR PARTIES,
THEY’RE HOME, AND THE FOLKS FOLLOW.
THE FOOD OF THE KING’S PRINCE IS THE KING’S GRACE, AS A QUESTION,
IN BOTH THINGS, AS FOLLOWS.
ON PHYSICAL DAY
Cheat Bread and Manchett, 16 Cheat Bread and Manchett, 16
Beate and Ale, 6 Gal Beate and Ale, 6 Gal
Fleth for Pottage 8 Fleth for Pottage 8
8 Beef Hens at Crimary, Larkes
Rammeners in Stew, or Cap 6 Sparrows or Lambe,
Venison in brewz or mult 4 boiled and chynes 13
Pestels of Reed Deere 2 Mutton
6 Mutton or Veni-
Carpes or Yong Veale in –son, stood with Cloves 6
Arm’, forced 1 Capons 4
Swann 1 Cones 2
2 capsules Phesant, Herne, Shove-
Cones 1 – lard 4
Fryanders, cooks Carpe 1 Rooster, Plovers or Gulles 2
Custard for decoration 12 Swete Dowcetts or Orange 10
or frittars 8 Quinces or 2 Pippns
Along with the popular selections, the Tudors enjoyed many meals that would raise an eyebrow or two these days.
Fried Beaver tail is often served on Fridays as the Tudors refer to Beaver as fish. Whales and pigs were cooked or roasted and were a favorite of Katherine of Aragon.
From Passionate to Childish
While the King and the people of the Court were eating a diet of incomparable energy, the poor people of England had a simple diet.
Meat was scarce for the everyday Tudor farmer and fresh vegetables, bread, and ales were essential. Cooking comes throughout history in many forms, with meat stews served to the King.
Vegetable dishes and oat pottage would have been prominent on the dinner table for those not at court. As with our modern recipes, the recipe is simple and easy to follow.
Vegetables (whatever you like – carrot, parsnip, cabbage, leek etc.)
300ml stock (or just plain warm water for the average person)
Herbs (such as parsley, mint, rosemary, thyme and sage were readily available)
1 tsp pepper
4 tbsp oatmeal
Bread (if desired)
Prepare the leaves (peel and chop to any desired thickness).
Remove the onion from the pan before adding the other vegetables.
Cover with stock or warm water until it starts to soften.
Add good herbs, salt and pepper.
Turn on the heat and let it cook.
When the water starts to boil, add the oats. Cook for 4-5 minutes until everything is combined.
Eat it alone or with bread.
To conclude our Tudor tour, I’m focusing on the most notable aspect of Henry VIII’s reign – his wives.
Every woman has her own story and sad life whether she was divorced, beheaded, died or survived. But what did he like to eat?
Katherine of Aragon. Dec 1485 – Jan 1536 Divorce
In addition to Spanish fruit, Katherine liked to eat boiled whale.
Anne Boleyn July 1501 – May 1536 Beheaded
Anne was said to like other fruits such as damsons, plums and strawberries. At one point during her pregnancy, she ‘craved to eat apples’.
Jane Seymour 1509 – Oct 1537 Died
Henry spared no expense to please Jane. When she craved quail eggs while pregnant, Henry had a beautiful box of delicacies sent from Calais.
Anne of Cleeves Sept 1515 – July 1557 Divorced
A famous German delight that Anne probably enjoyed was ‘Gefuellte Semmeln’. A roll of bread, filled with jam / preserve, covered with sugar and spices and fried in egg yolk.
Katheryn Howard 1523-Feb 1542 Beheaded
The young queen was perhaps unsuited to the customs of the Court. Described as childlike and naive, Katheryn loved to snack on marzipan, small balls of almonds, sugary snacks similar to marzipan.
Catherine Parr Aug 1512 – Sept 1548 Survived
A popular dessert at the time was ‘Maids of Honor’. The original of the modern cheesecake, made from curd cheese, which is often found at Court, and probably enjoyed by the Queen.
Look out for my next foray into past dinners!
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