Easter Special: Part 1 – Eggs in Green Sauce: History and Background

362 by Jaypeg used under a Creative Commons License – Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)

This week I’m looking at eggs, or more specifically, Easter eggs. I have previously written a little bit about eggs in general, you can read the post here.

Of course, eggs are associated with Easter today, and it seems that they were in the Early Modern period too. Eggs, amongst other things, were forbidden during lent. Once Easter arrived, they were back on the menu. Easter eggs appear in a proverb, recorded by John Ray in A collection of English proverbs (1678), “I’ll warrant you for an Egg at Easter” – the sense of the proverb (as far as I can tell) is something like “as sure as eggs at Easter”. James Shirley appears to have been particularly fond of a related egg-based saying – he uses the phrase “not worth an egg at Easter” in at least two plays, The Example (1637) and Love’s Cruelty (1640). Incidentally, both of those plays, and several others by Shirley, as in the Petworth collection. . One of these will likely be making an appearance soon on my other blog. Clearly, eggs were considered a common food at Easter time.

Thomas Dawson’s The second part of the good hus-wiues iewell (1597) offers some advice on the foods to be eaten at Easter-time. Here is what he has to say:

Fyrst on that day yee shall serue a calfe sodden and blessed, and sodden egs with greene sauce, and set them before the most principall estate, and that Lorde because of his high estate, shal depart them al about him, then serue potage as worts, roots or browes, wt béefe, mutton, or veale, & capons that be coloured with saffron, and baked meats: and the second course, Jussel with mamony, & rosted endoured, & pigions with bake meates, as tarts chewets, and flaunes, and other, after the disposition of the cookes: and at supper time diuers sauces of mutton or veale in broth, after the ordinance of the steward and than chickins with bakon, veale, rost pigions or lamb, & kid rost, with the heade and the purtenance of Lambe and pigges féet, with vineger and parcely theron, and a tansie fryed, and other bake meates

Quite a feast! Sadly I will only be cooking one of these foods this year, however. For my Easter dish I will be cooking “sodden egs with greene sauce”. “Sodden” means boiled, rather than “wet” or “soaking” as it does today. According to the OED it is the strong past participle of “seethe”, suddenly the phrase “seething with anger” makes sense now I know it means “boiling”.

There seem to be as many different ways of making green sauce as there are cookbooks – it is a herb based sauce, usually made with sorrel, along the lines of pesto, mint sauce, or salsa verde. Henry Butts’ 1599 regimen Dyets Dry Dinner  describes some of the properties of green sauce – “Eaten with flesh (as mustard) exciteth appetite: commendeth meates to the Palate: helpes concoction: breaketh fleame in the stomack”. Butts also gives a “Story for Table-talke” (table talk being a kind of anecdote or other interesting information told at dinner) relating to green sauce:

This kinde of Sauce, I neuer tasted my selfe: yet am bold to communicate and commend it to my friends, as I find it described by the Italian Freitagio. The Italian (as all the world knowes) is most exquisite in the composition of all sorts of Condiments, they being indeede the better part of his Diet. All kind of Greene-sauce, is questionlesse best in season, while herbs retain their full strength and perfect vigour.

I’ll be cooking the eggs in green sauce later today and will post the recipe shortly after.

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