Category Archives: History and background

Halloween Special: Food fit for a witch

Preparing for tomorrow

Ready for carving

Hurrah, Halloween is nearly upon us! I am a huge fan of Halloween – I love the weather at this time of year, the food, the costume parties (though admittedly it has been a few years since I last went to one), all of it. I feel about Halloween the same way a number of my friends do about Christmas. I will in fact be hosting a Halloween dinner party tomorrow, and thinking about Halloween food prompted me to write a blog post.

There don’t appear to have been many foods associated with Halloween (a.k.a All Hallow’s tide, Hallountide, Hollontide and many more variations) or All Soul’s Day during this period. I found a few references to the day itself during an extremely unsystematic poke around EEBO – a proverb suggestion that people to “Set trees at Allhallontide and command them to prosper: Set them after Candlemas and entreat them to grow” (John Ray, A collection of English proverbs. 1670), and a mention in Hollinshed’s chronicle: “In this eighteenth yeare of Kyng Henryes raigne, on all hallowen day, or first of November, great lightning, thunder, and suche a hayle storme chaunced, that the people were maruellously amased therewith” (Raphael Holinshed, The firste [laste] volume of the chronicles of England, Scotlande, and Irelande. 1577). Evidently then it was a day people were familiar with. Here’s a particularly interesting mention which hints at the supernatural elements of the day, albeit in a very religious context:

Wee read (quoth the Author of the booke called Sermones discipuli de tempore that in old time good people would on All-hallowen day take bread and deale for all Christen soules. And one good Woman a widdow, who had in store but three pecks of flower, did make it all into loaues and deale it, saying to them that receiued it, Remember to pray for the soule of my Mother. And one of them praying very earnestly for the soule of this good Womans Mother, her Mother appeared vnto her and told her, my daughter by her charitie and thou by thy good prayers hast now helped me out of Purgatory; Tell my daughter that shee sell her Cow and goe presently to Rome to the Popes Holines for a Pardon for her sinnes, and then shee may be eased of such paines as I haue indured: which being told to her daughter, shee reioyced much and did as shee was bidden, and went to Rome, and had Indulgence. And the Pope by divine revelation knew before shee came of all that had happened to her.

John Gee, New shreds of the old snare. 1624

The bread in question appears to just be ordinary bread, however, so I can’t find any recipes that refer to it directly as being bread for this occasion. Ronald Hutton talks about “Soul-mass cakes” in The Stations of the Sun as being a food associated with All Soul’s Day, so I had a look for that and found only a dictionary entry: “Soul-Mass-Cakes, still given (in some places) to the poor on All-souls day” (Elisha Coles, An English Dictionary. 1677). There were no recipes. They were apparently a kind of oaten cake, so I tried looking for oat cake recipes and found one in Hannah Woolley that didn’t even involve any oats! Just flour and water, so not terribly exciting, and no evidence that this was similar to a “soul mass cake” at all. 

In the absence of any “Halloween food” as such, I’ve decided to get a little fanciful and revisit a favourite subject of mine by looking at the kinds of foods eaten by those characters that at least in modern times we associate with Halloween: witches. 

I have mentioned food and witchcraft before, and I think it’s an endlessly interesting subject – where does the line between recipe and spell lie? Food as medicine was immensely popular in the 16th and 17th centuries – when do you stop being a cook and start being a healer, or indeed a witch? Food features quite heavily in two very well known “witchcraft plays”, so I thought we’d take a look…

Firstly, let’s look at Thomas Middleton’s The Witch. As there’s no EEBO copy I’m using this edition. This is one I’ve mentioned before, in one of my very first posts actually. Hecate, the witch, is always eating something unpleasant. The play begins, as they often do, with a wedding feast – prompting one character to say “Here’s a marriage sweetly honoured in gorged stomachs And overflowing cups!” (1.1.35). One of those overflowing cups is in fact a skull which the Duke forces his new bride to drink from, never mind that it “was once her father’s head” (1.1.117). Before the witch has even turned up, food related things are looking pretty macabre. Hecate’s magical arts generally involve boiling up one disgusting thing after another, roasting corpses by the fire, and seeking revenge through spoiling food: “I’ll mar their syllabubs and frothy feastings” (I.2.65). For love charms, she suggests lampreys, which were commonly eaten around this time (go ahead and google them if you want a proper Halloween fright!) or the bones of a green frog (1.2.209). Her customer offers her “a toad in marchpane” and suggests that she enjoys “fried rats and pickled spiders” (1.2.224). Witches, it seems, are keen on eating some rather odd things. The last line of this scene is particularly interesting though, the witch’s customer has elected to join her for dinner, since she says that she can provide “the best meat i’th’ whole province” (1.2.225), and her son Firestone has this to say:

How apt and ready is a drunkard now to reel to the devil! Well, I’ll even in and see how he eats; and I’ll be hanged if I be not the fatter of the two from laughing at him! (1.2.232)

The message is pretty clear – indulge yourself too much in food and drink, and you’ll be easy pickings for witches!

At the risk of repeating myself, I want to mention Act 3 Scene I of Heywood and Brome’s The Late Lancashire Witches (1634) once again. I am a little bit obsessed with this scene, evidently! It’s a wedding feast, but some spirits come along and wreck havoc on it. First, a spirit turns the bridal cake into bran, then a leg of mutton becomes a horn, and all the food is transformed or, as it turns out, teleported away. Just as the guests are all getting increasingly annoyed and alarmed, two of the witches appear to clarify the situation:

O husband, O guests, O sonne, O Gentlemen, such a chance in a Kitchin was never heard of, all the meat is flowne out o’ the chimney top I thinke, and nothing instead of it, but Snakes, Bats, Frogs, Beetles, Hornets, and Humble-bees; all the Sallets are turn’d to Iewes-eares, Mushromes, and Puck fists; and all the Custards into Cow sheards!

Later we see the witches them eating all the food, although it is interesting to see that they don’t get much enjoyment out of the food itself, despite being delighted with their trick. When Mistress Generous says “This meat is tedious, now some Farie, Fetch what belongs unto the Dairie” she seems more excited about the prospect of stealing what belongs to someone else than actually eating. The boy suggests this too with the line “Meat lie there, for thou hast no taste, and drinke there, for thou hast no relish, for in neither of them is there either salt or savour”.

It’s hard not to read this all as, at least partly, some kind of comment on the immorality of excess. Greed is a sin, after all, and one which leaves you vulnerable. Too much overindulgence can perhaps leave you unsatisfied, dulling the senses. It’s all rather reminiscent of the story of Hansel and Gretel, isn’t it? It was their eagerness to eat the gingerbread house that led them into the witch’s lair, and then she in turn tried to eat them. The link between food, overindulgence, cannibalism and witchcraft was clearly still around in the 19th century, and the idea of witches wanting to eat people (particularly children) is still common today.

Perhaps I ought to rethink my plans for a feast after all…

Happy Halloween everyone!

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Salads

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“Lettuce “Concept” ” by photofarmer. Used under a Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY 2.0)

Happy New Year everyone! Christmas, with all its delightful foods, is over, and now it’s January, the month when many people resolve to change their eating habits – ranging from a new year’s resolution to eat a bit more healthily, to those bizarre faddish diets peddled by the likes of Heat magazine. As one of my main research interests is cultural attitudes to food, I inevitably end up thinking about these annual rituals of consumption we have created, and wonder what that says about our culture. There seems to be a strange pattern of indulgence and shame around food at Christmas and new year – we’re encouraged to treat ourselves, and then in January we have to atone for our sins of consumption.  At this time of the year, food is represented as able to influence our emotional state and change our lives – Christmas food is a treat and a comfort, it inspires nostalgia, but salad will make us feel better about our bodies and ourselves, it is full of promise and hope for the future (especially if you are a woman).

I was fascinated when reading the little playlet/dialogue that I posted recently to find that the idea of having special, indulgent foods that are only eaten at Christmas was not a modern thing at all. Of course I know that eating particular foods to celebrate a particular festival or event was as old as the hills, but it was the idea of indulgence that interested me -the sweet treats of plum pudding and mince pie at Christmas were welcome over the Christmas period, but deemed not appropriate for the rest of the year, apparently because of their sweetness.

Having said all of that, I am in fact doing a post on salad. This is partly inspired by the aforementioned January custom, and partly by a suggestion from my friend Lana who has been researching some early modern cookbooks recently and came across some recipes. It is timely for me as well, since I have recently been eating a lot more vegetables over the last few weeks, for reasons that have nothing to do with the season or any sudden urge to diet, and everything to do with the fact that I got this as a Christmas present.

Anyway, we begin our journey into the world of salad with these lines from Samuel Daniel’s The Queen’s Arcadia (1607):

I will attend thy flockes better then she, 

And dresse thy Bower more sweete, more daintily,

And cheerish thee with Salets, and with Fruites, 

And all fresh dainties as the season sutes;

Salads, perhaps more than any other dish, are strongly associated with the seasons. Even today, with most vegetables available all year round, you will still find recipes for “winter salads” made of roasted root vegetables and “summer salads” with fresh green vegetables. The seasonality of salads is, you might expect, much more evident in early modern cookery. Seasonal salads were certainly on the menu, winter salads were often made entirely of preserved and pickled vegetables:

Ant.But how shall wee dispose of them?

Lou.Wee’d best
Barrell them vp and send them for new England.
Ant.A pox there’s fooles enow already there.
Let’s pickle them for winter Sallads.

Admittedly, the characters in Peter Hausted’s The Rival Friends (1632) are not actually discussing vegetables but some people they are considering murdering, but I still think it illustrates the point.

This leads us to ask, what exactly is a salad? Even today, I think there is probably some confusion over the term. I generally think of leafy green vegetables as the basis for a salad, perhaps with other ingredients and/or a dressing. Salads can mean a lot of things, they can be raw or cooked, elaborate or simple. They are usually, I think, made of separate ingredients tossed together. The term is certainly murky. The OED gives us the following definition:

A cold dish of herbs or vegetables (e.g. lettuce, endive), usually uncooked and chopped up or sliced, to which is often added sliced hard-boiled egg, cold meat, fish, etc., the whole being seasoned with salt, pepper, oil, and vinegar.

It also refers to an earlier, broader, definition of herbs, pickles, cucumbers and the like which were eaten with roast meat.

There certainly seems to have been a lot of variety in the kinds of salads served up at an early modern feast. Gervase Markham, in The English Housewife (1631), gives us recipes for simple salads, compound salads, boiled salads, preserved salads, compound preserved salads and, most intriguingly, “sallats for shew only”. These are made as follows:

Now for Sallets for shew only, and the adorning and setting out of a table with numbers of dishes, they be those which are made of Carret rootes of sundrye colours well boiled, and cut out into many shapes and proportions, as some into knots, some in the manner of Scutchions and Armes, some like Birds, and some like wild Beasts, according to the Art and cunning of the Workman; and these for the most part are seasoned with Vinegar, Oyle, and a little Pepper. A world of other Sallets there are, which time and experience may bring to our Hous wifes eye, but the composition of them, and the seruing of them differeth nothing from these already rehearsed.

It reminds me of those carved raw root vegetables you sometimes see in Chinese restaurants. You might get a swede carved into an elaborate rose, and there is a place I sometimes go to that has thick carrots carved into miniature Venus de Milos that they put on the plate when you order a mixed starter for a large group.

Do you remember Calandrino from Philip Massinger’s The Great Duke of Florence, who made an appearance in the post on custards? There we saw custards, cakes and the like associated with the court, while “plain Sallads” were for the countryside. I recently came across this rather interesting passage in Thomas Dekker’s Northward Hoe (1607) which situates the salad eaters not only in the country, but also in a particular region:

looke you Sir, the Northerne man loues white-meates, the Southery man Sallades, the Essex man a Calfe, the Kentishman a Wag-taile, the Lancashire man an Egg-pie, the Welshman Leekes and Cheese, and your Londoners rawe Mutton, so Father god-boy, I was borne in London

Having lived my entire life on the South coast, I suppose this means I shall enjoy the cookery part of my adventures in early modern salads. Stay tuned for some recipes coming up in a week or so!

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Christmas Special: Minced Pies

I once knew a chap who absolutely hated mince pies. To be honest they are not my favourite Christmas fare, but they are quite nice in the right context (hot, topped with some thick brandy cream and served with a glass of mulled wine of the side, ideally). Anyway, this fellow loathed them. The reason for this was the first time he was offered one, as a child of about 11 I believe, he had never heard of the things before. Nevertheless, he accepted, assuming it was just a small version of a hot minced beef pie. However, when he bit into what he expected to be a meaty treat, he found instead some very unexpected sugary fruit. The experience of getting such intense sweetness when he expected savoury put him off the things for life.

It is fairly common knowledge, I think, that mince pies at one point back in the mists of time actually did contain real meat (and no, I don’t just mean beef suet). It’s the kind of fact that comes up in Christmas quizzes and the like around this time of year. The name “mincemeat” is apparently a remnant from the days when there would be some meat in there. The taste would probably not have been much less surprising to a modern day eater expecting a standard meat pie though, for as we shall see in the recipe (coming soon in the next post!) there was indeed plenty we would recognise in early modern minced pies. In looking for recipes, I found quite a number. Not all contained beef mince, however – I found a recipe for “Minced Pye of Eggs” in one of the ever helpful Hannah Woolley’s cookbooks (The compleat servant-maid, 1677) containing hard boiled eggs along with suet, dried fruit, sugar, caraway seeds,orange peel and a few other sweet things. Mounsieur Marnette’s The perfect cook (1656) features recipes for Italian style minced pies (featuring veal, partidge, chesnuts, currants, sugar, sweet-breads and many more ingredients), Spanish minced pies (including capon, pork, mutton, kidney, bacon, suet, leeks, salt and sweet spices), several kinds of fish-based minced pies,  and “Princesse” pies (containing roast or boiled meat, beef marrow and sweetbreads). The most popular ingredient, however, did seem to be beef, or more specifically neat’s tongue (ox tongue). The aforementioned Hannah Woolley cookbook has tongue as the primary ingredient for “An excellent Minc’d pie”, as does The accomplished ladies rich closet of rarities (J.S., 1687). I didn’t go for the tongue when I tried it as I already had some beef leftover from cooking the hash of raw beef.

So, we have many recipes for mince or minced pies, but were they considered Christmas fare? It seems not exclusively so – one of Martnette’s fish pies for example specifically excludes butter so that it can be made and eaten during Lent. However, the phrase “a mince pie at Christmas” comes up in a number of texts, and minced pies are included – alongside a large number of other foods, mind you – on a Christmas menu in Robert May’s The Accomplist Cook (1660). Here’s the menu in full – it’s length is certainly not uncharacteristic for the feasts and banquets of the upper classes during the period:

A Bill of Fare for Christmas Day, and how to set the Meat in order. Oysters

  • 1 A coller of Brawn.
  • 2 Stewed Broth of Mutton Marrow bones.
  • 3 A grand Sallet.
  • 4 A pottage of Caponets.
  • 5 A Breast of Veal in Stoffado.
  • 6 A boild Partridge.
  • 7 A Chine of Beef, or Surloin roste.
  • 8 Minced Pies.
  • 9 A Jegote of Mutton with Anchove sauce.
  • 10 A made dish of Sweetbread.
  • 11 A Swan roste.
  • 12 A Pasty of Venison.
  • 13 A Kid with a Pudding in his Belly.
  • 14 A Steak Pie.
  • 15 A hanch of Venison rosted.
  • 16 A Turkey roste and stuck with Cloves.
  • 17 A made dish of Chickens in Puff-paste.
  • 18 Two Brangeese rosted, one larded.
  • 19 Two large Capons one larded.
  • 20 A Custard.

The second course for the same Mess. Oranges and Lemons.

    • 1 A young Lamb or Kid.
    • 2 Two couple of Rabits, two larded.
    • 3 A Pig soust with Tongues.
    • 4 Three Ducks, one larded.
    • 5 Three Pheasants, 1 larded.
    • 6 A Swan Pie.
    • 7 Three brace of Partridge, three larded.
    • 8 Made dish in puff-paste.
    • 9 Bolonia Sausage, and Anchove, Mushrooms, and Caviare, and pickled Oysters in a dish.
    • 10 Six Teels, three larded.
    • 11 A Gammon of Westfalia Bacon.
    • 12 Ten Plovers, five larded.
    • 13 A Quince Pie, or Warden Pie.
    • 14 Six Woodcocks, 3 larded.
    • 15 A standing Tart in puffpaste, preserved fruits, Pippins, &c.
    • 16 A dish of Larks.
    • 17 Six dried Neats Tongues.
    • 18 Sturgeon.
    • 19 Powdered Geese.

Jellyes

And you thought your Christmas dinner was extravagant! It’s interesting to see turkey on the menu, along with goose and swan, the latter of which we don’t eat at all any more. I thought this had something to do with them being owned by the Queen, I did a bit of googling but didn’t find anything definitive. Anyway, they were apparently still eating them in the 17th century. Turkeys, however, we are often told are a recent introduction as a Christmas dinner, but this seems to contradict that. Turkeys are relative newcomers to these shores, having been brought here from America in the mid-16th century. By the time of this menu they had been available to eat for around 100 years. But this huge menu doesn’t prove much about mince pies being Christmassy, so to make my case I have for your delectation a short interlude of sorts included in a festive pamphlet entitled Mother Shipton’s Christmas Carols with her Merry Neighbours (1668). The eponymous (and no doubt fictitious)  Mother Shipton also includes a dialogue between roast beef, mince-pie, and plumb pottage contending for superiority (remind you of anything?), complete with terrible food-based puns. I shall be back with a recipe for mince pies very soon, but in the meantime I present to you this jolly interlude that I have transcribed it myself from a scan on EEBO:

Here followeth a Dialogue Between Roast Beef, Mince-pie, and Plumb-pottage, contending for superiority with the verdict of Strong beer, their moderator there on

Strong B. Now Gentlemen this is the time and this the place you have appointed for your disputation : and having chosen me for your Moderator. I advise you (and good counsel too I hold it) to do nothing rashly, but first lets drink

All. We relish it

They drink

Strong B. And now having liquored your lips, pipe on and spare not

Plumb-pot. Why then Mr. Beer craving your good attention, I declare and hope to prove it is my property to preceed, Mr. Mince-pie and Roast beef, and ought in any sound opinion to be the first dish on the Table, and my plea for it is Ancient Custome, which I hope may suffice without any further reasons

Mince-pie. Pish, never tell me of your Reasons: your Reasons are not in Date and therefore starj nought, and as for Custome, I say ’tis more Customary to prefer Pye before Pottage, ergo your Custome is not worth a Cucumber

Roast B. Nay then Gentlemen room for Horns, though I have been silent all this while, don’t you think to rule the Roast

Mr Beef, consider I am Beef, a good substantial food: a dish for a Prince, and indeed (as ’tis Recorded) the King of meats

Plumb-P. Gravely spoken

Strong B. In truth so it is, and I think it fit to exalt the Horn

R.B. And not without cause considering the Dignity his Royal Majesty King James was pleased to confer on me, when one day coming down into his Kitchin, I gave him such satisfaction that he daign’d me with the Honour of Knighthood, with the title of Sir Loine, and therefore claim precedency before these mincing Mimicks

P.P. But pray Beef, was you ever in this jovial time of Christmas prefer’d before me

Mince P. Or even gave that pleasing satisfaction or delight to Ladies, or any sort of Persons as I have done

R.B. Mr Sweet tooth hold you your prating I always had the upper hand of you

M.P. Tell not me of upper hand nor underhand I say I am a dish full of dainty

Roast B. Yes for old women that have no teeth: besides you come but once a yea, but I am in season at all times. You but please Children and Fools, but I am in repute with all sots of what quality soever

Plumb P. Pray Gentlemen let me speak

Roast B. Prethee what can’st say? nothing: but mutter as if you had plums in your mouth, why thou art nothing of thy self, whence art though deriv’d or what’s thy pedegree? nothing by a little water, and fitting for nothing but to cleanse the dishes after me, were it not for the goodness of Beef that gives the being by its favor

Strong B. Mince pie, me thinks thou should’st bear up man, slid for all their talking thou makst their teeth water sometimes at thee

Roast B. And we are much obliged

Mince P. You are a stinking peice of Beef to abuse me so, I make you rotten?

Roast B. Yes sweet Sir, that you do

Mince P. Tough Sir but I do not

Strong B. Nay lets have no quarrelling good, Mr Beef, pray Mr Pye

Roast B. Slid tempt me a little more, I shall fall foul on you

Mince P. If you doe, I’m sure you, you’ll shew foul play and bite me, but Ile maintain my honour in spight of they teeth

Roast B. Let me come at him Ile crumble him Ile warrant you

Strong B. Nay good Beef be not so hot, Let him alone a little till he is colder then you may fasten on him at more advantage

Mince P. I shall pull down his fat sides no doubt

Strong B. Come Gentlemen i’m sorry to see you at violence, pray let me moderate the business between you, why should friends fall our? Come what say ye will you all stand to my award

All. With all our hearts? Eloquent Strong-Beer!

Strong B. Then first for you Mr Plumb Pottage: Since it hath been so long a Custome for you to be first ushered to the Table, we shall continue it still to you during the time of Christmas, so that you do not take it ill, that some at other times make use of you last of all, as is sometime necessary to fill up the chinks, And for you Mr Mince-pye, for the time of Christmas also are to be the Senior in all mens mouths, but ever after to disappear and vanish. As the Prince at Lincolns Inn was cominus factoreum for twelve days but afterwards shrunk into his former peasantry for ever after So must you yeild the preheminence to Mr Roast Beef as royal for all the year after. What say ye, are ye all satisfied!

All. O very well, very well! Rhetorical Strong Beer!

Strong B. Come on then, then lets end all differences in a cup of Strong Bub, and spend the time in singing and carouzing a health to all that love Plumb-Pottage, Mince pye, Roast Beef and Strong Beer.

The Song

Of lusty brown Beer I joy for to hear

But a pox of your White-wine and Claret

I hate for to hear

Of such pittiful geer

For a barrel-ful’s not worth a Carret

Then bub with good courage

‘Tis season’d with Burrage

Their’s nothing more wholesome and merry

Though our cloathes be but thin

It warms me within

And makes us sing he down a derry

There’s nothing above it

He’s a food does not love it

At Christmas it maketh good cheer

Nay more to invite you

And still to delight you

‘Tis as plentiful all the whole year!

I hope you enjoyed that. Don’t say I never give you anything! Merry Christmas everyone!

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Beef

A Victorian cow butchery diagram. Click the picture to go to Miss Mary’s Victorian and Vintage Archive, where I found the picture

Hello hello! I have not disappeared off the face of the blogosphere, I have just been working very hard finishing a chapter which is now done – hooray! Raise a glass of buttered beer! It is the season for trying that recipe actually, I highly recommend making a thermos of it and heading out for a lovely walk in the woods. Try it – it’s the new mulled wine!

Speaking of beer, contrary to the title, this post is not just about beef, it is really about the phrase “Beef, bread and beer” (though the order of the foodstuffs varies, as you’ll see in the first quote) which I first noted in the background post on beer itself. As I said in that post, the phrase appears to denote hospitality in William Kemp’s A Knack to Know a Knave (1594):

My father in his lyfe time gave hospitality to all strangers, and Distressed traueillers, his table was neuer emptie of bread, beefe And beere

I’ve since spotted this in number of other places, so I thought it might be worth investigating:

Then no more ado, but I pray thee go with me abord,
Thou shalt be sure to haue poore Mariners cheare:
Harme shalt thou haue none, I promise thee at a word,
Thou shalt be sure to haue bread, beefe, and beare.

Robert Wilson, The Pedlers Prophecie, 1595

As well as finding it in plays, like the two examples above, it turns up in other kinds of writing. A 1606 pamphlet recounting the entertainments put on by Robert Cecil at Theobalds for the visiting King of Denmark points out that the host’s hospitality extended to all those who might require it, not just his noble guests. The town had apparently become so busy with people flocking to see the royal visit that there was not enough room at the inn, as it were, for everyone:

there was not lodging to bee had for many commers thether, not victualls for their moneyes, wherof many of good sort complained, & might haue fasted, had they not beene prouided for in that honorable house. Such was the bountie of this Noble Earle in his large allowance to all Officers for that time, that Beefe, Breade, Beere, Wine, and other Vyandes, was not denyed to any that were either acquainted in the house with the Officers, or anye their friends which wold seek it, as many found to their great comfort and honor of the honorable Patrone of that house.

H.R., The most royall and honourable entertainement, of the famous and renowmed king, Christiern the fourth, King of Denmarke. 1606

Beef, bread and beer, while still associated firmly with hospitality, does seem to be at the “basics” end of the hospitality scale, something for the common folk perhaps. Here’s another example:

And where the Porters lodge, did yeelde beefe, bread and beere,
The Kitchen, Haul, & Parlor to, now wantes it twice a yeere:
Now Seruingmen may sing, adue you golden dayes,
Meere miserie hath taken place, where plentie purchast prayse.

Gervase Markham, A health to the gentlemanly profession of seruingmen, 1598

This is part of a song reported by Markham (it’s not clear whether he wrote the song or has just heard it), and, like much of the text, it laments the “decay of hospitality”, blaming it on, amongst other things, excessive spending on such luxuries as “costly and fashionate Apparrel”. The honest and dedicated servingmen, unlike their selfish employers, apparently regret this change as much as Markham. Beef, bread and beer seems to stand for a kind of honest generosity, something basic and fueling, down to earth, and available for everyone – officers, servingmen and visitors alike.

Perhaps unsurprisingly given their apparent status as the staples of a good diet, beef, bread and beer also turn up in several travel narratives. I found a few examples, but here’s my favourite, the seafarer Luke Foxe describing the provisions for his expedition to investigate the North-West Passage:

I was Victualed compleatly for 18 Moneths, that whether the Baker, Brewer, Butcher, and other, were Mr. of their Arts or professionsor no I know not, but this I am sure of, I had excellent fat Beefe, strong Beere, good wheaten Bread, good Iseland Ling, Butter and Cheese of the best, admirable Sacke and Aqua-vita, Pease, Oat-meale, Wheat-meale, Oyle, Spice, Suger, Fruit and Rice; with Chyrurgerie, as Sirrups, lulips, condits, treSingle illegible letterhissis, antidotes, balsoms, gummes, vnguents, implaisters, oyles, potions, suppositors, and purging Pils, and if I had wanted Instruments my Chyrurgion had enough.

Luke Foxe, North-West Fox, 1635

Note how, while Foxe describes a number of other provisions, he foregrounds beef, beer and bread and his cooks are “the Baker, Brewer, Butcher, and other” – clearly the three Bs are considered the essentials. However, those travelling on other ships, perhaps those without master bakers on board, would have to make do with the slightly less appealing beef, biscuit and beer, which is mentioned in a few texts including Richard Hakluyt’s The principal nauigations, voyages, traffiques and discoueries of the English nation made by sea or ouer-land (1599-1600).

The earliest example of the phrase I have found (and of course please note that this is by no means an exhaustive study, just a brief lurk around EEBO on a wintery Friday afternoon!) comes from Holinshed’s Chronicle (first published in 1577):

for they were woont to haue banketing at euerie station, a thing commonlie practised by the religious in old time, wherewith to linke in the commons vnto them, whom anie man may lead whither he will by the bellie, or as Latimer said, with beefe, bread and beere

As you can see, that this clearly points to an earlier usage, but I’m really not sure who the Latimer in question is. I thought it might be Hugh Latimer, but a cursory EEBO search of his works turned up nothing that looks remotely like the phrase.

So, it seems like beef, when accompanied by bread and beer, was the food of the traveling worker – a hospitable welcome for those touring about great houses with their employers and a staple on the high seas for the adventuring seafarer. Beer was a very common drink in early modern England, it was drunk by all at any hour of the day, with breakfast, lunch and dinner. Servants and other workers were often provided with beer as part of their payment, particularly in country houses which often had their own breweries. If beer was a part of everyday life, then I suppose this little phrase suggests that beef and bread were too. It seems to me that “beef, bread and beer” is the early modern equivalent of the 20th century’s “meat and two veg”, representing a balanced meal in the eyes of the consumers of the time. In fact, the combination is still alive and well today as a trip down to your local chain pub will no doubt attest – I refer to the ubiquitous “burger and a pint” deals that can be found on many a high street!

I’m currently trawling through the early modern cookbooks for a good beef recipe to try out soon, I will keep you posted and hopefully have a follow up post within a week or two. After that, I think it will be time to get Christmassy.

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Hippocras

Hippocrates, engraving by Peter Paul Rubens, 1638. Image via Wikipedia.


In this blog, I’m looking drink rather than food, and like the drinks I’ve looked at before, this one is alcoholic. Early modern people drank rather a lot of alcohol, and it wasn’t just reserved for an evening tipple – beer, and especially ale, were regularly drunk throughout the day with meals, even breakfast. Water was generally too unsanitary to drink, and tea and coffee entered the national diet sometime around the mid-to-late 17th century, so for the majority of the early modern period were not widely consumed. By the 18th century tea and coffee were very popular indeed, but heavy drinking had certainly not gone away – just look at the gin crisis.

Anyway, early modern society had what you might call a complex relationship with alcohol, though I suppose the same could be said about many societies, including our own. Drunkenness was a problem much bemoaned by many 16th and 17th century writers, such as James Hart of Northampton who, in his treatise on health and morality Klinike, or the Diet of the Diseased (1633), wrote that “Drunkenness is an excessive and unseasonable powring downe of strong drinke” that was the cause of “mischiefs there insuing to the soule, body, and good”. On the other hand, alcoholic drinks were a key part of the everyday diet, they provided nourishment, and in some cases, they were used as medicine.

This is where hippocras comes in. Also spelled hypocras, ypocras, ipocras (and others I’m sure), this was an ancient drink, popular during medieval times as well, very popular at banquets and for medicinal purposes. Hippocras takes its name from the ancient physician Hippocrates, he of the Hippocratic oath fame, though only indirectly, it is in fact named after the hippocras sleeve. This was an invention of Hippocrates, essentially a bag used to purify water. Presumably this lends its name to hippocras as the drink is made by filtering spiced wine through one of these bags. The medicinal associations of the name, however, were quite fitting given the various uses of the drink. In one 1612 text, Child-birth by Jacques Guillemeau, hippocras is suggested to help “the weake and dainty women” during labour, or alternatively they can “be fed with yelkes of egges, cullis, a tost with wine and sugar”.

The end to a great feast would often involve “wafers and hippocras” being served together. This was either served after the banquet course or was part of it. Banquet courses themselves generally consisted of comfits, sugar-plums and other kinds of sweet foods. Robert May in The Accomplisht Cook (1660) suggests serving wafers and hippocras, along with other banquetting foods, at the end two of his suggested menus:

First set forth mustard and brawn, pottage, beef, mut|ton, stewed pheasant, swan, capon, pig, venison, bake, custard, leach, lombard, blanchmanger, and jelly; for standard venison roste kid, fawn and coney, bustard, stork, crane, peacock with his tail, hearn-shaw, bittern, woodcock, partridge, plover, rabbets, great birds, larks, dowcets, pampuff, white leach, amber-jelly, cream of almonds, curlew, brew, snite, quail, sparrow, martinet, pearch in jelly, petty-pervis, quince bak’t, leach, dewgard, fruter-sage, blandrells, or pippins with carawayes in comfits, wafers, and ipocras…

…and later in another menu…

…Fresh sturgeon, bream, pearch in jelly, a jole of salmon, sturgeon, welks, apples, and pears rosted with sugar can|dy, figs of molisk, raisins, dates capt with minced ginger, wafers, and ipocras.

Medicinal or not, hippocras was a popular drink – but did it taste good? I shall soon be finding out when I try making some! It does involve leaving the wine and spices to infuse for a while though, so I won’t be posting the results right away. I have a feeling this is going to be a good one though, my previous adventures in early modern drinks have been some of the nicest things I’ve cooked. Anyway, thanks for reading, come back for the recipe in a week or so!

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Cakes: History and background

Stacked Books Tassles by ChicosMom, found on www.cakecentral.com. Click the picture to head over there and have a look if you want to look at lots of amazing cakes and lose several hours of your life!

Finally, a new post! I’m afraid the lack of blog posts is not due to me jetting off on some kind of holiday in August, but because I have been trying to write a chapter. The chapter focuses on alcoholic drinks, so aside from the buttered beer I haven’t come across much in my reading that I can write about here. Today, however, I thought I might do a little baking, and I figured that while I was at it I might as well bake something for the blog too. So, I shall be making some early modern cakes, and here you shall find a little bit of background on them. I am still wading through books on alcohol and allegories and trying to pull a chapter together, so I don’t have time to really get into the history of cakes, but here are a few tidbits to whet your appetite before I post the recipe in a few days:

Thou bel amy, thou Pardoner,’ he seyde,
‘Tel us som mirthe or Iapes right anon.’
‘It shall be doon,’ quod he, ‘by seint Ronyon!
But first,’ quod he, ‘heer at this ale-stake
I wol both drinke, and eten of a cake.’

The Canterbury Tales. 317-328

I’ve gone back a little further than usual looking for references with this one. Cakes are mentioned several times in the tales but I’ve gone for this quote from the Pardoner. As characters in the Canterbury Tales go, the Pardoner is one of the least appealing, and his eating and drinking here seems to me to be suggestive of greed.

What did cake mean in the early modern and medieval world? Well, according to the OED it had two  meanings. The first, originating from an earlier time, was “a baked mass of bread or substance of similar kind, distinguished from a loaf or other ordinary bread, either by its form or by its composition”. The cake would be smaller than a loaf of bread, “round, oval, or otherwise regularly shaped, and usually baked hard on both sides by being turned during the process”. I suppose this would be somewhat similar to what you would call a roll, bun or batch today (depending on which part of the country you live in). Anyway, it seems that a cake need not be something sweet, as it usually is today (excepting things like potato cakes, I suppose). Another meaning which ran alongside the first but came to prominence during the 16th and particularly the 17th centuries was that which eventually lead to the modern sense, “fancy bread, and sweetened or flavoured”. Now, of course, we see cake as a different substance to bread – the latter being as a rule risen with yeast and made of flour and water, and the former being made of flour, butter, sugar and eggs (6oz each of the first three and then 3 eggs – or at least that’s what my mother taught me).

It’s also worth mentioning that “cake” could also refer to a type of “thin hard-baked brittle species of oaten-bread” which was eaten in Scotland and the north. In Edward Sharpham’s The Fleire (1607), the titular character says: Send her an Oten cake, t’is a good Northern token”, illustrating this point.

I’ve seen “Court cakebreads” mentioned in a few plays, and I think these might be the “fancy bread” referred to above – court food is, as I’ve discussed before, usually described as being fancy and embellished in some way. Cakebreads seem to go hand in hand with custards, you’ll see they are mentioned in a few of the quotes I used in my post about custard.

Now, I said this wouldn’t be a very long post, so I’ve just got one mention of cake from a play that I thought was interesting. As it happens, there is a copy of this play in the collection I’m studying.

In Richard Brome’s The Late Lancashire Witches, wedding cake, or “bride-cake” has a role to play. At a wedding feast, some revelers wait with the bride cake to “cracke and crumble upon her crowne” – this seems to be some kind of wedding tradition. However, there is a spirit in the house, and he turns the cake to bran, prompting a cry of “the divell of crum is here, but bran; nothing but bran!”. As the play is set in Lancashire, perhaps this is a reference to the “oat-cakes” mentioned earlier? It’s also interesting to see that wedding cakes have apparently been around for a while, though I am glad that they don’t get crumbled on people’s heads anymore. Having said that, there is a growing tradition, mainly in America, I believe, of brides and grooms squashing cake into each other’s faces, so perhaps this is coming back!

And finally, here’s some wisdom from a 16th century book of proverbs:

Wolde ye bothe eate your cake, and haue your cake?

John Heywood, A dialogue conteinyng the nomber in effect of all the prouerbes in the englishe tongue (1546)

Doesn’t it just make so much more sense that way around? I never understood why it was a bad thing to want to have your cake and eat it – surely that’s what you do when you have a cake?! But yes, it would be silly to want to eat it and then have it back again.

Anyway, that’s all for now, I shall be back soon with a recipe for 16th century cakes!

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Beer!

Beer by Will Vanlue, used under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial ShareAlike 2.0 Generic liscence

Beer definitely deserves an exclamation mark, if you ask me. Now, before you get excited, let me say I won’t be getting the homebrew kit out, I won’t actually be making the beer itself, but rather making some delicious-sounding Buttered Beer. Whether or not it will be delicious tasting as well remains to be seen. But more on that in part 2, this post is for a bit of history about beer.

I’m working on a chapter that looks like it’s shaping up to be at least  in part about drunkenness on stage. I’m planning on structuring it around a fantastic little play – well, it’s more of an interlude really – called Wine, Beer, Ale and Tobacco. I’ve written about it at my other blog, it’s quite an interesting little play so do head over there and find out more about it if you are so inclined. The play is about the titular drinks (yes, you read that right, tobacco was sometimes considered a drink – take a look at the link above!) having an argument about which one of them is best.

Now, you might be wondering what the difference between ale and beer was. I go into slightly more detail in the post about the play, but essentially, ale was the traditionally brewed stuff and beer was brewed using hops. Things are a bit different now, but that’s what the distinction was in the early modern period. Definitely something to bear in mind when trying the recipe out – I must remember to look for a hoppy ale.

I’ve noticed that the phrase “Beef, bread and beer” comes up fairly regularly, usually in relation to a particularly hospitable place, be in someone’s house or an inn. In The Witch of Edmonton (Rowley, Dekker and Ford, 1621), for example, Old Carter tells Old Thorny that the latter’s son “shall be welcome to Bread, Beef and Beer, Yeoman’s fare”. In William Kemp’s A Knack to Know a Knave (1594), we find the construction again used to signify hospitality:

My father in his lyfe time gave hospitality to all strangers, and Distressed traueillers, his table was neuer emptie of bread, beefe And beere

Beer was a relative newcomer compared to ale. The latter had been brewed in England since way back in the mists of time, but the former was only introduced to England in the late medieval period. By the late 16th century, when the recipe I’ll be using dates from, beer had been around for 100 years or so. It wasn’t drunk everywhere, but was making a slow and steady progress from London out to the rest of the country. It was still considered somewhat new, but as you can see from the quotes above, it was certainly something you could expect to find available fairly frequently as part of a hearty meal.

Unlike most of the other foods I’ve looked at for this blog, beer didn’t get a particularly good press in the diet books of the 16th and 17th centuries, although Edward Topsell’s History of Four-Footed Beasts (1607) recommends bathing in buttered beer as a remedy for horses with “the swelling of the forelegs”. When beer does appear in these kinds of books, it does tend to be buttered, I suppose the hot, alcoholic drink might have been thought to share some of the healing properties of posset. Thomas Cogan does suggest that buttered beer is a good remedy for a cough or a shortness of wind (Haven of health, 1633). James Hart of Northampton in Klinike or the diet of the diseased warns against the abuse of buttered beer as a medicine, and Bullein states that neither beer or ale “haue suche vertue nor goodnes as wyne haue, and surphetes whiche be taken of them, through dronkenes: be worse then the surphetes taken of wyne” (Gouernement of health, 1558).

References to beer are plentiful, but for the most part they’re fairly fleeting. I’ve chosen this nice little quote from Wine, Beer, Ale and Tobacco to end this post – it’s spoken by Water when he arrives to settle the argument between Wine, Beer and Ale. Water decides that Ale is country drink and Wine is for the court, but Beer is a drink for the city, he’s his reasoning:

You Beere, shall bee in most grace with the Citizens, as being a more stayed Liquor, fit for them that purpose retirement and grauitie, that with the Suaile carries the cares of a house and family with them, tyed to the atendance of an illiberall profession, that neither trot nor amble, but haue a sure pace of their owne, Bos lassus fortius figit pedem, The black Oxe has trod vpon their foot: yet I bound you not with the Citie, though it bee the common entertainement, you may bee in credit with Gentlemens Cellars, and carry reputation before you from March to Christmas—tide I should say; that Water should forget his Tide.

I’ll be attempting to butter some beer soon, so watch this space!

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