Tag Archives: Bullein


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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Golden Apples: Part 1

Peter Paul Rubens, Judgement of Paris. C 1636. (image via wikipedia)

As I said in my last post, I’ve been working on a piece of of a chapter about about Thomas Dekker’s The Pleasant Comedy of Old Fortunatus – I will be posting something in my new blog later this week about it. Anyway, I’ve been looking at the use of food as a prop in the play, specifically golden apples.

Golden apples were a popular trope in art and literature during the early modern period. The apples from the tree of knowledge are sometimes depicted as golden, but a more common reference point is the apple of discord, from the Greek myth of the Judgement of Paris. Plucked from the garden of Hesperides by the goddess Eris, and engraved with the word “fairest”, the apple is rolled into a wedding party. On finding it, Aphrodite, Athena and Hera ask Paris to judge which of them the apple should belong to, who is the fairest. Paris chooses Aphrodite, and as a reward, she “gives” Helen of Troy to him, which results in the Trojan War. The apple of discord is often cited as the starting point of the war, Early Modern sources often place it as such. In one of his “Songs and Sonnets”, Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey refers to it as:

The golden apple that the Troyan boy,

Gaue to Uenus the fayrest of the thre,

Which was the cause of all the wrack of Troy

Spenser also refers to the apple of discord in The Fairie Queene. The apple itself is once again positioned as the catalyst for the war:

 Here eke that famous golden Apple grew,

The which emongest the Gods false Ate threw:

For which th’Idaean Ladies disagreed,

Till partiall Paris dempt it Venus dew,

And had of her, fayre Helen for his meed,

That many noble Greekes and Troians made to bleed

Spenser demonstrates how Paris’ choice of beauty – Venus and “fayre Helen” herself – ahead of anything else is the reason for the war “That many noble Greekes and Troians made to bleed”. The golden apple, however, is the “famous” mythic object associated with the situation, this story imbues it with associations of danger, warmongering, the unwise choice of beauty and outward appearance over other qualities.

Dietary regimens and herbals of the period often seem concerned with the question of what kind of fruit the mythic golden apple actually is. John Maplet, in A Green Forest (1567), in a section on quinces, says “Many thinke this is the fruit which the Poets call golden Apple”.  Rembarte Dodoens in A Niewe Herball (1578) gives the name golden apples to tomatoes, or “Amorus Apples” as he also calls them. Tomatoes were a relatively new food at this time, and Dodoens seems cautious about recommending them:

The complexion, nature, and working of this plante, is not yet knowen, but by that I can gather of the taste, it should be colde of nature, especially the leaues, somwhat like vnto Mandrake, and therefore also it is dangerous to be vsed.

In Foure Bookes of Husbandry (1577), Conrad Herebach identifies oranges and other citrus fruits as “Golden apples”, stating that “the fruite is called in Latine Hipericum, and Aureum malum, the golden Apple, also the maryage Apple of Iupiter and Iuno: such of them as are yellow, and of a golden colour, they commonly call Oranges”.

For the second post, I’m going to be cooking something called “apple-moyse”, which is a dish made from apple pulp and other things, it’s golden in colour, and (fingers crossed) it does sound very tempting.

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Valentine’s Special – Asparagus: Part 1

Purple passion asparagus by weretable used under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license

In honour of Valentine’s Day, I thought it would be interesting to look at an Early Modern aphrodisiac – asparagus, also known as sperage or sparagus in many Early Modern texts.

Most people have probably heard of the supposed aphrodisiac properties of asparagus. Whether you believe aphrodisiac foods truly exist or not, you probably know about this vegetable’s reputation. Confusingly, there seems to be some debate over whether anyone in the Early Modern period actually bought into the idea that asparagus could really “stirreth up bodily lust”. The following exchange from Richard Brome’s The Sparagus Garden (1640) shows two characters discussing the nature of the vegetable:

Moneylack: Have you this Spring eaten any Asparagus yet?

Rebecca: Why is that good for a woman that longs to bee with Child?

Mon. Of all the Plants, hearbes, rootes, or fruits that grow, it is the most provocative, operative and effective.

Reb.Indeed Sir Hugh?

Mon. All your best (especially your moderne) Herballists conclude, that your Asparagus is the onely sweet stirrer that the earth sends forth, beyond your wild Carrets, Cornflag, or Gladiall. Your roots of Standergrasse, or of Satyrion boyld in Goates milke are held good; your Clary or Horminum in divers wayes good, and Dill (especially boyld in Oyle) is also good: but none of these, nor Saffron boyld in wine, your Nuts of Artichoakes, Rocket, or seeds of Ash-tree (which wee call the Kite keyes) nor thousand such, though all are good, may stand up for perfection with Asparagus.

This would seem like fairly solid evidence at first, but in an article entitled ‘Asparagus and Brome’s The Sparagus Garden’ (1971, Modern Philology Vol 68 No. 4), Leroy L. Panek argues that many herbals of the period do not actually mention the aphrodisiac effects of asparagus at all, referring much more frequently to carrots, dill, standergrass, and others. The point of the scene, Panek says, is that Moneylack is misleading Rebecca so that she will buy some asparagus.

Having delved into a few herbals and diet books, I do think Panek makes a good point about Moneylack talking up the effects of asparagus in the play, indeed I have noticed that it’s quite often mentioned without any reference to it’s more racy benefits. However, on the other hand I don’t think this means that asparagus wasn’t considered to have any beneficial effects relating to sex at all, and I have spotted a few. William Langham’s The Garden of Health (1597) lists sperage under the heading “Seed, to increase”, and William Bullein’s Bulwarke of Defense (also from 1579) states that a syrup of asparagus “doeth increase seede of generation”. Those texts are both from the late 16th century, but asparagus was still thought of as a lusty vegetable by some 30 years later,  in John Gerard’s 1633 The Herball or General History of Plants he mentions that “they are thought to increase seed, and stir vp lust”.

It seems by no means a cut and dried case for whether or not asparagus was really considered an aphrodisiac. The section on asparagus from Culpeper’s The English Physitian indicates that the benefits of the vegetable were perhaps in dispute in the 16th century:

“[asparagus] being taken fasting several mornings together stirreth up bodily lust in Man or Woman (whatsoever some have written to the contrary.)”

I’m siding with Culpeper on this one for the purposes of this blog, and now I’m off to cook chicken with asparagus a la Hannah Wolley. I’ll be using her 1675 book The Accomplish’d lady’s delight in preserving, physick, beautifying, and cookery, and I’ll report back once the experiment is complete!

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Stuffed eggs: Part 1

Well. Eggs. Surely one of the best and most versatile foodstuffs known to man? I love eggs, particularly when I was growing up – whether it was baked eggs with mustard (my family’s Christmas morning breakfast of choice), the near-weekly egg mayonnaise with cheese and a jacket potato my nan would give me when I went to her house for tea, or in my teenage years, the fried egg sandwiches I always swore by as a preventative hangover cure – to be eaten in the middle of the night after a long night out.

But enough with the memories, that kind of history is far too recent for this blog!

Eggs have always been a popular and common food, so mentions of them are rather frequent. I had trouble tracking down any specifically about stuffed eggs, but here are a couple of interesting egg-related excerpts (I refuse to stoop to the level of writing “egg-cerpts”. Oh damn, too late, I just did it!).

I don’t think we really need to look at the OED for a definition of eggs. Let’s see what William Bullein has to say in The Government of Health – a diet treatise from the 16th century:

New laide eggs of hennes potched and supped vppon an emptie stomacke, doeth clense the lungs and the raines of the backe. Harde egges are greately discommended, vnlesse it bee to stoppe flixes

“Flixes”, or “the bloody flux”, was an Early Modern term for dysentery, and I don’t think we should spend any more time dwelling on that in a food blog.

Eggs do seem to get something of a bad rep, while Bullein does his best to “discommend” hard boiled ones, Thomas Hill’s 1576 text The moste pleasuante arte of the interpretacion of dreames explains that, in a dream, “to eate egges, signifyeth stryfe”, though he does not offer a reason why.

My favourite egg reference is from Caxton’s preface to the Eneydos (1490). It will most likely be familiar to language students, as it often comes up in text books in relation to language change. Caxton describes the differences in regional vocabulary, and raises the question of which one is “right”. He tell the story of two travelling merchants who stop at the house of a “good wfy” in search of food:

And one of theym named sheffelde a mercer cam in to an hows and axed for meet. and specyally he axyd after eggys And the goode wyf answerde. that she coude speke no frenshe. And the marchaut was angry. for he also coude speke no frenshe. but wolde haue hadde egges / and she vnderstode hym not / And thenne at laste a nother sayd that he wolde haue eyren / then the good wyf sayd that she vnderstod hym wel / Loo what sholde a man in thyse dayes now wryte. egges or eyren / certaynly it is harde to playse euery man / by cause of dyuersite & chau~ge of langage.

Here’s one with modernised spelling and punctuation:
And one of them named Sheffied, a mercer, came into a house and asked for meat. And specially he asked after eggys. And the good wife answered that she could speak no French. And the merchant was angry, for he also could speak no French, but would have had egges, and she understood him not. And then at last another said that he would have eyren, then the good wife said that she understood him well. Lo, what should a man in these days now write, egges or eyren? Certainly it is hard to please every man, by cause of diversity and change of language.
You can find the full text here, if you are so inclined: http://andromeda.rutgers.edu/~jlynch/Texts/eneydos.html
Very soon, the recipe for my stuffed eggs will be here…

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