Tag Archives: Dekker


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!


Filed under History and background

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under History and background

Posset: Part 1

So, this week’s experiment is posset. As before, I’ll start with a definition from the OED:

1. A drink made from hot milk curdled with ale, wine, or other liquor, flavoured with sugar, herbs, spices, etc., and often drunk for medicinal purposes (now hist.); a kind of syllabub made from similar ingredients. Freq. with distinguishing word.

Note the second related sense “a kind of syllabub made from similar ingredients” – if you’ve ever come across a posset on a menu or in a cookbook today it would have been one of these. Lemon posset is the most common – a quick search around the internet revealed this particularly lovely looking recipe:


What a beautiful blog, those pictures in particular put me to shame. I really must get myself a proper camera/learn how to take decent photos. While we’re looking at modern posset recipes, I bet this one is nice: http://www.carnation.co.uk/pudcasts/200807-lemon-posset?section=Recipes

I love condensed milk!

Anyway, carnation condensed milk was still a few hundred years away in the Early Modern Period, and posset was not the cold dessert we know of today. Instead, it was a warm, creamy, spiced drink that was commonly used as a cure-all.

“Oh my sides ake in my loines, in my bones? I ha more need of a posset of sacke, and lie in my bed and sweate, than to talke in musick:”

Westward Ho!, John Webster and Thomas Dekker, 1607

To use something akin to hot eggnog for medicinal purposes might seem odd, but I imagine the thinking lies in the alcohol having a sort of sedative or anesthetising effect, and the eggs being somehow nourishing. Hot milk feels calming, as a little girl I was often given warm milk and honey when I couldn’t sleep. Sometimes I still have it now. I’m sure lots of us consider hot cocoa to be a relaxing or comforting drink.

Another thing I’ve noticed from recipe books is that posset is often used as a base for medicines, carrying other spices and medicial ingredients. William Bullein’s The Gouernement of Healthe (1558) mentions it often, for example suggesting that mint “sodden in posset al with fenill, it helpeth collike, it encreaseth vital sede”. Yes, increasing vital seed. I guess they’re talking libido rather than gardening there?

I have an ever-developing theory that in the late 16th and early 17th century particularly there was a certain amount of suspicion around various types of eating. I mentioned it last time with sweet foods in the The Witch, and I’m sure I’ll post more on this at some point, but I think there are definitely undertones of restorative foods being potentially sinister, and possibly having different effects to those intended. I leave you with this famous soliloquy from Lady Macbeth that I think highlights the fine line between administering medicine and “drugging”:

That which hath made them drunk hath made me bold;
What hath quench’d them hath given me fire.
Hark! Peace!
It was the owl that shriek’d, the fatal bellman,
Which gives the stern’st good-night. He is about it:
The doors are open; and the surfeited grooms
Do mock their charge with snores: I have drugg’d
their possets,
That death and nature do contend about them,
Whether they live or die.

Macbeth, Act 2, Scene 2

See the next post for the posset recipe!

Leave a comment

Filed under History and background