Tag Archives: food history

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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Gingerbread Part 2: Cooking and the recipe

Well, I finally made gingerbread! There were a number of different recipes to choose from, but I went with good old Hannah Woolley since this recipe included most of the common elements I’d seen in the other recipes. Here it is:

To make Ginger-bread.

Take three stale Manchets grated and sifted, then put to them half an Ounce of Cinnamon, as much Ginger, half an Ounce of Licoras and Aniseeds together, beat all these and searce them, and put them in with half a Pound of fine Sugar, boil all these together with a quart of Claret, stirring them continually till it come to a stiff Paste, then when it is almost cold, mould it on a Table with some searced Spice and Sugar, then bake it in what shape you please.

Hannah Woolley, The Queen-Like Closet (1670)

Not quite the gingerbread we’re use to now eh? Most of the recipes I found involved grated manchets – essentially breadcrumbs – rather than flour. Some used ground almonds but were titled “Almond gingerbread” indicating this is a variant rather than the norm. So, the first step was to find out what a manchet is, and the second step was to make one.

A manchet, it turns out, is a kind of enriched bread – not entirely unlike brioche, although the texture is not really the same. The absolute best place to learn about historical bread is the wonderful blog History of Bread, and this is where I found a recipe for manchet. I made the manchet according to the “Lady of Arundel’s  manchet” recipe as interpreted by History of Bread – I sneaked a taste and then had to resist eating half of it while it was still hot and delicious. It tastes like a hybrid of bread and a cake, the crust was particularly good.

manchet2

I scooped out the inner bread and discarded the crust (well, the bits I didn’t eat). However, my freshly made manchet wasn’t yet suitable for the recipe, so I left it in a bowl covered with a tea towel for a day or so to stale it up a bit.

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One the manchet was stale I crumbled the bread in a food processor. I know, not a very early modern method, but I was not in the mood for lengthy grating and sieving. Besides, I can tell you with confidence having lived without a food processor for many years and still wanted to eat meatballs that the end result is identical. The last time I resisted the food processor to stay true to original methods I ended up spending literally hours bashing a bag of almonds, and that put me off somewhat! As for quantities, I scaled the other ingredients down by half, which seemed about right when I put them with the manchet-crumbs.

Crumbs created, I moved onto the other ingredients. I did try, but was unable to get hold of liquorice and aniseed so I had to improvise somewhat – I happened to have some liquorice extract in the cupboard and some star anise. I brought the wine slowly to the boil with the star anise so try and get a little bit of aniseed flavour. Once it was boiling gently I removed the anise, added the ginger and cinnamon, then a few drops of liquorice flavour (I did put too much of this in and it tasted more like licorice bread than ginger bread, so be careful if you do this). I added the sugar and stirred until it had dissolved, and then put in the crumbs. The mixture came together quickly, making a sticky, gluey kind of dough. I took it off the heat and left it to cool, once it was cool enough to handle I shaped it into rounds and put it on a baking tray. I then baked it for about half an hour on a medium heat (about 180c). When I removed the gingerbread it was still quite soft in the middle so I put it back for another 15 minutes. It still hadn’t firmed up in the middle, so I decided it was probably meant to be like that.

Gingerbread

This was a particularly enlightening food experiment for me for a number of reasons. I had not expected to find wine and bread/cake crumbs in the recipe, although it’s not unheard of to put breadcrumbs or relatively large volumes of alcohol into baked goods today, it’s still fairly unusual. I had always thought that Early Modern gingerbread would be the biscuit kind rather than the cakey kind – in fact I even said this when I wrote the first post!  This assumption was based on the knowledge that it was often formed into shapes. As it turns out, the weird glue-dough that comes from mixing wine and breadcrumbs is much better for shaping than biscuit dough, you could quite easily make a 3D model. It’s similar in consistency to marchpane, another substance used for modelling food. The dark colour comes from the claret. Taste-wise, this gingerbread is a bit like eating mulled wine cookie dough. It is reminiscent of modern cake gingerbread but sadly not as nice. It’s an interesting taste, probably not one I’d make again. It got a definite thumbs down from my husband too! Onward and upward though, what shall I try next?

 

Want to try it yourself? Here’s a recipe.

Ginger-bread

1 manchet, staled and made into crumbs. You can find the recipe here

1 tsp each ground cinnamon, ginger, aniseed and liquorice (see above for possible substitutions)

450ml claret

150g sugar

Bring the wine to the boil. Add the sugar and stir until dissolves. Add the manchet crumbs with the spices. Stir until a paste comes together, then leave to cool while you preheat the oven to 180. When the mixture is cool, mould with your hands into whatever shape you would like, then place on a greased tray and bake for 45 minutes. Cool slightly, then eat (they are much better warm).

 

 

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Salads: “Cooking” and a recipe of sorts

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Please forgive the sizeable gap between the first post on salads and this one, it’s been a busy January. Anyway, I have finally made an early modern salad, and as you can see from the picture above, it’s a rather magnificent looking thing. Here’s another photo of it pulled apart a bit. 

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And here is the recipe I used, from Gervase Markham’s The English Housewife (1631):

The compound Sallet.

To compound an excellent Sallat, and which indeed is vsuall at great feasts, and vppon Princes tables: Take a good quantity of blancht Almonds, and with your shredding Knife cut them grossely; then take as many Raisins of the Sunne cleane washt, and the stones pickt out, as many Figs thred like the Almonds, as many Capers, twice so many Olyues, and as many Currants as of all the rest cleane washt: a good handfull of the small tender leaues of Red Sage and Spinage: mixe all these well together with good store of Sugar, and lay them in the bottome of a great dish; then put vnto them Vinegar and Oyle, and scrape more Sugar ouer all: then take Orenges and Lemons, and paring away the outward piles, cut them into thinne slices, then with those slices couer the Sallet all ouer; which done, take the fine thinne leafe of the red Coleflower, and with them couer the Orenges and Lemons all ouer; then ouer chose red leaues lay another course of old Olyues, and the slices of wel pickled Cucumbers, together with the very inward heart of your Cabbage lefee cut into slces; then adone the sides of the dish, and the top of the Sallet with mo slices of Lemons and Orenges, and so serue it vp.

It seems odd to provide a recipe since it’s so straightforward and there’s no cooking involved so I won’t, but see the bottom of the post for a loose ingredients list. First, I’ll just go through some of the ingredients. Some are obvious – olives, capers (delicious!), currants and the like – but others a little less so. I couldn’t locate either red “coleflower” aka cauliflower or red sage, so I had to make do with their white/green alternatives. I used the outer leaves of the cauliflower rather than the florets, as instructed. This seemed a bit odd at first, but I suppose that raw cabbage is found in coleslaw, so it’s not too unusual. Pickled cucumbers are of course gherkins – another favourite of mine. The sliced lemons were a very unusual addition, I am not really used to actually eating lemons, just flavouring things with their juice. When combined with some of the sweeter flavours like the currants or indeed oranges, however, it lost it’s sharp edge and was a lot more palatable then I expected. 

When I first read the recipe I thought this recipe sounded pretty unpleasant and rather odd. Once I actually made it, however, I found it had a lot more in common with modern salads than I expected. The oil and vinegar dressing for one thing, is something we still use today. The combination of sweet, pickled and savoury was unexpectedly good, and it certainly lived up to it’s name of a “compound salad”.

If you do fancy making one, here are the ingredients in handy list form (no quantities though, just go by what you like – though I do encourage you to try the things you think sound a bit odd):

A compound salad

Blanched almonds, roughly chopped

Raisins

Figs, fresh or dried (I used dried but fresh would be lovely I think), roughly chopped

Capers

Olives

Currents

Whole sage leaves

Spinach leaves

Sugar (a tablespoon or so)

Vinegar (1/2 tablespoon)

Oil (1/2 tablespoon)

Orange and lemon, peel cut off and cut into thin slices

Outer leaves of cauliflower, sliced

Cabbage hearts, sliced

Gherkins, sliced

Arrange in layers as described above, mix together, or construct in any other way you see fit. Go on, try something new (well, old I suppose) and brighten up your January!

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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 part 2: Cooking minced pies

And so, the thrilling conclusion to my special Christmas post on mince pies!

I used a recipe from Robert May’s The Accomplisht Cook (1660), as I pointed out in the last post, there were a number of different recipes involving different ingredients, but I went for one using beef, as well as the well known dried fruits and spices that we find in our mince pies today.

To make minced Pies of Beef.

TAke of the buttock of beef, cleanse it from the skins, and cut it into small pieces, then take half as much more beef-suet as the beef, mince them together very small, and season them with pepper, cloves, mace, nut|meg, and salt, then have half as much fruit as meat, three pound of raisins, four pound of currans, two pound of prunes, &c. or plain without fruit, but onely seasoned with the same spices.

As you can see it’s a pretty straightforward recipe. I went for a basic shortcrust for the pastry since it didn’t specify. The mincemeat itself was rather easy, there was no pre-cooking required, just chopping things up and sticking them in a pie. The best kind of cooking! Here is the meat, fruit and suet mixed with spices:

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Unlike modern mincemeat, there was no talk of letting it “mature” for weeks on end. And no alcohol either. Here is is in the pie “coffin”:

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The completed pie:


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And it’s filling in all it’s meaty glory:SAMSUNG

The mince pie did in fact taste very sweet, to be honest I couldn’t really detect much of a savoury note at all even though there was no sugar in it. I think this is probably at least in part a result of not cooking the meat first and sealing in all the juices and flavours. It should not be surprising though to find that minced pies were sweet – in the short playlet from the last post, we saw Roast Beef teasing Mince Pie for his sweetness, calling him “Mr Sweet tooth”, amongst other things. My own personal taste test did indeed bear out that the mince pie was certainly a sweet treat, despite it’s meaty filling.

I am reluctant to post an adapted recipe for two reasons. The first being that I only made a single serving pie, and I am not sure how much call for that there really is. Secondly, it was very easy, and the original recipe is fairly straightforward and easily adaptable to your circumstances. As a rough guide, my individual pie was based around about 2 generously heaped tablespoons of finely diced beef. This doesn’t need to be exact – for the ratio of raisins, currents and prunes you don’t need to be too worried about measurements, just make sure you’ve got about half as much to the meat, and that you have more raisins than currents, and more currents that prunes. You should be able to guess how much pastry you’ll need (I did, but such is my way) – you could make a simple shortcrust from butter, flour and water, or you could even buy a ready rolled pack. If you would like an authentic early modern pastry recipe, look here.

I know this isn’t very scientific, but I am sure that all of you other intrepid food explorers can work it out. Have fun with your early modern cookery, experiment!

And on that note, I shall wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

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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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