Poor people may have had humble and unvaried diets, consisting largely of bread, fish, cheese and ale, but the rich of Elizabethan England ate well. All kind of meats were served such as lamb, beef, mutton, pork, bacon, veal, rabbit, hare, and fowl such as peacock, swan, goose, blackbirds and pigeon. They also ate different kind of freshwater and sea fish. Vegetables such as turnips, parsnips, carrots, onions, leeks, garlic and radishes were also eaten, and fruits such as apples, pears, plums, cherries and woodland strawberries. However, vegetables and fruits were regarded with some suspicion and it was far more common for roasted and boiled meat to be accompanied with bread.
Over the course of the Tudor period, more and more foods were introduced into society as they were discovered in the New World, such as Tomatoes (or love apples as they were known) from Mexico, Turkey from Mexico and Central America, Kidney Beans from Peru, and of course the Potato famously brought to England by Sir Walter Raleigh in the later years of Elizabeth’s reign. However, the Elizabethans did not know quite how to use or cook these foods to their optimum, so they were not as tasty as they could have been and tended to be kept as special delicacies.
As well as a good meal, the Tudors were fond of desserts. They enjoyed pastries, tarts, cakes, cream, and custard, and crystallized fruit and syrup. They were especially fond of sugar and marzipan and on special occasions such as banquets, all kinds of specialities would be made out of sugar and marzipan such as animals, birds, fruits or baskets. Sometimes wine glasses, dishes, playing cards and trenchers were made out of a crisp modelled sugar called sugar-plate which would be elaborately decorated.
Apparently Elizabeth I affected the edible world quite a lot: Over the course of her 45-year reign, Lizzy made 382 proclamations, and 200 of those concerned food. Examples of these proclamations can be found in The Proclamations of the Tudor Queens. Here are but a few:
18 Sept 1561: Forbidding early sale of new wine
8 Jan 1564: Prohibiting import of French wines
30 Jan 1564: Lowering the price of hops
22 Dec 1564: Setting prices for wines
22 Mar 1565: Licensing export of grain from East Riding
20 Dec 1565: Setting prices for wines (again)
22 Dec 1565: Gauging Scottish fish barrels
14 Oct 1585: A Proclamation against bringing in of wines
or other merchandise from Bourdeaux, in respect of the
Plague being there
Yes, she made a lot of proclamations involving alcohol — the majority of food-related proclamations involved the pricing of wine. And then there’s that one about measuring the Scottish fish barrels, because we know how sneaky the Scots can be when making fish barrels. On a side note, she also made a lot of proclamations regarding pirates and Frenchmen. But back to the alcohol: It was very important in the 16th century due to the undrinkable state of the water. Rather than risk dysentery and other unpleasant gastro-diseases, the people of the 16th century drank alcohol; while they were escaping the risk of illness they were also maintaining a nice buzz throughout the day.
The book “To The Queen’s Taste: Elizabethan Feasts and Recipes Adapted for Modern Cooking” by Lorna J. Sass, explains that “[Beer] was prepared in three strengths: single, double, and double-double.” The Queen herself is said to have consumed two pints of beer (single strength…weak) with breakfast on a daily basis, which is why one should plan on emulating the Queen more regularly. Though Queeny was a bit of a buzz kill at times too. In 1560 she ordered that the brewing of double-double be stopped.
Meat-free Fridays and sugary treats
Her Majesty was also very instrumental in meat-free Fridays. According to To The Queen’s Taste, “In 1563, by an act of Parliament, Elizabeth proclaimed that her countrymen had to eat fish on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. Infraction of her command was punishable by three months’ imprisonment or a three-pound fine.” Though the law was rooted in religion, it was really implemented in order to boost the English shipbuilding industry and lower the cost of meat. She was a sneaky magistrate.
Apart from booze and seafood, Elizabeth and her court dined on copious amounts of sugary treats like marchpane, a kind of marzipan or suckets (dried fruits). She liked them so much that her teeth ended up turning black. But one of the many benefits of being the Queen is that you can do no wrong. In an attempt to resemble their ruler more, the ladies of the court blackened their teeth. Pretty. In this way one should not try to emulate her ladyship.
Read more here:
Tudor History / food
Cook it! History Cookbook / Tudors
Hudsonsheritage / Tudor recipes
Hampton Court Palace / Henry VIII’s Kitchens
On The Tudor Trail / Recipes, Food and Cooking in Tudor England
Renaissance-spell / Food
The Tudors / Cooking