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Elizabethan England

Elizabethan Banquets and Feasts

by Sabina Pellizzari

For two hundred years, food has been the center of development of society. It has dictated population growth and urban expansion; influenced economic, social, and political theory; separated the royalty and peasantry; widened the horizons of commerce; inspired wars of dominion; played no small role in the creation of empires; and precipitated the discovery of new worlds. It has been very important in relations between peoples, particularly in the social gathering of a diverse group of people such as the banquets that were popular in Elizabethan days.

To this day people engage in banquets like people did in the Elizabethan Period. Though the menus have changed, the idea of social gathering with food is just about the same. People now can go to places such as "Old Country Buffet" (a popular "all you can eat buffet") and eat an extravagant amount of food that almost anyone could afford.

Another important difference between modern day buffets and Elizabethan banquets is this: only the royalty and the wealthy in those days could afford to have such a feast because a peasant obviously could not afford roasted peacock or swan. Now all a person needs is $8.14 to stuff himself or herself silly.

The menus of Elizabethan feasts usually consisted of such foods as these:

First Course
Miniature pastries filled with cod liver or beef marrow
A cameline meat "brewet," pieces of meat in a thin cinnamon sauce
Beef marrow
Eels in a thick spicy puree
Loach in cold-green sauce flavored with spices and sage
Large cuts of roast or boiled meat
Saltwater fish

Second Course
(hulled wheat boiled in milk, with flavored sugar and spices)
Freshwater fish
Broth with bacon
A meat tile
Carpon pasties and crisps
Bream and eel pasties

Third Course
Lampreys with hot sauce
Roast bream and darioles
(a dariole is a small cream tart with puff pastry, in a circular mold)

Spiced wine (for digestion)

One famous ceremonial feast consisted of 50 crabs, 18 trout, 9 large and 9 small pike, 4 large salmon, 18 brill, 10 large turbot, 200 cod tripes, 50 pounds of whale, 200 smoked and 200 pickled herring and a numerous amount of food after that.

Banquets of these times were so big that hosts employed servants for the oddest job tasks. One example would be the bread trencher; his job was to get fresh bread and replace it with the old bread that had gotten stale during the meal.

People of this time did not use the utensils that we use now. They thought that using their hands to scoop out the food was much more efficient. Several table manner books came out at this time because it was most obvious that one did not want to eat after his or her neighbor scratched himself and then scooped food out with the same hand.

During the Elizabethan Period people prepared a wide variety of foods that would be unheard of in restaurants today. English people were very visual about their food. They loved strange shapes and particularly enjoyed dishes of unusual colors. Unusual dishes included such treats as small birds in a pie, roast peacock, hedgehogs, or roast Swan. Even though they did not eat such dishes as swan and peacock, they were used as a centerpiece decoration among the royalty.

An Elizabethan recipe for hedgehogs has been translated for people of the 20th century:

Hedgehogs (Yrchouns)

Take Piggis mawys, & skalde hem wel: take groundyn Porke, & knede it with Spicerye, with pouder Gyngere, & Salt & Sugre; do it on the mawe , but fille it nowe to fulle; then sewe hem with a fayre threde, & putte hem in a Spete as men don piggys; take blaunchid Almaundys, & kerf hem long , smal, & scharpe, & frye hem in grece & sugre; Take a litel prycke, & prykke the yrchouns, An putte in the holes the Almaundy, every hole half, & eche fro other; ley hem then to the fyre; when they ben rostid, dore hem sum whyth Whete Flowre, & mylke of Almaundys, sum grene, sum blake with Blode,& lat hem nowt brone to moche, & set forth.Serves 6-8

2 lb (4 cups) minced (ground) pork
2 tbs breadcrumbs
1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp mace
2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
2 tbs sugar
1/2 oz (1 tbs) softened butter
2 egg yolks
2 oz (4 tbs) butter
4 tbs vegetable stock or water
2 oz slivered almonds
vegetable colouring

Modern Translation: Mix the pork, breadcrumbs, spices, seasonings and softened butter. Bind with the beaten egg yolks and form a ball. Place in a buttered pan. Cook, covered, for 1 hour, basting at intervals with the rest of the butter melted in the vegetable stock or water. Stick the slivered almonds, dyed with the vegetable colouring, all over the pudding, so that they look like the quills of a hedgehog or a sea urchin (recipe from Seven Centuries of English Cooking).

See also: "Food and Drink" and "Elizabethan Food"

Works Consulted

Chamberlain, E. R. Everyday Life in Renaissance tTmes. Great Britain: Jarrold and Sons Ltd., 1965.

This book gives a great understanding of everyday life from that of the court to that of the merchant. The details about normal day-to-day life are very informative.

Davis, S. Williams. Life in Elizabethan Days. New York : Harper & Brothers, 1930.

Chapter 6 in this book is useful. Using the fictional character of HollyDean and Sir Walter, it creates a mini-scenario of what would happen during an actual Elizabethan banquet.

de la Falaise, Maxime. Seven Centuriesf English Cooking. New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 1973.

The first chapter of this book, "From the Fourteenth to the Sixteenth Century", was very helpful with the Elizabethan menu. It gives step-by-step instructions on how to prepare Meatloaf with Almonds and Roast Peacock.Yum! Chapter 2, on the court's social life, was very informative.

Quennell, Marjorie, and C. H. B Quennell. A History of Everyday Things in England. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons.

Chapter 2, "Seventeenth Century", was the most informative, especially pages 146-152, based on "Kitchens and Dining-Rooms." This section explained how the food was cooked and prepared.

Tannahill, Reay. Food in History. New York: Stein and Day, 1973.

This book discusses the type of food that was eaten during the Elizabethan days. Chapter 4 on the "Medieval Table" helped with vital information on their dining habits, table manners and cooking techniques.

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