Tudor Food at Court
If you'd been asked to attend a feast at Hampton Court Palace in the 1500s you might have been served porpoise with oatmeal, roast goose with honey and almond paste, and salmon and fig pie... all at the same meal.
If Eltham Palace had been the venue for your banquet, then Garbage pie (consisting of innards), spiced plums with dates, and boiled capons with a golden saffron sauce could have appeared on your silver trencher.
Making a summer progress with Elizabeth I to Kenilworth? Enjoying a bit of hunting along the way? Venison could very well appear at your next dinner. It would either be served in slices, or baked into enormous pasties.
Just be prepared for overpowering flavours. Tudor food could be heavily spiced. Garnishes and sauces were also used liberally. Herbs would be used to flavour the sauces, with verjuice, the juice from sour crab apples, a main ingredient.
If you were a member of the nobility, finely sieved wheat would be used in making white 'manchet' loaves. Manchet just designates a type of bread, usually these resembled small dinner rolls.
Missing your fruits? Raw fruit was believed to cause sickness. In fact, it was banned during an especially virulent outbreak of the plague in 1569.
The usual way for people to enjoy pears, apples, cherries and other citrus fruits was baked into pies and tarts, or made into preserves. Apricots made their first appearance at a Tudor food table during the reign of Henry VIII.
What about vegetables? Once regarded as only a poor man's food, vegetables gained in popularity during the early 1500's. Originally imported from Flanders, by the late 1500's gardens in Kent, Essex, and Herefordshire were supplying England with its vegetables.
City gardens were popular, also. Rarely served raw, salad ingredients were usually cooked, often with added sugar, oil, or vinegar.
Need a sweet with which to finish your meal? Thick marmalade cut into slices could be the tempting treat for your palate, or alternatively, jellies. Jellies were not only a delight for the taste buds, but for the eyes also. Fantastical designs would be the norm; jellies made in the shapes of castles or animals were frequent dessert headliners.
Sugar was extremely expensive so its use in Tudor food was a luxury only enjoyed by the very rich. Sweet sugar wafers, enjoyed with a goblet of hippocras, would often be the last item served by the well to-do.
For Henry Tudor, food was best washed down with either ale, beer or wine. During the time of this eighth Henry, wine was very much a status symbol, with strong, sweet wine the most popular.
Fresh spring water was also available, but it wasn't always safe for human consumption. Elizabeth I, though, would drink watered-down wine.
Perhaps you aren't a guest at a feast, but one of the serving folk. As your 'betters' are dining in style and enjoying peacock wrapped back into their skins, or perhaps enjoying the sight of live birds or frogs hopping out of a freshly cut pie, what would be set for your dining pleasure?
A staple of Tudor food for servants, as well as other members of the lower class, was pottage. This was meat stock thickened with oatmeal (perhaps left over from the porpoise?) and to which cheaper portions of meat and vegetables had been added. Ale would have been your drink of choice.
If you were a favoured servant, your lord would perhaps send a few choice morsels your way - but just enough for a taste. If you weren't so lucky, leftovers were often passed to those of lower ranks, or collected and given to the beggars crowding the palace gates.
Tudor Food for the General Population
If your life didn't revolve around The Court, gathering food was a part of daily life. Chances are you would have a small patch of land in which you would keep a cow, some chickens, or a few pigs.
After the annual slaughter in November, the meat would either be salted, smoked, or dried. Bacon was the most common meat for the general population.
Rabbits and pigeons could add a bit of variety to a meal. However, they had to come from the wild. Appropriating them from a lord's land or dovecote was definitely frowned upon.
Unless you lived next to a river or the coast, Tudor food rarely included fresh fish. Salted herring or dried cod was the staple. It was easily kept, as there were no refrigeration methods.
Instead of manchet, Carter's bread was made. It was a mixture of wheat and rye. And although your bread wasn't as 'pure' as the monarch's, you could enjoy the same fruits. Apples, pears and cherries were available for the picking during season.
In the mid-1550's and 1590's, there were two bad harvests. Hardship was felt by all. But for the majority of the Tudor Dynasty, starvation was not commonplace.
Article by "Tudor Rose"
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