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What We Eat


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Garlic, Eggplant, Asparagus, Peas, Spinach, Onions, Cabbage, Carrots, Mustard, Leeks, Lettuce, Endive, Lentils, Celery, Parsnips, Beets, Broadbeans, Turnips, Radishes, Artichokes, Parsley etc

Domestic animals:  beef, veal, pork, chicken, duck, rabbit, goat. Also swan, peacock, goose, pigeon, doves. Swans were fairly common in the Thames, and not especially an upper class item.

Wild animals: Deer, boar, rabbit (or coney), quail, bustard, curlew, plover, cormorant, badger, hedgehog, heron, crane, pheasant, woodcock, partridge, etc.

Fish: Eels, pike, perch, trout, sturgeon, cod, haddock, ling, conger, plaice, roche, carp, salmon, porpoise, etc. 

Cookery is generally sweeter than today's; meats are often cooked with fruits, producing a mix of sweet and savory. 

Some medical texts advise against eating raw vegetables as engendering wind (gas) or evil humours. 

It is important to remember that while many things were period somewhere, not everything was eaten in every part of the world. Things which are common in Constantinople may never make their way to England.

The potato has been around since 1586. There are also turnips and parsnips that are used in stews.

Tomatoes are considered doubtful, if not actually poisonous, although they have already begun to appear in some southern European cooking.

Vanilla pods are is available but Almond is the most common flavoring in sweets, followed by cinnamon, clove, and saunders (sandalwood). Almond milk—ground almonds steeped in honey and water or wine, then strained—is used as flavoring and thickener.

The law says we may not eat meat on Fridays and Saturdays. This is not a religious fast but a way of supporting the fishing industry. Exceptions are made by special license for the old, the very young, and the infirm, and anyone else who applies for the license. 

A typical fish day meal can include eggs, butter, cheese, herring, cod or other whitefish, etc.

Sugar is available, but is rather more expensive than honey, since it has to be imported. Grown as sugar cane, it comes as a 3- or 4-pound square or conical loaf, and has to be grated or pounded into useful form.

  • The finest sugar (from Madera) is white and melts easily in liquid. 
  • The next grade is Barbary or Canary sugar. 
  • The common, coarse sugar is brown and rather gluey, good for syrups and seasoning meat.


These qualities of bread were commonly baked 

Manchet(man'-chett) A very fine white bread made from wheat flour. Harrison says that one bushel of flour produces 40 cast of manchet, of which every loaf weighs 8 ounces going into the oven and 6 coming out.

Usually eaten by Nobles and those that can afford it.

Cheat  A wheaten bread with the coarsest part of the bran removed.

Ravelled bread  A kind of cheat but with more bran left in. Harrison also says that the ravelled cheat is generally so made that out of one bushel of meal, (after two and twenty pounds of bran be sifted and taken from it), they make thirty cast, every loaf weighing eighteen ounces into the oven, and sixteen ounces out. This makes a "brown household bread agreeable enough for laborers." 

Note that bread is baked up by the cast, a batch of 2–3 loaves. 
The gentle folk commonly eat wheat bread. Their poorer neighbors often use only rye or barley. In very hard times, beans, peas and (shudder) oats may be used.


Perry A (very) slightly alcoholic pear cider

Verjuice A very sharp vinegar made from grapes; used for cooking or as a condiment.

Wines include malmsey, canary, rhenish, claret, sack, and sherry

Sack Sherry, some times called "Jerez wine"

Aqua vitae Any strong spirit such as brandy

Brandywine A distilled wine

Most wines are sweet and rather heavy. They probably have to be strained before you want to drink them, and may still have solid matter floating in them. 

Sugar and spices ("cinnamon and ginger, nutmeg and clove") are often added to wine and even to beer. 

Rhenish is a German wine, and very strong. 

Claret comes from Gascony (southern France). 

Canary is a white wine from the Canary Islands.

Sack comes from Spain. Sack is popularly sweetened with sugar.

Beer in England is usually ale, made without hops, and is relatively flat. It can be flavored with just about anything, including pepper, ivy, rosemary, and lupins. 

Measuring it out

A tun is equal to:

2 butts (as in malmsey) or 

4 hogsheads (as in wine) or

252 gallons

A puncheon equals 84 gallons. 

A runlet is various smaller amounts.

Snack Foods

The sweet tooth is not a new invention. Here are a few of the things we reward ourselves with.

Marzipan or marchpane. Almond paste that is sweetened, colored, and made into shapes, often very elaborate ones.

Gingerbread - Both the crisp, cookie kind and the cake. The familiar gingerbread men are called gingerbread husbands. The cake form may be German. (In Germany, gingerbread is popular for breakfast, accompanied by brandy.)

Fruit pies, sweetened with sugar, thickened with almond milk.

Sweet cakes (or cates) of various kinds.

Puddings - This means more than just dessert.

Daryole (cheesecakes) and custards.

Pretzels and bagels are both period.

Sweets are commonly flavored with ginger, nutmeg, mace, cloves, anise, coriander, rose water, sherry (sack), almond and/or saffron.

Food and Your Life Style 

In general, people eat two meals a day: 

Dinner, at midday say 11:00 or 12:00

Supper, in the evening, about 6:00.

Husbandmen and others whose work is never done may have their supper as late as 9:00. 

It is best to refer to having dinner instead of lunch or even luncheon. Invite people to dine with you, or ask "Where shall we dine today?"

Schoolboys, working people, and housewives get up around 5 or 6 am, or even earlier. These people do not wait till 11:00 to eat.

Breakfast is simply a matter of breaking one's fast on arising, and is not considered a formal meal. It is also not considered to be "the most important meal of the day."

At Court, depending on the day's activities, or last night's, you probably arise somewhat later, and have a little bread and ale while being fussed over by your servants as they get you dressed and barbered, made-up and perfumed, and so on. 

Of course, if (like a personal servant or a Lady of the Bedchamber) you are in charge of getting someone else dressed, you get up before they do. And your servants get up even earlier. Which may be one reason why the kitchens at Court never close.

A gentleman often has his dinner "out", either eating at an ordinary or buying food at a cook shop and taking it home. An ordinary is both the tavern that serves a daily fixed-price meal—plate of stew, loaf of bread, pot of ale—and the meal itself.

A gentleman who can't cadge a dinner invitation may say he is "dining with Duke Humphrey tonight."

In town, many houses have no proper kitchen. You may cook over the hearth, or prepare food and take it to a cook shop, and pick it up later, ready to eat. Few homes have their own oven, so you may make up your own bread but take it to a baker who, for a fee, will bake it for you.


"It is to be lamented that one general measure is not in use throughout all England, but every market town hath in manner a several bushel. Such is the covetousness of many clerks of the market, that in taking view of measures they will always so provide that one and the same bushel shall either be too big or too little…so that divers unconscionable dealers have one measure to sell by and another to buy withal; the like also in weights."

Trade goods of various kinds traditionally have their own customary measures, although some actual amounts are variable. A dozen is always 12, but barrels come in varying sizes. 

A Scottish ell is about a yard (16 nails of two-and-a-quarter inches), but an English ell is 45 inches (20 nails)

These                                                                                                                                          Are sold by the

Butter, beer, herring, salmon and other fish, eels, tar, pitch, gunpowder, wines           Barrel

Honey and other liquids                                                                                                           Bolle

Sackcloth, sailcloth, and quantities of haircloth                                                                  Bolt

Hay, straw, wood, lime, rushes                                                                                               Cartload

In smaller quantities, rushes are sold by                                                                              Creel or the shoulder load

New coal, salt, quicklime, shells                                                                                            Chaldron

A 7-pound quantity of wool                                                                                                    Clove

Glass                                                                                                                                           Cradle

Hurdles, tanned hides, napkins, sheepskins, needles                                                       Diker

Candles (also sold by weight)                                                                                                Dozen

Linen and small lengths of haircloth                                                                                     Ell

Soft fruits                                                                                                                                  Frail

Smaller quantities of goods otherwise sold by the barrel                                               Firkin              

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