Category Archives: Dining

Dining Etiquette Food Household

Ill words may provoke blows from a cook

These snippets come from a late seventeenth century household manual, and offer sagacious advice on acceptable behaviour of servants in Great Houses.

First, For the Kitchin, because without that we shall look lean, and grow faint quickly.

The Cook, whether Man or Woman, ought to be very well skilled in all manner of things both Fish and Flesh, also good at Pastry business, seasoning of all things, and knowing all kinds of Sauces, and pickling all manner of Pickles, in making all manner of Meat Jellies; also very frugal of their Lord’s or of their Master’s, Ladies or Mistresses Purse, very saving, cleanly and careful, obliging to all persons, kind to those under them, and willing to inform them. Quiet in their Office, not swearing nor cursing, nor wrangling, but silently and ingeniously to do their Business, and neat and quick about it; they ought also to have a very good Fancy, such a one, whether Man or Woman, deserves the title of a fit Cook.

For the Maid under such a Cook.

She ought to be of a quick and nimble Apprehension, neat and cleanly in her own habit, and then we need not doubt of it in her Office; not to dress her self, especially her Head, in the Kitchin, for that is abominable sluttish, but in her Chamber, before she comes down, and that to be at a fit hour, that the fire may be made, and all things prepared for the Cook, against he or she comes in. She must not have a sharp Tongue, but humble; pleasing, and willing to learn, for ill words may provoke Blows from a Cook, their heads being always filled with the contrivance of their business, which may cause them to be peevish if provoked to it. This Maid ought also to have a good Memory, and not to forget from one day to another what should be done, nor to leave any manner of thing foul at night, neither in the Kitchin, nor Larders, to keep her Iron things and others clean scowred, and the Floors clean as well as places above them, not to sit up junketting and giggling with Fellows, when she should be in bed. Such a one is a Consumer of her Masters Goods, and no better than a Thief; and besides, such Behaviour savoureth much of Levity.  But such a one that will take the Counsel I have seriously given, will not only make her Superiors happy in a good Servant, but she will make her self happy also; for by her Industry she may come one day to be Mistress over others.

Now to the Butler.

He ought to be Gentle and Neat in his Habit, and in his Behaviour, courteous to all people, yet very saving of his Masters Goods, and to order himself in his Office as a faithful Steward, charge and do all things for the honour of his Master or Lady, not suffering their Wine or Strong Drink to be devoured by ill Companions, nor Pieces of good bread to lie to mould and spoil. He must keep his Vessels close stopped, and his Bottles sweet, his Cellars clean washed, and his Buttery clean, and his Bread-Bins wholsome and sweet, his Knives whetted, his Glasses clean washed that there be no dimness upon them when they come to be used, all his Plate clean and bright, his Table, Basket and Linnen very neat. He must be sure to have all things of Sauce ready which is for him to bring forth, that it may not be to be fetched when it is called for, as Oil, Vinegar, Sugar, Salt, Mustard, Oranges and Limons, and also some Pepper. He must also be very neat and handy in laying the Cloths for the Chief Table, and also the Side boards, in laying his Napkins in several Fashions, and pleating them, to set his Glasse, Plate, and Trencher-Plates in order upon the Side-Boards, his Water-Glasses, Oranges or Limons. That he be careful to set the Salts on the Table, and to lay a Knife, Spoon and Fork at every-Plate, that his Bread be chipped before he brings it in; that he set drink to warm in due time if the season require. That he observe a fit time to set Chairs or Stools, that he have his Cistern ready to set his Drink in, that none be spilt about the Room, to wash the Glasses when any one hath drunk, and to wait diligently on them at the Table, not filling the Glasses too full; such an one may call himself a Butler.

To the Carver.

If any Gentleman who attends the Table, be employed or commanded to cut up any Fowl or Pig, or any thing else whatsoever, it is requisite that he have a clean Napkin upon his Arm, and a Knife and Fork for his use. That he take that Dish he should carve from the Table till he hath made it ready for his Superiours to eat, and neatly and handsomly to carve it, not touching of it so near as he can with his Fingers, but if he chance unawares to do so, not to lick his Fingers, but wipe them upon a Cloth, or his Napkin, which he hath for that purpose; for otherwise it is unhandsome and unmannerly; the neatest Carvers never touch any Meat but with the Knife & Fork. He must be very nimble lest the Meat cool too much, and when he hath done, return it to the Table again, putting away his Carving Napkin, and take a clean one to wait withal; he must be very Gentle and Gallant in his Habit lest he be deemed unfit to attend such Persons.

To all other Men-Servants or Maid-Servants who commonly attend such Tables.

They must all be neat and cleanly in their Habit, and keep their Heads clean combed, alwaies ready at the least Call, and very attentive to hear any one at the Table, to set Chairs or Stools, and not to give any a foul Napkin, but see that every one whom their Lord or Master is pleased to admit to their Table have every thing which is fit for them, and that they change their Plates when need shall be. They must wait diligently, and at a distance from the Table, not daring to lean on the Chaires for soiling them, or shewing Rudeness; for to lean on a Chair when they wait is a particular Favour shewn to any superiour Servant, as the Chief Gentleman, or the Waiting Woman when she rises from the Table. They must not hold the Plates before their mouths to be defiled with their Breath nor touch them on the right side. When any Dish is taken off the Table, they must not set it down for Dogs to eat, nor eat it themselves by the way, but haste into the Kitchin with it to the Cook, that he may see what is to be set away, and what to be kept hot for Servants. When all is taken away, and Thanks given, they must help the Butler out with those things which belong to him, that he may not lose his Dinner.  They must be careful also to lay the Cloth for themselves, and see that nothing be wanting at the Table, and to call the rest of the Servants to Meals, whose Office was not to wait at the Table, then to sit down in a handsome manner, and to be courteous to every stranger, especially the Servants of those Persons whom their Lord or Master hath a kindness for.  If any poor Body comes to ask an Alms, do not shut the door against them rudely, but be modest and Civil to them, and see if you can procure somewhat for them, and think with your selves, that though you are now full fed, and well cloathed, and free from care, yet you know not what may be your condition another day.

© 2009-2012 All Rights Reserved

Dining Food

To make a dish full of Snow

As promised, these fragments come from some very early cookery books dated from between 1500 and 1545.  Ordinarily I try not to standardise spelling, but in this case, given the recipes have been printed somewhat  phoentically, I’ve modernised them so they are easier to read.  I don’t know of anyone who has attempted to recreate any early modern dishes, but if there is someone out there who has, I’d be fascinated to hear of the results.

Brawn is best from a fortnight before Michelmas till lent.  Beef and bacon is good all times in the year. Mutton is good all times but from Easter to Midsummer it is worst. A fat pig is ever in season. A goose is worst in Midsummer and best in stubble time, but when there be young green geese then they are best. Lamb and young kid is best between Christmas and Lent.  Fat capons be ever in season. Peacocks be ever good. A mallard is good after a frost.

The order of meats how they must be served at the table with their sauces:
The first course: Potage of stewed broth, Boiled meat or stewed meat, Chickens and bacon, Powdered beef, Pies, Pig, Goose, Roasted beef, Roasted Veal, Custard.

The second course: Roasted lamb, Roasted capons, Roasted connies (rabbits), Chickens, Peahens, Bacon venison, Tarte.

The service at supper: Potage or stew, Small pig, Powdered beef slices, A shoulder of mutton or a breast, Veal, Lamb, Custard.

Service for Fish days: Butter, Hard eggs, Potage of Sand Eels and red herring and white herring, Salt salmon minced, Powdered conger, Whiting with liver and mustard, Plaice, Cod with green sauce, Perch, Pike in pike sauce, Custard.  (For an explanation of Fish Days, see my post here).

To make best sauce:
Take parsely and mint and chives, then take bread dipped in vinegar or in wine and salt and then grinde them and temper them by and serve them forth.

To make sauce for roasted beef:
Take bottom bread and dip it in vinegar and toast it, and strain and stamp garlic and salt thereto and powder of pepper and boyle it a little and serve it.



To make mussels in shells:
Take apples, thyme, and wash them and caste them into the pot, and cast thereto minced onions, wine and vinegar, and when they gape, take them up and serve them.

To make a custard:
The coffin must be first hardened in the oven, and then take a quart of cream and five or six yokes of eggs and beat them well together and put them into the cream and put in sugar and small raisins and dates sliced and out into the coffin butter.

To make a dish full of Snow:
Take a bottle of sweet thick cream and the whites of eight eggs and beat them all together with a spoon, then pour in a saucer full of Rose water and a dish full of Sugar, then take a stick and cut it in the end four square and therewith beate all the aforementioned things together and as it riseth, put it into a collander. This done, take one apple and let it sit in the midst of it, and a thick bush of Rosemary, and set it in the midst of a platter and serve it forth.

© 2009-2013 All Rights Reserved

Custom Dining Family Household

The Elizabethan House

 Little Moreton, Cheshire

In response to several requests, today’s snippets are on Elizabethan & Jacobean homes. Having blogged  for the past six months or so now, what has struck me repeatedly is the fascination people have with the more mundane aspects of early modern life. Poetry and art certainly have their place, but it appears people equally enjoy early modern sausages or a whirlwind history of the chamber pot. I spend most of my waking life immersed in the intricacies of 17th century drama and politics, so a delve into a 16th century recipe book, or the inner workings of a flushing cistern, usually comes as welcome relief.

A brief word about building materials. Timber was a major building material in the Elizabethan period but as time progressed more and more homes were constructed of brick, particularly in London, which did something to a certain extent at least, to limit the great fire of 1666.  Of all the timber used, the preference was usually for oak, which was both waterproof and durable.

Just as today, homes in the late 16th and early 17th centuries differed according to the wealth and status of their owners or tenants, but they shared a basic commonality when it came to function. And like today, cash bought space and luxuries. And chimneys. Great Elizabethan houses could incorporate multiple chimneys thanks to the advances in coal mining. And chimneys meant warmth and an end to smoky medieval halls where families huddled around just the one fire. These multiple chimneys in turn led to a new division of space, with rooms assigned to particular activities, such as dining or sleeping. In addition, windows underwent a redesign. In the past, windows had been necessarily small for two very good reasons; glass was extremely costly, and small windows offered a better defence against invading hordes.  But thanks to the imports of foreign glass and the skill of stone masons, windows could finally begin to let in the light. This increase in light and space really opened houses up. Huge ornate wooden staircases replaced the tight windy stone steps of older homes, and a long sun-filled gallery was de rigueur; whether to show off the family portraits, stroll about on a rainy day, or pass the time playing skittles. Ceilings were now plastered, and wainscots were introduced, which brought an end to cold plastered walls and dangling moth-eaten tapestries. Now rooms were enveloped in panels of warm wood.



Floors were usually constructed of timber, and where they might once have been strewn with rushes and herbs, they were now covered with woven mats, or rugs, if money were no object. The number of rooms in a house depended on its size and function. It was traditional for a house to have a dining chamber and a bed chamber, in addition there might be a little ‘house of easement’ or water closet for the very rich, or an outside privy for those of more modest means (see my post In the privy that annoys you for more on this aspect of early modern life). Baths were taken by the fire. The following image depicts the typical rooms in a house belonging to a well-to-do family. It’s worth noting that this is a representative diagram, and the layout would not have followed this plan (the kitchen, for example, would not be upstairs!).


From top right to bottom left: 

Bedroom, study, dining room, kitchen, buttery, well, privy, stables, cellar, chamber 

Samuel Pepys, in his diary, lists the number of rooms in his lodgings as follows: A study for himself, A parlour, A ‘little room’ taken over from his neighbour, A nursery, Elizabeth’s bed chamber, A dining room, A ‘matted chamber’, A new dining room in the roof extension, Elizabeth’s closet, A study for Samuel’s secretary, The ‘red chamber’, The ‘green chamber’, A new closet for Elizabeth in the roof extension, The upper best chamber or music room, The ‘dancing room’, A ‘new closet’, An old closet now ‘my little dining room’, The ‘great chamber’, A ‘long chamber where the girl lies’, The ‘blue chamber’, A dressing room, and a room ‘for Elizabeth’s woman’. This is all in addition to a kitchen and various pantries. Of course Pepys was reasonably  wealthy, and the rooms he lists may all have been quite small, but he does provide a fascinating glimpse into the function and nature of early modern homes.


Furniture and furnishings were evolving too. It’s hard to imagine, but at the beginning of Elizabeth’s reign, many people were content to sleep on straw pallets with a ‘good round log’ for a pillow. It was a sign of great prosperity if a man could afford a feather bed. However four-poster beds were soon all the rage, with soft mattresses, fancy drapes and ornate hangings. The Great Bed of Ware (above, dated 1590), now in the V & A, is a good example of a luxurious item of bedroom furniture from the period, although by early modern standards it was enormous. The inventory of a 16th century landowner’s house sheds some light on the sort of furnishings in use in bedchambers at the time: Twelve bedsteads, two truckle beds, a dozen sheets (four linen, the rest probably hemp), six blankets, three bolsters, two valances, two coverlets and four cushions.

The family meals would be taken in the dining chamber. The table (or ‘bord’) had evolved from the simple trestle of earlier times, and often had leaves which could be used to extend it. The head of the household would sit in a chair with a back and arm rests, and around the table would be a collection of stools or benches for the rest of the family to sit on.



A cupboard (or cup boards as they were known) was a vital addition to any dining chamber. In essence it was a wooden shelf, or set of shelves, upon which the household valuables could be displayed – often pieces of silver or pewter, and fancy glassware. Dining chambers also had a buffet – another shelf on which the wine or beer was kept during meals. A drink would be dispensed from the buffet in a glass or tankard, and once consumed, the empty vessel would then be whipped away and swilled in a tub of clean water.  Venetian glass was imported into England and favoured by the wealthy, since English glass-blowing techniques had not yet become sufficiently refined. Knives were manufactured in Sheffield and widely available, and it was often the case that a dining guest would bring his or her own knife. A pitcher or bowl of water on the table was provided, so diners could sluice their cutlery and their hands between courses.  Forks were still a rarity – see my post on Jacobean dining for more.



In addition to the dining chamber, other rooms in the house would have cupboards, and these were known as ‘presses’, ‘court cupboards’, ‘livery cupboards’, or ‘aumbries’. Mirrors hung in various rooms, especially in bedrooms; known as ‘glasses’ they were often made from polished steel. Typical homes were lit with either candles or tapers. Tapers were thin, cheap, lightweight candles; more expensive candles were reserved for special occasions.

Most homes of a decent size would have had a garden. This was more than just an outside space. It provided essential supplies for both the kitchen and the medicine cabinet. In a future post I will explore the importance and delights of the Elizabethan garden.


In addition to my own research into primary sources, I’ve referred to both A H Dodd’s Elizabethan England, & Liza Picard’s Restoration London & Elizabeth’s London

© 2009-2013 All Rights Reserved

Booze Custom Dining Etiquette Family Household School

If spitting chance to move thee

These fragments, on etiquette and manners, come from a little book entitled The School of Vertue (1619). Intended primarily to be read by children, it also contains wise child-rearing advice for parents.


Laying the cloth, and making ready the table:

Be sure to be ready, the bord to prepare
at times: as accustom’d with diligent care:
the table cloth first see fairely spread.
faire trenchers, cleane napkins, the salt & the bread,
let glasses be scoured, in country guise,
with salt and faire water, and ever devise
the place most convenient, where they may stand,
the safest from breaking and neerest at hand.

The Nose:
Not imitate with Socrates,
to wipe thy snivelled nose
upon thy cap, as he would do,
nor yet upon thy clothes.
But keepe it cleane with handkerchiefe
provided for the same,
not with thy fingers or thy sleeve
therein thou art to blame.
Blow not allowd as thou shalt stand
for that is most absurd,
Sniffing like a broken winded horse
is to be abhorred.
Nor practise snufflingly to speake,
for that doth imitate
the brutish Stork and Elephant
yea and the wailing cat.
If thou of force do chance to sneeze
then backwards turne away
from presence of the company
wherein thou art to stay.

To laugh at all things thou shalt heare,
is neither good nor fit,
it shewes the property and forme
of one with little wit.

If spitting chance to move thee so
thou canst it not forebeare,
remember do it modestly,
consider who is there.
If filthinesse, or ordure thou
upon the floore do cast,
tread out, and cleanse it with thy foot,
let that be done with haste.

If thou to vomit be constrain’d
avoyd from company:
so shall it better be excus’d
if not through gluttony.

Privy members:
Let not thy privy members be
layd open to be viewed,
it is most shameful and abhord,
detestable and rude.

Urine or wind:
Retaine not urine nor the winde,
which doth thy body vex,
so it be done with secrecie
let that not thee perplex.

And in thy sitting use a meane
as may become thee well,
not straddling, no nor tottering,
and dangling like a bell.

Observe in curtsie to take
a rule of decent kinde,
bend not thy body too far forth,
nor backe thy leg behind.

How to order a childe in his diet for [alcoholic] drinke:
For a childe to make the beginning of his dinner drinke is a good way to breed him up to drunkenesse. Especially if he take it for wanton custome, and not for necessity of thirst. It is dishonest to be suffered and anoysome to the body of a childe. Let not a childe drinke after he hath supt hot broth, immediately upon it; much lesse if he hath been fed with milke. Let not a childe drinke above twice or thrice at the most at one meale, and that gently, and not without reason: who bestoweth wine and beere on his childe beyond reason, defameth and abuseth him more by dishonouring his reason and provoking him to an unreasonable diet.’

© 2009-2013 All Rights Reserved

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