Category Archives: Food

Dining Food Household

A world of sallats

These snippets come from Gervase Markham’s The English Housewife (1615).  Having outlined the moral qualities the early modern housewife must possess, Markham provides her with lengthy a chapter on cookery. What follows are some of his rather charming remarks regarding salad.

When it comes to cookery, the Housewife must be ‘cleanly both in body and garments, she must have a quick eye, a curious nose, a perfect taste and a ready care (she must not be butter fingered, sweet-toothed, nor faint-hearted).

Salads: ‘there be some simple and some compounded, some onely to furnish out the table, and some both for use and adornation. Your simple Sallats are Chibols (spring onions) pilled, washt cleane, and halfe of the green tops cut cleane away, so serv’d on a Fruit dish, or Scallions (shallots), Radish-roots, boyled Carrets, Skirrets (water parsnips), and Turneps, with such like served up simply. Also all young Lettice, Cabage lettice, Purslan, and divers other hearbes which may be served up simply, without anything but a little Vinegar, Sallat oyle, and Suger. So is Samphire, Beane-cods, Sparagus, and Coucumbers, served in likewise with Oyle, Vinegar, and Pepper, with a world of others, too tedious to nominate.

Your compound Sallats are first the young Buds and knots of all manner of whollsome hearbes at their first springing, as Redde-sage, Mints, Lettice, Violets, Marigolds, Spynage, and many other mixed together and then served up to the table with Vinegar, Sallet oyle and Sugar.  To compound an excellent Sallat which indeed is usual at great feasts, and upon Princes tables, take a good quantity of blauncht Almonds, and with your shredding knife cut them grossly, then take as manie Raisyns cleane washt, as many Figges shred like the Almonds, as many Capers, twice so many Olives, and as manie Currants as of all the rest cleane. A good handfull of the small tender leaves of red Sage and Spinnage; mixe all these well together with a good store of Sugar, and lay them in the bottom of a great dish. Then put unto them Vinegar and Oyle, and scrape more Sugar over all. Then take Oranges and Lemons, paring away the outward pills, cutte them into thinne slices and cover the Sallat all over. Which donne, take the fine thinne leaf of the red Coleflowere, and with them cover the Oranges and Lemons, then over those lay old Olives and slices of well pickled Coucumbers, together with the inward hart of your Cabage lettice cut into slives. Then adorn the sides of the dish and the top of the Sallet with more slices of Lemmons and Oranges and so serve up.

A salad good and daintie for the fine adorning of the table: Take your pots of preserved Gilliflowers, lay the shape of the flower in a fruit dish, then with your Purslan leaves, make the green Coffin of the flower, and with the Purslan stalkes, make the stalke of the flower and the divisions of the leaves and branches.  Then with thin slices of Coucumber make their leaves in true proportion jagged or otherwise; and thus you may set it forth some full blowne, some halfe blowne, and some in the budde which will be pretty and curious.  If you will set forth yellow flowers, take the pots of Primroses and Cowslips, if blew flowers then the pots of Violets, or Buglosse flowers, and these Sallats are both for shewe and use, for they are more excellent to taste than to looke on.

Now for Sallats for shewe only and the adorning and setting out of a table with numbers of dishes: they be those which are made of Carret roots of sundrie colours well boiled and cut out into many shapes and proportions, as some into knots, some in the manner of Armes, some like Birds, and some like wilde beasts, according to the art and cunning of the workman and these for the most part are seasoned with Vinegar, Oyle, and a little pepper.

A world of other Sallats there are, which time and experience may bring to our Housewifes eye.

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Christmas Custom Entertainment Food Household

We Were All Merry

These fragments come from the water poet John Taylor, and offer a glimpse into typical Christmas Day celebrations in 17th century England.  I’ve also included a carol, published in 1688, which provides further insight into festive food and the all-importance of Ale.  I’d like to thank everyone who has taken the time to visit Fragments in the last twelve months, and to wish you all a very merry Christmas!

I was presented with a cup of browne Ale, seasoned with Sinamon, Nutmegs, and Sugar.  When dinner was ready, I was set at the upper end of the Table, my owne company set round about me, and the rest ate with the servants.  We had Brawne of their owne feeding, Beefe of their owne killing; we had brave plum broth in bowle-dishes of a quart.  The White-loafe ranne up and downe the Table, like a Bowle in an Alley, every man might have a fling at him.  The March Beere marched up and downe, and we were all merry without the helpe of any Musicians.  We had good cheere, and good welcome which was worth all, for the Good-man of the house did not looke with a sour or stoicall brow, but was full of mirth and alacrity, so that it made the house merry.

Dinner being done, Grace being said, the Cloth taken away, the poore refreshed, we went to the fire, before which lay a store of Apples piping hot, expecting a bowl of Ale to coole themselves in.  Evening Prayer drew nigh, so we all repaired to Church, so went I home againe and passed the time away in discourse while supper, which being ended, we went to Cards. Some sung Carrols, merry songs, some againe to waste the long nights, would tell Winter-tales.  At last came in a company of Maids with Wassell, Wassell, jolly Wassell. I tasted of their Cakes, and supped of their Bowl, and for my sake, the White-loafe and Cheese were set before them, with Mince-Pies, and other meats.  These being gone, the jolly youths and plaine dealing Plow-swaines, being weary of Cards, fell to dancing; from dancing to shew me some Gambols.  Some ventured the breaking of their shinnes to make me sport, some the scalding of their lippes to catch at Apples tied at the end of a sticke, having a lighted candle at the other; some shod the wilde Mare; some at hotcockles, and the like. These Country revels expiring with the night, early in the morning we all tooke our leave of them, being loth to be too troublesome; and rendering them unfained thanks for our good cheere (who still desired that we would stay with them a little longer) we instantly travelled towards the City.

Being entered into it, we saw very few look with a smiling countenance on us, but a few Prentices or Journeymen that were tricked up in their Holiday cloathes. At last the Bells began to ring, every house-holder began to bestirre himselfe, the Maid-servants we saw hurrying to the Cookes shops with Pies, and before we were aware, whole Parishes of people came to invite us to dinner.

 Father Christmas, 1653

(For those who may wonder, nappy, in the context of this carol, means having a foaming head!)

A Carrol for Christmas-day at Night
To the Tune of My Life, and my Death

My Master your Servants
and Neighbours this Night,
are come to be merry,
with love and delight.
Now therefore be Noble,
and let it appear,
that Christmas is still
the best time of the Year.
To sit by the fire,
rehearse an old tale,
and taste of a bumper
of nappy old Ale.

It flows from the Barley,
that fruit of the Earth,
which quickens the fancy,
for pastime and mirth.
And therefore be jolly,
now each bonny Lad,
for we have no reason
at all to be sad.
Remember the season,
and then you’ll ne’er fail,
to bring in a bumper
of nappy brown Ale.

Now some of your dainties
let us freely taste,
my Stomach is ready,
I am now in haste.
And therefore sweet Mistris
I hope you’ll be brief,
to bring out the Sirloin
or Ribs of Roast Beef.
With other choice dainties
I hope you’ll not fail
at this happy season
with nappy brown Ale.

And now let me tell you
what dainties I prize,
I long to be doing
with curious minced-pies,
where plums in abundance
lie crowding for room.
If I come but near it
I’ll tell you its doom,
I’d soon part the quarrel
but hold, let’s not fail
to think of a bumper
of nappy old Ale.

The Pig, Goose and Capon
I’d like to forgot
but yet I do hope they’ll
come all to my lot.
We’ll lay a close siege
to the walls of the Goose,
and storm her strong castle,
there is no excuse
shall hinder our fury,
therefore let’s not fail
to have a full bumper
of nappy old Ale.

All those that are willing
to honour this day,
I hope that they never
will fall to decay;
but always be able
their Neighbours to give,
and keep a good Table
as long as they live.
That love, peace and plenty
with them may ne’er fail
and we may ne’er miss
of good nappy Ale.

Nativity Scene
© 2009-2012 All Rights Reserved
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

Food Shakespeare

Plants in King Lear

Fragments is delighted to bring you a guest post from Professor Andrew Hadfield, author of several books on Shakespeare, including Shakespeare and Republicanism, Shakespeare, Spencer and the Matter of Britain, and Shakespeare and Renaissance Politics. Professor Hadfield is currently writing a biography of the Elizabethan poet Edmund Spenser.

We are all familiar with the reference to samphire in King Lear, when Edgar claims that he sees a person hanging down the cliffs at Dover gathering the plant. Edgar provides details to make his account more realistic to his blind father, describing the actions of the imagined pauper as a ‘dreadful trade’. Lear is indeed a play which shows an acute interest in native English plants. Two scenes earlier Cordelia describes her father ‘Crowned with rank fumier and Furrow-weeds,/ With burdock, hemlock, nettles, cuckoo-flowers, /Darnel and all the idle weeds that grow / In our sustaining corn (IV.iv.3-6).  While the poor man gathers an edible plant in perilous circumstances, the king decks himself out with weeds that hinder the production of food, another way in which the play shows that the world has turned upside down.

As has previously been noted, Shakespeare may well have been reading books on plants before he wrote King Lear, as all the flowers represented in the play were contained in books on native English flora and fauna, most significantly John Gerard’s comprehensive The herball or Generall historie of plantes (London, 1597). Furthermore, Gerard has an entry for the plant, ‘Goat’s Beard’, which is also known as ‘Go to bed at noone’, a root that is best known now as salsify.  Salsify, like samphire was a poor person’s food, which, according to Gerard, ‘growes plentifully in most of the fields about London, as at Islington, Deptford and Putney, and in divers other places.’ It must then have been familiar to the audience at the Globe. The plant gets its Elizabethan name from the fact it ‘shuteth it selfe at twelve of the clocke, and showeth not his face open until the next dayes Sun doth make it floure anew, whereupon it was called Go to bed at noon’.

The last lines of the Fool are ‘And I’ll go to bed at noon’ (III.vi.73), which must surely be a reference to the root, as John Kerrigan has argued persuasively. As well as showing the Fool’s decline alongside his kingly sun, the reference is also to the sort of basic food that the poor had to eat, as salsfiy, like samphire, was an edible root that foragers could use, although neither appear in contemporary recipe books.  Lear has just requested that they ‘go to supper i’the morning’, a sign that everything has been turned around, and the Fool quips that they will now have to make do with humble fare (as well as stating that his day has been disrupted). King Lear makes much of extravagant hospitality and Lear’s expectations that his knights will be feasted by his daughters after he has ceased to be king.  Out on the heath and at the edges of his kingdom, ordinary folk have to take what they can get, a painful lesson that the deprived king is starting to learn.  Even so, he still wastes his time picking weeds to put in his hair, a luxury that people like the samphire gatherer cannot risk, as the Fool realises in his last warning to his master.

©Andrew Hadfield 2010.

This article was first printed in Notes and Queries, Vol.255 [New Series, Vol.57]. No 3. September 2010

© 2009-2012 All Rights Reserved

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