Category Archives: Food

Etiquette Food Household

How to dismember a hen

These fragments come from a 17th century handbook on housekeeping. Offering advice on everything from blisters, to multiplication, this book was intended as a guide to diligent housemaids everywhere. What follows are its instructions on how to be the perfect maid, and some of the more curious bits of advice on general household management.

Directions for such as desire to be Waiting Gentlewomen:

Be careful that you say prayers morning and evening, that you read good books, and hear Sermons as often as conveniently you can.  That you endeavour carefully to please your Lady, Master or Mistress, be faithful, diligent and suhmissive to them, encline not to sloth or laze in bed, but rise early in a morning. Be humble and modest in your behaviour. Be neat, cleanly, and houswifely, in your clothes, and lay up what money can handsomely be spared.  Be careful of what is given you, or what you have in your charge, that by so doing you may oblige them to be loving and kind to you, and cause them to speak well of you. Do not keep familiarity with any but those with whom you may improve your time. If you are entrusted with any secrets be careful that you reveal them not. Be careful that you waste not, or spoil your Ladies, or Mistresses goods, neither sit you up junketing a nights, after your Master and Mistress be abed.

If You desire to be a Waiting Gentlewoman to a person of honour or quality, you must:

    Learn to dress well.
    Preserve well.
    Write well a legible hand, good language and good English.
    Have some skill in Arithmetick.
    Carve well.

Directions for such who intend to be House-keepers to Persons of Honour or Quality:

Those persons who would qualifie themselves for this employment, must in their behaviour carry themselves grave, solid and serious; which will inculcate into the beliefs of the persons whom they are to serve, that they will be able to govern a Family well. They must endeavour to gain a competent knowledge in Preserving, Conserving, and Candying, making of Cakes, and all manner of Spoon meats, Jellies and the like. Also in distilling all manner of Waters. They must likewise endeavour to be careful in looking after the rest of the Servants, that every one perform their duty in their several places, that they keep good hours in their up-rising and lying down, and that no Goods be either spoiled or embezelled. They must be careful also, that all Strangers be nobly and civilly used in their Chambers, and that your Master or Lady be not dishonoured through neglect or miscarriage of Servants. They must likewise endeavour to have a competent knowledge in Physick and Chyrurgery, that they may be able to help their Mamed, sick and indigent Neighbours; for commonly, all good and charitable Ladies make this a part of their House-keeper’s business.

How to Lift a Swan:

Slit her right down in the middle of the Breast, and so clean throughout the back, from the Neck to the Rump, and so divide her equally in the middle, without tearing the flesh from either part. Having layed it in the dish with the slit side downwards, let your sawce be Chaldron apart in saucers.

To cure Corns:

Take Beans, and chew them in your mouth, and then tie them fast to your Corns; and it will help. Do this at night.

To wash Silk Stockings:

Make a strong Ladder with soap, and pretty hot, then lay your stockings on a Table, and take a piece of such cloth as the Seamen use for their sails, double it up and rub them soundly with it, turn them first on one side and then on the other, till they have passed through three ladders, then rince them well, and hang them to dry with the wrong side outwards, and when they are near dry, pluck them out with your hands, and smooth them with an iron on the wrong side,

How to sit to write:

Chose a foreright light, or one that comes on the left hand, hold your head up the distance of a span from the paper, when you are writing hold not your head one way nor other, but look right forward: Draw in your right elbow, turn your hand outward and bear it lightly, grip not the pen too hard, with your left hand stay the paper.

How to dismember a Hen:

To do this you must take off both the legs and lace it down the breast, then raise up the flesh and take it clean off with the pinnion, then stick the head in the brest, set the pinnion on the contrary side of the Carkass, and the legs on the other side, so that the bones ends may meet cross over the Carkass, and the other wing cross over upon the top of the Carkass.

To make an excellent Plague-water:

Take a pound of Rue; Rosemary, Sage, Sorel, Celandine, Mugwort, of the tops of red Brambles, Pimpernel, Wild Dragons, Agrimony, Balm, Angelica of each a pound: Put these together in a pot; then fill it with White Wine above the Herbs, so let it stand four days; then distil it in an Alembick for your use.

For the Worms in Children:

Take Wormseed and boyl it in beer or ale, and sweeten it with a little clarified jelly, and then let them drink it.

To make a Beef Pasty like Red Deer:

Take fresh Beef of the finest without sinews or suet, and mince it as small as you can, and season it with salt and pepper, and put in two spoonfuls of Malmsie, then take Lard and cut it into small pieces, and lay a layer of Lard and a layer of Beef, and lay a shin of Beef upon it like Venison, and so close it up.

How to keep the Hair Clean, and Preserve it:

Take two handfuls of Rosemary, and boyl it softly in a quart of Spring water, till it comes to a pint, and let it be covered all the while, then strain it out and keep it, every morning when you comb your head, dip a spunge in the water and rub up your hair, and it will keep it clean and preserve it, for it is very good for the brain, and will dry up Rheum.

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 Food Household

To keepe Cherries all the yeare

These fragments come from a little book printed in 1610 which offers advice on the best ways to make jams and marmalades and other treats fit for a Lady’s table.

‘To make Marmelate very comfortable and restorative for any Lord or Lady whatsoever:

Take a pound and a halfe of suger, boyle it with a pint of faire water, then take three or four small Quinces, one good Orange, both very well preserved and finely beaten, & three ounces of almonds blanched, and beaten by themselves.  Eringus roots preserved, 2 ounces and a halfe, stir these with the suger till it will not sticke, and then at the last put in Musk & Amber dissolved in rose water, of each four graines of Cinamon, Ginger, Cloves & Mace, of each three drams; of oyle of Cinamon two drops.  This being done, put it into your Marmelate boxes and so present it to whom you please.

To keep Cherries all the yeare to have them at Christmas:

Take of your fairest cherries you can get, but be sure that they be not bruised, and take them and rubb them with a linnen cloth, and put them into a barrell of hay, and lay them in ranks, first laying the hay in the bottom, and then the Cherries, and then hay againe, and then stop them up close so no ayre may come neare them, and lay them under a fether-bed where one lies continually, for the warmer they are the better, yet neere no fire, and thus doing, you may have cherries at any time of the yeare.


To make Syrup of Violets:

Take your Violets and picke the flowers, and weigh them, and  put them into a quart of water, and steepe them upon hot embers, untill such time as the flowers be turned white, and the water as blew as any violet, then take to that infusion four pound of clarified suger, and boyle it till it come to a syrupe, scumming them and boyling them uppon a gentle fire, and being boyled put the Syrup up and keepe it.

To make a fine Chrystall Gelly:

Take a knuckle of veale and four calves feet, and set them on the fire with a gallon of faire water, and when the flesh is boyled tender, take it out then let the liquor stand till it be cold, then take away the top and bottom of that liquor, and put the rest into a cleane Pipkin, and put into it one pound of clarified sugar, foure or five drops of oile of cynamon and Nutmeg, a graine of muske, and so let it boile a quarter of an hour leasurely on the fire.  Then let it run through a gelly bagge into a bason with the whites of two egges beaten, and when it is cold, you may cut it into lumpes with a spoone, and so serve three or foure lumpes upon a plate.

To make conserve of red and damask Roses:

Take of the purest and best coloured buds you can get, and clip off the whites from them, and to every pound of leaves you must take three pounds of Barbarie suger and beat them together, till they be very fine.  And then with a wooden spatter take it up, and set it on the fire till it bee hot, and then presently put it up, and it will be an excellent colour.

© 2009-2012 All Rights Reserved

Arte of Gardening Food

Elizabethan Gardens

Gardening was big business in Elizabethan England, as evinced by the plethora of gardening books available at the time. The most popular was Thomas Hill’s The Gardener’s Labyrinth, reprinted countless times from the 1570s onwards.

In addition to a bowling green and an artificial mount, very large Elizabethan gardens often included pattened parterres enclosed by a clipped box hedge, paths and walkways of gravel and sand, a fountain, and an ash arbour. More modest city gardens were less about showing off and were used instead for growing essential herbs and food, but even the great Elizabethan houses of the age had a kitchen garden.  Knot gardens were extremely popular with the aristocracy. They required a fair amount of maintenance, but were very pleasing to the eye and afforded somewhere charming to walk at all times of the year. Thomas Hill includes a pattern for a knot in his book: ‘A proper knotte to be cast in the quarter of a Garden, or otherwise, as there is sufficient roomth’:

Knot gardens were best appreciated from above, so they were often placed at the front of the house where they could be viewed from the upper windows. Or the owner might construct a mount or viewing platform.  Francis Bacon built his mount 30 ft high, ‘with three ascents, and alleys, enough for four to walk abreast… and some fine banqueting house, with some chimneys neatly cast, and without too much glass.’ In other words Bacon built a type of flash summer house where he could entertain his guests and admire his gardeners’ immaculate handiwork. Illustrations from the time show the type of garden Bacon may have designed:


Mazes were also popular with the wealthy. The following is an illustration of a maze from 1603:

Hill offers the following advice on choosing a spot for a garden: ‘The best grounde for a Garden, is the same judged to be whiche in the Summer time is neither very drie, nor cleyie, nor sandie and roughe, nor endamaged with gapings, procured by heate of the Sommer. Wherefore the earth whiche in the Summer time is wonte to be dry, either perisheth or loseth all the seedes sowen, and plantes set in it, or yeeldeth those thinne, and weake proving on the ground. If the same [ground is] through wet and dissolved with water, you shall see to have a muche clamminesse and fastnesse. In whiche grounde, if a waterinesse shall exceede, then shall you judge the same disagreable and unfruitefull: if dissolving the earth with water you shall finde the same very clammie or much cleaving to the hande and fingers, as it were waxe, this earth shall you accompte as wholly unprofitable. A garden plotte before all other matters done to it, be very well cleansed of stones.’ He also advises that ‘Garden plottes ought to be placed farre from Barnes, Hay loftes, and Stables,’ and ‘It behoveth to have a well in a Garden, unlesse some running water as either ditche or small river be neere adjoyning: for that a sweete water sprinckled on young Plantes, and Hearbes, giveth a speciall nourishment.’

Layout of a garden was very important. Here is an example of how a fancy garden from this period may have been designed.

B: Trees 10 yards apart
C: Garden Knot
D: Kitchen Garden
E: Bridge
F: Conduit
G: Steps
H: Walks set with great wood
I: Walks set with great wood round orchard
K: Outer fence
L: Outer fence set with stone fruit
M: Mount
N: Still-house
O: Good standing for Bees
P: If the river run under your door and by your mount it will be pleasant.

A more practical and affordable alternative to the maze or knot garden was to have a series of rectangular flower beds, divided by paths. No bed was wider than three feet across to allow easy weeding. The layout and plot of a garden was terribly important, as was strolling thoughtfully between beds. As Hill states: ‘it much availeth in a Garden, to frame seemelye walkes and Alleys, for the delight of the owner, by which hee maye the freelier walke hither and thither in them, and consider throughly all the matters wrought and done in the Garden.’

Gardening tools were remarkably similar to those found in today’s potting shed; dibble, rake, hoe, spade, trowel and watering pot. Below is an illustration of some essential gardening tools from a gardening book from 1620:

Most people lucky enough to have a garden would devote a large section of it to growing herbs and vegetables. The recent imports from abroad meant people could grow peaches, apricots, even lemons and oranges, in addition to the staple lettuces, peas and beans. Fruit trees were a vaulable source of food, and many books survive on the maintenance and cultivation of an orchard. The following illustration shows gardeners hard at working grafting fruit trees:

In addition to growing fruit and vegetables, a herb garden was a vital component of any household, since most common ailments at the time were treated with everyday herbs. Hill recommends the following as essential planting in a new herb garden:

‘You [may] sow fine seedes to have pleasant hearbes that may be kept drie, for the pot or kitchin in the Winter time, and those which yeeld delectable flowers, to beautifie and refresh the house, as the Majorani, French balme, Time, Hysope, Sage, Marigolde, Buglas, Borage, and sundrie others.’

Elizabethan flowers were less formal than those today; the focus was on scent rather than size or beauty.  Arbours had sweet-smelling climbing plants rambling over them, and Lavender and wall flowers were very popular. In spring, daffodowndillies and tulips would make their appearance in abundance. Roses were usually red, white, or striped. The following illustration shows gardeners tending to the climbers on an arbour:

For more on Elizabethan gardens, particularly some entertaining ways to rid the garden of ‘creeping things’ see my post To Delight A Bee. 
Sources: Numerous, including Dodd, Picard, Tames – see Useful Reading for details

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