Category Archives: Food

Custom Dining Food

Jacobean life – Dining



The daily dining habits of the average Jacobean Londoner share many similarities with those of us living in the 21st Century.  Three meals a day for those with the means, and snacks in-between for the nibblers.  Breakfast was usually taken between 6 and 7am and consisted of bread, with butter if it could be afforded, and perhaps some cold cuts of meat or slices of cheese. Weak beer was served as a staple accompaniment, since the river water in London was unfit to drink, and rainwater also needed to be filtered.

The aristocracy settled down to a heavy lunch between 11am and noon, while the working classes ate a little later; similarly supper for the idle rich was usually served at about 6pm, while the rest might not eat their evening meal until 7 or 8pm. The main meal of the day was lunch, or dinner, as it was then called. For those who had their own cooks, this meal might run to several courses and include soup, stewed meat, pies, bacon, more roasted meat, fish, vegetables, all rounded off with fruit tarts and cheese. Wine was served with each course, and a midday meal might run to several hours. The working man had to content himself with a hastily-grabbed tavern meal, or one snatched at home. It would have included at least one hot dish, often a roast, or pie, or stew, accompanied by more bread and beer.

Supper was something of a rerun of breakfast; cold meat, bread, beer and cheese. The aristocracy might extend this with the inclusion of more fruit and sweet dishes, and fine wine.
Cutlery was still at the rudimentary stage – spoons and knives were in use, but forks were still something of a new-fangled invention. It was customary to go through a ritual hand-wash with other diners prior to sitting down. The head of the household took his place at the table, the children and servants sat at the opposite end, or even in a different room at a different table if space were not an issue. It was a widespread practise in many households to expect children and servants to stand throughout a meal, as can be seen from the woodcut. After Grace had been said, knives were used to spear whatever food looked appealing and convey it to the plate, then fingers took over in place of a fork. Once the meal was over, diners might push away their empty plates and light up a pipe – tobacco was available at 3 pence a pouch.
Sources as for Jacobean Food

©2009-2013 All Rights Reserved

Custom Dining Food London

Jacobean Life – Food


Last week I posted some early modern recipes, and so I thought some snippets on food in general might prove interesting. Londoners in Elizabethan and Jacobean England had plenty of choice when it came to dining.  Of course money was an important factor, but even the poor were in most cases able to buy cheap loaves of bread. Food markets were located throughout the city; including Leadenhall, Stocks Market, Cornhill and Cheapside, Eastcheap, and Billingsgate.


Leadenhall was on the corner of Gracechurch Street and Cornhill, and sold meat and poultry; the staples of a Jacobean diet.  Beef was by far the most popular choice, and cattle were driven in from miles away, often down Oxford St, which at the time was not much more than an overgrown lane. In addition to beef, sheep and poultry were for sale everywhere, and there were stalls throughout the city selling sausages and pies. The Stocks Market (on roughly the site of the current Mansion House) sold fish and meat.  Cornhill and Cheapside were home to flower sellers, as well as purveyors of poultry; including pigeon, duckling, goose, chickens, and even swans. Billingsgate was at this time a general market, specialising in fish, fruit, grain and salt.


Game was a common staple. Hare and rabbit were cheap and plentiful, and deer was also available. Most meat was either roasted or stewed, or found its way into pies and sausages. The eating of fish was not merely encouraged, it was obligatory. Fish days were Fridays, Wednesdays and Saturdays, and it was forbidden for anyone to eat meat during Lent or other special holidays. This part ban on meat effectively ensured 156 flesh-free days a year, but this was only severely enforced during Lent. At other times the rules could be bent, for example, eating meat on Wednesdays might be lawful provided there were at least three dishes of fish served alongside. Licensed ‘meat-eaters’ were useful dinner guests; these were either people exempt from abstaining from meat due to health reasons, or those rich enough to make a hefty donation to the poor-box in exchange for the privilege of eating meat. Having a licensed meat-eater at the dinner table on fish days therefore ensured one could serve a large helping of meat, and if it was shared, no one need know.


Fish was poached or fried, and salted fish was a basic throughout the winter because it could be easily preserved and stored. Dried, salted Cod was a staple for the poor. Oysters were eaten in enormous numbers, brought in from Colchester and Whitstable. They were either eaten in the shell, or used in pies and stews as well as soups. Salmon was pickled in Scotland and along with conger eel, was usually poached in beer.


Cheese was a favourite on meat and fish days alike. Leadenhall market sold Cheddar and Cheshire, but most Londoners ate a basic cheese made from ewes’ milk. Vegetables were usually boiled. Pottage was a basic vegetable soup thickened with grain; a commonplace in the country, it was often only consumed by the poor in London. Fruit was eaten by everyone, but usually boiled or stewed, and seldom consumed raw. Snacks such as ‘hot codling’ (baked apple) were sold on the street, and native fruits such as apples, pears, cherries, and plums, were widely available and cheap. But imported fruits like oranges, apricots, and lemons were prohibitively expensive – a lemon cost 6 pence, the same price as a medical handbook.


Bread was the basic of any meal. The rich ate bread baked at home from the purest white flour, while the poor made do with rye bread. If a harvest failed then bread was concocted from oats, lentils, and beans. Exotic foods were also making their way onto the streets of London, thanks to the advances in foreign trading. Those with the money could buy sugar, pepper, almonds, dates and olives. Potatoes had arrived but there was not yet a consensus on the correct way of eating them.

Multiple sources, including Tames, Picard, Ackroyd
©2009-2013 All Rights Reserved


The Vertues of the Leaf TEA

An Exact Description of the Growth, Quality and Vertues of the Leaf TEA BY Thomas Garway in Exchange Alley near the Royal Exchange in London, Tobacconist, and Seller and Retailer of TEA and COFFEE (1660).

TEA is generally brought from China, and groweth there upon little Shrubs or Bushes, the branches whereof are well garnished with white Flowers that are yellow within, of the bigness and fashion of Sweet Brier, but in smell unlike, bearing thin green leaves. This plant has been reported to grow wild only, but doth not, for they plant in their Gardens about four foot distance and it groweth about four foot high. Of this famous Leaf there are divers sorts (though all one shape) some much better than other, the upper Leaves excelling the other in fineness, a property almost in all Plants, which Leaves they gather every day, and drying them in the shade or in Iron pans over a gentle fire till the humidity be exhausted, then put up close in Leaden pots, preserve them for their Drink Tea, which is used at Meals, and upon all Visits and Entertainments in private Families, and in the Palaces of Grandees: And it is averred by a Padre native of Japan, that the best Tea ought to be gathered but by Virgins who are destined to this work. The said Leaf is of such known vertues, that those very Nations so famous for Antiquity, Knowledge and Wisdom, do frequently sell it among themselves for twice its weight in Silver.

The Drinke is declared to be most wholesome, preserving in perfect heath untill extreme Old Age.  The Particular Vertues are these:

It maketh the Body active and lusty.
It helpeth the Head-ache, giddinesse and heavinesse thereof.
It is good against Lipitude Distillations, and cleareth the Sight.
It is good against Crudities strengthening the weakness of the Ventrice or Stomack, causing good Appetite and Digestion, and particularly for Men of a corpulent Body, and such as are great eaters of Flesh.
It vanquisheth heavy Dreams, easeth the Brain, and strengtheneth the Memory.
It taketh away the difficulty of Breathing, opening Obstructions.
It is very good against the Stone and Gravel, cleaning the Kidneys being drank with Virgin’s Honey instead of Sugar.
It prevents and cures Agues and Feavers, by infusing a fit quantity of the Leaf, thereby provoking a most gentle Vomit and breathing of the Pores.
It removeth the Obstructions of the Spleen.
It (being prepared and drank with Milk and Water) strengtheneth the inward parts, and prevents Consumption, and powerfully asswageth the pain of the Bowels, or griping of the Guts and Loosenesse.
It overcometh superfluous Sleep, and prevents Sleepinesse in general, a draught of the Infusion being taken, so that without trouble whole nights may be spent in study without hurt to the Body.

That the Vertues and Excellencies of this Leaf and Drink are many and great, is evidence and manifest by the high esteem and use of it among the Physitians and knowing men in France, Italy, Holland and other parts of Christendom; and in England it hath been sold in the Leaf for six pounds, and sometimes for ten pounds the pound weight, and in respect of its former scarceness and dearnesse it hath only been used as a Regalia in high Treatments and Entertainments, and Presents made thereof to Princes and Grandees till the year 1657.

Thomas Garway did purchase a quantity thereof, and first publickly sold the said Tea in Leaf and Drink, made according to the directions of the most knowing Merchants and Travellers into those Eastern Countries: And upon knowledge and experience of the said Garway’s continued care and industry in obtaining the best Tea, and making Drink thereof, very many Noblemen, Physitians, Merchants and Gentlemen of Quality have ever since sent to him for the said Leaf, and daily resort to his House in Exchange Alley to drink the Drink thereof.  And to the end that all Persons of Eminency and Quality, Gentlemen and others, who have occasion for Tea in Leaf may be supplyed. These are to give notice, that the said Thomas Garway hath Tea to sell from sixteen to fifty Shillings the pound.

© 2009-2013 All Rights Reserved

All original content on these pages is fingerprinted and certified by Digiprove

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

Join other followers:

© Shakespeare's England 2009-2014