What Did the Elizabethans Eat? The Elizabethan era diet was very much dependant upon the status and wealth of an individual. Meat was considered to be a sign of wealth in the early medieval era, and anyone well-to-do would suffer from gout which can occur with too much protein intake (especially men). An aristocratic Elizabethan diet was prepared especially for banquets and feasts to have a grand visual effect.
Sugar was being introduced slowly into the Elizabethan diet in the form of sweets and jams; in time vegetable dishes also took off. Queen Elizabeth’s teeth were black and rotten with decay due to sugar consumption (as well as overall lack of dental care), leading many courtiers painting their teeth black to either "show" they were wealthy enough to afford sugar, or simply because anything the Queen did or wore, including teeth, was the current mode of fashion.
Elizabethan Food was generally purchased from small markets and from fairs. In large cities like London there were specific markets which sold either fish, dairy products or fruit and vegetables. Meat was sold at large livestock markets.
New Foods such as the tomato, potato and the turkey were being introduced from the New World. Chilli peppers including red peppers, cayenne, paprika and chilli were also imported from the New World. Earlier, Crusaders had brought to England spices such as pepper, cinnamon, mace, ginger, cloves, raisins, saffron and sugar and these were introduced into Old Medieval recipes and passed down to Elizabethan Recipes. Spices were extremely expensive and therefore used in cooking recipes by the Upper Classes.
Salt was used to preserve meat. There were few alternative methods of preservation available although smoking, pickling and desiccation were also used in various old recipes.
Some things that were common for Elizabethan food recipes were that food and ingredient measurements were extremely basic - quantities were not often specified; temperature control was difficult because things were cooked over an open flame and therefore not specified; cooking times were vague - often left to the cook to decide.
Below I offer a modern day recipe (with measurements, temperature and cooking time) for a Chicken Pie:
- 9 inch unbaked pie crust
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 1/2 cup teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/8 teaspoon mace
- 1/4 cup currants
- 1/4 cup raisins
- 1/2 cup pitted prunes
- One 2-1/2 pound chicken, cut into 12-15 pieces (bones intact)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon butter, cut into small pieces
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
1. Line the bottom of a 2 quart ovenproof casserole dish with pie pastry and bake at 425(degrees) for 10 minutes, let cool.
2. In a large bowl, mix wine and spices.
3. Add dried fruit, stir, and let stand for 15 minutes.
4. Toss chicken pieces in wine and fruits, sprinkling with salt as you mix.
5. Place mixture in pie shell, dot with butter.
6. Cover and bake 45 minutes at 350(degress).
7. Uncover and sprinkle with brown sugar. Bake, uncoverded for an additional 15 minutes or until chicken is done.
8. To serve, scoop out chicken with serving spoon, scraping up a section of pie crut each time.
Recipe comes from "To the Queen's Taste" by Lorna J. Sass