The Food of Shakespeare’s Plays

For a couple of days, I have been thinking about Shakespeare… and food. It all started a few days ago when I reread Hamlet’s lines to Horatio: “Thrift, thrift, Horatio! The funeral baked meats. Did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables”. I was left thinking what meats? And then- what other types of food were on the banquet tables? Unfortunately, Hamlet never disclosed those details, which only made me think about it more. Today, I thought I would take you on a 16th century food journey of the types of meals that might have been eaten in some of the settings of Shakespeare’s plays- Hamlet, Macbeth, The Merry Wives of Windsor and Romeo & Juliet, Enjoy!


 

Hamlet- Denmark.

Jane Hughes, in The Adventurous Vegetarian: Around the World in 30 Meals, describes how “Rye Bread forms the base of the classic Danish open sandwich (smorrebrod)- it hasn’t changed much since it was mentioned in the viking sagas. In medieval times it was generally spread with butter or lard, and in the 16th century slices of bread were commonly used instead of plates”. It turns out, they did this because plates were very expensive at the time. However, according to the official website of Denmark (http://denmark.dk/en/lifestyle/food-drink/danish-food-culture/lunch/), “The king, Christian the second, abolished the use of bread plates at special occasions around 1520, because he now had enough plates to serve all at parties”. This did not mean, however, that there was any less food on the banquet tables!

Macbeth- Scotland.

According to The Tribe, “The 16th century … saw the renewal of the Auld Alliance between France and Scotland against England. Scottish King James V married not one, but two French noblewomen, more famously Marie de Guise, who became the mother and regent of Mary, Queen of Scots, James V’s heir…Mary de Guise and Mary Queen of Scots —who was raised in France—made French cuisine (and lavish feasts) très chic in the Scottish court” which means Cock-a-Leekie Soup, Pork Flory with Currants and Raisins and Lemon-Almond Shortbread Rounds. Want to find out more? Visit http://www.thetribeonline.com/2014/02/celebrating-600-and-1-years-of-scottish-cuisine-16th-century-cooking/ for the recipes and some great facts about these 16th century Scottish dishes!

Next we’re moving on a little south, to England– the setting of The Merry Wives of Windsor

Did you know that during the 1569 plague it was actually illegal to sell fresh fruit?! Well this really is true, according to the British Library, which also informs us that “Explorations to the New World brought all sorts of exotic and unusual delicacies to the tables of the rich. .. [including] the potato (from Chile), the tomato (from Mexico), and the kidney bean (from Peru)… [but also] maize, Indian corn, chocolate, peanuts, vanilla, pineapples, French beans, red and green peppers, turkeys and tapioca”. Fresh fruit? What fresh fruit?

Romeo and Juliet- Italy

La Bella Vita Cucina tells us that “Although now prepared all over Italy, the delicious gnocchi is a culinary tradition dating all the way back to the 16th century and connected to the festivities of Carnival”. If you have not tried gnocchi before, they are delicious little dumplings, and you definitely should taste them given the chance. I personally love them with melted butter and Rosemary- simple yet irresistible.

But gnocchi was not the only dish Italians could eat in the 16th century. According to Sabine’s Food (http://aneala.lochac.sca.org/arts/SRFood.html“Compared to the 15th Century, the 16th Century had a greater variety and richness in the preparation of foods: soups, grilled, roast and boiled meats, meat pastries, fish, vegetable (also in oil) and refined salads, almond-based sweets, pine-nuts and candied fruits; cane sugar (then still expensive) began to replace honey”. It is interesting to note how this period really saw a broadening of the types of food you could (provided you were able to afford it) enjoy. Particularly because of explorations (for example those to the New World) new ingredients travelled to, and around, Europe- even, as we’ve seen today, as early as the 16th century.


Some more readings for those interested…

Check out…

http://www.oldcook.com/en/medieval-cookery_books_europe for more information on medieval cookbooks from around Europe

http://www.medievalcuisine.com/Euriol/my-recipes/recipes-by-time-period/16th-century for information on 16th century medieval cuisine from around Europe, including Brat Ruben (a German recipe for fried root vegetables) and Salsa biza per deu Escudelles (Spanish Garlic Pine Nut Sauce).

http://foodanddrink.scotsman.com/food/a-history-of-scottish-food-and-drink/ for more information on the history of Scottish food.

http://www.italianbellavita.com/2012/10/the-traditional-foods-of-venice-italy/ La Bella Vita Cucina takes us around Italy showing us some of the traditional foods from the country- definitely one to check out especially if you are a foodie or keen traveller.

http://www.bl.uk/learning/langlit/texts/cook/1500s2/1550s2.html for more information on food in the 1500s.

At http://www.nosweatshakespeare.com/shakespeares-plays/shakespeares-play-locations/ you can find this amazing map which shows you the locations of Shakespeare’s plays. This is really very cool, I became so excited when I found it, I think I got a little bit carried away…

Screen Shot 2016-02-22 at 16.34.40


 

What do you think? Do you know any other foods from any other settings of Shakespeare plays? I’d love to hear what you think- Comment below!

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4 comments

  1. Funnily enough, in Henry V the Constable says “give them great meals of beef and iron and steel, they will eat like wolves and fight like devils” 🙂

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    1. That’s really interesting Alan, thanks for sharing!

      Like

  2. rozpaige · · Reply

    Thanks for sharing my little contribution to the world of food and the time of Shakespeare (Traditional Foods of Venice)! What an interesting past and great blog that you have!

    Like

    1. Hi Roz, thanks so much for your very kind words 🙂 It is a pleasure to read and share your fantastic blog, and I’m so happy to hear you like mine too 🙂

      Like

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