Elizabethan foods and feast for Shakespeare’s April birthday
To celebrate Shakespeare’s Birthday on April 23, we are sharing some fanciful feast facts shared by historian Francie Segan in a talk she gave on a recent AARP broadcast, connected to her book “Shakespeare’s Kitchen.”
Here are some insights into what would be served at a sumptuous meal:
They would shape the dinner roll in the shape of the guest of honor. That was the beginnings of what we see today — Gingerbread men! The most popular was in the shape of a deer. You had to be wealthy to have deer on your land, so it was an elegant piece. It was filled with wine jelly — looks like blood! They decorated the plate with interesting natural looking things like the cock’s comb. They still do in Italy and France today.
Many of the meat or fish pies looked like what they were in real life. Like a breaded fish plate patted into the form of a swimming fish, and the crust embellished with elaborate pastry scales, fins, and gills. Or a savory peacock pie with claws poking through the crust. There is one pie that has little fish heads sticking out of the top of the pie which represents a pond. One recipe states that a good substitute for birds in the pie were frogs or garden snakes.
I have read that spices and gravy were used to cover up rancid meat. This author says that the old time recipes state the actual time that you should slaughter the animals, therefore, leading her to believe it was fresh when cooked. And, second, meat was very expensive (some equaled the cost of a carpenter’s weekly earnings).
There were no clocks in kitchens during Shakespeare’s days. The recipes would give you hints on when it would be done. One hint was to cook asparagus as long as it takes to say the Lord’s Prayer twice! Author Francine said it was accurate. The same goes for temperature gauges. “If you can hold your hand in the oven to the count of 12, it is perfect” which turns out to be about 450 degrees.
Optional items to use for basting were feathers or rabbit’s foot. A quill replaces a toothpick.
None of the new world foods had arrived yet, like tomatoes. The pasta was often served with cheese or fruit, or stewed prunes.
Desserts were often chosen for its aphrodisiac traits, whether by reputation, like some seafoods, or in looks, like berries having “nipples.” Also popular year-round was candied orange peel, or strawberries. They served lots of pies, like grated beets for a sort of cheesecake, and spinach pie made with almonds and sugar.
Modern day versions of these recipes and much more can be found in her book.
Recipe from “Shakespeare’s Kitchen” by Francine Segan
CITRUS TARTS (how to make the sauce, and put on prepared shells)
I doubt anyone who tastes them will guess that these refreshing tarts
contain both pepper and vinegar, two flavors not ordinarily associated
with dessert. Peppercorns, popular since the time of ancient Greece
and Rome, were often included in sweet dishes in Shakespeare’s day.
4 large navel oranges
2 tablespoon butter
½ teaspoon freshly ground 5-color peppercorns
3 teaspoons fresh ginger, minced
3 tablespoons sugar
½ cup white wine
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
15 ready-made tiny phyllo tart shells (1-inch diameter)
Using a vegetable peeler, cut the peel from the oranges and lemons,
removing any of the white pith. Soak the peels for 10 minutes in cold
water. Drain and coarsely chop the peels.
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan. Add the peels, pepper, ginger,
sugar and wine, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for
30 minutes. Allow the mixture to cool to room temperature and stir
in the vinegar and honey. Spoon the filling into the tart shells and serve.