If you would like to try and reproduce some of the dishes that Henry VIII and Elizabeth I may have banqueted on centuries ago, The Tudor Kitchen: What the Tudors Ate & Drank, by Terry Breverton features around 500 recipes for you to try out at home.
The book also features some of the techniques the Tudors used in farming, and analyses the diet of those who lived in the late 15th and 16th centuries.
Here, we explore some of the recipes featured in The Tudor Kitchen…
Salmon Sallet for fish days (Salmon and onion salad with violets) – From Thomas Dawson’s The Good Huswifes Jewell (1585, 1594, and 1596 editions)
Colours and presentation were extremely important at the rich man’s table, especially when demonstrating one’s wealth, and therefore power, to guests. Many types of edible flower were used, both for taste and visual appeal. Flowers were also set at table to enhance the presentation of the food. Large and elaborate sculptures and settings of ‘flowers’ were even made of cut vegetables and herbs, if attractive flowers were not in season. This has a resonance today. With a well-presented dish, in attractive settings, we often think mentally that the meal is a small portion, and we eat it more slowly. We then realise that we are full, and consequently tend to eat less in quantity than when a mound of food is heaped on our plates. One can easily make this a main meal, and substitute other edible flowers such as nasturtiums.
‘Salmon cut long waies with slices of onyons upon it layd and upon that to cast Violets, Oyle and Vineger’.
Ingredients: Salmon fillet cut into 4 strips for 4 servings; large mild onion sliced very thin; 1 tbsp lemon juice; 2 tbsp white wine vinegar; 1 tsp sugar; ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil; ¾ cup edible violets; salt and pepper to taste.
Method: Put the vinegar, sugar and lemon juice into a bowl and slowly whisk in the olive oil. Season to taste, then add the sliced onion to the vinaigrette. Remove the onion for later. Lightly coat with some of the vinaigrette, and place under a preheated medium grill. Cook for 3-4 minutes each side, or until firm. Place a mound of the onion in the centre of each dish, with the salmon strip on top. Drizzle the rest of the vinaigrette over the salmon, and scatter violets across the top.
Preparing a feast: birds are being spit-roasted by hand, and pages are preparing to bring out the first courses, while the guests dance in the background. © The Tudor Kitchen
Roast capon (Spice roast chicken) – From Gervase Markham’s Countrey Contentments, or, The English Hus-wife (1615)
A capon was a castrated cockerel which grew larger than a normal chicken. Free-range, and fed corn these birds had a special flavour, gamier than normal chickens. The recipe would originally have been made with a slowly roasted whole bird, but this recipe uses chicken thighs. Being muscular, they are the tastiest parts of a chicken.
Ingredients: 6 chicken thighs, with skin; 60 g unsalted butter; 40 g good extra virgin olive oil; tsp powdered cinnamon; tsp ground cloves; tsp powdered mace.
Method: Place the butter, olive oil and spices in a small pan and heat to melt the butter. Pre-heat oven to 180C. Baste the chicken thighs with the butter mixture, place in a baking dish and roast for about 35 minutes until the thighs are a rich golden brown. Every five minutes or so take the thighs from the oven and baste with more of the butter mixture. Serve immediately.
Salmon Rostyd in sauce (Grilled salmon in wine sauce) – From Gentyll Manly Cokere, MS Pepys 1047 (c1490)
Try to buy non-farmed salmon, e.g. Pacific salmon. Atlantic salmon is becoming scarce, and farmed salmon is often unpleasant. The copious grey slime in the meat of the fish is because it has not properly developed muscle meat in the Atlantic Ocean, and unhealthy farmed salmon almost uniformly have lice and other problems which pass on to non-farmed salmon as they pass the fish farms to breed.
‘Samon rostyd in sause. Cut thy salmon in round pieces and roast it on a grid iron.Take wine and powder of cinnamon and draw them through a strainer. Add thereto onions minced small. Boil it well. Take vinegar or verjuice and powder of ginger and salt. Add thereto. Lay the salmon in dishes and pour the syrup thereon and serve forth’.
Ingredients: 6 salmon steaks; 1 large onion; 1 tsp ground cinnamon; 5 ml ground ginger; 575 ml red wine; 1 tbsp wine vinegar; 5ml salt.
Method: Finely chop the onion, place in a saucepan with the wine and cinnamon, cover and cook for 15 minutes. Place the salmon on a grill and cook for 4-7 minutes each side, dependent upon thickness. When the salmon and onions are cooked, place the salmon on a hot dish. Stir the vinegar, ginger and salt into the onions, and pour over the salmon just before serving.
Tudor bakers at work. © The Tudor Kitchen
To fry whitings (Fried whitefish in apple or onion sauce) – From The Booke of Goode Cookry Very Necessary for all Such as Delight Therein (1584 and1591 editions)
‘To fry Whitings. First flay them and wash them clean and scale them, that doon, lap them in floure and fry them in Butter and oyle. Then to serve them, mince apples or onions and fry them, then put them into a vessel with white wine, vergious, salt, pepper, cloves & mace, and boile them togither on the Coles, and serve it upon the Whitings.’
Ingredients: Either skin and fillet the fish or buy it pre-prepared: 700 g whiting, haddock or other white fish; 100 g butter or 100 ml olive oil; 225 g finely chopped onions or apples; 1.5 ml mace; pinch of ground cloves; 275 ml white wine; 15 ml wine vinegar; 1.5 ml pepper; 5 ml salt; a little flour.
Method: Fry the onions or apples gently in a saucepan, in a little of the oil or butter, until cooked but not browned. Stir in the wine, vinegar, salt, pepper, cinnamon and mace, and cook for a few minutes more. Keep hot, ready for use. Dust the fish with flour, and gently fry in the remaining oil or butter for 5-10 minutes. Serve with the onion or apple sauce.
Steamed asparagus spears in orange sauce – From Traditional Elizabethan recipe, originating in Granada (1599)
Seville oranges are sour, so if using other oranges, add a good dash of lemon juice. ‘Para Hazer Escudilla de Esparragos Silvesteres y Domesticos: Take the most tender part, cause it to boil in hot water until they seem tender, and finish cooking them with good broth of capon or veal: and these want to be served with a little broth. With the wild ones [asparagus] you can put raisins. The cultivated ones can be served with orange juice, sugar, and salt.’
Ingredients: 12 spears of asparagus; juice of 6 Seville oranges; 1 tbsp brown sugar; 1 tbsp butter; pinch of salt.
Method: Snap off the woody base of the asparagus, and steam the spears for about 8 minutes or until tender. Meanwhile heat the orange juice in a saucepan. Add the sugar and a pinch of salt and whisk in the butter. Allow to thicken for a few minutes. Arrange the asparagus on a plate, pour over the orange sauce and serve immediately.
Compost (Cold spiced vegetables in wine and honey sauce) – From The Master-Cook of Richard II, The Forme of Cury (c1390)
‘Compost. Take rote of parsel. pasternak of rasenns. Scrape hem waisthe hem clene. take rapes & caboches ypared and icorne. take an erthen panne with clene water & set it on the fire. Cast all þise þerinne. whan þey buth boiled cast þerto peeres & parboile hem wel. Take þise thynges up & lat it kele on a fair cloth, do þerto salt whan it is colde in a vessel take vineger & powdour & safroun & do þerto. & lat alle þise thinges lye þerin al nyzt oþer al day. Take wyne greke and hony clarified togider lumbarde mustard & raisouns corance al hool. & grynde powdour of canel powdour douce. & aneys hole. & fenell seed. Take alle þise thynges & cast togyder in a pot of erthe. and take þerof whan þou wilt & serue forth.’
Ingredients: 3 parsley roots; 3 parsnips; 3 carrots; 10 radishes; 2 turnips; 1 small cabbage; 2 pears; ½ tsp salt; 1 cup vinegar; ¼ tsp pepper; 1 pinch saffron, ground;
1 cup sweet wine or Marsala; ½ cup honey; 1 tbsp mustard; ½ cup currants; 1 tsp cinnamon; 1 tsp powder douce; 1 tsp anise seed; 1 tsp fennel seed.
Method: Peel vegetables and chop into bite-sized pieces. Parboil until just tender, adding sliced pears about halfway through cooking time. Remove from water, drain, place on tray, sprinkle with salt, and allow to cool. Place vegetables in large bowl and add pepper, saffron, and vinegar. Refrigerate for several hours, then put wine and honey into a saucepan, bring to a boil, and then simmer for several minutes, removing any scum that forms on the surface. Allow to cool and add currants and remaining spices. Mix well and pour over vegetables. Serve cold.
The Vaughan family’s Tretower Court dining hall is unaltered from Tudor times. © The Tudor Kitchen
Sweet potatoes in rose and orange syrup – From Elinor Fettiplace’s Receipt Book (1605)
This work has some of the earliest recipes for sweet potatoes in Britain. Because these were called potatoes in later Tudor and early Stuart recipe books, they are often confused with the newly discovered New World potatoes, which were not being used for cookery at this time. This latter potato was grown widely in Ireland a long time before it became common and popular in the rest of Britain, and John Forster was the first to refer to it as the ‘Irish potato’, to distinguish it from the sweet potato which was far more widely known. From the beginning, it was considered lowly food, only suitable for pigs, peasants, and prisoners.
One who did promote the ‘Irish potato’ in the seventeenth century was John Forster, who published a treatise in 1664 with the snappy title of: England's Happiness Increased, Or a sure and Easy Remedy Against all Succeeding Dear Years by a Plantation of the Roots called Potatoes: Whereby (with the Addition of Wheat flower) Excellent Good and Wholesome Bread may be Made Every 8 or 9 Months Together, for Half the Charge as Formerly; Also by the Planting of These Roots Ten Thousand Men in England and Wales Who Know Not How to Live, or What to Do to Get a Maintenance for their Families, may on one Acre of Ground make 30 Pounds per Annum. Invented and Published for the Good of the Poorer Sort.
According to Smythe, ambergris was ‘a fragrant drug found floating on sea coasts, greyish, light, easily fusible used as a perfume and cordial and in various essences and tinctures’. Ambergris is a waxy substance found floating at sea, or washed up on beaches, secreted by the Sperm Whale, and still of great value in perfume manufacture. It was often spelt amber grease/greece, signifying its colour and function, and was sometimes mixed with salt. It is omitted below:
‘Boile your roots in faire water until they bee somewhat tender then pill of the skinne, then make your syrupe, weying to every pound of roots a pound of sugar and a quarter of a pint of faire water, & as much of rose water, & the juice of three or fowre oranges, then boile the syrupe, & boile them till they bee throughlie soaked in the syrupe, before you take it from the fire, put in a little musk and amber greece.’
Ingredients: 3½ lbs sweet potatoes; 1 cup sugar; ½ cup water; ¼ cup orange juice; ¼ cup rosewater; 1/8 cup fresh rose petals; ¼ tsp double strength vanilla.
Method: Bake sweet potatoes till tender, then peel and slice. Mix sugar and water over low heat until liquefied, then add orange juice, rosewater and rose petals. Stir until heated, then pour over the sliced sweet potatoes. Garnish with fresh rose flowers if available. If using dried rose petals, add with sugar.
Egges in moneshyne (Eggs in moonlight) – From The Proper Newe Booke of Cookerye (c1557)
The eggs are cooked by poaching in a syrup of rose water and sugar, so that they look like moons.
Ingredients: 60 ml rose water; 100 ml water; 75 g caster sugar; 4 eggs.
Method: Combine the water, rose water and sugar in a small frying pan. Heat gently, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Bring to a simmer then crack in the eggs one by one. Ensure the eggs have enough space so that they cook without touching. Cook until the whites are cooked but the yolks are still runny. Transfer the eggs to plates and spoon over some of the syrup. This is even better served on toast for breakfast.
The marriage feast of Sir Henry Unton, the English Elizabethan diplomat, c 1596. © The Tudor Kitchen
Tostee (Ginger syrup toasties) – From The Master-Cook of Richard II, The Forme of Cury (c1390)
These are a little like hot jelly upon toast, with a wonderful flavour. ‘Tostee. Take wyne and hony and found it togyder and skym it clene. and seeþ it long, do þerto powdour of gyngur. peper and salt, tost brede and lay the sew þerto. kerue pecys of gyngur and flour it þerwith and messe it forth.’
Ingredients: ¼ cup red wine; ¼ cup honey; 1 tsp fresh ginger; 1/8 tsp ground ginger; pinch salt; pinch of pepper; 2 slices toast.
Method: Peel the fresh ginger, chop very finely and set aside. Put the wine, honey, ground ginger, salt and pepper into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce to medium heat and simmer until bubbles begin, or until syrup thickens. Spoon over fingers of toast, sprinkle with a little fresh ginger, and serve warm.
A dysschefull of snowe (Apple puree in snow) – From A Proper Neue Book of Cokery (c1575)
‘To make dyschefull of Snowe: Take a pottel of swete thycke creame and the whytes of eyghte egges, and beate them altogether wyth a spone, then putte them in youre creame and a saucerful of Rosewater, and a dyshe full of Suger wyth all, then take a stick and make it cleane, and than cutte it in the ende foure squsre, and therwith beate all the aforesayde thynges together, and as ever it ryseth takeit of and put it into a Collaunder, this done take one apple and set it in the myddes of it, and a thick bushe of Rosemary, and set it in the myddes of the platter, then cast your Snowe uppon the Rosemary and fyll your platter therwith. And yf you have wafers cast some in wyth all and thus serve them forthe.’
Ingredients: 150 g peeled and cored cooking apples, chopped; 600 ml double cream; 4 egg whites; 200 g caster sugar; 2 tbsp rosewater; 1 sprig of rosemary; ratafia or amaretti biscuits or wafers.
Method: Combine the apple and rosewater in a pan. Cover tightly, bring to a simmer and cook gently for about 30 minutes, or until the apple is soft. Remove from the heat and purée by beating with a spoon. Set aside to cool. Put the egg whites in a dry bowl, and beat until soft peaks form. Add 4 tbsp of the sugar and fold into the egg whites and then beat until stiff and glossy. Add the cream to a separate bowl, and beat until soft peaks form. Fold in the remaining sugar then beat until stiff, but do not over beat. Fold the apple purée into the beaten cream then fold in the stiff egg whites. Place the mixture on a serving dish, and garnish with the rosemary sprig and wafers or ratafia biscuits.
Smartard (Sweet cottage cheese fritters) – From A Noble Boke off Cookry ffor a Prynce Houssolde Holkham (MSS 674 1480)
‘To mak smartard tak wetted cruddes er they bee pressed and put them in a clothe and grinde them well to pured flour and temper hem with eggs and cowe creme and mak ther of a good batere that it be rynynge then tak whit grece in a pan and let it be hete and tak out the batter with a saucer and let it ryn into the grece and draw your hand bakward that it may ryn abrod then fry it welle and whit and somwhat craking and serue it furthe in dishes with sugur ther on.’
Ingredients: 4 eggs; 230 ml oil for frying; 50 g cottage cheese; 4 tsp double cream; brown sugar to taste.
Method: Pass the cottage cheese through a sieve into a bowl to produce a smooth paste. Add eggs and cream to the bowl, and whisk together until smooth. Heat oil in a frying pan and fry the mixture a small amount at a time, spreading it out as it is poured into the pan. Allow the fritters to cook until they start to brown around the edges, then carefully remove from the oil and drain on paper towels. Arrange on a serving dish and sprinkle with brown sugar.
The Tudor Kitchen: What the Tudors Ate & Drank by Terry Breverton is out now, published by Amberley. To find out more, click here.