Archive for April, 2010

The English are well known for their love of meat pies.
Receipts (recipes) for them can be found in cookbooks
of nearly every era. They appeared less and less often
as the centuries progressed, however. By the early
19th century, they had pretty much fallen out of favor
and so began to disappear from cookbooks.

meat pie shapes

Meat pies were usually enclosed
in a thick pastry crust. This “coffin,”
as it was called, was not meant
to be eaten. Rather, it merely
served as the container in which
the pie’s contents were cooked.
They were essentially the earliest
versions of a modern baking dish.

These coffins were frequently quite
elaborate, with all kinds of designs
carved into them or added on top.
Sometimes braiding and piping would
be draped round. Entire pies were
formed into various shapes (see left),
whether abstract or that of spades,
diamonds, or squares. They were
even molded into the shapes of birds,
animals, and fish.

Here now is a receipt for a meat pie from The Taste of the Fire,
The Story of the Tudor Kitchens at Hampton Court Palace
. Feel
free to mold it into the shape of a calf or a pig!

Take buttys of Vele, & mynce
hem smal, or Porke, & put on
a potte; take Wyne, & caste
ther-to pouder of Gyngere,
Pepir, & Safroun, & Salt, &
a lytel verthous, & do hem
in a cofyn with olkys of
Eyroun, & kutte Datys
& Roysonys of Coraunce,
Clowys, Mace, & then
ceuere thin cofyn, & lat
it bake tyl it be y-now.

[Modern Version]
Put minced veal or pork into
a saucepan along with some
wine, ground ginger, saffron,
verjuice, pepper and salt and
cook until the meat is done.
When cool, mix in some raw
egg yolks, chopped dates,
currants, ground cloves and
mace. Place the mixture into
a pastry case and cook in
the oven until golden.


[meat pie art: detail of a painting (from a “Private
Collection”) in The Taste Of the Fire, The Story
of the Tudor Kitchens at Hampton Court Palace

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I thought I’d share a few more
tidbits, and maybe even another
Tudor-era receipt, from the book
The Taste of the Fire, The Story
of the Tudor Kitchens at Hampton
Court Palace
. Then I’m heading
back “home,” back to the time
period I know best, namely the
early 19th century. If you’re interested in anything more,
well, you’ll just have to get your own copy of the book!

Now, when you visit the kitchens at Hampton Court
today, you more or less see them as they were during
King Henry VIII’s reign. Although some sections, even
entire buildings, no longer exist, Henry would probably
feel at home, right down to the cooks and the food
that they’re preparing.

What I was surprised to discover is that, although
the kitchens are currently outfitted perfectly for
Henry’s time, the Palace as a whole was not only
much smaller, it was also built nearly a century
earlier. For some reason, it’s generally believed
that Hampton Court was constructed in the early
16th century for Cardinal Wolsey, when, in fact,
it was not. He was actually owner Number Three.
The Cardinal did, however, greatly expand the
Palace kitchens. And yet, they were still not large
enough to handle the requirements of Henry and
his court. Massive expansions of the kitchens,
as well as other areas throughout the Palace,
were begun for him in 1529. And even though
future kings rebuilt some areas and demolished
or expanded on others, by and large the Tudor
kitchens remained intact. Fortunately for us,
I’d say, as anyone who now visits can get
an idea of the manner in which Henry and
members of his court lived.

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When I was growing up, some of the best times
were spent sitting with my dad and listening to him
read “The Goops” from The Children’s Book of Literature.
It’s a poem, written by Gelette Burgess (1866-1951),
that told of the naughty habits of some mischievous,
bald-headed, child-like beings. I think the poem,
although quite humorous, was possibly a serious

me and my dad

attempt to teach children proper table manners. Of course,
my dad’s rendition made it seem like play. And though
I knew the poem by heart even before I could read
the words myself, I never tired of the time spent
together with my father and hearing his often
animated (and sometimes “mis-read”) version.

So, why do I mention this? Well, because poems,
stories, and even entire books about proper manners
have been written literally throughout the centuries.
There are many that survive from the medieval and
Tudor periods. Though seemingly meant for children,
these various books were also often really instructions
for parents on how to best prepare their offspring for
their eventual entrance into “polite” society.

In fact, in 1534 the Dutch writer Desiderius Erasmus
wrote his version of an etiquette manual, entitled
De Civitate. Below are a few of his tips.* They
reminded me of my dad’s countless recitations
of “The Goops.”

+ Sit not down until you have washed.

+ Undo your belt a little if it will make
you more comfortable; because doing
this during the meal is bad manners.

+ When you wipe your hand clean,
put good toughts forward in your mind,
for it doesn’t do to come to dinner sad,
and thus make others sad.

+ Once you sit place your hands neatly
on the table; not on your trencher, and
not around your belly.

+ Don’t shift your buttocks left and
right as if to let off some blast. Sit
neatly and still.

+ Some allow children to stand,
bare-headed at their betters table
to take their meete. They should
not stay for the whole meal,
but once they have eaten
enough, pick up their trencher,
salute them that is at the table
and leave.

+ Any gobbit that cannot be
taken easily with the hand,
take it on your trencher.

+ Don’t wipe your fingers on
your clothes; use the napkin
or the ‘board clothe’.

+ If someone is ill mannered
by ignorance, let it pass,
rather than point it out.*


Oh, yes, and here’s “The Goops,” by Gelette Burgess:

The Goops they lick their fingers
And the Goops they lick their knives:
They spill their broth on the tablecloth
Oh, they lead disgusting lives!
The Goops they talk while eating,
And loud and fast they chew;
And that is why I’m glad
that I am not a Goop,
Are you?

Incidentally, there were numerous books about “The Goops,”
all written and illustrated by Burgess. He went further and
created a comic strip about them that ran from 1924-25.


* Source: The Taste of the Fire, The Story of the Tudor
Kitchens at Hampton Court Palace

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Water was certainly never
a problem at Hampton Court
Palace, according to The Taste
of the Fire
.* After having
been collected in large basins
just three miles away at springs
on Coombe Hill, it was piped
through lead conduits under
the Thames River and then
into the Palace. The difference in elevation between
the Hill and Hampton was such that enough pressure
was created, enabling the water to be piped to the
Palace’s upper floors. This supply system worked
so well, it remained in use until the 19th century.


* The Taste of the Fire, The Story of the Tudor
Kitchens at Hampton Court Palace

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Let’s pretend it was true: no one during previous
centuries drank water because it was polluted;
if they did, they’d get sick and/or die, and so
everyone drank beer instead.

Okay. Well…what about the animals? If all water
was polluted and unsafe, what did the livestock
drink? What about domestics such as chickens,
goats, sheep, hogs, cattle, horses, etc.? How
about the wild animals? The deer, rabbits, and
such? If any of those critters did drink the water,
what about the humans who then ate their meat?
Or ate what they produced? The eggs and the milk?
Or the use of body parts, say intestines for sausage
or bladders for puddings? What about the fish that
lived in that polluted water? We’re all aware nowadays
of the affects polluted ponds, streams, rivers, and
lakes have on fish. Surely, bad water made for bad
fish in the past, as well. Yet, literally for centuries,
assorted fish were consumed weekly, even daily.
In fact, it was mandated by the Holy Roman Church
at one time or another!

Of course, there’s also the inevitable: If the animals
didn’t drink the water either, were they given beer
instead, too? (Insert jokes here about the drunken
oxen pulling the plow in a zig-zag pattern across
a field or the drunken man riding the drunken horse!)

Guess that generalization about not drinking water seems
pretty silly now, doesn’t it?

Go ahead, drink up!

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did they drink water?

The other day, I heard a supposed “expert” proclaim
that people in earlier centuries never drank any water
because it was polluted, that if they did they’d get
sick and/or die, and so they drank beer instead.

Well, I was miffed, to say the least. I squirmed
in my seat, struggling not to leap up and shout,
“No! You can’t make blanket, general statements
like that! There are so many other factors you
have to consider. It’s just not that simple!”

This rather frustrating incident reminded me
of the following passage that I recently read
in The Taste of the Fire, The Story of the Tudor
Kitchens at Hampton Court Palace

We have an image of the past
where people avoided drinking
water in favor of ale or beer.
This was true to a certain degree,
especially when travelling. Beer
and ale use water that has been
boiled and in effect sterilized,
making them safer to drink
than water from an unknown
source. This still holds true
today, when on holiday abroad
we are advised to only drink
bottled water to avoid unpleasant
side effects! This doesn’t mean
that people didn’t drink water
and local inhabitants built up
their own resistance to many
waterborne microbes.

So yes, people in past centuries drank the water.
Even here in America! Most likely, people employed
common sense. If it looked or smelled bad, they
didn’t drink it. Otherwise, no problem. Remember,
too, modern-day germ theories weren’t developed,
or believed, fully until the late 19th Century or so.

Besides, there wasn’t much else available. Most
beverages that we consume daily today were
nonexistent. Sodas, fruit juices, coffee, tea, cocoa,
and the like were unknown until later (in some
cases, much later). Milk, when not considered
a drink only for the young and the sick, was made
into one of the preserved versions of itself, namely
either butter or cheese.

Of course, there was also ale. Beer, however,
didn’t arrive in England from Europe until the Tudor
years. It proved to be a big hit! But before you think
that everyone ran around
drunk all the time, consider
this: the ingredients of ale
and beer could be adjusted,
their proportional amounts
manipulated, thus making it
strong, weak, or somewhere
in between. Nearly everyone,
including children, drank “small beer,” which had a low
alcoholic content. Beer was often made at home,
particularly in this country.

Other drinks available in England during the Tudor
period included perry, cider, and assorted alcoholic
spirits. It’s possible, however, that some of these
may have been used for medicinal purposes only;
no one really knows for sure. Wines were imported
to both Britain and America, and therefore expensive,
so they were typically consumed only by royalty or
the wealthy.

In any event, here’s hoping we can put a stop
to these wild and broad claims that no one ever
drank any water during previous centuries.

beer making at Colonial Williamsburg

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Receipts (recipes) for several of the same dishes
appear time and time again in cookbooks of every
century. The specifics may change slightly, but
the basics remain the same. Pea soup is one such
dish that’s commonly found throughout the ages.

Here’s a receipt using green peas that was possibly
served often while Henry VIII and members of his court
were in residence at Hampton Court Palace. First up
is the Tudor original as it was written, weird words,
odd spellings, and all (read it out loud, it’ll even sorta
make sense!), followed by a modern interpretation:*

Take grene pesyn, and boile hem
in a potte; And whan they ben y-broke,
drawe the brot a good quantite thorg
a streynour into a potte, And sitte hit
on the fire; and take oynons and parcelly,
and hewe hem small togidre, And caste
hem thereto; And take pouder of Canell
and peper, and caste thereto, and lete
boile; And take vynegur and pouder
of ginger, and caste thereto; And then
take Saffron and salte, a litull quantite,
and caste thereto; And take faire peces
of paynmain, or elles of suc tendur brede,
and kutte hit yn fere mosselles, and caste
there-to; And then serue hit so for.


Take some peas and boil them in water
until well cooked and very soft. Pass
them through a sieve to create a puree
and remove the husks then return the
puree to the heat. Add some finely
chopped onions and parsley, ground
cinnamon and pepper and continue
to cook. Next add ground ginger,
vinegar, saffron and salt along with
a small quantity of fine white bread.
Continue cooking until the bread is
completely incorporated into the puree,
and then serve.


*Source: The Taste of the Fire, The Story of the Tudor Kitchens
at Hampton Court Palace

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