Tag Archives: Food

The Complaint of Christmas: A Serialised Christmas Tale. Part 5

The story of Christmas’ journey continues (Part 1, Part 2 , Part 3 & Part 4 here)


Christmas did not just visit England in 1631, here he tours the other countries of Europe and regails us with his findings.

(In the original text the story opens with this tour of European countries)


The num-cold teeth-gnashing Regions

Where the women weep brine

I was in the stewing-Stoves of Russia, Muscovia, Pollonia, Sweauia, Hungaria, Austria, Bohemia, Germania, and so many other num-cold teeth-gnashing Regions, that if I should name them all, I should strike the Readers into such a shivering, and indanger their wits and bounties with a perpetuall dead palsie or Apoplexie: In the most of these places my cheere and entertainment was Pilchards, Anchovies, Pickled-Herring, white and red dried Sprats, Neats tongues, Stock fish, hang’d Beefe, Mutton, raw Bacon, Brand-wine, (alias Aqua vitae) Tantablins, durty Puddings, and Flapdraggons sowsd and carowsd with Balderdash. Indeed most of their diet is so well seasoned, that the men doe naturally sweat salt, and the women doe weepe brine: and I noted that they never watered either their saltest fish or flesh in any other vessels than their bellies, which was an exceeding policie to vent their Mault, and a stratagem to make Saltpeeter of their Urin.

Spain and Italy

Saucy companions

In Spain and Italy I was welcom’d in many great Dons and Magnificoes houses, with three Alphabets of sallads at one meale, but all the meat upon five of their tables would scarce give a zealous Puritan his supper on good Friday. I have seene a hungry Signeor or Clarissimo eat a trusse of Sampheir, with his forke like a Prenge or Pitch forke tossing it into the hay-loft of his chaps, as if his mouth had beene an Hostry: In a word, I perceived that what either the Italian or Spaniard doth want in glu[…]tony and drunkennesse, he takes out his share in pride and lechery with more extortion than threescore in the hundred. So (amongst their multiplicity of sawces) I leave them like sawcie companions.

Rome and the particular friars 

Being at Rome I was mightily feasted, for they thought nothing too hot, too heavy, or too deare for me: I met there with no sects of dull or cinicall [illeg.] Diogenasses , there was no parsimonious banquets, or Phylosophicall kinde of feasting, I found not a man that was not halfe a Doctor, and was well skild in Kitching Physicke, and they knew that roots and fountaine water would breed Crudities, therefore if they eat any, it was Potatoes, Skerrets, or Eringoes, bak’d with the lushious pulpe, p[…] or linings of the marrow-bones of hee Goats, or lusty Rammes.

Vitellius or [illeg.] Helliogabalus could not have bid mee better welcome than those charitable minded men did: I mused at it; but at last I considered that his holinesse with all his Cardinals and Clergie, were like Millers, and had toll out of all the kingdomes of Christendome, and that they had Mines of gold and silver in Purgatory, (and it is thought that the Philosophers stone is there,) which was more safely brought into the treasury, than the King of Spaines Ships can come from the West Indies, (for Purgatory is a Country which the Sea-sowsd pickled Hollander never yet discovered.) Indeed we did out-Epicure the Epicure, and made Epicurisme seeme sobriety, both in meat, musicke, perfumes, masques, or any thing that might with delight fill the five senses, or cinqueports of man.

For recreation I went to visit the leane Carthusian Friers, whom I no sooner beheld, but me thought I saw so many Deaths heads, or Memento mories, a man might have told their ribs like so many ragged laths, their looks were almost as sharp as a hatchet; a good Anatomist might have discerned them onely by the eye without incision: For how could it be otherwise with them, that all their whole life time feed upon flegmaticke fish; fish, fish, nothing but fish. Sometimes perhaps they tasted Caviare, [illeg.] Potathoes , or Anchovies, which they renc’d downe with the suds of Sacke: Then they had Almond Butter, a few blew Figges, and Reisins of the Sunne to make up a starveling meale; but I observ’d one thing in this Frier whom I fasted withall, he would eat no poore John, or offer to catch a Ling by the Pole, but he lov’d a well growne Place exceeding wella

Provided, it were well buttered: he never would goe to bed without a Cods head, for Maids hee fed hungerly upon them, but as for Soles hee trod them under his fect. Hee gave me a dish of fish, drest (as he said) with the same oyle that was made of the Olives that grew upon Mount Olivet the last time my great Lord and Master was therea which I beleev’d to be as true as Saint John Baptist had two heads, or Saint Dennis having his owne head cut off, did take it up in his hands and carry it more than a mile. I gave my Frier the hearing, and the eating of some of his fish to boot, but I was very parsimonious and frugall of beleefe, and indeed I could not spare or affoord him any.

At last I grew so bold with him, with whom I dined that day, as to aske him the reason why he and the rest of his order did never eat flesh; he answered me, that it was in honour of S. Peter, because he was a fisherman: by the same substantiall reason, I repli’d you might (for the honor of S. Paul) dwell in Tents, for he was a tent-maker. But there is a great mystery, or misery in it, that men should hold opinion that a man cannot go towards heaven with as good a conscience having the leg or wing of a Capon in his belly, as he might doe with the Cob of a red Herring. For Reuverend Sir, quoth I, you are a carnall man though you eat nothing but fish, for you must understand that there is a flesh of fishes: besides, as there are beasts on the land, so [Note: Corin. 15. ] there is a Sea-horse, a Sea-calfe, a Sea-oxe, and the like; and further you know, That whatsoever goes into the mouth doth not defile the man: but he would not heare on that side, but praied me to feed and stop my mouth of such as the blessed Virgin and the Saints had sent him, (indeed I heard him not talke of God at all.) So my belly being more full of his talke than his cheere, I tooke my leave thankfully of him, bidding him heartily farewell, which he could hardly do[…] having no better diet.


Fashion victims all

In France I found a great deale more meat and lese sawce, but the most part of the Mounsiers were sawcie enough of themselves. Indeed the entertainment I had there, made me halfe amazed; for I thought the people themselves had beene so many sacrifices to me, the men (for the most part) the Gallants I meane, were in the most bitterest of winter cut and slash’d and carbonadoed into Rashers, Collops, Steakes, and Spitchcocks; that it was no more but cast a handfull of salt upon a Gentleman, and hee was ready for the broyling. Their Pride would have out-fac’d the cold of Caucausus; nay, had they beene under the frozen Zone, they would have shewed their linnen thorow the sippers of their sleeves, breasts and sholders, the heat of the fashion warm’d them, although their teeth chatterd in their heads.

The women were well-fac’d creatures, (but like our melancholly Gentlemen, who are in danger of a mancatching Serieant) they seem’d afraid to shew their faces, and therefore they hid their heads in blacke bagges, like Lawyers declarations; the difference is, that the Ladies bagge is silke, and the Lawyers Buckrum. There every Peasant keepes his wife like a Hawke (for they all weare Hoods) and a paire of old English Boots will hood a brace of them from generation to generation: and I observ’d that the miserable Country people durst not eat their owne Beefe or Mutton (except the tripes and offall) for there is a penalty laid upon them if they bring not their best to the Markets, either of Beast or Bird; the Gallant Mounsiers have a prerogative to have all the Geese, Guls, and Woodcocks that the Country yeelds, the Buzzards, Widgeons, and Cuckooes are for the Cities diet onely, but the Partridge, Pheasant and Peacocke are Courtiers.


Gamesters all

I had almost forgotten some particularities which I obserued in Germany, for I perceived they had beene mad Gamesters at vi’d Ruffe almost over all the Empire: the most of them had wrangled and played foule play, for Hypocrisie, and Cruelty cut, Ambition rubd, and Oppression wonne the game, whilest Royall and reall Vertues were meerely cheated and abused: Clubs being trump wanne the Sett by fraud and force, the Spades and Diamonds assisting them, so that the Harts onely suffered, whilest Kingdomes, Principalities, and many faire Lordships lay at stake for’t.

The Dutch and the Puritan weathercock

The Amster-damnified puritan

Descending into the Low-Countries, or Netherlands, the Dutch States feasted mee in state; and comming to Amsterdam, where there are almost as many heresies as Nations, I was indifferently bid welcome by most of the Sectaries, but I was most villainously vs’d (rather abus’d) by a prick-ear’d Puritan, whose beard was warp’d like greene Wainscot, or a capitall S. (I thinke it stood as many wayes as a Sea-mans Compasse.) Hee was a Cobler on Translater by his trade; and comming to him I found his shop open, and he a mending of a bad or wicked soale of a zealous sisters who had often trod awry, and his brotherly function was to patch or peece her upright; but in sincerity I perceived the Cobler was crafty, and wrought altogether to his owne ends. I mused at his little respect of me, because he was at worke, and telling him that I was come to dine with him, and keepe Holy-day: hee ask’d me my name, and I told him my name was Christmas. At the very name of Masse, he leap’d from me like a Squirrell, as nimbly as if he had had neither gut in his belly, or stone in his breech.

And having recovered himselfe, hee stop’d both his eares, for feare my name the second time should strike him: hee told me that the Masse was prophane, and so were all the dayes in the yeare that ended with the word Masse, as Candle-masse, Lam-masse, Michael-masse,, Martle-masse, and that some Papist had beene my Godfather; there|fore he would have nothing to doe with mee. It is abomination (said he) and the mimicke solemnizing of this hellborne superstition was borrowed (or stolne) from the Heathens; therefore there was one said well when hee called the Synagogue, or sinfull Assembly, or frie of Friers at the Masse, the kingdome of Apes, for there is such mopping and mowing, such crossing and creeping, such ducking and nodding, that any reasonable man would thinke they [illeg.] were mad; besides, the Priest hath more postures than six Fencers, as if he were at quarter-staffe with his Breaden god, that I am perswaded the God of heaven hold them in derision, and their Service to be rather masquing or mum|mery than Diuine; therefore, I say, the

Masse is prophane, and so art thou, therefore with me thou gett’st no entertainment.

Thus was poore Christmas welcom’d like Jacke Drum and thrust out of doores; yet I suspected his hypocriticality spake at us invectively against the Masse, that he might (with the more cunning and lesse suspect) defend what was ill in himselfe and be held the more devout, (much like as one Whore or Theefe should revile and scandall another) for howsoever he prated, I thought him a Rascall, that would imploy himselfe about his trade on such a day as was celebrated in the memory of the birth of our glorious Redeemer, God and Man, Jesus Christ, which was the happiest day that mortality ever beheld: for in our Creation God shewed his power, but in our Redemption his unspeakeable love and mercy: therefore this day should bee kept holy in remembrance of him that is the Holy of Holiest. That day wee have escaped any danger, we celebrate with all joy and mirth, and shall this day bee put to prophane uses whereon our inestimable ransome was given us, that on this day put on mortality to make us immortall, that on this blessed day did put off his unspeakable glory, and put on our insupportable misery, thereby to make us eternally glorious; that on this day came to conquer and confound the power of our conquerors, Sinne, Death, and Hell, and to free us from perpetuall malediction.

Saint Austin (that blessed [illeg.] Lamb , and Angelicall Doctor of the Church) did with great thankfulnes celebrate his birthday, saying, Let us so celebrate the day of our births, that wee may give thankes to God who: would have us to be borne that wee might be consecrated to himselfe.

Also Pharaoh and Herod did not omit the celebration of the dayes of their nativities. At the birth of a young Prince the Bels doe clamour the joy of the people, the great Ordnance doe thunder out their reioycings, the Bonefires doe manifest mens fervent affections: Why not then on this happiest day, whereon our chiefest happinesse came, this great day when the Angell of the great Counsell came to make our eternall peace betweene God and man; oh let us then for his sake be merry in God, and charitable to our neighbours, let us feast with thankfulnesse, and [illeg.] releeve 8 with alacrity those impoverish’d members, of whom our glorious Redeemer is the head.

But you Master Confusion the Puritan, who are a Weathercocke, Shittlecocke, a right Laodician, neither hot or cold, fit to be cast out of all good society of Christendome, or to be perpetually Amster-damnified into Holland; your sincerity being void of verity; your Faith vnfruitfull of good works, your Hope Innovation, your Charity Invisible, or like a Noune Adjective, not to be seene, felt, heard, or understood.


In the next instalment; Christmas sums up the issues at hand.


Good Honest Yeoman Fayre



Not sure about the bird, but the pig and sheep fit.

Talk not of goose and capon, give me good beef and bacon

And good bread and cheese at hand:

With pudding, brawn and souse all in a farmer’s house

That is living for the husband-man

‘A Dialogue Between the Husbandman and the Servingman’, a traditional country ballad

Before reaching Whiteladies house, in the early hours of Thursday 4th September 1651, Charles II had fought in a battle, ridden 25 miles through the night and all on very little food (to pick up the full journay see these posts). One account refers to a brief halt at ‘Stourbridge’, where the King ate a chunk of bread and drank a cup of beer, but otherwise he had not eaten. When he arrived on their doorstep, the  Penderel’s had a problem; what do you feed a famished monarch when he turns up at your door in the dead of night?

What the Penderel families did feed Charles is recorded in the various contemporary accounts that were written after the Restoration. Despite some minor differences in detail, the accounts mostly agree on what he ate whilst staying at the Boscobel estate. The food given to the King corresponds with what we know about eating habits of the seventeenth century and were undoubtably included in the story to demonstrate the humble nature of the people that the King relied on. Caught unprepared the Penderel’s gave Charles the best of what they had, or what they could obtain by their own means without causing suspicion. The above ballad spells out exactly what we would expect to find on a good Yeoman’s table: bread, cheese, beef and bacon. All that is missing from that list is trusty mutton. While most of these items are offered to Charles, some are missing and it is the dishes that are missing that tells us more about the Penderels’ circumstances.

The first thing that Charles is fed, after rousing the inhabitants of WhiteLadies, is a cup of sack and some bisket. Biskets were the forerunner of modern biscuits, although recipes indicate that they were longer lasting, hard-wearing, but still sweet (more like modern Biscotti). Sack was a fortified white wine from Spain, and was a common drink.

To make Bisket bread.

Take a pound of flour, and a pound of Sugar beaten, and mingle them together with the Yolks of six Eggs, and the Whites of three Eggs, and Anniseed, Corianderseed, and Carrawaies, of all these half an ounce, and a little Rosewater, to the quantity of half a quarter of half a pint, you must labour all these together with a wooden Ladle, till it be mingled like thick water, and the more you labour it the whiter it will be, and annoint your Coffins or plates with a little melted butter, and so fill it no to full for running over, and so set them into the Oven, and your Oven must be no hotter then to bake a Tart, and they must have as much soaking as Manchet, and then take them out, and cut them thin with a knife in slices and lay them on a sheet of paper, and then put them into the oven to dry till they be hard like Bisket bread.

Natura Exenterata, Philiatros, 1655

It is Mrs Giffard who brings the sack and bisket to Charles, this would make sense, as it is likely to have been a dish of higher standard than the Penderels would normally have to hand. When he is out of Whiteladies the King doesn’t get bisket and sack again. In one account, (An Exact Narrative), Richard Penderel is sent off to buy more sack and bisket, which might imply that even the Giffords didn’t have a large supply.

The most common meal that is referred to in the narratives is cheese and bread. Charles is given cheese and bread at Boscobel House, while he is in the Boscobel Oak, and in some of the accounts, it is also what he eats at Hubbal Grange. As is indicated in the ballad quoted at the top of the post, cheese and bread were a staple part of the diet of ordinary folk. Many yeoman household would have a side building for either brewing or dairy production, or both. This would keep the family in cheese, but could also provide a surplus to sell at market.

While Charles shivered in Spring Coppice he is a brought  a ‘Messe of Milk, Eggs and Sugar in a black earthen Cup’. Scrambled eggs anyone? The meal of last resort when the fridge is bare. I can’t find a recipe specifically for a ‘Messe’ of eggs, I’m assuming this is because as it is such a basic dish that putting in a recipe book would have seemed ridiculous. I’ve had similar problems looking for Seventeenth Century descriptions of cuts of meat, one recipe book specifically saying that it won’t list them as everyone knows what they are. I have, however, found a recipe containing similar ingredients, an omelet:

To make an Amalet.

Take ten eggs, and more then half the whites, beat them very well, and p… in a spoonfull or two of cream, then heat some butter in your frying pan, and when it is hot put in your eggs and stir them a little, then fry them till you find they are enough; and a little before you put them out of the pan, turn both the sides over that the may meet in the middle, and lay it the bottome upward in the dish serve it in wit verjuice, butter and sugar.

Next on the list of food from the Husbandman’s ballad is bacon. In one account the King is given a ‘Fricasse of Bacon and Eggs’ in Richard Penderel’s house. Whether it was referred to by the Penderel’s as a fricasse, we don’t know, but it is unlikely. Fricasses were generally considered fanciful, French dishes at this time. However, bacon was certainly eaten by husbandmen, indeed it was more associated with the poorer end of the class scale. This appearance of bacon is the only reference to the Penderels having meat near at hand. The appearance of  another staple meat also prompts us to consider what the Penderel’s diet says about their social position.

One of the more awkward moments of Charles’ time with the Penderels occurs toward the end of his stay, straddling the Saturday and Sunday. It is a scene often considered to portray Charles’ common touch, but in fact it goes to show the gulf that separates him and the Penderel family. This is the best account:

After supper Colonel Carlis asked his majesty what meat he would please to have provided for the morrow, being Sunday; his majesty desired some mutton, if it might be had. But it was thought dangerous for William to go to any market to buy it, since his neighbours all knew he did not use to buy such for his own diet, and so it might beget a suspicion of his having strangers at his house. But the colonel found another expedient to satisfy his majesty’s desires. Early on Sunday morning he repairs to Mr. Wm. Staunton’s sheepcoat, who rented some of the demeans of Boscobel; here he chose one of the best sheep, sticks him with his dagger, then sends William for the mutton, who brings him home on his back.

As soon as the mutton was cold, William cut it up and brought a leg of it into the parlour; his majesty called for a knife and a trencher, and cut some of it into collops, and pricked them with a knife point, then called for a frying-pan and butter, and fried the collops himself, of which he eat heartily; Colonel Carlis the while being but under cook, and that honour enough too, made the fire and turned the collops in the pan.

Thomas Blount, Boscobel

It’s a great passage; surreal, gruesome and amusing. By asking for mutton no doubt the King thought he was choosing a humble dish, well he was certainly polite enough not to ask for venison or swan. It is immediately clear that mutton does not usually appear on the Penderel’s diet, to the extent that Richard Penderel marching into town and buying mutton would immediately have raised suspicion. Even the way in which they cooked the meat would have been alien to the brothers and their family, meat was for roasting not cutting up into callops and sizzling in a pan. Is it odd that this staple of yeoman fayre, is absent? It’s also worth noting that the great defining meat of the Yeoman, Beef, is not mentioned in relation to the Penderels at all.

Richard Penderel took his Yeoman status seriously, as we would expect, but it appears that the Penderel family, in their diet at least, were not at the higher end of the social scale. Yeoman they may have been, but they ate like husbandmen. Charles never once complained about the food he was given, though surely it was rough pickings compared to what he was used to. He is gracious throughout, referring to the mess of eggs it is recorded that;

the King guessed to be Milk and Apples, and said, he loved it very well; after he gave the rest to George and bid him eat it; for it was very good.

Food fit for a King after all.


Christmas Pickles and Chutney: a Mini Post

Back in September I posted a Seventeenth Century recipe for pickles (see post here). The final products are ready for tasting and preparing as presents, so I thought I’d share the finished products here. They taste pretty good, but I’d only recommend shallots if you like your pickles strong *dabs the pickle sweats from forehead*. Continue reading