Elizabeth Ist coat of arms

Elizabethan Food Availability

Queen Elizabeth Ist

"Queen Elizabeth Ist"

Elizabethan Food Availability

What food was available to the people of England during the Elizabethan era? Home grown produce was used to feed the majority of English people. Poor harvests, such as those which occurred in the 1590's, had a bad effect on the economy and a devastating effect on the people which led to starvation in some areas.

The booming wool trade had changed the face of English agriculture and the land enclosures led to an increase in the number of people living in poverty and the introduction of the 1601 Poor Law. The food available to the Elizabethan Upper Classes differed considerable to the food available to the lower classes.

Elizabethan Food - Meats available
Elizabethan food included a vast range of different meat . The meats included venison, beef, pork, veal, goat, lamb, rabbit, hare, mutton, swans, herons and poultry. Chickens were believed to have been introduced to England by the Romans. Only Lords and Nobles were allowed to hunt deer, boar, hares and rabbits. The punishment for poaching could result in death or having hands cut off.

Elizabethan Food - Fish available
Elizabethan food also included a vast range of different fish. The range of fish included herring, salmon, eel, whiting, plaice, cod, trout and pike. Shell fish also featured in Elizabethan food and included crab, oysters, mussels and cockles. Only the Upper Classes benefited from this vast range of food. They also enjoyed various spices imported from abroad.

Elizabethan Food - Bread
The main parts of the basic diet in the Elizabethan England time were bread, meat and fish. Bread was the most important component of the diet during the Elizabethan era. The Upper Classes ate Manchet, a bread loaf made of wheat flour. The Lower Classes ate rye and barley bread. Different types of bread made from wheat were as follows:

  • Manchet - Fine White Bread
  • Cheat or wheaten bread - Coarse texture, grey in color
  • Ravelled Bread - containing less of the pure substance of the wheat
  • Brown or Black bread
Elizabethan Food - Dairy Products
The dairy products produced in the Elizabethan era included milk, cream, butter and cheese. Milk was used as an Elizabethan beverage and cream, curds, whey, butter and cheese was a by-product of this basic commodity. Strawberries and cream was on the menu in Elizabethan England. Eggs were also consumed. Butter was stored in wooden barrels called firkins but only used by the Upper Classes for cooking food. Several types of cheese was available. Hard cheeses were made from skimmed mild, soft cheeses were made from whole milk. All of these dairy products were deemed inferior foods and therefore only to be eaten by the poor.

Elizabethan Food - Vegetables
The term "vegetable" was used only rarely during the Elizabethan era. Instead the term "herb" covered all green plants, roots and herbs. Food items which came from the ground were only are considered fit for the poor. Only vegetables such as rape, onions, garlic and leeks graced a Noble's table.

Elizabethan Food
Elizabethan Era Index

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