Elizabethan Food Presentation - the Visual Effect
It was important that Elizabethan Food prepared for the nobility, especially for feasts and banquets had a great visual effect. Elizabethans enjoyed a a variety of serving methods, colors and various 'props'. Peacocks were reared for consumption but their feathers were used to decorate cooked foods. Strange and unusual shapes were used in food presentation. The old English Nursery Rhyme "Sing a song of sixpence' contains the phrase 'four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie'. It was quite probable that a court jester may well have suggested to the court cook to bake a pie pastry crust and place this over some live blackbirds to surprise and amuse the nobility.
Purchasing Elizabethan Food
Elizabethan Food was generally purchased from small markets and from fairs. In large cities like London there were specific markets which sold either fish, dairy products or fruit and vegetables. Meat was sold at large livestock markets.
Elizabethan Food - Cooking Methods
Elizabethan food was prepared by several cooking methods:
- Spit roasting
Elizabethan Food - Cooking Utensils
A large amount of Elizabethan cooking was conducted over an open flame. Useful cooking utensils for this method of cooking Elizabethan food were pots, pans, kettles, skillets and cauldrons. To prepare the food a range of knives, ladles, meat forks and scissors were used. Instead of a baking tin, Elizabethan cooks used a baking tray made of hardened pastry, which was unnervingly called a ‘coffin’. The mortar and pestle were essential cooking utensils for cooks who used nuts spices in their recipes. Each cook kept a book of their own recipes.
Elizabethan Convenience Food?
Did people in the Elizabethan era have convenience food? Yes. Biscuits were invented by the Crusaders. The 'Ploughman's Lunch' of bread and cheese was a staple diet of Lower Class workers. Communal ovens were available in villages for baking. And pastries and pies were sold as was ready cooked roasted meat. A day out at the London Theatre, or a fair, would bring in a good trade in convenience foods.
Water was not clean in the Middle Ages and people therefore drank wine and ale. The rich drank both and the poor just drank ale. Honey was used to make a sweet alcoholic drink called mead which was drunk by all classes. Wine was generally imported although some fruit wines were produced in England. A form of cider referred to as 'Apple-wine' was also produced. Ales were brewed with malt and water, while beer contained hops that held a bitter flavor. Other flavors were added to ales and beers such as bayberries, orris, or long pepper. Consumption of weak, low-alcohol drinks at this time has been estimated at around one gallon per person per day.