I’m often asked whether I would like to travel back in time as my characters do, and the answer is always no. Of course it would be fascinating to see what life was really like in the sixteenth century, but, ugh, the food …! I love to eat, and I have to say that there is nothing about the Tudor diet that appeals to me at all.
I spend a lot of time thumbing through recipe books like Gervase Markham’s The English Housewife or The Good Housewife’s Jewel by Thomas Dawson, both of whom explain how to cook a wide variety of dishes – none of them appetizing!
It’s not easy to choose out of the many disgusting dishes on offer in these books, but here are the five dishes that I would least like to be offered:
A fricassee of tripes
A blancmange made with mashed capon brains (yum)
Roast cow’s udder
Tart of an ear of veal
Stewed lamb’s head, heart, liver and lungs (its purtenance).
(Recipe included below in case you would like to impress your guests by trying this at home.)
Recipe included in case you would like to impress your guests by trying this at home.
I have to admit that it’s impressive how little of an animal was wasted by Elizabethan cooks, but when it comes to writing historical fiction, you can take authenticity too far. If a dish sounds too revolting for a modern reader’s taste, it will jerk them out of the story, so I always make sure that my characters cook dishes that sound at least vaguely palatable. When Jane cooks a dish to disguise the ‘spell’ she has been given by the wise woman on the common in The Edge of Dark, I followed Thomas Dawson’s recipe for a capon boiled in white broth with almonds.
Jane set the maids to readying the rest of the meal and prepared a small dish of capon boiled in a white broth with her own hands. She simmered a capon with prunes, dates and raisins, and boiled up almonds for a broth. In the still room, she strained the spell and carried the wine through to the kitchen and, at the very last minute, when no one was looking, she poured it into the broth. Her heart was jumping in her throat, fast and hard.
It was done.