Happy Belated Birthday, Bill Shakespeare

Happy Belated Birthday, Bill Shakespeare

Shakespeare, as closely as we can determine was likely born just before April 25, 1564. We can say with some certainty that he was baptized on April 26 — so Happy Belated Birthday, Bard!

The Shakesperean and Elizabethan era was one marked by some pretty interesting culinary phenomena, so to celebrate this great English poet’s birthday, here are five facts about cooking and eating in the time of Macbeth and Hamlet.

Cooking with Shakespeare: fun and informative (Image: CLIO Books).

Cooking with Shakespeare: fun and informative (Image: CLIO Books).

  • Some salads at Elizabethan aristocratic dinner tables were merely for show, a cook’s culinary tour de force: vegetables and fruits would be cut and displayed in a¬† sorts of interesting shapes, twisted and knotted to form the shapes of birds and wild beasts — and never eaten.
  • Roasted peacock was also served, often as a final course: the peacock was slaughtered, skinned whole, roasted and then dressed back up in its skin (which might not have been too, too sanitary) before it was stood up on a platform and brought before the quests — perhaps even with flames coming from its mouth. Weird.

 

Elizabethan cauliflower dish (Photo: WREats).

Elizabethan cauliflower dish (Photo: WREats).

  • Many Elizabethan cooks did not like salted, preserved beef: one author called salted beef best for use as an umbrella. A better method for preserving beef, it was suggested, was to put it in barrels and drag it through the salty ocean. It was unlikely that that method caught on.
  • Commoners in Shakespeare’s England had a very early breakfast — at four a.m. or so — that consisted of bread, cheese or porridge and ale.
  • Butter was often eaten on its own — like we eat ice cream today.

For more on medieval English food, visit Cooking with Shakespeare (Greenwood Press, 2008)

 

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