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Food, Drink, and Etiquette in Elizabethan Times
Transcript of Food, Drink, and Etiquette in Elizabethan Times
By: Hanna Novobilski and Toni Labrise
During the Elizabethan Era, social class ruled what you ate and drank. The wealthy ate big, nutritious meals, whereas the lower class scavenged, and purchased what they could. Even in a year with plenty of crops, malnutrition was never somewhat eliminated throughout the lower class.
A common meal for lower class citizens would look somewhat similar to this.
A dish for upper class citizens Elizabethan times looked similar to this.
During the Elizabethan period, food was determined by social class. The wealthy ate mainly meat, which underwent many cookings. Meat was usually fried, boiled, then roasted. Meat that was just roasted would be marinated first before cooking. Fruit and fish were also preset during dinner (lunch) or supper. Breakfast was usually a very small meal. Some people didn't even have breakfast, but for those who did, it would be something along the lines of porridge, or even leftovers from previous meals. Breakfast wasn't usually a sit down meal, but if eaten, it would be more like a snack. Some people, on the other hand did have a larger breakfast, but that was not as common.
Elizabethan breakfast was a very small meal, if even eaten. Some people decided not to have breakfast and wait for dinner (lunch) instead. Those who did eat, usually had more of a snack rather than a meal. There were few people who ate a large breakfast, but for those who did, it would consist of bread with cheese and, or butter, fruit, porridge, with ale and or wine.
Dinner was served somewhere in between 11am to noon. For average citizens, it would be the largest meal in the day, whereas upper class people had their largest meal at supper. The main course of would include some form of meat, with vegetables, (similar to the picture below).
Supper was the last meal in the day, served around 6 to 9pm. In an average Elizabethan household, there would be one main course as the meal. For wealthy citizens, dinner consisted of several courses, however numerous dishes were served- in not just the homes of the wealthy- on holidays or holy days. In the homes of the wealthy, dinner contained a source of meat, for example, chicken, lamb, pig, goose, veal, or beef, and was served with stew or soup. Fruit, cheese or bead was given at the end of the meal, and dessert was served in each course rather than at the end.
Meat during the Elizabethan Era
Meat played a huge part in Elizabethan meals. as it was served at all meals (not including breakfast) Which usually were preserved by being smoked. Elizabethans ate many varieties of meat, such as:
seafood (was usually smoked or pickled)
Snacks & Dessert
Throughout the day, Elizabethans ate their main meals, but as a snack they would often have a slice of bread, or leftovers from a previous meal. Dessert was severed at dinner within each course, rather than at the end. These desserts included:
Pie (commonly stuffed with meat)
Compared to today, food preparation was highly primitive. Foods were mainly boiled, roasted or baked. Boiling was very popular, and the simplest cooking method. Meats that had to be boiled were placed on hot coals, or on a fire. Foods that needed to be baked were placed in a brick oven that was usually located outside. Roasting was the most labor intensive preparation, because the meat was on spit, or steak that had to constantly be turned to ensure the meat was cooking thoroughly.
A common method to preserve food during the Elizabethan Era was pickling, which was used on fish or vegetables. Fruits, and beans were dried to last longer. Meats were smoked or salted, and salting was used to preserve butter as well.
Lower Class Diets
The poor didn't maintain a well balanced diet. When a wealthy family was finished with a meal, the leftovers were given to servants, and then outside the home to be distributed to the destitute. A normal meal for the lower class would mainly contain:
walnuts or chestnuts
Upper Class Diets
The wealthy always ate nutritious meals, that contained a form of meat or seafood, vegetables, fruit, and bread. They had the luxury of being well fed, and eating expensive foods that the lower class could never afford. Their suppers consisted of several courses, and was the largest feast of the day. They also enjoyed foods such as:
tripe (cow's stomach)
During Lent, people were supposed to give up eating meat, which now wasn't a requirement due to England being a Protestant country. However, Queen Elizabeth made it a requirement in order to support seafood sale. This rule was to be applied on Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and holy days. The Queen didn't participate in the no meat law, but everyone on the royal court as well, banned meat on the fasting days.
During the Elizabethan Era, lower class plates were square blocks of wood hollow out for the food to be placed on. The upper class would most likely own plates made of silver or other metal. Bowls were made of wood for lower class citizens, and a special tray like plate was set out to collect bones and other scraps from the meal. Beverages were poured from jugs made of wood, pewter, or for the upper class, metal. Spoons were made of wood, or for the wealthy, silver. Knives were made of steel, with wooden handles. They had to be maintained to prevent rusting and becoming dull. Usually knives weren't even necessary, because cooks for the upper class would cut the food in the kitchen or on the dish.
Drinks during the Elizabethan Era
Due to poor sanitation, water was not the healthiest beverage for numerous reasons. Sewage wasn't properly dealt with so many diseases and bacteria could easily infect the drinking water. Due to this, ale, beer, and wine were very common drinks during this time. Beer was cheaper than ale, and didn't spoil quickly, which made it the most popular drink.
Alcoholic beverages were drank by adults, as well as kids, and was drunk with every meal of the day. Wine making wasn't common in Elizabethan England due to the grapes it produced not being favorable in wine making. England resulted in importing wine from other countries, such as Italy, in order to get their hands on a bottle. The cost of wine was expensive, but the upper class was able to afford it. On average, imported wine would cost around 12 times as much as ale would.
Like meat, vegetables were a main part of Elizabethan meals. Due to this, many houses had a garden to grow crops year round. Some of these plants were:
Gardening (Part 2)
Fruits were severed as dessert and at the end of meals, which is why some people decided to plant them in their gardens:
grapes (couldn't be used to produce wine)
During the Elizabethan Era, spices were a factor in wealth status. At the time, spices were very expensive and had to be imported from great distances away which was a reason why the price was extremely high. People decided to depend on their homegrown spices rather than buy them imported. Homegrown spices included:
Proper etiquette during this Elizabethan period was highly important. Before meal was served, children, or servants would pass around a pitcher of water to wash their hands in. After that, a prayer was said and the meal began. A man was to keep his hat on the table, unless in the presence of someone in a higher ranking than him. Napkins were placed on their laps, and you must wipe your mouth before drinking. Children were taught not to chew on bones, or with their mouth open.
An Elizabethan family praying before a meal
A water pitcher like this was used to clean your hands before and after a meal.
Only the wealthy could afford to have servants. They were in charge of attending to their master's needs, for example delivering food to the table. Servants were responsible for bringing a refill to a drink or dish. After a meal, whatever was left was given to the servants to eat.
Etiquette in Children
Children were responsible for serving their elders before themselves.At the table, they must chew with their mouths closed, and not wear a hat, out of respect for their parents/family. After a meal, they would clear the dishes off the table, and the food as well.
Setting the Table
It was the servants' job to set the table, first with a table cover. After that, the plates and the silverware were placed. It wasn't uncommon in the Elizabethan Era for guests to bring their own silverware. The napkin would be placed on top of the plate, the utensils on the right, and the bread to the left.
Usually after a meal, the family/guests would pray, and was their hands again. People would then clean their teeth with a toothpick, behind a napkin, or turned away from the table. After the guests leave the table, servants or children would clean up.
Manners played a huge role in Elizabethan society. Children were often sent away to get an education, and learn proper manners, and returned before they were in their teens. Men would remove their capes or hats before sitting down at the table. He would offer his right hand in order to offer a lady to dance, or to give something to someone.
When at a host's house, one would not eat a great amount of food. They must still pray before meals, wash their hands, place napkins in their laps, and remove hats at the table. A guest would eat only with their right hand, chew slowly, and with their mouth closed. Guests weren't allowed to eat before everyone else was served, and it wasn't proper to touch someone else's food or plate.
It was considered highly impolite to chew with one's mouth open. Also, at the table a guest should not drag from the serving plate to their own, or chew on bones and or suck the marrow out of them. A guest should also not dip their bread in sauce or juice on their plate, talk while they eat, or lick their fingers.
More Dining Etiquette
After washing your hands, a guest should dry them with a towel, not flick the water off. It was considered impolite to stick your hand in the bowl or dish that everyone else ate out of, or put too much food in your mouth at once. While taking bread, it was rude to take the center of the bread, and leave the crust for everyone else.
A man offers his right hand in order to shake a women's hand.
The food you ate was a sign of what social class you belonged to. Rich citizens ate expensive meats, spices, fruits, desserts, and vegetables. On the other hand, lower class people ate the cheapest foods they could find, such as bread and butter. In most cases, they had to find leftovers, or scraps to eat because they couldn't afford to buy most foods.
Sanitary conditions made water a hazardous drink during the Elizabethan Era. Beer, ale, and wine were common, but wine was an expensive import. To have wine was considered a luxury, which only the wealthy could afford.
Manner standards where very high compared to today's. Children served their parents and elders in the average household, but in the house's of the upper class, servants did it for them, and cleaned up afterward. Men bowed to a lady, offered his right hand to her and ate with his right hand. Women, children, and men were to remove their hats or capes at the table.
Everything during the Elizabethan era was determined by your social class. For example, the types of food you ate, if you had servants, the type of silverware and dishes you had, and what drinks you could afford.
Singman, Jeffrey L.. "Chapter 7/Food and Drink." Daily Life in Elizabethan England. Westport (Connecticut): Greenwood, 1995. N. pag. Print.
Black, Maggie. Küchengeheimnisse Des Mittelalters. Würzburg: Flechsig, 1998. Print.