From Shakespeare Festivals: A Manual by Louise Newlin  Folger Shakespeare Library




Authentic Elizabethan recipes, even when moderni zed, are often very time-consuming.           If you or your students are particulary interested in culinary research, trying out such dishes can be fascinating. A few of the simpler recipes for cookies appear on the following pages. Those with real culinary ambitions can consult the cookbooks listed in the bibliography under "Food and Festivities."


However, considerations of practicality lend us to suggest that the simplest approach is often to make a twentieth-century equivalent and call  it by a 16th-century name.


First, here are some suggestions for food to pass or sell in an intermission, or in a Renaissance fair setting:


Hot Cross Buns


Oranges - Great delicacies during the 16th century


"Shropshire cakes" - Shortbread, flavored with nutmeg, cut into rounds, a diamond-pattern traced with a fork on the dough


"Pasties" - What we would call turnovers, or South Americans call empanadas, filled with flavored ground meat, or minced chicken, in a savory sauce


"Spice cakes" - Gingerbread, in rounds or squares


TO DRINK: Mulled cider - Warm cider, flavored with cinnamon and nutmeg; "posset" - eggnog with cloves, cinnamon, ginger



Next, for a sit-down banquet, the following dishes would do:


First course: Cheese with bread trenchers. French or Italian style bread, baked in large rounds, and cut in half so that the bottom half--the "lower crust"--serves as a plate, or "trencher ." Only the "upper crust" is eaten. (The uneaten trenchers would have been given to the poor in Shakespeare 's day .)


Main Course: This could be mince pie; or "savoury tongue pie," or thick mutton (lamb) stew; or "smothered rabbit"--rabbit stew; or beef or turkey breast in pastry; or turkey legs roasted with salt, pepper and paprika .


Dessert: "Quaking pudding"--a variety of floating island; or  Syllabub--a light custard, made with heavy cream and flavored with sherry and white wine



Shrewsbury Cakes (Cookies)


To make Shrewsbury Cakes: Take a quart of very fine flower (sic), eight ounces of fine sugar beaten and cersed [sieved], twelve ounces of sweete butter, a Nutmegge grated, two or three spoonefuls of damaske rose-water, worke all these together with your hands as hard as you can for the space of half an houre, then roule it in little round Cakes, about the thicknesse of three shillings one upon another, then take a silver Cup or glasse some foure or three inches over, and cut the cakes in them, then strowe some flower upon white papers & lay them upon them, and make . them in an Oven as hot as for Manchet, set up your lid [keep the oven door closed] till you may tell a hundreth [count to one hundred slowly], then you shall see them white, if any of them rise up, clap them downe with some cleane thing, and if your Oven be not too hot set up your lid again, and ina a quarter of an hour they will be baked enough, but in any case take heede your Oven be not too hot, for they must not looke browne but white, and so draw them foorth & lay them one upon another till they be could, and you may keep them halfe a year, the new baked are best.


Reprinted from Dining with William Shakespeare by Madge Lorwin (see bibliography).


For the 20th-century "working version," see below .


Shrewsbury Cakes- a 20th c. version


1/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup butter

1 cup sifted unbleached flour 1 1/2 teaspoons nutmeg

1/2 tablespoon rose water


Cream the sugar and butter together until fluffy. Sift the flour with the nutmeg . Add the rose water to the sugar-butter mixture and stir in the dry ingredients only until blended; then chill the dough for 10 minutes. Sprinkle your work surface with flour and turn the dough out onto it. Pat the dough into a ball, then roll it out gently to 1/4 inch thick.


Cut out the cakes with a 2 or 3-inch round cookie cutter. Place them on an unbuttered cookie sheet an inch apart and bake at 350 until slightly brown around the edges--from 12 to 15 minutes.

Cool on a wire grill and store in an airtight tin.



"Lemon Breads"

Makes about 16 cookies 3/4 cup sugar

1 egg white

Zest of 1 lemon, grated 1 teaspoon lemon juice


Pre-heat the oven to 300


In a mixing bowl, combine sugar, egg white, lemon zest, and juice.        Blend together at medium speed until mixture is white, thick, and creamy, about 10 minutes. Note: the sugar will not dissolve completely.


Drop the mixture by rounded teaspoons onto a buttered baking sheet. Bake until cookies are golden in the center, about 25 minutes. Transfer to a rack and cool thoroughly before serving.     Store in an airtight container. (From Le Cuisiner Francais by Francois Pierre de la Varenne, 1651.)



Maids of Honor:              


These tartlets were a favorite dessert of Henry VIII's. They are easy to make and delicious.


Make a crust for a one-crust pie, cut into 2" circles, and line a muffin tin with them to make 10-12 tart shells.


Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F.


In a medium -sized bowl, combine 2/3 cup ground, blanched almonds; 1/2 cup sugar, and 1 1/2 tablespoons of cornstarch; mix well.


Place 1 teaspoon (scant) red current jelly in the bottom of each uncooked tart shell; then spoon the batter evenly into the shells, taking care to completely cover the jelly and leaving a small crust around the top of the tart.


Bake 30 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and springs back gently when touched. Do not overbake.


Let cool in pans. The remove and decorate with whipped cream and whole almonds. Makes 10-12 servings.


(From McCall's Introduction to British Cooking Galahad Books, NY, 1972.)


More Links:


·  Twelfth Night, the Holiday (Wikipedia)

·  Sugar Cakes Old Elizabethan Dessert Recipe

·  Elizabethan Dessert Recipes to Sweeten the Gathering (from To The Queen’s Taste, Elizabethan Feasts and Recipes  adapted for Modern Cooking by Lorna J. Sass)

·  Elizabethan and Tudor Recipes (Celt Net)

·  Elizabethan Desserts (Caterer)