Food & Drink: The Art of Tudor Feasting; despite What We May Think, Dining in Tudor Times Was Far from a Coarse Affair. in Fact, There Were Definite Rules Which Ensured That Eating Was Done Correctly, Says Cate Wilson
Wilson, Cate, The Birmingham Post (England)
Preparing a large dinner party can certainly be a headache. Sorting out a menu, going shopping, followed by endless chopping and simmering can prove stressful for even the most organised host.
But spare a thought for chefs in Tudor times, when a feast could take the whole day to prepare and would typically include six courses.
The sit-down meal for up to 300 guests would include fresh soup, three or four roasts, a game course, jellies, fruit and cheese.
The common view of Tudor England is that dining was a coarse affair involving ripping legs off fowl, wolfing down mouthfuls of meat and tossing the bones over your well-padded shoulders.
But according to food historian Peter Brears, who has written a book on Tudor dining, that image is far from accurate.
He says: "For the Tudor upper classes, dining was a sophisticated pastime involving elaborate food displays, high quality produce and elegant table manners.
"The view we have has been learned from inaccurate film portrayals of Henry VIII and his raucous banquets, but it is a false one. Many of the traditions we enjoy at dinner parties today began in Tudor times."
Although the Tudors ruled Britain between 1457 and 1603, the period is defined by the reign of Henry VIII (1491-1547). It was he who built Hampton Court Palace on the outskirts of London and who introduced the practice of fine dining to England with his 500-strong feasts.
Food was highly regionalised, with people in the north mainly eating beef, mutton, porridge and oatcakes. In the south, foods such as rye bread and salt cake would be popular, while coastal dwellers would substitute fish for meat.
In all households, meals were taken twice a day but at different times depending on the season.
In large homes, it was the last meal of the day which was the main event, particularly if company was expected. Work in the kitchens at Hampton Court would begin at about 5am, when animals needed for the afternoon meal would be slaughtered and then immersed in boiling water to kill any bacteria.
Main course roasts would be cooked on a large skewer over a spit while game birds would be trussed to a spit, so that the cooking process would not ruin the appearance of the bird. This is because game was served dressed, where the bird was skinned before cooking and then the plumage re-applied before serving.
A large house such as Hampton Court would also have had out-kitchens, such as bakehouses, brewing cellars and a buttery, where food would be made away from the hot preparation areas of the main kitchens.
Peter Brears says: "The Tudors were fanatical about food hygiene and kept all food separate during cooking and storage.
"They were also very regimented in how they ate, down to where people sat, what utensils they used and the order and content of the courses. …