Saturday, April 30, 2011

Food and Cookbooks in 17th-Century England & Her Colonies

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Transition from the 1500s to the 1600s

Cookery Books

The late 1500s was the first time that cookery books began to be published on a regular basis. Many of these books concentrated on the 'secrets' of the wealthy - the confectioneries and remedies hidden in the closets of noblewomen, a powerful selling point in this period. Increasingly these books were aimed at women, as is revealed by titles such as The Good Huswifes Jewell. However, it is estimated that only between 5 and 10 percent of women were literate at this time - add to this the fact that the books were expensive commodities (as were the ingredients for the recipes), and it seems likely that the market for these books was confined to a small affluent area of society.

A turbulent century for England and her colonies

This was an era of war, fire, plague and execution - and it was a period in which English cultural life was transformed. The dissolution of the monasteries in the 1530s had led to new land ownership, and consequently to a new class of non-aristocratic landowners. The power battles between this new class and the monarchy would lead to civil war, to the execution of King Charles I, to a decade (the 1650s) of a Commonwealth government under Oliver Cromwell, and finally to the restoration of the monarchy under Charles II in 1660.

Rich appetites

Despite this political turbulence, the new class of landowners was here to stay. And, as is typical, new wealth led to new markets and new ways to spend money. Towns became increasingly fashionable, and began to bulge with spending opportunities. London became the richest source of luxury foodstuffs in the country.

Throughout the century there was a growing fascination for food from mainland Europe. It is likely that this was fuelled by political events, such as the marriage of Charles I to the French princess Henrietta Maria in 1625, the forced exile in France and Holland of many supporters of the royalist cause during the Commonwealth, and Charles II's marriage to the Portuguese princess Catherine of Braganza in 1662. In any case, foreign food was all the rage. Samuel Pepys was extremely impressed to learn that his friend the Earl of Sandwich intended to employ a French chef, writing in his diary that the Earl had 'become a perfect courtier'. While the Great Fire of London raged, Pepys wrote of his feverish attempts to save his possessions, scrambling in panic for his bottles of wine and his parmesan cheese, all of which he buried safely in his garden.

Foreign flavours

French cuisine enlivened the English palate, flavouring its food with anchovies, capers and wine, and introducing coulis, roux, ragouts and fricass├ęs. Fancy French dishes were nicknamed kickshaws, after 'quelquechose', the French word for 'something'. The influence of the Continent brought a greater taste for savoury dishes, and less of the traditional combinations of sweet and sour flavours. Thanks to the Europeans, the English realised that it was perfectly safe to eat raw fruit and vegetables, and began to enjoy salads with their meals. The first English coffee house was opened in London in 1652 by Pasqua Rosee, a servant to a Turkish merchant, who brought from Turkey his ingredients and his expertise. The drink became a huge hit, as did the coffee houses, which swarmed with fashionable social life throughout the century.

Nonetheless, traditional English food retained its popularity - the English still greedily tucked into their cakes, pies and puddings. Even after the death of Charles I (1652) there was strong nostalgia for pre-war royal traditions, and many recipes were tinged by a reverence for this faded glory.

Cookery Books

The reign of Oliver Cromwell sparked a renewed interest in the customs of the old aristocracy, and cookery books appeared to be opening magical doors onto the glittering secrets of the wealthy.

Following the fall of the monarchy, many distinguished chefs lost their jobs, and this is likely to be the reason for the sudden wave of new cookery books at this time - these professionals would have been searching for new ways to make money. The political situation also meant that many people were moving up the social scale. It is therefore in this century that cookery books begin to instruct those unfamiliar with the etiquette of the wealthy, guiding them on subjects such as bills of fare, or servant behavior.

Although most 17th century cookery books were written by men, many of the recipes found in the books were originally devised by women. Gervase Markham, for example, admits in his book Countrey Contentments that the book's recipes were originally concocted by an 'honourable countess'. It was not uncommon for male cookery book writers to transcribe recipes found in unpublished manuscripts, many of which were written by aristocratic women, who would have had regular access to key ingredients. It is estimated that only around 10 percent of women were literate in the mid 17th century, and many were only taught to read, and not to write.

From the British Library.
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Saturday, April 23, 2011

Queen Ann Stuart 1665-1714 - Ruler of Early Virginia Colony

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"Anne Stuart was an unlikely person to become queen of England. She was born on February 6, 1665 to the Duke and Duchess of York and was their second daughter out of three children. Shortly before her birth, her uncle, King Charles II, had married and seemed destined to have a large family after fathering several illegitimate children. But he had no more children. As Anne grew older she would be plagued by numerous health problems, but she survived to adulthood. She only received a limited education, yet Anne would reign during a critically important period in her nation's history. During her reign she would oversee two major events in English history, one domestic and one foreign. The first being the Act of Union that united England and Scotland. The second was a major international war, the War of Spanish Succession. Best remembered as the last of the Stuart dynasty Anne had no heirs. The events of her reign would pave the way for Britain to become an international world power.

"Although born into royalty, her education was similar to that of other aristocratic girls: languages and music. Her knowledge of history was limited and she received no instruction in civil law or military matters that most male monarchs were expected to have. She was also a sickly child, and may have suffered from the blood disease porphyria, as well as having poor vision and a serious case of smallpox at the age of twelve. Poor health would plague Anne her entire life, probably contributing to her many miscarriages.

"Anne grew up in an atmosphere of controversy. Her father James, the Duke of York, and both her mother and later her stepmother were Roman Catholic. They would have preferred to raise Anne and Mary (their only children to survive early childhood) as Roman Catholics. Nevertheless, prominent Protestants, such as Henry Compton, later bishop of London, interceded and ensured the girls would not only be required to attend Protestant services but that they also receive Protestant religious instruction.

"Anne's life dramatically changed when the Lord Treasurer and Earl of Danby, in an attempt to strengthen his influence with King Charles II, arranged the marriage of Anne's sister, Mary, to William of Orange. Their father, the Duke of York, had wanted to wed Mary to the heir to the French throne, a Roman Catholic. Danby persuaded by the King to allow the marriage to William, a Dutch Protestant and an enemy of France, thus straining the close relationship between Anne and Mary. Anne married Prince George of Denmark. This was an arrangement Anne's father negotiated in secret with sponsorship by King Louis XIV of France, who hoped for a Anglo-Danish alliance against William of Orange and the Dutch. No such alliance would ever materialize.

"Her husband did not affect Anne's position as he remained politically weak and inactive, suffering from a drinking problem. Prince George's influence in matters of state would remain small throughout their marriage. The relationship he had with Anne was a close one and she loved him deeply, however, their marriage was saddened by Anne's twelve miscarriages and the fact that none of their other five children reached adulthood.

"When King Charles II died in 1686, Anne's father became King James II. His Roman Catholicism and his desire to rule without Parliament's input caused Parliament to call on William of Orange and Mary to take the throne, in the Glorious Revolution of 1688. This revolution created a constitutional, limited monarchy in England, where elected representatives, not a dynastic monarch, truly ruled. Interestingly, later Queen Anne became the last British monarch to veto an act of Parliament. Anne supported the revolution and opposed her father.

"Mary allowed her husband to rule, and neither got along with Anne during their reign. But since they never had children, after Mary died, followed by William, in 1702, the throne then passed to Anne. The Settlement Act of 1701 paved the way for Anne's reign. It stated that if Anne died without children the throne would pass to the German Hanoverians. The only challenge was her half brother James, a Roman Catholic living in exile in France. Thus Anne ascended as the last Stuart monarch, and was the first married queen to rule England.

"Anne's reign would be characterized by the attempts of others to manipulate her. Most significantly among these individuals was Sarah Churchill. A friend of Anne's since childhood, Anne leaned heavily on her for companionship. After Anne's marriage she named Sarah to the prestigious position of Lady of the Bedchamber. After Anne became queen, she named Sarah to other prominent posts including Keeper of the Privy Purse, Mistress of the Robes and Groom of the Stole. Their relationship for many years was a close one with Anne showering Sarah with large allowances and gifts, such as the huge and extravagant Blenheim estate. The estate was given to the Churchill's as a reward for John Churchill's important military victory in the War of Spanish Succession. Anne often seemed dependent on Sarah, at least for emotional support. Anne would constantly write to Sarah when Sarah was away from the court attending to her family. Anne's letters made it seem like she could not get along without Sarah. They would use playful pseudonyms when writing to each other: Anne being Mrs. Morley and Sarah Mrs. Freeman. Their relationship would eventually deteriorate due to Sarah's nagging and their many petty arguments. Sarah would fall out of favor and would be replaced as Anne's favorite by a distant cousin, Abigail Masham.

"The end of Anne's friendship with Sarah signaled a change in political influences as well. Although Anne had always been a strong Tory throughout her reign she had vigorously supported the War of Spanish Succession, a Whig war. Sarah Churchill was a Whig and her husband John, though a Tory, was the leading English general in the conflict. Because of the Churchill's influence, Anne had always been inclined to support the war which was the most important event in foreign affairs during Anne's reign. However, when Abigail Masham a Tory replaced Sarah as Anne's close friend it signaled a shift in politics. Some historians believe Anne manipulated her ministers to enact the policies she wanted while others see her as a monarch manipulated by her ministers. Whatever the case, when the Tories came into power they negotiated an end to the war.

"The Settlement Act of 1701 had angered Scotland where the Stuart dynasty had originated. The Scots threatened to bring back James, Anne's Roman Catholic half-brother and pretender to the throne, to rule. To head off a revolt and unite support for the crown, Anne pushed for the Act of Union which would unite England and Scotland. The Act of Union was finally accepted in 1707.

"In the last couple years of her life Anne became very ill. She was often bedridden and attended to by doctors. These doctors used many techniques to try to cure Anne including bleeding her and applying hot irons. These crude medicinal techniques probably did more harm than good, and Anne died on July 31st 1714."

From King's College website of Brian A. Pavlac on Women's History.
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On This Day in History - Coronation of England's Queen Anne Stuart 1665-1714

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Article from History Today by Richard Cavendish describing the coronation of Queen Anne on April 23rd, 1702.


"The last of the Stuarts on the English throne, Anne was thirty-seven when she succeeded her brother-in-law William III on March 8th, 1702. She was devoted to her husband, Prince George of Denmark, and he to her, but of their five children by her continual pregnancies, none had survived. Shy, plain, red-faced and dumpy, growing increasingly stout and a martyr to rheumatism, she was not considered intelligent and at this point she was under the thumb of her old friend from school days, Sarah Jennings, the brilliant and strong-minded wife of John Churchill, Earl of Marlborough.

"Marlborough had made efficient preparations for the succession with his two principal allies, Sidney Godolphin and Robert Harley. An accession council was held immediately at St James’s Palace in London, at which the new queen promised to continue the late king’s policies. Members of the House of Lords and the House of Commons came to kiss her hand and were graciously received as the heralds proclaimed her in the streets. The principal members of the government were confirmed in office for a month at least. On March 11th, crowned and dressed in red velvet, Anne delivered her first formal speech to Parliament. ‘As I know my own heart to be entirely English,’ she said, ‘I can very sincerely assure you that there is not anything you can expect or desire from me which I shall not be ready to do for the happiness and prosperity of England.’ She had a soft, sweet speaking voice and made a good impression, though she was bashful and blushed so much that unkind observers compared her to the inn sign of the Rose and Crown.

"Marlborough was swiftly appointed captain-general of the army and sent off to The Hague to reassure the Dutch. Sarah was made mistress of the robes, groom of the stole and keeper of the privy purse, which put her in control of the royal household. Anne and George established themselves at Kensington Palace and there was much hurrying and scurrying to get everything ready for the coronation, which was set for St George’s Day. A Mrs Banks charged thirty shillings for making the coronation petticoat and Mrs Ducaila, the hairdresser, supplied a wig and false curls along with twenty-four yards of gold ribbon.

"When the great day came, the Queen was too lame and unwieldy to walk. Yeomen of the guard carried her to Westminster Abbey in an open chair under a canopy, with six yards of train trailing behind to be managed by the Duchess of Somerset and other ladies. At the church door Anne disembarked from the chair and walked in. According to Celia Fiennes, who was watching, she wore crimson velvet over a golden robe richly embroidered with jewels and a petticoat with bands of gold and silver lace between rows of diamonds, while more diamonds blazed in her hair. She was crowned queen of England, Scotland, Ireland and France at about four o’clock in the afternoon by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Tenison, with a specially made crown flaming with huge diamonds. The sermon was preached by John Sharp, Archbishop of York, on a text which the Queen herself had chosen: ‘Kings shall be thy nursing fathers and queens thy nursing mothers’ (Isaiah 49:23). Gold medals were scattered about in profusion and the nobility, led by Prince George, did her homage.

"Leaving the abbey on foot, ‘with obliging looks and bows to all that saluted her’, the Queen crossed to Westminster Hall, where the traditional coronation banquet was held and the Queen’s champion rode in on horseback to challenge anyone who denied the new monarch’s right to the crown to combat. Prudently, no one did and Queen Anne was able to retreat to St James’s at about half past eight, tired out.

Anne proved to be a far stronger character than anyone had supposed and Sarah Churchill would be sent packing. Winston Churchill, indeed, thought Anne was one of the toughest personalities ever to occupy the English throne. She loved England and was popular with her subjects throughout her reign, to her death in 1714 at the age of forty-nine."
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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Maundy Thursday in 17th-Century England

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Maundy Thursday is the common name for Holy Thursday and marks the beginning of the three day celebrating of Easter.

It commemorates the day of the Last Supper of Jesus Christ with the Apostles and gets its name from the Latin word mandatum, which means "commandment."

Meister des Hausbuches (German painter active between 1470-1505)

Near the end of the Last Supper, after Judas had departed, Christ said to His disciples, "A new commandment I give unto you: That you love one another, as I have loved you, that you also love one another."

During the Last Supper, Jesus washed his disciples' feet. This act has sometimes been followed literally in history as a good way of reminding rulers that they are here to serve their subjects.

In England, the custom of washing feet by the Monarch was carried out until 1689. Up until then the King or Queen would wash the feet of the poor on Maundy Thursday in Westminster Abbey.

Throughout the 17th century, and earlier, the King or Queen would wash the feet of the selected poor people as a gesture of humility, and in remembrance of Jesus' washing the feet of the disciples. The last monarch to do this was James 2. The ceremony of the monarch giving money to the poor on this day dates back to Edward 1.

The ceremony originated in the Roman Catholic Church inspired by the events that occurred during the night Jesus observed the Passover with his disciples. The washing of feet, which was began around the fourth century, and involved the bishop or cardinal within the church washing the feet of the priests and acolytes. The abbot of a monastery would wash the feet of all the monks. While in Rome, the Pope would wash the feet of selected Cardinals. This was seen as fulfilling the mandate that the greatest among the brethren will be the servant of all.

Today, some priests in particular churches or diocese might do ceremonial foot washing. Twelve men, who represent the twelve apostles, are chosen to be the participants.
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Sunday, April 17, 2011

Hot Cross Buns for Easter Week in the 17th-Century English Society

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Hot Cross buns are older than Christianity - pagan celebrants ate wheat cakes at their spring festivals, and the Greeks, Romans and Ancient Egyptians all had buns with a cross etched on the top. The round bun represented the full moon, and the cross divides the bun into the four lunar quarters. Traditional buns have the cross cut into the dough or pricked out with a pin. The icing pastry bands are a more recent thing.


Since before medieval times, marking baked goods (like breads, buns and cakes) with the sign of a cross was a common thing for a homemaker or baker to do – the cross was said to ward off evil spirits which could affect the bread and make it go mouldy.

Kate Colquhoun, writes in her book, Taste: The Story Of Britain Through Its Cooking (2007), "In honour of Eastre, goddess of spring and the dawn, [Anglo-Saxon] bread dough could be studded with dried fruits and baked into small loaves that, as Christianity spread, began to be marked with a cross by monks: the earlist form of hot-cross bun”.

However, during the 1600s, under the influence of the Puritans, (a reforming movement within the Protestant Church of England) the practice of marking a cross on baked goods was condemned as Popish or Popery (Catholic behavior), and it was dropped.


“They are suspicious of ceremonial in worship, partly because they are suspicious of everything they have learned to associate with what, no doubt, they called Popery. They are apt to see Popery in talk about altars or in a cope or in the sign of the cross. One may, at this point, be reminded of Zeal-of-the-Land Busy, finding Popery in gingerbread and talking sad nonsense in Bartholomew Fair.” From, ‘English Political Thought, 1603-1660', by John William Allen, published 1664.

So it is at this point in time, from the late 1600s, that only bread, cakes and buns made on Good Friday continued to bear a cross, in token of the Crucifixion, and with Puritan blessings. The Cross Bun became a special and unique bread. Other regional superstitions and customs saw the continuation of the cross being made in Soul Cakes for All Souls Day, although this practice was not as widespread.

From the late 1600s a tradition and custom grew whereby a particular spiced bun, Good Friday Buns, (becoming more commonly referred to as Cross Buns or Hot Cross Buns) made with a cross on them, were eaten for breakfast on Good Friday.

From the diary of Samuel Pepys we know that on Good Friday in 1664, he ate buns (or ‘wiggs’) but rather than for breakfast, he had them just before he went to bed, with some ale, which he called a ‘Lenten supper.’ “So home to dinner, and had an excellent Good Friday dinner of peas porridge and apple pye...then to walk in the garden with my wife, and so to my office a while, and then home to the only Lenten supper have had of wiggs and ale, and so to bed.” (Recipes for regional wiggs show they are a spiced fruit bun, similar to a later Hot Cross Bun, or a plainer caraway seed bun, similar to an earlier Good Friday Bun).
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