Friday, 27 November 2015

Shakespeare's kitchen and food/play associations

Today’s news that a kitchen complex, a single storey cookhouse separate from the main building in order to reduce the risk of fire, has been excavated within the ruins of Shakespeare’s grand country house in Stratford-upon-Avon is truly exciting! The fire hearth, the supporting walls for an oven range, a stone-lined pit or cold store, an area for brewing ale and another for pickling and salting meats all give the impression of a homely but wealthy set-up for a country gentleman renowned and revered in his day.
The records (and every detail of life was meticulously recorded in Medieval, Tudor and Elizabethan times) show that Shakespeare did not ever buy a property in London, where he must have spent a fair bit of his time, but preferred to lodge.  So Stratford did remain his home, and his family’s too. His last house purchase was this very New Place and he did take steps to improve it.
Shakespeare’s association with food may have started with his father, an official ale taster in Stratford whose job was to monitor the ingredients used by brewers and ensure they sold their ale at Crown regulated prices. Ale and alehouses are mentioned in several plays. Shakespeare used food in many of his plays: from memorable banquet scenes, to the use of food and feasting as metaphor.
Raw and roasted pigeons for a 12th scale dollshouse Elizabethan
Hens at 1:12 scale for an Elizabethan, Tudor or Medieval dolls house
  He would have been able to afford meat, and choice cuts too, especially if he was entertaining important patrons. So was it with relish  that in Henry IV Part II: Act 5, Scene 1 he mentions “Some pigeons, Davy, a couple of short-legged hens, a joint of mutton..”? All easily cooked in his well appointed kitchen, by a cook whom he could no doubt afford to employ. Then there is the sad reference in Macbeth Act 4, Scene 3 where MacDuff asks after his slaughtered family “What, all my pretty chickens and their dam?


Shakespeare could have afforded the best cheeses too, they get a mention too in his plays. In his preceding work Henry IV Part I: Act 3, Scene 1  come these lines: “O, he is as tedious as a tired horse, a railing wife; worse than a smokey house: I had rather live with cheese and garlic in a windmil, far, than than feed on cates (choice foods)...”


But garlic gets a less than enthusiastic press by the acting fraternity in A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Act 4, Scene 2  “ And, most dear actors, eat no onions or garlic, for we are to utter sweet breath; and I do not doubt but to hear them say, it is a sweet comedy…”
Dollhouse 12th scale strawberries by MedievalMorsels 
One inch scale Tudor Elizabethan dollshouse food, quinces

And as for fruits, in Romeo and Juliet, Act 4, Scene 4 “They call for dates and quinces in the pastry.” and in Richard III “My lord of Ely, when I was last in Holborn I saw good strawberries in your garden there; I do beseech you send for some of them.”