Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Morsels of Shakespeare

Where have I been? "I've been to London to visit the Queen." Yes, I'm only kidding. Actually, I'm back in PA. Don't worry, I'll spare you the details. Suffice to say, busy busy busy. Anyway, I wanted to touch base with everyone especially since I have missed a couple of important days. I missed Eliza Acton's birthday on April 17th, and Garlic Day on the 19th. Shame on me:) Things aren't going to be back to normal @ Months of Edible Celebrations until after May 15th. So, please bear with me and thanks in advance.

Today, may be the birth date of William Shakespear. I say maybe because no one is quite sure. At the time of Shakespear's birth, it wasn't common in England to record births; no birth certificates, no records. There is a record of Shakespeare's baptism in the Parish church of Stratford though. It was recorded on April 26, 1564. It appears that babies were usually baptized three days after they were born in England due to the low mortality rate of newborns. Therefore, the birthday of William Shakespeare has been set as April 23rd 1564. April 23, is another day of importance in England. St. George's Day is celebrated on April 23rd and Saint George is the patron saint of England. Granted, Shakespeare's true birthday will probably remain a mystery forever, however, thank goodness, the "Bard of Avon" has left us a glimpse of his likes and dislikes through his plays, sonnets and poems.

Hark! Hark! the lark at heaven's gate sings,
And Phoebus 'gins arise,
His steeds to water at those springs
On chaliced flowers that lies; And winking Mary-buds begin
to ope their golden eyes;
With everything that pretty bin
My lady, sweet, arise:
Arise, arise."

It is said, that Shakespeare was quite smitten with the charming marigold known as Calendula Officinalis. He always spoke of it with poetic rapture. We will "speak" more of it later.

The reign of Queen Elizabeth I lasted from 1558 until 1603. It was a time of peace, stability and Shakespeare. Shakespeare's diet or the kinds of things Shakespeare may have eaten were discussed in an article in the New York Times in 2004. As much as I would like to explore the Fooles & Fricassees in Shakespeare's England, It is beyond the scope of this blog. Although I don't have any copies of Shakespearian cookbooks in my cookbook library, I know there are a wonderful books available to purchase. Here are a few: If you have a hard time finding any of these books, you might try Kitchen Arts & Letters. I have no affiliation with this magnificent culinary book store, I'm just offering a resource:)

  1. Dining With William Shakespeare by Madge Corwin
  2. Cooking with Shakespeare by Mark Morton & Andrew Coppolino
  3. "Shakespeare Plain & Fancy: A Renaissance Cookbook" by one Judith Ackley
  4. Shakespeare's Kitchen: Renaissance Recipes for the Contemporary Cook by Francine Segan.

A quick search revealed this lovely recipe for Salmon with Violets from Shakespeare's Kitchen. I am including a few resources below which I found most helpful for the introduction to the Elizabethan Food & Dining era. Of course, the best resource is Shakespeare himself.

Shakespeare in his plays speaks of apricots, mulberries, pomegranates, quinces, figs, gooseberries, and seems to have had a particular interest in strawberries, then considered by many to possess some special health giving qualities. In Henry V a courtier likens the emergence of the young king's virtues after a misspent youth to the virtue of the strawberry thriving under the nettle. Indeed, the fascination with medicinal plants and herbs long survived: to Shakespeare, rhubarb was known as physicke (which, to be sure, it is), and cowslips, lungwort, liverwort, pennyroyal, were respected for their qualities along with the mysterious mandrake--celebrated in the second line of John Donne's lyric "Get with child a mandrake root..."The Horizon Cookbook & Illustrated History of Eating & Drinking through the Ages by William Harlan Hale & The Editors of Horizon Magazine, copyright 1968 pgs. 131-132

Before I go, I must mention another resourceful website. It is called Shakespeare and Food; An Alphabetical Garden of the Bard's Esculent Poesiers. Although I didn't spot any recipes, it is a sort of a listing of foods you may come across while reciting Shakespeare. The best part is, after you select your letter, you are then brought to a page that cites where in Shakespeare's many writings you may find such selections. For instance, if you select the letter A, your reward may be something like this for Almond. It's available at the Soupsong site so you already know it is filled with info.

Troilus and Cressida, V, 2:
THERSITES: Would I could meet that rogue Diomed! I would croak like a raven; I would bode, I would bode. Patroclus will give me any thing for the intelligence of this whore: the parrot will not do more for an almond than he for a commodious drab. Lechery, lechery; still, wars and lechery; nothing else holds fashion: a burning devil take them!

The following recipe of Shakespeare's comes from Bull Cook and Authentic Historical Recipes by George Leonard Herter and Berthe E. Herter p.559.

"Take four level tablespoons, preferably of dry Coleman's English mustard; if not available, French's mustard. Put into a mixing bowl. Add three level tablespoons of cold water and mix in well. Then add three level tablespoons of blue grape jelly and mix in well. This is truly great meat or fish sauce served cold or hot. It is delicious on ham, hamburgers and beef. You cannot realize how good this sauce is until you try it"

I know I mentioned one of Shakespeare's favorite flowers, the Calendula Officinalis. My plan was to explore the Shakespearean garden especially Pot Marigolds which is the name most of us associate with Calendula Officinalis (also known as Poet's Marigold, Bride of the Sun, and Holigold and quite a few more names:) The Mary-gold has been the inspiration of herbalists and gardeners for centuries. I just planted some Husbandman's Dial in my new garden here in PA. I was delighted to discover that the Calendula is the herb of the year this year as per the International Herb Association and since May is Herb Month, I am going to wait until then to give this intriguing flower a post of its own. Oh alright, I'll leave you with this tidbit.

Did you know? Calendula can be used as an egg substitute. Personally, I find it amazing but, I have experienced this for myself, although not recently, and it works. Here is a recipe link. While you're at it, check and see where you can get a plant or some seeds and plant some quick. You still have time and they are breathless, especially as you watch Sun's Spowse follow the sun.

Solis, the Spowse of the Sun, because it sleeps and is awakened with him.
The Winter's Tale

Why, then the world's mine oyster,

Which I with sword will open.
The Merry Wives of Windsor
  • 1. Shakespeare (detailed biography)
  • 2. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare
  • 3. Shakespeare's food @ Food Timeline
  • 4. Elizabethan Food
  • 5. Elizabethan Food & Dining
  • 6. Jacobean Dinner
  • 7. Everyday Expressions From Shakespeare
  • 8. Renaissance Faires by State (many Renaissance fairs are held in the later part of the summer. I have feasted at the fair in Sterling forest many times. I guess I'll have to check and see when and where there is one in PA)


  1. My favorite playwright! I even saw MacBeth on Sunday! Shakespeare's Kitchen is a wonderful book. Francine Segan is a very witty and entertaining writer. I have seen her speak at Shakespeare & Company in the Berkshires, and even got to try a vennison stew, a la Will Shakespeare!

  2. This wonderful and fascinating information on Shakespeare was very interesting, thanks! I love reading about foods and the role they've played in history. I have a book I can't wait to delve into about Einstien and his cook. :)

  3. Hi T.W.

    I must make it my business to get Shakespeare's Kitchen. The reviews sound so intriguing and Venison Stew a la Shakespeare is right up my alley.

    Thanks for visiting:)

  4. Hi J.J.

    Thank you so much for visiting. I'm so glad you found this post interesting. As you can probably tell, I also like reading about foods and their place in history. I can't say I have heard about the book you speak of; Einstein and his cook. Please tell me more...


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none came too early,
none returned too late.

Thanks for dropping in...Louise