Two years ago, I wrote about the Christmas traditions of Victorian England. Although Victorian England is one of my favorite eras, Elizabethan England – the time of Shakespeare – is a close second (minus all of the torture and head chopping). So, as Christmas is less than one week away, I wanted to share with you some of the traditions of a true Elizabethan or Tudor Christmas…..
During the time of Shakespeare, a Christmas full of overindulgence was the norm. How elaborately you celebrated Christmas often reflected your wealth and status or what status you wanted people to associate with you and your family. The mark of an elaborate Christmas was judged by the extravagance of the meal you served and the decor – how you presented the meal.
The Meal: Main dishes included wild boar, goose, turkey, and/or beef. Accompaniments to the roast meat included plum porridge, mince pies and frumenty, a pottage made from boiled, cracked wheat. It is also possible that those who lived during the time of Tudor England also enjoyed brussels sprouts and a Christmas pudding made of meat, spices, and oatmeal. All of these delicacies would be washed down with ‘lambswool‘, a drink made with hot cider, sherry or ale, spices and apples, which when hot, exploded to create a white ‘woolly’ top. Spiced wines, wassail, and beer were also popular as the water was often not fit to drink.
The Dessert: Sugar, which was very expensive at the time, was a key ingredient of the Christmas dishes of this era. Collops of bacon, made from ground almonds and sugar, were popular, as were walnuts and other items made from sugar-plate, a substance of egg, sugar and gelatine which could be moulded into different shapes. Leech, a milk-based sweet made with sugar and rosewater, was also a favorite; it was cut into cubes and served plain or gilded, arranged as a chequerboard.
The Decor: Great pride was taken in how the meal was delivered to guests and attention to detail in the decor could not be overlooked. Wealthier homes would display swans, peacocks, or a boar’s head as centerpieces. Even small flourishes were important – fruits were not presented plain, but rather crystalized to enhance their colors. Gold leaf was added to lemons, other fruits, and gingerbread to deepen the richness of the occasion.
As you can see, Christmas during the time of Elizabeth I was truly a time to eat, drink, and be merry!
Happy Christmas everyone!