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Please note that I generously recived permission from English Heritage, the publisher of the book by Peter Bears from which the following excerpts are taken, to publish the text excerpts below on this non-commercial website. This means the permission is exclusively for display here, and for personal use regarding the text, and you may not use the text elsewhere.
Food & Cooking in 17th Century Britain,
by Peter Brears.
Published in 1995 by English Heritage.
Copyright © Peter Brears and English Heritage, 1985
ISBN 1-85074-537-4

By the opening of the seventeenth century, most of our present-day foodstuffs had already been introduced. The English countryside, parks and farms, were producing venison and all other kinds of game, mutton, pork, and beef, while increasing quantities of beef were also being imported from Scotland. Ever since the Union of the Crowns in 1603, great herds of cattle had been driven south over the border, slowly working their way down to London, beasts being sold off at fairs en route. On all but the poorest tables, meat often formed three-quarters of every meal. Much of this was freshly killed, but various techniques of salting and potting enabled it to be preserved for use throughout the winter months.

Most vegetables grown today were already known, ranging from cabbages, savoy, kale, cauliflower and broccoli, to carrots, turnips, parsnips and beetrot, artichokes, onions, peas and beans. Common (or sweet), Virginian and Canadian potatoes were grown here too, but they were still regarded as a novelty. The interest in gardening which had started in the later sixteenth century continued to expand; orchards and gardens now yielded a wealth of fruit, in addition to lettuce, chicory, celery, cucumbers and radishes. The medieval suspicion of raw vegetables and fruit was slowly subsiding, and salads were beginning to appear on the table with increasing frequency. In 1699 John Evelyn even published a whole book on the subject, Acetaria a Discourse of sallets, in which he suggested a dressing made of three parts of olive oil, one part of vinegar, lemon or orange juice, dry mustard, and mashed hard-boiled egg yolks.

New foodstuffs imported from overseas during this period included allspice or Jamaica pepper from the West Indies, cochineal from Mexico, and sago from Malaya. From the 1640s, when the English colonists in Barbados turned their land over to sugar cane, sugar became much more plentiful, leading to a great increase in the production of home-made preserves, confectionery and syrups. The most significant group of new foods, however, were all beverages. by the 1660s it was possible to purchase in London:

That excellent and by all Physitians approved China drink called by the Chinese Tcha, by other nations Tay alias Tee, Coffa, which is a blacke kind of drinke made of a kind of Pulse like Pease, called Coaus.
which came from Arabia and Turkey, and chocolate, from the West Indies. Despite complaints that these novel drinks would damage the trade in home-grown barely and malt, I addition to making men ‘as unfruitful as the desert’, they all enjoyed a popularity which has continued unabated up to the present day.

In addition to these new and exotic dishes, great strides were being made in the use of traditional home-grown produce. This was most clearly seen in bakery, where a whole host of significant developments were taking place. The ‘great cakes’ of the medieval period, enriched with butter, cream, eggs and sugar, heavily fruited and spiced, raised with yeast, and weighing twenty pounds or more, continued to be popular for important occasions. Now they were contained with a tinplate hoop, however, thus making them much more convenient both to bake and to serve. One new variety was the Banbury cake. Specially baked for wedding feasts, its outer layer of plain dough concealed a rich filling of dough mingled with currants. It was in this period that the modern gingerbread appeared, this somewhat sticky sponge, flavoured with ginger and cinnamon, replacing the earlier solid paste of highly spiced breadcrumbs and wine.

Biscuits went through a similar transformation. The medieval biscuit had been made by dusting slices of an enriched bread roll with sugar and spices before returning them to the oven where they hardened into a kind of sweet rusk. By baking the biscuit-bread in the form of a single light, finely-textured loaf, it changed into sponge cake. This was often entitles ‘fine cake’ in contemporary recipe books. Other new varieties of biscuit included both jumbals, where caraway-flavoured dough was worked up into interlaced rings, knots, or plaits, and Shrewsbury cakes whose rounds of shortcake were perhaps spiced with ginger or cinnamon.
As baking skills developed throughout England, some areas acquired a reputation for their own local specialities. This was particularly true of northern towns.

‘BLESSED BE THAT INVENTED PUDDING’, wrote M. Misson in the 1690s; ‘Ah, what an excellent thing is the English pudding!’ Savoury black and white puddings forced into animal guts had been made for generations, but the early seventeenth century saw the development of that great English invention, the pudding cloth. Utilising this simple device, it was possible to convert flour, milk, eggs, butter, sugar, suet, marrow and raisins, etc. into a whole series of hot, filling and nutritious dishes with minimal time, trouble and cost. Having securely tied the ingredients within the cloth, the pudding had only to be plunged into a boiling pot, perhaps along with the meat and vegetables, where it could simmer for hours without further attention. Varying in texture and quality from light, moist custards to substantial masses of heavily fruited oatmeal, the boiled pudding soon became a mainstay of English cookery, being adopted by all sections of society. 
Further puddings or ‘pudding pies’ were poured into dishes and baked in the oven. Rice puddings were readily made in this way, as were whitepots, the luxurious predecessors of bread-and-butter pudding.

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Text Copyright © Peter Brears and English Hertiage 1985. With permission.
Graphics Copyright © N. Kipar 1999.