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.
& Cooking in 17th Century Britain,
by Peter Brears.
Published in 1995 by English Heritage.
Copyright © Peter Brears and English Heritage, 1985
At this period
the day was punctuated by three main meals; breakfast, taken shortly
after rising, dinner, taken at midday, and supper, taken in the
early evening. The first of these was a relatively light meal by
the standards of the day, probably having a selection of cold meats,
bread and butter, and cakes served with tea, coffee or chocolate
by the end of the century. Then, as now, there were great contrasts
in breakfast preferences, however, the Cromwells taking rich broth
or caudle, followed by a cup of small ale with toast and sugar at
dinners, in which the frequent courses follows each other in a set
sequence from soup to dessert, the seventeenth century dinner was
only of two or, at most, three courses. Each course comprised a
number of diverse dishes, including both sweets and savouries, so
that the diner could help himself to whatever he liked in the manner
of a modern buffet, this giving each individual a much greater freedom
of choice. The first course would be placed on the table in a neat,
symmetrical arrangement, and include most of the major meats dishes,
together with soups which could be removed and their place taken
by a further dish once everyone had been served. In the second course
there would be a range of lighter meats, game and sweet stuff laid
in a similar symmetrical pattern, but this division of the dishes
was only a general rule, leaving plenty of scope to include whatever
might be available at any particular time.
The third course
was composed of fruit, sweets and cheese, but the manner in which
it was served changed as the century progressed. In the earlier
decades, it continued the popular Elizabethan practice of banqueting;
the 'banquet' in this case being an elaborate dessert course of
sweetmeats etc. served either as a meal in itself r as a continuation
of dinner or supper, usually set out in a separate apartment. It
presented an opportunity for the cooks and the gardeners to make
a great show of their skills, with elaborate confections and rare
fruits displayed in new and exciting ways. For important functions,
cardboard galleons sailing on seas of salt could startle guests
with their cannon, fired with real gunpowder, while pastry deer
bled red wine when arrows were pulled from their sides.
gives the following colourful account of William and Mary's entertainment
for the Venetian ambassadors, when
banquet was twelve vast chargers piled up so high that those that
sat one against another doubtless could hardly see each other. Of
these sweetmeats, which doubtless took some days piling up in this
exquisite manner, the Ambassadors touched not, but left them to
the spectators.... in a moment of time all that curious work was
demolished, the confitures voided, and the tables cleared.
This appears to
have been the fate of many royal banquets. Even when the Garter knights
held their great dinner in the magnificent Banqueting House in Whitehall,
'the banqueting-stuff flung around the room profusely'. In most households,
however, particularly from the restoration, the third course began
to be served at the dining table, in the manner of a modern dessert.
early in the evening, only a single course was laid, but it could
be made up of numerous dishes, or be extended by a banquet whenever
necessary. Then, after a few hours of good conversation, music,
singing or cards, accompanied by much alcohol and perhaps tobacco,
the company would be served with a light meal to prepare them either
for their homeward journey or for the chill of the bedroom - Pepys,
for example, having 'a good sack-posset and cold meat and sent my
guests away about 10 a-clock at night'. The sack posset certainly
provided the ideal close to the day. Made of eggs, wine and spices
scalded with sweetened cream, spooned from the most beautifully
decorated silverware, or sipped from voluminous earthenware vessels,
its rich smooth warmth and alcoholic potency soon lulled the diners
into total oblivion: 'And so to bed.'
Royalty | Aristocratic
Royalty | Aristocratic
Drink Still Lifes | Meals | Tableware
Duke of Marlborough's
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© Peter Brears and English Hertiage 1985. With permission.
Copyright © N. Kipar 1999.