Eating Through Time: Part 1 – The Tudors

As a self-proclaimed ‘foodie’ with a thirst for historical knowledge, the evolution of our dining table has always fascinated me.

Throughout this blog series, I will delve into the best and worst of our culinary past, looking for historical recipes and eating habits of yesteryear; from the starving banquet halls of Henry VIII to the famine of the French Revolution.

Come with me as I take you on an edible journey through time, exploring the customs and traditions of the day.

The Tudor period

We are beginning our time series with the Tudor period; or specifically the reign of Henry VIII.


We are all familiar with perhaps the most famous monarch in history. His reign saw England secede from Rome, the formation of Parliament, the foundations of our current Royal Mail, and, of course, his six wives.

But what happened to the English palette in the 36 years that Henry VIII ruled?

When Henry succeeded his brother to the throne in 1509, he inherited a united country behind the monarchy, stable finances, and his brother’s wife.

Fruit was a constant feature on a Tudor table, with options ranging from those that could be grown in England, such as apples, pears, cherries, plums and strawberries, to those that were imported from Spain after the arrival of Queen Catherine. of Aragon.

The pomegranate became the symbol of his home and was instrumental in the popularity of oranges at court. Records show that Henry, in particular, loved oranges; have them available to eat fresh and preserved as jam.

Cardinal Wolsey cultivated gardens at Hampton Court for the king’s consumption.

English food may not have appealed to the new Spanish queen, who would have gotten used to Mediterranean flavors and cuisine, heavily influenced by the Moorish community and their use of exotic spices and fresh vegetables.

In my search for recipes from this time I have come across this one from 15th century Andalusia; the autonomous community of southern Spain near Catalina’s native Granada.

Thumlyya recipe, a dish with garlic

Andalusian recipe from the 15th century

Taken from ‘How to milk an almond, stuff an egg and shield a turnip: a thousand years of recipes’

by David Friedman and Elizabeth Cook


5 oz garlic 1 t ginger

1 hen ¼ t cloves

6 tablespoons of saffron oil of 15 threads

½ t of salt ½ c of whole almonds

½ t of pepper? c crushed almond

1 cup cinnamon ¼ c murri

2 t of lavender -1 c of flour – water

Take a chubby hen and take out what’s inside, clean it up, and set it aside. Then take four uquias (ounces) of peeled garlic and crush them until they are like brains, and mix with what comes out of the inside of the chicken. Fry in enough oil to cover, until the garlic smell comes out. Mix this with the chicken in a clean pot with salt, pepper, cinnamon, lavender, ginger, cloves, saffron, whole peeled, crushed and whole almonds, and a little murri (there is no modern recipe for murri, which is similar to Chinese soy sauce). Seal the pot with the dough, place it in the oven and leave it until cooked. Then take it out and open the pot, because its contents on a clean plate and an aromatic smell will come out of it and perfume the area. ‘

As Henry’s reign progressed, his well-documented relationship with Anne Boleyn began. Anne spent much of her youth at the French court, first accompanying Henry’s 18-year-old sister Margaret on her trip to France to marry King Louis XII.

Enrique and Ana’s adventure lasted seven years before their infamous break with the Roman Catholic Church and their eventual marriage. His French influences would have played a very important role in the changing tastes and customs of the court.

In the 15th century, bread and cheese were a staple in French cuisine, meats and fruits were considered fit for royalty, and vegetables were considered a peasant food.

Pears stewed in wine were often eaten as the “end” of a meal, which may have been adopted by the English after Anne Boleyn became queen.

A day in the life of Henry VIII’s stomach

Henry used to start his day with pike, plaice, roach, butter, and eggs choosing to eat with 30 of his courtiers around 10 a.m.

Henry would then have had a choice of at least 13 freshly cooked dishes at each lunch and dinner, choosing from a wide range of cakes, meats, stews, jellies and fritters, all cooked by his personal chef Pero Doux.

One of the essential elements of Tudor cuisine was roast meats. Pork, Lamb, Venison – they would be on the spit day after day, ready to serve the King and his Court.

The most unusual meats were reserved for banquets and occasions such as swan, peacock, heron, and venison.

Despite their growing stomachs, Henry and England adhered to the strict rule of fasting on Fridays and Saturdays and sometimes Wednesdays, which prohibited eating meat and were only allowed to eat fish. During the Lenten period (March 2 to April 14), butter, eggs, and dairy products were also prohibited.

To disobey the rule of fasting was to risk being accused of heresy, however, fasting did not mean that Henry ate less than usual.

Any other day was considered a “meat day”. Below is an example of what Henry expected to see on sale.








Cheat Bread and Manchett, 16 Cheat Bread and Manchett, 16

Beate and Ale, 6 Gal Beate and Ale, 6 Gal

Wyne wyne

Fleth for Pottage 8 Fleth for Pottage 8

Chines of Beef 8 Chickens in Crimary, Larkes

Rammers in stew, or sparrows or lamb 6,

Venison in brewz or mult 4 stewed with 13 quinines

Pestels of Reed Deere 2 Lamb

Lamb 6 Giggots of Lamb or Veni-

Carps or Yong Veale in – -son, stopped with Cloves 6

Arm ‘, forced 1 Capons 4

Swanne 1 Conyes 2

Capons 2 Phesant, Herne, Shove-

Conyes 1 -lard 4

Fryanders, Carpe 1 Cocks, Plovers or Gulles 2

Custard with garnish 12 Swete Dowcetts or orange 10

gold frittars 8 quinces or 2 nuggets

Along with recognizable options, the Tudors enjoyed many delights that would surprise today.

Grilled beaver tail was served on most Fridays, as the Tudors classified beaver as a fish. The whale and the porpoise were boiled or roasted and were Catalina de Aragón’s favorites.

From fast to peasant

When the king and court people were consuming an immeasurable amount of calories, the poorest people in England had a much simpler menu.

Meat was scarce for the everyday Tudor peasant, so fresh vegetables, bread, and beers were the staple food. Stew appears throughout history in many varieties, and the meatiest stew is even served to the King.

The basic vegetable and oatmeal stew would have been a regular dinner table sight for those not at court. As in our stews today, the recipe is simple and easy to follow.



½ onion

Vegetables (whatever you prefer: carrot, parsnip, cabbage, leek, etc.)

300ml broth (or just warm water for the average peasant)

Herbs (such as parsley, mint, rosemary, thyme, and sage that were available)

1 teaspoon of pepper

4 tablespoons oatmeal

Bread (optional)


Prepare the vegetables (peel and chop them to the thickness you want).

Soften the onions in a skillet before adding other vegetables.

Cover with broth or warm water until they begin to soften.

Add a good handful of herbs, salt, and pepper.

Raise the heat and cook.

When the water starts to boil add the oats. Cook for 4-5 minutes until everything is combined.

Eat alone or with bread.

Six wives

Wrapping up our Tudor journey, I’m going to focus on perhaps the most famous element of Henry VIII’s reign: his wives.

Each wife has her own backstory and tragic life, whether they were divorced, beheaded, died, or survived. But what were your favorite things to eat?

Catherine of Aragon. December 1485 – January 1536 Divorced

In addition to the native fruit from her Spanish roots, Katherine liked to eat boiled whales.

Anne Boleyn, July 1501 – May 1536, beheaded

Anne was reported to be fond of certain fruits such as plums, plums, and strawberries. During one of her pregnancies, she had a ‘furious desire to eat apples’

Jane Seymour Dies 1509 – Oct 1537

Henry spared no expense to keep Jane happy. When he had a craving for quail eggs during pregnancy, Henry had a box adorned with the delicacies shipped from Calais.

Anne of Cleeves Sept. From 1515 – July 1557 divorced

A popular German delicacy Anne may have enjoyed was ‘Gefuellte Semmeln’. A muffin, filled with jam / jam, covered in sugar and spices and fried in egg yolks.

Katheryn Howard 1523-Feb 1542 beheaded

The young queen may not have adapted to the customs of the court. Described as childish and naive, Katheryn liked to nibble on marzipan, small balls of almonds, and marzipan-like sugar.

Catherine Parr August 1512 – September 1548 survived

A popular sweet at the time was ‘Maids of Honor’. A predecessor of the modern cheesecake, made from cottage cheese, often found at court and possibly enjoyed by the queen.

Look out for my next trip to the dinner tables of times gone by!

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