Historical recipes that give a taste of life in Shakespeare's time (2024)

All’s well that ends well when it comes to food fit for the Bard. Seren Evans-Charrington is the founder of Bubbling Stove Historical Recipes and has appeared several times on ITV’s Sunday Kitchen bringing the tastes of the past back to our stoves.

She is an expert on food from the Iron Age to the 1940s and has researched recipes from the reigns of Henry VIII, Elizabeth I and the start of the reign of James I.

Evans-Charrington says: “This could be considered the Shakespearean Age and was a time of great excitement in culinary terms as it was when the first true recipe books were published and when modern cookery, as we know it today, started to emerge.”

She will be cooking Shakespeare-inspired recipes at the Stratford-upon-Avon Food FestivaI on September 14 and 15 and says there are lots of food references in the writer’s works like Warden Pie – filled with pears and spices in a rich, saffron-coloured pastry case – which is mentioned in both Romeo And Juliet and The Winter’s Tale.

For festival details go to www.stratfordfoodfestival.co.uk

Here are three recipes as they once were, and how to make the modern equivalents

A White Jelly of Almonds: Original recipe from Sir Hugh Platt’s Delightes of Ladies to adorne their Persons, Tables, Closets, and distillatories with Beauties, banquets, perfumes and waters. Reade, Practise, and Censure 1602.

Take Roewater, gum Dragagantdiolued, or Iinglaediolued, and omeCinamongroely beaten, eethe them altogether, then take a pounde of almonds, blanch and beate them fine with a little faire water.

Seren says: “This is a traditional Elizabethan recipe for a classic dessert of rosewater jelly that’s blended with pounded almonds and flavoured with cinnamon which is then set and sliced before serving. For special occasions, novelty items made from jelly would be created.”

Elizabethan Marchpane Tart: Original recipe from Robert May, The Accomplisht Cook

Take two pound of almonds blanched and beaten in a stone mortar, till they begin to come to a fine paste, then take a pound of sifted sugar put it in the mortar with the almonds, and make it into a perfect paste, putting to it now and then in the beating of it a spoonful of rose-water to keep it from oyling.

Seren says: “It’s not possible to talk about Shakespearian food without mentioning marchpane, the predecessor of modern day marzipan. Marchpane was often used to generate highly complex and ornate edible centrepieces such as marzipan fruits.

Gooseberry Fool: Part of original recipe from The Compleat Cook (1658)

Take your Gooseberries, and put them in a Silver or Earthen Pot, and set it in a Skillet of boyling Water, and when they are coddled enough strain them.

Seren says: “Gooseberry Fool is a traditional Elizabethan recipe for the classic dish that we still love and enjoy today. Some food historians consider fools to be the precursor to ice cream.”

Historical recipes that give a taste of life in Shakespeare's time (1)

Gooseberry Fool


450g gooseberries

350ml double cream

100g soft goats’ cheese

2tbsp runny honey

25g butter (softened)

2tsp rosewater

2tbsp sugar

20g flaked almonds (optional)


Place the gooseberries and sugar in a heavy-based pan over a low heat. Bring to a gentle simmer, cover the pan and cook for 30 minutes or until the gooseberries are soft. Remove the fruit from a pan, add the butter and beat to a pulp with a wooden spoon or place into a liquidiser.

To remove the skin and seeds from the mixture pass the mixture through a fine sieve and discard the skin and seeds.

Set the bowl of sieved gooseberry puree aside and allow to cool completely.

When cold add the rosewater and mix thoroughly. Whip the cream to soft peaks and fold in the goats’ cheese and honey, whip until thick and smooth.

Combine with the cold gooseberry puree. Divide into small glasses and sprinkle with flaked almonds if using and chill in the fridge before serving.

Historical recipes that give a taste of life in Shakespeare's time (2)

White Jelly of Almonds


100ml rosewater

1 leaf of fine gelatin

50g honey

¼tsp ground cinnamon

300g blanched almonds

4 tbsp water


Gently heat the rosewater and honey. When warm, mix in a bowl with the gelatin and ground cinnamon. Set aside until the gelatin has dissolved.

Grind the almonds in a spice mill or food processor before transferring it to a mortar and pound with the water until it resembles a smooth paste.

Scrape this paste into a double layer of muslin and squeeze out all the excess moisture. Take the almond solids and mix with the honey, rosewater and gelatin mixture. Pour into a pan, bring to a boil and cook for five minutes.

Take off the heat and allow to cool slightly then whisk to mix well before placing into moulds or glasses. Allow to cool completely, cover with clingfilm and then place in the refrigerator to chill until completely set.

Serve slightly chilled topped with a sprig of seasonal berries.

To create a chequered board look:

Divide the mixture into two, pouring one half of the mixture into a square cake tin lined with clingfilm and colouring the other half with a drop of cochineal before pouring into a another clingfilm-lined cake tin.

Set both tins aside in the fridge and when completely cold, cut both jellies into equal, symmetrical squares and assemble as a chessboard design.

Historical recipes that give a taste of life in Shakespeare's time (3)

Marchpane Tart


350g ground almonds

3tbsp rose water

175g icing sugar

4 wafers of rice paper

For the glaze:

Grated rind of ½ lemon

1tbsp rosewater,

1tbsp icing sugar

1tbsp rice flour

Candied peel for decoration


Place the ground almonds in a food processor and process until it forms a smooth paste.

Add a tablespoon of rose water to this and blend.

Now add the sugar a little at a time using the pulse setting on your processor.

When about half the sugar has been added mix in the remaining rosewater and start adding the remainder of the sugar, mixing all the while (be careful not to mix too aggressively as the mixture will become oily).

The marchpane is now ready to be moulded or rolled into decorative shapes.

Once moulded into shapes it can be baked in a preheated oven (170°C) for 30 minutes until the marchpane becomes quite firm and once cooled it can be decorated.

A simple marchpane tart can be created by taking a blind baked pastry tart case and filling it with the prepared (unbaked) marchpane, a drizzle of honey and a scattering of almond slithers and baking at 170°C for 30 minutes or until golden.

Cool slightly before eating as this will be very hot and molten when first removed from the oven.

Historical recipes that give a taste of life in Shakespeare's time (2024)


What food was eaten in Shakespeare's time? ›

The food of Shakespeare's era was cooked with exotic combinations of spices, herbs and nuts. Game birds were crisply roasted, pies were baked with almonds, dried fruit and meat, and salads were tossed willy-nilly with flower blossoms, leafy herbs and greens.

What were the desserts in Shakespeare's time? ›

Desserts included fruit, honey, pastries rich in butter, puddings using stale bread, biscuits, gingerbread, and all manner of cakes, fruit pasties and tarts made using refined sugar (by now being grown in the Americas but still expensive).

What was Shakespeare's Favourite meal? ›

In Shakespeare's plays, we see references to many deserts and snacks, from gooseberry foyle (a cream pudding), to marchpane (the ancestor of marzipan), to fried or boiled snails. There are also many references to ale in Shakespeare's works, and the bard was known to drink lots of it.

What is the food of love in Shakespeare? ›

The first line of the play , by William Shakespeare . The speaker is asking for music because he is frustrated in courtship; he wants an overabundance of love so that he may lose his appetite for it.

What would Macbeth eat? ›

A medieval banquet might include wild boar, venison, rabbit, grouse and other game birds, fish and foods which are no longer eaten today such as peaco*ck and swan. It is safe to assume that Macbeth probably served some sort of meat at his banquet. The most common meats were pork and chicken and fish.

What baked goods were from the Elizabethan era? ›

Fruit pies, sweetened with sugar, thickened with almond milk. Sweet cakes (or cates) of various kinds. Puddings - This means more than just dessert. Daryole (cheesecakes) and custards.

What was Shakespeare's favourite color? ›

Since he relied upon the patronage of others to put on his plays, I would assume that his favorite color is green(the color of money).

What were the most commonly eaten foods in the Elizabethan era? ›

Poor people ate mainly black bread, rabbit, hare, fish, turnips, cabbage, beans, onions, cheese, porridge and honey. Richer people dined on known recipes such as mutton in claret and Seville orange juice, spinach tart, birds such as crane, swan and stork.

What food was popular in the 1600s? ›

Some of the most likely foods to appear were shellfish, ham and artichoke. For the common classes during the time these paintings were made, Wansink says, more likely items to eat would have been chicken, bread and the odd foraged fruit.

What foods were eaten in ancient times? ›

Studies show that the city dwellers ate a variety of meats, dairy, grains and other plants. The shards yielded traces of proteins found in barley, wheat and peas, along with several animal meats and milks.

What did royalty eat in the Elizabethan era? ›

Food for a King

He chose from a huge buffet, sampling whatever took his fancy. Dishes included game, roasted or served in pies, lamb, venison and swan. For banquets, more unusual items, such as conger eel and porpoise could be on the menu. Sweet dishes were often served along with savoury.

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