An Elizabethan Family At Dinner
The Elizabethans, like us, had three main meals a day: breakfast, dinner, and supper. Breakfast was
eaten early, usually between 6-7am, dinner at midday, and supper between 5-8pm. The kinds of food eaten depended very much on wealth and
status. Poor people, in general, had humble and unvaried diets, whereas the rich of Elizabethan England ate well. They enjoyed all kinds
of meat, including beef, pork, lamb, mutton, bacon, veal, and deer, and fancy fowl such as peacock, swan, and goose. Their diet also
included freshwater and sea fish, such as salmon, trout, eel, pike, and sturgeon, and shellfish such as crabs, lobsters, oysters, cockels
and mussels. For the poor, bread was the staple food and it would be eaten with butter, cheese, eggs, and pottage (a vegetable soup
thickened with oats). Poor people could not
afford much red meat, like beef or pork, so tended to eat white meat, like chicken, rabbit or hare, and birds they could catch like
blackbirds or pigeons. As Queen Elizabeth made a law in 1563 that compelled everyone to eat fish on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays,
the poor also regularly ate fish. This law was made to support the fishing industry. Disobeying the law could mean up to three months in
The Elizabethans also ate fruit and vegetables. Some of the vegetables available to them were: turnips, parsnips, carrots, lettuce, cucumbers, cabbage, onions, leeks, spinach, radishes, garlic, and skirret (a popular root vegetable of the time). Some of the fruits eaten were: apples, pears, plums, cherries, lemons, raspberries, blackberries, melons, and strawberries. Expensive fruits, like peaches, oranges and pomegranates, were eaten only by the rich. Fruits were regarded with some suspicion in Tudor times, however, and were rarely eaten raw. They were mostly baked in tarts or pies or boiled to make jams. Indeed, pies were very popular in Tudor times and were eaten by rich and poor alike! The Tudors also did not appreciate the nutritional value of vegetables and rich people, who had a vast amount of choice in food, didn't eat enough of them. It is thus one of history's ironies that the lower classes, who ate a lot of vegetables as they could not afford meat, actually had a healthier diet!
Example of an Elizabethan Pie
Mary Arden's Farm
Nuts were also widely eaten in Tudor times, hazelnuts and walnuts being popular, and pulses such as peas, beans and lentils. Spices and
herbs were used to flavour food and honey was the most common sweetener as sugar was very expensive. Nutmeg was very expensive too.
As water was considered unsafe to drink, the Elizabethans drank ale instead. Even children drank ale as it was not very strong. Strong ale was reserved for times they wanted to make merry! The rich drank ale too, but also wine, which was very expensive. Popular wines were claret, malmsey, and sack (a type of sherry). Milk was sometimes drank, sheep's aswell as cow's, but was mostly used to make butter, cream, and cheese.
16th Century Market
The Elizabethans would generally buy their food from their local market or fair. Most foods would be sourced locally, but some foods would travel quite a distance and would vary in freshness and quality. For example, towns and villages that were inland did not have fish as fresh as those communities living by the sea.