A few weeks ago I had a cold and while I decided to stick with modern lemsip, I thought I would find out what our ancestors would take for a cold.
We all know honey is good for you when you have a cold (honey and whisky if you are of the scottish persuasion ) but did our ancestors have different ways of fending off colds?
In the 1500s a recipe using nettles,ale,bay leaf and pepper was used.
In the 1600s a recipe using figs,dates,raisins and liquorice could be found in wealthy homes for ridding the body of a cold.
By the 1700s the following recipe was common....
40 drops of spirit of sea salt
1oz of honey of roses
8ozs Barley water
Mix together, heat until blood warm and then gargle with it.
The Spirit of Sea Salt, we are hoping, is just salty water but it was also an old alchemists name for Hydrochloric Acid
Maybe we will just stick with lempsip!
the apothecary shelf at Beamish Open air museum.
We have Rhubarb and Blueberries from my Parents garden and Plums from a friends Garden.(they also have apples and crab apples!)
Mention Rhubarb to most people and they will think of crumble with custard or ice cream or they will think of warm summers dipping Rhubarb stalks in sugar to eat and will think that Rhubarb has been around in Britain for ever.
But thats not true. Rhubarb can be traced back to China but it wasn't grown in Europe until the late 1300s.
It wasn't used as food though but rather medicine.
The Rhubarb root was dried and flaked and made into a tea for use as a laxative, in fact he first recipes using Rhubarb as a food don't appear until the late 1700s
Our Rhubarb will be made into classic pie....with lots of custard...Mmmmmm
I am reading a rather good book at the moment called "Feeding Nelsons Navy" by Janet Macdonald.
One of the interesting facts that I have found out is that the daily rations for each man in "His Majesty's ships " added up to 5000 calories per day!
That amount of calories seem quite excessive by todays standards but if you have to haul around three-ton guns and expend calories keeping warm, every single one of those calories will be needed.
The rations over the week were:
1 lb of biscuit per day
1 wine gallon of Beer (about 3.7 litres)
4 lbs beef per week (salted or fresh)
2 lbs of pork per week (salted or fresh)
2 pints of pease per week (dried peas, soaked in salt water)
3 pints of oatmeal per week
6 ozs butter per week
12 ozs Cheese per week
Biscuit could mean hard tack or soft bread or in fact Flour "in lieu" of the biscuit...and if that ran out during the voyage then rice would take it's place
We had some left over Apricots this week so decided to make some Jam.
This is by no means a modern way of preserving food. For thousands of years fruit was preserved by simply cooking lightly and being put in jars of honey, this way it could be used throughout the winter months .
Vegetables could also be preserved this way but mostly vinegar and spices were used to preserve vegetables.
Apricots were known to be in Scotland around the time of Mary Queen of Scots and while probably out of reach for most people, they would have certainly be eaten in the Royal Court and would have been preserved either in honey or by making into Jam.
In fact soft fruits such as Strawberries and some stoned fruits such as Apricots could be made into the first Fruit Winders! Yes those chewy, full of sugar, apparently good for you sweets are not modern at all but instead are 500 years old.
Fruit was simply boiled with sugar and then spread out on a pottery plate, left in the sun to dry and when set it was cut and rolled up!
bowl of apricots beside a class jar of apricot jam
I bake bread in a bread machine at home purely for ease. I know I can make it from scratch but it is also great to chuck everything in, switch on and go and do the 101 other jobs
In medieval Scotland most houses did not have ovens,especially in towns. So if you were making your own bread it would be bannock, which were cooked on an open fire on a griddle.
So how did you get your bread?
Just like we do today, bread would be bought from town Bakers.
Each month the Burgh courts would set the price for a loaf and every baker would sell at the same price.
Some loaves were made from very rough flour, some from finer flour so of course the finer loaves would cost more.
The term "Upper Crust" is used to describe someone that is rich or well off.
It comes from medieval bread baking. Loaves were baked in the stone floor of the over, meaning that the bottom of the loaf could be slightly burnt or mucky.
The rich people didn't want that part so it was cut off and the bought only the "Upper Crust"
That meant of course the burnt lower crust could be bought by the not so well off!
loaf of bread made in a bread machine, sitting on a wire rack
In the 12th Century is was advised that you do not eat pears raw!
Healthy people may get away with it but if you were sick and had something wrong with your humours then eating raw pears would probably cause death.
This would be because raw pears were very moist and once eaten the fluid from the pears would leach into the lungs and solidify making the person unable to breath!
Obviously making pear cider with the pulp and the juice of pears wouldn't cause any problems....funny that!
different varieties of pears
With the release of the film Outlaw King, some people were wondering since Edward II makes an appearance,would his supposed lover be in the story too. I won't spoil it in case you haven't seen the film,but I did find out this little fact......
A group of barons seized Piers Gaveston, the Gascon favourite of Edward II of England, and put him to death. Gaveston and Edward may or may not have been lovers, but it was taken as a token of the former’s effeteness that a table fork was found among his possessions after his death.
The fork had been used in Italy for a number of years (mainly to eat pasta) but didn't find its way to these shores until late 1600s/middle 1700s!I
It was seen as "unnatural" and singled out Gaveston as being different.....and gave the barons a perfect excuse!
photograph of a silver, 4 pronged fork
Having dinner in the times of Mary Queen of Scots wasn't quite as simple as it is today. There was obviously no Macdonalds and throwing together a quick pasta dish was unheard of.
All manner of things had to be taken into account when planning dinner. Was it a meat day? Was it a fish day? Was it a holy day?
Of course if it was a meat day you then you were subject to what time of year it was! Beef and Bacon were good all year round, as was mutton, but a goose is not very good in midsummer.Veal was best in January and February, not too bad the rest of the time and lamb was best around Christmas! Phew!
Whilst most meals would consist of meat or fish, a couple of vegetable side dishes and perhaps a pudding, a meal fit for the Royal court could be made up from over 30 dishes over many courses.
Alongside beef, pork and games birds such as pheasant, swan, peacock and heron could also be found gracing the table of Mary Queen of Scots.
In a cook book from the late 1500s a list of dishes that would be presented at an important dinner included a dish of leeches! Don't panic however, this was not the black squidgy creatures we think of today but rather milk, thickened with flour and flavoured with lemon juice or rose oil.
Mary Queen of Scots with white horse and bird of prey
Who remembers the nursery rhyme "sing a song of sixpence" and do you remember the line "four and twenty blackbirds" ?
This part of the nursery rhyme was based on a trick that medieval cooks, in large castles, liked to play on visiting guests.
They would place live birds in a dish, place an already baked crust of pastry on top and then the guests would be invited to cut open the pie....and out would fly the birds!
If you were a successful Pirate you may be lucky enough to have a set of cutlery like this on board!
Most Pirates would be eating from wooden plates and bowls though.
However successful a Pirate you were, you would certainly know ( and possibly have broken a tooth or two!) on Hard Tack.
Hard Tack was made from Flour, Water and salt. Made into squares, they were very hard and lasted.....sometimes for years!
The general advice was never to try eating them without soaking them in something first....as you would certainly loose a tooth
Pewter cups, plates and cutlery
Around 1750 A man called Jonas Game wrote an essay on the bad effects of drinking tea!
He decided too many people were drinking this beverage, it made men useless and made women lose their looks.
He saw no benefit of drinking tea and it resulted in "bad nursing of children" and told people "the flatulent liquor shortens lives"
Although such views were held by some people for over 100 years, tea drinking survived !
*written while drinking a cup of tea *
We associate Hot Cross Buns with Easter, but where did they really come from?
There are various tales about how the Hot Cross Bun came about, Spiced breads have been around for centuries and were generally used in celebrations way before they were associated with Good Friday.
The Buns we all know evolved from bread cooked by monks who marked crosses in their bread, to Bless the bread ...... actually the cross that was marked into bread was more likely to allow the bread to rise and had nothing to do with blessing it.
The bread that is used for Hot Cross Buns was a sweat dough enriched with Eggs and Milk which was not allowed to be eaten during Lent.
So when Lent was over these small sweet buns were made to celebrate and eaten on Good Friday.
Hot Cross Bun were in fact just known as Good Friday Buns and only had a cross cut into them. The Monks were known to give these to the poor on Good Friday.
The name Hot Cross Bun came about in the 1700s along with the plain cross of dough in the centre.
Elizabeth I actually banned the making and eating of Hot Cross Buns unless it was at Christmas, Good Friday or at a Funeral. If you broke this Law you had to give all your Buns to the poor.
Another folklore tale is that if you take a Hot Cross Bun on a ship with you , then your ship will not be shipwrecked.