Bringing History to Life
The cuisine of the Early Modern period (c. 1500–1800) was a mix of dishes inherited from medieval cuisine combined with innovations that would persist in the modern era. Though there was a great influx of new ideas, an increase in foreign trade and a scientific revolution, preservation of foods remained traditional: preserved by drying, salting and smoking or pickling in vinegar. Fare was naturally dependent on the season.
The discovery of the New World, the establishment of new trade routes with Asia and increased foreign influences from sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East meant that Europeans became familiarised with a multitude of new foodstuffs. Spices that previously had been prohibitively expensive Mediaeval luxuries, such as pepper, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and ginger, soon became available to the majority population. The introduction of new plants from the New World and India like maize, potato, sweet potato, chili pepper, cocoa, vanilla, tomato, coffee and tea transformed British cuisine forever.
The Early Modern period saw the gradual arrival of printed cookery books, though the very first, the printer Richard Pynson's 1500 Boke of Cokery was compiled from medieval texts. The next, A Proper Newe Booke of Cokerye, was published sometime after 1545 during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.
English tastes evolved during the 16th century in at least three ways: recipes emphasise a balance of sweet and sour, butter becomes an important ingredient in sauces (a trend which continued in later centuries), and herbs, which could be grown locally but had been little used in the Middle Ages, started to slowly replace spices as flavourings.
Elinor Fettiplace's Receipt Book, compiled in 1604, provides a useful source of Elizabethan recipes for various forms of bread, such as buttered loaves; for apple fritters; preserves and pickles; and a celebration cake for 100 people. Around the same time, new ingredients such as the sweet potato appear, and a recipe for dressing a shoulder of mutton calls for the use of the newly-available citrus fruits.