Food From the Age of Shakespeare

By using cookbooks from the 17th century, one intrepid writer attempts to recreate dishes the Bard himself would have eaten

The Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. features a collection of recipe books offering a fascinating window into life during Shakespeare's era. (Maura McCarthy)

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For the fricassee, I browned the pieces of rabbit in butter in a large skillet. I removed the meat, sautéed the chopped onions, parsley and thyme (a substitute for Fowler’s winter savory) and returned the rabbit to the pan and let it simmer about 20 minutes. I served the fricassee with peas and mashed potatoes. The common combination of herbs, onions and butter created a stew both savory and familiar, and the rabbit reminded me of chicken, but more flavorful and tender. My dinner guests ate with gusto, using the pan juices as gravy for the potatoes. Was this comfort food circa 1684?

As a finale, the fool was not quite as successful. Though delicately spiced, the mixture never fully solidified, leaving it a gloppy texture. Perhaps I didn’t boil the cream long enough. “A surprise to the palate,” said one guest puckering at the unfamiliar gooseberries. In my recipe makeover for the fool, I recommend raspberries, which have a delicate balance of sweet and tartness. Because we’re blessed with electrical appliances, I converted the fool recipe to a fast no-cook version. Over the centuries chicken became a popular fricassee meat and it will substitute well for the rabbit, which was common fare for our 17th-century ancestors. Fowler’s recipe called for a half pound of butter, but I used considerably less to spare our arteries.

As I offer these changes, I feel as if I’m scribbling a few notes in Sarah Longe’s and Elizabeth Fowler’s recipe books. Somehow, I don’t think they’d mind at all.


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