Food in the early modern period: 16th century

In the beginning of the 16th century, the printing press was working hard and making the world smaller in the means of information. Cookbooks began to appear in print and ideas spread more easily from kitchen to kitchen. Not only through printed recipes and cookbooks, but also via poems and medical essays with diet focus. Information also spread with the increasing amount of travellers who tried new types of food and ways to eat them. With royal entourages, clergy, ambassadors, merchants and adventurers travelled their household and cooks. They got to travel from country to country and gather practical information and expertise in foreign cuisines. The rich even brought back cooks with them.
The book industry and the business travelling helped spredding expensive goods to the culinary curious, like truffles, capers, candy and citrus fruits. Italy was the culinary leader of the century and their cuisine was a big step away from the heavier food cooked and eaten during the Middle Ages. The dishes were lighter and not only did their cookbooks contain complete menus and recipes for the dishes, but you could also find instructions for the perfect music to be played at precise points during a feast.

A wedding feast in 1529 between a future Italian duke and a French princess had 18 courses and went on for 7 hours. It had a lot of local ingredients like eggs, cheeses, small fish, calamari, crayfish, rice, beans, oranges, macaroni, asparagus, salads, artichokes. This was held during a fast day, so no meat was served. But fried fish was sprinkled with cinnamon, sugar and orange juice. The feast ended with a sweet section containing candied oranges, lemons, cucumbers and almonds. The tables were set with damask cloth and the finest Murano glasses. 25 sugar sculptures, gilt and coloured also adorned the hall.

We have information about the court of king Christian II of Denmark, and what they ate. The food instructions are saved and they tell us that everyone at court ate 2 times a day, regardless of station. But the king was served 8-10 tasty dishes each meal. Nobles at the court got 6 dishes. Some combinations could be cabbage with pork, beef with sauce, salted beef with mustard, fried lamb, whole boiled chicken and lastly some kind of game. Servants for 4 dishes and common people 3.
In some way, someone has calculated that they all had about 4000 calories per day, they were just served in different ways.

Bishop Brask in Linköping, Sweden, kept a thorough record of his meals and feasts. His records gives us a better understanding of the kinds of vegetables and fruits that were used in northern Europe at the time. A lot of the time, they’re left out of descriptions. The desserts were mostly made with apples, pears, berries of different kinds, nuts, honey, almonds and raisins. To the meats they had eggs, peas, turnip, carrots and millet. Other than that, vegetables weren’t very common. And they were always cooked. Mushrooms were frowned upon all they way into the 19th century.
The servants at Bishop Brask’s estate got 4,5 liters of beer per day. 2,25 liters of bread, pork, sausages and head cheese to a combined amount of 0,5 kilos. They also got fish products, just short of 0,5 kilos. Flour, peas and grains; just under a deciliter. Butter, 23 grams and salt in the same amount. Lastly, 16 grams of cheese. On top of that, all the cabbage and turnips they could get.

Accordning to Mark Dawson who’s written a book about food and drink in a 16th century household, mealtimes was a well established tradition at the time and t was a sign of civilized behaviour. The working people were said to eat four or five times per day and the gentry and nobility two; dinner and supper. Printed texts about meals and diets didn’t recommend its readers to have breakfast. Breakfast was for the hard working people, those on travels, the sick, the old and children. Those should eat small meals and often. Two meals should be enough for everyone else.
Breakfast was a light meal, maybe some beer and bread, maybe so butter as well. But there’s also an example of an morning omelett or pancake made with eggs, butter, sugar and currants.
Dinner was usually eaten around noon and supper at or just before nightfall. The meals seems to have taken about an hour each in a middling household. A meal at a gentry household would’ve been longer. Mostly due to the larger number of people being served. Those meals could go on for two or more hours.

/Honorable Lady Gele Pechplumin
(Magdalena Morén)

(The information is from following sources:
-Anne Willan (2012) The cookbook library : four centuries of the cooks, writers, and recipes that made the modern cookbook
-Pia Gadd (2001), Mat i myt och historia
-Mark Dawson (2009) Plenti and grase: food and drink in a 16th century household)

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