In 1604, King James I of England found it necessary to reduce his household expenditure (which his loving subjects must have applauded) and announced today:
“We are truly informed by our Privy Council, that if some reasonable order be not taken to abate the great and daily charge of our household, which of necessity hath been much more increased since our coming to the crown, than it was in our dear sister’s time; and that to provide the same increase of provision will not only fall out more chargeable that we like of, but prove more burthensome and grievous to our loving subjects, whose quiet and welfare we greatly desire; First, therefore, to diminish our said daily charge, whereas ourself and our dear wife, the Queen’s majesty, have been every day served with thirty dishes of meat; now, hereafter, according to this book signed, our will is to be served but with twenty-four dishes every meal, unless when any of us sit abroad in state, then to be served with thirty dishes, or as many more as we may command.”
Sounds like he was making a real sacrifice.
Robert May wrote down a life-time’s experience of cooking for the Elizabethan and Jacobean nobility in his 17th-century book, The Accomplisht Cook, or, The Art and Mystery of Cookery (which you can read at Project Gutenberg). He also gave bills of fare for every month and several ‘feast’ days, when the groaning board would be festively augmented.
His suggested menu for Christmas Day looks like what the King was reducing, even though there are only twenty-one dishes per course:
A collar of brawn
Stewed Broth of Mutton marrow bones
A grand Sallet
A Pottage of caponets
A breast of veal in stoffado
A boil’d Partridge
A chine of beef, or surloin roast
A Jegote of mutton with anchove sauce
A made dish of sweet-bread
A swan roast
A pasty of venison
A kid with a pudding in his belly
A steak pie
A haunch of venison roasted
A turkey roast and stuck with cloves
A made dish of chickens in puff paste
Two bran geese roasted, one larded
Two large capons, one larded
Oranges and lemons
A young lamb or kid
Two couple of rabbits, two larded
A pig souc’t with tongues
Three ducks, one larded
Three pheasants, one larded
A Swan Pye
Three brace of partridge, three larded.
Made dish in puff paste
Bolonia sausages, and anchoves, mushrooms, and Cavieate [caviare?], and pickled oysters in a dish
Six teels, [teals] three larded
A Gammon of Westphalia Bacon
Ten plovers, five larded
A quince pye, or warden pie
Six woodcocks, three larded
A standing Tart in puff-paste, preserved fruits, Pippins, etc.
A dish of Larks
Six dried neat’s tongues
For days in Lent and fast-days throughout the year (there were several besides Fridays), the menu dropped down to sixteen dishes per course with no meat in sight. Truly penitential!
Below is his recommended (and much lighter) bill of fare for July:
A hash of Caponets
A Grand Sallet
Pease, or French Beans
Four Gulls, two larded
Eight Pewits, four larded
A quodling [green cooking apple] Tart green
Portugal eggs, two sorts
Selsey Cockles broil’d
On hot July days, a GRAND SALLET would be easy, satisfying, and cool:
“Take a cold roast capon and cut it into thin slices square and small, (or any other roast meat as chicken, mutton, veal, or neat’s tongue) mingle with it a little minced taragon and an onion, then mince lettice as small as the capon, mingle all together, and lay it in the middle of a clean scoured dish. Then lay capers by themselves, olives by themselves, samphire by itself, broom buds, pickled mushrooms, pickled oysters, lemon, orange, raisins, almonds, blue-figs, Virginia Potato, caperons, crucifix pease, and the like, more or less, as occasion serves, lay them by themselves in the dish round the meat in partitions. Then garnish the dish sides with quarters of oranges, or lemons, or in slices, oyl and vinegar beaten together, and poured on it over all. On fish days, a roast, broil'd, or boil'd pike boned, and being cold, slice it as abovesaid.”
[Sounds like a Salade Niçoise, or a classic Chef’s Salad.]
To modernize May’s recipe, cut up roast chicken into small pieces, and mix with minced onion and tarragon (how much depends on your taste or the amount of chicken you are using, but a little tarragon goes a long way). Tear lettuce into bite-sized pieces and mix together with the chicken. Pile that in the middle of your salad dish. Around it put various salad fixings: pickled capers, pickled mushrooms, olives of whatever kinds suit your fancy, small potatoes (cooked and chilled), peas and/or green beans (also chilled, marinated if desired), artichoke hearts, radishes, sliced cucumbers, tomato wedges, red-onion rings, etc. If you want to be really Jacobean, do as May says and add clusters of raisins, almonds, figs, and citrus fruit to the nimbus around the lettuce (oh, and oysters…). Edge the whole dish with half-moon slices of oranges or lemons. Mix together ‘oyl and vinegar’ (1/2 cup of olive oil, 3 tablespoons of vinegar) and beat until well-blended. Season with salt and pepper to taste, if desired. May says to pour it on the sallet; I prefer to have it in a separate container and let the diner calculate the amount he needs.
King James I at dinner, swiped from Wikisource
Woodcut, c. 1600, from the "Roxburghe Balades", found in Phillip Stubbes' Anatomy of Abuses in England.