Dr. Philippa Kelly, Cal Shakes Dramaturg
Dr. Philippa Kelly, Cal Shakes Dramaturg

Feasting Blog


By Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly

THE ELIZABETHAN CURE FOR A HANGOVER: pickled eggs or boiled cabbage or charcoal (by the way, while Elizabethans didn’t have toothbrushes to freshen themselves the morning after, they were the first people to use “soot” to whiten their teeth – the precursor of today’s charcoal toothpaste!)

If the eggs and cabbage don’t work for you, the Dispensatorium Pharmacorum, a medical dictionary from the mid-16th century, offers recipes that attack the effects of a hangover by combining wine with ingredients such as the ashes of scorpions, dog excrement and wolf’s liver. And an article from The London Distiller in 1667 explains how to make a tonic from a crushed human skull: “Take the Cranium-Humanum as you please, break it into small pieces . . . then put fire to it by degrees, continuing until you see no more fumes come forth; and you shall have a yellowish spirit, a red Oyl, and a volatile salt.” This is reported to have excellent results.

Prior to an evening of heavy drinking, eat cabbage soaked in vinegar – cabbage carries a lot of vitamin B6 that will carry you through the night. Prophylactic cabbage ingestion was a remedy drawn from ancient times – Caesar’s armies carried cabbage with them and used it not only to prevent hangovers, but to bind wounds so as to reduce infection.

Elizabethans also recommended ivy leaf bruised in wine. Ivy was associated with Dionysus, the Greek god of wine, vegetation, pleasure, festivity, madness and wild frenzy: he is often pictorially depicted wearing a crown of ivy.

But maybe Elizabethans were simply more seasoned drinkers – after all, Londoners drank “small beer” (with less than 1% alcohol content) all day to neutralize contaminants in the water of the Thames, which was filled with soot and excrement. Servants and children commonly drank small beer as well.


Upper-class feasts featured all kinds of meat, many of them at the same meal: including beef, pork, lamb, mutton, bacon, veal, and deer, and fancy fowl such as peacock, swan, and goose. Nobemen and women’s diets also included freshwater and sea fish – salmon, trout, eel, pike, and sturgeon – and shellfish such as crabs, lobsters, oysters, cockels and mussels.

The Elizabethans also ate fruit and vegetables, though not the range of them we have today. They had turnips, parsnips, carrots, lettuce, cucumbers, cabbage, onions, leeks, spinach, radishes, garlic, and skirret (a popular root vegetable of the time). Popular fruits were apples, pears, plums, cherries, lemons, raspberries, blackberries, melons, and strawberries. Expensive fruits like peaches and pomegranates, were eaten only by the wealthy (not so different from today!) Fruits were regarded with some suspicion in Tudor times, however, and were rarely eaten raw. They were mostly baked in tarts or pies or boiled to make jams.

Now let’s talk about pies… Pies were very popular in Tudor times and were eaten by rich and poor alike, which is why audiences might not initially have turned a hair when Tamora in Titus Andronicus was served up a pie with her dinner. What neither she nor the audience anticipated was that two of her sons would be baked into a pie by the vengeful Titus. Now that’s enough to put you off your dinner…


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