The Elizabethan era spans the latter half of the 16th century, from 1558 to 1603, and is associated with the reign of Queen Elizabeth I in England. The Renaissance was in full swing, Shakespeare was busy creating his infamous plays and the country was largely at peace. The routines of daily life were largely determined by class and meal options varied widely from the nobles to the working men.
Meat and Fish
Meat was a staple in the diet of the upper classes during the Elizabethan era. Livestock markets supplied households with a variety of animals for this purpose, with beef, pork, mutton and veal being popular options. Poultry in the Elizabethan era included many choices that would be considered quite exotic today such as peacock, heron and swan. Chicken and goose were served as well. Nobility hunted for boar, deer and rabbit for both sport and food. In the lower classes, meat was more scarce. Protein for peasants often came in the form of seafood such as fish, eel, oysters and crab.
Vegetables were considered fit for only the lower classes of society during Elizabethan times. Thus, the poorer citizens unknowingly received a healthier diet. Root vegetables such as carrots, onions, parsnips and turnips were common. They were often roasted or boiled and served in soups and stews.
Fruit was rarely consumed fresh. For the upper classes, fruit was only fashionable when served in sweet dishes such as tarts and pastries. Fruit was also crystallised or candied for wealthier citizens. Nobles of the Elizabethan era were famous for having a sweet tooth so serious as to cause rotten teeth.
Bread and Dairy
Dairy products such as cheese and milk were common in only the lower classes of society. Bread, however, was a staple for all people in Elizabethan times. The upper classes preferred wheat bread, while poorer citizens could only afford barley and rye. For the working class, the midday meal consumed in the field typically consisted of a hunk of coarse bread and a chunk of cheese.
Spices were gaining popularity in the Elizabethan era, but the expense of importing them limited their availability to the wealthiest citizens. Salt curing was the method of choice for preserving fish and meats, but this left them with an overwhelmingly salty taste. Spices could be used to mask this taste and thus make meat more palatable. Available spices in this period included cinnamon, cloves, ginger, saffron and pepper.