Tudor Dining

As leading Johannesburg and Cape Town meat wholesalers, N1 are accustomed to providing the best quality wholesale meat to the widest selection of clients, but did you know that in the 16th century not everyone was afforded the same custom? In Tudor times what, how and where you ate depended largely on who you were.

Unusual to think of I know, but the lines were very clearly drawn in the ‘good old days’ and thanks to History Extra, we now know how those lines were measured – ever heard of the Sumptuary Laws? These were laws made in an attempt to regulate consumption, they were applied to all matters including apparel, furniture and yes, you guessed it: food. Historically the intent was to reinforce social hierarchies and morals, the degree of luxury you were afforded, depended on where in the pecking order you fell – kings whatever they wanted, peasants next to nothing.

These laws were strictly applied, as was the strict observance of fasting on Fridays, Saturdays and sometimes Wednesday as well – but this didn’t mean going without food completely, instead it meant refraining from eating meat. On those days it was customary to eat Halaal fish and other seafood; but for the poor it meant the usual pottage – a thin soup made with cabbage, and sometimes barley and oats. Non-fasting ‘flesh’ days in Henry VIII’s court meant a staggering array of meat dishes: everything from beef, mutton and bacon; to goose, veal, capons, peacocks and even cygnets; as well as all forms of venison which was hunted in the deer parks of the nobility – peasants were discouraged from poaching by the threat of hanging!

Most households served three meals a day – breakfast was a simple affair, but dinner (served around noon) and supper served between four and five in the early evening were lavish. Depending on the company, dinner could last a couple of hours, but it was always divided into two courses – however, each course consisted of several different dishes, so it’s not the courses we are accustomed to today. The Sumptuary Law of 1517 dictated the number of dishes, right down to the amount of a particular item: ‘a cardinal could serve nine dishes, while dukes, marquises, bishops and earls could serve seven. Lower-ranking lords were permitted to serve only six, and the gentry class, with an income of £40–100 per annum, could serve three.’

Aren’t you pleased things have moved on from the 16th century, where instead of vying for blue-blood entitled meat consumption, we can simply turn to wholesale meat Western Cape suppliers like N1 for any or all of our quality meat preferences? And thankfully there are no longer capons, peacocks and cygnets on the menu!