While an average Tudor family would have lived on a diet of stewed vegetables, pulses, grains, bacon and some dairy products, Henry himself was offered a tempting array of at least 13 freshly cooked dishes at every meal. Every day, he would choose from a huge buffet, sampling whatever took his fancy. Recipes for Henry VIII included a variety of pies, game, roasted meats, pottages and sweet dishes such as custards, fritters and jellies.
Some of his favourite dishes included venison, pies stuffed with oranges (recipe included here) and an early version of beef olives called Aloes (recipe also included here). As for desserts; jelly (recipe included below), tarts, fritters and strawberries (recipe included) featured regularly.
There is plenty of evidence that Henry VIII loved fruit. Cherries and strawberries were particular favourites, which he enjoyed raw, while most other fruit (apples, pears, plums, damsons, peaches and later in his reign, apricots) were eaten cooked in pies, tarts, jellies or preserves (stewed). Citrus fruit (oranges and lemons) were extremely expensive because they had to be imported – but in 1534 Henry even bought an orange strainer! There are numerous accounts of people giving gifts of fruit to Henry throughout his life-time.
Whilst the majority of food at court was cooked in the main kitchens, the King’s food was prepared by his personal chef, a Frenchman called Pero Doux. He earned a whopping £23 16s 8d, (£7,150 in modern terms), with all the king’s food being cooked in a private kitchen below, or near to, his privy suite rooms.
So want to know what it was like to dine at the king’s table and eat the very dishes Henry VIII loved? Well, roll up your sleeves and let’s get cooking!
Recipes for Henry VIII # 1: Jelly Hippocras
The king was particularly fond of jelly made with hippocras. Here is an easy recipe from A Book of Cookrye, circa 1591. This modern version is from Peter Brears’ Cooking & Dining in Tudor & Early Stuart England.
- 300 ml. claret (red wine)
- 100 g. sugar
- 2 pieces root ginger
- 5 cm stick cinnamon
- ¼ crushed nutmeg
- 6 cloves
- ¼ tsp. coriander seeds
- pinch of salt
- 5 leaves gelatin
Lightly bruise the spices and gently simmer with the salt in 300 ml water for 10 mins. Pour claret into a pan, stir in the gelatin and leave to soak for 10 mins. Strain the spiced water through a fine cloth (or coffee filter) into the pan, stir in the sugar and gelatin mixture and gently heat while stirring until fully dissolved. Pour into a dish and leave to set in the fridge.
Recipes for Henry VIII # 2: A Dysschful of Snowe
The recipe is from the A Proper Newe Booke of Cokerye, circa 1545. This version is taken from Cooking & Dining in Tudor & Stuart England, by Peter Brears.
- 1 pint of strawberries, halved
- ½ cup of red wine
- ¼ cup caster sugar
- ¼ tsp cinnamon
- ¼ tsp ginger
- ½ pt whipping cream
- ¼ cup caster sugar
- few drops of rose water
- 1 egg white
Mix the strawberries with the wine, sugar and spices and chill for 2-3 hours. Put strawberries in a dish and make up the cream. Whip cream and egg white separately. Fold whipped cream into the egg white and add sugar and rosewater GENTLY. Spoon cream onto strawberries and serve immediately. (Note: this recipe contains uncooked egg white).
Henry VIII Recipe #3: To Make Aloes to Roast
From Thomas Dawson’s The Good Huswifes Jewell circa 1596, II, 13. This modern version is also from Peter Brears’ Cooking & Dining in Tudor and Early Stuart England. Note that ‘Aloes’, is the old French for the larks they originally imitated and were made by spreading minced meat on thin slices of raw beef, which were rolled up and roasted on spits.
- 4 thin slices of raw beef ( 4 in/ 10cm across )
- 1 large onion, finely chopped
- 1 tsp. parsley, finely chopped
- 2 tbs. suet
- 1 hard-boiled egg, finely chopped
- 1 raw egg yolk, beaten
Lightly beat the steaks out flat. Mix the ingredients for the filling, spread over the steaks, roll them up and secure them with either small skewers, thread or thin twine. Place in a tin and oven roast at 170°C/325° F/ gas mark 3 for about 30 minutes, basting with a little fat, oil or butter from time to time. When tender, remove skewers, thread or twine and serve immediately.
Henry VIII Recipes # 4: Tarte of Apples and Orange Peels
This recipe is a bit harder to follow as it is in its original format. However, it is interesting to see that original recipes were targeted towards an audience assumed to be accomplished in cookery. This recipe is originally recorded in The Good Huswifes Handmaide for the Kitchin, by Thomas Dawson; 1597. This version comes from The Tudor Cookbook by Terry Breverton.
‘To make tarte of apples and orange peels. Take your oranges, and lay them in water a day and a night, then seethe them in fair water and honey. Let them seeth till they be soft. The let them soak in the syrup a day and a night. Then take them forth and cut them small, and then make your tart and season your apples with sugar, cinnamon and ginger, and put in a piece of butter. Lay a course of apples, and between the same course of apples, a course of oranges, and so course by course. And season your oranges as you seasoned your apples, with somewhat more sugar, then lay on the lid and put in the oven. When it is almost baked, take the rosewater and sugar, and boil them together till it be somewhat thick, then take out the tart. Take a feather and spread the rosewater and sugar on the lid, and set it into the oven again, and let the sugar harden on the lid, and let it not burn .’
- Seville ( bitter) Oranges
- Sugar & Rosewater
- A batch of shortcrust pastry
If you have enjoyed these delightful recipes for Henry VIII and maybe want to read more about the king’s public and privy apartments at Hampton Court Palace, where he would have enjoyed this kind of food, follow this link.
Each week, our Tudor recipe is contributed by Brigitte Webster. Brigitte runs the ‘Tudor and 17th Century Experience‘. She turned her passion for early English history into a business and opened a living history guesthouse, where people step back in time and totally immerse themselves in Tudor history by sleeping in Tudor beds, eating and drinking authentic, Tudor recipes. She also provides her guests with Tudor entertainment. She loves re-creating Tudor food and gardens and researching Tudor furniture.
Sources and recommended further reading.
- 500 facts about Henry VIII, by Historic Royal Palaces
- Henry VIII and the Men Who Made Him, by Tracy Borman
- The Six Wives & Many Mistresses of Henry VIII, by Amy Licence
- Henry VIII King & Court, by Alison Weir
- The Tudor Kitchen, by Terry Breverton
- Cooking & Dining in Tudor & Early Stuart England, by Peter Brears