‘THE ART AND MYSTERY OF COOKERY’ : Food and Drink in the 17th Century

Take a quart of water, and six ounces of harts-horn, put it into a bottle with gum-dragon, and gum-araback, of each as much as a walnut…

                                  Extract from Robert May’s recipe ‘To make Piramedis Cream’


In 1660, just after the end of the Civil War in England, Robert May, a professional cook published a radical new book – ‘The Accomplisht Cook: The Art and Mystery of Cookery’, at the age of 72. The book is widely regarded as one of, if not the first ‘cookery book’ in England. The recipes cover a great variety of delicacies crafted over the course of May’s lifetime, many of which may be familiar to us in the modern day, others, completely alien.

Archaeological evidence of past food and drink abounds in London. Excavating a portion of the huge City Ditch, a historic ‘dumping ground’ for the City, the evidence at 100 Minories has produced a wide range of food-related artefacts, from food-waste products such as oyster shells and animal bone, to the very tools of consumption – ceramic vessels, frying pans, and wine bottles.

What perishables did these objects hold? Where did the ingredients come from? How hard were they to find? What did they taste and smell like? What do they tell us about the people living around the Minories through time, their health, how they may have enjoyed each other’s company?

At 100 Minories we are using Robert May’s recipes as the ‘meat’ and inspiration for investigating the evidence of food and drink discovered on site. Recreating select meals from May’s book, this project is producing a 100 Recipe Book, translating these recipes into modern day measurements, with step-by-step pictures. Through this gustatory enquiry the project will investigate what kind of meals could have been eaten, and the kind of drinks that may have been quaffed around the Minories area, and how, or if we can understand the recipes in the modern day, for use in our own kitchens, by food enthusiasts of both the past and present.

The outcomes for this project will be a 100 Minories Recipe Book and write-up for the project, and also a selection of recipes produced and served at our Symposium ‘live’ events.


Featured Image

Jan Davidsz de Heem (1643). Still Life with Lobster. Oil on Canvas. [ Wallace Collection ] .