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Shakespearian Dinner Parties

For William Shakespeare's 450th birthday celebration, we're hosting a blog series to highlight the events that took place around the world for the Bard's 400th birthday back in 1964. Check out how some parties created menus based entirely on food mentioned in Shakespeare's plays!

Helen Cook
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Today I discovered that it’s possible to base an entire dinner party menu on the words of Shakespeare when I found some menus from 1964 that did just that.

One menu, from a dinner held at the Banqueting House in Birmingham on 1st May 1964, is entirely made up of quotations, with no other explanation about the dishes. The dinner consisted of, among other things:

  • A hoate pye “some pigeons....., a couple of short-legg’d hens”  (Henry IV Part 1 Act V Sc1)
  • “That roasted Manningtree ox with the pudding in his belly”  (Henry IV Part 2 Act II  Sc4)
  • “pippins and cheese”  (The Merry Wives of Windsor Act I Sc2), and
  • “Pepper-gingerbread”  (Henry IV Act III Sc1)

Shakespearian Dinner Parties
A selection of items relating to Shakespearian dinner parties in 1964

It is fascinating to imagine what the diners might have been served. The 'hoate pye’ might have been a hot raised pie, popular in Tudor times. Butter was expensive so the pastry case often included lard or water instead and was consequently very tough. It acted as a pastry bowl for the pie’s contents, the bit that would have been eaten at dinner. The ‘Manningtree ox’ is fairly clearly a whole ox but the pudding is intriguing. For those who were well off, Tudor food was all about display and dishes could be very theatrical. The pudding in its belly might have involved savoury sausages made from intestine, stuffed with vegetables and herbs and then placed back inside the carcass so they could be dramatically cut from the stomach when it was served at table.

‘Pippins and cheese’ might simply have been apples and cheese, a similar idea to the cheese boards with grapes that we serve today.

Tudor recipes for gingerbread suggest it was more like ginger cake than the crunchy gingerbread we would recognise. Pepper was an expensive ingredient that would have highlighted the wealth of the household, as well as tasting good. It is still used in some modern gingerbread recipes.

Another menu from a dinner given by the Wellington Shakespeare Society, New Zealand on 23rd April 1964 includes a Shakespearian quotation after each contemporary description of a dish - and to really get into the spirit, the diners dressed up in costume.

These guests enjoyed:

  • Vegetable soup “...gruel, thick and slab”  (Macbeth Act IV Sc1)
  • Roast Chicken “That the soul of our grandam might haply inhabit a bird”  (Twelfth Night Act IV Sc2), followed by
  • Ice Cream “like an icicle on a Dutchman’s beard”  (Twelfth Night Act III Sc2)

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