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Sustainability is a Tudor way of life

Mistress Ellen

My name is Mistress Ellen and I am a Maid in the household of Yeomen Farmer Mr Adam Palmer of Wilmcote. The year is 1573 under the reign of our gracious Queen Elizabeth, and being a Tudor maid means never wasting anything. On a farm such as ours we try to use everything and never throw anything away that could be useful.

In the kitchen we cook dinner every day for all the farm workers. One of the most important dishes is pottage; a vegetable soup that’s served at the beginning of the meal. It’s cheap, thick, hearty, and fills everyone up. It’s also a good way of using up leftovers – anything not eaten from the day before can go into the pottage. One day you might find a meat bone, at another a bit of sausage, or even a piece of pie! It’s “pot luck” what you get in your bowl of pottage, and it means that food is never wasted. We always make sure we leave some leftovers from dinner, so that they can go in the next day’s pottage. Bones are used to make stock, stale bread made into breadcrumbs for the fishcakes, and leftover pastry is used to make peascods.

Food is expensive, so we don’t like to waste any. But many things are expensive for a Tudor, including our clothes. All our clothes are made from natural materials – wool, linen and leather. These are all valuable, so we don’t like to waste any of it. Wool blankets can become coats, worn out kirtles can be cut up and the wool used to edge other clothes, or adult clothes can be taken apart and use to make children’s clothing.  The linen is used to make our shifts, aprons, partlets and coiffs. Once they have worn down, they are used for kitchen cloths, and once those have worn down to practically nothing they are used to make char cloth to light our kitchen fire.

We rear our own animals on the farm – the ducks, geese and chickens are all close to the house, and they are part of sustainable living too. We use the eggs in our cooking, the feathers for our beds, pillows and quill pens, and the meat is a wonderful treat on Sundays. We also raise pigs – otherwise known as Tudor bins! If there is any food we cannot eat, the pigs on a Tudor farm get it. In time they also feed us, and so nothing is wasted. If there is something even the pigs can’t eat, then it can go on our midden. A midden is a Tudor rubbish pile. All the animal waste goes on there, along with anything we cannot eat, as well as garden waste. It all breaks down into lovely compost which we can then use on our garden to grow our food.

Everything on a Tudor farm is biodegradable, and nothing lasts forever. But a Tudor maid makes sure that everything is put to good use, and never throws anything away if she can help it. Being sustainable isn’t a choice for a Tudor – it is a way of life.

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