Peacock, pies and pears: Inside the royal kitchens of Tudor-era England

By Heather Cichowski

As people use the internet and social media to stay connected during the coronavirus pandemic, they're also learning new things and exploring as they self-isolate. Fans can take virtual tours of royal palaces and discover more about historical events and figures and with that in mind, Historic Royal Palaces Instagram is hosting quarantine Q&As that provide fascinating insight into historical royal life.

One of these highlights recently focused on kitchens and food trends at Hampton Court Palace in Tudor England. At the time, they were the largest kitchens in the whole country! Followers were able to submit their questions and some of them were answered by food historian Richard Fitch on Instagram Stories.

Unsurprisingly, there were some fascinating questions and some equally intriguing answers! Followers were curious about foods from the Tudor period that are still popular today, whether peacock really was a common item on tables and the Tudor-era equivalent of takeout!

Since we know you're also curious, there are some foods from the Tudor period we still commonly enjoy today, such as "perennial favourite" of red wine and pears.

"Another dish still found today is beef olives – thinly cut steak rolled up with chopped onion, egg yolk and spices," Richard wrote.

But he pointed out that in the 16th century, this snack was referred to as "aloes."

As for peacock, it wasn't a regular protein for all. Richard said "just the top 1 per cent in Tudor England... would have had the wealth and access" to eat things like it.

Richard has been working the Hampton Court Palace kitchen for a while. Here he is, making "figgy," a traditional Tudor dish, all the way back in 1997! Photo: © Matthew Fearn - PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images

It's unclear whether peacocks were bred specifically for their meat. Richard pointed out that the birds, with their beautiful feathers, were also sought after for upper class gardens.

Portable pies were the equivalent of the modern takeaway.

"Cities were full of pie shops situated in and out of town, like motorway services," he wrote. "You'd normally pick up a pie while your horse was being fed and take it with you on your journey."

Who knew?

Meals and meal planning were "fairly regimented," according to Richard.

"In theory they were set by the accountancy dept!" he wrote. "We don't know how much input monarchs had, but menus would have been designed to suit their tastes."

MORE: Take a virtual tour of Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle and more while in self-isolation

Historic Royal Palaces, which is an independent charity that looks after Kensington Palace, Hampton Court Palace, the Tower of London, Kew Palace, Banqueting House and Hillsborough Castle, has other ways to educate and entertain people while they self-isolate.

It regularly provides fascinating tidbits and history lessons about some of the iconic landmarks. The weekly quarantine Q&As have aso offered expert insight on a wide variety of subjects. A previous Instagram question-and-answer session centred around the gardeners at Hampton Court Palace, who look after 60 acres of formal gardens, 750 acres of parkland and 500 years of garden history!

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