Traditional Local Fare
The kitchen table in Oliver Cromwell's house in Ely shows an array of traditional local fare from Cromwell's time. The fireplace dominates the room now, as it would have in Mrs Cromwell's life. There are tied cloth bags of beans on the table, which would have been placed in the cook pot with the boiling meat over the fire. During meals, men would help themselves to the great cuts of cured and cooked meat, and game, by slicing off meat with their own pocket knives.
Lots of local produce would have been on the table at meal times, and fish, oysters and fowl were also plentiful because they were found locally. The raised pies seen in Cromwell's House probably contained eels caught in the River Great Ouse or the surrounding fens.
Fruit, vegetables and nuts were seasonal, and so had to be 'laid down', or stored, to save for leaner times.
In Cromwell's time, carrots were white or purple, and only became orange in colour when growers developed then in honour of The House of Orange in Holland. Even then, it took time for them to become popular in England.
In the seventeenth century, milk was usually unfit to drink, and so it was made into cheese. Wine, beer and mead were the most common drinks in Cromwell's time, because water drawn from the well was often unsafe to drink. Bread would have been baked in the special oven housed in fireplaces, and was taken out using a long shovel. You can see these items in Cromwell's kitchen in Ely. The other brick opening in Cromwell's fireplace was probably used to house salt, which was very important for curing meat to prolong the amount of time it could be kept for.
Some of the herbs around the kitchen would have been used for cooking, but often they were strewn about on the bare earth floor so that their scent could be released when trodden on.
As a puritan, Oliver Cromwell was probably fonder of simple plain cooking; local fish and meats would have been been popular. Meal times have changed considerably over the years, and Cromwell would have dined at 11 o'clock in the morning. It is thought his favourite meal was roast veal with oranges.
The seventeenth century was a time of great change as people travelled more and became more adventurous. By the middle of the 17th century, towards the end of Cromwell's life, new ingredients were making their way back from Europe, and from the British colonies in the Americas. New foods were beginning to appear on the most fashionable of tables; sugar from Barbados and spices from Jamaica. Potatoes had already begun to arrive but were not yet widely used. In particular, it was the arrival of tea from China, coffee from Arabia and chocolate from the West Indies that were the most revolutionary changes. The first coffee house opened in London in 1652 and the first chocolate shop in 1657.
Elizabeth Cromwell was a good cook, and her book 'The Court and Kitchen of Elizabeth Cromwell' was published in 1654. It now provides a unique insight into her kitchen. Although from a cosmopolitan London background, Mrs Cromwell's cook book contains traditional local recipes such as Eel Pie as well as more modern recipes involving new spices, and methods of baking coming into fashion. Here are a few recipes that show you what sort of food Oliver Cromwell would have eaten:
Eel Pie with Oysters
Take the eels, wash and gut them. Dry them well in a cloth. To four good eels allow one pint of oysters, well washed. Season with salt, pepper, nutmeg and large mace. Put half a pound of butter into the piecrust, also half a lemon sliced, so bake it. Take the yolks of two eggs, anchovies dissolved in white wine, with a quarter pound of fresh butter, melt it, mix together and drain into the pie.
A Grand Salad
Take a quarter of a pound of raisins of the sun, and a quarter of blanched almonds, a quarter pound of capers, a quarter pound of olives, the like quantity of samphire, a quarter pound of pickled cucumbers, a lemon shred, some pickled french beans. Lay all their quarters around the dish with the minced flesh of a roasted hen with sturgeon and shrimps, and garnish the dish with cut beans and turnips.
Take barley and put into fair water, give it three qualms over the fire, separate the waters and put it into a colander. Boil it in a fourth water with a blade of mace and a clove, and when it is boiled away put in some raisins and currants. When the fruit is boiled enough, take it off and season it with rose-water, butter and sugar with a couple of egg yokes beaten with it.
Caudel is made of Ale, Oate-meal or Eggs, Mace, Sugar and sliced bread. It is a warm drink made of thin gruel mixed with wine or ale sweetened and spiced.
Please contact the Tourist Information Centre if you would like a copy of our free leaflet 'Cooking in the Seventeenth Century'.