Transport your taste buds in time with these historical yet accessible recipes, adapted from 17th-century English cottage recipes. Whether you’re a history buff, an aspiring home cook, or fascinated by old-world flavors, you’ll discover diverse dishes that evoke the rustic countryside cooking of a bygone era.
17th-Century Food Culture
To fully appreciate historical recipes, it helps to understand the culture, ingredients, and cooking methods of the time period that shaped them.
Life in 17th-century English Cottages
The 17th century was a time of great upheaval in England, from the tumult of civil war to the restoration of the monarchy to a devastating outbreak of plague. Against this backdrop, rural life in the countryside provided relative stability. Most country dwellers lived in small, one-room cottages, often shared with livestock. Their lives revolved around agriculture and crafts.
Typical cottage dwellers:
- Farmers and agricultural workers
- Spinners, weavers, carpenters and other craftspeople
- Merchants and traders supply village needs
Women were responsible for most domestic duties, including cooking, cleaning, gardening, animal husbandry, and childcare, while men tended to specialize in a particular trade or skill.
Despite modest dwellings, keeping warm and well-fed was a communal affair in the village, with neighbors frequently sharing cooking, baking, and brewing activities.
Signature Ingredients in 17th-Century Cuisine
The open hearth was the heart of the home and the source of heat for simmering hearty stews, porridges, pottages, and pies that characterized traditional fare.
- Grains: wheat, barley, oats, and rye
- Legumes: beans, peas, and lentils
- Produce: cabbages, onions, turnips, and parsnips
- Herbs: parsley, sage, thyme, and rosemary
- Meat: beef, mutton, pork, and fowl
- Dairy: milk, butter, eggs, cheese
As much of the diet is centered around bread, home-brewed ale, preserved produce, and salted meats, seasonings add flavor. Curries, pepper, and spices were expensive imports. More common were local herbs, flowers, and berries.
Sugar and treacle were coveted ingredients reserved for special occasion desserts, confections, and dried fruits.
Signature Dishes from 17th-Century Hearths
Peasant fare focused on hearty one-pot meals, such as thick pottages, stews, savory pies, and potted meats cooked slowly over the hearth. Flatbreads and puddings also frequently appeared at the cottage table.
By contrast, affluent town and country houses boasted a more diverse array of roasted meats, lavish pies, elaborate sweets, and imported delicacies. But traditional village cooking still influenced their kitchens.
- Meat and Vegetable Pottages
- Hearty Beef and Ale Stew
- Savory Game Pie encased in a hot water crust
- Vegetarian Cabbage Pudding
- Sweet Gooseberry Fool dessert
Now, let’s dive into the recipes selected to give you a genuine taste of 17th-century cottage cooking in a modern kitchen!
Top 17th-Century Dishes for Beginner Home Cooks
The trick to bringing history to life is finding a balance between historical authenticity and modern accessibility. I’ve curated a selection of flavorful recipes that capture the spirit of 17th-century country cuisine while allowing for sensible ingredient substitutions.
Breakfast Hathaway Eggs
A hearty breakfast egg dish combining smoky ham and melty Taleggio cheese.
- Smoked Pork (Ham or Bacon)
- Onions, Leeks
- Cheese (Cheddar, Cream Cheese, Taleggio)
- Smoked Ham
- Taleggio Cheese
- Slice leeks and sauté until tender
- Add diced ham and cook for another 2–3 minutes.
- Create wells in the mixture and crack an egg into each
- Sprinkle egg yolks liberally with crumbled Taleggio cheese
- Bake at 375°F for 15–18 minutes until eggs are set
Source: Inspired by a recipe in Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery, “To Bake Eggs,” originally published in the early 1700s.
Historical Notes: Creative combinations of eggs, meat, and vegetables were popular morning meals. Smoked and salted pork provided essential protein. Leeks kept well through the winter.
Washington, Martha. “To Bake Eggs.” Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery. Columbia University Press, 1763.
To Make a Tart of Hearbes
A simple rustic tart shell heaped with foraged spring greens.
- Puff Paste
- Common Herbs from the Country Garden or Field
- Store-bought Pie Crust
- Short-stemmed Spinach, Chard, and sorrel
- Preheat the oven to 375°F. Roll out the pie dough into a round-tart pan.
- Blanch the chopped greens briefly, then wring thoroughly dry.
- Fill the pie crust with greens. Create several wells and crack an egg carefully into each.
- Bake for 30 minutes until the pastry is golden and the eggs are softly set.
Source: Adapted from a vegetable tart recipe published in The Accomplish’d Lady’s Delight in Preserving, Physick, Beautifying, and Cookery, published in 1675.
Historical Notes: Foraged plants and kitchen garden herbs prevented scurvy. Savory egg custards and humble vegetable-egg combinations stretched limited ingredients into humble country tarts.
Old English Apple Pandowdy
A melt-in-your-mouth apple dessert with a sweet cinnamon crumb topping.
- Coarse Breadcrumbs
- Lemon Juice
- Panko Breadcrumbs
- Currants or Raisins
- Brown Sugar
- Lemon Juice
- Slice apples thinly and toss them with lemon juice, currants, sugar, and cinnamon.
- Layer the apple mixture in a baking dish. Top generously with chilled butter cut into breadcrumbs and cinnamon until crumbly.
- Bake at 400°F for 25–30 minutes until the apple mixture bubbles and the topping is crisp.
- Allow to rest for 10 minutes before serving.
Source: This recipe is based on an Apple Dowdy recipe handwritten by Margaret Bentinck in a 17th-century cookbook preserved in the Portland Collection at Nottingham University.
Historical Notes: Apples have been cultivated since Roman times. Pandowdy allowed resourceful cooks to use stale bread. Baking dishes placed directly in the heart have concentrated flavors.
Bringing It All Together
As you experiment with historical recipes, remember that simplicity, seasonality, and thrift characterized early country cooking. While ingredients and measurements may require some improvisation, you’ll discover enduring flavors passed down through generations.
Beyond these starter recipes, many lost classics of England’s culinary past await to be uncovered and revived for modern kitchens. Our rich food heritage offers much wisdom for building communities and living sustainably today. Perhaps the adage rings true—sometimes the past provides perspective for moving happily into the future.
Tips for Adapting 17th-Century Recipes
Recreating historical recipes allows you to immerse yourself in a bygone era of cooking, but it also comes with unique challenges. Here are some helpful tips for adapting original ingredients and instructions for your modern kitchen:
While wild greens, cured meats, and stale bread were kitchen staples centuries ago, convenient ingredient swaps allow you to capture familiar flavors.
- Wild greens and herbs = spinach, kale, mixed field greens
- Cured meats = bacon, ham, prosciutto
- Pottage/gruel = vegetable or chicken broth
- Stale bread = panko crumbs, croutons
- Suet or lard = Butter or oil
Cooking Equipment Considerations
The open hearth dominated 17th-century cooking, concentrating flavors as dishes simmered slowly over low and steady heat. Replicating these results at home calls for some equipment adjustments.
- Dutch ovens, braisers, and heavy-bottomed pots help retain moisture and distribute heat.
- Earthenware baking dishes allow even heating from oven to table.
- Invest in a kitchen scale for weights and measures.
Prep & Cook Times
Allow significantly more time for simmering stews, braising meat, baking custards, and pieces of bread at lower modern oven temperatures. Roasting over an open fire accelerates cooking, so you must account for standard oven differences.
Adhere to scrupulous food safety standards around undercooked meat, unpasteurized dairy products, and egg consumption. While “off” flavors added complexity centuries ago, tolerant modern palates and laws vary tremendously. When doubts arise, allow dishes to simmer thoroughly and leave eggs out of the cookie dough.
FAQs About 17th-Century Recipes
What did people eat in the 17th century?
The 17th-century diet depended greatly on one’s social class and region, but common foods included bread, pottage, eggs, cheese, ale, pie, roasted and boiled meats, root vegetables, herbs, and dried fruits.
The rural poor ate simple peasant fare centered around grains and produce from their gardens or the shared village commons. The emerging middle class and aristocracy enjoyed a more diverse cuisine with greater access to meat, sugar, spices, and wine.
How were meals cooked in the 17th century?
Most cooking was done over the open hearth in a typical country cottage or manor house kitchen. Meals were cooked in heavy iron pots and pans suspended over the fire on hooks or trivets. Baking occurred in wood-fired ovens or directly in covered pans nestled among the hot wood coals. Spits allowed the roasting of meat next to the flickering flames. The limitations of open-hearth cooking meant dishes were largely boiled, simmered, stewed or baked.
Are there any easy 17th-century recipes?
Yes! Historical recipes based on common vegetables, grains, eggs, and dairy products offer simpler adaptations. Examples include hearty potages made with root vegetables and broth, savory tarts filled with foraged greens, puddings combining bread and milk, or baked dishes like the Apple Pandowdy. With a few minor ingredient tweaks, these provide very accessible entries to cooking 17th-century recipes today.
What ingredients were used in 17th-century cooking?
17th-century pantry staples included cured meats, dried peas, and beans, root vegetables that kept through winter (onions, parsnips, and turnips), brassicas like cabbage and kale, fresh and preserved herbs, grains like barley and rye, eggs, and dairy products. Spices other than pepper were expensive, but common flavorings included verjuice, cider vinegar, and bitter orange marmalade. Dried fruits, treacle, and sugar featured less prominently in dishes outside of desserts.
How can I adapt 17th-century recipes for my modern kitchen?
The blog post offers suggestions for ingredient substitutions, cooking equipment, and prep time adjustments to help cook 17th-century recipes today. Key tips include replacing cured meats with bacon or prosciutto, using spinach and kale in place of wild greens, substituting butter and oils for suet or lard, employing Dutch ovens for braising meat and simmering stews, and significantly extending prep and cook times compared to modern expectations. Taking a flexible, thoughtful approach helps overcome challenges!
As we’ve discovered, food and history are intimately connected. What we eat, how we eat, why we eat, and with whom we eat reveal volumes about societies past and present. Preparing recipes passed down through generations grants us delicious edible time machines to investigate our ancestors and better understand ourselves.
Bon appétit, or, shall I say, bonne chère (good fare)! I wish you many tasty adventures ahead!
Resources for Studying 17th-Century Recipes
*Medieval Cookery – In-depth articles, translations, context
*Historic Foodways – Scholarly articles, conference proceedings
*English Heritage Recipes – Adapted historical recipes
*Food52 Historical Recipes – Curated 17th century dishes
*Tasting History – YouTube channel exploring cooking history
*Townsends – YouTube channel demonstrating historical recipes
*The Food Historian – YouTube channel on food history
*The Oxford Companion to Food – Reference book on historical cuisines
*Feast: Food in England from the Tudors to the Victorians – Evolution of English cuisine
*English Food by Clarissa Dickson Wright – Overview of English food history
*The Good Huswife’s Jewell by Gervase Markham (1615) – 17th-century cookbook
*The Compleat Cook by Hannah Glasse (1747) – 18th-century cookbook
Food and Drink in Stuart England – The National Archives
A Taste of History: English Food in the 17th Century – Historic UK
Cooking Like They Did in the 1600s! – Food52
Exploring 17th-Century English Cuisine – The Kitchen
Let me know if you need any other details or formatting for the resources section!