Category Archives: Food and Drink


(From Shakespeare & Beyond; Photo: Savory Cogs Biscuits. Photo by Brittany Diliberto.)

With the Folger’s four-year Before ‘Farm to Table’ project drawing to a close, we’re revisiting three of the most popular early modern recipes adapted by the project team and shared on the Shakespeare & Beyond blog.

Before ‘Farm to Table’: Early Modern Foodways and Cultures, the inaugural project of the Mellon initiative in collaborative research, used the pervasiveness of food in everyday life as a window into early modern culture. Recipes played a central role in this exploration of food-related topics, given that the Folger is home to the world’s largest collection of early modern English manuscript recipe books.

new website, launched July 27, documents the multi-faceted work of Before ‘Farm to Table’, which included research, lectures, exhibitions, and theater collaborations at the Folger.

Enjoy the recipes shared below and read more blog posts from the Before ‘Farm to Table’ team.

A pirate botanist’s hot chocolate

Our most popular recipe was for William Hughes’s hot chocolate. Marissa Nicosia adapted this early modern recipe for the 2019 Folger exhibition First Chefs: Fame and Foodways from Britain to the Americas:

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(Marissa Nicosia’s article appeared in Folger’s Shakespeare Library’s Shakespeare Plus, 12/3; via Pam Green.)

Knots, cookies, and women’s skill

A plate of beautifully baked cookies is a wonderful thing. It is a welcoming gesture for guests, it signifies a holiday or a special meal, and it is a demonstration of a baker’s skill at making something pleasing to the eye and the palate. In Shakespeare’s England, bakers in elite households prepared sugar sculptures, confectionary, marzipan, and sweet doughs shaped into knots, twists, and letters.

Sweets were an occasion for British women to not only show that they were excellent bakers, but that they were masters of other handicrafts such as sewing and writing. In her book Pens and Needles: Women’s Textualities in Early Modern England, Susan Frye explores the deep and pervasive connection between sewing and writing in Renaissance culture. She writes, “Women from a variety of backgrounds created needlework pieces that placed accepted subjects in every room, that helped to clothe themselves and their families, and that declared the family’s social status, even as they may be read as personal and political expressions” (116). A woman’s style of knotting thread and creating samplers, or needlework pictures, was an indication of her class and taste. It was as individualized as handwriting. Likewise, as Wendy Wall shows in her book Recipes for Thought: Knowledge and Taste in the Early Modern English Kitchen, handwriting and needlework were connected to culinary skill. Although elite women employed cooks in their households, the lady of the house might personally participate in the preparation of finely shaped delicacies. Recipes that instructed cooks to shape soft dough or marzipan into “knots,” asked bakers to draw on their experience knotting thread as well as writing “knots,” meaning elaborate circular flourishes or majuscule and miniscule letterforms (Wall 143).

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(Michael Billington’s article appeared in the Guardian, 4/20.)

Arnold Wesker in The Kitchen  introduced us to the idea that work was inherently dramatic. This astonishing play by the US playwright Annie Baker is in the same tradition, in that it shows how work can be a way in to exploring human relationships as well as social and ethical issues. I should say straight off that this is a quiet play that slowly unfolds its meaning over three and a quarter hours. By the simple act of not demanding our attention, however, Baker rivetingly compels it.

The two previous Baker plays seen in Britain, The Aliens and Circle, Mirror, Transformation, both dealt with enclosed worlds. In this play, her setting is a small movie house in Massachusetts: the audience is in the position of the screen, confronted by rows of empty seats and a projection booth. The three main characters work in the cinema. Sam is a burly 35-year-old whose job is to clear the debris from the auditorium and supervise the toilets. He is joined this particular summer by Avery, a 20-year-old African American on a break from his studies at a college where his dad teaches semiotics. The third figure in this exquisite triangle is Rose, the projectionist in one of the few cinemas yet to switch to the digital process.


(Ligaya Mishan’s article appeared in The New York Times, 10/9; via Pam Green.)

It must be a Friday or a Saturday, from April to October, after 10 p.m. — the later the better — and still you may not find her, Maria Piedad Cano, the once and future Arepa Lady of Jackson Heights, Queens.

For more than two decades, she has parked her cart among the late-night roisterers of Roosevelt Avenue. Early in her career as a street vendor (previously, in Colombia, she was a lawyer and a judge), she was canonized in The New York Press by Jim Leff, who later helped found Chowhound. Now 70, she remains his seraphic archetype: a tiny, bright-eyed woman with a halo of reddish hair and the kind of smile typically achieved only after years of solitary meditation, making the quicksilver toss of a $4 corn cake on a griddle a gesture at once elegant and magnanimous.



(Chris Jones’s article appeared in the Chicago Tribune, 3/28.)

Lubricated by a salty margarita purloined in the lobby, clearly besotted with the environmental theatricality of period Mexican chic, and with the taste of Rick Bayless' tuna ceviche apparently dancing cartwheels on his lips, one intensely aroused gentleman at the Lookingglass Theatre opening Tuesday night just couldn't contain his glee. "This," he shouted, plenty loud enough for all of his communal table-mates to hear, "is an experience."

At that juncture of the evening, the main show known as "Cascabel" hadn't really fully started. But it was a pretty good one-word review, although I might have gone with "aphrodisiac." For across the room, one hot-and-heavy couple was so taken with each other in this evocative sensory setting one started to ponder how good this unusually commercial Lookingglass enterprise might end up being for Magnificent Mile hotels. Or the local birth rate.,0,2991319.column