Happy Birthday, Your Majesty and William Shakespeare

If you’re in the UK, there’s a lot to celebrate this week. Elizabeth II, the reigning monarch, turned 88 a couple of days ago. She doesn’t look a day over 80. Today, William Shakespeare turns 450. I’m sure that he doesn’t look a day over 445. 

The Queen usually has a big national celebration in June. Because she’s the Queen; that’s why. I’m sure that HRH the Duke of Edinburgh  (a/k/a Prince Phillip) came up with a suitable token of esteem, hard as it might be to surprise someone who owns her own country. I’m sure, too, that something lovely for tea was served. 

In Shakespeare’s time, however, not so much. Unless someone was of noble rank, birthdays were not regularly acknowledged. Feast days and festivals abounded, but individual birthdays, not so much. Even though ren faires are based on festival days, I doubt that fried mac and cheese would have been available, or the banana-chocolate crepes topped with ice cream and whipped cream and a cherry. Nor would the diet Coke that you may have chosen as an accompaniment.  

What would have been available were treats flavored with honey, spices, and almonds. Ale, wine, and beer were the beverages of choice. All the drinks were flavored with spices, honey, lupins,* and sugar. Even though germs had not been discovered, it was common knowledge that water was bad for human consumption.

Everyday meals depended on your social rank. Bread, cheese, and fish were common parts of everyone’s meals. The working people ate a lot of vegetables. The nobility, on the other hand: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OnAhSBCa584. Lucy Worsley goes on a shopping trip for Henry VIII in this clip. Food wasn’t that different for Elizabeth I or Mr. Shakespeare, so this clip will give an idea. 

Some New Word foods had started to appear on the culinary horizon, but due to spoilage issues and expense were few and far between. A pineapple popped up here and there, but only very occasionally.

For a period party celebrating Mr. Shakespeare, I’m sure a nice bit of gingerbread or marzipan would have provided a delightful surprise. A good mug of ale might have gone even further in pleasing him.