Meals in Shakespeare's Time
Dishes were usually referred to as messes and were served on a trencher which could have been made of stale bread or wood and had an indentation for salt. People would use their own knives, to stab the meat or vegetables, and then use their fingers to eat.
Their hands were washed before and after eating, in scented water, and were also cleaned between courses. A napkin was supplied for them to cleanse their lips and faces from any sauces or grease that might stain. Bones from the meat joints were left in voiding dishes, not thrown underfoot for dogs to feast on as is popularly supposed. Dogs were not allowed within the room when meals were going on.
There were four different places to eat, depending on the level of your financial standing.
Ale Houses were the least expensive option.
Taverns were slightly more respectable than Ale Houses.
Inns were somewhere with accommodation and stabling, in case people needed a place to stay.
Ordinaries were known as the place to go for the best food options if you wanted to eat out.
Meal times were standardised for most of the country, with breakfast being a small meal usually consisting of bread and a little bit of meat.The main meal was at 11am for noblemen and scholars, but an hour later for ordinary Londoners and merchants.
A particularly popular dish was pottage which was a veg stew thickened with oats or barley or peas.
Poorer people usually flavoured with onions, garlic or herbs, but those with more money used spices and had the option of adding meat to their pottage. It could include almonds, wine, ginger, saffron and cinnamon in the recipe.
There were fast days on Fridays, Saturdays, Lent and Advent, where meat was banned, and you were only allowed to eat fish.
Some of the most common fish for the poorer Londoners were stockfish. It was an air dried cod imported from Norway and Russia and was beaten with a hammer as well as soaked in water before eaten.
Bread was a regular accompaniment to meals, but the poor had wholemeal bread while the upper classes preferred manchet. Manchet was made from white bread flour.
The beer was more popular than water as there was an issue with the safety of the water. It wasn't safe to drink, due to the lack of sanitation in Elizabethan times. Beer tended to be drunk from earthenware mugs if you were in the working classes, or pewter if you belonged to the genteel classes.
Wines from Cyprus were also a popular drink, they were known commonly as malmsley.