A Shakespearean scholar and an award-winning chef have teamed up to write an idiot-proof cook book recreating Elizabethan recipes for the modern palate. Catherine Vonledebur reports.
While Shakespeare scholar Alycia Smith-Howard was researching a new recipe book of 16th century-inspired dishes, she spent hours leafing through the Bard’s plays and poems, discovering there were 1,000 culinary references in them.
Her painstaking research was part of a new collaboration with former Claridge’s chef and Stratford-upon-Avon college lecturer Alan Deegan.
The pair have launched The Food of Love, A Taste of Shakespeare in Four Seasons, which features 80 dishes adapted and updated for the contemporary kitchen from 16th century English cookery books and Warwickshire recipe collections, together with anecdotes and explanations from Shakespeare’s plays.
Recently retired Alan, who was head of catering and hospitality at Stratford-upon-Avon College for 32 years, has concocted modern versions of 16th century recipes for every season ranging from Ophelia salad to chilled cherry and rose soup; noisettes of venison with pippins and brambles to spiced orange cake with glazed orange.
“Two of my favourite recipes are vegetarian. One is courgettes stuffed with goats’ cheese and tarragon; the other, an amulet of beans and artichokes. They taste fantastic,” Alan.
“I still work at the college one day a week. My students couldn’t believe how simple many of the recipes are.
”Most of the recipes are from 16th century books. I have taken these dishes and ingredients and updated them for the 21st century. I’ve always loved learning about the history of food since I was at college.”
Shakespeare scholar, theatre director, lecturer and blogger Alycia provided the textual references for the cookbook.
“When I started it was a bit of an ordeal. I went through 36 of Shakespeare’s plays, the sonnets, Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrese, to pull out all the culinary references I could find. I found 1,000,” she says.
“I didn’t use a database, I used a pencil and paper and wrote down an actual list.
“The Shakespeare play with the most culinary references is The Winter’s Tale, which features a grocery shopping list in Act 4, scene 3:
“Clown. Let me see; what am I to buy for our sheep-shearing feast?
Three pound of sugar, five pound of currants, rice, – what will this sister of mine do with rice?
But my father hath made her mistress of the feast, and she lays it on.
… I must have saffron to colour the warden pies; mace; dates? – none, that’s out of my note; nutmegs, seven; a race or two of ginger, but that I may beg; four pound of prunes, and as many of raisins o’ the sun.”
Before venturing into teaching, the award-winning chef Alan worked at Claridge’s in London from the age of 19 to 22.