Shakespeare and his contemporaries were familiar with a wide range of foodstuffs and seasonings and had strong opinions about the flavor and quality of what they ate. The changing seasons gave them greens, roots, herbs, fruits, and nuts, many of which were gathered in hedgerows, fields, and forests, as well as in kitchen gardens. People enjoyed breads made from a variety of flours, ate every part of the animals that came their way, and used clever tricks to trap birds, feeding them with aromatic herbs to flavor their meat. The diet of sixteenth-century English men and women varied with the seasons, and their foods provided medicine as well as sustenance. While some foods were imported from the Continent, the average diet was based on local specialties.
By the end of the seventeenth century, new developments in agriculture, imported foods, beverages, and seasonings, and a palate that had shifted from sweet to salty had changed the way the English ate. Books on herbs and medicine, laws governing the baking of bread and the importing of spices, household accounts, gardening journals, and even student plays, as well as printed and manuscript recipe books, permit us to see into the gardens, kitchens, butteries, and cellars of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and to experience some of the food grown, prepared, and stored there.