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Shakespeare & Beyond

Early modern recipe combinations to get you through the winter

Savory Cogs Biscuits. All photography by Brittany Diliberto.
Savory Cogs Biscuits. All photography by Brittany Diliberto.

We’ve shared so many early modern recipe adaptations on this blog that it might feel overwhelming to choose from them all. That’s why we’ve created some delicious combinations for you to experiment with over the holidays and beyond. You’ll find recipes for breakfast, teatime, a fancy holiday meal, and more.

Many of these recipes were developed by the team behind Before ‘Farm to Table’: Early Modern Foodways and Cultures, the inaugural project of the Mellon initiative in collaborative research at the Folger. Others were shared by food historian and cookbook author Francine Segan.

Early modern recipes often lacked the detail and specificity that we expect today, but these recipe adapters have done all the work for you of figuring out how to recreate each recipe for a 21st-century kitchen. So go ahead, do a little historical cooking and get a taste of what people were eating in the early modern period.

Thanksgiving redux

Sometimes you just want another round of those November favorites. Dig into early modern turducken mini pies, stuffing, and sweet potato pudding — all based on recipes found in the Folger collection.

Snowy afternoon

No cookie cutters, no problem. These 17th-century knot cookies, flavored with rosewater and caraway seeds, are easy and fun to make, and they go perfectly with pirate botanist William Hughes’s “American Nectar” a.k.a. hot chocolate. Just the thing for a cozy afternoon inside.

Tea time

Looking for something to nibble on as you sip your steaming mug of tea and read about early modern caffeinated drinks? Whip up a batch of 1610 rose cakes or follow this 17th-century recipe for seed cake inspired by the farmer poet Thomas Tusser.

seed cake
Seed cake. Photo by Teresa Wood.

Fancy holiday meal

Take your table up a notch with these elegant dishes. Savory saffron biscuits accompany a centerpiece of braised brisket; both are adapted from 17th-century recipes. (Maybe add your favorite vegetable side to round out the meal; this one’s on you.) Serve Renaissance citrus tarts, with their notes of pepper and ginger, as dessert. For a festive holiday drink, try making this early modern twist on eggnog: posset.


Brighten up your mornings with a breakfast a little outside the norm. We’ve got two early modern egg recipes for you: poached eggs in moonshine and spinach toasts. Also, try this delicious 17th-century recipe for marmalade containing an orange, a lemon, and an apple.

Food with a flourish

Be a little playful with your food this winter! Try this recipe for “pears” in broth, the “pears” being grapes tucked inside meatballs. Or, make a fish-shaped dish of salmon in pastry. For a delightful dessert, take inspiration from this 17th-century recipe for hedgehog pudding, in which almonds stick out like hedgehog spines.