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Eating Shakespeare

While in Canada, I bought a book called Eating Shakespeare, by Betty and Sonia Zyvatkauskas. As the back cover says, it "brings to life the delights and dramas of Elizabethan cookery by mixing original period recipes with their delicious modern equivalents."

It's a book of recipes drawn from books contemporary to Shakespeare, adapted to modern ingredients and techniques. Having meant to use it for over a year now, I finally decided to use it as the basis for my Christmas dinner.

I tried to choose recipes that I thought my kids (who are finicky eaters) would be more likely to enjoy. Out with the fish pies; in with the sweets. My menu looked like this:

  • Chicken salad with apples
  • Fennel purée
  • Spiced roast chicken with apples and currants
  • Apple purée
  • Orange rice
  • Cinnamon pudding
Many of the dishes -- both those I selected and in the book as a whole -- are puréed or at least very soft. The authors note that, due to tooth decay, many people of the time were partly or mostly toothless, and so soft foods were an important part of cooking. (I'm reminded to think more kindly of modern dentistry.)

Here are the dishes, ready to go on Christmas Day:

Along the left from top to bottom are the fennel purée, apple purée, and orange rice. To the upper right is the chicken salad with apples, to the lower right the cinnamon pudding, and in the center the spiced roast chicken with apples and currants. Here's a close-up of it:

So how did it all turn out? As with Thanksgiving, I graded myself, but this time I went a step farther and solicited grades from my guests. My ex-wife was easiest on me, giving me an overall grade of 3.22 -- almost a B+. I gave myself a 2.61 -- almost a B-, and virtually identical to my overall score at Thanksgiving. The kids were a bit harsher, averaging 1.79 between the three of them -- between a C and a C-. Ouch! As I might have expected, the cinnamon pudding scored highest, but I didn't expect the chicken salad with apples to score the worst, which it did.

Okay, so maybe I'm going to give the soliciting-grades-from-dinner-guests thing a rest.

In any case, the cookbook is wonderful, and any flaws in the dishes were mine and mine alone. I recommend it, though as a Canadian book, it can't be found on Amazon. The publisher's Web page for it can be found here, and it can be ordered through the chapters.indigo.ca site here.

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