A Tudor Food Revelation at Kentwell Hall

I don’t tend to get picked for school trips.  Actually that’s not true. I do get picked but I’m advised at such short notice that I can’t usually take the time off work due to a diary full of meetings.  My youngest has a new teacher who is very organised. I like her. I like her a lot. I like her even more now because I got picked to go on what was quite possibly the best school trip ever – for me let alone my daughter.

Taking a step back in time at Kentwell Hall 

Kentwell Hall in Suffolk re-creates life on a community scale.  Their entire historic house and estate are transformed into a 16th Century Manor, with hundreds of people of all ages, skills and wealth carrying out a huge variety of daily tasks in Tudor costume and language.

Our children were dressed up too. I’m proud to say I made her little raggedy costume myself so she looked like a poor Tudor girl except her shiny school shoes.


The ‘childer’ learning about fighting in Tudor times

We entered the estate through a time tunnel.  It was a proper time tunnel for all the people we then encountered spoke in early modern English so there was a lot of ‘thee’, ‘thou’, ‘mayhap’ and ‘childer’ along with a welcome level of politeness and curtseys to the masters and mistresses of the house.

I expected a tour of the house and gardens much like an English Heritage or National Trust property – Nay. Kentwell is living theatre – or live action role play.  Our first stop was the kitchen – a real kitchen with a fire, hot embers and real food being prepared for lunch service.  We were encouraged to ask questions and learn about what was going on.  I could have spent all day in there! There was no baking in this kitchen for this is done by the baker. These pies, sweet and savoury, were fried in butter.

Tudor cooks at @kentwellhall

Tudor cooks preparing lunch for the mistress of the house

Mushrooms stuffed with herbs, wrapped in pastry and then fried @kentwellhall

Mushrooms stuffed with breadcrumbs, herbs and cheese, encased in pastry and then fried

Mixed fruit and nut pastries @kentwellhall

Mixed dried fruits, nuts and honey covered in pastry and then fried- tasty and easy treats for the mistress of the house

Tudors were big fans of sweet food 

Marzipan was introduced into England in the late Middle Ages. It’s a paste made of almonds and sugar. The Tudors used marzipan, or ‘marchpane’, to make edible sculptures of animals, castles, trees and people called ‘subtleties’ which were then presented to the Master or Mistress to look upon or used to decorate the dining table.

Marzipan shapes @kentwellhall (Subtleties)

Marchpane shapes depicting the zodiac

Cheese and butter was made on the estate 

The dairy was fascinating.  In a tiny room, there were vats of milk, buttermilk, cheese and butter at different stages of production.  The most interesting thing for me was the use of elderflower to deter the flies. The dairy maid explained that the sweet scent of the flowers lured the flies upwards and thus away from the cheese and butter. Genius!

The cheese was made similarly to today with rennet being added to the milk, then left to separate and then hung up til the liquid has drained off.

Cheese in the making at @kentwellhall

Cheese in the making

It was then flavoured with apples, herbs, onions and garlic. Marigold petals are used to signify the pungent flavours favoured by the men of the household. It was presented like many things in the cross of the faith at the time – Church of England.

Cheeseboard for the Master of the Manor at @kentwellhall the marigold petal signifies garlic / heat

Cheese presented with marigold petals to signify a pungent flavour

White rolls for the rich and wholemeal for the poor

Next to the dairy we discovered the baker sat taking a break for a lunch of pottage by the open fire.  He had just made a tray of manchets to be sent to the dining hall.  His assistant showed us how the wheat was separated from the husk, then ground to a wholemeal flour and then sieved to separate the grain out into a fine white flour reserved for the rich folk.  The workers on the estate would eat the wholemeal bread as it filled them up – it was a stodgy brick of bread. Dense but full of flavour.

Manchets (Tudor white bread rolls) at @kentwellhall

Manchets – White bread rolls

The Still Room – cures for every ailment

Grand Tudor estates had a ‘still room’ to tend to the sick or injured.  It was full of herbs drying or in the process of being pounded and the ‘childer’ had much fun using their ‘vigour’ to help the old lady we met.  I was suffering from the ‘Summer fever’ so she kindly soothed my itchy eyes with a mint leaf dipped in cool elderflower water.  She also showed my the way fresh roses were picked and dried to perfume baths or rooms of the gentlefolk.

Roses dried for perfume at @kentwellhall

Dried roses ready for scenting the halls of the house

A tour of the gardens was delightful too. We met the alchemists shunned to live outside the camp with their weird and wonderful bottles of spiders, eyes and snakeskins.  We met a frail elderly lady who tended a wondrous herb garden and taught us about the uses of angelica flowers and leaves, cotton lavender and mint. Finally we met the market folk preparing their wares among which was this family selling elderflower fritters.

Tudor folk making elderflower fritters at @kentwellhall

The market folk making their lunch

Heavenly fresh blooms coated in wholemeal batter and fried in butter.

Elderflower Fritters on an open flame at @kentwellhall

Elderflower Fritters

Delicious and a perfect end to a perfect school trip. I know my daughters will cherish the memories of this day at Kentwell for years to come – as will I.

Thank you Kentwell for a lovely day and thank you Miss Woods for picking me and most of all giving me enough notice that I was able to come.

Do you have fond memories of a school trip? Where did you go? Would you take your children back there? 

10 responses to “A Tudor Food Revelation at Kentwell Hall

  1. I would have loved getting picked for this one as well. Right up my street! Glad you had fun. And your instagram elderflower fritters were lush😀 See you soon Miss Urvashi. Not long now: Woo hoo FBC!


  2. Fabulous post, lovely to see it from the other side:)


  3. If you get the chance (next year?) come sit in the Bakhus (bake house) at a weekend, and we’ll get you making some bread:-)


  4. Julia Hammonds

    So glad you enjoyed it – my partner Carl and I have been participants there since 1997 and we still enjoy it! It is most certainly a beautiful and interesting place, and I do hope you get to go again sometime.


    • We were really tempted to do that next year. Both my girls have been with school now and just raved about it for months after. Have a great Tudor Fair this weekend!


      • Email eventsATkentwell.co.uk and ask for a new participant form in late January next year. You sound like someone who should be taking part!

        Will Harper the Baker


  5. Pingback: Elderflower Power | The Botanical Baker

  6. Pingback: Farewell Elderflowers | The Botanical Baker

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