to eat someone out of house and home – to eat everything offered to you, and then raiding the cupboards and fridge. Like our children do every half term.
This is a very useful phrase if you live with teenagers, or rugby players, or six-year-olds. Both of us find ourselves saying ‘they have eaten me out of house and home’ with alarming regularity.
The phrase has been around for a long time, featuring in a dictionary of 1578¹, it was popularised by William Shakespeare in Henry IV Part II (1597):
It is more than for some, my lord; it is for all, all I have. He hath eaten me out of house and home; he hath put all my substance into that fat belly of his: but I will have some of it out again, or I will ride thee o’ nights like the mare
Shakespeare himself was as obsessed with food as the rest of us. The word ‘feast’, alone, is mentioned over 100 times, and there are thousands of references to food and drink in his collected works. Dinner with The Merry Wives of Windsor featured hot venison pasties, followed by pippins (apple tarts) and cheese, Henry V’s men went into battle with their bellies full of ‘great meals of beef’, and Sir Toby Belch’s famous roar “Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?” (Twelfth Night) went on to feature as the title of W Somerset Maugham’s novel of social snobbery.
Food in Tudor England would have been a very flavoursome affair, if rather meat-based. Henry VIII himself would have feasted on boar (wild pig), venison (deer) brawn, pheasant, peacock and swan, followed by all manner of jellies, puddings, whitepots (a baked custard with dried fruits in) and trifles. Spices were frequently used; cinnamon, nutmeg and many things were coloured with saffron or stained with red wine. The Tudor’s liked their food gaudy².
The Tudor court was not big on vegetables, however, as they were seen as ‘peasant food’, so despite his rich diet, consuming around 5,000 calories a day, Henry is thought to have suffered from malnutrition. Apart from his love of strawberries, he was, evidently ‘suspicious of fruit’.
By the Elizabethan era, however, and Shakespeare’s heyday, people were less fearful of vitamin C, and the incidents of scurvy were reducing. Visitors to the Globe and The Rose theatres (Shakespeare and Marlowe’s, respectively) would have enjoyed walnuts, hazelnuts, plums, cherries and raisins, as well as mussels, and cockles, with the wealthier eating the rarer peaches and figs. And everyone would have eaten oysters, dredged off the bed of the neighbouring Thames – they were seen as common food, perhaps the Tudor equivalent of popcorn at the cinema?
It is now that I need to confess something to you. Whilst researching this piece, I was filled with dread for whatever food I would have to cook and pretend to like. I don’t know why, but I always imagined Elizabethan food to be a bit, well, musty and unpleasant. So, it was with some trepidation that we tasted the dish below. When first tasting the sauce, Kayte remarked. ‘Wow. That is unusual. It tastes rather like Hampton Court³ smells’, which I didn’t take as an encouraging sign. However, when we poured it over the venison it was a different story entirely. I can’t stop thinking about it, and will definitely cook this again.
If you are feeling adventurous, please give this a try, and let us know, below, what you thought!
VENISON WITH CINAMMON SAUCE*
- 1 venison haunch, approx 8-10kg
- 100ml vinegar (I used sherry, but balsamic might be a more modern addition)
- 150g butter
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 2 tbsp brown sugar, or honey
- Preheat the oven to 220C/Gas 8.
- Place the meat in a roasting tin, bone side down, and roast for 40 mins, then reduce the temperature to 160C/Gas 5 and continue roasting for 24 minutes per kilo for medium rare.
- Alternatively, I bought some venison fillets, pan fried for 3 minutes on each side, and finished them off in the oven at 180C/Gas 6 for about 10-15 minutes, depending on thickness
- Once cooked, set the venison aside for 15 – 30 minutes (depending on whether you cooked steaks or fillet) to rest.
- For the sauce, melt the butter in a saucepan.
- Whisk in the remaining ingredients and bring to the boil. Simmer for a minute or so, then pour over the rested meat.
1 – Thomas Cooper’s Thesaurus Linguae Romanae Britannicae, 1578: “to eate out of house and home: to waste and consume his substance, money etc.”.
2 – gaudy (adj) – highly coloured, often in a tasteless or eye-offending manner.
3 – Hampton Court was built by Henry VIII’s Chancellor, Cardinal Wolsey. Henry popped in for tea one day and decided he liked it so much he would just have it. (Well, once Wolsey had fallen out of Henry’s good books. How convenient). It is one of only two surviving Tudor palaces, along with St James’ Palace. If you get a chance to go, please do. It is fascinating and rather beautiful.
*from A Proper New Booke of Cokerye (1545), the second-oldest cookery-only book in the English language. Edited for online use by Dyfed Lloyd Evans (Nemeton, 2012). Recipe features at Kindle location 1476
(c) Kayte & Nicer Kate 2017. Authors assert moral rights