Sugar and Spice And All Things Nice

Chef and food writer Sam Bilton is bringing her Repast Supper Club to Anne of Cleves House this OctoberFeast for a fantastic feast inspired by the Great Bard. Read on for tantalising talk of Tudor food and an authentic recipe for ‘biskit bread’.

Forget champagne and caviar. If you really wanted to demonstrate your worth during the Tudor period you bought sugar and spices, writes Sam Bilton.

Both were coveted by the rich. Queen Elizabeth I was particularly fond of sugar and it is thought that her love of the sweet stuff was chiefly responsible for the blackness of her teeth. Sugar was used in both sweet and savoury dishes. It was not uncommon for pies to be strewn with sugar irrespective of whether the contents were sweet or savoury. Our traditional mince pies served at Christmas are an obvious example, but sugar also found its way into dishes like blanc manger which was a combination of rice, chicken and almond milk flavoured with rosewater and sweetened with sugar.

Spices have been used in British cookery since the Romans invaded our shores. They were particularly prevalent during the mediaeval period but they were still widely used and liked during the Tudor times. Spices such as cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg have a natural affinity with sweet dishes. But there were many other spices widely used during this period which have fallen from favour such as musk and ambergris (that’s whale vomit to you and me!).

Many of the recipes from this era feature spices such as the spinach tart I will be serving as my first course at the Toast to Shakespeare supper at Anne of Cleves House on 25 November 2016. This vibrant tart is delicately spiced with cinnamon and coriander and is adapted from a recipe in Gervase Markham’s The English Huswife dating from 1615. The recipe below shows just how spices were used to their best effect. These little biscuits are really lovely served with a posset such as the lemon and ginger one featured on next week’s menu. We still have a few seats available. To book your place please click here.

Biskit Bread

This recipe is from Elinor Fettiplace’s Receipt Book. Elinor was a late 16th century / early 17th century lady of the manor in Oxfordshire who kept a household manual containing recipes. The book eventually found it’s way to Hilary Spurling who edited it for publication.

Makes 36 or more


1 tsp anise seeds
½ tsp coriander seeds
110g plain flour
2 eggs
110g caster sugar
1 tbsp rosewater


  1. Preheat the oven to 160℃.
  2. Grind the spices in a coffee grinder until fine. Stir into the flour.
  3. Beat the eggs with the caster sugar until pale and voluminous. Fold in the flour and spices followed by the rosewater.
  4. Pipe 6cm lengths on a greased or silicone lined baking sheet. Bake for around 8-10 minutes or until the edges of the biscuits are just beginning to brown. You can flip them a cook them a little longer if you want them slightly crisper. These are delicious served with a posset or syllabub.

A Toast to Shakespeare
25th Nov

Anne of Cleves House

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