Whilst we have been admiring the birds and wild flowers to be seen in the walled garden, today might be good day to reflect on what life would have been like at this time of year for people back in medieval and Tudor times.
Most medieval homes were cold, damp and dark. When spring came people welcomed the chance to enjoy time out of doors, away from the dark, smoky, crowded and sometimes bug infested homes and hovels.
“Springtime is the time of gladness and of
love: for in the springtime everything seems
glad: the earth waxes green, trees burgeon
and spread, meadows bring forth flowers,
the heavens shine, and everything that in
winter seemed dead and withered, is
(Bartholomew the Englishman – 1260)
Spring Food and Drink
Spring-cleaning started from the inside, and this was the time for brewing up ‘spring drinks’ and ‘green pottages’ (a thick soup or stew) to purge away winter ills and to revive jaded bodies. Noxious pests and parasites were treated with violent purging brews and laxatives containing a mixture of cleavers, sage, fennel shoots, yellow iris and redcurrant leaves. Southernwood, wormwood, tansy, gentian, pennyroyal and hops were specific herbs used for getting rid of intestinal worms – one of the hazards of medieval life!
Posies and Garlands
In medieval times Easter marked the start of the posy season. Posies and garlands were extremely popular, not just for their attractiveness, some were considered to work as anti-plague remedies. A posy was likely to have a mixture of fragrant, herbal and purely pretty flowers. A spring posy might have included lily of the valley, daisies, violets, primroses, cowslips, rosemary and sweet rocket.
The marking of the seasons was a good excuse to make merry. Easter lasted for 17 weeks in medieval times, with Easter Sunday in the middle. People would have eaten the last of the salted meat, together with whatever fresh meat was available.
Eggs that were forbidden to be eaten during Lent became part of the celebrations again at Easter when they were used in the baking of simnel cake, which was decorated with 12 balls of marzipan to represent each of the apostles.
Giving eggs of varying sorts as gifts at Easter itself has a long tradition. In 1290 the household of King Edward I bought 450 eggs to be coloured, covered in gold leaf and distributed among his royal entourage. Amongst ordinary people pace eggs (from the French Pasque, which means Easter) were often exchanged. These were hard-boiled eggs, dyed with vegetables/plants such as beetroot (red), Pasqueflower (green) and onions (yellow).
Hopefully you haven’t overindulged with the modern chocolate eggs this year! Happy Easter!