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In Shakespeare’s in Henry IV, Part 2, Falstaff has the line: “his wit’s as thick as Tewkesbury Mustard” (Act 2, Scene 4). Falstaff is describing his friend Ned Poins, but it presents the question of what was Tewkesbury Mustard? Turns out this particular mustard developed in a small town of England called Tewkesbury, and it was not only popular in Shakespeare’s lifetime, but during the 17th century it was considered a staple condiment in kitchens of this time period. Amazingly, the mustard has not only survived the centuries but is still being made exactly the way it was for Shakespeare’s lifetime right in Tewkesbury at the Tewkesbury Mustard Company. We are delighted to have Robin Ritchie who is founder and Mustard Master Emeritus at the Tewkesbury Mustard Company to share with us the history of this mustard, how it is made, and how you can enjoy some for yourself. https://www.tewkesburymustard.co.uk/about/
Robin Ritchie started informally making Tewkesbury mustard in the year 2000, supplying the town only. On retirement he first collaborated, then handed over the reins of the business, now called The Tewkesbury Mustard Company to Samantha Ramsey. Under her direction, Tewksbury Mustard now sells world-wide.
Robin describes himself as a jack-of-all-trades, starting out as a forester in Scotland, then becoming qualified as a Landscape Architect in Cheltenham (where he met his wife Julie) before starting his own landscape construction company. This financed the start of Hoo House Nursery that his wife runs and now, in his old age, is building a barn, hoping to finish it before anno domini intervenes.
I’ll be asking Robin Ritchie about:
- What are the ingredients in Tewkesbury mustard?
- Tell us about how the mustard is made today and what specific methods you use that stays true to the 16th century artisan method of making this mustard.
- Who are some of the 16-17th century cooks and authors who reference this mustard and what recipes were they using it in?
- …and more!
Resources Recommended by Our Guest
I think large chunks were lifted from The Tewkesbury Mustard Web site though, sadly, among the illustrations is a jar of mustard labelled Tewkesbury mustard (which is anachronistic). There are, though, other interesting quotes and comments.
Gerard’s Herball is available as a facsimile in book form as is Culpepper’s herbal. They have less to do with cookery, more to do with self treatment for all the painful ailments they suffered. For instance Queen Elizabeth the first was always complaining about her teeth. What teeth she had were reputedly black. Possibly she chewed Tewkesbury mustard to improve her humour though I doubt she would risk a smile.
There are no mediaeval cooks contemporary with Shakespeare that I have found based in England. Nevertheless, some in European countries have published tracts. You can find a few on https://www.oldcook.com/en/medieval-discovering_cooks
The History of Nutmeg
Hear Brigitte Webster, Tudor food historian, share the provenance, usage, and famous recipes for Nutmeg in Shakespeare’s lifetime.
Ingredients for Tewksbury Mustard
There are not any written recipes for how to make Tewksbury Mustard that have been found so far, prior to 1830. As Robin shares this week, that doesn’t at all mean that the mustard did not exist before then since we can tell from records like Shakespeare’s plays that the mustard was used, and popular. However, discerning exactly what would have gone into making a 16-17th century Tewksbury mustard remains something of a mystery.
The one record we do have of how it was made included using an old canon ball to mash up the mustard into a powder. Robin explains that the use of a canon ball was due to the prolific availability of canon balls in Tewksbury as it had once been the site of the last battle in the War of the Roses, the Battle of Tewksbury, and was therefore littered with canon balls.
Tewksbury Mustard comes in balls, not jars
The Tewkesbury mustard company website says that for Shakespeare’s lifetime this mustard was only ever sold in balls, as opposed to jars, which was a change that started in the 19th century. Robin explains that the mustard was ground up, and then dried, and formed into a tight call that was “as hard as a canon ball.”
Putting the mustard into balls allowed for efficient travel, as it was not necessary to keep the mustard in a ceramic jar or glass container, which are both highly breakable. Packing the mustard in balls allowed it to be carried along rough roads and in paniers, which are basically traveling backpacks for merchants delivering goods.
Using Tewksbury Mustard
Tewksbury mustard was used to add flavor to breads, meats, or other edibles. To use the mustard, you first broke a piece of the mustard ball off into your plate using a knife. Then you mixed whatever liquid was at hand–water, ale, wine, etc—and reconstituted the dried mustard into a paste which was then smeared over whatever you wanted to eat it with.
Robin shares that while, “We don’t know for sure how they were sold, we can assume Shakespeare would have had one in his pouch, and traveling with them, [and] they may have been available in inns, we don’t know.”
There was a great importance placed on Tewksbury mustard, with some archival evidence of orders for mustard, like the 50 pounds ordered by Arnie Hall, which suggest that mustard was second only to salt as an essential table item for Shakespeare’s lifetime.
Robin explains that the mustard is renowned for its’ quality and popularity as a condiment. While we don’t have precise recipes for the ingredients to make it, there are several references that indicate it was famous in 1597, as Shakespeare was writing about it, and can be dated back to Henry VIII for popularity.
Robin tells an anecdotal tale of Henry VIII visiting Tewskbury in 1535, with his new wife Anne Boleyn, and they were feasted at Tewksbury Abbey, where there were mustard balls wrapped in gold leaf served on the table. We do not have proof of such a story having actually happened, but is delightful to consider.
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That’s it for this week! Thank you for listening. I’m Cassidy Cash, and I hope you learn something new about the bard. I’ll see you next time!