Benes Fryde and Jombils ; The English Tudor Christmas

by Veronica

Would the Tudor idea of Christmas food suit our modern tastes ? The Tudor Christmas fayre was different from the modern Christmas.

How different was the Tudor Christmas? I recently wrote of how the modern English idea of Christmas was set down by the Victorians. So what would it have been like previously?

In Tudor times, 15th and 16th C, houses would not have been decorated until Christmas Eve as it was considered bad luck. The decorations would have been woodland evergreens such as Holly, Ivy, Mistletoe, Box and Laurel. The idea of the Christmas tree was brought to Britain in Victorian times.

Advent was a time of fasting with no meat, cheese or eggs eaten throughout. The first post-fasting big meal, if indeed fasting was observed was Christmas dinner and so the tradition of having a Christmas dinner developed.

The Tudor idea of healthy eating though would not match up with ours.

Would the Tudor festive fayre have been to our taste? Here's a few recipes to whet the 21st Century appetite.

(Thanks to National Trust for their ideas. )

old script for benes y fryed
old script for benes y fryed
courtesy of kitchen historic blogspot

Benes Fryde ( fried beans )


1 cup of broad beans

1 chopped onion

spices; ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon

seasoning to taste

grease ( oil ) or butter


Cook the beans in water until they nearly burst and set to cool.

Meanwhile fry the onions and spices together

Add the cooled beans and stir in seasoning to taste


benes y fryde
benes y fryde
kitchenhistoric. blogspot


Frumenty or Furmity was a traditional food eaten in midwinter and Spring. It was often eaten with venison and is  wheat or barley grain based.


1 cup of cracked wheat or barley

2 cups of water

1 chopped onion

1 cup of almond milk

2 egg yolks

pinch of salt and saffron

Tudor method

Boil water and add wheat or barley grains and onion.

Return to boil and simmer for 15 mins

Add beaten eggs and milk and stir until absorbed. Serve hot with meat and sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon.




orange for sauce
orange for sauce

Orange sauce

This was served with game-birds such as pheasant and grouse in the houses of the wealthy. It is easy enough to serve up today. There are no quantities.


Orange Sauce



red wine 



Tudor method

Melt the marmalade with a little water and a glass of red wine. Add spices of choice and serve immediately.


Jombils ( Jumbles )

These are similar to macaroons in texture.


8 ozs flour

4 ozs of fine sugar

pinch of salt

1 tsp of anniseeds

2 eggs

1 tsp rosewater .

Tudor method

Mix flour sugar and salt.

Add aniseeds, eggs and rosewater and mix.

Work the dough into strips and shape into plaited strips or knots

Cook for about 15 mins until lightly coloured.

Bacon of marchpane

Marchpane or marzipan was a very popular food in the 16th Century and these strips were formed to look like ham or bacon strips and very popular.


8 ozs ground almonds

4 ozs fine sugar

2tbsp rose water

red food colouring

Tudor method

MIx the almonds and sugar with rosewater to form a stiff paste

Split into two and add some beetroot juice ( red dye to half and mix it in.)

roll the paste out and split each colour into four rectangles

layer them alternatively and then cut thin slices to look like strips of bacon.



red wine syrup  poached pears
red wine syrup poached pears
stacie-bakes. blogspot

Pears in syruppe


1/2 pt red wine

5 ozs honey

4 ozs sugar

lemon juice




Tudor method

Put wine, honey, sugar, lemon juice and spices into a pan and boil.

Peel the pears and put them in the liquid mixture. Cook until they are just  soft.

Put them in a dish and cover with syrup. Serve hot or cold.


Apple based wassail
Apple based wassail


Wassail was an ale or apple based drink  given to visitors. The name derives from the Saxon Waes Hael meaning "be well "

A piece of warm bread was placed in the base of the cup of the most important person and hence the expression of raising a "toast " to someone.

Wassailing was heavily linked to the apple harvest festival.

This is my favourite wassail recipe. Brandy can be added to give extra warmth and taste.


6 apples peeled and sliced

8 tbsps. of sugar

4 pts of apple juice, ale or cider

nutmeg, cinnamon , cloves and ginger to season

(brandy added if desired )

Tudor method

Bring the apples, sugar, juice and spices to the boil and then simmer for 20 minutes.

Switch off and leave to soak over night. Next day strain through a sieve or muslin cloth.

Add brandy if desired and reheat.


A Tudor law which is still on the Statute Book

In 1551 Henry V111's son,  King Edward V1 by Jane Seymour, passed a law that everybody had to walk to church on Christmas Day when they went to church. This law has never been repealed and is still the law today.

I can't see any police officer enforcing it though!



Post Stuart era ; British Republic Commonwealth law banning Christmas celebrations 1650

Mince Pie ban

That British Christmas favourite, the mince pie was banned in England when the English executed their king and England was a Republic in the 17th C.  The very act of eating a mince pie on Christmas Day was  illegal in England.

Festive celebrations, including mince pies and Christmas puddings, were  banned in England as part of the governments puritanical regime .

The ban ended when Charles II became king and the monarchy was restored in 1660.

These are just a few of many recipes. I tried to choose some unknown and some similar to what we might have.

Happy and Holy Christmas to you and your family.  

Updated: 12/03/2016, Veronica
Thank you! Would you like to post a comment now?


Only logged-in users are allowed to comment. Login
Veronica on 07/15/2017

The bread was placed there as an offering to the pagan gods for a good harvest so was given to the most important person

DerdriuMarriner on 07/15/2017

Veronica, What kind of bread was placed at the bottom of the wassail cup, what became of it and why was it placed there?

frankbeswick on 12/03/2016

Four mince pies! With my waistline? Wish.

Veronica on 12/03/2016

In which case, you may have a mince pie or 4 at my house on Christmas Eve without fear of arrest. :)

frankbeswick on 12/03/2016

Cromwell's puritan government passed the law, but after the Restoration it passed swiftly into abeyance. It is as enforceable as the Plantagenet law which enacts that English and Welshmen practice archery for two hours every Sunday.

Veronica on 12/03/2016

Here's a Christmas addition to the page .

Is it still illegal for Brits to eat mince pies on Christmas Day?

This is quite true. Enjoy.

Veronica on 09/16/2016

I found this old Tudor Christmas law above which laughably is still in force today.

Veronica on 12/18/2015

Is there somewhere online that your books can be bought ?

frankbeswick on 12/17/2015

Yes, I wrote two booklets on them, one on honey drinks, which is still in print, and one on apple drinks. I have an article on Wizzley on drinks made from honey, where my honey drink book is advertised.

There were no potato chips, but people still had chips made from parsnips, and people in the Celtic realms [Scotland, Ireland, Wales and parts of Western England], used a potato substitute,Silverweed, which you could easily use in the same ways as potatoes. Sadly,in Ireland people replaced silverweed with potato, which should have been an extra rather than a replacement, and the famine ensued when the potato crop failed. Had they backed up with silverweed starvation would not have happened. Silverweed was used in the British Isles for many generations before potato came to our shores.

Pizza is not unhealthy,it is Italian peasant food and is really just bread with some sauce. I love it, especially when it has pepperoni or chorizzo.

Veronica on 12/17/2015

You are both right in what you say although food then was possibly healthier than it is now. No burgers, pizzas, chips, mayo etc.

I will happily combine what I enjoy of both food traditions. The Wassail was delicious. I think Frank has written a book on Olde English drinks ? You would have enjoyed the Wassail I had last Sunday at Little Moreton Hall .

You might also like

Irish Christmas traditions and Christmas foods

If you want some traditional Irish Christmas foods to add to your table this ...

A Victorian Christmas

200 years ago Christmas Day was hardly celebrated at all. In England it was s...

Disclosure: This page generates income for authors based on affiliate relationships with our partners, including Amazon, Google and others.
Loading ...