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!



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: 09/16/2016, Veronica
Thank you! Would you like to post a comment now?


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 .

frankbeswick on 12/16/2015

Food in Ancient times was limited by the inadequate way of preparing it, but people still had pleasure in it. I would rather live now than then, but the food is not the main issue. What deters me is the lifestyle of earlier years.In Britain situations were very rough,far rougher than have been recorded. I would rather live now than in earlier centuries.

Veronica on 12/16/2015

Ha ha, yes. Looking at the above, pears in red wine, jombils and wassail would suit me.

blackspanielgallery on 12/16/2015

I will stick to modern food. Many things were better in times past but not the food.

Veronica on 12/14/2015

TY .

Indeed Advent fasting was certainly never as important as Lent fasting but it was still there and hence the lead up to a Christmas meal . Enterprising cooks could always find ways round it as needed be.

frankbeswick on 12/14/2015

Advent fasting was never of the importance of Lenten fasting, and anyway, as the time of the year required scarce food to be used carefully, most people did not really notice a fast.

Holly, box and laurel are all trees that will be found on the edges of woodlands or in clearings. So Tudor folk need not have delved deep into the woods to find them. Mistletoe grows either in woods or on solitary trees. Holly was also grown in clumps and hedges. When you find a place with hollin the name it signifies that it was where a clump of holly was grown. This would be for the thornless upper leaves, which make tree hay, animal fodder, very useful in winter when grass was thin. It is not widely known that all thorny/prickly/spiny plants are very nutritious, so their sharp defences are necessary for the preservation of their species. Gorse makes fine fodder when shredded.

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