Strawberries and Cream

Strawberries and Cream – and Richard III

Who doesn’t like strawberries and cream?  And what if Richard III was no exception?

One of my favourite sites on the internet is Medievalists. Net, where I always find some article which interests and inspires me. The latest offering was no exception, ‘Recipes from The Tudor Kitchen’. I immediately thought of Julia, the expert on medieval cuisine of the NSW Branch of the Richard III Society.

Though it says ‘Recipes from the Tudor Kitchen’, it would be unlikely that cuisine changed as rapidly as rulers (or Australian PMs!) do. Therefore these dishes might very well have been known to Richard III.

The ‘Strawberries on Snow’ [1] reminded me of Thomas More’s story about the fateful council meeting on 13 June 1483. According to Thomas More, Richard arrived late, but in a good mood, excusing his lateness by having slept in. He then asked John Morton, Bishop of Ely, “My Lord, you have very good strawberries at your garden in Holborn, I require you let us have a mess.” [2] Bishop Morton immediately sent a servant to fetch the strawberries, while Richard excused himself. He returned an hour or two later, presumably having eaten the strawberries, but is now in a foul mood and claims to have a withered arm. Since Richard’s remains have been found, we know that the last bit is not true and he did not have a withered arm.

There is no evidence whether any of the strawberry story is based on true events. After all, Thomas More, saint or not, showed a lot of imagination when writing his History of King Richard III. But let’s for argument’s sake assume that the strawberry episode really did happen.

It has often been speculated that Richard might have been allergic to strawberries. Though I think this rather unlikely. Richard was 30 years old at the time of the council meeting. Surely by that age he would have known whether he was allergic to strawberries or not.

Strawberries and Cream

Leaf from a 16th Century Alphabet Book

What if it wasn’t actually the strawberries that changed his mood, but the way they were prepared? More doesn’t tell us whether he ate the strawberries au naturel or whether they had been prepared in some way. Maybe his chef thought that for the Lord Protector only the best would do and rustled up some ‘Strawberries on Snow’. The “snow” is whipped cream mixed with beaten egg whites. Maybe 13 June 1483 was a particularly hot day and, without a fridge, the cream had gone off. So if there is some truth in More’s account after all, it might have been the cream that was the culprit, not the strawberries after all.

Notes:

1. ‘Recipes from the Tudor Kitchen’, Medievalists.Net (17 Sept. 2015). URL: http://www.medievalists.net/2015/09/17/recipes-from-the-tudor-kitchen/ [accessed 18 Sept. 2015]
2. More, T., The History of Richard III. Hesperus Classics, 2005, p.45 (Originally published in 1557)

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