Harvesting and Hibernation: Sleeping Through the Winter

Eating the right kinds of food at the right times of day formed an important part of early modern sleep-management techniques. Contemporary advice also points us in the direction of certain foods that can help make you feel sleepy and these foods share some common ground with early modern diets, as our previous post outlined [click here]. So, as the team at Little Moreton Hall have turned their attention to food preservation this autumn, we thought we’d share some information about what the Hall’s residents stocked up on to ensure they slept well over the winter. 

Our sleep bed in the garden at Little Moreton Hall has been going from strength to strength over the summer and it has been a joy to harvest its goodies. We have rosehips, the last of the rose petals, bergamot, lettuce, orach, chamomile, lavender, rosemary, violets, sea holly, strawberries, gillyflowers and borage. Elsewhere in the garden we have been harvesting our squashes (gourds), courgettes, mulberries, bay leaves, fennel, poppy seeds, apples, pears, peas and beans as well as foraging locally for nuts and hops. Lots of these ingredients have gone into our recipes, listed below.  



In Tudor times, September, October and November were busy months when home-grown herbs and plants were processed. The aim was to make sure that the Hall’s residents had enough food and medicines to see them through the winter until Easter of the following year. Those all important foods and sleep remedies that have featured in our Sleep Trail, and that helped to keep the body’s humours in balance, could only be made if their core ingredients had been harvested in advance.

Autumn was also the time at which the Hall’s residents completed the last of their annual dairying activities: making butter and cheese, before their animals stopped producing milk. Some animals would then be pinpointed for slaughter if they could not afford to be kept alive over winter. Their flesh was preserved with brine and salt, dried or smoked. 

The residents of Little Moreton Hall were well aware of which foods were best consumed before bedtime, and which were best to avoid. As part of our aim to ‘think like a Tudor’, we have followed in their footsteps whilst candying, pickling and preserving. The list below shows how different food types helped to regulate different humoral ‘complexions’ and thus ensured that everyone could enjoy a good night’s sleep.  

Sanguine: being hot and moist, a sanguine person needed to avoid hot sweet flavours like sugar or lamb and instead turn to melancholic (cold and dry) things such as sour or tart tasting foods like citrus or vinegar, or meats such as chicken and dairy produce.

Choleric: hot and dry, this person had to temper their natural heat by eating cold and moist foods with insipid flavours such as fish, fruits, lettuce and pork. 

Phlegmatic: cold and moist, these people had to avoid similar qualities in their food. Whilst cucumbers or fish were their enemies, they might enjoy hot and dry foods like parsley, capers, olives, rabbit, garlic and spices. 

Melancholic: a cold, dry complexion demanded warm and moist foods. Beef, onions, lamb and basil were particularly helpful for those of a melancholic complexion.  


Visitors to Little Moreton Hall frequently ask for Tudor recipes so if you want to have a go at home, here is a sample of the tasks we’ve been completing as we have stocked up our supplies for winter, alongside details of other food processing jobs that took place at the Hall at this time of year. Autumn was an extremely busy time of year for the family and servants at Little Moreton Hall. Why not try some of these different ideas to get a flavour (quite literally) of the Hall’s favoured recipes and find out exactly how early modern people prepared themselves for a good night’s sleep throughout the winter months. 

Rosehip Preserve: boil up your rosehips with a little water. Next strain the rosehips through muslin or a sieve to remove all the skin and filaments. Return to the pan and boil up with a like quantity of sugar before potting up in a sterilised jar.1  


A Tudor Pickle: choose your vegetables and layer up in a large bowl between layers of sugar, salt and distilled malt vinegar. The distilled vinegar will help to keep the colour in your vegetables. Add spices and/or herbs to the liquor before potting up in a sterilised jar.2  

Pickled Flowers: choose colourful, edible flowers – choose from violets, roses, nasturtiums, borage, marigolds – and layer up in a sterilised jar between layers of sugar, salt and distilled malt vinegar. The distilled vinegar will help you to keep the colour in the petals.3 


Viola Preserve: simply pick your violet petals and grind up in a pestle and mortar with a like quantity of sugar before potting up in a sterilised jar. The same can be done for rose petals, however, do remove the white parts of the rose petals or else they can be bitter.4  

Sugar Coated Fennel Seeds: this was a very laborious task in the 16th century involving repeatedly dipping fennel or aniseeds in sugar syrup, allowing the seeds to dry out after each coating. They would then be coloured with natural colouring agents such as beetroot, cochineal, woad, saffron, spinach or parsley.5 The pre-curser to modern ‘hundreds and thousands’, they can be purchased easily in Asian supermarkets today.  

Crystallised Roses: this can be done with whole rose flower heads as well. Dip the flower head or petal in egg white until completely covered. You might want to use a brush to ensure that all the parts are covered. Then dip into sugar – again a clean, dry brush might come in handy here. Allow to dry somewhere dry and warm. Your petals should go hard and be perfectly preserved. If you prefer to avoid egg whites you can dip in rose water first instead.

Marchpane: take ground almonds and mix with an equal amount of icing sugar before binding together with enough rose water to make a firm dough. This will be less sweet than modern marzipan and more like the sweetness of Elizabethan marchpane. You can then mould or shape the marchpane into figures, flowers etc or roll out into a round, plate-like shape before painting with an icing sugar and water glaze and baking in the oven until set and crispy.

Butter: you can make Tudor butter without the need for a butter churn. Take a clean, sterilised jar and add double cream. Secure the lid tightly. Then either shake until the cream splits into butter and butter milk or place the jar somewhere you pass regularly, somewhere in the kitchen is perfect, and shake at regular intervals each time you pass it. The mixture will go through several stages – like whipped cream, like cottage cheese – and then eventually splitting into the solid butter and watery buttermilk. The buttermilk would be saved to make cakes, to give to the poor, old or sick or curdled to make cheese.  


Medlar Paste: medlars can only be eaten once they are rotten. Eating before then can give you a very poorly stomach – in fact, eaten before they are ready, medlars are actually poisonous. Therefore you need to wait until around the end of October for the fruits to drop from the tree before storing somewhere while they ‘blet’ (go rotten). You will know when they are ready to process as you will be able to squeeze the fruit and see the flesh pop out – like if you squeezed a blueberry. Squeeze all the flesh from the fruits (you need a good bag full to get a decent amount of flesh) and then press through a colander to remove the skin, seeds and fibres. Add to a large pan with a like quantity of sugar and boil up until the mixture is firm. Pour into dishes or moulds to allow to cool. This can then be used for meats and cheeses or made into pies and tarts. It also keeps well in the freezer until needed.8 

Green sauce: take a good few handfuls of sorrel leaves and grind in a pestle and mortar before adding 4 tablespoons of white bread crumbs, 6 tablespoons of white wine vinegar and 1 grated apple. Grind down until the mixture is the consistency of ketchup. This is a lovely tart, citrusy sauce that is served traditionally with cod or goose and also goes well with things like tongue or veal.9  


Quince Paste: Peel and slice the quinces before roasting in the oven. Extract the flesh and boil up with a like amount of with sugar until you get a firm consistency. For a clean jelly, boil up quinces in water and then strain the pulp through a muslin/cheesecloth overnight. Then for every 600ml/21 fl oz of juice add 450g/16 oz of sugar. Boil vigorously for 15 mins. Pot in sterilised jars.10  

A Tudor Salad: there is nothing more Tudor than a rocket salad with edible flowers. It’s very trendy today but in fact, it’s nothing new. A very fashionable 16th century salad was a ‘grand salad’ with various leaves, dried fruit, lemon slices, rosemary, boiled eggs, olive oil, white wine vinegar and sugar. This would be topped with edible flowers such as borage, nasturtiums and violets. For a Tudor dressing mix up 4 tbs olive oil with 3 tbs red wine vinegar, ½ tsp of salt, ¼ tsp of brown sugar. For the finishing touch arrange your halved boiled eggs around the edge of the salad and place a rosemary sprig in each to create a tree-like effect.11  


Salt Beef: score large chunks of raw beef before rubbing salt into the flesh and then soaking in brine over a couple of days. Pack the said salted beef into a large barrel with lots of salt before closing up tightly. Done properly this will ensure that the beef is perfectly preserved and it will give you a hearty, warming beef stew in the depths of winter.12 A nice recipe is this one from 1450 – Beef y Stywyd. Take 3 lbs/1.5kg chopped beef (stewing or braising steak) and boil up in a pan of water. Add cinnamon, cloves, mace, grains of paradise (if you have them), peppercorns, finely chopped or minced onions, parsley and sage. Continue to simmer for 1 ½ hours at least (or put in the slow cooker). Then take a small loaf of rustic bread and soak in some of the cooking liquor and some vinegar. Strain and add to the pot. Add saffron and stir until the sauce is thickened. As there are no quantities listed for the spices you can adapt to your own taste. If the vinegar is too strong, adjust with some beef stock.13  



  1. Adapted from Elinor Fettiplace’s Receipt Book (1604). 
  2. Adapted from Gervase Markham’s The English Huswife (1615). 
  3. Adapted from Gervase Markham’s The English Huswife (1615). 
  4. Adapted from Gervase Markham’s The English Huswife (1615). 
  5. Ivan Day, www.historicfood.com  
  6. Adapted from Elinor Fettiplace’s Receipt Book (1604) and Gervase Markham’s The English Huswife (1615). 
  7. Adapted from Gervase Markham’s The English Huswife (1615). 
  8. Adapted from a recipe for fruit cheese from Elinor Fettiplace’s Receipt Book (1604) 
  9. Taken from Peter Brear’s Cooking and Dining in Tudor and Early Stuart England.  
  10. Adapted from Elinor Fettiplace’s Receipt Book (1604) and Grandma’s Special Recipes: Jams, Jellies and Preserves (2012). 
  11. Adapted from Thomas Dawson’s The Good Huswifes Jewell (1596). 
  12.  Instructions taken from Ruth Goodman, Tudor Monastery Farm (2013). 
  13. Adapted from Harleian M.S. 279, 1450.  



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