Next time you are washing your hands and complain because the water
temperature isn’t just how you like it, think about how things used
to be. Here are some facts about the 1500s:
Houses generally had the bare ground for a floor. Only the wealthy
had something other than dirt, hence the saying “dirt poor.” The
wealthy had slate floors that would get slippery in the winter when
wet, so they spread thresh [ed. note: wheat stalks after the wheat
had been beaten out] on the floor to help keep their footing. As the
winter wore on, they kept adding more thresh until when you opened
the door it would all start slipping outside. A piece of wood was
placed in the entry way-hence, a “thresh holder (threshold)”.
A big kettle hung in the fireplace in the kitchen. Every day they
lit the fire and added things to the pot. They ate mostly vegetables
and did not get much meat. They would eat the stew for dinner,
leaving leftovers in the pot to get cold overnight and then start
over the next day. Sometimes the stew had food in it that had been
there for quite a while-hence the rhyme, “peas porridge hot, peas
porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot nine days old”.
Only occasionaly did average folks obtain meat, usually pork, which
made them feel quite special. When visitors came over, they would
hang up their bacon to show off. It was a sign of wealth that a
man “could bring home the bacon,” They would cut off a little to
share with guests and would all sit around and “chew the fat”.
Those with money had plates made of pewter. Food with a high acid
content caused some of the lead to leach onto the food, causing lead
poisoning and death. This happened most often with tomatoes, so for
the next 400 years or so, tomatoes were considered poisonous.
Most people did not have pewter plates, but had trenchers, a piece
of wood with the middle scooped out like a bowl. Often trenchers
were made from stale paysan bread which was so old and hard that
they could use them for quite some time. Trenchers were never washed
and a lot of times worms and mold got into the wood or old bread.
After eating off wormy moldy trenchers, one would get “trench
Bread was divided according to status. Workers and servants got the
burnt bottom of the loaf, the family got the middle, and guests got
the top, or “upper crust,”
Lead cups were used to drink ale or whiskey. The lead poisoning and
alcohol combination would sometimes knock one out suddenly and for a
couple of days. Someone else walking along the road would take them
for dead and prepare them for burial. They were laid out on the
kitchen table for a couple of days and the family would gather
around and eat and drink and wait and see if they would wake up-
hence the custom of “holding a “wake”.