The Secret to Eating Vegetarian at Events

For some people experimenting with historic recipes, exploring unique ingredients and testing batches of odd looking results is the fun part of living history. For others, especially those who follow restricted diets, it's hard enough to find something to eat in the modern world, much less a historic recipe. However, it's not actually as hard as it might seem at first to eat period correct foods while still sticking with your dietary needs.

For this mini-series of articles, I'm going to look at a few of the most common dietary restrictions, how to cope with them without sacrificing historical accuracy (too much) and a few favorite recipes that fit the bill. Every one of the recipes I suggest here has been tested, often times at an event, and is guaranteed to appease both those with special diets & the omnivores alike.


Vegetarianism is pretty common in the 21st century but it isn't a new concept. Sure it might seem as though every meal & every dish contained some kind of meat. Some recipes seem like the cook was just trying to cram as many meats into one dish as possible. Thankfully, that's not really true. During the late 18th & early 19th century many enlightenment leaders adopted vegetarianism as part of their greater lifestyle. Writers such as Francois-marie Arouet (aka Voltaire), Percy Shelley & even Leo Tolstoy were all vegetarians. Additionally, many of the lower classes relied heavily on vegetables to fill out the meat supplies they simply couldn't afford.

Lettuce, Tacuinum Sanitatis, 1400.

One of my favorite historic vegetarian dishes to make is cooked greens. Alternately called buttered worts in the 16th century, sallat in the 17th century or simply greens, these are nothing more than spinach, collards, mustard greens, cabbage and any other leafy vegetable. Greens are some of the first vegetables available during the growing season & some of the last before the frost hits. They are ideal for year round events, fast to prepare & adaptable for a variety of time periods. The most basic preparation is simply cooking until soft & dressing with butter or oil, but other ingredients & spices are sometimes included depending on the tastes of the era & the whims of the cook.

Salad dish, c.1800-1810. Victoria & Albert Museum and Salad Bowl, 1728. The Met.
Sallets in general consist of certain Esculent Plants and Herbs, improv'd by Culture, Industry, and Art of the Gard'ner: Or as others say, they are a Composition of Edule Plants and Roots of several kinds, to be eaten Raw or Green, Blanch'd or Candied; simple, and per se, or intermingl'd with others according to the Season.

Acetaria: a discourse of sallets
John Evelyn, 1699

Lettuce Seller, Philippe de Tubieres. 1742. The Met 
A Boyled Sallet.
Take Spinage and boyle it and chop it, and when it is chopt, poure it in a little Pipkin, with Corance, sweete Butter, Vinagre, and Sugar, boyle them altogither, and when they are boyled put it in a dishe, and lay sippets round about, and strew suger upon them and serve them out.

Book of Cookery
A.W. 1591

Be careful to pick it exceeding clean, then wash it in five or six waters. Put it into a saucepan that will just hold it without water. Throw a little salt over it and cover it close. Put your saucepan on a clear quick fire and when you find the spinach shrunk and fallen to the bottom and the liquor that comes out boils up, it is done Then put it into a clean sieve to drain and just give it a gentle squeeze. Lay it on a plate and send it to table with melted butter in a boat.

The Housekeeper's Instructor, Or, Universal Family Cook
William Augustus Henderson, 1805