The Supersizers: Elizabethan
Welcome back to Supersizers, a BBC show that aired in 1905ish, which I'm recapping because look at it. Today, it's the age of Elizabeth I: Giles is a posturing newmoney, Sue plays a damn fine lute, and they can’t wait to slap her in men’s clothes and eat chicken on the street until they almost throw up.
Chef Grade: Paul Merrett, A cheffing; has a crush on Sue, like everyone who meets Sue, and a good attitude about how to handle cloves.
Best Guest: It’s kind of a sedate guest week. We'll see.
Best Food Moment: This week’s dinner party features live-frog pie!
Worst Food Moment: Pretty much anything expected to travel was not super appetizing back now.
Equality Now!: Sue learns the lute from a songbook written by a young lady who gives up the art when she marries.
Worst Thing Giles Says: Giles talks about Tahitian "whoremongering." Classy.
Best Sue Thing: Sue learns the lute in a hurry! Everyone’s impressed!
Moment Giles is Most in Love with Sue: On the heels of the Seventies, he’s still pretty smitten; he literally eats from her hand. Twice.
Most Random Moment: The two of them kitted out, trying to cook breakfast in a camper as it speeds to Fancy Party.
ASPIC. Yes! It looks like an enormous booger, no joke.
Quote of the Week: Sue, holding up a half-chewed pig tail - "Sorry, I'm being really rude, does anyone else want some?"
(Pictured: Dry suckets, which is a food even though it sounds like a post-dental-surgery condition.)
After a trip to the doctor (spoilers: if you are Giles or Sue, Elizabethan England will kill you, but you'll welcome it because you can't have tea or coffee), it's time to suit up and head to the manor house! Sue doth declineth a wig this week.
And guests are waiting! And by guests I mean Paul Merett and some animal heads, both of whom are staying for breakfast, but not before Paul introduces them to their piles of protein, and a skimpy plate of veg, including what I hear as "strawberry greens," which we'll go with. Giles: "Ah, and they don't taste of anything, which is clever." (You can just feel him warming up to TV, can't you?)
BREAKFAST: Cold meat pie, manchet bread, small beer.
They drink heartily and snipe at each other. ("Bottoms up, it's begun," says Sue with a laugh.) Paul stands around with the air of the little brother being dragged on a date, quizzing them about what type of meat's in the pie. They both miss it (lamb). That bodes well for the food the rest of this week, I'm extremely sure!
Speaking of the rest of the week, it's time for Sue to rule the kitchen. Paul is into it.
You can just see the cartoon hearts above his head as she talks.
They have a fun chat about recipes, portions, budgets, and how precious spices were (wives would supervise the use of cloves in the kitchen to make sure no one pocketed any). Giles, not pictured, is probably either napping or pressing his ear to the door trying to think of better jokes than Paul's for later.
DINNER: Pumpkin pie, meat pottage, stewed mutton steaks, manchet bread, small beer; capon with damsons, calf's foot jelly, custard.
Anthonis Mor, "Couple at Table (Study in Browns)," 1542.
Note: This house was clearly a big get, because they spend large swathes of this episode lovingly framing it, shooting it, bathing it in light, and telling it it's pretty. They actually did a lingering shot of just the table, without these two even here. The good news is, it's a handsome house, so we'll all roll with it.
They read grace (huh) and talk about the differences between lunch and supper prayers (Sue: "Well, sure, at different times of day God has a different impact on the meal").
The pumpkin pie gets mixed reviews despite looking tasty, and the stewed mutton is too nutmeggy, and the pottage is deemed "wallpaper paste," but the best is yet to come!
Aspic, you bastard! Calf's foot jelly. "It's the color of sadness," says Sue. Giles promptly decides it's rubbery enough to bounce. In a hard-to-cap but amazing interlude, they stop the meal and throw jelly at the walls, play tennis with it, and finally knock it to the ceiling, where it sticks and they cackle at a landmark historical building now smeared with edible calf booger.
Custard. Giles declares it must be flavored with saffron. She says otherwise. He INSISTS saffron. It's weird. (One suspects this is the stubborn flip side of the coin to their comfort level.) "The taming of the shrew," he crows. She calls him out, and the sniping descends into him mimicking her as she watches him impassively. After a moment he stops, mid-sentence, and says with a look of barely-concealed terror, "I went a bit on there, I'm sorry." She lets him off with a "That's caffeine withdrawal," which is fuckin' mercy.
(There's no saffron in it. Her laugh on discovering this is loud and delightful enough to dislodge any remaining edible calf boogers.)
Giles gets out of the house to gamble at cards awkwardly with two other men and eat a series of snack foods that get zero reaction from anyone. Back home, Sue makes hippocras, aka "Claret-flavored Sunny Delight." Which is good, because she might still be drunk when it's time to eat sheep draped in its own innards.
SUPPER: Meat custard, lamb's head with purtenance, manchet bread, small beer; boiled pigeons, calf's lungs, buttered posset, suckets, hippocras.
Oh, that sheep's head is doing all the laughing now. (Also Paul's doing a little laughing. He's enjoying this.)
Sue, solemnly: "I have never felt defeated by food before." Interesting, considering other things they have consumed, including a calf's head that didn't even have the benefit of a sauce. This head must be some sort of be-cloved, nutmeggy mess if she's saying that. Giles: "May the lord in his mercy save and preserve us from this." Then, dismayed, "Loooooook at the little thing!" (Doesn't stop him from eating the cheek, though.)
He's very brave about it. Then Sue pokes a sheep eyeball. They both turn into children. I don't blame them.
The last course is relatively edible; as Sue gnaws one of the pigeons, Giles says, "That's so attractive, that's why I married you," and Sue says accurately from behind a mouthful of pigeon, "You love it." Cut to them horsing around as they wander away from the table. These two.
Thing Giles does not love: being bled by cupping. Frankly, I do not blame him. (I laughed a lot, don't get me wrong, but I feel for him. Producers can be cruel.)
Time for an overseas journey! Sue is excited.
Hans Eworth, "Woman Skipping onto Rented Boat, with Grumpy Man," 1549.
(I love this expression so much. The Royal Commissioned Water-Based Motorways Funtime Boat Hire representative is being paid enough to be here, but not enough to care, okay? Guest of the Week.)
Giles and Sue head out on a business trip to his imperialist somethingplace. She points out their impending quality time, and asks if he's not worried about bringing his shrewish wife along. Giles, who always responds to anything remotely hinting at an actual relationship dynamic by finding some way to shriek about prostitutes, is on the ball for this. "You're going to make sure I'm not doing too much Tahitian whoremongering," he offers, because Jesus Christ Giles what is the matter with you.
Let's just look at some preserved food so Giles has something he can shove into his mouth to shut up with. Clotted cream is delicious! Hardtack is hardtack. Pig's fat is a sunblock! They think fondly of oiled-up soldiers. And something Sue describes as "a couple of teabags floating in phlegm" but is pickled oysters:
There's only one way to eat these.
Out of Sue's hand. (Giles. Buddy.)
The next day, it's time to hit up the South Bank! Here, an artsy shot of Giles eating foods mentioned in Shakespeare: mackerel, herring, salad, tripe, cheese and pippins, beer, and stewed prunes, which were synonymous with the sex trade since prostitutes hawked them as a cover food.
Sue, meanwhile, gets to play the lute; turns out she's great, and gets bathed in praise for learning it so fast. She grins. (Fun fact: after this series, she'd go on to win a musical-conductor reality show and have a one-off special about re-learning piano; people at every turn are amazed at her aptitude. Even presuming a few hours or days of prep, I suspect she's still pretty handy when it comes to music on the quick.)
Johannes Vermeer, "Woman Being Awesome at Lute," 1621.
Day Four! (I forgot to keep track of the days, whatever, we're all in the rhythm now.) Giles goes hunting on foot with some cavalry who are drinking beer while on horses. Giles, as a newcomer, gets to walk behind them and do nothing, and then partake of umble pie made of deer leftovers.
Giles: Never getting away from the pastry coffins since 2008ish. No wonder he's so somber.
Hans Holbein, "Portrait of a Grump," 1537.
The fancy collar is because they're hosting a dinner party! Sue even puts her slap on. (White lead – "brilliant for the skin" – and teeth-black, in the tradition of sugar-hound Elizabeth.)
FANCY DINNER: Hodge Podge, sallet with flowers, claret; turkey with galantine sauce, chicken and egg fricassee, warden pie, Spanish paps; marchpane, dry suckets, quince jelly, currants, curd cheese, hippocras.
Leonardo da Vinci, "The Penultimate-ish Supper," 1510.
Everyone more or less enjoys the pile of meat Hodge Podge. Susan's more excited by the sallet. Giles the Smooth, mid-conversation, absently offers her the plate she's passing him to make sure she gets some, because awwww.
But the highlight of dinner is the Spanish Paps, nominally modeled on Pope hats but come on now Elizabethans; their arrival makes the guest gentlemen go veeeery quiet. (Paul suggests they're modeled after the lady of the house; for once sensing when a thing is wildly inappropriate, Giles snaps, "That's my wife you're talking about!") Sue admires the paps immensely and at length.
Sometimes a pope hat's just a pope hat?
Hey, it's Day Five, and that means fish day! Time to sit down and just stuff yourself silly with fish!
Or, if you're Sue, just stuff Giles with fish. (Giles. Buddy.)
FISH DAY BREAKFAST: Cod and sprats, butter with sage, manchet bread, white wine (out of nowhere! Carson's as surprised as we are).
FISH DINNER: Fish jelly, carp with pudding in its belly, boiled pike with oranges, lemon sallet, claret; eels, tart of pickled fish, almond custard, suckets.
They make their way through; Sue tastes the pudding, pulls a monster face, and says, in Spouse Mode, "Have some of that." "It's really nice," he argues, and then his entire face falls off his skull as the fish catches up to him. Hopefully everything will be improved by a fish tart with figs and prunes. (Giles makes her cut between the fruits because Giles. Sue, far beyond such concerns, points out that it's so fishy it somehow has hair.)
They can't believe it, either.
Day Six: enough of this kirtle nonsense. Time for Sue to dress like a fella and go on a stealth date with Giles! Dreams are coming true everywhere! Drunk, poultry dreams. (They decide to eat Falstaff's itemized meal from Henry IV, for no particular reason other than I guess Giles refused to eat it by himself after the Prune Incident.)
FALSTAFF MEAL: Capon, sauce, sack (2 gallons), anchovies and sack, bread. (The menu comes with prices. Carson loves it. Carson loves this more than anything that has ever happened.)
But, you know, that's not a whole lot of food; Sue, dressed like an adorable Rosalind, suggests a snack to Giles, who admittedly also looks dashing in his schmancy doublet, I guess. They settle on street-meat capon, eating with relish as Giles VOs about urine-basting.
And on Day Seven, there's nothing left to do but follow the Queen on her Progress. This mostly means they complain that they never get fancy for one another any more and play with Giles's codpiece (actual thing) and have meat porridge breakfast, and also occasionally mention the Queen.
They are in fine fettle in this camper trip; she mentions that on their wedding night she had to look for what was under his codpiece, which is My Goodness levels of direct for these two. She warms up meat porridge and meat pie for them; then they wrestle her dress, eat, and plan to go shopping together, both in the fake past and feasibly in the very near future.
Fancy Dinner Party II: Return of Fancy Dinner Party! They arrive at Lord Peter's estate, accompanied by coronation-bombast level choral music that was a genius edit on someone's part. Lord Peter welcomes them and doesn't even mention the camper in his family's historical driveway.
FEAST: Whole pig, boiled beef, deer-shaped loaf, goose with sorrel sauce, grand sallet, manchet bread, claret (I swear I see dry suckets, too); rabbits with pudding in their bellies, Battalia pie, venison pasties, dish of "snow," surprise pie, more claret.
Let's skip the usuals and go right to the bleeding-deer bread, filled with red-wine bladder:
Lord Peter, not prepared for this whatsoever.
Though in fairness, once the pig comes out and Giles and Sue start the ear-nose-tail contest, I think we know who's really not prepared. (And also drunk.)
Sue, a second later, holding up the tail: "Sorry, I'm being really rude, does anyone else want this?"
But really, we already know that nothing is going to top the live-frog pie, which results in a bunch of grownups racing around a table, trying to keep frogs from somehow besmirching the edible shaving foam. Perhaps we'll take this moment to wave farewell to the Elizabethan era, and just leave them to it, as Giles pretends he stepped on a frog and I have literally zero desire to know if that was a gag or if they had to pay some frog parent blood money.
Next time, in an attempt to step back from the bizarrely-married vibes, Giles and Sue travel to the Regency, as brother and sister. It doesn't change much. But there's a dance party, so hey!