The food and drink a family consumed was one of the most obvious markers of its wealth and status. With food only readily available in season, or where there was sufficient surplus for preservation, the poorest members of society were often in severe want by late winter and early spring.

For richer people, particularly those close to a sizeable town, there was a surprising range of delicacies were available: citrus fruits, olives and dates from the Mediterranean, as well as exotic fruits from the New World, such as tomatoes and potatoes. During the century the range of food increased, but poor harvests in the 1550s and 1590s in particular, still resulted in starvation for many.

Scotland, poorer than England, with a less favourable climate, and fewer towns, was even more prone to severe shortages.

Rigorously enforced Forestry rules and Sumptuary laws on the food that could be caught or consumed also limited availability for the poorer classes. For the better off, a wide range of foods, that we would never consider today, was eaten.