Gervase Markham’s Elizabethan prune stuffed roast chicken

Gervase Markham – probably born in 1568 – was a ‘soldier of fortune’ in the low countries and then a captain fighting in Ireland. He also had a ‘less masculine’ side – he was a poet and horsebreeder – said to be the first to import an Arabian horse into England.

gervase markham
Gervase Markham…must have been hated by his wife….


But honestly, why should such a man be writing books such as, The English Huswife, Containing the Inward and Outward Virtues Which Ought to be in a Complete Woman? His wife must have hated him. Although his family had fallen on hard times, his instruction manual written for literate women (at a time when only one in ten women were literate) managing ‘a large rural household’. Clearly not a modest man (his previous book was entitled, Markham’s Master-peece), somewhat irritatingly he was quite knowledgeable, especially on preserves (this section is longer than any contemporary writers, and many who were writing shortly after Markham).

prune stuffed chicken


This way of stuffing chicken with prunes is a sort of Elizabethan precursor to Chicken Marbella. The flavour combination works excellently, only you have to be alert to unforeseen dangers – the first time we tried this the Chief Taster inadvertently threw away the stuffing, which is pretty much the raison d’être of the whole dish!

The chicken goes brilliantly with bitter-sweet roast vegetables.

Or you could go traditional and make roasties; and add, as Markham suggests, a Compound Sallet.

He describes his Compound Sallet thus:

“Your compound Sallets, are first the young Buds and Knots or all manner of wholsome Herb; at their first springing; as red Sage, Mint, Lettuce, Violets, Marigolds, Spinage, and many other mixed together, and then served up to the Table with Vinegar, Sallet-Oyl, and Sugar.”


For how to make a traditional roast chicken, follow this link.


Recipe for Gervase Markham’s prune stuffed roast chicken

Serves 6


• 1 large chicken – about 2 kg – just under four and a half pounds
• smoked salt and freshly ground pepper
• 1 cm/½” ginger
• 290g tin pitted prunes, drained
• 3 tbsps butter
• 1 medium onion
• orange rind from half an orange, made into thin slivers
• gravy


1. Preheat the oven to 210ºC.
2. Season the chicken with the salt, pepper and ginger.
3. Peel and chop the onion.
4. Cut the prunes in half, and use them, together with a couple of knobs of butter, and the onion, to stuff the chicken.
5. Rub the rest of the butter over the chicken skin, and season again.
6. Roast for about 1 hour 45 minutes. Keep basting.
7. Serve with the gravy and the stuffing to one side, garnished with the orange rind.



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