VICTORIAN DINING

For those who are interested in 19th century food

Most people in the first half of the century served roasted meat or chicken only on very special occasions. the reason for this was that most of them did not have ovens. Generally they got their bread from bake houses which also roasted meals. this was common throughout the western world. For the most part, people usually ate food that was boiled in a pot or steamed, since that was the easiest way to prepare it. This was a carryover from the previous century. Many stewed dishes were eaten. Breakfasts consisted of things like leftover meat or chicken, fish, bread, maybe some porridge or eggs.

By the mid-century mark meal times were changing. This was because fewer men
were working at home. Dinner used to be a meal eaten at noontime, but since men were off at work, the main meal of the day was pushed back to evening.

A cook book from the mid Victorian era gave a whole years’ worth of menus. For one Sunday it read;
Breakfast; broiled haddock, poached eggs, cold meat, honey
Dinner; oxtail soup, boiled leg of mutton, caper sauce, mashed turnips, carrots, potatoes,
mince pies, almond pudding, welsh rabbit
Vegetables were considered to be very bad for children's diets. In 1842 a cookbook author warned that you should not overseason, healthy food was bland food, however 20 years later cookbooks were starting to recommend the use of herbs and spices. By the way, Worcestershire sauce was initially known as anchovy ketchup.
Most weekly menus were made up of leftovers. One menu plan book listed new dinners 3 times a week, the other 4 were made up of the leftover meats, potatoes, etc
Fresh fruit was considered by most people to be ‘unwholesome'. One woman recalled that eating fresh fruit was " a pleasant treat, but rather dangerous." Most fruit was stewed
or in a tart or pudding and served maybe once or twice a week.

Soon it wasn't just the new class of factory workers who were no longer home at midday, but middle-class men were also no longer working at home. They were going out to offices in the city and commuting to the new suburbs being built in England and the US. Dinner was moved to 5 or 6. Those who did not have to get up early to go to work in the morning pushed meal time back even later to separate them from the class below them. It got to be a chain, everybody copying every one else.
With the improvement of gas and oil lighting it was also cheaper to light the dining room at night.

Now, about the English tea-time.
Tea was originally a light meal served in the evening, but since people were now dining much later, they did not need a meal at night. Tea was gradually shifted to a late afternoon snack. The well to do usually had just small sandwiches or cakes, but the working classes
would have something more substantial. This all gets kind of complicated, everything bears on what class you belonged to, how much money you had, etc.
In America things were slightly different, but people here did tend to look toward the British for 'social customs'.

The other big change in meals, if you cared to be "in" and socially correct, was the way they were served. In the first half of Victoria’s reign they were served "a la francaise" later the method was "a la russe" . More about this later. Complicated people these Victorians.

Serving dinner
In the middle and upper classes during the first half of the century dinner was served in a manner called A la Francaise. Most of the food was put on the table all at once, often over dishes of hot water to keep them warm. There would be a tureen of soup in front of the mistress of the house and fish in front of the master. They would each serve what was in front of them, either to the next guest at table or preferably handed to a servant
who would pass it to the guest. After the fish and soup were done a roast joint would be put in front of the host and a fowl in front of the hostess. They were then served to family and guests. The side or corner dishes were called that because they were placed at the
sides and corners of the table. They were passed or carried around the table depending on the number of servants and the formality of the dinner. These were dishes of single portion meats like sweetbreads, cutlets or kidneys, or meat based dishes like patties or croquettes. They could also be stews, or in England curries. They were all easy to serve and required no carving. The table layout was apparently the most important thing (next to having dinner served ON TIME). No two similar dishes were to be placed anywhere near each other. If there were 2 soups, one had to be at either end of the table. If there were 4 soups...top, bottom and middle at either side of the table opposite one another. The same thing applied if there were 2 fish dishes. The meat course was expected to have one brown meat and one white. Before 1850, men were expected to help the woman next
to them to wine.

After the joint the table was cleared , this was the first "remove". A sweet dish was placed before the hostess and a savory one, often game, before the host. The side dishes were now vegetables, jellies, creams, trifles and confections. At a formal dinner after
this the table was cleared again, the 2nd remove. Cheese, butter, salad, celery, radishes and cucumbers replaced the sweet dishes. Then the table would be cleared again, the 3rd remove. This time the tablecloth would also be taken away. The dessert would then arrive. This was simply fruit and nuts. Finger bowls would be provided if they were not there during the rest of the meal. After the fruit, he hostess would rise and the ladies would join her and leave the dining room. If the household was prosperous and the men had hearty appetites then more food would arrive, like anchovy toast, deviled dishes or other spicy things.

Family dinners were usually less elaborate with only 2 removes. Remember that not everyone ate like this, it all depended on money and social status, but this was what people aspired to. Also, they did not eat everything. The hosts wanted to be sure that there was something that would please each guest at the table. A regular dinner, according to a guide to correct behavior , should last no more than one and a quarter hours, though a large dinner party could go up to 2 hours. This is where all those leftovers come from that were served on other days..

By the 1830's a new way of dining started in Paris and by the 1880's was the norm in Britain and the US. This was service "a la russe" , but before going on to service 'a la russe' I thought you might like to see a menu for a winter dinner party for 8 as published in 1872.
On the table as diners enter; hare soup.....oyster patties......cotelettes a la maintenon....
oyster sauce.....cod's head and shoulders.
first remove;
boiled turkey.......mashed potatoes.......stewed sea kale.........saddles of mutton.
second remove;
cabinet pudding........jaune mange........punch jelly.......cheese fondue......brace of partridges.
Jaune mange was a pudding made with water, wine, lemon juice, egg yolks and sugar.
You can find some recipes for cabinet pudding on line, if you care to look.

One reason for the new service a la russe's popularity was that it saved money. In the old style, you had to have a lot of food on the table. You couldn't put out a half filled dish of peas, for example, for 3 people, it just wouldn't look right. The table had to look attractive. The new system was that the table would be set and dessert (fruit & nuts in display dishes) would be on the table. When the guests were seated, food would be brought in and served around in the manner we are familiar with today. You didn't need to have all those full dishes on the table, perfectly balanced by its opposite food on the other end so that everything would be symmetrical. You could now make a display
with just the dessert dishes and flowers. You no longer had to serve sweet dishes with savory or have to offer soup and fish at the same time. Each dish now had it's own spot in line.

New cutlery was invented. You now had also a fish fork and fish knife, an oyster fork, a salad fork, a cake fork, they all looked different. This new service style took a while to catch on. What food looked like was very important. If you had a small income you rarely entertained out of your family circle. You could not insult your guests by having an informal family style dinner. For a middle or upper class dinner party the table would be laid with a white cloth and would often have a colored runner down the middle which could be covered with another lace runner. If there were flowers they would complement the runner. By the way, it was hoped that you had 4 sets of dishes, the best, the breakfast,
the everyday and the dessert set. If dinner was formal there would be 2 soups, one clear, one thick. Fish and soup would be offered a second time around, but it was bad manners to accept. Middle and upper class hostesses ran into a problem when it came time for a cheese course. Bread and cheese was what the working class ate, and if you more
than just nibbled at it, it could lower your social standing.

Everyone knew what was done or not done by their group and if you aspired to move up to the next social level there were plenty of books and magazines to show you how.

Some final notes on Victorian dining, because I could go on forever.
"1 1/2 to 1 3/4 hours to boil macaroni."
Ketchups were bottled piquant sauces, the most popular were anchovy, walnut and mushroom. Tomato ketchup was very rare, as were tomatoes.
Then common foods that are common no longer:
bullock’s hearts, fried ox feet, cow heel, sheep's head, pig's face (a breakfast or luncheon dish) , hare (the ears should be crisp), and calf's head ( put the head in boiling water., then take it out, hold it by the ear, and with the back of the knife, scrape off the hair....When perfectly clean, take the eyes out, cut off the ears, and remove the brain.)

The can opener was invented in 1858, that really started to get canned foods rolling. Dried soups started appearing in the 1840's and you could use 'gravy balls' to start soups, the equivalent of today's bouillon cubes. There were powdered eggs, too.
A device was invented that could cut sugar into cubes in 1872.
Packaged foods were very popular, but you had to watch what you bought. Milk would sometimes be sold diluted up to half and half with water. In one case in England they tested 49 bread samples and found all of them had alum added to them to bulk them up.
Potatoes and sawdust would also be found. This was common in the US too, as I found in several sources. Cocoa and chocolate would sometimes have dirt added to them. Coffee might have sawdust.
Poisonous substances were added to foods to color them. Housekeeping books told you how to test the food you bought for contaminants. There were tests you could try in the kitchen to find out if there was plaster in the bread you bought.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

i want ot know what they ate for breakfast, afternnon tea, supper, lunch ,dinner

Susan said...

Hi, I just found your blog today. I love it! I've learned so much, after reading just two entries! It's obvious you put a lot of research (and love) into this blog.

Susan
P.S. I must say -- not even counting the meats you talk about at the end here, which give me the shivers, I don't think much of *anything* they ate sounds very appetizing to me!

Xan said...

This is very interesting. I have long been interested in dining etiquette, and I have long been interested in history. This is a delightful combination of the two. If you wrote an entire book, I'd devour it.

dining room table said...

Indeed! This is a very interesting post. I read the whole article and I find it so amazing. I had a great time reading this article. Thank you for sharing it.

stormagnet said...

For those that are interested, most of this is from Inside The Victorian Home: A Portrait of Domestic Life in Victorian England, by Judith Flanders

grazhina said...

To see some of the other research sources check posts: From the Bookstore and A Couple of Books..
You’ll also find links to online books on various pages. A reminder, to find more sources, click on the link : More Links - on the left sidebar.