The Georgians: What they ate

Once again we are absolutely delighted to welcome a return guest to our blog, the lovely Regan Walker, who has  written another fascinating article for us. This time she has looked at a subject which is very close to our hearts – food!

ReganWalker_ToTametheWind - 800px
“A sea adventure like no other, a riveting romance!” – Shirlee Busbee, NY Times Bestselling Author

For more information and snippets from Regan’s book please see the links at the bottom of the page.

Luis Meléndez (1716–1780), Still Life with Apples, Grapes, Melons, Bread, Jug and Bottle
Luis Meléndez (1716–1780), Still Life with Apples, Grapes, Melons, Bread, Jug and Bottle

While doing research for my story, To Tame the Wind, the prequel to my Agents of the Crown trilogy, I was reminded how well the Georgians ate, even in the 18th century, particularly if they were people of means and had access to a large country garden.

Beginning in the late 1600s, many in the English aristocracy sent their cooks to France to learn to cook, but apparently the experiment was of mixed success (though I daresay England’s kitchens benefitted from the French Revolution when many refugees fled North). Eliza Smith, one of the early female cookbook writers, was not complimentary of French cooking, but Hannah Glasse, whose The Art of Cooking Made Plain and Easy was possibly the most successful cookbook of the 18th century, must have felt differently as she included French recipes.

Glasse's Art of Cookery with 1748 signature
Glasse’s Art of Cookery with 1748 signature

By 1758, modern cooking techniques began to emerge with Sarah Phillips’ The Ladies Handmaid wherein she instructs cooks to use the minimum liquid and minimum cooking times for vegetables, sounding very modern. Artichokes and French beans were popular, as were cucumbers.

If one had land to cultivate a garden, the French company Vilmorin-Andrieux & Cie, Paris merchants, would assist with the first catalog of seeds for kitchen garden vegetables, including legumes, salad plants, flower seeds and bulbs published in 1766.

Vilmorin-Andrieux & Cie catalog page
Vilmorin-Andrieux & Cie catalog page

Many estate owners maintained extensive gardens and orchards. In the second half of the 18th century, they used canals to transport produce where such were available. Late in the century, the roads improved and transport was made easier. Thus London’s markets benefitted from produce grown elsewhere.

As for bread, a staple of life then as now, the population seemed to prefer white bread to dark bread. Farmers grew more wheat to meet the demand for white wheaten bread. When bad weather hit in the second half of the century, grain was either imported or bread was supplemented with other cereals, not popular with the people. In 1767, Arthur Young commented, “rye and barley bread are looked upon with horror even by the poor cottagers.”

Still life with Bread by Ceruti 1750
Still life with Bread by Ceruti 1750

For breakfast, the gentry ate enriched, fruited spice breads or cakes and lightly spiced buns flavored with caraway seeds served hot and buttered. Muffins were also popular in the North from the 1770s. If one was of a mind to spread something on the bread, there was butter, honey, marmalade and jams made from various fruits, such as raspberries, cherries and apples.

Breakfast might include kippers. I’ve had them and, personally, once was enough. Kippers are usually herring or a young salmon split, cleaned, boned, dried, and rubbed with salt and pepper, then fried or baked and served hot at the breakfast table. The kippers I had were baked herring. After one bite, I asked the waiter to take the fish away. My traveling companion thanked me.

Boiled oatmeal with butter, called “gruel” could be served at breakfast with cream as it is today, but it was also served in the evening.

Chocolate was a hot drink thought to make women fertile. How clever. No wonder we love the solid stuff today!

As for other meals, there was soup, stews and meat if you could afford it.

Servant serving soup
Servant serving soup

White soup contained veal stock, cream and almonds. Sometimes it was thickened with rice or breadcrumbs. On the streets of London, vendors hawked both pease pudding and pea soup.

Lobscouse, a stew of meats and vegetables was familiar to seamen and could be quite varied. (Stew was a frequent dish on the Fairwinds, my hero’s ship in To Tame the Wind).

What did they eat for the main course at dinner? Well, if one could afford it, mutton and beef to be sure. During the first half of the century, thousands of cattle found their way to Smithfield Market in London each year. The meat was not always of good quality, however. The Duke of Bedford had sheep and cattle driven up from his estate at Woburn and parked in the fields outside his London house so he did not have to shop at Smithfield. They had to be guarded against thieves, however.

Many different types of meat were consumed, sometimes at the same meal, among them beef sirloin, venison, mutton, ham, bacon, hare (rabbit), chicken, geese, turkey, pigeons, ducks and partridge. An Irish gentleman travelling in England in 1752 had a “very good supper”, consisting of “veal cutlets, pigeons, asparagus, lamb and salad, apple-pie and tarts.” An Irish Gentleman, Journey through England, 1752.

Fish would have been consumed, as well, depending on where you lived. Salmon and tuna were among those recorded as well as shellfish, such as oysters. (Lobster was cheap because they were so numerous.)

Lobster still life
Lobster still life

For supper, the fare might be cold meats and a hunk of Cheddar cheese. There were many types of cheese available, too.

The English loved their puddings, both then and now, both savory and sweet. Even officers on ships liked them. And syllabub, a drink containing cider or wine sweetened with nutmeg, milk and cream, was enjoyed.

Fruit was surprisingly varied. Open-air markets might sell fruit as they do today, but other shops featured fruit as well. Sophie de la Roche, a German visitor to London in 1786, wrote about her stroll down Oxford Street. After commenting on the many shops, she noted:

 “Just as alluring are the confectioners and fruiterers, where, behind the handsome glass windows, pyramids of pineapples, figs, grapes, oranges and all manner of fruits are on show.”

Johannes Zoffany, Fruit Stalls
Johannes Zoffany, Fruit Stalls

When it was warm, ices were much desired. Although they had been known in England since the late 17th century, ices were made popular by French and Italian confectioners setting up shops in London in the mid 18th century. Some varieties that are fashionable in modern times, such as brown bread and pistachio, date from this period. There were also ices made with elderflowers, jasmine, white coffee, tea, pineapple, barberries and a host of other unusual flavors. Yum!

Georgian Ices2
Georgian Ices

In 1757, an Italian pastry cook named Domenico Negri opened a shop on Berkeley Square under the sign of “The Pot and Pineapple”. The pineapple was a symbol of luxury and used extensively as a logo for confectioners. Negri’s impressive trade card not only featured a pineapple, but it advertised that he was in the business of making English, French and Italian wet and dry sweetmeats. In To Tame the Wind the heroine and her friend, Lady Danvers, make a special stop at Negri’s to procure some sweetmeats.

Negri's PineApple Ice Cream shop
Negri’s PineApple Ice Cream shop

What to drink? Well, tea was the national drink, but expensive. Coffee houses flourished and no wonder. Men thought it improved their sexual prowess. Wine might accompany a wealthy man’s dinner. A good wine cellar might include Champagne, Claret (Bordeaux), Sherry, Port and Madeira. Punches were popular, too, cold or warmed and often spiced. (This may have been one of the uses for the stores of nutmegs, ginger, cloves and cinnamon.) The populace drank ale. And we can’t forget wassail at Christmastide.

Altogether it was a rich fare!

 

Paris 1782…AN INNOCENT IS TAKEN

All Claire Donet knew was the world inside the convent walls in Saint-Denis. She had no idea her beloved papa was a pirate. But when he seized Simon Powell’s schooner, the English privateer decided to take the one thing his enemy held most dear… her.

A BATTLE IS JOINED

The waters between France and England roil with the clashes of Claire’s father and her captor as the last year of the American Revolution rages on the sea, spies lurk in Paris and Claire’s passion for the English captain rises.

 

Links to purchase Regan’s book can be found by clicking on the links below

Regan Walker profile pic 2014
Regan Walker

If you enjoyed reading this you might also like Regan’s previous article for us, on the Port of London.

 

‘One can never have enough saucepans’ – the duties of an 18th-century cook

Justus Juncker - cook
By Justus Juncker

Well, so far we have looked at household maid and the laundry maid, so we now move on to take a look at what would have been expected of the cook according to Mrs Parkes. Her description of the role provides an interesting insight into the way in which the employer viewed the role of the cook and her possible honesty and integrity as well as how frugally the household food budget could be managed – perhaps a lesson in for us in today’s ‘times of austerity’.

The cook should be healthy and strong, and particularly clean in her person. Her hands, though they may be rough from the nature of her employment, yet, should have a clean appearance.

Her honesty and sobriety must be unquestionable because there will be so many things tempting her to betray her trust and this she may do for a length of time without discovery.

She can neither be clean nor neat in her work if she does not have a sufficient number of saucepans, kettles, and a variety of other utensils but which must bear a proper proportion to the quantity of cooking which she has to perform.

Roller towels, kitchen table-cloths, and towels should be given out to her each week, in sufficient number, to afford her the means of being clean, without extravagance.

In those houses in which there is much cooking, and in large families, a kitchen-maid is generally kept, to whom devolves the preparing of the servants meals, and the cleaning the kitchen and the various cooking utensils; but, in smaller families, this additional servant is unnecessary, the work being easily performed by the cook.

The kitchen should be thoroughly cleaned twice during the week, and well swept each day: besides which, the broom and mop should always be at hand to remove anything that may have fallen on the floor, while the business of cooking is going on. A dirty floor, fire-place, unpolished utensils, with basins, jugs, or other articles left lying about, are symptoms of a slovenly cook, and are sufficient to excite suspicions of her nicety in things of greater importance to your comfort.

The cleaning of the kitchen, pantry, passages, and kitchen stairs, should always be over before breakfast, so that it may not interfere with the usual business of the day.

(c) Stratford-upon-Avon Town Hall; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Elizabeth Hickman (d.1784), Cook to the Corporation by unknown artist (c) Stratford-upon-Avon Town Hall; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

If there is no housekeeper, the cook should, early in the day go into the kitchen and look around to see if all this has been properly done. You can then give your orders for the day, and inquire what is required from your store-room. The other servants should, also, come at the same time to ask for such things as they may need.

After each day’s cooking is over, the grate and hearth should be cleared, a small fire made up, and the boiler and kettle filled up and set on to boil. She should then, when there is no scullion, proceed to wash her dishes, having previously prepared two tubs, one with clean hot water, and the other with cold; in which latter the plates and dishes should be well rinsed before they are put onto the rack to dry.

The saucepans and kettles which have been used should be then scoured, but not too roughly, either with wood ashes, or with fine sand, then well rinsed out, wiped dry, and turned down on a clean dry shelf. If tin saucepans are not well dried, they quickly rust and are then spoiled.

The upper rim of saucepans should be kept bright; but the outside, where the fire reaches and burns, it is useless to attempt keeping bright; and indeed the rubbing and scouring they would require would soon wear them out.

For the same reason, the saucepans should not be scoured with a very heavy hand, which wears off the inside tinning without cleaning them the better. Iron and tin saucepans are properly superseding the use of copper; for although metallic copper be not poisonous, yet, if a copper vessel be left by a careless servant in a damp state exposed to the air, it cannot be used with safety until it be scoured. When copper pans are not well tinned, the Verdigris, or rust of copper, very soon appears, and this is, as you know, highly poisonous; particularly, if anything, in the smallest degree, be suffered to stand in it till it becomes cold.

Plucking the Turkey exhibited 1776 Henry Walton 1746-1813 Purchased 1912 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N02870
Plucking the Turkey exhibited 1776 Henry Walton 1746-1813 Purchased 1912

When you are in the country, you will find your poor neighbours very thankful for the water in which meat has been boiled, which they will thicken with Pease and other vegetables, and thus obtain from it a comfortable and nourishing meal.

This your cook will, perhaps, consider as her prerequisite, unless you make a point of reserving it for the use just mentioned. The value of it to the cook may not be even one penny, while to the poor it gives a portion of strength and comfort.

If you desire it always to be poured into an earthen vessel kept for that purpose, and placed in your larder, you will then see it in your daily visits to your kitchen and will be able to direct to whom it shall be given. It would greatly add to the benefit if your cook were to prepare it, as the poor are very deficient in the art of cooking.

The pease-soup eater, or, Pain and laughter, by John Dixon. Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library
The pease-soup eater, or, Pain and laughter, by John Dixon. Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

In those families where economy is obliged to be studied (and in my opinion, it should be studied even in affluent families, for waste and extravagance can in no case be excused), the broth which boiled meat has produced, is frequently thickened into soup for the servants’ table. Good Pease soup may also be made for the same use, from the bones of roast beef, and the bones of the legs and shoulders of mutton. Those which have been cut from meat before it was cooked, should be stewed down for gravy, which a clever cook will, by a little contrivance, have constantly at hand.

There are very few cooks who are not extravagant in coals. A good fire is essential while cooking is going on, which may, perhaps, bring them into the habit of keeping a large one at other times of the day, and which every mistress or housekeeper should endeavour to prevent.

Your cook should never suffer her fire to get very low; for she wastes both many coals and time by this negligence. A fire should be regularly supplied with coals, which would prevent it from ever being so smoky as to be unfit for use at a few minutes’ notice and it should be generally known that smoke is merely unconsumed coal. If it gets low when anything is required to be prepared quickly, the cook has no resource, but to apply the bellows furiously, so that, before the fire burns properly, much coal must have been wasted. The ashes should be riddled from the cinders, and these reserved to throw on the back of the kitchen fire after cooking is over; or they will serve to burn in stoves and ovens, when once the fire under them has been lighted. When there is roasting going on, the meat-screen assists the fire and prevents the necessity of having so large a one as it would require without a screen. Also, when boiling alone is going on, the fire need not be unusually large.

Gamekeeper and Cook by David Wilkie
Gamekeeper and Cook by David Wilkie; Bradford Museums and Galleries

Much was done by Count Rumford to improve fire-places, and economize fuel and I recommend to your attention his essays on this subject. It is usual, but I do not think it a good plan, to allow the cook what are called ‘perquisites dripping’ (today we would refer to this as ‘perks of the job’), for instance, if that be soap-fat and ashes are sometimes allowed as perquisites to servants, but for the reasons above stated, are to be deprecated and prevented.

Some cooks have even been known to meltdown butter, and the ends of candles, in order to add to these kitchen perquisites. Temptation, therefore, should be as much avoided as possible; but where there is a dishonest spirit and a want of principle, no precautions will avail. Still, if allowing wages, equivalent to the value of these perquisites, would diminish the contest between honest and dishonest principles, how much better it would be, both for the mistress and her servant, if this part of her domestic economy were to vary from the general system!

The Comforts of a Rumford Stove - Gilray
The Comforts of a Rumford Stove – Gilray

While on this topic, I ought not to omit to mention some other of the practices of which town servants are accused, in order that you may be on your guard, should you be so unlucky as to be the mistress of an unprincipled servant.

As servants are supposed to influence their employers in directing their custom to any shop they please, the tradespeople find it, too often, for their interest to bribe them, either with Christmas-boxes or to give them a discount upon the bills paid by their masters. It is well if this discount is not, in the first instance, drawn from the customer’s purse, by some extra charge and thus a system of dishonesty carried on as detrimental to the morality of tradesman and servant, as to the interest of the customer.

Sometimes, connivances have been discovered between petty tradespeople and servants, by which, articles that never entered the house have been charged in the bills The articles thus placed to the credit of the customer, are technically termed “the dead man’s portion;” and the produce obtained is divided between the defrauding parties.

(c) Paintings Collection; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
(c) Paintings Collection; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

It is very unpleasant to entertain doubts as to the integrity of those we employ about us, and on whom we must necessarily rely in some degree. The best check, however, against these practices, is to permit your servants as seldom as possible to have anything to do with your bills and to carry on all your dealings with your tradespeople in person.

Also, I recommend you to acquire as early as you can, a knowledge of the quantity which, of each of the common articles of housekeeping, must necessarily be consumed in your family.

When you have ascertained that, you may judge each week for yourself, whether dishonesty or extravagance has been practised in your house, always, however, taking into the account the circumstances of the week, which may have increased this consumption.

Extravagance is frequently found accompanied by dishonest intentions proceeding chiefly from careless indifference to the interest of master and mistress. From whatever cause it proceeds, vigilance is absolutely necessary, either in the housekeeper or her mistress.

It is part of the cook’s duty to take such charge of meat, beer, bread, butter, cheese, and all the articles of common consumption, as shall prevent any degree of waste. Not the most vigilant mistress or housekeeper can attend sufficiently to this point; the cook, therefore, must be in a great measure responsible.

The greatest check the mistress of a family can have over her cook, is to show her that she has a thorough knowledge of the quantity of each article that must necessarily be consumed, according to the size of her family, and that when this quantity has been exceeded, she expects to have it accounted for. Accumulations of small pieces of bread ought never to take place, with a clever cook, who will always insist upon having those fragments eaten by the servants before fresh pieces are cut from the loaf.

When there are any pieces left, she can pour boiling milk over them, and prepare a common bread pudding for the early dinner.

There is frequent waste in the consumption of beer, owing to too much of it being generally drawn at a time. When this happens to be the case, a thoughtful cook will remember that a crust of stale bread put into it, and the jug covered over, will, for a short time, prevent it from becoming very flat.

A good cook will always be careful that the spits are wiped clean while they are hot, and left ready for the next day’s use. The jack should be oiled and cleaned occasionally, or the dust will clog the wheels, prevent it going well, and will make it necessary to have it taken down and more thoroughly cleaned.

Lewis Walpole Library
Lewis Walpole Library

It is bad management in a cook ever to be without hot water, especially if she lives in a family where there are young children, for whom it is in frequent, and, sometimes, immediate demand.

The salt-box and candle-box should both be kept very clean. The former should be hung near the fire, as common salt attracts water from the air and dissolves and the latter as far from the fire as it can be, in a dry place.

Silver spoons should never be used in the kitchen, unless for preparing preserves; wooden and iron spoons are as cleanly and may be used without fear of scratching or bending them.

The cook should not permit the dust-hole to remain long without having it emptied, and no cabbage leaves or green vegetable matter should be allowed to be thrown into it. These soon ferment, and the sulphureted hydrogen gas, which is extricated, causes an intolerable stench.

Of course, we simply couldn’t resist a final image courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library!

lwlpr10240

Sources:

Domestic duties:, or instructions to young married ladies on the management of their households

18th Century Drinking Chocolate

The things we subject ourselves to in the name of research! Just recently Jo visited her local Christmas Market in the city of Lincoln and returned having purchased two packets of ‘18th Century Hot Chocolate Drink’, one for her and the other which she kindly sent to me, an acknowledged ‘chocoholic’ to sample.

The Chocolate Maiden; M. Beaune; Museums Sheffield
The Chocolate Maiden; M. Beaune; Museums Sheffield

I’m writing this blog with a most wonderful cup of the chocolate at the side of me. I have to say the taste is totally different to the usual brands of hot chocolate you buy in the supermarket today, it’s a much richer, creamy ‘chocolately’ taste and has been infused with long pepper, cardamom and cinnamon – the perfect drink for a frosty winter morning.

So the aim is that the blog should be written in the time it takes me to drink this lovely concoction!

As we all know chocolate has been enjoyed for centuries but as we focus on the 18th century it seems only right to take a quick peek at how the Georgians preferred to make the drink.

Chocolate seller
Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

We begin with a recipe from a cookery book we have referred to before by M E Rundell:

Chocolate

Those who use much of this article will find the following mode of preparing it both useful and economical:

Cut the cake of chocolate in very small bits; put in a pint of water, and, when it boils put in the above. Mill it off the fire until quite melted, then on a gentle fire till it boil; pour into a basin and it will keep in a cool place eight or ten days or more. When wanted, put a spoonful or two into milk, boil it with sugar and mill it well.

This, if not made thick is a very good breakfast or supper.

We then move on to The experienced English house-keeper, consisting of near 800 original receipts by Elizabeth Raffald which suggests a slight variation on this method.

To Make Chocolate

Scrape four ounces of chocolate and pour one quart of boiling water on it, mill it well with a chocolate mill and sweeten it to your taste; give it a boil and let it stand all night, then mill it again very well; boil it two minutes, then mill it, it will leave a froth upon the top of your cups.

Finally, I have found a recipe by Hannah Glasse for preparing the chocolate itself which seems to be the closest match in taste to the drink I have just finished!

Chocolate

Still life with a Chocolate Service (1770) by Luis Egidio Meléndez. Courtesy of Prado Museum.
Still life with a Chocolate Service (1770) by Luis Egidio Meléndez. Courtesy of Prado Museum.

Featured image 

The Family of the Duke of Penthièvre in 1768, also known as The Cup of Chocolate. Jean-Baptiste Charpentier the Elder, 1768, oil on canvas, Château de Versailles.