Thursday, April 26, 2007

Regency Food - Part I

The Georgian era was a period of hedonism, self indulgence if you will. Not, if I might be so bold, unlike ourselves today. Look what a swelter we are in about recycling and reusing. But I digress.


What did they eat and drink?


No freezers, although we know northern inhabitants had long ago figured out the benefits of keeping food on ice. They did have ice houses, so things could be kept cool for a while.

Here is a picture of an ice house that I took at Gnoll House in Wales, in February. The house is gone but the ice house and the cellars are still there and the grounds are quite stunning. The first picture is of the entrance which was some little distant from the house.

The second picture is taken through a grill with my camera pointed straight down. They would have brough the ice from the various fresh lakes in the grounds in the winter, piling it up week after week, packing it with straw, until it was full. It looks like a well. I assume you would climb down a latter to chip away at it as it gradually reduced and got lower and lower inside.


There were some greenhouses, called conservatories (that's where the debutante meets the hero and gets caught out when they kiss and then they have to marry.... oops digressing again, but only the rich had those. Glass was a luxury. And there were orangeries. Did I spell that right? I went to the one at Kensington Palace and had a cream tea. There is also a particularly fine one at Bowood House, they have a 360 degree shot from the inside, although there are only paintings there now. It is basically a long gallery with huge windows facing south where they grew citrus fruits. This is an outdoor scene of the orangery at Kew.

They stored root vegetables and hardy fruits like apples, remember Treasure Island and Jim Hawkins hiding in the apple barrel, and of course pickled and preserved soft fruits and vegetables. Jumping jellybeans, my old mum still makes her own pickled onions, marmelade and yummy blackberry and apple jam.

Some stuff grows wild. Blackberries (see jam above). I can remember going blackberry picking with my dad. He would stand in the biggest prickliest bush, push with his basket until he was almost inside the bush and pick and pick. Not the ones at the bottom though. It's like yellow snow - you don't eat those, especially not if you know how many people in England walk their dogs everywhere.

Other stuff growing wild, mushrooms - gotta know the difference from a toadstool. This red spotty one would be easy. Others are not. Some are magic, I'm told (little joke). Elderberry. Now there is an interesting tree, you can use the flowers and the berries. And of course they grew wheat and oats and barley and cabbages.

They raised cattle and hunted wild game.

But all of these items had seasons. So what you might eat in January, would not be what you would eat in July.

Breakfast

Robert Southey had this to say in 1802 about English Breakfasts

The breakfast-table is a cheerful sight in this country: porcelain of their own manufactory, which excels the Chinese in elegance of form and ornament, is ranged on a Japan waiter, also of the country fabric; for here they imitate everything. The mistress sits at the head of the board, and opposite to her the boiling water smokes and sings in an urn of Etruscan shape. The coffee is contained in a smaller vase of the same shape, or in a larger kind of tea-pot, wherein the grain is suspended in a bag; but nothing is so detestable as an Englishman’s coffee. The washing of our after-dinner cups would make a mixture as good; the infusion is just strong enough to make the water brown and bitter. This is not occasioned by economy, though coffee is enormously dear, for these people are extravagant in the expenses of the table: they know no better; and if you tell them how it ought to be made, they reply, that it must be very disagreeable, and that even if they could drink it so strong, it would prevent them from sleeping. There is besides an act of parliament to prevent the English from drinking good coffee: they are not permitted to roast it themselves, and of course all the fresh and finer flavour evaporates in the warehouse. They make amends however by the excellence of their tea, which is still very cheap, though the ministry, in violation of an explicit bargain, increased the tax upon it four fold, during the last war. This is made in a vessel of silver, or of a fine black porcelain: they do not use boiled milk with it, but cream instead in its fresh state, which renders it a very delightful beverage. They eat their bitter bread in various ways, either in thin slices, or roasted, or in small hot loaves, always with butter, which is the best thing in the country.



According to Joshua White in his letters from England written in 1810, breakfast in Regency England was a miserable affair.

...generally very frugal, consisting commonly of tea, and muffins or hot rolls, with good butter. Coffee is less frequently used; and it is seldom good.

On the morning after my arrival, I observed on a small table large enough for one or two persons, a tea-cup and saucer, a tea-pot, milk-pot, sugar dish, plate, and a small catty with tea: the tea-kettle was boiling on an utensil with live coals; and presently a plate of warm rolls was brought in. The waiter said breakfast was ready. I asked where it was, and he pointed to the table.




You will have notice the mention of butter by both writers. It takes 21 pounds of fresh, wholesome cow’s milk to make each pound of butter like this pat of butter on waxed paper. Now just imagine how long it took to milk the cow by hand and then churn that teeny weeny pat.

Well, there we have it, and introduction to food, and the first meal of the day. I will continue on with this topic for a few more blogs, because it is good for me to study what my characters ought to eat during my stories and I best get it right, and of course I hope you find it of interest. I really like it when I can find observations from diarists of the day, but of course the writing is always a bit stiff. I have chopped these quotes a bit, but not so much that you do not get the flavor. And getting the flavor, is what food is all about.

Until next time~~~~ Happy rambles.