The Georgian era is famous ‒ or infamous ‒ for excess and nowhere is this more apparent than in the dining room. It was the Georgians who instituted the large dining table which remained in the dining room. Previously, folding tables had been brought in by servants, dining taking place in small groups with chairs set according to the number of diners. The affluent dined lavishly, with meals based around meat, while the poor rarely, if ever, enjoyed flesh or fowl, relying on cheese for the meagre protein in their diet. It was during the eighteenth century that cheese, for so long a locally-produced commodity, was transported to the towns and sold under the names of the places they originated, i.e. Cheddar, Gloucester, Cheshire, Stilton, Wensleydale et al. For the first time, the sale of cheese became a lucrative source of income for the farmers.
Milk was also sold in the towns, carried by carter from nearby farms, but without the benefit of modern refrigeration, it must have been rarely in summer that it was not sour. This, however, must have been preferable during the eighteenth century to that produced by town-kept cows. These unfortunate animals were kept in such dreadful conditions ‒ in filthy, dark and overcrowded byres ‒ that their milk was far from being the healthy food we are accustomed to today. By the Regency, this situation was somewhat improved as standards of hygiene improved, particularly in the country. In London, cows were a familiar sight to the populace as they grazed in St James’s Park (as well as several others) under the watchful eyes of their milkmaids or herdsmen, who would then hawk it through the streets in buckets suspended from a wooden yoke supported across the shoulders.
Eggs and butter were also brought daily to the capital, the finest being transported by sea from Yorkshire and East Anglia. Fish was also fetched upriver from the various landing sites. Vegetables were grown in the market gardens which lay a few miles beyond the city limits and sold at the markets or via barrows pushed around the streets. The servants of the Quality sought out the best produce at Covent Garden, which was also famous for its wide array of dairy products and fruit, while hawkers of such wares as potted eels, sausages, pasties, savoury baked pies and gingerbread strolled the precincts selling directly from trays balanced on their heads or around their necks. Many readers will be familiar with the names of other famous London markets, too.
Billingsgate was renowned as the largest fish market and of course Smithfield was the destination of the drover-driven herds of cattle and sheep, which were either slaughtered on site or sold to local butchers. Those streets called The Shambles in so many towns were thusly designated from the row of butchers’ shops and their slaughterhouses ‘out back’. Leadenhall market was originally a market for meat, poultry and game; milk, leather and cloth; tools and kitchen pans. After the Great Fire in 1666, it was divided into the Beef Yard, Green Yard and Herb market. Poultry was vended ‘on the toe’, which led to one singular character known as Old Tom. Tom was a gander which escaped his fate with 34,000 other geese and became a local celebrity. He was even fed at various inns in the locality. When he died, aged 38, in 1835, he was first laid in state before being buried at the market. The Fleet existed from 1736 to 1829 and was a general market where carcasses and cuts of meat changed hands, with an open air vegetable market at one end. It was moved to Farringdon in 1829 when the road was widened and became solely for fruit and vegetables. Newgate dated from before the Great Fire and was sited in Newgate Street, also selling butchered meat. By the 1840s, ‘pigs from the country’ were sold here, as well as ‘hog meat, game, fresh butter and eggs &c.’. The markets seethed with all manner of specimens, both human and bestial. They were dirty and noisy; alive with a myriad smells, many of them unpleasant. Rotten vegetables and fruit, squashed underfoot; the reek of fish; the blood, gore, offal and the stench of death of the cattle market. No wonder those who could afford to do so sent their servants!
Through most of the eighteenth century, breakfast (at least for the more well-to-do) had been partaken of at about ten o’clock, being a light repast of hot buttered bread or toast, perhaps with cheese and washed down with chocolate, coffee, tea or ale. It could last an hour or more if friends paid a visit. In the grander houses it might even be laid out as a buffet for those returning from a morning ride or a visit to the park or library. Those who dwelled in the country and those who worked for a living broke their fast at a somewhat earlier hour. By the turn of the nineteenth century a more substantial meal became the norm, with eggs, fish and meat being added to the menu. The hour of service crept forward too, leading to the necessity of a midday snack or nuncheon (literal meaning ‘noon drink’) which became confused with luncheon. Lunch was and is always eaten in the middle of the day, whereas a nuncheon might be taken at any time. To further add to the confusion, the poorer sections of society still ate their dinner around noon, as their working day began so early. They might then, as their forebears had for centuries, eat a supper of cold pie, meat or bread with a chunk of cheese before retiring.
A substantial lunch, such as Maria Edgeworth enjoyed when visiting Sir Walter Scott in July 1823, consisted of such dishes as cold roast chicken, ham, pickled salmon and ‘a cold boiled round’. A second course was hot and included poached eggs, toast, green vegetables, potatoes and trout, as well as ‘custard pudding, a goose berry tart and plenty of Highland cream’.
In contrast to the less privileged, dinner for the middle and upper classes was gradually served later and later as the eighteenth century progressed. A country family with social aspirations might come to table at two or even three o’clock ‒ it was noted by Richard Steel before1729 as being the latter ‒ and it was four o’clock by 1740. By 1779 the Rector of Aston, near Birmingham, entertained Catherine Hutton and the ladies withdrew at five o’clock, with the tea tray being called for at six when the gentlemen rejoined them. In 1789, Horace Walpole wrote that he was ‘so antiquated’ he still preferred to dine at four, but by the 1790s, seven seemed to be the fashionable hour. This was of course open to individual interpretation, depending on whether town or country hours were being kept. By the turn of the nineteenth century, when in town one might dine as late as eight or nine o’clock; in the country, perhaps five or six.
It was usual in fashionable houses to serve three courses for dinner. The first course was soup (if on the menu) with various mixed ‘removes’ (dishes replacing those that have been removed) which may have included fish, meat and game. The second course centred around meat such as beef, pork, mutton, poultry and game birds such as grouse, partridge and pheasant. Included in this course would have been sauces, vegetables and savoury dishes like pies and omelettes. The discovery that eating fresh greens and fruit could prevent scurvy had led to more people eating them by the Regency. Ingenious gravy boats gained in popularity, the Argyle having a concealed hot water chamber to prevent fat congealing on the surface of the gravy by keeping it warm.
According to Georgette Heyer in False Colours, a ‘small’ dinner might include, for its second course, cauliflower, peas, asparagus, French beans, a goose, a lobster and a basket of pastries, plus side dishes of a haunch of venison and a braised ham. A cold joint of roast beef was often on the sideboard in case of need, while such items as pickles and oat cakes stayed on table for the duration of the meal. The third, sweet course consisted of jellies, creams, ices, pastries, sweetmeats, cheese, fruit and nuts. Naturally, wine flowed throughout the meal and guests generally served themselves from those dishes closest to them, although footmen were on hand in grander establishments to fetch anything required which was not within reach.
Informal behaviour was sweeping in by the close of the eighteenth century and was remarked upon with disfavour by various foreign visitors, not least the Duc de la Rochefoucauld when he visited England in 1784. However, the formality of gathering fifteen minutes before dinner was still adhered to, as was the practice of the highest-ranked gentleman escorting the highest-ranked lady other than his immediate family and thus onwards through the company in order of precedence. During the first years of the eighteenth century, men sat at one end, the women at the other, but by the Regency it was customary for the sexes to alternate around the table.
|A Table Setting|
In aristocratic households, the butler, cook and housekeeper had the ordering of such practicalities as the laying of table and the placement of dishes, although the mistress was consulted with regard to menus. For the lady of aspirations but more humble standing or origins, there were many books available on the subjects of cookery and housekeeping, included therein diagrams of table setting. Soup tureens were set at the corners of the table and other dishes aligned along the sides in-between, hence the term ‘side dishes’. This was service à la française, which made a grand statement but had considerable drawbacks, not least that food quickly cooled. Renowned French chef Marie-Antoine Carême, who wrote L’Art de la Cuisine Française among other cook books, commanded a huge wage during his brief tenure as the Prince Regent’s chef de cuisine about the end of 1816. Carême hated everything about England, but although he was responsible for a grand banquet at The Royal Pavilion in Brighton, held on 15 January 1817 ‒ which boasted thirty-six entrées in a list of several dozen dishes across nine courses⃰ ‒ he could well have been instrumental in the adoption of the sequential system of service à la russe, which is familiar to the modern eye. In other words, soup, fish, meat and sweet courses, clearly defined as such, came to table one after the other. As Carême had once worked for the Russian tsar, it seems likely that he was the architect of an innovation which gradually became adopted throughout the British Isles.
* Displayed in The Prince of Pleasure and His Regency JB Priestley
The tea tray was called for when the gentlemen rejoined the ladies following their communion over the port and brandy; this consisted of not just tea, but coffee and cakes besides. Nevertheless, by around ten to eleven pm, the assembled were glad to indulge in a light supper. For a mere family occasion, this would consist of fruit, cold meats and wine. If guests were in attendance, however, hot food was often provided and side dishes such as ‘boiled soals’ or a goose pie. A sweet dish would be there too, a typical example being a confection of cream, eggs and sugar, flavoured with hartshorn, canary and orange-flower water and set in a hedgehog-shaped mould. The spines were then added in the form of almonds and its eyes were currants. This was termed a ‘middle dish’ but could have been made into a ‘grand dessert’ with the addition of other elaborate shapes.
Dishes for Breakfast
Hot rolls and bread with butter. French bread. Toast. Bath cakes (also good for Afternoon tea). Plum cake, honey cake, pound cake. Cold meats, including beef and ham. Eggs. Herrings, smoked, baked or fried. (Kippers were not so called until Victorian times). Tea, chocolate, coffee, ale.
A Luncheon Menu
In 1755 Dr Johnson described luncheon ‘as much food as one’s hand can hold’. This is no better illustrated than in that staple of the modern age, the sandwich. Remarkably, the sandwich first appeared in 1762 when John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich, is said to have called for bread and meat, slapping the latter into the former so as to keep a hand free. Whether this was at his desk at the Admiralty or whilst playing cards in a gambling den, is lost to the annals of history, although apparently the first recording of ‘the sandwich’ occurred at the gaming table.
A cold collation of meats, bread and cheese. Cold fowl. Pickled herring or salmon. Potted mackerel, eels or shrimps. Eggs. Baked trout. Game pie. Salad vegetables such as lettuce, celery and asparagus. Jellies or creams. Batter pudding. Syllabub. Fruit tart.
Everlasting, or Solid, Syllabub
Mix a quart of thick raw cream, one pound of refined sugar, a pint and half of
fine raisin wine in a deep pan; put to it the grated peel and the juice of three
lemons. Beat, or whisk it one way half an hour ; then put it on a sieve with a bit
of thin muslin laid smooth in the shallow end till next day. Put it in glasses. It
will keep good, in a cool place, ten days.
A New System of Domestic Cookery, Maria Rundell
Tea To Drink Or Eat?
Tea as a beverage was introduced to Britain by Charles II and his bride, the Infanta Catherine de Braganza of Portugal. It became so popular it replaced ale as the national drink, by 1750 having become the English number one choice. It was originally drunk after dinner, in the drawing room. Afternoon tea thought to have been started by Anna, Duchess of Bedford, in the early 1800s. She invited friends to Woburn Abbey at five o’clock for an afternoon meal which included bread and butter, sandwiches, various sweetmeats and small cakes. Continuing through the summer, the engagement proved so well-attended that on her return to Town she sent out cards for ‘tea and a walking the fields’. Meadows still abounded within London’s limits in those days. The idea took off, copied by other hostesses and thus ‘tea time’ was established.
Low or Afternoon tea was traditionally taken by the aristocracy at four o’clock before the fashionable hour for taking the air in Hyde Park. It consisted of sandwiches with the crusts removed, biscuits and cakes. High tea was more substantial and eaten by those lower down the social scale, at five to six pm. It was more like dinner with additional bread, scones and cake. Dishes included in a typical meal were as follows:
Two types of bread, brown and white. Currant teacakes. Salad. Salmon or mackerel. Roast pork. Stand pie. Pound cake and chocolate roll. Sponge and walnut cakes. Lemon-cheese tarts, jellies and trifle. Curd tart. Cheese board.
A Pound Cake.
Beat a pound of butter in an earthen pan with the hand one way till like a fine
thick cream. Then have ready twelve eggs; but leave out half the whites; beat
them well; then beat them up with the butter, a pound of flour beat in it, a pound
of sugar, and a few carraways. Beat all well together with the hand for an hour,
or beat it with a wooden spoon. Put all into a buttered pan, and bake it in a quick
oven for one hour.
The two meals were identified by the height of the tables from which they were eaten ‒ side or coffee table as opposed to the dining table. Originally, tea was drunk without milk and sweetened with imported Jamaican sugar. The first record of milk being added is reputed to have been by the Marquise de Seven in 1680. As the nineteenth century progressed, crumpets toasted before the fire on a toasting fork and scones became a popular addition.
The Dinner Menu
Soups and Sauces
Many sauces in the Regency are familiar today ‒ lemon, parsley, hollandaise, onion and bread as well as tomato sauce and gravy. Some were Continental, such as Sauce Italienne, Allemande, Espagnole and Flammande. You could have Queen Sauce, green sauce and egg sauce; fennel, anchovy, lobster, oyster, shrimp and crab; cucumber, tarragon and sorrel; ketchups, curry and pickles.
A long-lasting sauce for fish and fowl came from one of the most popular recipe books of the Georgian era and required twenty-four chopped anchovies, complete with bones. To these were added lemon, spices, a quart of white wine, horseradish, shallots and a pint of water. Two ‘spoon fulls’ of this mixture were added to a pound of melted butter to make an excellent sauce for fish or ‘a pretty sauce for fowl, veal &c’. The base sauce apparently kept for an entire year!
Soups ranged from simple mutton broth to Soup à la Reine and portable soup; white soup, Scotch barley broth and Soup au bourgeois; chestnut, partridge and hare; cow-heel, ox-cheek and plumb porridge for Christmas (shin beef); eel, oyster and crayfish; asparagus, turnip and rice; hop-top, egg and milk soups.
Fish and Shellfish
Tench, perch, herring, mackerel, pike, sturgeon, turbot, eel, carp, salt fish, sole, flounder, salmon, lobster, oysters, mussels, chars, lampreys, cod, skate, haddock, whiting.
Cut a piece of salmon in slices of an inch thick, and make forcemeat as follows:
take some of the flesh of the salmon, and the same quantity of the meat of an eel,
with a few mushrooms. Season with pepper, salt, nutmeg, and cloves. Beat all
together till very fine. Boil the crumb of a halfpenny roll in milk, beat it with four
eggs till it be thick, then let it cool, and mix it. all together with four raw eggs.
Take the skin from the salmon, and lay the slices in a dish. Cover every slice with
forced meat, pour some melted butter over them, and add a few crumbs of bread.
Lay a crust round the dish, and stick oysters round it. Put it into an oven, and,
when it is of a fine brown, pour over it a little melted butter, with some red wine
boiled in it, and the juice of a lemon.
Meat and poultry
Pork, mutton, beef, venison, chicken, duck, veal, ham, bacon, brawn, lamb, turkey, goose, capon.
Devonshire Squab Pie.
Cover the dish with a good crust, and put at the bottom of it a layer of sliced
pippins,[apples] and then a layer of mutton steaks cut from the loin, well seasoned
with pepper and salt. Then put another layer of pippins, peel some onions, and
slice them thin, and put a layer of them over the apples. Then put a layer of mutton,
and then pippins and onions. Pour in a pint of water, close up the pie, and hake it.
Hare, rabbit, pheasant, woodcock, partridge, bustard, pigeon, plover, guinea fowl, widgeon.
Scald, draw, and take the craws clean out of your pigeons and wash them in
several waters. When you have dried them, roll a good lump of butter in chopped
parsley, and season it with pepper and salt. Put this into your pigeons, and spit,
dust, and baste them. A good fire will roast them in twenty minutes, and when they
are enough, serve them up with parsley and butter. See Sauces.
Savoury ‒ chicken, duck, pigeon, giblet, goose; calf’s head or foot, ham, veal, mutton; venison pasty, beef steak, ox cheek; game, hare, rabbit and partridge to eat hot, savoury patties made with beef suet and loin of veal; turbot, tench, trout, eel, carp, sole, herring, salmon, lobster and ‘muscle’.
Cheshire Pork Pie
Skin a loin of pork, and cut it into steaks. Season it with pepper, salt, and nutmeg,
and make a good crust. Put into the dish a layer of pork, then a layer of pippins
pared and cored, and sugar sufficient to sweeten it. Then place another layer of
pork, and put in half a pint of white wine. Then lay some butter on the top, and
close the pie.
Sweet ‒ apple pie or tart, codlin pie [a cooking apple with long, tapering shape], cherry, gooseberry, orange or lemon tart, Tart de Moi, as well as other fruits in season.
Tart de Moi.
Lay round the dish a puff paste, and then a layer of biscuit; then a layer of
butter and marrow, another of all sorts of sweetmeats, and thus proceed till the
dish is full : boil a quart of cream, and thicken it with four eggs, and put in a
spoonful of orange-flower water. Sweeten it with sugar to the palate, and pour
it over the whole. Half an hour will bake it.
Omelette, Hashed beef or mutton savoury, veal, braised lamb with savoury jelly, pigeon or chicken in savoury jelly.
Hashed Beef or Mutton Savoury
Take some onions and cut into slices, put a piece of butter into a saucepan, and
then put in the onions, with two spoonfuls of good gravy ; let them stew for ten
minutes, taking care to keep them of a good yellow colour. Take off all the fat;
cut the beef or mutton into thin slices, and put it into the sauce with a spoonful
of walnut ketchup, four spoonfuls of port wine, salt, white pepper, and add a little
gravy a short time before serving up.
Toast a slice of bread on both sides, and butter it. Toast a slice of Gloucester
cheese on one side and lay that next to the bread, and toast the other with a
salamander; rub mustard over and serve very hot.
A New System of Domestic Cookery, Maria Rundell
Carrots, peas, cauliflower, cabbage, spinach, asparagus, celery, onions, lettuce, ‘beet-roots’, turnips, potatoes, French beans and leeks.
Clean fresh mushrooms with a knife, wash and drain them: make a case with
a sheet of white paper ; rub the inside well with fresh butter, and fill it with the
mushrooms ; season them with white pepper arid salt ; put the case containing
them upon a baking plate of cast iron (in the country called a back-stone) over
a slow fire ; cover them with the cover of a stew pot, upon which place some fire,
and when nearly dry, serve them up, with some rich cullis.
Desserts and Puddings
Nuts, fruits, sweetmeats, jellies, creams, ice cream, trifle, syllabub; tarts (see above) and puddings. Many puddings we still use today, such as plum, bread, rice, orange, lemon and Eve’s Pudding. Some are less well-known now, perhaps, such as Oxford Pudding, custard, prune or damson, biscuit, almond and apricot. Others sound interesting, if not intriguing: Hunting Pudding, Duke of Buckingham’s Pudding, Duke of Cumberland’s Pudding, Hasty, Quaking and Transparent!
Mix eight eggs beat up fine with a pint of good cream, and a pound of flour. Beat
them well together, and put to them a pound of beef suet finely chopped, a pound
of currants well cleaned, half a pound of jar raisins stoned and chopped small, two
ounces of candied orange cut small, the same of candied citron, a quarter of a
pound of powdered sugar, and a large nutmeg grated. Mix all together with half a
gill of brandy, put it into a cloth, tie it up close, and boil it. four hours.
Floating Island [Trifle]
Mix three half pints of thin cream with a quarter of a pint of raisin wine, a little
lemon juice, orange flower-water, and sugar: put into a dish for the middle of the
table, and put on the cream a froth, as will be directed in page 195, which may
be made of raspberry or currant-jelly.
A New System of Domestic Cookery, Maria Rundell
Boil three or four laurel, peach, or nectarine leaves, in a full pint of cream;
strain it; then when cold, add the yolks of three eggs beaten and strained, sugar,
and a large spoonful of brandy stirred quick into it. Scald till thick, stirring it all
Another way, — Mix half a quarter of a pint of ratafia.
A New System of Domestic Cookery, Maria Rundell
Unless otherwise stated, recipes come from The London Art of Cookery, John Farley, 1811.