Friday, 16 December 2011

Sepia Saturday 105


Alan's posting this week, brings focuses our attention on Mrs Beeton and the extravagances of Victorian and Edwardian Dishes and Meals.  Mrs Beeton's main contribution was the bringing together the best recipes and household  practises of her day. She formalised them into a schedule of duties and accompanying etiquette for each social layer within the Victorian household.  Her attentions were mainly directed at the aspiring middle classes and provided a blueprint  for them to ape the very rich.  She detailed how each level, from the Mistress and Master of the House down to the lowliest scullery maid, should act and behave in any conceivable circumstance.

Whilst, she was not herself the developer of many of the recipes she brought to her readership, her treatment of them and her functioning of the household as lead her to be considered the originator of the Dinner Party.  For the rich this an almost daily event, and for the aspirant middle classes an event to relish.

The size of meals was almost legendary, and banquets were held with 12 courses and more, but for the main part they were merely sumptuous with a variety of dishes for each course, as the following menu for Queen Victoria's 1896 Christmas Dinner would suggest;

The menu is quite formalised and most follow the same format.
Potages - now refined into a soup or consomme course, and accompanied by Sherry
Poissons - fish course, or courses, with all manner of sea foods and fish. Served with a good white wine.
Entree - the entry to the main meal and would include such as vol-au-vants, Sweetbreads, mutton cutlets etc and accompanied by Champagne or claret
Releves - the main part of the meal - and would include roast joints, Poultry, Meat Pies etc and served with Burgundy.  This would be followed by a course of roast game Field fares, snipe, pheasants, wild duck etc served with a claret.
Entremets - This coursed tended to be divided into three;
Dressed vegetables
Savoury such as devilled Sardines or cheese  - all served with an appropriate wine.

At this stage the table would be cleared and the guests provided with fresh glasses and plates for ices, fruit and nuts all accompanied with Madeira.

After this the ladies would leave the gentlemen to their pipes and brandy, and coffee which would be served to the Ladies in the drawing room and the gentlemen at the dinner table.

Contrast this with the poor, or most of the population.  The fare for most country dwellers was boiled pork or bacon, accompanied by vegetables boiled in the same pot. Probably the majority of homes did not have any form of range or oven, things were cooked (generally boiled) in a pot hung over the hearth.  In the major towns, the poor simply did not have cooking facilities and were fed mainly from the cooked meat shops.  This state of affair continued in to the 20th century.

A School Dinner menu in the Ryedale Folk Museum shows;

Penny Dinner - Boiled Pork, Meat Pudding and Vegetables
Farthing Dinner - Soup, Bread and Jam
Free Dinner - Cup of cocoa or Soup made from boiled meat Bones

This is clearly shown in a little History of Lockton, a Village in the North Yorkshire Moors, to which I claim an Ancestral connection.  The first chapter is given over to the account of the village in the pre-WW1 period through the recollection of Mary Ellen Boyes of her visits to her grandparents and family.  She discribes

"... For a typical dinner a piece of bacon was put into a big iron pan covered with water and hung on reckon crooks over the fire.  The bacon was usually very fat as the pigs killed weighed at least thirty stone and many forty or more. Then a Turnip in a net, cabbage and potatoes each in a net, were added. Half an hour before dinner dumplings were added.  First the liquid was served in a basin and called "a few broths", the dumplings and finally a plate of bacon and vegetables. I can't say I enjoyed it, neither did I like boiled sausages.  My uncle had quite a bit of land to shoot over but even pheasants were stewed. "
 What would the villagers have given for the following stop-over snack

for the royal family on its train journey to Balmoral.


  1. That’s quite a stark contrast between Her Majesty’s fare and the poor scholar on soup or cocoa. Twas ever thus!

  2. Fascinating post Mike. The North Yorkshire meal especially so. I'll bet they felt better after it thanthe huge royal 'feast'.

  3. I think I would prefer the penny dinner to the royal one. The royal dinner is way to much for me, though I might enjoy a couple of the dishes.

  4. Stunning the lack of vegis on that second menu. And I have to admit, I've never understood the point of consomme. Seems like the dirtying of a bowl for very little.

  5. I'm tired just thinking about it! Wonderful post that takes us back in time.

  6. A beautiful posting and very informative. I could never eat all that food in one day much less one meal. I would like the broth and a potato or two though. Merry Christmas

  7. Food for thought here. The extravagance is less disturbing than the waste. The simple food of poor people are often the food that lasts the longest in any culture.