Sunday, May 6, 2012

19th CENTURY ENGLISH FOOD by Maggi Andersen

Recipe for Pea Soup with Bacon and Herbs 1811
Serves 8-10
1 PT (2 ½ cups) old peas, shelled
4 PT (10 cups) stock
¼ LB piece bacon
1 LB sorrel, coarsely chopped
2 endives, sliced
1 ½ oz. (1/2 cup) spearmint, chopped
2 oz. (4 TBS) butter
4 TBS (1/2 cup) cream

Boil the peas in the stock with the bacon, sorrel, endives and spearmint. “When the peas are tender, remove the bacon and chop it into small dice. Put the soup through a food mill or coarse sieve and return it to the cleaned pan. Reheat, stir in the butter and cream, add a little pepper and then put back the chopped bacon. Pour into a tureen and serve.
The impressive machinery of the Victorian kitchen with the emphasis on utilitarian rather than decorative. 

The nineteenth century opened with the Napoleonic Wars and short harvests, and the peace of 1815 brought no relief.

In a working man’s cottage fresh meat was a luxury seen only on Sunday, and then only enough for a meat pudding or toad encased in suet crust and boiled. Butter was replaced by lard flavoured with rosemary.

In 1846, the Corn Laws were repealed, lowering the cost of bread and other staples. The huge industrial growth and the development of scientific farming outstripped the experimental methods of the previous century. Farmers could double their crops with chemical fertilizers and utilize new ways of feeding cattle during the winter months with cottonseed, linseed cakes and similar concentrates.

The demand for cheap food and the growth of free trade ended English agriculture based on wheat forever. Within fifty years, most of the English were eating food they had bought, rather than grown or reared themselves – the greater part of it imported. Spices came from India. Australian beef began to arrive, posing a few problems in the kitchen.  It was tougher than homegrown English cattle and not refrigerated until Scottish immigrant in Australia, James Harrison made a practical ice maker in 1880.  

Replacing the sailing ships by steam trawlers improved the fish supply. Salt and pickled herrings gave way to fresh fish as the railroads improved.

A method of preserving food in glass bottles by heat-processing was discovered by a Frenchman, Nicholas Appert. Bottled sauces became popular.

The love apple, or tomato first grown as decoration, arrived as a food from North Carolina. Vegetable marrows and pumpkins appeared.     

These and other changes changed the English diet dramatically.

While some old-fashioned people stuck to the eighteenth century breakfast of cold meat, cheese and beer; the majority of English adopted porridge, fish bacon and eggs, toast and marmalade that have appeared on English breakfast tables for a hundred years.

The old supper disappeared, to be replaced by luncheon in the middle of the day, which began as a glass of wine and a biscuit and developed into a full meal.
Dinner at seven underwent a change too. Since Medieval times the course of an English dinner had been spread out on the table, all the dishes of one course at the same time. Dishes, called removes, near the ends of the table could be replaced, but the others remained until the course ended.

The rich variety of foods hawked on the streets of London in the mid-19th century were: oranges, nuts, watercress, pickled whelks, oysters; hot eels, sheeps’ trotters, pea soup, fried fish, ham sandwiches, hot green peas, kidney puddings, boiled meat puddings, beef, mutton or kidney pies, baked potatoes, tarts or rhubarb, currants, gooseberries, cherries, apples, damsons, cranberries and mince pies, plum duff (dough) and plum cake, gingerbreads, Chelsea buns, muffins and crumpets, candy rocks, sticks, cough drops and ices and ice creams, tea coffee, coca, ginger beer, hot elder cordial or wine, lemonade, curds and whey, rice milk, and milk straight from the cow in the parks.  

The Book of Household Management by Isabella Beeton, first serialized in the Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine and published in book form in 1861, is possibly the most widely known of English cookery books. 

The resplendent formality of Mrs Beeton's supper table. From the 1895 edition.
Isabella Mary Mayson was the eldest of twenty-one children siblings and step-siblings. Her step-father, Henry Dorling, was the manager of the grandstand at Epsom in its heyday. The family actually lived in the grandstand. 

In 1855 Isabella married the publisher of Domestic Magazine.  Isabella worked as an editor. The Book of Household Management has proved a great source for social historians. Hers was the first cookery book to include colonial dishes – Indian and Australian – and it has seasonal menus with lists of dishes keyed to available produce.

Overwork and childbearing wore Mrs Beeton out; paying her husband’s debts and bearing her fourth child led to her death in 1865 at the age of twenty-nine. But her book, now over one hundred years old, with a facsimile published in 1968 sold in America as well as England, now carries on her good work.

Maggi Andersen

The Reluctant Marquess available on Amazon
Seven Centuries of English Cooking – A Collection of Recipes by Maxime de la Falaise Grove Press NY.
The Victorian Home, Jenni Calder, B T Batsford Ltd, London.


Allison Butler said...

Yum, Maggi, pea soup with bacon and herbs would go down nicely on a chilly day like today:)
We are so lucky to have such an abundance of food. I couldn't imagine only eating meat on a Sunday.
Thanks so much for the fascinating and informative post. Hmm! Am suddenly feeling hungry:)

Maggi Andersen said...

Hi Allison, not exotic but solid fare and tasty on a cold night.

Cheryl Leigh said...

Poor Isabella Beeton died so young. She would never have imagined how many people would read and continue to read her book.

Lovely post, Maggi.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Maggi,
that was really fascinating.
Interesting to think some old foods are still around today though.
Pigs trotters and pea'n'ham soup.
What on earth were endives and Sorrel? :)

In our cousins Household in Holland they still wake to sliced cold meat, breads and cheese for breakfast.

Maggi Andersen said...

Hi Cheryl, so sad that Isabella died so young. She was the powerhouse in her family, and what an extraordinary legacy she left behind.

Maggi Andersen said...

It's the same in Denmark, Maryde. Lot's of lovely cheese! Sorrel and endives are around today, but I'm not sure about spearmint, would that be the same as mint?