Monday, November 30, 2015

How to Eat Like a Victorian

At the end of one month, I plan out the details of mine and my husband's menu for the next month. Part way through Thanksgiving weekend, as I look toward Christmas, I feel compelled to keep us from gaining too much weight. As a Victorianist, I remembered reading recently that Victorian diets were some of the healthiest in history - if, of course, you practice better sanitation and avoid gimmicks, like arsenic wafers (those were never good for you)!

It's easy to find meal plans, like what I normally make, online and I often turn to them for inspiration, so I did the same thing in search of a Victorian menu, with no such luck. Of course, this was complicated by the fact that I don't want to eat like a poor Victorian, who ate weird street food and rotting vegetables. I also don't want to eat like a rich Victorian because they spent too much money and wasted too much food. I wanted a practical Victorian diet.

Excerpt from William Banting's Letter on Corpulence (1864)
In my effort to create a meal-plan for the Victorian middling sort, I consulted the Letter on Corpulence (1864) by William Banting, and certainly took his advice on tea and alcohol, but I also consulted numerous other sources to decide what we would eat on a typical week in December in 1889. As the woman of the house, I would be arranging the menu, as I am today, but I would have had a servant to cook it for me. Otherwise, we wouldn't have so many homemade baked goods and puddings.

Monday
Cold puddings!


Breakfast: a large cup of tea, a biscuit, preserves, broiled bone, and devilled kidneys.
Lunch: bread, with cold leftover beef and asparagus/potato, and a cold pudding.
Tea: a cup of tea, a pear, and a biscuit.
Dinner: 2 or three glasses of madeira, shrimp creole, spinach, rice, and a pear.
Supper: 1 or 2 glasses of madeira, and a little more shrimp, or a pear.

Tuesday

Breakfast: a large cup of tea, dry toast, a soft boiled egg, and ham or bacon.
Lunch: a couple pieces of buttered bread, a slice of meat, and a cold pudding.
Tea: a cup of tea, a pear, and a biscuit.
Dinner: 2 or 3 glasses of white wine, chicken baked in rice, asparagus, carrot, and walnuts.
Supper: 1 or 2 glasses of white wine, another piece of chicken, or some nuts.

Wednesday
Eggs for breakfast in the 1890s (source).


Breakfast: a large cup of tea, bread, bacon, and eggs.
Lunch: cold chicken sandwich, a cup of warm broth, and a cold pudding.
Tea: a cup of tea, a pear, and a biscuit.
Dinner: 2 or 3 glasses of white wine, curried fish (preferably cod), carrots, turnips, and nuts.
Supper: 1 or 2 glasses of white wine, and another small piece of fish.

Thursday

Breakfast: a large cup of tea, leftover fish, a fried egg, and a biscuit.
Lunch: a couple pieces of buttered bread, a slice of meat, and a cold pudding.
Tea: a cup of tea, an apple, and a biscuit.
Dinner: 2 or 3 glasses of good claret, Spanish stew, with bread, salad, and sliced apple.
Supper: 1 or 2 glasses of good claret, another meatball,

Friday
Kitchen utensils.


Breakfast: a large cup of tea, savoury eggs, and bread.
Lunch: a couple pieces of buttered bread, a slice of meat, and a cold pudding.
Tea: a cup of tea, grapes, and a pudding.
Dinner: 2 or 3 glasses of sherry, fried fillets of sole, green peas, and grapes.
Supper: 1 or 2 glasses of sherry, and small piece of sole.

Saturday

Breakfast: a large cup of tea, and leftover fish on buttered bread.
Lunch: a couple pieces of buttered bread, a slice of meat, and a cold pudding.
Tea:  a cup of tea, an apple, and a biscuit.
Dinner: 2 or 3 glasses of white wine, beans & bacon, sauté breast of marinated chicken, boiled potato, and sliced apple.
Supper: 1 or 2 glasses of white wine, and another piece of chicken.

Sunday

Breakfast: a large cup of tea, beans & bacon, with savoury eggs, fried potato, and toast.
Lunch:  cold chicken sandwich, a cup of warm broth, and a cold pudding.
Tea:  a cup of tea, an apple, and a biscuit.
Dinner:  2 or 3 glasses of good claret, beef, potatoes, asparagus, and sliced apple.
Supper: 1 or 2 glasses of good claret, and a little chunk of beef.

The breakfast bread, bacon, and eggs of modern brunch was well-established by the Victorian era. Eggs were typically boiled, fried, or poached. Wootton Bridge Historical has several good Victorian recipes for morning eggs, including: egg fritters, curried eggs, and Turkish eggs. Broiled bones and devilled kidneys, however, were just as common. Devilled kidneys were lambs kidneys cooked in a spiced sauce. Also common was the leftover cold meat from the previous evening's meal. Friday's savoury eggs are scrambled and fried with the Spanish meatballs from Thursday's meal.

To be practical and not create a lot of waste, food from the previous evenings meal could be eaten at lunch too. Preserving food was an important part of life in a Victorian kitchen. Potted meats could easily be used at lunch and I found a recipe for potted rabbit here. I think potted meat was the reason anyone ever thought of suggesting SPAM as something to eat. In the absence of leftovers, it could be spread on bread, during lunch. My suggestion of a "cold pudding" is based on James Greenwood's Seven Curses of London (1869), as quoted here.


I will have nothing new add to existing conversations about Victorian tea. I borrowed these recommendations from Banting.

It is easy to find out about what Victorians ate when they were entertaining, but what about when it was just the family at home? Did they always have 14 course dinners? Often not! During my quest for Victorian dinner recipes that my husband would eat, I found some one-pot meals, like the chicken baked in rice, which is like a meat pie with a meat crust and none of the vegetables. I added vegetables to this meal. For dinner, most records suggest a meat dish, two vegetables, and a bit of fruit for dinner.

For dinner, I would use Wootton Bridge Historical's curried fish recipe, and found many other recipes there too, including the fried fillet of sole and on the same site, Spanish stew recipe. Sunday dinner after church was always beef.

Dinner was the main meal of the day. It happened in the afternoon, or early evening. Supper was the Victorian equivalent of a late-night snack. By all reports, most people just picked at what was leftover fro dinner when suppertime came around, as they seemingly did for all their other meals.

When all is said and done, however, I'm having a hard time believing the five glasses of alcohol a day are really good for you, but maybe because so many preservatives and weird sugars have been cut from our diet, maybe...

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1 comment:

  1. Very interesting! It should be noted the alcohol mentioned, even though most of it is fortified, is all various variations of red wine which is supposed to have certain health benefits. Or so "they" say. LOL

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