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Thursday, October 11, 2007

Making a Meal of it


One of my latest research books is Making a Meal of It -- Two Thousand Years of English Cookery. ISBN 9781850749717

It is a compilation of English Heritage pamphlets about how food and food preparation has changed over the past 2,000 years. Prior to the Roman invasion, there is actually very little solid substance to how food was prepared or cooked as the society was not literate.

The book focuses on seven main times periods -- the Romans, the Medieval period, the 17th century, the Georgian and the Victorian periods. It looks at food was obtained, how it was prepared and how it was eaten.

Examining the eating habits can tell you a lot about a society. Food -- the getting of it, the growing and the consuming is one of the chief preoccupations of much pf society. The type of food stuffs can also tell you about the relative wealth of a society. For example, examining how tea becomes a staple in England and gives rise to a whole new industries (eg the making of tea pots *g* )

For example, at the beginning of the 18th century, the hostess did most of the carving. By the middle, both the host and hostess did the carving. And at the end of the 18th century, the food was carved outside in the kitchen and served by servants.

Breakfast in the 18th century for the upper classes was generally taken about 9-10 am. It generally consisted of chocolate, coffee or tea, toast and hot sweet rolls. However, by the early Victorian period, the cooked breakfast was becoming more popular, in particular with men.

The reason for using silver in the early 19 century for servers, spoons, forks and knives was because steel was consider to spoil the flavour and was easily corroded. Forks were introduced chiefly by Thomas Coryate publishing an account of its use in 1611.

I had not realised until I read the book that prior to the early 19th century, ladies entered the room first in order of precedence, followed by the gentlemen so that the sexes were seated separately. In the early part of the 19th century -- promiscuous seating happened -- ie gentlemen began to escort ladies into the dining room and were seated next to them. However, ladies still had to be served first, and the custom arose of a gentleman serving his lady before himself. As a lady could not ask for wine, he had make sure that she was served with the wine she preferred.

The book also details when various food stuffs were introduced into England. For examples, tomatoes began appearing in recipes in the late 18th century, but were not eaten raw until the end of the 19th century. Garden rhubarb was introduced from Italy in the 17century but not made into tarts until the late 18 th century. Favourite fruits in the 18th century were damsons and gooseberries, with the favourite garnish being the lemon.

Things not introduced until well into Queen Victoria's reign include -- quick acting yeast, baking powder, and self-raising flour, custard powder, bottled gelatin, bulk produced cheeses, sweetened condensed milk, and dried packet soups. Canned baked beans do not appear until after the 1870s...how would my dh and youngest have coped?
Smoking and salting meat remained almost the sole way of long term storage until a cheap way of making and storing ice was discovered in the 1860s.
Anyway, the book is full of interesting information and has a variety of recipes at the back.






1 comment:

Ray-Anne said...

This is fascinating!
I'm sure if I was writing historical fiction very little actual writing would ever get done, when the research is so interesting and compelling.
Many thanks for sharing these factoids! :o)