This post is part of the Bookshelves series in which I pick a a few random
crappy old books from one of the not as many as I need bookshelves here at the Farm and thumb through it.
The Art of Dining: A History of Cooking and Eating. Sara Paston-Williams. The National Trust. Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Publishers, London. 1993.
The title is a bit misleading. It’s a history of cooking and eating in England from medieval and early Tudor times through the Victorian and Edwardian eras. The last chapter, titled “The Well-Ordered Table,” chapter has a lot of beautiful photographs of dining rooms and tables laid out as they would have been but taken contemporarily at various manors and grand houses. It’s aways fun to see a beautifully laid table. But there are also tidbits illustrations I found interesting.
The illustration above is “A State Party” by Richard Dolye from a
crappy old book, Birds Eye View of Society (1864). Apparently at such a party there would be at least one servant per guest. Food is all on the table and guests helped themselves to what was nearby, “but had to rely on footmen to bring other dishes and wine.” Life is hard.
Each historical period treated in the book is separated into three sections. The first addresses food and food availability. The second on the kitchens of the times, and the third on the eating areas. A few recipes are included. I drew from only the Victorian/Edwardian period.
In the 19th century shops began to assume a form that the modern customer would recognise.
This I know something about. I proofread a portion of the
crappy old book, Treatise on the Adulteration of Food and Culinary Poisons by Frederick Accum (1820). Seems there were a lot of (cough) additions to foods and drinks, including wine which for the poor and middle classes was seldom wine at all.
The book’s author asserts that the Victorian era was a time of unprecedented prosperity (for some). The rising middle class was anxious to emulate the landed aristocracy and increasing number of wealthy industrialists and so forth, particularly with regard to dining customs and accouterment. Thus, we have the introduction of
crappy old books which instruct them how to eat and dine like their “social superiors.” (That right there is so freakin’ unAmerican. No wonder we revolted.)
Puddings from one such crappy old book, Mrs. Beeton’s The Book of Household Management (1861). Recipes included.
I have a question. Apparently this rising middle class had household servants. Says so right there in the book. What’s the likelihood these servants could read?
The green horizontal line smack in the middle (from 1600s to about 1820 or so) is the United Kingdom. Looks like literacy rates skyrocketed right around the time Queen Vickie took the throne. But that doesn’t really answer my question, does it? Managing a home is a lot different than homemaking if you have servants. (My God! Think what the Farm would look like if I had servants!!) But if your servants– in particular your cook and kitchen maid– cannot read, what’s the point of including a recipe for Potatoes à la Maître d’Hôtel?
The electric home, ca. 1915. Looks like a fire hazard to me.
The Victorian table-napkin or serviette (the fashionable name towards the end of the century) was folded into elaborate forms for dinner parties.
I do not know how I feel about this. Take a look at that crease in the tablecloth, though. Must have used a screw press.
That’s all I got. Bon appétit!