We know many things about aristocratic foods and meals during the Regency era, likely from all the Jane Austen books and adaptions we consume, but let’s have a brief review just the same.
Huge meals were the order of the day, and eating carried on what we would consider late into the night. Breakfast was served nearer what is now commonly called lunchtime (when you’re at a ball til the break of dawn, you don’t want breakfast til the break of noon, I suspect.). With such a late ending of one’s fast, there was no further food until dinner, which fell around 6:00pm in the country and as late as 10:00pm in Town. Yes, afternoon tea (not high tea, ever!) became a novelty after its introduction by the Duchess of Bedford, but she was lady-in-waiting to Queen Victoria, so it is not a Regency era construct. It was also not the mini-feast it has turned into today. Think tea with biscuits, not tea with a three-course lunch. Dinner was a formal affair and could last several hours, what with pre-dinner socializing (i.e., drinking and inspecting each other’s wardrobes) and the passing of course after course at the table. Supper, when taken, fell however many hours after dinner the hostess deemed necessary and appropriate, often midnight or later.
Foods served ranged from traditional English fare (what excellent boiled potatoes!) to the continental or worldly dishes of one’s premier chef (Italian if you please, or French if you must, but only after the exile of the Corsican); butter, cream, eggs, and spices were the order of the day, to reflect one’s wealth. Possession of domestic and exotic fruits in a personal orangery was the veritable icing on the dining cake. As the period progressed, the idea of a more organized, mid-day snacking began to take shape – we’ve all read of ladies taking “nuncheon” or “noon shine” nibbles such as bread, cheese, biscuits, and tea – but it was not a formally-recognized practice until later in the 19th Century. Picnics or riding excursions needing treats, however, could also occur on a whim during the day, taking place anywhere and anytime.Regency aristocrats enjoyed more variety in food and drink than ever before, and with this greater choice came more creative ways to cook and bake the victuals. Food preservation techniques were on the rise during this industrious period, as was the phasing out of open-fire cooking in favor of huge (but still labor-intensive) stoves. Bless the poor servants who had to not only make these meals, but sneak their own in at some point during their long and arduous day.
Food of all sorts.
So what did all this largesse look like? The folks at The Supersizers Go… are so glad you asked. In the final episode of this excellent and entertaining show, The Supersizers Go…Regency, and the world is much better for it. It is well worth your time.
- Find a treasure trove of information and pictures of Georgian and Regency fare at the History Cookbook.
- Slang term taken from the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.
- The Jane Austen Centre has a fine list of Regency Recipes for you to try at home.
- If you’re much too busy and too refined to be entertained by the likes of Sue Perkins washing her face with a combination of brandy, milk, and lemon juice, whilst a scrambled egg white cleans her hair, well … I feel sorry for you. But you can read a thorough recap of the show at Just Hungry. They breakdown the entire episode, relaying every dish served and every ingredient abused for beauty purposes. Bon appétit!