Georgian Food and Drink

WP124 blogGeorgian Food and Drink

Wrapping paper/poster WP124 Glasses filled with drinks they may have contained when made.

At the beginning of the Georgian period ale, wine, gin, brandy, punch, milk and water were the drinks available. Gin was a poor man’s drink and caused much distress and ill health. Water was not very safe to drink but tea and coffee were beginning to arrive in London as early as 1706 when Thomas Twining took over Tom’s Coffee House on the Strand in London. This shop is still there and serving tea today. It is wonderful to see all the different kinds and definitely worth going to the shop to try out some samples.

Coffee houses were gaining popularity and men of all classes would congregate to discuss business, gossip and drink. Women did not go to the coffee houses. In Bath we still have many coffee shops but I thought it was exciting to learn that their coffee dregs are collected and used to grow mushrooms under Green Park Station. An excellent bit of recycling. The famous London markets Smithfields for meat, Billingsgate for fish and Covent Garden for fruit and vegetables were all in operation during much of the Georgian period. Billingsgate is still selling fish today.

The housekeeper or cook purchased the food for wealthy families who could afford staff. Mothers and wives also shopped for their food. There is nothing new about our obsession with cookery books. Huge numbers of cookery publications were printed in the 18th century. These offered advice on all aspects of purchasing food, preparation, cooking and entertaining. There are a few foods described which we seldom, if ever, eat such as carp, tench and calf’s head. Rye and barley bread were looked on as a very poor substitute for wheat. Now the artisan bakery offers these breads as speciality breads. We have several artisan bakers in Bath and jolly good they are too.

Typical 18th century fare would be sweetbreads and chicken fricassee, roast turkey, beef olives, boiled rabbits and tongue with a sweet sauce. Oysters were cheap and more like a quick snack which we might have today. At a formal dinner in the Regency period there could be up to 25 dishes served with meat, fish and an array of puddings.

Here is a recipe from the mid 18th century for a sweet Chicken Pie (with modern spelling):

‘Take 5 or 6 small chickens, pick, draw and truss them for baking: season them with cloves, mace, nutmeg, cinnamon and a little salt. Wrap up some of the seasoning in butter and put it in their bellies: and your coffin being made, put them in. Put over them and between them pieces of marrow, Spanish potatoes and chesnuts, both boiled, peeled and cut, a handful of barberries stripped, a lemon sliced, some butter on the top to close up the pie and bake it; and have in readiness a caudle (thickened mixture) made of white wine, sugar, nutmeg, beat it up with yolks of eggs and butter; have a care it does not curdle; pour the caudle in, flake it well together, and serve it up hot.’ I might give this a go over the Christmas holiday.

About two thirds of a working man’s budget was spent on food and drink. The other third covered rent, fuel clothes and boots. The labourer’s diet was mainly bread and cheese and occasionally fat bacon. Tea would be used over and over again as it was so expensive. Hence the locked tea caddies in the grand houses. The wealthier the family the more meat was eaten. Fruit and vegetables were enjoyed more as the century progressed. Potatoes improved the diet of the poor too. Throughout the 18th century more tea, coffee and chocolate was drunk by more people.

Wishing you all a very Happy Christmas and enjoy your Christmas lunch or dinner. Frederica

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