Georgian Cookery by Catherine Sampson

Reading Branch meeting 26 January 2017

Catherine started by setting the scene for tonight’s talk, by briefly covering what was happening in England during the Georgian period. This period covers the reigns of Georges I (1714-1727), II (1727-1760), and III (1760-1820). During these reigns there was: increasing land enclosure which led to the need for people to earn a salary to buy food, as they had reduced means of growing their own food; new cattle breeds were introduced which were hardier and could ‘over winter’ which meant that fresh meat was available year round, instead of the previous need for salted meat in winter; there was improved communication and transport links thanks to the 1714 Turnpike Act, new bridges being built over rivers and an increase in lock building; spices and exotic foods were increasingly being brought into the country via ports like Bristol and Liverpool.

Cooking was done over open wood fires (coal tainted the food), enclosed fires (ranges) were not properly developed until the Victorian era. Ovens, when they were available, were only for the higher classes. For the lower classes, to cook bread they either took their own dough to the miller or baker to be baked, bought bread, or made their own on a skillet/griddle.

Over the period, the range of cooking pots available increased.

In the early Georgian period (c.1714), mealtimes for men were - 10am breakfast (midwork) and 3.30pm dinner. For women it was 10am breakfast, 12md luncheon, 3.30pm dinner, early evening tea, and 11.30pm-12mn supper. By the end of the Georgian period (c. 1820) there was breakfast before work commenced, lunch at 12md, tea mid-afternoon, dinner at 7om and supper at 11.30pm.

Dinner Parties

At dinner parties in the early Georgian period, guests brought their own cutlery with them. By mid-Georgian  

Times, the cost of cutlery had reduced due to increased production, so there was no more need for guests to bring their own. However, if people were staying in inns, they still needed to provide their own utensils. The design and usage of cutlery also changed at this time. At the start of the period, forks had 3 prongs and were used only to hold food whilst cutting it, and the knife was used to transfer food from plate to mouth. The 4 pronged fork was introduced which meant that that was then used for the transfer of food.

In the early 1700’s wine glasses were very expensive and were therefore, not kept on the table during dining due to the possibility of breakage. Instead, whilst dining, if guests needed a drink they asked the servants to pass them their glass which was kept on a table at the side of the room. By the middle of the century production costs had reduced which led to glasses being kept on the table whilst dining.

Early Georgian times saw long tablecloths being used, tucked into clothing if necessary. This cloth was used for wiping fingers and faces.

Tables were laid with a variety of savoury and sweet dishes which guests helped themselves to in whichever order they liked, often with sweet and savoury on the same plate. Guests only had one plates for all foods, so some judicious ordering was necessary so sweet sauces were not mixing with savoury ones too much. The guests seating place at the table indicated their place in the pecking order – the better the dish in front of them, the higher up the order they were.

Mulligatawny and turtle soups were favourites as was mock turtle soup (made of the head, tail and hooves of calves, although this had become a vegetable soup by Victorian times).

One chef reckoned that he prepared 1.5-2lb of meat per person per day     

After the main dishes had been finished with, fruit and ices were brought in, and then it was ‘drinking time’.

In comparison, at this time the working classes were eating pottage (made with milk in the North and water in the South) and water gruel.

During this period, Hannah Glass wrote and ‘understandable’ cookery book- The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy. This was the best selling cookery book every year for 100 years, only being usurped by Mrs Beeton, and most middle class households would have had a copy. This book is still available to buy as it is still in print.

Additional information