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December 22, 2011

Thirteen Factoids About Eighteenth Century Food

Thursday Thirteen

I picked up a copy of A History of English Food by Clarissa Dickson Wright from the library last week. The history of food fascinates me, and I enjoyed the way this author told an interesting story instead of throwing facts at me.

Here are thirteen things I found interesting:

1. The Georgians had a huge impact on food, the way it was cooked, served and consumed. They even influenced the times of dining.

2. Advances in the fireplace and accessories made cooking less laborious. Roasting and baking became much easier due to new designs of ovens and flues.

3. Some of the poorer families didn’t own ovens and sent their pies, stamped with their initials, to their local baker.

4. The English started making porcelain from which to drink tea.

5. Tea became a very common drink for all classes. Tea was drunk weak and sweetened without milk. It’s assumed that they drank their tea black because the milk was often sour, had nasty additives or was thinned down.

6. The introduction of more lighting was one of the reasons meals became later and taken at times more familiar to us in 2011. In Medieval times people would go to bed when it became dark, but now people stayed up much later.

7. Seating was done according to station, although gradually this changed to alternative seating with men and women. They say behavior improved on the introduction of this new seating method. The women obviously kept the men in line!

8. Turtle soup wasn’t actually a soup but more a stew. It contained chunky bits of turtle. Turtle soup was so popular that people who couldn’t afford turtles made mock turtle soup out of calves’ heads. Personally, I say yuck!

9. It was deemed vulgar to sniff the meat on your fork or plate because the activity implies the meat was tainted. People didn’t take their own cutlery with them any longer. Instead the host provided it.

10. The ice house was another new innovation. A small stone outbuilding containing a deep pit for ice helped keep food fresh. Blocks of ice were sawn from rivers to provide the necessary ice.

11. In 1762 John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich sent for two slices of bread and some meat, inventing the sandwich. Job well done since I like sandwiches for lunch.

12. Viscount Townshend, known as Turnip Townshend, introduced a system of four-field crop rotation. This involved a strict order of plantings and improved the fertility of soil and crop production.

13. The staples of the English diet – meat, bread, and vegetables were readily available and affordable during the first half of the century. Toward the end of the century with the industrial revolution taking hold and growing populations, the laboring classes started to suffer.

It’s interesting to note that around this time England started sending convicts to Australia. One of my ancestors was sentenced for receiving stolen goods in 1801 and sent to Australia. His wife and two children went with him.


  1. Heather

    I’d be passing on the mock turtle soup, too. Yuck! Give me the good part of the cow or none at all–though I much prefer chicken over beef.

    • Shelley Munro

      I can’t believe that they ate turtles. I feel like time traveling to protest. One of the most magical moments I have is seeing turtles swimming in the wild. I’m glad times change.

  2. CountryDew

    I have never had turtle anything, or frog legs, and at this late date I’m not starting now! This was very interesting; I love this time period, too. I recently read about a diary from a local woman and she listed paying $2.50 for an orange during the American Civil War. That’s expensive even now!

    • Shelley Munro

      That is interesting. I know that they’d started to grow their own in hot house buildings that they called orangeries, but only the rich would have had access to the crops.

  3. Kimberly Menozzi

    Fascinating stuff – I didn’t realize that about the cutlery, for instance – and I’m with the others in regards to the Turtle soup, mock or otherwise. Um, no, thanks.

    Happy TT!

    • Shelley Munro

      Yes, in medieval times you used to cart around your own knife. Forks didn’t arrive for a while, but everyone had a knife.

  4. Maria Zannini

    Aren’t you glad now that your ancestor was sent to Australia? :)

    New Zealand sounds like a far cry from England.

    • Shelley Munro

      Sure is! I did live in England for several years but New Zealand is always home.

  5. Maggie

    So that’s where the sammich came from. :D

    • Shelley Munro

      Yes, indeed. I love sandwiches, so I’m glad he thought of the idea.

  6. Jennifer Leeland

    This is great Shelley. I was just watching Hercule Poirot’s series (with David Suchet) and had to look up some foods Inspector Japp insisted Poirot try–spotted Dick and Faggot. LOL!

    • Shelley Munro

      Well spotted Dick would be okay as long as it came with custard, but I’ll leave the faggots to you. They used to be a popular dish in the pub we worked at, served with mushy peas. Not for me!

    • Shelley Munro

      Thanks for dropping by, Paige.

  7. Alice Audrey

    If I went to bed just because it was dark, I’d spend precious few hours up in the winter.

    • Shelley Munro

      I know. We should applaude the people who invented light and candles too!

  8. Angela Brown

    Oh my. I, too, think I can do without the turtle soup. But the rest of this information sounds very interesting. Funny to think that you had to eat at 4 pm for dinner because the sun was soon to set.

    • Shelley Munro

      The social history side always fascinates me. I love learning stuff like this.

  9. Brinda

    I’m a fan of the sandwich as well so thank goodness for John Montagu!

    • Shelley Munro

      Job well done, I think :)

  10. Darla

    Fascinating! Thank you.

  11. Mary Kirkland

    Hmm, not sure I would eat some of this. I’m experimental but not that experimental..lol