Dining for most people was a simple affair and food was taken from the land. Many families, unless their house was large enough to accommodate a dining room, ate in the kitchen.
Notice in this image of a family sharing a meal by Thomas Rowlandson (from The Vicar of Wakefield by Oliver Goldsmith), that the meal is eaten during the day and near the fire.
For other families the meal was more basic and simple.
The hours in which people ate meals were changing:
In the beginning of the sixteenth century in England, dinner, the main meal of the day, used to begin at 11:00AM. Meals tended over time to be eaten later and later in the day: by the eighteenth century, dinner was eaten at about 3:00PM…By the early nineteenth century, lunch, what Palmer in Moveable Feasts calls “the furtive snack,” had become a sit-down meal at the dning table in the middle of the day. Upper-class people were eating breakfast earlier, and dinner later, than they had formerly done…in 1808…dinner was now a late meal and supper a snack taken at the very end of the day before people retired to bed. For a long time luncheon was a very upper-class habit; ordinarily working people dined in the early evening, and contented themselves as they had done for centuries with a mid-day snack…Supper now means a light evening meal that replaces dinner; such a meal is especially popular if people have eaten a heavy lunch - The Rituals of Dinner, Margaret Visser [Penguid:New York] 1991 (p. 159-160) – Food Timeline
Meat made up a large part of the Regency diet, even for the middle class. For most people living in London, the animals had to be brought a long way to market. Due to the length of the journey, the quality of meat was often poor. In contrast, venison and game procured from country estates and served fresh was often considered prize meat.
Families tended to be large and extended. In this boisterous family scene by Rowlandson, the Breedwells obviously bred beyond “the heir and the spare.”
Desserts made up the last course of the meal. Even for the middle class this course was elaborate and plentiful, but for the rich it was spectacular.
Kitchen gardens provided fresh produce during the growing season. The very rich grew fruits and vegetables in hot houses, but most people ate meat, soups, or bread throughout the year. Fruit and vegetables were preserved, or, as in the case of apples and root vegetables, stored through the winter.
Seafood had to be served fresh and within hours of its harvest. Chances were that this tavern, where oysters were served on a platter, sits in a geographic area by the sea.
Elegant, or simple, the family meal meant togetherness.
More on the topic:
- Types of Food in the Eighteenth Century
- Daily Life in the Regency Era: Meal Schedules
- The Cooks and Confectioners Dictionary: An 18th Century Cookery Book
- A Man’s Diversion in the Regency Era: The Tavern Meal
- A Regency Meal in December
- A Feast for a Prince
- Food in the Regency Era: BBC Style
- Hannah Glasse and the Art of Cookery
- Harvest Festival
- Food and Dining