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Posts Tagged ‘dining in the Regency Era’

Lady Catherine de Bourgh's formal table: Pride and Prejudice 2005

When dinner is announced, the mistress of the house requests the lady first in rank, in company, to shew the way to the rest, and walk first into the room where the table is served; she then asks the second in precedience to follow, and after all the ladies are passed, she brings up the rear herself. The master of the house does the same with the gentlemen. Among the persons of real distinction, this marhalling of the company is unnecessary, every woman and every man present knows his rank and precedence, and takes the lead, without any direction from the mistress or the master.

When they enter the dining-room, each takes his place in the same order; the mistress of the table sits at the upper-end, those of superior rank next [to] her, right and left, those next in rank following, the gentlemen, and the master at the lower-end; and nothing is considered as a greater mark of ill-breeding, than for a person to interrup this order, or seat himself higher than he ought. – John Trusler, 1791

The Bennets seated at table en famille, with the two oldest daughters next to their father at the head of the table. Mrs. Bennet sits at the lower end. Pride and Prejudice 1995

As the eldest daughter, Jane and Elizabeth sat nearest their father during family meals, with Jane to his right. When Lydia returns as Mrs. Wickham, she unceremoniously bumps Jane to a position towards the middle of the table, for her married state gave her a higher rank than her eldest sister:

Elizabeth could bear it no longer. She got up and ran out of the room; and returned no more till she heard them passing through the hall to the dining parlour. She then joined them soon enough to see Lydia, with anxious parade, walk up to her mother’s right hand, and hear her say to her eldest sister, ‘Ah, Jane I take your place now, and you must go lower, because I am a married woman.’ – Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

Sumptuous dining table at Castle Howard. Image @Tony Grant

As hostess at her father's table, young Emma Woodhouse sat opposite her father at the upper end of the table. The ladies sit next to Mr. Woodhouse in hierarchy. As in the description by John Trusler, the gentlemen are seated nearest Emma's end of the table.

Emma Woodhouse (Kate Beckinsale)

Custom, however, has lately introduced a new mode of seating. A gentleman and a lady fitting alternately round the table, and this, for the better convenience of a lady’s being attended to, and served by the gentleman next to her. But notwithstanding this promiscuous seating, the ladies, whether above or below, are to be served in order, according to their rank or age, and after them the gentlemen, in the same manner. – John Trusler, p 6

From: The honours of the table, or, Rules for behaviour during meals : with the whole art of carving, illustrated by a variety of cuts. Together with directions for going to market, and the method of distinguishing good provisions from bad; to which is added a number of hints or concise lessons for the improvement of youth, on all occasions in life. By the author of Principles of politeness, &c. … For the use of young people, John Trusler

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Inquiring Readers: This is the third of four posts in honor for Pride and Prejudice Without Zombies, Austenprose’s in-depth reading of Pride and Prejudice. My first post discussed Dressing for the Netherfield Ball and my second post talked about the dances. This post discusses the suppers served during Jane Austen’s era, and concentrates on what kinds of food and drink might have been served at the Netherfield Ball.

“As for the ball, it is quite a settled thing; and as soon as Nicholls has made white soup enough I shall send round my cards.” – Charles Bingley, Pride and Prejudice

Mr & Mrs Bennet sit down to supper. Notice the lavish bowl of fruit.

The sit-down supper served at the Netherfield Ball in Pride and Prejudice probably occurred around midnight. By that time, people would be famished after their physical exertions or from playing cards nonstop in the card room. They had most likely eaten their dinner between 3-5 p.m. (earlier in the country, and later in Town). Dinners consisted of between 5-16 dishes and could last several hours. The best families would serve up two courses, for a meal’s lavishness depended on the number of courses and dishes that were served. Dishes representing a range of foods, from soups to vegetables and meats, would be spread over the table in a pleasing arrangement and would be set down at the beginning of the meal.

Large Derby porcelain supper dish from Ruby Lane

It is conjectured that by the time the covered dishes arrived from the kitchen and the family and guests were seated, the food had turned cold. Diners would be confined to eating from the dishes placed closest to them. In the Bill of Fare from the Universal Cook, 1792 (Francis Collingwood and John Woollams) one can see the foods that were available in November.

Bill of Fare, November 1792

The evening meal, which also included a dessert course, lasted as long as two hours, leaving the diners sated. Suppers were therefore served quite late and were simple and small in comparison. Often called a “tea board”, this small repast was frequently served on a tray between 10-11 p.m. If more than one person was hungry, a cloth would be laid on a small table, not the dining table, and a limited assortment of cakes, tarts, biscuits, pastries, jellies, cheeses, cold meats, sandwiches, savories, salad, dessert, or local fruits – whatever was at hand – would be made available. (One can imagine how tired the servants must have been, rising early as they did.)

Mr. Darcy observes the Bennet family during supper and is accosted by Mr. Collins

Suppers served at private balls were an entirely different matter for they reflected on the splendor of the event. Balls generally began at 8-9 p.m. and the dancers sat down to a lavish spread at 11 p.m. or midnight. A gentleman accompanied his dance partner into the supper room, which makes one think that it would have been wise for a suitor who wished to further his acquaintance with a young lady to reserve a dance just before the meal.

Jane and Elizabeth at supper

Mr. Bingley most likely served a sumptuous supper on a magnificent table set with his finest china and silver. The food would consist of white soup, which during this time was made with veal stock, cream, and almonds; cold meats, such as chicken or sliced ham; poached salmon; glazed carrots and other seasonal vegetables; salads; fresh fruits;biscuits;dry cake (which meant unfrosted cake, like the pound cake recipe from the Delightful Repast at the bottom of this post); cheeses; short-bread cookies; pies; ice-cream; and trifles. One must not forget that during this period cockscombs and testicles were considered delicacies, and that bone marrow was routinely added to pies for richness. (Fancy Tripe or Trotters for Supper?)

Kitty and Lydia tippling, Netherfield Ball, P&P 2005

Drinks of tea, coffee, lemonade, white wine claret, and red wine (sweet madeira wine was especially popular) were served. Regency cups were filled with punch, negus (wine mixed with hot water, lemon and nougat); orgeat (made with a sweet syrup of orange and almonds); or ratafia (a sweet cordial flavored with fruit or almonds). Port was reserved for gentlemen, though I am not sure that they were allowed to imbibe this liquor in front of the ladies.

A footman holds a tray of drinks, Netherfield Ball, P&P 2005

A private midnight supper at Netherfield was a more splendid affair than the suppers served up at the weekly Wednesday night balls at Almack’s. These subcription dances coincided with the three months of the London social season. Alcohol was not served to discourage drunkenness among gentlemen, who were known to imbibe several bottles of wine per day, and only an assortment of thinly sliced stale bread (which was a day old), dry cakes, lemonade and tea were provided. Simpler balls given by hosts who were not as rich as Mr. Bingley  might offer a little bit of hot supper consisting of six dishes, including salad, dessert, and fruit, and coffee, tea, lemonade and wine.

Trifle, The Delightful Repast

The links to the two recipes in this post were created expressly for us by Jean at The Delightful Repast. The pound cake (dry cake) recipe is one that even I am able to attempt with some success, and Jean’s solution of serving trifle in individual dessert dishes is sheer genius.

The last to leave the Netherfield Ball. Kitty and Lydia sleeping off their drinking. P&P 2005

The Food Timeline shows when meals were served during the Georgian and Regency periods, and how the hours changed.

  • 1780: Breakfast 10AM; Dinner 3-5PM, Tea 7PM, Supper 10-11PM
  • 1815: Breakfast 10AM (leisurely), 9AM (less leisurely), 8AM (working people); Luncheon Midday; Dinner 3-5PM; Supper 10-11PM
  • 1835: Breakfast, before 9AM; Luncheon (ladies only) Midday; Dinner 6-8PM; Supper depending upon the timing and substantiality of dinner

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Gentle readers, I am taking a short hiatus from this blog for Thanksgiving week. Meanwhile, enjoy these images of people dining in days of yore…

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.

The rich could afford to eat by candlelight, as in this early 20th C. image of a Georgian dinner scene.

For some, like the Prince Regent, dinners were elaborate affairs.

For other families the meal was more basic and simple.

Family Meal

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.

The Breedwell Family, Thomas Rowlandson

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, Isabella Beaton

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.

Walled kitchen garden

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.

Life in Yorkshire

Elegant, or simple, the family meal meant togetherness.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone

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