Ah, BBC. It seems that this august station has been running a series of historical food shows called The Supersizers Go. Giles Coren stars with Sue Perkins in this funny, and informative BBC Two show, which ran for six weeks in Britain starting May 20. Click here to see the first YouTube video, which will lead you to the others. Giles wrote the following in a recent Times Online article:
Ah, the era of Jane Austen, of balls and dresses and, ah, balls and, um, dresses. They don’t really eat in the books, do they? That’s why they all look so good in frock coats and riding breeches. And I make a pretty awesome Mr Darcy, too. Sue can hardly keep her hands off.
I spend much of the time wearing a corset (as Beau Brummel often did, and no doubt Mr Darcy too, the old queen) and so cannot really force down much of the food – which in this period is a combination of patriotic roast beef eaten in defiance of the perfidious French and, conversely, poncy, heavily sauced French food, of the kind cooked for aristocrats by top chefs fleeing France as their noble patrons were beheaded.
I visit a Dr Petty in Harley Street, who predicts great digestive discomfort and an attack of gout from the purine in all the port I’ll be drinking: during the Napoleonic wars claret was not available, so we got stinko on the sticky stuff instead, imported from our old allies, Portugal.
But I have the time of my life. Determined to keep looking rakishly handsome in my fine clothes, I burn up thousands of calories stalking my estate with a blunderbuss, firing at poachers robbing my rabbits in defiance of the Enclosures Act.
Breakfast having just been invented, I make that my main meal. But it is so recently invented that it comprises only bread, so I don’t eat much of it.
Pineapples are newly available too but, you know, who gives?
As for lunch, that doesn’t seem to have been invented either. But they do have a thing called “nuncheon”, which is most often cheese served deliberately with the maggots who live in it. I dine only on the occasional sandwich at the casino tables
(invented by the Earl of Sandwich for that very purpose) and so go to bed reasonably hungry – a good way to stay slim.
At the end of this immersion I do, in fact, have dangerously high uric acid, indicating the imminence of an outbreak of gout. But I am in terrific shape on the surface.
One Times Oline critic wasn’t all that crazy about Giles’ antics with his costar, but he did concede the the show was full of interesting historical tidbits, such as the following:
Wartime Britain went hungry between 1789 and 1821 but it was also the age of excess. The average weight of an ox went from 370lb to 800lb (186kg to 363kg) and the Army swelled from a force of 39,000 in 1793 to 264,000 by 1815. The cartoonists who used the Regent’s corpulence as a metaphor for his kingdom’s corruption clearly got it right.
A detailed review of the Regency Supersizers Go show sits on Just Hungry, a great site which had the good taste to feature this blog. In its post find a detailed description of the meal. For more information about the gastronomic delights of the era, click on the links below:
- All Manners of Food, Stephen Mendell, Google Book
- Taste: A Literary History, Denise Gigante, Google Book
- Read my posts about Regency Food here
- Regency Recipes: Jane Austen Centre Magazine
- Regency Food: A Web Page