Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Tuesday Ten--Food

Shoot! It’s my turn for Tuesday Ten. I totally forgot until this morning. So I’m pulling stuff out of my bag and came up with food. Food is always fun. So lets explore what our Victorian ancestors liked to eat, particularly Americans. I’m going through books and menus to come up with this list.

1.) Champagne. Lots of it for the aristocrats anyway and I suspect for some of the upper middle class as well. I’m not sure why it was so prevalent, (mostly in the latter part of the century) but it was so much that I believe Ned Greenway, who was to San Franciscan society what Ward McAllister was to New York Society, was originally a champagne importer. At the very least he was much admired for the amount of champagne he could drink.

There was, interestingly, a nasty disease that killed many European grapes and thus destroyed whole vineyards during the Victorian era. Whether or not this had something to do with the love of champagne, though, I don’t know. That's something that will require some more in-depth research.

2.)Duck. This is on pretty much every menu I’ve come across.

3.) Tarrapin—turtle. Lots and lots of turtle eaten at this period of time. The big kinds, not the little snapping turtle that we most of us are familiar with. It was a delicacy, don’t ask me why. As I recall they found the turtles off the North Carolina coast. I suspect this is when people started creating Mock Turtle soup.

4.)Ices—Again, on every menu. Often served at balls too. You couldn’t go anywhere social without coming across ices. I assume the term “ices” referred to fruit ice, but you find a lot of ice cream as well.

5.) Oysters—I’ve talked about oysters in other blogs. They were everywhere, probably because they were cheap and filling. There were oyster houses all over New York.

6.) French—not a food I know, but I thought I’d point out that a LOT of the menus I see from the era are in French. And these are from several different books. What I have found to be especially annoying is that when I try to translate them using an internet translator, they don’t translate. I honestly don’t know how any of these people figured out what they were eating. Which of course, comes across in my books. . .

7.)Celery—yeah that veggie that you eat when you’re dieting. My husband’s grandmother called it rabbit food. It was a delicacy to Victorians, given prominence on the table. It even had its own holders. No, I totally do not understand it. You can find a Victorian celery holder for the bargain price of $995 here:


8.) Beer—It didn’t come into prominence really until after 1850 or so with the influx of German immigrants according to Savory Suppers and Fashionable Feasts. But according to this site there were a few breweries before mid-century:


It does seem, though, breweries did start popping up all over the mid-west in mid-century. As we moved west, breweries started popping up out there too—San Francisco in 1849, Colorado in 1859. Still, beer came in kegs and barrels. It was later in the century before you could get a bottle of beer.

9.)Beef/pork. From what I’ve read, Americans ate quite a bit of pork at the beginning of the century. It was pretty much a staple. But by mid-century we start seeing more and more beef, and much, more more after the Civil War. I suspect this is due to the combination of canning, refridgeration (as in rail road cars and ice boxes) and of course the Texas long horn, all of which gave us the cowboy era too. After the Civil War, the East could not get enough.

10.)Chocolate—all right this isn’t really a “Victorian food” per se. But romance writers are often addicted to chocolate—it’s the serotonin thing, I think. So when I started writing this, I believed that chocolate during most of the Victorian era was a flavoring, and for cocoa. But as I research I see that “modern” chocolate came into play in England in 1840ish. The 1851 Expostion in London exhibited bon bons and chocolate creams! Yay, I could have survived as a Victorian after all. I also find this very comforting as I have a Civil War era heroine addicted to chocolate. Now I see this is possible (it would have to be imported but she’s rich) so it works. Yay!

Ghiradelli, by the way, started making chocolate in San Fransisco around 1865 or so. Those lucky Califorians!

So that's my 10. A lot of this, by the way, is off the top of my head from having done this research for so many years. If I get a chance, I'll add some more sources later. Along with the blog on TB I was going to do, and the one on the Sultana too. . .


Kristin-Marie said...

Chocolate belongs on your list. It was served in a thick hot liquid form in chocolate pots at tea time, but often only for special guests. Not that it wasn't readily available, but rather it was a centuries old tradition to hide the chocolate from all but favoured visitors. So, to be served a chocolate pot at tea was a cozy and intimate gesture for any heroine in Victorian literature or movies.

Anonymous said...

Really, Kristen-Marie? Huh. I'll have to remember that. Dee, food is always a great way to spend 10. :)

Jennifer Linforth said...

You know... now that I think of it celery was displayed on the table in P&P... (Regency... I know. But still)

I loved using chocolate pots and sets in my book (until blue pens yanked out that scene.)


Marlene said...

I have one of those beautiful porcelain chocolate pots and can understand why having chocolate served from one would make the occasions special. Actually it belonged to my grandmother and my mother played with the set when she was a child and doggone she broke some of it.

Great blog, by the way.

Susan Macatee said...

Mmmmmm, chocolate!
That got my attention. Can't say much for the rest of the menu, though.

Miss Avonlea said...


This list really helped me when I had to tell what waws for dinner in my character's diary.

Oh, by the way, I am writing a Victorian novel and posting it online. here is the site: isabellaflorence.blogspot.com

I was really excited when I saw your blog, because I love writing. My mom is a writer and we are actually friends with Joyce Lamb (if you know who she is, she writes romance)

Much Love,