Victorian Diet and Dining in Literature and Culture

8 Aug

Remember that to overfill a plate is as bad as to supply it too scantily (1891)

How to eat soup and what to do with a cherry-stone are weighty considerations when taken as the index of social status (1891)

To press her to eat or drink after she has declined, is an act of ill-breeding (1881)

The best diet for any one who desires to acquire plumpness is one composed of fish, eggs, milk, soups, vegetables…fruits, sweets (1893)

Advice to put on weight is to lie in bed in morning, warm bath, drink cocoa…have chocolate for breakfast (1893)

Dinner-parties are all very well for people who have plenty of  trained help and plenty of money at their disposal, but the majority of housekeepers cannot command these, and then dinner-parties are an effort, and it is very questionable whether in them “the game is worth the candle”  (Girls Own Paper, 1884)

It is usual at high tea for everything to be put on the table at once. Meat, sweets, fruit, whatever there is, are on the spot, and it is not unusual for wine to be at hand for gentlemen who are not partial to the more homely beverage (Girls Own Paper, 1884)

After fish and meat, one or two choice sweets are sufficient, and too many are suggestive of vulgarity (GOP, 1884)

The table was spread, as Elfride had suggested to her father, with the materials for the heterogenous meal called high tea—a class of refection welcome to all when away from men and towns, and particularly attractive to youthful palates. The table was prettily decked with winter flowers and leaves, amid which the eye was greeted by chops, chicken, pie, etc., and two huge pasties overhanging the sides of the dish with a cheerful aspect of abundance (A Pair of Blue Eyes)

Epicureanism in eating consists not in desiring far-fetched and expensive dainties, but food of ordinary kind converted by skill into delicacies appetising and healthful (Ladies Treasury, 1868)

It was considered “vulgar”…to give anything expensive, in the way of eatable or drinkable, at the evening entertainments. Wafer bread-and-butter and sponge-biscuits were all that the Honourable Mrs. Jamieson gave; and she was sister-in-law to the late Earl of Glenmire, although she did practise such “elegant economy” (Cranford)

The tea-tray was abundantly loaded. I was pleased to see it, I was so hungry; but I was afraid the ladies present might think it vulgarly heaped up. I know they would have done it in their own houses; but somehow the heaps disappeared here (Cranford)

I shouldn’t like to think of your father eating cheese; it’s such a strong-smelling, coarse kind of thing. We must get him a cook who can toss him up an omelette, or something elegant. Cheese is only fit for the kitchen (Wives and Daughters)

Ease, savoir faire, and good breeding are nowhere more indispensable than at the dinner table (1891)

The dinner hour will completely test the refinement, culture, and good breeding that the individual may possess (1891)

If soup comes first, and you do not desire it, you will simply say, “No, I thank you,” but make no comment; or you may take it and eat as little as you choose (1891)

The soup should be eaten with a medium-sized spoon, so slowly and carefully that you will drop none of it upon your person or the tablecloth (1891)

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