Victorian Dining

Bringing History to Life

At the beginning of Queen Victoria's reign, most of her subjects lived in the British countryside.  Food was produced locally and most people had ready access to it.   The move to industrialisation saw more and more people move to the towns and cities, increasing pressure of food supplies.

Much as today, there was great disparity between rich and poor.  While the wealthy ate a tremendous amount (and wasted much), a large proportion of the population relied on bread, dripping, vegetables and tea.

With an increased urban population, it became imperative to find new ways to transport and store food.  The arrival and rapid expansion of the railways made it possible to move the basic foodstuffs – flour, potatoes, root vegetables and beer – quickly and over great distances.

 The Victorian period also saw the introduction of long-life products such as condensed milk, dried eggs and soups, and bottled sauces all of which made distributing food easier.  Britain’s first large-scale meat-canning factory was set up in 1865, and by the 1870s almost every middle-class kitchen had a tin opener.

In the 1880s the refrigerated transport of meat became possible, opening up the option of large-scale imports from the Americas.  Meat became cheaper, and a regular part of the diet of all classes for the first time.

The influence of Empire saw the introduction of dishes now considered quintessentially British.  As Empress of India, Queen Victoria was an early champion of curries, adapted to the English palette, which became increasingly popular.  Today curry is considered a national dish.

Middle-class households also turned to books for guidance. The most successful being Isabella Beeton’s "The Book of Household Management" (1861), which is still in print.   Although Mrs Beeton was not the first to specify exact quantities and precise cooking times, her publisher husband assured her widespread popularity and her place in culinary history.

Did You Know?  In 1810, Englishman Peter Durand introduced a method for sealing food in "unbreakable" tin cans.   The first tin opener, however, was not patented until 1855 - 45 years later!

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