In hunting for a food that small boys might relish at a village fair, I went on a google expedition. The internet boasts a plethora of material that I would have given my right hand to own back when I first started writing. Now, instead of procrastinating— researching—by getting lost in my library, I hunt through Wikipedia, jump to Google Books, dig deep into newspaper archives, or just generally wallow in the wealth of Regency blogs and websites available with the click of a mouse.
I can’t say I was particularly successful in my search for small boy food (Bath Buns? Pudding sausages? What, no deep-fried donuts with ice cream filling?) but I did run across a brilliant site packed with disgusting recipes for old-fashioned “puddings” that mostly consisted of fat and hog intestines. Yummy. Those Regency types sure knew how to…uh…eat high on the hog?
Reading through some of these sites, one must wonder if vegetables were a twentieth century invention, although the painting on the right proves otherwise. I understand that only the wealthy had hothouses for fruit in winter, but looking at this grocery list from 1784, it doesn’t appear as if they ordered anything resembling vegetables. So one assumes they only ate homegrown root vegetables preserved for winter just like the poor?
Byron’s Don Juan goes on with verses of exotic dishes, most of which involved venison, ham, pork, and sauces, none of which had anything to do with healthy. Of course, Byron was reported to be anorexic and bulimic, surviving on one meal a day and ingesting vinegar and magnesia to keep his boyish figure—so perhaps Don Juan’s Canto XV was a hallucination about food.
Digging further into the lovely Jane Austen website, I see that fruits were considered dangerous until sailors learned to eat citrus to prevent scurvy, and vegetables were usually served with fat and flour—sauces. Presumably most of today's seasonings were unavailable and/or too expensive for most households.
The vegetables might not be much, but the array of desserts was beyond staggering! They actually set out dessert tables! Oh merciful heaven, could we skip the venison (which was only for the wealthy who owned large parks) and go straight to death-by-chocolate?
How on earth did our ancestors survive with that kind of diet? Perhaps peasants and the middling sorts walked everywhere, as Jane Austen’s characters often did. Our Regency heroes might occasionally frequent Gentleman Jackson’s gym in the city, or go for bruising rides when they were in the country, but honestly, does anyone think they wouldn’t be round butterballs by the age of 35? And drop dead of cholesterol poisoning by 50 or die painfully from diabetes by 60?
I had to leave many of my research books behind when I moved, so I can’t find legitimate resources for statistics like mortality rates in the Regency—but if this blog’s numbers are correct, I’m not very far off in my guess of a short life expectancy!
And no, of course this blog has nothing to do with New Years’ resolutions about dieting. Anyone have any diet-proof dessert recipes out there?
Oh, and does anyone have an opinion on how to spell "fair" as in festival for the Regency era? I want to say "fair food" but that just comes off wrong. Am I being pretentious by describing "fayre food"? (fayre fare?!)
What foods are you serving over the holidays that you might regret come January?