In today’s episode, we will be discussing the subject of the English Dinner Party from the 18th Century. I’ll be going over a few recipes too.
Welcome back to the 18th Century Podcast. I am your host, Cj. In today’s episode, we will be discussing the subject of the English Dinner Party from the 18th Century. I’ll be going over a few recipes too. Some of the food mentioned and the recipes provided in this episode I got from the 18th Century Cooking, series on youtube put out by Townsends. I’ll provide links to their videos at the bottom of the script post for this episode. If you’d like to read the script for this episode and its citations, go to 18thcentury.home.blog that’s 1, 8, t h, century dot home dot blog. Type the numbers don’t spell them. Let’s begin this episode by taking a look at the dinner party from the 18th Century.
PART 1 THE DINNER
I think talking about the dinner itself is a good place to commence. We’ll be taking a look at this from primarily an English perspective. More specifically, for the upper class. Dinner was a very formal meal. You could say it was regarded as the most important meal. There were instances of women taking the time to change clothes specifically for dinner. Men would also prepare themselves for dinner but would usually take less time than women. It was important especially for the young to dress well, for if they were single, these dinners might lead to courtship. Dessert after the dinner was considered less formal than the dinner itself. Each house had its own set time for dinner and the hours would vary. When having guests, the dinner would commence once the Lady of the house would request the most prominent woman guest to bring the other ladies to the table. Going off of this cue, the Master of the house would do the same for the men. The host and hostess would seat themselves first. The Master would sit at the foot of the table, and the Lady would sit at the head. After this, the most senior Lady would pick her place at the table, once she sat, the other guests were free to pick their spots. However, it was more socially acceptable to place oneself regarding social rank. During the first half of the Century, guests were expected to bring their own flatware, but that custom was disregarded during the second half of the century. Forks would be placed on the left, and the spoons with the knives would be placed on the right. You would not eat with a fork. The fork was reserved for holding meat in place while you cut it. The knives were broad at the time and did not come to a point. You would place your food on your knife and consume it using that utensil. When the dinner knives lost their point at the end, we began to see the beginnings of toothpicks. An interesting piece regarding napkins as they were in use in the early part of the century. However, they fell out of favor for the English, being viewed as too French. Dinner guests were thus expected to wipe their mouths with the table cloth instead. An interesting thing of note is once the guests were seated, the plates were not yet on the table. Kitchens were typical further away from the dining table, so once they reached the table they were typically lukewarm. The plates were kept near a fire or specialty warmers while the food arrived. Plates were then placed in front of the guests, so the plate could act as a vessel to reheat the food. The wine or beer glasses were kept chilled with ice brought from an ice house. We can infer that if they were using ice to chill their glasses, it was a symbol of status. Ice was expensive, so if you could afford to use some, it was a subtle way to flaunt your wealth. The wealthy would eat off of porcelain plates among the other dishes, and they were typically white with a blue pattern upon them. Centerpieces were also common, and they could be a multitude of things, such as sugar sculptures. These centerpieces could have been used as a topic of conversation. Servants would handle the food and dishes on the table. The dinner would be served in multiple corses. How each course was arranged on the table was an art in and of itself, and there were books dedicated to the topic. Typically there would be two courses and dessert. Each course could contain anywhere from five to around twenty-five dishes. As a guest, you were not expected to try something from every dish. The layout would typically be as follows with some variation: Meat dishes in the middle of the table, sides would be on the corners, soup would be placed at one end, and fish at the other. The meal would begin with the guests being served soup. Wine would be served with the meal. If you wished to take a drink, there was a sort of ritual to it. If a guest wished to take a drink they first had to make eye contact with another guest and raise your glass. Once the person you made eye contact with raises their glass, you may take a sip. However, you then must wait for someone to make eye contact with you and raise a glass before you can take another sip during the dinner. Each guest would eat from two to three dishes per course. The amounts they took were at their discretion. If a guest wanted something from across the table, they would have a servant retrieve it for them. Once the first course was complete, the dishes would be removed from the table. A new tablecloth, plates, and flatware were brought forth to the guests. The second course would consist of lighter foods, yes there were meats, but there was also jellies and tarts. You could view the second corse as a bridge between the first and the dessert. Though other beverages were sometimes available such as beer or ale, wine was preferred. Port and sherry were popular. I would like to note, you may find wine called sac, but sac was the equivalent of sweet sherry.
After the second course finished, the tablecloth would be removed and not replaced. Desserts would consist of small cakes, dried fruits, candied fruit and the like. The Gentleman attending would drink port typically, and the ladies would consume a sweet wine. The dinner rules relaxed once dessert was served. You no longer had to make eye contact with another to drink, you could simply drink. Other formalities such as seating went away with dessert. Guests could rearrange themselves to sit however they wished. The topics of conversation became more relaxed as more coarse topics were now allowed to be discussed. A curious rule regarding relieving oneself was present. It was considered rude to leave the table during the actual dinner if you felt as though you had to use the bathroom. To accommodate this, a chamberpot was kept off to the side of the room for guests to use, so they could relieve themselves without breaking the flow of conversation. The dinner itself would last about two hours. Once the meal was complete, a glass of wine was served to each guest. When everyone had finished this glass of wine, the hostess would stand and a servant would open the doors. The ladies would follow their hostess out of the dining room and into the drawing-room. The gentleman would remain in the dining room drinking and conversing with one another. Now we’re going to take a short break, and when we come back, we’ll take a look at some of the foods served and the preparation of the dinner parties. We’ll be right back.
PART 2 RECIPIES
Welcome back. We’ll continue the second half of today’s episode by briefly discussing 18th Century recipes. I tried to find information about 18th Century English Kitchens, but there is surprisingly very little information about that topic online. So, I’ll be giving you three recipes that may have been consumed at an English Dinner Party. Some of the recipes I’m providing here came from the Townsends youtube series, 18th Century Cooking. On the blog post for this episode, I’ll provide the video links so you can follow along at home. I highly recommend watching their videos, as they are simply fantastic. The first recipe will come from Mrs. Glasse’s book, The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy. The recipe we will be making is called, To Dress a Duck with Green Peas. As a side note, green peas were very popular during the 18th Century. Alright, the recipe is as follows, quote, “Put a deep stew-pan over the fire, with a piece of fresh butter; singe your duck and flour it, turn it in the pan two or three minutes, then pour out all the fat but let the duck remain in the pan : put to it a pint of good gravy, a pint of peas, two lettuces cut small, a small bundle of sweet herbs, a little pepper and salt, cover them close, and let them stew for half an hour, now and then give then pan a shake ; when they are just done, grate in a little nutmeg, and put in a very little beaten mace, and thicken it either with a piece of butter rolled in flour, or the yolk of an egg beat up with two or three spoonfuls of cream ; shake it all together for three or four minutes, take out the sweet herbs lay the duck in the dish, and pour the sauce over it. You may garnish with boiled mint chopped, or let it alone.” Unquote. The next recipe will be for a version of macaroni and cheese from Townsends video, “Macaroni” – A Recipe From 1784. First, start by boiling 4 oz. of short tube pasta which should be around an inch and a half. After it has finished boiling, strain the pasta through a sieve to let it dry. The put it in a frying pan topped with a jill of heavy cream, and a ball of butter rolled in flour. Place the pan over the fire or a stove for about five minutes. Take the pan off and put the contents in a bowl. Top it with a lot of parmesan cheese, and toast it with a salamander. You’ll want the cheese to lightly brown. If you’d like, you could add a little pepper to top it off. For our final recipe which also comes from Townsends, we’ll make, a cream puff, or as they title it, “Whipt Cream, Like Snow” – Not Your Typical Whipped Cream. To make this, start by boiling about 1 cup of water. Add about a tablespoon of sugar. Next, add a little lemon zest. Then you’ll want to add about 4 oz. of butter. Then add a little salt. Slowly add in flour while stirring, and when it begins to separate from the sides, take it off the oven or fire. Let it cool a little but still keep it warm. Add eggs in one by one and thoroughly stir each one in. You’ll want it to get to a smooth silky texture. Around three eggs should do. Add blobs of the batter to a cooking sheet. Set your oven to 375 and put it in for about a half-hour. While that’s baking, begin the work on the cream. To a large bowl, add a pint of heavy cream. Add sugar to taste (perhaps a quarter cup). Then the juice of a lemon. Next, add about a cup of sac or sweet sherry. Then you’ll want to whip it to make whipped cream. Once the pastries are done in the oven, take them out and let them cool. Once they are cooled, cut the tops off. Take a bit of the center out of the pastries to make room for the cream. Spoon in the whipped cream. Put the tops back on, and you’re ready to eat 18th Century Cream Puffs!
Well, this brings us to the end of this episode of the 18th Century Podcast. I hope you found this episode as interesting as I did, and maybe I’ll do a few more episodes like this in the future if you guys want. The script and citations for this episode and all other episodes can be found at 18thcentury.home.blog that’s 1, 8, t h, century dot home dot blog. Type the numbers don’t spell them. If you’d like to support the show, please share it and leave a review. I’ve been your host Cj, and thank you for listening to this episode of the 18th Century Podcast.
Verylargerabbit. “18th Century Table Setting.” The Edible Eighteenth Century, 5 Nov. 2012, https://engl3164.wordpress.com/2012/11/05/18th-century-table-setting/.
Shamo, Denis V. “Cultural Rules of Dining.” Rules of Dining in 18th Century England, http://umich.edu/~ece/student_projects/food/rules.htm.
Mrs. Glasse. The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy. 1st American ed., Cottom & Stewart, 1805. (First published in England in 1747)
Townsends. “‘Macaroni’ – A Recipe From 1784.” YouTube, YouTube, 26 Feb. 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hV-yHbbrKRA.
Townsends. “‘Whipt Cream, Like Snow’ – Not Your Typical Whipped Cream.” YouTube, YouTube, 19 Aug. 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tpoMQ5hNd1Y.