Monday, October 18, 2010

What Did Sarah Eat?

What’s For Dinner, Sarah?
A look at Regency Dining...

Although the heroine of my novel, The Bricklayer’s Helper, doesn’t get much of an opportunity for a real, sit-down supper, I thought it might be fun to take a look at what Sarah might eat when her adventures are over and she gets to have an evening meal.
One of the odd things I noted when I was researching the Regency period (first dozen years or so of the 19th Century) was the idea—often touted by physicians—that vegetables were difficult to digest. They frequently recommended against allowing folks to eat vegetables if they were ill or in demanding situations, such as soldiers. Really, meat and potatoes (or bread) were considered to be the best things for everyone, although it’s clear that the poor could not afford the amount of meat described in most middle and upper class menus from the period.

No wonder poaching was so popular! But there was also a great deal of fish, poultry and other game, which was a good thing or everyone would have had gout like King Henry VIII.

So let’s go through a supper designed for a cold evening in February.

First Course
• Soup Santé removed with Stewed Beef and Roots

• Veal Olives and sause restauret

• Lamb Chops and spinach

• Neck of Veal

• Scorch Collops

• Broiled Fowl and mushrooms

• Fish removed with a Chine of Mutton

Second Course

• Four Pigeons

• Salsifie, fried in batter

• Sea Kail

• Apple Pie with custard

• Eggs á la trip

• Macaroni

• Two Rabbits

A Few, Select Recipes off the Menu

You’ll note the often odd spelling—I wanted to give an authentic feel to the menu, so I left the spelling and terms “as is” from an 1810 cookbook. Despite that, I hope these give you a feel for cooking during the Regency period. Some of these recipes sound absolutely delicious despite the fact that I would probably have to double my cholesterol medicine if I ate like this.

But we tend to forget that everyone walked—a lot—and the average man working aboard a ship or in the fields needed a caloric intake of about 4,000 calories a day. Life was much more strenuous and folks didn’t eat three huge meals. In fact, if you were fortunate enough to partake of a supper like the one listed here, you generally ate only lightly during the day. So this was your big meal, followed generally by another walk or dancing.

There was no such thing as a couch potato in the 19th century!

So here are some of the recipes that made up the menu above.

Soup Santé

Shred turnips, carrots, small green onions, celery, and one Spanish onion when to be had. Cut in two or three cabbage lettuces, pick a handful of chervil, and a pint of asparagus peas. Put all into a soup-pot with half a pint of good stock. Put the soup-pot over the stove to boil slow until the stock is quite reduced. Then fill up the pot with good stock: give it a boil, and put a lump of sugar, and a little salt if wanted.

Scorch Collops

Cut the collops from the fillet of veal, flat them, and put them on a dish. Cut a few slices of fat bacon and put them into the frying pan to draw the fat from them, then pour the fat and bacon into a basin, put the collops into the pan and then on a quick stove. Fry them of a light brown; when brown on both sides, put them into a stew-pan that has sufficient quantity of coulis in it, make a few force meat balls and fry them in the fat that came from the bacon.

When done, put them on the back of a sieve to drain the fat from them, then put them to the collops, put a glass of sherry wine to them, and a little cayenne pepper.

Broiled Fowl and Mushrooms

Cut a large fowl into quarters, take out the leg bones, and tie it to a roasting spit. Baste well with butter and when half done, remove and finish it on the gridiron. Season with white pepper and salt. Put the mushrooms in a stew pan with a slice of ham, an ounce of butter, and salt & pepper. Simmer for ¼ of an hour, then put in a little flour, stir with a wooden spoon and put in a little stock and coulis. Put it on to boil for a few minutes, then squeeze half a lemon & add a little dust of sugar. Put the sauce on the dish and top with the fowl.

Roasted Pigeons

Scald parsley, squeeze, and chop fine. Mix with 2 ounces of butter, and a little salt & pepper. When mixed, put some in each pigeon, skewer them and tie onto a roasting spit. Baste with butter, flower and salt just before they are removed from the fire. Put parsley and butter on the dish and the pigeons afterwards.

Eggs á la trip

Boil a dozen eggs hard, and put them in cold water, peel them and take the yolks out quite whole. Shred the whites, put a little chopped parsley into some beshemell: put the whites of the eggs round the dish, and the yolks in the middle, pour the sauce over them, and garnish either with paste or croutons.

Croutons are bread cut out with a paste cutter or knife, and fried either in lard or clarified butter.

Sea Kail

Tie it up in bundles like asparagus, put toast on the dish, and then the sea kail; put a little melted butter over it.

Apple Pie, with Custard

Put a few cloves and a little cinnamon into a small stew-pan, put about a gill of water to the spice, and put it on the stove to simmer for a few minutes. Then strain it into a basin and put it to cool. Peel the apples, cut them into quarters, and cut the cores out. Place them in the dish, grate a lemon and put it with the apples, put sugar on them and put the water the spice was boiled in, put paste round the rim of the disk, cover it over, bake it, and put it to cool.

When cold, take the top off and put in the custard on the apples; but the top crust into neat pieces and put it round the apples.

I’m including a recipe for trifle, since what could be more English? And I do so love trifle…


Lay the bottom of a trifle dish either with sponge biscuit or slices of savoy cake, lay a layer of macaroons and ratafias on the cake, pour a pint of Lisbon wine over the cakes, put on the early part of the day, so as it may have time to soak into the cakes. When the wine is all soaked up put a thin layer of raspberry jam, and on that put a thick custard.

The custard is made in the following manner:

Put a pint of milk and half a pint of cream in a stew-pan, a few bits of cinnamon, the peel of a lemon, and sugar enough to make it sweet. Put on to boil, let boil a few minutes, take it off and put it to cool. Put the yolks of six eggs in a basin, half a spoonful of flour and beat them well up, and put the milk boiled for the purpose to them, a little at a time. Strain it through a hair sieve into a clean stew-pan, put on the fire and keep stirring until it comes to a boil. Then take it off and put it to cool. When half cold, put a glass of brandy, with a few spoonful’s of ratafia, then cover the cakes with it, and upon the custard lay apricot jam; then put a pint of good cream into a basin, the white of one egg, about two ounces of sugar, first rubbed to a lemon, about two glasses of white wine, beat it up with a whisk and skim the froth off with a spoon that has holes in it. Lay the froth on the back of a sieve, which should be laid on a dish to save the drainings to return to the pan again for whipping. Lay the whipped cream on over the trifle, put a few harlequin seeds over it: garnish with preserved orange or lemon peel.


Blanch one pound of Jordan almonds, and pound them quite fine: instead of water to moisten while pounding, use the white of four eggs beat up, and put half a pound of sifted sugar to them. When done, take it out of the mortar and put them on a plate; spread a baking sheet with wafer-paper, and put about a teaspoonful in each drop; then put them in regular rows, and sift sugar over them before they are put in the oven. They do not require a quick oven. When done, take them out, and let them remain on the sheets until quite cold, then put them either in a covered glass or pan.


Make the same in all respects as macaroons, only use bitter almonds instead of sweet, and put the same weight of sugar as of almonds. They should be dropped on wafer-paper; put in two whites of eggs while pounding; put a teaspoonful in each drop; do not sift any sugar over them.

That's it! Hope you enjoyed a "taste" of the Regency!
Amy Corwin
The Bricklayer's Helper, a Regency romantic mystery


L. K. Below said...

A delightful post. I would be interested in knowing where you found the cook book (if it's online somewhere, etc). Thanks for sharing!

Georgie Lee said...

I realy enjoyed the post. With all the heavy food in their diet, it is a wonder people could stay up so late after supper dancing and enjoying parties.

Lilly Gayle said...

Fascinating post, Amy. You have such a firm grasp of the period!

Paty Jager said...

Those recipes were a lot of work!

L M Gonzalez said...

I read "Like Water for Chocolate" by Laura Esquivel. Of course, this wasn't regency times. I believe this book takes place in the early 1900s. The book has quite a few recipes in it, but what struck me was that part of the preparation of the meal, for example, if you were making a chicken dish was that you had to kill the chicken first. In those days, like in the Regency times, you couldn't go to your local HEB for readily available and packaged meat. :)

Great post, Amy!