From traditional seaside holiday treats like candy floss, ice cream and fish ’n’ chips, to the British fascination for baking, the Victorian era has shaped British culinary heritage. Victoria’s austere attitude after an age of Regency indulgence generated enormous cultural change. Excess and gluttony were replaced with morally upright values, and Victoria’s large family became the centre of the cultural imagination, with the power to begin new traditions. If Queen Victoria’s family sat down to turkey on Christmas day, so did the rest of the nation.
Food was a significant part of the Victorians’ lives, whether they had too much of it or not enough. The destitute were fed gruel in the workhouses – the words of Dickens’s Oliver are forever imprinted on our minds: ‘Please, sir, I want some more.’ The burgeoning street traders spilling over from the previous century devolved into a whole new culture of ‘mudlarks’, trotter boilers and food slop traders, to name but a few. Wealthy Victorians gorged with the newly emerging trend for breakfast, lunch and tea. Public dining became de rigeur, and the outdoor ‘pique-nique’, introduced a new way of eating.
Victorians also struggled against many of these trends, with the belief that denial of food was a moral good. This was the era of educating and training in food management, combined with the old world of superstition and tradition, that changed British society forever.
Dining with the Victorians, A Delicious History by Emma Kay
Paperback, 256 pages.