Tag Archives: Georgian food

Catching a Cawchery in a Slap-Ang Shop – Eating In the Regency Underworld

lodgingsYou are slumming it in Regency London – perhaps you’re in cheap lodgings avoiding your creditors, or dodging a furious father armed with a shotgun or your gambling habit has got the better of you and you are seriously out of pocket. You have found your cheap lodgings – a miserable, unheated room that you share with bedbugs, fleas, mice and the other inhabitants of your straw pallet – now you need to find something to eat. [The print above is of Logic’s lodgings in one of the Tom & Jerry tales by Pierce Egan. Note the dome of St Paul’s behind and the pawnbroker’s shop with its three gold balls on the left.]

A respectable eating house with a decent daily ordinary might be within your means, otherwise you’ll be looking for a grubbery and, in this kind of area, it is probably a hand-in-pocket shop where ready money is expected and no credit is given or even a slam-bang or slap-ang shop, the lowest form of cook shop. Even if you are clammed, sharp-set or positively gutfoundered, you’ll still be hoping that it isn’t run by a cook ruffian, a really bad cook who’ll beat all to a todge, or unrecognisable mess.

If all you can afford is buster and beeswax or bread and cheese, it will taste better if it has been toasted to make a Welsh rabbit or, failing the cheese, you may have to make do with a scratch platter or tailor’s ragout of bread and sliced cucumbers slopped in vinegar.

If there’s a smell of cooking meat the chances are it will be a sheep’s head  – baked to make a Bloody Jemmy or Field Lane Duck or boiled with onions which makes a German Duck. But that might be too expensive so you settle for a galimaufry, a hodge-podge of leftovers or a cawchery, a stew (best not to investigate the ingredients). If you are lucky it might be padded out with some naked boys – rather lumpy dumplings. Below is a detail from “Tom and Jerry Masquerading Among the Cadgers in the Back Slum in the Holy Land” with the diners tucking into their food next to the stove while a riot breaks out in the background.

slum eating

Just when it all seems hopeless and you are contemplating a diet of flummery – oatmeal and water boiled to a jelly – one of your friends turns up with a loan and you can foul a plate and polish a bone with them and treat yourselves to an alderman – a fine roast turkey with a garland of sausages in place of the alderman’s chain of office.

As for what you’ll drink with your alderman, that’s another story – but the chances are you’ll be washing it down with a tankard or two of heavy wet.

GroseFrancis Grose toured the back-slums and the rookeries of London in the 1780s collecting cant and slang terms for his Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue,  assisted (or possibly supported) by his servant Batch. Judging by his portrait Grose had sampled plenty of naked boys, aldermen and Bloody Jemmys himself. He inspired a number of imitators (and downright plagiarists) but all these late Georgian slang dictionaries are arranged in alphabetical order of the terms defined.  Regency Slang Revealed  takes four of them and organises them thematically, with an index – the perfect guide for the explorer of the Regency underworld. Regency Slang Revealed Cover MEDIUM WEB

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A Georgian Foodie Delight – Potted Char

char dish

Sitting on my bedroom window ledge is an early 18thc pearl-ware dish. It is 16  cm across and 4 cm deep and fish are swimming all around the side. They look a little like trout but they have bright red fins, gills and lips. These  are the rare char and the dish was specially made for potted char, a Georgian delicacy.
Char (salvinus alpinus) are survivors from the Ice Age and occur in Britain only in a few deep, cold lakes – chiefly Windermere and Coniston in the Lake District and one or two in Scotland and Wchar-fishales – where the water temperature never rises above 20˚C. They have been a rare treat since at least Tudor times – Henry VIII used to have barrels of them sent to his palaces – but I have never tried one so I don’t know whether this is a case of rarity making something particularly desirable or whether they really are different and delicious. Apparently the flesh is delicate and pink-tinged. Perhaps a Lake District reader can tell me what they taste like!
Because of the distance from the Lake District to major centres of population the best way to get char to the market before refrigeration was to pot it – cook it with spices, salt and pepper, then seal it into a container with a thick layer of clarified butter on top to keep it sterile.
Intrepid early travellers to the area such as Celia Fiennes and Daniel Defoe wrote of eating potted char for breakfast in the local inns and its fame spread as improved transport and the passion for tourism in the Romantic Age opened up the Lake District to visitors.
Potted char began to spread all over the country, packed into the special dishes like mine, although if you search on-line for ‘potted char dishes’ you’ll find other designs as well.
Because most people would have bought char ready-potted it was difficult to find recipes in my collection of early cookbooks. However, here is one from The Housekeeper’s Instructor; or, Universal Family Cook by W.A. Henderson (1807).

char recipe
Potted char appears to have been eaten much as we eat potted shrimps today (those of us who are lucky enough to get hold of the real thing – tiny brown shrimps, not the big great big pink things!) – with crisp toast. And if you find a char dish, then snap it up. They are very rare survivors and mine was a lucky find at auction after I had seen one on Antiques Roadshow.

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It Is August In London – Eat Oysters on Oyster Day or Run Away to the Seaside?

August in London was the time to celebrate “Oyster Day” – the arrival of the first oysters at Billingsgate fish market. The scene on the streets is shown in the first print from Crucikshank’s London Almanac. This was a significant day for the poor for whom oysters was a cheap staple. In London Labour and the Poor Mayhew wrote that “the number of oysters sold by the costermongers amounts to 124,000,000 a year. These, at four a penny, would realise the large sum of £129,650. We may, therefore, safely assume that £125,000 is spent yearly in oysters in the streets of London.”

London August

In the scene working people queue up at two trestle tables to buy oysters. The vendors are opening them and on the left we can see a coal heaver or dustman, distinguished by his hat with a protective neck flap, pouring some kind of relish or ketchup over his.

A small boy is rummaging under the trestle for empty shells and on the right one lad is building them into a construction while other children holding up shells mob a respectably-dressed couple begging for coppers. An article in the Illustrated London News of 1851 explains what must be happening.

“We will not pursue the calculation into how many grottoes might be built from the shells of a year’s supply of oysters…. The coming-in of oysters is observed as a sort of festival in the streets; and in such a nook of the metropolis as the present locality, the grotto is usually built of inverted oyster-shells piled up conically with an opening in the base, through which, as night approaches, a lighted candle is placed within the grotto, when the effect of the light through the chinks of the shelly cairn is very pretty. It is but fair that the young architects should be rewarded for their trouble accordingly, a little band, of what some churl may call urchins, sally forth to collect pence from the passers-by ; and the usual form of collecting the tax [is] by presenting a shell…”

Of course, you might choose to leave the heat and dust of London in August (to say nothing of the smell of discarded oyster shells) and go to the seaside. Brighton, Margate and Ramsgate were closest (if one leaves aside Gravesend, which even in the Georgian period was getting a reputation for being somewhat rough).

Brighton AugustCruikshank has chosen to show bathing machines at Brighton with four burly female “dippers” dunking their quailing customers in the sea. The machines have boards showing the names of the dippers – two for “Mrs Ducks” and one for “Mrs Dipps”. In the foreground a lady is entirely enveloped, head and all, in a flannel “case” while in the middle two dippers are about to plunge a slight figure – a teenage girl perhaps – in backwards. A furious baby is getting a relentless ducking at the far end.

The Margate design of bathing machine, invented by Quaker Benjamin Beale, had a hood which came down to shelter the bather’s modesty, and perhaps divert some of the force of the waves, but these were not used at Brighton.

Although the seaside holiday is often thought of as a Victorian invention they were very much a feature of the Georgian scene for those who had money and leisure. By 1800 every English county with a coastline had at least one seaside resort. Brighton is perhaps the most famous example, but it was by no means the first – Scarborough probably has best claim to the title, although Margate and Brighton were close behind and all three were flourishing in the 1730s, long before the Prince Regent made Brighton notorious.

Brighton did have the benefit of closeness to London that Scarborough did not. In 1821 Dr John Evans remarked on stagecoaches doing the journey in six hours and predicted that balloon travel would reduce it to four hours in the future and in 1823 Cobbett wrote of “stock-jobbers…[who] skip backwards and forward on the coaches, and actually carry on stock-jobbing, in ‘Change Alley, though they reside in Brighton.” In 1834 four hundred and eight passengers arrived by coach in Brighton in one day, and 50,000 were recorded for the year.

Just as beach-wear and cruise-wear figure in the fashion magazines today, outfits for seaside visits were carefully chosen. Here is one from La Belle Assemblée designed by Mrs Bell for “Sea Coast Promenade”. personally I think the wearer has located the gentlemen’s bathing beach and has no intention of promenading any further…

1809 telescope

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Eating Out In Georgian London – A Regency Good Food Guide

My starrylanceting point for this post is a book that will fascinate anyone interested in Georgian London  – The Epicure’s Almanac: Eating and Drinking in Regency London by Ralph Rylance, edited by Janet Ing Freeman (British Library 2012).

In 1815 Rylance published the first guide to London eating, with, as he put it, the intention of guiding his readers to those establishments where they might ‘dine well and to the best advantage.’  Incredibly, Rylance claimed to have investigated all the locations himself, over 600 of them. His recommendations range from smart Mayfair hotels, inns, chop houses, markets, tea gardens and cake shops. Poor Rylance must have hoped his work would go into many editions, but it survived only the one and the publisher, Longmans, did not reprint.

Janet Ing Freeman has taken Rylance’s original text and investigated all the establishments he mentions, giving us notes on location and lots of interesting snippets about how they developed, who ate there and quotes from other sources. There are original maps to assist. Her detailed scholarly work turns Rylance’s book from a curiosity into a useable guide for the modern reader.

In addition to the places where one might eat there is a ‘Review of Artists Who Administer to the Wants and Conveniences of the Table’ ie shops for kitchen equipment and ingredients. These include Deakin’s Philosophical Kitchen Range which may be obtained from the inventor at 47, Ludgate Hill.  We are told it ‘combines economy with simplicity. It contains an improved oven for bread or pies; a capacious boiler, a place for several stewpans and saucepans with the addition of a moveable steaming apparatus…’ The boiler can also be used for distilling. The editor explains that ‘philosophical’ is used in the sense of ‘scientific’  and in 1817 prices ranged from 11 to 20 guineas.

One of the most frequently mentioned type of eating place is the oyster room. Oysters were cheap fast food and could be eaten at various shellfish warehouses and in most other eateries. Rylance mentions many oyster rooms such as Lynn’s at 145 Fleet Street where ‘the best accommodations are upstairs’, and Sawyer’s, St Martin’s Lane noting that it is, ‘One of the largest concerns of the kind in London, for the sale not only of shell-fish, but also of pickled and dried salmon, spruce beer and other beverages.’

In my collection I have this print, ‘A noted Oyster Room near the theatres -Time 3 o’Clock in the Morning’. (Drawn by Samuel AlOyster rooms_0001ken, published 1823). A very good time is being had by everyone and I strongly suspect that the gentlemen are not accompanied by their wives!

Another popular type of eating place was the coffee house, a very masculine preserve, where coffee was drunk, newspapers read and matters of business and politics discussed. Food was also served in many of them, for example the Piazza Coffee House in Covent Garden, founded by actor Charles Macklin, where ‘dinners for large and small parties are served up in the most consummate style of elegance.’

This illustration from Ackermann’s Repository of October 1811 shows the Auction Mart Coffee Room in Throgmorton Street. Auctions were often held in coffee houses and the Auction Mart was an attempt to move some of them into a purpose-built venue, although of course it still had to have its coffee room.  RylanAuction martce observes that it was ‘fitted up in very neat style. Here soups, and the usual coffee-house refreshments, are served up.’ The notes in the Repository are only concerned with the architecture, not the refreshments unfortunately, and the illustration shows an unconvincingly  quiet and uncrowded space.

Finally, for another type of establishment, we have the confectioners. As I have an invoice from Parmentier’s in my collection I’ve chosen that one from the many that Rylance describes. Parmentiers was located in Edwards Street (now part of Wigmore Street). ‘Here every article is perfected in the true Parisian style of excellence. You find eau de Cologne, pâte de guimauve [marshmallow confections], cachou à la rose, cachou à l’orange et à la violette [lozenge-shaped sweetmeats], papillottes avec devises [small candies wrapped in paper containing jokes or mottoes]. Here are to be had preserves and conserves, wet and dry, jellies, jams, coloured transparent pastes, fruits dried or preserved in French brandies, comfits, lozenges, drops of every colour and flavour, superior macaroons, and rout cakes of the most fanciful forms, with ices and creams.’ My invoice is for lemon and orange syrups.

Parmentier0001It is still possible to eat in some of the establishments that Rylance mentions. For example The Cheshire Cheese is still in Wine Office Court off Fleet Street, and close to the Bank of England you can eat at Simpson’s Tavern in Ball’s Court and the nearby George and Vulture in George Yard.

For my next post I’ll be discovering some recipes for popular foods in Georgian London.

 

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