To dine at Kew: The meals of George III and his household

By Rachel Rich

Lately I’ve been thinking about whether the kitchen at Kew, c. 1789, should be considered as a domestic space or a public one. The reason this has been on my mind is because I’ve been working with Lisa Smith and Adam Crymble on a project we’ve provisionally called ‘The King’s Dinner.’ Thanks to the Steward at Kew, who kept a detailed ledger of all the meals served during the King’s time in residence there between 1789 and 1797, we know everything that made it to the twelve separate tables in the Palace, every day at dinner time. This rich source may not exactly tell us what each person ate or how much, and it doesn’t say much about how the meals were ordered and selected. But it is the closest I feel I’ve ever come to being able to witness a household’s eating from the past.

James Gillray, Anti-saccharites, -or- John Bull and his family leaving off the use of sugar (1792). Depicts the royal family at a frugal tea-table. Source: British Museum, London.

I’m thinking about whether to consider these meals as public or private because of what other questions that might lead me to ask. Should I be considering what the George III menus tell us about domestic eating habits in the late eighteenth century? I can see that the names of the dishes are in the fashionable style of contemporary English cooking which gave French names to reliably familiar English meals.

And I can see that there was a version here of the upstairs/downstairs dichotomy, even if it was on a much grander scale. It makes sense to me to think about how food was used to encode social relations within homes where master and servant ate food produced in the same kitchens, and from the same supply chains, while marking our hierarchy through the relative degree of elaboration that went into the dishes served at the different tables.

Anonymous, Farmer G-e, studying the wind and weather (1771). Source: British Museum, London.

If, however, I start to think of the Palace less as a private home and more as a public—or at least semi-public—institution, then I think about the scale on which things were done, and what that meant about labour, organization, and time management. Food is very time sensitive in many ways. There is the question of seasons, and of eating the right produce when it is at its best. This may have mattered to King George, whose keen interest in agriculture had gained him the nickname Farmer George. In the coming months I am hoping to look carefully at the vegetables that were served in each month, and about how important seasonality was at the Royal table.

Food is also time sensitive because of the time it takes to cook each dish. All foods can be ruined through over cooking, while some foods are also dangerous if undercooked. Kitchen staff needed to know about timing, and given the difficulty of calculating cooking times with their contemporary cooking technologies, I assume they employed a combination of modern time management with more traditional sense-time for measuring the readiness of dishes.

Finally, food is time bound in that meals eaten communally need to be ready at the appointed time, and everyone who is sharing a table needs to know at what time they ought to make an appearance, if they are to share the meal. With twelve tables to serve, how did each dish reach the right table at the right time? Thinking about the management of the ‘home’ that was Kew Palace seems to offer a wonderful opportunity for thinking about how food timing shaped the operation of a semi-public institution with many inhabitants from across the social spectrum.

There were twelve daily dinners served at Kew each day including their Majesties’ Dinner, the Equerries dinner, dinner for various pages, grooms, and kitchen staff. Social hierarchy marked out who could share a table, but also the amount of food that was served, and the diversity of dishes. For their majesties, an elaborate meal was always prepared.  On 6 December 1789, the dinner was comprised of:

Soupe Sante, 4 chickens, tendrons of lamb; mutton cotellets; Emince of Pullets; 71/2 Veal Collops; a haunch of venison; 2 large soles; a leg of Portland mutton; 83/4 muttons; Richmond duck; Capon; 3 pigs trotters; asparagus; potted meat; Genoise; ¾ prawns; celery and pomme de terre.

It was a lot of food—but I don’t exactly know who was sitting at the table, so I don’t know how much of it was specifically designated as surplus food. This is one of many questions I have been considering over the last few days.

This is the first in a series of posts in which Lisa, Adam and I are planning to explore this amazing source from a range of different angles. In this way we hope to develop ideas about national identity, class, and domestic labour, health, and nutrition, in relation to a unique household which was at once completely different from, but also emblematic of, all the other household in Britain.

From Recipe to Biography: Georgiana Hill’s life in cooking

By Rachel Rich

 

Two rabbits sitting next to the entrance of their burrow while a couple of rabbits are gamboling in the background. Etching by J. Tookeyafter J. C. Ibbetson.
Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

In a previous post, I compared Georgiana Hill with Isabella Beeton, in order to reflect on different genres of Victorian recipe books. But Hill is interesting as more than a counterpart to the more famous Beeton. Georgiana Hill was a prolific cookery writer in the 1860s. Of what she did before this, and how she spent her remaining years after, little is known. Until recently, the most notable mention of her by a historian was in Joan Thirsk’s ‘Forward’ Women in English Society, 1500-1800 (edited by Mary Prior, 1985). Thirsk, perfectly understandably, assumed that Hill the cookery writer was the same person as Georgiana Hill who published on women’s history in the 1890s. We now know otherwise.  In 2012 Panmacmillan reprinted Everybody’s Pudding Book as A Year of Victorian Puddings. Now Hill is back in our minds and the ODNB will be adding an entry on her to their publication in the near future.

Apart from what the census yields, the best clues about Hill’s life come from her cookbooks. The introduction to Puddings suggests that Hill had sense of humour since she offered a funny take on the usual trope of scolding women for their lack of culinary know-how, with a clearly exaggerated tale of a visit to an elderly woman who served apple pudding six months a year and gooseberry pudding the other six, because these were the only two recipes her servant could tolerably execute. Hill wrote that ‘This slight incident decided me to undertake a work for the assistance and enlightenment of any ladies who may be in like distress; and if through my editorial exertions, one of the fair or even sterner sex be spared a moment’s trouble on the subject…I shall…feel I am incontestably entitled to be looked upon as a benefactor of my species.’

Elsewhere, Hill did away completely with the conventional form, opting, for example, for some thoughts on rabbits as pets, and as having health-giving properties, in the introduction to The Gourmet’s Guide to Rabbit Cooking, in one hundred and twenty-four dishes (1859), where she includes a little poem:

For onions, you know, are generally said
To be an excellent remedy for a cold in the head;
And rabbits I’m told by those who are smart,
Are a capital cure for a cold in the heart!

As well as being quite playful in the introductions to her books, Hill also shows herself to be a woman interested in the world around her. French frequently appeared in recipes and on menus throughout the period, being, as it was, the de facto language of gastronomy. But Hill went further than simply paying lip service to the French. She included French, but also many Spanish recipes in her books, perhaps drawing on knowledge she had acquired when she worked as a language teacher in the 1850s.

In Rabbits, Hill offers several Spanish-inspired recipes, such as ‘Spanish Conejo con Arroz,’ which involved a lot of garlic, and ‘Rabbits a la Ronda’:

Take shred ham, cold veal, and beef suet…a little grated lemon-peel, nutmeg, Cayenne pepper, salt and the crumb of a penny roll. Pound all this in a mortar, bind it with two well-beaten eggs, and put it inside your rabbit, sew it up, truss it, and lay it in a stewpan, with a quart of strong stock, a bottle of white wine, two lemons cut in quarters, a bunch of sweet-herbs, a few cloves, and a slat-spoonful of pepper…rub it over with olive-oil, and place it before a slow fire for forty minutes, basting it frequently with oil.

In Puddings, Hill mostly concentrated on English recipes, with only a smattering of French. Some of the recipes, like ‘Oxford Pudding’ or ‘Yorkshire Pudding’ had place names, and the same was true of ‘Berkshire Apple Dumplings’:

Peel and core six middling-sized apples; cover them well over with white sugar; place them in a deep dish, and put them into your oven: when they become tender, pour over them a batter made with two eggs, two spoonful of flour, and sufficient milk to make it of the requisite consistency. Bake for twenty minutes, and serve with spiced sugar, apart.

In both cases, Hill shows herself to be a skilled cook, who also expected skill of those she addressed, as in her recipe for ‘Pommes Farcies’ where she instructs that the apples are to be baked for half an hour ‘in a gay oven.’ These are recipes which were to be followed by cooks comfortable with the basics of the kitchen, and who had the confidence to follow instructions which left much to the discretion of the cook.

Reading Hill’s recipes, I feel I am getting to know a smart and funny woman, who had either travelled, or wanted to travel, and loved all things Spanish. Hill never married. Her cookbooks, which are sympathetic to women, without being overly burdened with concerns about cleaning, nursing sick children or other common concerns of the domestic advice writer, might be a clue to either the cause or the effect of remaining single. In either case, Hill is a no-nonsense sort of woman, serious minded and comfortable with the idea of women as smart, competent and hard-working, for which her subsequent career as a nurse in the 1870s provides further evidence.  Writing someone’s life from their cookbooks may not become the next mainstream trend in biographical research. But it does seem like as good a way as any of getting to know this mysterious woman, who was at once a successful professional cookery writer, and a completely unknown, ordinary, respectable woman.

In the coming months, I intend to write more about Hill and her recipes. If anyone knowns anything about her, I would love to hear from you!

Different ways to cook a rabbit: Georgiana Hill and Mrs Beeton

By Rachel Rich

Georgiana Hill's cookbooks are serious books for serious foodies.
The sober title page matches Georgiana Hill’s serious approach to cookery. Credit: The Internet Archive

 

 

Georgiana Hill was a prolific cookery writer around the time when Mrs Beeton published her Book of Household Management (1861). Each woman wrote from an educated perspective, drawing on history and mythology to contextualise the ingredients they wrote about. Isabella Beeton was a young, successful journalist, who probably spent very little time in the kitchen. Much less is known of Hill’s life, but the introductions to her many publications, as well as the recipes themselves, suggest certain possibilities.

Unlike Beeton, whose Book includes recipes for every food imaginable, and advice about every aspect of domesticity, Hill keeps her focus solely on the food. In the introduction to The Gourmet’s Guide to Rabbit Cooking, In One Hundred and Twenty-Four Dishes (1859), Hill discussed her childhood fascination with rabbits, before moving on to their culinary purpose–a flight of fancy one can only imagine Mrs Beeton would have found pointless if not downright distasteful. Whereas Beeton depicted herself as the solidly English, economical and practical mistress of a well-run home, Hill consciously allied herself with the French ‘who possess an aptitude for delicacy of expression of which an English cook is totally deficient.’ Hill went on to write that ‘the charm of rabbits consists in their being so easily and agreeably accommodated (mark the word), and in their capability of producing a variety of compositions, which, if proceeding from the hands of an able artiste, may, for elegance, be ranked among the most recherché dishes that can dignify the table of refined and enlightened amphitryons.’

General advice for every eventuality, including the cooking of rabbits.
Mrs Beeton’s more ornate title page illustrates the contrast of her more domestic  femininity with Hill’s gender neural approach. Source: British Library/wikipedia

Hill’s recipes also differed from Beeton’s. Beeton started every recipe with a list of ingredients, then methodically went through the instructions, and finished with information about time, cost, number fed, and seasonability. Hill did not take up such modern practices, keeping rather to the traditional, discursive from. Thus, recipe 56 ‘To Curry Cold Rabbit’ reads:

Cut up two good-sized onions, one cucumber, two apples, and a slice or more of ham and cut into dice. Put these things into a stewpan, with a quarter of a pound of butter, and stir them well until they are done; then add your pieces of rabbit, and the juice of a lemon strained from the pips; shake it for a few minutes, pour in a pint of good stock, and let it simmer for twenty minutes, skimming frequently. When done, you can either dish it as it is, or arrange the rabbit in your dish, and strain the sauce through a sieve over it. Serve boiled rice apart.

The difference between Hill and Beeton is that Hill was writing as a cook and food enthusiast who assumed that her writers shared her passion. Beeton was writing for women for whom she imagined the running of the home to be a serious business: ‘As with the commander of an army, or the leader of any enterprise, so is it with the mistress of a house.’ Clearly each book found an audience and a market, but where Beeton wrote condescendingly to (imagined) morally and intellectually weak housewives, Hill chose a more neutral approach, calling herself ‘An Old Epicure,’ and eschewing domestic advice in favour of a specialist’s approach to food preparation.

The Politics of Food: Food in History at the Anglo-American Conference 2013

Editors’ note: This is our second conference report on the Anglo-American Conference 2013. Sally Osborn’s post considers the domestic and institutional spaces of food.

By Rachel Rich

I started working on food history in 1996. People often smirked when I mentioned it. It seemed like a little topic, something that wouldn’t help answer the big questions about human identity and experience. Yet eating is one of the few universals: thinking about how differently it has been organised across time and space provides amazing insights into class, gender and ethnic identities. With the choice of ‘Food in History’ as the theme for this year’s Anglo-American Conference, food history has finally come of age. A wide range of periods were covered, from classical antiquity to the Arab spring, and everything in between. Some people discussed a particular food, such as milk or bread. One intriguing paper (by Rebecca Ford, University of Nottingham) was even more specific, focusing on the social and cultural geography of watercress in nineteenth-century England. But ‘Food in History’ was given a wide scope, going far beyond discussions of food and recipes, in ways that showed the possibility for telling all sorts of cultural and political stories by understanding what we eat, with whom, how we shop for it, and the routes it has had to travel to reach us.

Read the rest of this post (complete with some of the Twitter discussion!) on Storify: http://storify.com/historecipes/the-politics-of-food-thinking-of-the-food-history/.