The Victorians valued good cooking and food.
However, there were great differences between what the rich and poorer people ate. More
The diet of the very poor was terrible.
The unemployed, and others with little money, survived on little more than potato parings, rotten vegetable refuse and scraps. More
Those employed on better wages and farm labourers ate reasonably well.
Those on a slightly higher wage could occasionally purchase some bacon, cheese or sausage and workers in better-paid jobs had more choice and more wholesome food. More
Meal times were an opportunity for the rich to display their wealth.
This was done through rich foods, use of fine cutlery, china and servants. At the start of the period, French cuisine was in fashion, with as many as 20 dishes served at the same time in two great courses. Tastes changed during the period and, by the 1860’s, dishes were being placed on the sideboard and then served, one after another, by footmen. This was known as serving a meal ‘a la russe’. More
Breakfast was an important meal.
Even the simplest of middle class breakfasts consisted of bacon, eggs, ham, haddock, toast, coffee and fruits. More
It was the Victorians who first invented afternoon tea.
This was because the evening meal was eaten later than in previous periods and people found they needed a light meal in the late afternoon. More
The popularity of afternoon tea also saw the development of the tea room.
Tea rooms became the place in town for social gatherings and chatter. More
The family became more distanced from their servants.
By the Victorian era, there was a strong separation between the family and the servants. The family, even in middle class homes, no longer ate with the servants. More
During Victorian times, food became much simpler and plainer than previously.
There was a slow move away from the extraordinary mix of flavours that often drowned out the main ingredients, to a slightly simpler taste. However, elaborate dishes were still a good way of displaying both the skill of your cook and, more importantly, the luxury of your table. More
The menu was often the same from week to week.
Only some of the ingredients (such as the vegetables) changed with the seasons. The food was prepared and eaten to a more set pattern, often linked to the day of the week. More
Fish could now be eaten regularly inland.
This was because there was ice to keep it fresh and railways to transport it quickly across the country, to the towns and cities. More
By the end of the era, fish and chip shops were becoming popular.
By the beginning of the twentieth century, the British taste for eating fish in combination with potato chips was well established, seeing the development of fish and chip shops. More
Ranges and ovens improved, giving more control over cooking
During the middle of the Victorian era, closed cooking ranges and, later, ovens with temperature control were developed. The cook could now prepare the more complex meals that had previously only been enjoyed by the wealthy. More
Amongst richer people, gas ovens were becoming popular by the end of the century.
Ovens slowly replaced ranges. Early versions of the gas oven were exhibited at the Great Exhibition of 1851 but they did not catch on until the 1890s, as people saw them as a health risk and were afraid of explosions. By the 1890s, the first electric cookers had also been developed. More
The dining room was very important.
In the Victorian house, each room had its own purpose and the dining room was one of the most important rooms. A lot of effort went into decoration, as it was a showcase for impressing the guests. More
The only sink in the house was usually in the scullery.
Such things as washing-up, vegetable preparation and laundry work were done in the scullery. More
There were improvements in food storage and new gadgets for cooking.
Food was stored in the pantry or larder, a room off the kitchen. There were ice chests and the first refrigerators were just being developed. For kitchens, the impressive range of gadgetry and labour saving devices included apple peelers and new steel utensils. More
The period also saw the first tinned food.
From the 1860s, tinned meat was available. At first, this was mainly fat with just a few chunks of meat but it provided a cheap alternative for the poor, being less than half the price of ordinary meat. The late 19th century saw the range of available tinned food greatly increase, as canners competed with each other, using novel foodstuffs, highly decorated printed labels, and lower prices. More
The quantity and quality of food improved.
Agricultural methods continued to improve in both Britain and America. More food was produced, of a better quality for those who could afford it. More
The foods most popular with Victorians were not those best for health.
Although there was the beginning of an interest in food thought good for the health, it was not reflected in most people's diets. Bread, potatoes, dripping and cups of tea were the main foods of the poor. Wealthier families had more choice but did not necessarily eat healthy foods. Both meat and sweet foods were popular. People were not very interested in vegetables. More