Meat made up a large portion of the diets of residents of eighteenth-century England.  An example of this is a meal served to Queen Anne in 1705 - selections included were: “Oleo, Pigeons, Sirloin of Beef rost, Venison, Chyne of Mutton, Turkey, Snipes, Ducks, Partridge.” [1]   The consumption of meat was hardly restricted to the upper classes, however: while Queen Anne was feasting on the aforementioned foods, her servants had two kinds of meat per person [2].   Similarly, in 1721 George the First ate a meal which included at least nine different varieties of meat! [3]     However, unlike Queen Anne, he ate some vegetables as well (“Artichokes” and “French Beans”) [4].

During the 1700s venison was the meat which was a symbol of the highest social status [5].    If a person could serve venison, it meant that he/she was the owner of a vast property, or knew someone who was [6].

A Swedish tourist is known to have said in 1748 that the English were good at cooking big pieces of meat, but did not seem to have talent in any other arenas of cooking [7].

Evening meals might have contained “cold meats, sweets, fruit, and wine on ordinary occasions, a choice of hot dishes when company was present.” [8]    “Hot” food was generally only served when guests were visiting, and most English often ate “cold meats” for their evening supper. [9]    In fact, tourists complained about the chilly temperature of the victuals they were served [10].

Plucking the Turkey by Henry Walton (1736-1813)
(Click on the image to learn to roast fowl!  Click "Back" when done)
The caliber of food became rather poor during the 1700s in England, as meat rose in popularity. [11]    Due to urbanization, large quantities of meat had to be transported from the farms to the cities [12].    Since the trip was by no means short or easy, “the quality of meat was bound to be coarse and inferior.” [13]    A doctor who was the author of the 1788 book “The Honours of the Table” warned that the odor of meat was such that one should keep it away from his/her nose while eating it! [14]
The Roast Beef of Old England -- The Tate Gallery, (Mennell 10th of 29 photoplates)

Fruit and Vegetables

Not very many English people in the eighteenth century had fruit at all; only a very select, minuscule group of wealthy people had access to fruit [15].

In the 1700s the British feared uncooked fruit; they thought it would give the person who consumed it “indigestion” or even “the plague.” [16]

One interesting use of fruit in eighteenth-century England was that of blackberries, which were marketed for dying clothes such colors as “navy blue and indigo” [17].

As the 1700s were drawing to a close, “citrus fruits” became very important to the Navy of England [18].     The consumption of them prevented scurvy [19].     “The Admiralty decreed that a fixed amount of lemon juice should be issued daily to all sailors after their fifth or sixth week afloat, and stood by this decision to the tune of 1.6 million gallons of it, in the period between 1795 and 1815.” [20]

Today people worry about pesticides, but the “good old days” may never have existed for fruits or vegetables: in eighteenth-century England they were dirty in the first place and vendors sometimes used saliva as a “cleanser”! [21]

For meals, vegetables were often prepared with a butter/flour mixture [22].

“One of the greatest luxuries in dining is to be able to command plenty of good vegetables well served up.  But this is a luxury vainly hoped for at set parties.  The vegetables are made to figure in a very secondary way, except, indeed, whilst they are considered as great delicacies, which is generally before they are at their best -- excellent potatoes, smoking hot and accompanied by melted butter of the first quality would alone stamp merit on any dinner.”
-Thomas Walker
(Hunt, Eating and Drinking, An Anthology for Epicures, p. 134)


Many types of English cheese became available during this time period; a minimum of 40 different kinds have been documented [23].

A recipe for “Cheddar Cheese” from 1700:
“Take the milk of twelve cows in the morning and the evening cream of twelve cows, and put to it three spoonsful of rennet, and when it is come  [i.e. the curd] break it, and whey it, and when it is well wheyed break it again, and work into the curd three lb. of fresh butter, and put it in your press, and turn it in the press for an hour, or more, and change the cloths and wash them every time you change them; you may put wet cloths at first on to them, but towards the last put two or three fine dry cloths to them.  Let it lie thirty or forty hours in the press, according to the thickness of the cheese; then take it out and wash it in whey, and lay it in a dry cloth till it is dry, then lay it on your shelf, and turn it often.” [24]


In the 1790s, the typical English individual consumed about four kilograms of sugar each year [25].


At one point, eighteenth-century English bread was thought to contain bone fragments! [26]   (A chemist eventually proved that this was not true) [27].

A  key element of bread in eighteenth-century British bread was alum, which is a bleaching ingredient that also makes bread look bigger [28].


A general eighteenth-century England rule for milk: “if it was not watered, it was probably sour [29]. ”    However, it was probably digestible if taken from the cow itself immediately before consumption [30].


In England during the 1700s tea was “the national drink.” [31]      “It was ruinously expensive, anything between 16s.-50s. per lb., and the used tea leaves would be dried, rolled, and re-sold again by the servants of the rich. This was illegal...” [32]


In the eighteenth century coffee was more popular in London than any other global location [33].    Coffee was also thought to increase the reproductive capabilities of men [34].


Dessert was often served with wine after dinner [35].

Puddings were extremely popular [36].    They sometimes contained “Flower, Milk, Eggs, Butter, Sugar, Suet, Marrow, Raisins.” [37]     They were usually cooked alongside “meat” of some kind [38].

Chocolate was a novelty during the 1700s in England [39].  To be eaten it was “stewed for hours,” deprived of “cocoa butter,” “reboiled with milk and flavouring, and, just before serving, thickened with eggs.” [40]    During this period, the British thought chocolate worked as a fertility drug for women! [41]     In fact “One health expert in the eighteenth century described how, by the use of chocolate, his wife was ‘brought to bed of twins, three times.’” [42]


“White soup” contained “veal stock, cream and...almonds.” [43]    Occasionally, it was thickened with “rice or white breadcrumbs.” [44]

“Pease-soup” was served in the colder months. [45]  This addition to the entree of a meal was comprised of “dried peas, which would be simmered in stock or water with celery, onion, and seasoning.” [46]     Peas were an integral part of the English diet during the eighteenth century because people could dry them, and thus keep them in storage for a considerable amount of time [47].


This beverage was popular in the eighteenth century and contained “cider or wine sweetened and flavoured with nutmeg, milk and then cream.” [48]


This common eighteenth-century British dish was composed of “boiled oatmeal...with a little butter.” [49]    Interestingly, it also often contained alcoholic beverages, especially wine. [50]     This dish was popular (especially as an evening meal) because it helped compensate for the lack of central heating in drafty houses [51].

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