Dinner in the 18th century.
Welcome to the blog and you may think with today’s post I’ve gone from one extreme to the other. Personally I thought it best to get yesterday’s blog out of the way and now I, and hopefully you, can enjoy the rest of the 18th century experience.
When I began working in my story A Gentleman’s Folly I felt confident about the historical aspect of the story. What a shock I was in for!
As the story progressed and I got to know my characters I suddenly discovered how much I don’t know.
Katherine is in the apartment she shares with her friend and busy telling news as they drink a beverage.
But what beverage?
They’d not be sharing gin and tonic for sure. So, my research began and it continued for several months as I worked on this story. Once I began I suddenly found a whole new world and this post is about one of those examples.
If I said to you, ‘What time is dinner?’ you’d know just what I meant and tell me, but in 1754 it could be a very different matter. I took several days to get this idea, dinner time moved over a period of years, or weeks and depended on which part of the country you were in.
To us in the 21st century dinner is an evening meal, yes? People go out for dinner. We dine at favourite or popular restaurants and if we chose to dine in, we can dine late.
However, in 1754 dinner didn’t occur in the evening but in the late or mid afternoon. Strange. You might be invited for dinner and perhaps could attend at 4 of the clock, 5 of the clock or maybe even 6 of the clock in London. In the country you might be invited for dinner and it could start at 1, or 2.
You can be sure I was.
What I’d not thought of was the changes in society making dinner a later and later and later meal, one that moved from mid-day dining to the late evening.
My heroine Katherine is appalled to find she is expected to dine at one of the clock when in the country. In London it would regarded as dreadfully unfashionable. However, with so much at stake she accepts the situation and follows the usual customs associated with dining in the 18th century. She attends to her gown or even changes it, looks to her face paint with help from her maid, perfects her hair and adds a pleasant scent to her outfit. All this done she descends the stairs prepared to dine.
The 18th century dinner was an experience of excess, experimentation and entertainment.
In the early 18th century male diners sat together and female diners sat together, only later did what was known as promiscuous dining with mixed seating become fashionable. At a family meal things would be more relaxed with couples dining together.
There could be up to fourteen meat and fish dishes on a dining table, supplemented by some vegetable dishes too. There is a general belief wealthy people in the 18th century didn’t eat a lot of veggies, but some country house menus have a good record of seasonal vegetables being offered with the other dishes.
Soup is served to guests as a kind of appetizer and after this wine and ale is served with the meal. Do remember when wine was taken the glasses were often smaller than modern wine glasses. There could be lots of toasts to people at a large dinner party.
The second course would leisurely follow the first and these dishes would be lighter with dishes like fruit tarts and jellies accompanying more savoury meat dishes. This course too often contained foods specifically made to entertain rather than be eaten, for example the jelly playing cards or the goldfish made from gilded jelly.
After this dessert items were presented. These were usually fruit and nuts rather than what we might think of as pudding, those would have appeared with the second course. One final glass of wine would be offered, and once this was drunk, the ladies present would withdraw to leave the gentlemen alone.
This withdrawing required a separate room, known as the withdrawing room, eventually shortened to the drawing room.
Here ladies could chat, gossip and drink fashionable tea.
Diner lasted approximately two hours but could go on a lot longer.
Tomorrow I’ll be looking at some 18th century recipes for dishes served in wealthy and not so wealthy homes.