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Sunday, June 8, 2014

Dining in the Napoleonic Era

I was probably brainwashed, as a child.

A battered family treasure was handed down to me.  It was a copy of the Girls Own Annual for 1885. I believe it was originally given to an ancestress who was a maid in some colonial house, and that it was common for the book to be imported for just that reason -- for mistresses to give to maids, presumably because they were supposed to be "improving."  Nonetheless, I read it from cover to cover, and it could be a reason for my passion for history.

There was only one colored picture -- the one above.  (Many of the rest had been colored in by generations of small girls, but they didn't count.)  Perhaps because of that, it fascinated me.  It was part of a series of various bits of advice for young brides, including how to manage servants, and how to entertain a party on a budget, all with the title "How I keep House on £250 per annum." 

Economist Brian Easton tells me that that is equivalent to $44,000 per year.  That's rather a lot of housekeeping money, but it seems that that long-dead housekeeper had to scrimp rather a lot to manage on it. When you look at the table above, there is not terribly much food for sixteen people.

The reason I remembered this set of strange hints is that I recently came across a couple of books in my shelves that were acquired because of the interest in old recipes ("receipts") that the Annual inspired.  One is a beautifully presented little volume called "Advice to a Young Lady in the Colonies."  It reproduces a letter written in 1812 for a young lady who was setting up house in New South Wales, and has very much the same advice as the lady in the Annual who managed on £250 per year. The designer, Margaret Barca, enhanced the letter by hunting out recipes for the recommended dishes that dated from 1812.  This is interesting to me, because Eleanor, wife of Captain Hugh Reid of the ship Friendship, entertained 38 to dinner on board, in the port of Sydney in 1800.  Did she serve the same things?  Perhaps not.  Sydney in 1800 was very different in many ways from Sydney twelve years later.

The other book is William Verrall's Cookery Book, first published in 1759. That's closer to the kind of housekeeping Eleanor's mother would have taught her  . . . so over the next few days I am going to emulate Margaret Barca, but use William Verrall's receipts and methods.  Just for fun.

Bon appetit!

1 comment:

M. C. Muir said...

Growing up, we had in the book case a set of 8 leather bound encyclopaedias. They were old and only fairly thin. It seems that everything in the world and its history was a much smaller place.
Nevertheless, I loved those books and absorbed everything they contained. Like you, Joan, I think that gave me a love for nature, foreign places and history.