Hi there my darlings!
Being cooped up in the house these past few months has me constantly worried about food safety and cross-contamination. I am always very careful about things like that, but having spent extra time at home lately, I have subsequently spent extra time in the kitchen. I have opted to prepare things from scratch that I usually bought premade, and tried out many new recipes. The result, as you can imagine, is an overflowing refrigerator and freezer. This brought the following thought to my mind:
“How did they do this in the Regency era, with no refrigeration?”
Well, from my recent research I can tell you one thing for certain, food-safety was not a major concern. Food was prepared and preserved either by the family themselves or by their domestic staff, and cooking and baking were done at home. Without refrigeration and cookstoves, food storage and preparation presented challenges to the housewife and innkeeper alike.
The ingredients were for the most part grown and bought locally, and word travels quickly in small communities. The meat came from local farms or estates, and farmers and landowners had reputations to maintain, as did the local mill for flour, and the local shopkeepers for all that they sold.
The situation though was very different in towns and cities. Here it was the shopkeepers and “costermongers” who sourced, stored, prepared, and supplied the produce. And with a wider market at their disposal, these tradesmen were often less concerned with quality, as they were with cost.
The wealthier residents in towns and cities could afford a “better” diet, yet this too carried its own dangers, since there was little concept of hygiene. At the start of the nineteenth-century butcher’s boys would deliver meat to the wealthier homes, carried on their heads, in baskets or trays, open to the heat and dirt of the day.
The “adulteration” of food and drink became increasingly commonplace. Producers, importers, merchants, and sellers were all adding ingredients to increase “bulk” or “improve” appearance.
Bakers used chalk to make the bread whiter, and alum to enable the use of inferior flour, and while alum was not poisonous it inhibited the digestion and decreased the nutritional value of anything else their customers ate.
The making of beer had more to do with chemistry than the brewing process. It was full of foxglove, henbane, opium, and God knows what other concoctions. They used chemicals so that they can water down the beer, keep its taste and appearance, but make it stronger, and still sell it cheaply.”
Milk too was often watered down, sometimes by as much as 50%.
So common did the adulteration of food become that books on housekeeping routinely carried warnings and tests for detecting added chemicals like plaster of Paris.
In 1851 The Lancet, medical journal, commissioned a doctor from the London Royal Free Hospital to examine the adulteration of thirty common foods.
The study revealed that China tea contained 45% sand and dirt together with traces of sulfate of iron; lard contained carbonate of soda and caustic lime; coffee included chicory, mangel-wurzel (root vegetable) sawdust, and acorns; cocoa and chocolate were colored with earth and included arrowroot and Venetian lead; sweets (candy) were found to contain chromate of lead, sulfate of mercury and various other noxious flavorings and colorings. Red lead and other chemical colorings were found to be routinely used in foodstuffs such as “Red Leicester Cheese.”
While reading all this, I’ve suddenly lost my appetite…
The sobering reality though, is that even to this day questionable practices are used in mass production to preserve our foods. To make everything appealing and easy to use, sacrifices are often made with staggering results.
One thing I hope to keep up with after this quarantine is finally over is to buy organic, prep and preserve my own things, and make as many of our foods from scratch as possible.
What do you guys think, can it be done?
Written by Patricia Haverton!