June 30

6 comments

Food Safety in Regency England

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 preservation of meat turned out to be a relatively simple technique. The meat was salt-cured, which meant preserving it with a mixture of salt and saltpeter.

Flavorings could be added, such as honey, sugar, pepper, and juniper berries. The salt in the meat drew out moisture, reducing the weight of the meat by as much as 18%-25%, and preventing the meat from decomposing.  

The salted meat was hung to dry cure from a few months to a year. This process deepened the color of the meat and produced an intense flavor. Dried and cured, the meat was cut into thin slices and could be served at any time.


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!


Tags

Articles, Regency Romance


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  • Interesting use of fillers reminds me of the adulteration of baby formula by China. Then here in U.S. during the Gilded Age similar conditions were exposed through the “muckrakers” and “yellow journalists.”

    Reply

    • Oh yes, even to this day food adulteration is happenning everywhere! I am always dilligent in reading labels and buying organic and non processed foods as often as possible. Unfortunately day to day life doesn’t always allow this…

      Reply

  • I did know some of what you just sent but, there is a lot more that I didn’t know. As far as making
    your own food and the canning, of course you can do it.

    Reply

    • I am trying my hardest darling! I know it can be done but modern life has many roles and responsibilities for us women. I’m glad you found the article informative! 🙂

      Reply

    • Definitely safer! It does prove difficult some times in our day to day life but all we can hope is to do the best we all can to protect ourselves and our familes! <3 I'm so very happy you liked the article sweetie!

      Reply

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