Food was a very important part of life in this time period. It not only measured a personís social status, but for the wealthy it was a form of leisure. The wealthy spent hours eating their meals and enjoyed elaborate shows of their wealth through the many courses they offered.
Generally, three meals were served each day. Breakfast was at 10AM. It was a very conversational meal. At this point in the day everyone had been up for several hours and had been going about their daily routine. Breakfast was a time to take a break from the day and converse. It was a light meal consisting of bread and butter, oysters, and tea.
Dinner was between 2PM and 4PM. This was a heavier meal followed by tea and perhaps cake. (The tradition of afternoon tea did not begin until 1840). Supper was served between about 8PM and 10PM. This was the substantial meal of the day. Cold meats, sweets, fruits, and wine were served. If company were present then a hot dish would be served.
However, it is important to note that different social classes ate very different foods. Meat was very important and signified social status. If you had venison on your table it meant that you were of the highest social class. Only the wealthy had fresh fruits and vegetables. The poor lived on bread perhaps with a bit of onion. Sometimes the father got potatoes or bacon. Cheese was put on bread instead of butter and they ate fish instead of meat. The poor often ate oysters because they could be pickled. Puddings were also popular with the lower classes because they were very inexpensive. There are many kinds of puddings including: black, kidney, marrow, brad and butter, blood, suet, and roly-poly. The father ate better than the rest of the family because he was the breadwinner and needed sustenance. The average farm laborer had one hot meal per week because coal was needed for the stove and it was expensive. Meanwhile, the middle class ate mutton and well-cooked potatoes and vegetables. The upper class had a much greater variety of foods including fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, and sweets. At a dinner party the upper classes would have many courses and the supper would last for hours. A hot meal was usually only served when guests were present.
The diet of children was very interesting. The children ate mutton, bread, potatoes, milk, rice pudding, and oatmeal. They were not given anything more adventurous until they were seventeen because it was thought that the stomachs of children were delicate. In addition, the children of poor families might receive very little food and be near starvation because the father was the most well feed in the family.
At this time it was thought that eating raw foods was bad for digestion. Therefore fruits and vegetables were cooked to protect the consumerís stomach. Water was also feared to be unsafe so people did not drink it unless in tea. They drank beer, coffee, ale, and tea. Tea was very popular, but expensive so the tea leaves were often re-used or sold to people after they had already been used.
It is interesting to note that during this time coloring first started being added to food. To make gold and silver, copper and zinc were added. For blue, iron was added; lead was added for red, and arsenic for green. Sometimes the addition of arsenic proved deadly. Color was being added to food in order to enhance the visual appeal of the food.
Overall food was a very important part of life during this time period. It was a symbol of wealth and status for the upper classes and something constantly desired among the poor.
The houses that people lived in differed greatly depending on class. Houses ranged from small cramped one-room areas to very large houses with dozens of rooms. In addition, the wealthier had more furnishings and their houses were much more elaborately decorated.
The poor lived in a one-room house. They ate, slept, cooked, and entertained all in the same room. If they were slightly better off then they had two rooms: a kitchen area and a bedroom. Being poor meant very little privacy and lots of noise because there were only one or two rooms to live in.
People of the lower middle class would live in a small four-room house. They would have a kitchen, dining room/parlor, and two bedrooms. This could prove to be quite cramped if there were many children because they all had to share one bedroom. In addition, all guests were received in the dining room because there was no other area to entertain them.
If people had more money then they would have a house like the nobility or gentry. These houses had public and private areas so that the family had a place to carry out their daily activities and another place to entertain friends. Wealthy families had chambers with dressing closets, a schoolroom, childrenís bedrooms, and a library or study. One of the most important rooms was the drawing room, which was the area that guests were received in and retired to after dinner. In addition, the wealthy would have a breakfast area. The houses of the wealthy were quite large and had ample room for all of the family.