If Gregory King was right, middling families spent between £5 and £20 per head a year on food and drink, while Vanderlint's figures work out at £11 per head. It was suggested earlier that there might be some 20,000 or 25,000 middling families in London, with about seven or eight members each. If, say, £10 per head were spent on all these people, the total demand would have been between £1 1/2 and £2 million a year, a concentration of consumption which explains why farmers thought it worthwhile to specialize in the production of good-quality food for the London market. London demand was well satisfied by this supply and middle-class Londoners ate well for their four or five shillings a week.
Most people had three meals a day—breakfast, dinner and supper—but nearly all the eating was done at dinner. Breakfast might consist of beer or boiled milk, some bread, perhaps a bowl of porridge, although there were changes from the 1690s with the introduction of hot drinks into the home. Chocolate was an early favourite as a nourishing breakfast drink, and coffee had its devotees, but it was tea which was to conquer from Queen Anne's reign onwards. By the end of our period, the breakfast of toast and rolls and tea which James Boswell used to have in the 1760s would have been normal for a middling family. Supper, too, was usually a light meal made up of such items as bread and cheese, cake, apple pie or jelly,
but it could be much more substantial. Supper parties were quite popular and, although rarely as massive in content as dinner parties, their menus covered the whole range of foodstuffs which will be considered later. Supper was also a meal where one might have something fairly unusual or expensive, such as pheasant and woodcock, chicken with the first asparagus or lobster. However this was party fare, not everyday diet, and it was on their family dinners that middling householders laid out most of that one-third or more of their total expenditure which went on food and drink. Dinner had once been a meal eaten by all classes at noon, but our period sees the beginnings of those class distinctions in meal-times which have survived to confuse the unwary to this day. Workmen continued to dine at noon, but middling people began to eat an hour or so later and the upper class later still, perhaps as late as three or four o'clock, a change in habit which tended to make supper an even lighter meal but encouraged investment in a rather heavier breakfast.
Misson provides a good description of what middling Londoners ate at dinner. 'Among the middling sort of people they have ten or twelve sorts of common meats, which infallibly take their turns at their tables, and two dishes are their dinners: a pudding, for instance, and a piece of roast beef; another time they will have a piece of boil'd beef, and then they salt it some days before hand, and besiege it with five or six heaps of cabbage, carrots, turnips, or some other herbs or roots, well pepper'd and salted, and swimming in butter: a leg of roast or boil'd mutton dish'd up with the same dainties, fowls, pigs, ox tripes, and tongues, rabbits, pidgeons, all well moisten'd with butter, without larding: Two of these dishes, always serv'd up one after the other, make the usual dinner of a substantial gentleman or wealthy citizen.'
A few comments can be made on this interesting description. First and most obvious is the emphasis on meat, a fact of English life which impressed most foreign observers. The number of days on which one ate meat was an index of one's status in the world and about four or five days a week was probably about average for the middle station. What is perhaps more surprising is Misson's comment on the quantity of vegetables served with the meat, since some historians believe that vegetables were only rarely eaten. There was certainly a
medical prejudice against them and, except when people mention the first peas, beans or asparagus of the season, one finds few references to vegetables in casual comments on food. Circumstantial evidence, however, suggests that Misson was right. Contemporary cookery books provide for a wide variety of vegetables, as a separate dish, as a salad, dished up with meat or used in a soup or stew. Even more suggestive are the data on market gardening in the London area, one estimate being that the area of garden ground expanded more than tenfold between 1660 and 1720. Virtually the whole range of modern northern European fruit and vegetables was grown, though two vegetables which are the mainstay of modern cookery had no place in Augustan cuisine. The tomato was widely used in the Mediterranean but, in England, the knowledge that it belonged to the same family as the deadly nightshade was sufficient to damn it and it was hardly eaten at all. The potato, too, faced almost total prejudice in southern England till late in the eighteenth century and bread still provided the bulk in middle-class meals, though not very much of it according to Misson. 'I have known several people in England that never eat any bread, and universally they eat very little: they nibble a few crumbs, while they chew the meat by whole mouthfuls.'
Medical prejudice also seems to have had little effect on the consumption of uncooked fruit. The quality, quantity and variety of domestic fruit were all much improved in the seventeenth century, many exotic varieties being grown under glass, and people were quite prepared to defy the doctors and sample the treats available. Jonathan Swift reflects both the English ambivalence to fruit and the variety available in a letter to Stella: 'The grapes are sad things; but the peaches are pretty good, and there are some figs. I sometimes venture to eat one, but always repent it.' However, such worries seem to have lessened with time. Dudley Ryder treated his brother and sister at one of the fruit shops in Stocks Market—'it cost me 2s.'—while Vanderlint allowed 2S. a week each to the mistress of his middling household and her four children to 'buy fruit and toys'. Growing seasons were short and much fruit was preserved, to be eaten candied or to find its way into the many sweet-sour recipes which were so popular, while dried fruit was imported from the
Mediterranean—prunes and figs and astonishing quantities of currants and raisins, which arrived in whole fleets to catch the Christmas demand for puddings and pies. This was also the time for the arrival of oranges and lemons, nearly eleven million a year by the late seventeenth century, expensive luxuries which were confined to the middle and upper classes.
One striking feature of English cuisine was the very liberal use of butter in cooking. Misson noted that the vegetables were 'swimming in butter' and that the meat dishes were 'well moisten'd with butter', while Constance Wilson writes that our period was 'the golden age of butter in English cookery'. This would have been very salt butter, which was rarely eaten with bread by the wealthy, who preferred cheese or cream. However, what was really idiosyncratic about English cookery were the puddings, which became a central element in the English diet in the course of the seventeenth century. Puddings came in all guises, packed with different combinations of meat and vegetables and especially dried fruit; this is the description by Misson, who positively drools over the English national dish:
'The Pudding is a dish very difficult to be describ'd, because of the several sorts there are of it; flower, milk, eggs, butter, sugar, suet, marrow, raisins, etc., etc., are the most common ingredients of a pudding. They bake them in an oven, they boil them with meat, they make them fifty several ways: Blessed be he that invented pudding, for it is a manna that hits the palates of all sorts of people: a manna better than that of the wilderness, because the people are never weary of it. Ah, what an excellent thing is an English Pudding! To come in Pudding time, is as much as to say, to come in the most lucky moment in the world.'
As has been seen, the usual dinner of the middling family was two dishes, 'serv'd up one after the other'. The normal practice when giving a dinner party would be still to have just the two courses but to serve up several dishes at each course. A cookery book of 1729 suggests the following menu for a winter dinner party: for the first course, gravy soup later replaced by a dish of chicken and bacon, also 'Scotch collops, giblet pie, a fine boil'd pudding, roast beef with horse-radish and pickles round'; for the second course,'a turkey roasted, three woodcocks with toasts, a tansey and garnish with orange,
a hare with a savary pudding, a butter'd apple pie hot'. This huge feast is not merely cookery-book fantasy, as can be seen from Samuel Pepys's Diary. On 26 January 1660, for instance, when he was in his mid-twenties, employed only one maid and was worth only a few hundred pounds, his wife produced the following 'very fine dinner' for a company of twelve: 'A dish of marrow-bones. A leg of mutton. A loin of veal. A dish of fowl, three pullets and two dozen of larks all in a dish. A great tart. A neat's tongue. A dish of anchoves. A dish of prawns; and cheese.'
Pepys has a number of interesting references to food, but he did not record what he ate every day and one can easily get the wrong impression about eating habits from his diary since it was the unusual that was likely to catch his attention. Very few diarists had such an interest in their stomachs as to allow it to be determined what they ate on a regular basis. One exception was William Byrd the Younger, who wrote down almost every day the main dish that he had for his dinner and also noted what he ate for supper, if anything. One can hardly pretend that Byrd is a typical middle-class Londoner, for, although he was the grandson of a London goldsmith, he was a gentleman from Virginia and lived the life of a gentleman while in London. Nevertheless, what he ate at dinner, as shown in Tables 10.3 and 10.4 (pp. 277 and 278), demonstrates what was available for those with few worries about the cost of their food.
As one would expect, Byrd ate a lot of meat, this providing his main dinner dish on almost exactly half the days in 1718, while he ate various types of fowl on another fifty-four days. However, what is striking is the wide variety of meat and fowl available and the fact that it seems to have been available most of the time. For example, Byrd was able to eat fresh roast beef or beef-steak in every month of the year, indicating that the farmers had largely solved the winter feeding problem, though one can still see a peak of beef eating in the traditional killing months at the end of the year and of mutton in January and February. One should note, too, that Byrd usually ate his meat dressed in the plain English fashion. French cuisine and, to a lesser extent, Spanish were becoming quite popular and one finds constant references to fricassees, ragouts, olios and other
dishes with rich sauces, but few Londoners would have eaten these on a regular basis.
When not eating meat, Byrd ate an astonishing amount of battered (i.e. scrambled) eggs, which provided his dinner on no less than eighty days, nearly always in his lodgings; a quick and nourishing meal for a gentleman, who often only ate at home when everyone on whom he called was out. This emphasis on eggs is not found in any other source, though they were certainly eaten widely and in many forms, various types of tansy (omelette not necessarily flavoured with tansy) being particularly popular.
Byrd also ate fish nearly once a week, probably more than most Londoners, since fish was 'dearer than any other belly-timber'. However, for those who could afford it, there was a wide variety available and, although Byrd rarely specifies his fish, there are several traditional fish meals in his diet sheet. Londoners tended to turn up their noses at the salt cod of Catholic days, which, as bacalhau or baccalà, was and is a staple of diet in southern Europe, but salt-cod boats still used to arrive during Lent and it was in March and April that
Byrd ate his salt fish. The next excitement in the fish calendar would be the arrival of the mackerel shoals, the first mackerel in late April or May often being noted by contemporary writers. Herrings provided another delicacy in September, to be eaten fresh or pickled in brine. This was also the time when 'damsels first renew their oyster cries', our forefathers like us only eating oysters when there was an R in the month, though Pepys once jumped the gun and had some on the last day of August, 'some pretty good oysters, which is very soon, and the soonest I think I ever eat any'. Oysters were cheap and vast amounts were consumed by both rich and poor, sold by the wheelbarrowmen or delivered in barrels to the homes of the middle station in barrels—'Colchester Oysters may be supplied for this season with the largest pick't fat and green for 3s. a barrel.'
The four or five shillings per head spent on food and drink by middling Londoners includes money spent on servants and apprentices as well as on the master and mistress and their children. Servants would not of course have enjoyed the magnificent spreads described above. Nevertheless, it seems probable that they ate very well in middling households, much better than they would ever have eaten with their families before going into service. It is striking that, amongst the large number of complaints about masters in the records of the Mayor's Court, complaints about poor-quality or insufficient food are surprisingly few and far between.
All the same, there were complaints and one of them is quoted here at some length since it throws some light on what was expected. 'The defendant [a merchant] and his wife . . . did usually feed very high of ye best sorts of food but as to his servants he kept an extraordinary bad house, for ye servants did very rarely eat of any of the meat which the defendant and his wife feed on but what was left at their table above stares was generally locked up and very seldom (only some few scraps) brought downe to the servants. And the food wherewith the servants were generally fed was very coarse stale mouldy bread and ranck salt butter together with some porrage made of the meat that the defendant and his wife eat abovestares and scraps of fish and sometimes dumplings very dry and with very little of any suet or other ingredients in them. And if it chanced the
servants had any of the meat it was often stale and corrupt and soe stinking that they could scarcely eat it but yet were forced to eate it for mere necessity. . . . And ye bread and butter and also if there were at any time any chees (which was very seldom and but ordinary) it was imediately so soon as they had dyned constantly locked up so that the servants could not come at it. The said servants very seldome had any breakfasts or suppers allowed them and, if they had, it was of such ill food as they were not able to eate to any content . . . All the victuals were constantly lockd up and the beere kept above stares.' Whether it was true or not, one can see from this evidence that servants ate separately from the master, but expected very much the same food sent down to them. They expected, too, to get three meals a day and plenty of it, and, on top of this, they felt that bread and cheese should be kept unlocked in the kitchen and beer in the cellar, not above stairs, so that they could help themselves whenever they pleased.
Beer was the main drink and houses frequently did their own brewing, many inventories listing 'beere stillings' and 'beere stands' as well as the occasional parcel of malt. Wine was also drunk quite often at home, but nothing has been found like the huge personal wine cellar which Pepys had accumulated by July 1665: 'at this time I have two tierces of claret—two quarter-cask of canary, and a smaller vessel of sack—a vessel of tint, another of Malaga, and another of white wine, all in my wine-cellar together—which I believe none of my friends now alive ever had of his own at one time.' Hardly any of our inventories list any stocks of wine at all, though many houses had large quantities of glass bottles which may well have been taken to the tavern to be filled up.
It seems reasonable to conclude that, despite occasional complaints and meanness, the men and women of the middle station and their servants ate and drank well. Just how well can be seen by comparing Vanderlint's breakdown of expenditure on food and drink 'of a labouring man and his family in London' with his estimate 'of the necessary charge of a family in the middling station of life'. This is shown in Table 10.5 opposite, where Vanderlint's figures for 1734 are also compared with Gregory King's estimate of English expenditure in the
1690s. The results give some idea of what it meant to belong to the meat and butter eating and tea drinking classes.