Monday, October 11, 2021

Georgian Era Dining and Etiquette

Dinnertime for the elite became later and later, and in contrast to the meagre breakfast, a formal dinner could be a dazzling array of food.

In Georgian times lunch hardly existed, although for those who breakfasted early, a small snack might be eaten. In towns many shops sold pies and pastries, while street sellers offered shellfish and other ready-to-eat items. Dinner was the main meal, eaten at any time in the afternoon between two and five o'clock. The timing of dinner was related to the hours of daylight, since the cooks needed to work in daylight, especially for formal dinners with guests where preparations could take hours. 

Dinnertime for the elite became later and later, and in contrast to the meagre breakfast, a formal dinner could be a dazzling array of food. The first course, served on the table all at once, had numerous dishes, and was followed by a second course with a smaller selection of meats and fish, along with savoury and sweet items. Finally, a selection of nuts, sweetmeats and occasionally fruit constituted the dessert course, at which point the servants withdrew.

When Woodforde entertained Squire Custance and other guests, he did his best to provide a suitable feast: ‘I gave them for dinner, a couple of chicken boiled and a tongue, a leg of mutton boiled and capers, and batter pudding for the first course. Second, a couple of ducks rosted and green peas, some artichokes, tarts and blamange. After dinner, almonds and raisins, oranges and strawberries. Mountain and port wines.’ Even in more modest households, the hostess rose after the dessert course when guests were present and led the ladies to the drawing room, leaving the men to their own conversation for a while before they rejoined the ladies for tea or coffee.

An everyday family dinner was more restrained, and Woodforde routinely recorded meals such as ‘Dinner calfs feet stewed, hash mutton & etc…’ or ‘Dinner to day hashed calfs head and a loin of lamb rosted with stewed gooseberrries.’ For better-off people like Woodforde, even mundane dinners could be lengthy affairs, but most working people had no more than an hour's break for dinner, before continuing with their labours. Supper was the day’s final meal and was usually something insubstantial.

Table manners were of importance to the higher classes, although the poorest were more concerned with survival than etiquette. In a book on manners, the Reverend John Trusler warned how to avoid appearing low class or impolite: ‘Eating quick, or very slow, at meals, is characteristic of the vulgar; the first infers poverty, that you have not had a good meal for some time; the last, if abroad [dining out], that that you dislike entertainment: if at home [and eating slowly], that you are rude enough to set before your friends what you cannot eat yourself.’ From “Jane Austen’s England,” by Roy and Leslie Adkins

Etiquette Enthusiast, Maura J. Graber, is the Site Editor for the Etiquipedia© Etiquette Encyclopedia

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