The Air at the Top of the Bottle

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Dinner in 18th Century England

February 16th, 2015 · No Comments

Guillaume Apollinaire, in his preface to a French edition of Fanny Hill, offered a look at dinner in that period. He may have paraphrased it from the book (I never read it); at any rate, here it is, in my translation.

Here is a description of a fine English dinner in the month of June.

A meal of this kind generally lasted more than four hours, and the diners were usually silent.

For the first course, the round table was laden one one side with a roast ham, resting sluggishly on a bed of fava beans. An enormous roast beef was on the other side. A plate of cauliflower adorned the middle of the table, flanked by two saucers, one with butter, and the other with a sauce of ginger and other spices. In a pot was found an undercooked stew, and, in front of it, a platter covered with chickens drowning in butter.

Then, a fat goose was served, followed by a turtle, peas without sauce, boiled in water to preserve their green color, and a sort of crunchy tart stuffed with gooseberries.

The guests had before them tumblers for the common wine, silver pots for beer, a plate, an iron fork with two tines, and a saberlike knife, rounded on one end to use as a spoon. Napkins were unknown.

After the second course, the tablecloth was removed, and dessert was served: strawberries, melon, cheese, and five or six kinds of wine. French glasses were brought, and toasts were raised, beginning with the health of the King. They continued with the health of the ladies.

Then punch was served, followed by tea and coffee, with bread and butter.

In one corner of the room was the pisspot, where everyone relieved himself without shame, and as the windows were usually kept closed, the fumes of the urine, mixing with the fumes of the liquor and wine, made the atmosphere unbreathable for any but the English.

(Posted by Doug Skinner)

Tags: Books · Dietary Mores

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