A day in the life of a Regency house

Hanging utensils

Squashing strawberries through a sieve in a historic kitchen in Cornwall changed me. Ever since that sunny morning I’ve been intrigued by the idea of space influencing taste.

  • Does cake taste better eaten from a plate and sipped with tea in the housekeeper’s room? 
  • Would the taste of ham improve if it was hacked off roughly from a joint strung up in an old larder? 
  • And would the taste of a small glass of port improve if you were huddled around a candle drinking it from inside an old wine cellar?

The 1830s Regency kitchen is where I work and from where I write this. It influences what I cook. But outside of the kitchen. What about the other spaces around me in that house. Could food be a way of bringing these spaces back to life?

Could I add time to this experiment? A cup of hot chocolate in the morning room in the morning? Afternoon tea in a housekeeper’s room?

So I dreamt up three different times when food could be eaten; Breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea. And thee corresponding spaces where food could be consumed. A morning room, a servants’ hall and a housekeeper’s room. 

Below are my fantasy locations and my fantasy foods. Indulge yourself on a culinary tour of a Regency Town House in the 1830s.

Sally Lunn Tea Cakes eaten for breakfast with hot chocolate in the morning room

Breakfast in the 1830s was coffee, tea or chocolate with rusks or cakes or simple bath buns. The dining room is at the front of the house is cold in the morning so the smaller and warmer parlour seems the ideal spot to breakfast. The sun enters the room at nine and by ten the room has warmed up.

Maria Rundell, called cocoa “a light and wholesome breakfast.”  She offered a recipe for a chocolate syrup that could be prepared in advance and added to hot milk when one was ready to consume it.

Cut a cake of chocolate in very small bits; put a pint of water into the pot, and when it boils, put in the above; mill it off the fire until quite melted, then on a gentle fire till it boil; pour it into a basin, and it will keep in a cool place eight or ten days, or more. When wanted, put a spoonful or two into milk, boil it with sugar, and mill it well.

Maria Rundell, 1814 A New System of Domestic Cookery

Spiced Marrow Tart and Punch for the Chamber-maids at dinner time in the Servants’ Hall

Lighting candles for dinner

The servants’ hall is a cooler space. Cold flagstones on the floor. The servants would have eaten around a long table. After the soup the housekeeper, butler and cook would have retired to the housekeeper’s room leaving the junior servants alone to their food.

Towards the end of the century [1790s], dinner drifted back to 2 or 3 pm. I like to imagine that would have eaten Spiced Marrow Tart with, as a treat, Punch for the Chamber-Maids.

Spiced Marrow Tart

Take marrow, spinage, hard eggs, of each a handful, cloves, mace, nutmeg, lemon-peel shred very fine; then put in as many Currans as you think fit, with raisins stoned, and shred, candied orange and citron peel; sweeten it to your taste; make puff-paste, and make them into square pasties; bake or fry them.

Henry Howard, 1703. “England’s Newest Way in Cookery’.

Punch for the Chamber-Maids

Take a Quart of Water, a quarter of a Pint of Lime-juice; squeeze in also the Juice of a Sevil Orange and a Lemon; put in six ounces of fine Sugar; strain all through a Strainer, three times till it is very clear; then put in a Pint of Brandy, and a half a Pint of White-wine.

John Nott. 1723. ‘The Cook and Confectioner’s Dictionary’

Servants, and indeed Chamber Maids, were often given alcoholic drinks as part of their wages. Weak beer was usual though a Punch would have been given on special occasions such as Christmas. It wasn’t just generosity from employers, many believed drink made servants work harder.

Naples Biskets eaten with tea, in the afternoon, around the housekeeper’s table

Tea setting

The eighteenth century created ‘afternoon tea’. The thin bread and butter served with tea is still a symbol of English drawing rooms.

An elegant room at the front of the basement is our final location. Picture yourself entering the middle class world of the housekeeper. Her room is decorated more expensively than the servants’ hall to demonstrate her position and authority within the servant hierarchy. The woodwork is expensively wood grained, there is a large rug covering the floor. We gather round a table laid up for tea.

Take a pound of fine flour, eight Eggs, a pound of Double refined loaf Sugar, and two Spoonfulls of Damask Rose-water, and an ounce of Carraway Seeds well beaten; let these be mitt well together, and made into a fit thickness with fair water, then put them into tin pans; let them be bak’d in a gentle Oven Glazing them over with Water in which Sugar has been dissolv’d.

John Nott. 1723. ‘The Cook and Confectioner’s Dictionary’

My imaginings about food and space have only just begun. Perhaps you can picture how the cold flagstone floor feels against your feet as you munch a marrow tart? Or feel the brush of a tablecloth against your knees as you sip tea and sample Naple’s Biskets? Will I have to leave that to your imagination?

Housekeeper's room set for a meal