Thursday, 12 August 2010

Eating Like An Edwardian

A variety of influences have converged to create the impetus for this blog, general musings, and cookery experiment. One never knows from where such ideas filter, sorting random memories and images into some clear and definitive idea that calls out to be performed. Where did my notions of Edwardian food come from? They are, partially, from actual dining experiences that hearkened back to the period, such as Simpson's in the Strand, or even imaging a legendary restaurant I have not actually dined at, Rules of Covent Garden. Both, as their names suggest, evoke a strong sense of place. And even if the meals I have enjoyed in such milieux have not been, strictly speaking, Edwardian, they evoke feelings that are at once familiar and comforting, yet at the same time entirely distant from our contemporary relationship to food and dining. They form, for someone like myself, the "normal," the solid ideal to which all meals are measured.

I had also read, some time ago, in The Times of London and one or two other British publications, about contemporary food critics attempting to follow an Edwardian diet for the space of a week or so. Anything further might well endanger our modern stomachs, used to lighter and more varied fare, and certainly not adapted to the 5000+ calories that an Edwardian gentleman might well pack in during the course of an average day (much of which was from red meat and offal -- when washed down with large quantities of claret, port, and sherry, highly likely to bring on that most Edwardian of ailments: gout). I recently also watched the entire run of the excellent British television series "The Supersizers," with food critic Giles Coren and comedian Sue Perkins. The excellent initial episode, on the Edwardian period, particularly excited me.


The Edwardian era (1901-1910), was named after the reign of Edward VII, who finally ascended the throne in his early sixties after the death of his mother, Queen Victoria. The new King, not the most abstentious of men in any area, and especially when it came to feasting, was integrally associated with this lavish era of country house parties, grand state occasions, and the epitome of the British Empire. The brutal curtailment of these halcyon days (halcyon for some, in any case) by the First World War only served to heighten the nostalgia for a supposed golden age of fun, grandeur, but also "innocence" of a sort.

My original idea with this blog was, in essence, to attempt a version of the experiments to eat like an Edwardian. Not necessarily to go whole-hog (no pun intended) for the full 5000 calories, but to approximate this regime. But such is both an overly demanding task and, I realized, only a minor part of reconsidering food -- both as a historian and someone who intensely enjoys the act of both cooking and eating. It is the "nostalgia" for the Edwardian era that will inform my investigations into both past and present ideas about diet, eating, and why it is such a fraught, moral, and even political activity. But it is also an intensely individual and emotional activity -- as the recent trend for (often processed and expensive) "comfort food" demonstrates. Many of those nostalgic foods in unconscious ways remind us of childhood and home. They are foods that evoke some sense of permanence, of substance -- marmalade on toast, a side of beef, a warm casserole browned on the top with melted cheese, a pudding with custard.

And, yes, I will eat a lot along the way.

Why do I want to eat like an Edwardian? Perhaps it is a way in which to be an anglophile and incurable nostalgist. It is also likely a function of my contrarian nature, a wish to rebel against the terribly tiresome contemporary obsession and religion of health and wellness. A desire to be unashamed of good food, including cream, butter and 5-egg yolk custards. Perhaps I cannot countenance the idea of any more "fusion cuisine" or restaurants with "concepts" that need condescending explanation by the waiters. Or maybe it is just because it seems like it might be rather fun, which is above all what I hope it may be to any readers willing to give it a go.

Read more reflections on history, idleness, and the art of living from the Idle Historian in To The Idler The Spoils 

6 comments:

shawn.day said...

Absolutely brilliant. Tally ho, yoiks, yolks and do let the culinary adventure begin.

IdleHistorian said...

Thanks ever so much. I am looking forward to it greatly.

Anonymous said...

I'm looking forward to your commentary and observations!

Lord Cowell said...

I liked the episode so much that I have since digested the entire series with much gluttony and relish. Thanks ever so for bringing it to our attention.
David.

IdleHistorian said...

Thank you for your comment, Lord Cowell. It is indeed a wonderful series. Glad that you enjoyed it. I understand that Giles and Sue have some other productions afoot. One, I have heard, about the royals in preparation for the upcoming royal nuptials.

Anonymous said...

I'm doing research for a novel I'm writing set in the Edwardian era and just happened to stumble upon your blog. Curiosity got the best of me and I found the entire show on YouTube and watched it. Fascinating stuff! We think that our times are the only ones where food is in excess but we have nothing on the Edwardians...

At some point, the guy says that the average age of death for an Edwardian male was 42. It's no wonder...

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