One of the things I find most delightful about history is that, while the people of the past wore funny clothes and sometimes thought about the world in a startlingly different way, many things remain the same. I like a drink, and it gives me warm and fluffy feelings to think that British people 200-ish years ago also liked a drink. Or several. Like all aspects of Victorian culture, drinking was strictly segregated on class and gender lines, partly on account of the expense of booze, partly through custom and preference. Working class boozers Working class men and women partook of two beverages: beer and gin. Wines and other drinks were not widely available and were out of their price-range, as they were imported. Beer has been brewed in Britain for centuries, and until recent times formed a vital part of the British diet. It really was a staple food. Water was unsafe to drink, especially in towns, giving people everything from an upset stomach to cholera. Since water could be deadly, everyone drank beer. This was brewed at home, by women, or in small breweries. Even as a commercial concern, brewing was traditionally one of the few professions open to women. Typical beer had a low alcohol content – maybe 2 percent – and was drunk all day long from breakfast to bed-time by men, women, children, babies, pregnant women, everyone. It was often thick and nourishing, filled with vitamins and minerals from the grains.
…Wrote Wallace Stevens, in 1923. It’s one of those notoriously difficult modernist poems, but all it really means is ‘don’t get all metaphysical now. Eat ice cream, because tomorrow you could be dead’. Seems like a good philosophy to me. Ice-cream is a sweet, delicious treat, perfect for cooling off on a hot summer’s day.
But who do we have to thank for first creating this amazing food? And who perfected it? Who made the greatest ever ice-cream in history? Who can we crown as the actual emperor of ice-cream?
The Victorians invented most of our most cherished Christmas traditions, but what was Christmas like for those excluded from these family-centred rituals, banished to workhouses, asylums and prisons? You can find out in my piece on Victorian Christmasses behind locked doors in Discover Your Ancestors magazine.
I love a mince pie, but they are a bit weird, aren’t they? I’ve often wondered just why we eat such strange things at Christmas – and now I’ve found out why!
Back in Ye Olde medieval times, everyone loved a pie. But I’m not talking about your regular pasty from Greggs. I’m talking about some serious pie-age. Meat pies could be stuffed with pretty much anything – beef, pork, game, poultry, offal, four and twenty blackbirds…. Pies were often very elaborate in appearance, designed to be the centrepieces of a banqueting table. Most were savoury, but some were seasoned with honey, or contained dried fruit, fresh fruit or Seville orange juice, for a sweet and sour taste. Meat is still often served with fruit – like cranberry sauce – so it’s not such an odd idea.
If you’re reading this, it can only mean one thing… YOU SURVIVED!!! The zombie apocalypse of drunken craziness that we call new year’s eve has passed, and you’ve crawled out from the fog of a terrible hangover, blinking into the light of this beautiful, brand-new year! Congratulations!
But before you put on the well-intentioned running-shoes of your short-lived new year’s resolution, why don’t you have a nice sit down and read about one of history’s strangest and most decadent New Year’s Eve parties? Continue reading