The Golden Age ushered in an era of decadent eating. The top tier of Edwardians ate well, and ate often, frequently housing four large elaborate meals a day that went on for a long time—supper could include twelve courses. Of course, all of this was washed down with lashings of champagne, wine, liqueurs, and punch. As well as tasty, the food had to look amazing. Menus might include pheasants in their tail feathers, a glazed boar’s head holding an apple in its mouth, or tiny fish “swimming” in a gelatin dish called aspic. The dessert trays were filled with beautiful fancies such as candied fruit, cream gateaux, marzipan petits fours, and elaborate jellies (gelatin dessert) formed in copper molds that when turned out formed small castles of layered colors.
How did women manage to eat that rich food while strapped into tight, tight corsets? Ladies would daintily nibble at their food, certainly never tucking in with gusto. Men, on the other hand, went for it. King Edward loved a big meal and earned himself the nickname King Tum-Tum for his rather portly appearance.
And what about the less well-healed? What did they eat? A lot of starch—mainly bread, potatoes, and porridge. Sugar had become inexpensive and so jam was part of that menu, too. Cheap cuts of meat would grace the table on Sundays and special occasions. The grease would be saved and spread over bread for a meal called “bread and dripping.”
Check out Edwardian Supersize Me, a fabulous (and funny) BBC program about the Edwardian era and their dining habits.
If you’re interested in taking a stab at creating your own Edwardian style “jelly,” try the below recipe from the book MANOR HOUSE: Life in an Edwardian Country House by Juliet Gardiner (Bay Books, 2003). You can take a shortcut and use boxed flavored Jell-O or unflavored gelatin, such as Knox, instead of powdered gelatin.
Fruit and Wine Syrup
1 pint (450 ml) water
1lb 4 oz (550g) granulated sugar or loaf sugar
½ lemon and ½ orange
2 star anis
20 coriander seeds
2 sprigs of mint and a sprig of thyme or lavender
1/2 vanilla pod
½ cinnamon stick
1 pint (450ml) dry white wine
Put the water and sugar in a pan, slice the lemon and orange thinly and add to the water with the remaining ingredients (except the wine). Bring to the boil, turn down the heat and allow to simmer for about 20 minutes. Add the wine and bring back to simmering point for a further 5 minutes, before removing from the heat. Leave to cool while the flavors infuse. Strain the syrup through a fine sieve.
Pineapple and Mint Jelly
½ peeled ripe pineapple
About 15 mint leaves
1 pint (450ml) cold water
¼ pint (125ml) of the fruit and wine syrup
1/2oz (10g) powdered gelatin
A little crystallized ginger, finely chopped
Green food coloring
Peppermint food flavoring
Cut the pineapple into cubes, and place them in a saucepan with the mint leaves and cold water. Heat this, and simmer for about 10 minutes. Then add the syrup, and simmer for a further 10 minutes.
Leave it to cool and infuse before straining. Add the gelatin to the strained mixture, whisking as you do so. Put the pan on a moderate heat to dissolve the gelatin, carrying on whisking gently. Remove the pan from the heat when it reaches simmering point. If you’re going to use boxed gelatin, follow the directions on the box using the strained mixture instead of plain water.
To make a layered jelly, pour the mixture into two separate bowls; add the crystallized ginger to one, and a few drops of the green food coloring and peppermint food flavoring to the other. [If you’re using flavored Jell-O, omit this flavoring/coloring step.]
Pour a layer of one colored jelly in the bottom of a copper or china jelly mold, which has been rinsed in cold water. Wait until it has just set and pour on a second layer of the contrasting jelly. Continue with alternate layers until the mold is full. Put into the fridge to set completely.
Turn out on a pretty plate and surround with sliced fruit and mint leaves.
Sharon Biggs Waller is the author of A MAD, WICKED FOLLY, an Edwardian-era novel about a young artist finding her own way during the time of militant suffragettes (Viking/Penguin, Winter 2014). You can find her at www.sharonbiggswaller.com or on Twitter @sbiggswaller.