SAVORY SUPPERS AND FASHIONABLE FEASTS: Dining in Victorian America by Susan Williams


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The title promises a tasty little morsel of Victoriana and gustatorial trivia. But Williams takes her material seriously and serves up a ten-course treatise on not only what Americans ate and drank in the second half of the 19th century, but also their table manners, table decor and dining-room layouts. A lot of information is crammed into these pages, but little sticks to the mental ribs. Few would care that our progenitors frequently ""kept a sofa or even a piano in their dining room"" or that members of wealthy households, with many servants, took their meals whenever they wished. Williams' writing style is frequently indigestible: ""The highly refined manners, tools, and environment of late-nineteenth-century dining provided structure and definition for an age-old--indeed primal--social activity among animals--eating food."" But a few tidbits are worth remembering. The first American cannery (1823) put up lobster meat, salmon and oysters. Later, canned sardines were considered a delicacy. Until 1850, Williams says, men did the food shopping at open-air markets. Thereafter it became women's work, partly because small groceries and specialty food stores prolifierated in the wake of increased production of canned and other commercially prepared foods. The old-time recipes for such things as spruce beer, graham gems, pickled eggs, mock turtle soup, and potted pigeons are fun to read--although they will hardly send anyone rushing to the kitchen to concoct them. Also a plus: 130 black-and-white photographs and engravings of dining rooms, kitchens and related paraphernalia that cluttered up Victorian lives.

Pub Date: Nov. 15th, 1985
ISBN: 0870499122
Publisher: Pantheon