If people were transported back to a kitchen from the 1830s, what would be the most obvious differences? Paul Couchman, The Regency Chef, has the answer.
Paul Couchman: If we could all go back in time If you went through the kitchen door, I imagine you’d be hit by the heat. Because what you’ve got is a big old range that used to use and a big sort of cast iron heated box, really, and they’d glow and they’d burn Argas so it would have been absolute boiling hot. So that’s the first thing you notice is the great big old range.
On the other side, they would have had a massive dresser. So that’s why we’ve addressed this now, but we bake really full of storage. Big kitchen table. You can imagine a big wooden kitchen table in the middle, and then all of these people that would have been there. So there would have been probably about four or five, manly women actually, in the kitchen all working together.
And the kitchen itself is very labour intensive. So there’s none of the devices we have now, obviously. So you have to grind things. You have to chop things very small. You have to push things on through a sieve, so you can imagine all that activity going on. And then if you look above you in this space of the kitchen, you’ve got a skylight which would allow ventilation and sun light.
It’s beautiful, the light that comes in from above and you’d see a beautiful tiled floor as well. They were big spaces because it needs to fit all these people in, so our modern day kitchen is a lot smaller as we don’t need that space. We have a lot more gadgets.
Hazel Baker: What were some of the most expensive ingredients that would have been used in a Regency kitchen?
Paul Couchman: A few of them we know now as expensive. Cause I was looking for this recipes for saffron buns. Saffron is the most expensive spice, probably the same price they say of gold.
And in this period that we were, it was actually manufactured where you probably know, or may, which will grow naturally. You would get saffron for Saffron Walden and in Cornwall as well.
Hazel Baker: And also Saffron Hill in Clerkenwell, that’s how it got its name. Hard to imagine that now it’s in zone one.
Paul Couchman: So, yeah, incredibly expensive, but they did use it a lot. And I suppose it’s necessarily the ingredient is it it’s the amount of time it takes to, to prepare the food.
Hazel Baker: So manual labour, that’s got to be one of the big expenses, hasn’t it?
Paul Couchman: Yeah, of course. Because if you think about it and this, this is always what I love about it. If you think about anything that’s processed or mashed at this point, you’re now, like baby food or any puree’d food. That would have taken absolutely ages to make. And so had the highest status. So if you had to a puree on your table, in this period in 1830s, people would know instinctively that it was full of kitchen maids, probably spending a few hours, pushing that through a fine sieve to get to that texture. Whereas now we have a machine that can do that in seconds. And so we don’t see that as high status.
So things like jelly and ice cream, which is mass produced stuff now, but that would have been actually made in-house. It would have taken someone days to make. You needed to start with extracting the gelatine from the cows feet, things like that, all of those processes. Now we buy jelly in a packet. It’s just very different.
Hazel Baker: And so we think of jelly is cheap food and they thought jelly is as high stakes food. It’s amazing. Isn’t it? So I’m just thinking 1980s, when I was growing up, if you went to a kid’s party, you’d get jelly and ice cream, expensive things in the Regency period.
Paul Couchman: Yeah. Two high status.
You can learn more about Regency food, flavours, and fashion in our London History Podcast Episode 55: The Regency Cook.
Hazel Baker is an award-winning London Tour Guide and qualified CIGA guide who delivers guided walks and private tours in London. View all of Hazel’s walking tours.