Right now I am reading all of the Jane Austen books, I’ve never read any of them before and since they are classic novels I thought: Now is the time to read them all.
I’m starting with Emma just because I loved the movie ‘Clueless’ which was based off this novel.
While reading the book it became clear that eating healthy wholesome food was just as much a concern to people then as it is now.
In chapter 3 Mr. Woodhouse is hosting a dinner with friends at his house, he’s being very generous and offering all of his food to people. He makes mention to certain people of certain items he thinks they will particularly enjoy. Austen then has him say that he is trying to offer them everything and would love to keep offering them food and drink but fears for their health, so he decides not to offer them too much. While offering the food though he says one thing that got me thinking:
"You need not be afraid of unwholesome preserves here"
Is this Jane Austen cautioning us about unwholesome preserved foods through the words of Mr. Woodhouse?
I know kitchens back then weren’t what they are now, but still their preservatives could not be as bad as the chemical laced preservatives that are on our food on. When was this book written anyways?!
Turns out this book was written in 1814 and published in 1815- this is the Georgian Era. I decided to do more research into the food, eating habits and preservatives methods of the Georgian era.
It seems at this time agriculture was just becoming more popular, people were starting to grow their own food if they had large estates. Not only that, but there was no such thing as a fridge so preserving was something that a lot of people were doing.
Ice houses were becoming popular. These were outdoor structures in the gardens of large houses that were packed with ice. They provided a basic means of refrigeration. But more popular was preserving your food by methods like marinading, slating, smoking, potting and pickling. Another method method of preserving meat that became popular and would ad to your waist line was sugaring your meat.
For all but the very poor, meals were better and more wholesome than they had been in Stuart times, but more people could now afford sugar because of the slavery involved in making it, it was widely spread and cheap. Sugar became one of the most important imports, it was used for cooking but also for preserving meat as mentioned before. Potted meat preserved in sugar was among the most popular dishes.
Despite the smaller portions a lot of wealthy people of the Gerogian era found it difficult to keep their weight down.
Can you believe that preservatives and excess sugar have been a concern for people this long? 1814….. just think about how long it’s been that people like you, me, Tosca Reno and apparently Jane Austen have been trying to spread the word. I mean it’s never too late so we should all keep trying, and Austen’s warning will live on forever in her book, but I just found that shocking.
Notes taken from: http://cookit.e2bn.org/historycookbook/34-344-georgians-regency-Food-facts.html