Edited Transcripts

Food! with Oriella Charik

Read the unedited, chatter-filled transcript here

Baron Klaus Wulfenbach: Welcome, everyone, to the February Aether Salon.
Baron Klaus Wulfenbach: Most of you know the rules already – remove lag-feeding items, bitte; the presentation is almost always in chat.
Baron Klaus Wulfenbach: Our speaker today has been a presenter many times previously, but I believe this is her first solo presentation. Lady Wizardess Oriella Charik is a member of Rosehaven’s Duchal Court of Trikassi, and a long-time friend of the Salon.
Baron Klaus Wulfenbach: Welcome back, Lady Oriella.
Oriella Charik: Thank you Baron, delighted


Food, glorious food!
Hot sausage and mustard!
While we’re in the mood
Cold jelly and custard!
Pease pudding and saveloys
What next is the question?
Rich gentlemen have it, boys
in digestion!

Oriella Charik: Like the orphans in Charles Dickens’ tale, we think about food a lot. Rather than enthrall you with recipes and tempt you with samples, I would like to narrow my discourse to the historical, in particular to 19th century England.
How was that food transported – and why don’t foreigners eat proper breakfasts?

In 1750 the population of England was around 6 million. This was not unprecedented; it had reached 4 million during the Roman Empire and 5 million before the Black Death.
But at these earlier points the population had ceased to grow, essentially because agriculture could not respond to the pressure of feeding extra people, and when plagues or climate change struck the population crashed. However, it grew to unprecedented levels after 1750 reaching 16.6 million in 1850

England’s Population

It has been argued that agrarian capitalism was a key factor in England. With those involved in agriculture divided into landowners, tenant farmers and labourers, everyone saw the advantages of better farm management and an efficient workforce.
Peasants were no longer left to their own devices and then expected to hand over any surplus food to their betters. ‘Downton Abbey’ viewers will be familiar with how this system worked.

Downton Abbey Pigs

It was already known that a crop could not be grown every year in the same field without the soil becoming exhausted. In medieval times fields were put to pasture or simply left fallow in alternate years.
This changed to ‘three field’ systems in which grain and legumes were grown. No one knew that the legumes (peas, beans, turnips and clover) were fixing nitrogen back into the soil, just that the method worked.


The final result was a complex four-field rotation system. Fallow land was down to about 20% of the arable area in England in 1700, by 1800 it had fallen to 4%.
Animal husbandry was also benefiting from innovation. In the mid-18th century two British agriculturalists, Robert Bakewell and Thomas Coke, introduced selective breeding as a scientific practice (mating together two animals with particularly desirable characteristics) and using inbreeding (the mating of close relatives) to stabilize certain qualities in order to reduce genetic diversity.
Bakewell’s most important breeding program was with sheep. Using native stock, he was able to quickly select for large, yet fine-boned sheep with long, lustrous wool. He was also the first to attempt breeding cattle to be used primarily for beef.
Previously, cattle were first and foremost kept for pulling plows as oxen or for dairy uses, with beef from surplus males as an additional bonus. As more and more farmers followed Bakewell’s lead, farm animals increased dramatically in size and quality.
But just as a sustainable agriculture had been achieved, the development of chemical fertilisers and other external inputs undermined this sustainability. An essentially organic agriculture was gradually replaced by a farming system that depended on energy-intensive inputs.
The Agricultural Revolution has been cited as a cause of the Industrial Revolution.

As enclosure deprived many of access to land or left farmers with plots too small and of poor quality, increasing numbers of workers had no choice but migrate to the city. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, however, rural flight occurred in mostly localized regions.
Pre-industrial societies did not experience large rural-urban migration flows, primarily due to the inability of cities to support large populations. Lack of large employment industries, high urban mortality and low food supplies all served as checks keeping pre-industrial cities much smaller than their modern counterparts.
While the improved agricultural productivity freed up workers to other sectors of the economy, it took decades of the Industrial Revolution and industrial development to trigger a truly mass rural-to-urban labour migration.
As food supplies increased and stabilized and industrialized centers moved into place, cities began to support larger populations, sparking the beginning of rural flight on a massive scale. In England, the proportion of the population living in cities jumped from 20% in 1801 to 72% in 1891.

Urban Populations

As the graph shows, England was the first to urbanise and maintained its lead in Europe.
A major problem for cities was the transport of food in bulk. Food in earlier times was of necessity local. The exception to this was transport by water, Rome had famously depended on grain shipments from Egypt. Cities without access to the sea or navigable rivers remained small.

Roman Grain Ship

The solution was provided by another revolution – Industry!
By the 19th century, marketing was nationwide and the vast majority of agricultural production was for market rather than for the farmer and his family. The 16th-century market radius was about 10 miles, which could support a town of 10,000.
High wagon transportation costs made it uneconomical to ship commodities very far outside the market radius by road, generally limiting shipment to less than 20 or 30 miles to market or to a navigable waterway. Canals were the first solution to this problem in England, followed by railways.

Canal Barge

While the improved agricultural productivity freed up workers to other sectors of the economy, it took decades of the Industrial Revolution and industrial development to trigger a truly mass rural-to-urban labour migration.
As food supplies increased and stabilized and industrialized centers moved into place, cities began to support larger populations, sparking the beginning of rural flight on a massive scale. In England, the proportion of the population living in cities jumped from 20% in 1801 to 72% in 1891.
Moving grain and roots in bulk over long distances was now possible, but an efficient way of preserving other food remained elusive.
It was Nicolas Appert, chasing a prize offered by the French government, who came up with bottling food in 1804. In 1812 the world’s first commercial tinplate steel canning factory appeared in London.

Home Canned Goods

One slight problem with canning was that can openers were not invented for another 30 years!
Another preservation possibility was freezing. In the 1870s the first refrigerated rail cars appeared and the first cargo of frozen Australian meat arrived in the UK.

Refrigerating Car

Eventually Britain’s food imports from the Empire become essential as agriculture proved unable to keep up. This was fine if Britannia ruled the waves, not so good in the World Wars of the twentieth century when German submersibles were operating.

Harperlass: Did they have the sort of key opening cans? Or did that come later?
Ceejay Writer: they used a hook shaped prying tool and cut around the edges, as one method.
Ceejay Writer: Keys were much later
Ephemeria: not unlike the one I use
Harperlass: when I was a child we called those canopeners
Oriella Charik: Indeed, various tools were devised

Oriella Charik: So, our food has arrived, fresh, frozen or canned. When should we eat it?
Farm labourers rose at dawn, worked until midday when they paused for a light meal and then had their supper at dusk. For urban dwellers however, particularly the well off, meals have changed in both name and timing over the centuries.
In the sixteenth century ‘dinner’ was held around 11:00 a.m. By the seventeenth century it had crept to 12:00 or 1:00 p.m. Samuel Pepys recorded several dinners he ate at 12:00 replete with heavy drinking.

Meal Times

Ceejay Writer: So dinner was actually second breakfast?
Emilly Shatner-Orr grins
Liz Wilner: very Hobbit-y

Oriella Charik: In the eighteenth-century fashionable diners, and the gentry and business classes in the cities who sought to imitate them, ate dinner later and later in the afternoon. By the late eighteenth century it was perhaps as late as 4:00 or 5:00 p.m.

Harperlass: Well if you rise very early and work you are ready to eat about then

Oriella Charik: Only in more recent times has it come to rest in the evening, when supper consequently became less important.
This development necessitated the invention of a new mid-day meal, lunch, which only became standard at the very end of the eighteenth century. With many urban workers no longer walking to work but being transported by trams, omnibuses and trains this new meal was no longer a family affair and so it could be kept short and alcohol free by employers!
Even more elusive is evidence for breakfast. Judging from cookbooks and dietary literature there was no such meal, or at least it was only recommended to children, invalids and the elderly who have weak digestive systems and must eat smaller meals more frequently.
What appears to have happened is that as dinner moved later in the day, people were hungrier first thing in the morning. In countries where the second meal was larger, breakfast did not become important. In southern Europe it never became a proper meal, merely coffee and perhaps a piece of bread or pastry.

Wildstar Beaumont: croissant and cappuccino 😉

Oriella Charik: Indeed Admiral!
In Britain the pattern was quite different. By the eighteenth-century breakfast was eaten around 9:00 or 10:00 in the morning.
Only in the nineteenth century did it emerge as a full and sumptuous meal with bacon, eggs and even steaks.

Full English Breakfast

Thus the three-meal-a-day pattern we are familiar with is a relatively recent phenomenon.
Personally I prefer a boiled egg with soldiers.

Boiled Eggs with Soldiers

The English afternoon meal called “tea” as a snack between lunch and dinner also did not emerge until the nineteenth century.
And as a final additional meal, we should consider ‘brunch’, a meal which I took at the ‘Flock and Feather’ in Rosehaven today. Americans sometimes suppose they invented this portmanteau word, but it first appeared in an 1895 English magazine article.
In “Brunch: A Plea,” author Guy Beringer suggested instead of England’s Sunday dinner with its heavy meats and savory pies why not a new meal, served around noon, that started with tea or coffee. By eliminating the need to get up early on Sunday, brunch would make life brighter for Saturday night carousers.

Wulfriðe Blitzen: They called it Tiffin till they stopped going to India en masse

Oriella Charik: This kind of evidence only relates to the meal patterns of the upper classes. From the comments of dietary writers (who usually disapproved of common food) it is certain that labouring people ate four regular though smaller meals and this pattern persisted despite the shift in meal times amongst their betters.
Gus Elen well described this in a 1905 Music Hall song (which you may find on YouTube):
His stage character was a cockeyney coster, selling fruit and veg from a street cart

Now for breakfast I never think of ‘aving tea, I likes me ‘arf a pint of ale,
For me dinner I likes a little bit o’ meat, and a ‘arf a pint of ale.
For me tea I likes a little bit o’ fish, an’ an ‘arf a pint of ale,
And for supper I likes a crust o’ bread and cheese, and a pint and an ‘arf of ale!

Gus Elen

Oriella Charik: And here our feast of knowledge ends. Thank you for your attention!
Ceejay Writer: If I might, could I recommend a few videos to those who want to keep learning?
Oriella Charik: Please do
Ceejay Writer: Thank you Oriella!
Ceejay Writer: If you have Netflix, Kiss The Ground is eye-opening, and talks clearly about those chemicals we put in the soil. https://foodtank.com/news/2020/09/kiss-the-ground-documentary-inspires-action-to-regenerate-the-worlds-soils
Oriella Charik: Here is Gus Elen singing that song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4qijcid1_2w
Ceejay Writer: And on YouTube, these series are fun and educational – The Victorian Farm, The Edwardian Farm, and The Wartime Farm.

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