In the early 18th century, the upper classes had an elaborate breakfast at 9 or , with dinner at 2 or , followed by a light supper of cold meat in the evening. As the century progressed, dinner time got later and later so that by the Victorian period it was seldom served before 8 or . With the late dinner hour, lunch, which at first consisted of little more than a glass of wine and a biscuit, gradually became a more substantial meal of hot and cold dishes. This was followed by the new ritual of taking afternoon tea, where the lady of the house and her guests sipped tea from fine china cups, accompanied by hot teacakes, thin sandwiches, macaroons and an array of other dainties.
Breakfast was a lazy affair in the Irish Country House. The master and mistress of the house were served tea and toast in bed before arising at the leisurely hour of 9 or for breakfast. In the 18th century, breakfast consisted of water-gruel, whigs (rich bread rolls) or buttered toast and cake, washed down with expensive draughts of tea or coffee. Water gruel (or stirabout) was popular with all social classes, but the well-off might add luxuries such as currants, mace or sugar to make it more palatable, or eat it with a wine sauce and buttered toast. At that time, butter was a luxury enjoyed mostly by the wealthy – in the 18th century it was more expensive than beef.
By the early 19th
century, breakfast might also include mutton chops, kippers and boiled eggs.
Marmalade became popular at this time, as surviving recipes show. A preserve of
the rich, marmalade was made by the housekeeper in the stillroom, from oranges
The Victorians liked
their food in great quantities and Mrs Beeton considered
cold joints, collared and potted meats or fish, mutton chops, bacon, eggs,
jam and tea as standard breakfast fare. Kedgeree, a dish of flaked smoked
haddock, boiled rice and eggs, was another favourite for breakfast, having
become popular among the British Colonials in
|With such a spread for breakfast, the Victorian lunch involved a surprising number of courses. It began with a simple entrée, such as salmon mayonnaise or risotto, followed by hot or cold meat dishes, salad, cheese, bread and a dessert of pudding and fruit. Unless the family was entertaining, these dishes were dainty rather than filling. Lunch was served by liveried footmen in the á la Russe style, whereby the different courses were served one after the other, rather than at the same time. When guests were present, the ladies entered the dining room two-by-two, followed by the gentlemen, who knew better than to take a lady’s arm as they did at dinner. The Victorians did not linger long over lunch, and ladies kept their bonnets on at the table, which must have limited their view of the dishes laid before them! When no guests were present it was customary for older children to join their parents at the luncheon table.|
|A Victorian luncheon table (Mrs Beeton)|
was not served with lunch, being reserved for the ritual of ‘afternoon
tea’. This was served by the parlour-maid between 4 and in the drawing room. The practice of tea
drinking had been introduced to
A Victorian teapot
||At afternoon tea, the mistress of the house poured the tea for her guests from a silver teapot into dainty cups of rare porcelain. She did not, however, make the tea, as this was outside the realm of experience of a respectable Victorian lady. Tea cosies were not used in fine society, and should the tea go cold it was considered more polite to ring the bell and order a fresh pot. Tea was served with thin slices of bread and butter, cucumber sandwiches, and macaroons or other small cakes which the ladies could nibble at delicately (as plates were not provided). The mistress and her guests whiled away the late afternoon in this manner, exchanging news and gossip as they sipped and supped in style.|
A selection of dainty cakes and pastries
suitable for afternoon tea (Mrs Beeton)