In the days before
refrigeration, food was carefully stored in cellars or larders in the cool
basement. As food could not be kept for long, a lot of preserving and pickling
took place at
At rich houses
which were not so well equipped, the ice-man was called upon to bring a large
dripping block of ice before a party. The blocks were imported from
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Instead bacon was cured, beef and mutton were salted, and fish was smoked, salted or pickled. The traditional way of curing bacon was to rub the pork fat with salt and water. The shelf-life of meat could be extended by curing it dry, by smoking it in the chimney over a wood or peat fire. Meat or fish could also be potted or baked in a pie, which could be kept for several weeks under an airtight sealing of clarified fat. Venison was stored in the game-house, where it might hang for several weeks til ‘gamey’.
The Victorian upper-class ate great quantities of meat and their dinner menus usually included a number of different hot and cold meat courses. While mutton was the main meat enjoyed by the poorer Irish, the rich enjoyed beef, lamb, veal and venison along with poultry and rabbit. Beef was a preserve of the upper classes and was consumed in great quantities. Veal was a little more expensive, but was still a favourite on the dinner table, where the head and brains might be served up as a delicacy. At Emo, the servant known locally as “Hannah the Black” reportedly reared veal for the house in her retirement.
Victorian game pie
Cheap mutton and poor veal may have served for ordinary dinners, when the family was not entertaining. Chicken and duck were served as savoury dishes along with pheasant, woodcock, lark and snipe. Meat was roasted on great spits in the kitchen, above large pans which caught the dripping. It was also boiled, broiled or made into pies. Cooked meat was served with rich gravy or sauces such as ramonade sauce (a hot pepper sauce for cold meat or game), sauce Robert (for pork), truffle sauce (for chicken and game) and chestnut sauce (for turkey).
Roast pheasants with chips and brown crumbs
Jugged meat was also popular, with jugged hare or pigeon often gracing the dinner table. The tradition of cooking and serving meat in jugs goes back to the medieval period, when several jugs would be economically placed together in a large cauldron of boiling water. The traditional method was to cook the meat in a tall closed pot without gravy, the natural juices ensuring that it cooked moist and even. By the Victorian period, wine and beef stock might also be added to the jug, with sauce poured over it before serving.
The Victorians had no qualms about eating parts of animals seldom eaten by the Irish today. Mrs Beeton’s book, for example, includes recipes for sheep’s brains with matelot sauce, stuffed bullock’s heart, ox-cheek soup, stewed calf’s ears and fricassee of calf’s feet, to name but a few. The upper-classes were also no strangers to strong-tasting meat - venison, for example, might be hung for several weeks til ‘gamey’ and ‘rescued’ with brine when turning rancid. Ox tongue was one of the few offal dishes eaten by the aristocracy; tripe, for example, was more commonly associated with the lower social classes. Cold tongue was served as a snack or picnic food, while ‘spiced tongue’ was a Christmas favourite, spiced with ginger, cloves, nutmeg and allspice and cooked with onions and carrots.
Roast hare in red currant jelly
Fish mentioned on
Irish country house menus include salmon, eels, oysters, lobster, cod, haddock
and trout. On aristocratic dinner menus, fish was usually a supplement to meat,
and was always greatly outnumbered by meat and poultry dishes. In the early
period, much of the fish was salted, pickled or smoked for preservation. Salted
cod and pickled salmon or oysters feature widely in early menus, along with the
ubiquitous kipper. In large houses, vast quantities of herrings were
traditionally salted for the winter and stored in barrels in between layers of
salt. Smoked eel, one of the oldest foods in
Fish-shaped fish pie
rail transport meant that marine fish could be delivered fresh by the Victorian
age. In 1848, for example, a ‘sumptuous repast’ served to 200 guests at
A popular brand of anchovy relish
Imported anchovies were also very popular on the tables of the wealthy, favourite recipes being ‘anchovies and parmesan cheese’, ‘anchovy toast’ and ‘anchovy sauce’. Large quantities of kippers and oysters would also have been bought in. At Abbeyleix, for example, kippers and oysters were regularly bought by the 100, the former serving for breakfast or sometimes marked as ‘for servants’. Oysters generally appear as second courses, sometimes baked in the oven, sometimes marinated. In the 17th and 18th centuries, oysters were very cheap and were eaten by all social classes. They were still inexpensive by 1800, when 100 oysters cost 2s 2d. In the mid-19th century, however, oysters suddenly went from being a staple of the poor to a luxury of the rich, due to overfishing and pollution.
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