A Connoisseur’s Guide to Victorian Manners, Mores, Food, and Drink

February 20, 2017
By joyosity (Tea at the Rittenhouse Hotel)  Wikimedia Commons

By joyosity (Tea at the Rittenhouse Hotel) Wikimedia Commons

If you wax nostalgic for a time when there was social civility, proper etiquette, and afternoon teas with scones and clotted cream, your longing will be requited on March 20th, when Professor Anna Saikin begins her 10:00 a.m. class “Victorian Foodies.”

Get ready for a literary feast as Saikin takes us on a tour of lavishly arrayed meals using a selection of Victorian books, meal plans, recipes, table settings, and etiquette guides for authentic Victorian dining experience. We visited with her to find out more about this sumptuous subject.



WIH Reporter: What is important to know about your upcoming class?

Saikin: Victorians liked to eat! Each class will feature a different cuisine, dish, or drink based on novels, poems, and cookbooks from the nineteenth century, and whenever possible, I will bring samples for the class to taste as we nibble our way through the juiciest bits of Victorian literature.

WIH Reporter: What would surprise us to know about the topic of your class?

Saikin: When we think about Victorian food, the first thing that often comes to mind are elaborate, multi-course tea times, completed with Earl Grey, scones, lemon curd, and clotted cream. While we will discuss and sample these dishes (frequently and with gusto!), we will also discuss how British palates were expanded during the century as nabobs brought back popular Indian curries and it became possible for ordinary subjects to enjoy extraordinary food.

WIH Reporter: What mistaken impressions might we have about Victorian manners and mores?

Saikin: Queen Victoria set a dignified and resplendent model for her subjects to emulate, but not all British citizens were fortunate to have enough to eat. Part of our class will dive into the historical reasons why Oliver Twist’s plea, “May I have some more, please?” was so revolutionary for its time. We will examine Dickensian feasts of decadence as well as destitution and consider the ways in which different classes interpreted notions of propriety.

WIH Reporter: What format do you plan to use in the class.?

Saikin: We will begin with a selection of delicacies related to our weekly topic. As we munch, we will read and discuss selections from Victorian literature, and, whenever possible, watch movie clips that illustrate the diversity of Victorian cuisine. We will analyze seating arrangements and recipes from the nineteenth century cookbook, Mrs. Barton’s Book of Household Management, and marvel at the number of silverware required for each meal. Participants should bring with them a curious mind and a hungry belly!

WIH Reporter: Are you planning to have a class in which food is featured such as authentic scones and tea?

Saikin: Absolutely! In fact, class participation during tea time is required!

Professor Saikin’s class begins March 20th at 10:00 a.m. For more information, or to register, click here.