Eating in the Early Industrial Revolution

Food: A Cultural Culinary History—Episode 26

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The Industrial Revolution brought far-reaching changes in food production and culture. In this episode, we’ll travel to the British Isles and observe how the advent of industrially organized farming, urban labor, and mass production led to the artificial modification of food and a decline in the quality of diet. We’ll also look at one of the most notorious of all human-made disasters—the 1840s potato famine.

Images for this Episode:

Culinary Activities for this Episode:

• Boiled Bacon and Cabbages: A Simple Industrial-Age Dinner

Cured, smoked pork belly

Contrary to the image we have of the wealthy in the mid-19th century being completely uncaring toward the poor, starving working classes, a number of people took up charitable causes, including Alexis Soyer and a chef who worked for Queen Victoria named Charles Elmé Francatelli, whose A Plain Cookery Book for the Working Classes was designed to offer cheap and nutritious meals. Equally interesting is his assumption that this generation of working women had no idea how to cook very basic food. Presumably working in factories since a young age, they never had the opportunity to learn basic skills.

This is a very typical British dish and a technique very different from that common in the United States when dealing with bacon. For this recipe, you should use a whole slab of cured, smoked pork belly, not sliced American bacon or cut English rashers. It is, incidentally, as Francatelli claims, excellent.

Put a piece of bacon in a pot capable of containing two gallons; let it boil up, and skim it well; then put in some well-washed split cabbages, a few carrots and parsnips also split, and a few peppercorns, and when the whole has boiled gently for about an hour and a-half, throw in a dozen peeled potatoes, and by the time that these are done, the dinner will be ready. And this is the way in which to make the most of this excellent and economical dinner.

First, take up the bacon, and having placed it on its dish, garnish it round with the cabbages, carrots, parsnips, and potatoes, and then add some pieces of crust, or thin slices of bread, to the liquor in which the bacon dinner has been cooked, and this will furnish you with a good wholesome soup with which to satisfy the first peremptory call of your healthy appetites.

Suggested Reading:

Atkins, Food and the City in Europe Since 1800.

Beeton, Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management.

Burnett, Plenty and Want: A Social History of Food in England from 1815 to the Present Day.

Clarkson, Feast and Famine: A History of Food and Nutrition in Ireland 1500-1920.

Drummond, The Englishman’s Food.

Fisher, The American Cookbook: A History.

Floyd, The Recipe Reader: Narratives – Contexts – Traditions.

Francatelli, A Plain Cookery Book for the Working Classes.

Gentilcore, Pomodoro!: A History of the Tomato in Italy.

Griffith, Born Again Bodies: Flesh and Spirit in American Christianity.

Harrison, Drink and the Victorians.

Humble, Culinary Pleasures: Cookbooks and the Transformation of British Food.

Reader, Potato: A History of the Propitious Esculent.

Salaman, The History and Social Influence of the Potato.

Smith, Eating History: Thirty Turning Points in the Making of American Cuisine.

Soyer, Soyer’s Shilling Cookery for the People.

Zuckerman, The Potato: How the Humble Spud Rescued the Western World.

Images courtesy of:

• Map of Africa: Shutterstock
• Fufu: Shutterstock
• Ugali: Shutterstock
• Sukuma wiki: Shutterstock
• matoke: Shutterstock
• watermelon: Shutterstock
• Black-eyed peas: Shutterstock
• millet: Shutterstock
• Sorghum: Shutterstock
• Stewpot over rocks: Shutterstock
• plantain chips: Shutterstock
• Akara: Shutterstock
• Togbei: By Afrolems ; cropped by Off-shell CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
• Subsistence farming: Shutterstock
• Bushmeat: Shutterstock
• Mbuti peoples: By Martin Johnson (1884–1937) (The Martin and Osa Johnson Safari Museum) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
• Masai: Shutterstock
• Yam: Shutterstock
• Pounding yams: By Flixtey (Own work) CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
• Teff: Shutterstock
• Inejira: By John Besi CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
• Okra: Shutterstock
• Baobab: Shutterstock
• Red Palm Oil: Shutterstock
• Palm wine: Shutterstock
• melegueta pepper: Shutterstock
• tamarinds: Shutterstock
• kola nuts: Shutterstock
• guinea fowl: Shutterstock
• White eggplants: Shutterstock
• Cassava: Shutterstock
• Olaudah Equiano: Daniel Orme [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
• Smoked Monkey: Shutterstock
• Map of Australia: Shutterstock
• Finger limes: Shutterstock
• Wattle seeds: Shutterstock
• Quandong: Shutterstock
• Macadamia: Shutterstock
• Moreton Bay chestnuts: Shutterstock
• witchety grubs: Shutterstock
• Kangaroos: Shutterstock
• Kangaroo meat: Shutterstock
• Wallaby: Shutterstock
• Emu: Shutterstock
• Banicoot: Shutterstock
• Goanna: Shutterstock
• ANZAC biscuit: Shutterstock
• Pavlova: Shutterstock
• Pie-floater: Shutterstock