Planning a Traditional Victorian Dinner Party in the Modern Age

I went to the farmer’s market yesterday, Gentle Reader, on the first leg of the shopping for the fancy Victorian meal my friend Willow and I are cooking this weekend.

Before we start, I talk about recipes I try, baking quests I go on, and tea I drink, not to mention some of the strange foods I eat on my travels every month in my newsletter, The Chirrup.

About once a year, Willow (the only person I know as big a foodie as me and as un-picky) get together and cook something outrageous. One year we did a full seven course ancient Roman Feast, served Roman style lounging about on couches. This year we decided to try a Victorian supper.

Now, a traditional Victorian Menu for a dinner party in February of 1876 would be anything for 7 to 14 courses, with multiple options.

Here, for example, is one . . .

Victorian Soup Course

  • Mulligatawny Soup ~ shredded chicken in a veggie chicken broth
  • Clear Gravy Soup ~ veggie stock with Marsala

Victorian Fish Course 

  • Stewed Eels ~ with nutmeg, garlic, onion, anchovy paste, and port wine
  • Fried Soles ~ done in an egg and breadcrumb batter, served with a brown butter, vinegar, and tarragon sauce

Victorian Main Course 

  • Fricandeau of Veal with Spinach ~ with a gravy of brandy and sherry
  • Croquets of Fowel with Piquant Sauce ~ made with cold chicken seasoned with white pepper and mustered and rolled in a pastry, deep fried in lard, served on napkins with fried parsley.
  • Curried Lobster with Rice ~ lobster mixed with curry spices and butter, then fried, with coconut milk, cream, and lemon, then served with mixed pickles of chutney
  • Roast Capon ~ use lean veal minced with herbs, spices, and truffles to stuff and reform a capon slathered in butter and roasted over and open fire
  • Saddle of Mutton, served with Sea Kale and other Veg ~ saddle hung 10 days, dredged with flour, suspended high over a fire, served very hot with red current jelly

Victorian Pudding Course

  • Conservative pudding ~ a steamed pudding made with sponge cake, ratafias, macaroons, rum, cream, preserved cherries. Served with a simple syrup flavored with laurel leaf and almond.
  • Raspberry Cream for pudding ~ cream whipped with a pot of raspberry jam
  • Blancmange ~ made with vanilla, cinnamon, cream, and bitter and sweet almonds.
  • Cheesecakes ~ lemon flavored with current, and orange flavored with almonds and candied orange peel
  • Stilton Cheese, Celery, and Pulled Bread

Iron Chef meets 1900 House in Chris Kimball’s recreation of a 12-course Christmas dinner originally hosted by Fannie Farmer in 1896.

However, we don’t have the time, money, or kitchen staff to pull off such an epic event.

With a limited budget and only two of us cooking, we decided on a traditional family-style Victorian dinner of only four courses instead.

I drew up two menus and we chose between them on the basis of time, access to ingredients, and personal taste.

Here, for your edification, is the meal we decided NOT to serve. I’ve included the original Victorian recipe (with few extra notes for the modern cook).

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Rejected Menu 


Mulligatawny Soup

  1. par-bowl in 2 quarts of water 2 fowl
  2. cut meat off bones
  3. put meat and liver in water aside
  4. to bones add 2 shallots chopped fine
  5. 1 tsp powdered mace (cornstarch) and salt
  6. add tsp of cayenne pepper *
  7. let boil for hour and 15 minutes
  8. cut 4 onion into think slices an fry with meat in butter until brown
  9. skim broth when done and strain through sieve
  10. add meat and onion to broth
  11. let simmer 25 minutes
  12. stir in (by degrees) tbsp each of “rubbed together” fine flour and curry powder
  13. slow simmer for ten minutes, serve

* Note: cayenne probably means paprika at this time, or use a lot less because the spices were much less potent.


Fried Herring

  1. gut and wash clean (we could probably use tallapia fillets or the like)
  2. fry brown in butter
  3. fry some thin sliced onion in butter
  4. lay herring in dish arrange onions around
  5. served with mustard in a cup

Veg (served with main AKA corner dishes)

Mashed potatoes with



Venison Pasty

  1. take off skin, cut meat off bones into pieces about an inch and half square
  2. put these plus bones and skin into stewpan
  3. cover with veal broth, plus tsp cornstarch, 1/2 tsp allspice, 4 shallots chopped fine, tsp salt, 1/4 tsp cayenne, tumbler of port wine, and stew on range top until meat is 1/2 done. Take meat out, let remaining gravy continue on fire while pastry crust is prepared (use store bought puff?)
  4. line large dish with pastry, arrange meat in it, pour gravy over through sieve, add juice of one lemon, put on top crust
  5. bake couple of hours in a slow oven


Nesselrode Pudding

  1. pint of new milk, 1oz isinglass (pure gelatin originally made from fish), 2 inches stick vanilla (could probably use extract), 5oz sugar, in enameled saucepan and boil gently for 10 minutes, reduce heat
  2. beat yolks of 6 fresh eggs into the milk while hot but NOT boiling
  3. stir over fire until as hot as possible but not boiling, strain into basin
  4. cut into 1/2 inch squares: 4oz preserved pineapple, 1 oz angelica (a candied herb that is hard to find), 2 oz candied apricots, 2 oz candied cherries, 1 oz orange peal (possibly also candied), 1 oz ginger (probably meaning crystalized) *could do all of these just dried fruit to better suit modern taste
  5. pour a wine glass full of brandy over the fruit, let stand 1/2 hour
  6. beat 1 pint double cream to a froth
  7. stir this into the custard when nearly cold
  8. add the fruit
  9. stir rapidly for 5 minutes
  10. rinse a mold in COLD water
  11. put pudding into mold
  12. place in fridge
  13. stir occasionally until it begins to set
  14. let remain until quite firm
  15. turn over into a glass dish and serve immediately

NPR covered the American version of this desert.

Here is a detailed report on the menu we ended up serving (plus photos, I hope) after the event.

A Victorian Meal in Modern Times

Resources For Victorian Food & Tea 

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Quote of the Day

“The poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese.”

~ G.K. Chesterton

An interesting thing about Victorian food is, aside from the cheese course and the occasional (lower class) cheese pie, there is remarkably little cheese in the recipes I’ve encountered. Bazillions of eggs, but cheese . . .

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