Cooking & Eating a Victorian Meal in Modern Times

So Gentle Reader,

Willow and I suited up in our cute little aprons, and went to work cooking for ten out of Henry Southgate’s Things a Lady Would like to Know meals for February 1876.

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.


Soup – Julien Soup

Fish – Shrimp in Creamed Prawn Sauce

Main – Roasted Pork Loin with Sage & Onion Stuffing

Corner Dishes – Mashed Potatoes & Scotch Kale

Dessert – Apple Fritters & Custard

We were graciously hosted at a friend’s marvelous renovated old Victorian house which they cleaned and decorated special for the occasion.

We began cooking at about 2:30 PM doing prep work in my kitchen before moving to the host kitchen at 4:00, having tea, and then commencing the main cooking.

I did most of the shopping from the local Farmer’s Market with meat and dairy coming from Trader Joes, except for the shrimp and pork which I ordered from a local butcher.

It cost about $200 total, a good deal of which was the pork – which, it turned out, we could have gotten half the amount.

Thus I would say you could do this meal for $150 (0n 2012) with high quality ingredients or $100 on a budget (given you have all the spices and baking extras like flour and booze to hand).

Wine was contributed by the guests.

Here’s the original research I did for meal planning.

Planning a Traditional Victorian Dinner Party in the Modern Age

Victorian Soup Course – Julien Soup

  1. Clean and cut into shreds of 1 inch long: 2 carrots, 1 turnip, 1/2 head celery, white part of a leak.
  2. Put into saucepan with a tbsp sugar, tsp salt, dollop of vinegar, quart of cold water.
  3. Boil 20 minutes till tender, drain.
  4. Bring to boil 2 quarts and 1/2 pint stock (I used half store bought veggie and half homemade chicken) (reserve 2 cups for gravy later).
  5. Put back in vegetables + green peas.
  6. Boil moderately fast for 1/2 hour (see cook’s notes).
  7. Add 1 tsp cayenne (see cook’s notes), 2 tbsp sherry, season with salt to taste if needed
  8. Serve at once very hot with white wine (we had a nice light pinot grigio which went beautifully).

Cook’s Notes:

  • 1 tsp cayenne is WAY TOO MUCH. Suggest 1/4 is better.
  • The vinegar simmer (we used malt) is probably to preserve the color of the veg. V
  • eg doesn’t need a full 1/2 hour in the stock, veg becomes overcooked by modern standards.
  • Suggest bringing it up to temp until peas are cooked, the serving.
  • Also, I would sub out the celery for something more colorful and hearty, like a nice dense squash.

Diner’s Thoughts:

Perhaps due to transport and lack of plastic containers, cayenne was a much milder (stale) spice by the time it got to London, or perhaps the Victorians meant chili pepper or paprica when they wrote cayenne. This was the least successful of the dishes and general feeling was even with the right level of spice it was a dull soup. Luckily, everyone was hungry.

Fish Course – Shrimp in Prawn Sauce

  1. 1 lb (see cook’s notes) fresh whole shrimp, picked clean deveined + 4 jumbo shrimp (prawns) in the shell.
  2. Jumbos in shell into 2-3 cups water, stew a short time until cooked, remove prawns, leave liquor on gentle boil (reduce by 1/2).
  3. Clean jumbos and put aside to cool.
  4. Kneed 3 oz soft salted butter (3/4 cube) with 1 tbsp of flour (see cook’s notes)
  5. melt this into the boiling shrimp liquor (see cook’s notes).
  6. Put in shrimp, 2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce (in leu of anchovy liquor, see cook’s notes), juice of 1 large lemon, salt (see cook’s notes) & pepper.
  7. Let simmer just a few minutes until shrimp are cooked pink remove from heat
  8. pulverize jumbos in food processor with 6 tbsp fresh cream (used heavy whipping cream)
  9. Stir prawn cream into shrimp .
  10. Serve immediately with white wine or rosé (we had it with a delicious fruity Chardonnay) and soft fresh rolls with salted butter.

Cooks Notes:

  • Instead of 1 lb of shrimp, suggest getting an exact number of shrimp, 3 per person, for easy of plating, under 20 shrimp and you can lower the amount of water for the sauce.
  • Not noted in the original recipe was the fact that, after removing the jumbos, I had to strain the prawn liquor to remove bits of shell.
  • Suggest doubling the flour (in the butter) for a thicker sauce.
  • Sauce proved rather bland at first, so I doubled the Worcestershire to good results.
  • With salted butter and the Worcestershire, no additional salt was needed.
  • White pepper might make for a nice flavor shift.
  • A sprinkle of fresh herbs on top would be good, recommend tarragon.
  • This dish would be gorgeous served over a bed of wilted spinach.
  • Also it might be fun to experiment with greek yoghurt instead of the heavy cream for a more healthy version, and you could use less butter and make a rue instead of adding the butter to the boiling liquid.

Diner’s Thoughts:

This one was a hit. The sauce tastes very like a high-end lobster bisque (we had requests for spoons) it wasn’t too rich, as we were afraid it might be. The rolls were very necessary for sopping up the sauce. Three shrimps each was a perfect amount for all diners, left room for the next course. We had extra sauce which was request by one diner for her own particular consumption later. A fruity white was perfect, but if you do the spinach option something a little dryer might be better.

Main Course

Corner Dishes – Mashed Potatoes & Scotch Kale


  1. Cut potatoes in 2 inch chunks.
  2. Place in large pot with 1 tsp salt and enough cold water to cover.
  3. Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer 20-25 minutes until tender.
  4. Drain, put back in warm pot, mash with whole milk and/or cream and pork/bacon drippings.
  5. Season with salt & pepper.


Scotch Kale lightly braised in bacon fat with lemon & bacon bits.

Meat course – Roast Pork Loin

  1. Remove the 6 lb pork loin from the refrigerator 1 hour before cooking.
  2. Heat oven to 500°F.
  3. Score the crackling (fat) in cross hatch pattern at equal distances, and brush with Florence oil (high grade olive oil) rub in little salt and pepper, arrange bacon around the sides
  4. Cook at 500 for 10 minutes.
  5. Segment and core 4 large granny apples, toss with lemon juice.
  6. Lower heat to 300. Cook for 45 min to 1 hour basting frequently (I did it every 15 minutes).
  7. Remove bacon at about 15 min, or when it begins to smoke. Place apples around the side instead.
  8. Start to check the roast’s temperature with with an instant-read thermometer at 45 minutes.
  9. Remove the roast when the internal temperature (measured as deep into the roast as you can get) reads 140 – 155 degrees. (My butcher suggested 140 was better. I had a very high end organic grass feed blah blah piggy. Take your safety into your own hands and judge your meat accordingly.)
  10. Remove from roast pan, let stand for about 15 minutes before slicing.
  11. Put apples back in with stuffing to cook well.
  12. Decorate with the roasted apples & fresh sage.

sorry, cant fix fuzzy image

While roast sits . . .

Use drippings to make gravy with reserved stock from soup, 2 tbsp chopped sage and 1/4 cup brandy, season with salt & pepper.

I ended up having to strain the gravy, but this worked out well as the fresh sage really permeated and didn’t need to be left in.

Meat Course – Stuffing

While meat roasts…

Make a sage & onion stuffing (reserve some sage for garnish & gravy).

You can assemble this the day before.

  1. I used my mom’s British stuffing recipe, adjusted with sage (instead of thyme) and raisins (instead of corn).
  2. All veggies are c. cm cubed cut.
  3. Fry up meat of bacon (strip the fat and reserve for roast, smoky bacon is preferred) until quite crispy.
  4. Put on paper napkins to drain.
  5. Reserve some fat in saucepan.
  6. Fry in fat on med heat 1 large yellow onion.
  7. When begins to clarify, add in 5 – 6 pork sausages stripped of casing (I used TJ’s beer bratwurst, I thought that was probably the most Victorian), break apart with spatula mixing well.
  8. Sprinkle good amount of black pepper, garlic powder, and some paprika (no salt, plenty from bacon) over meat and onions.
  9. When meat is half cooked, add in 1 red bell pepper, 3 stalks celery, chopped to size you like in stuffing.
  10. Cook until meat is done.
  11. Turn off heat.
  12. Cut the bacon small and add back in.
  13. Add finely chopped fresh sage (at least two heap tbsp) and 2 cups mixed sultana and Thompson raisins.
  14. Mix well, breaking apart meat and raisin clumps, allow to cool and raisins to plump up with juices.
  15. Put in just enough breadcrumbs (less than a cup) to soak up moisture and coat evenly, not enough so that there are crumbs left behind in pan as you stir.
  16. Beat three eggs. Add this to stuffing and mix well to coat.
  17. Take compact ball-sized handfuls of stuffing, (like making a snowball, should hold together well) and press 1 into each hole of a non stick muffin tin. (I like a muffin tin because it cooks faster, makes for a prettier presentation, and everyone gets a little “edge”.)
  • If you remember, drizzle with pork drippings before it goes in the oven.
  • Cooks at 300 for 1/2 hour (with the pork) then at 400 alone (while pork rests) for 10 min or so until brown on top and crispy around the edges.
  • Allow to cool five minutes then just slide knife around edges and pop out.

Serve pork with fresh mustard (Coleman’s), chutney (I used my mum’s secret recipe), and claret (we used a red table wine).

Cook’s Notes:

  • We had more than double the amount of loin than we really needed.
  • I’m used to estimating fowl on the bone, which is 1lb per person, but loin is less than half that, particularly as we had trimmings and two courses prior. I had almost 7 lbs and we could have done with 3.5 lbs for 10 people. That would have been enough for every diner to have two 1cm slices. (It worked out fine, everyone took a bit of pork home to make sandwiches.)
  • The chutney (Mum’s homemade) went better with the dish than the mustard (recommended by the Victorian book).
  • At first, we had the bacon on top of the pork roast (I do this with roast chicken), not recommended as the pork fat did not get crispy, we ended up putting the loin under the broiler briefly near the end to get nice brown on the top. Delish.

Diner’s Thoughts:

Stuffing was very welcome. We could have used a bit more gravy. Pork was done perfectly. Enjoyed sitting and looking at the resting pork while waiting for trimmings. Some preferred white wine over the red with this dish.

Pudding Course – Apple Fritters

  1. Peal and core 1 doz small cooking apples but do not divide.
  2. Slice into (doughnut-like) 1/2 cm thick rounds.
  3. Pat dry apple rounds with napkin (we did ours 2 hours ahead of time and just left them out to dry, worked great).
  4. Beat well 3 eggs and 4 egg yolks with a small quantity of grated nutmeg, pinch of salt (see cook’s notes), some cornstarch, glass brandy.
  5. Add gradually sufficient flour to make thick batter (like pancakes).
  6. Get frying pan quite hot, melt 1/2 lb butter in it! (used 1/2 salted 1/2 sweet, see cook’s notes).
  7. Coat apple rounds in batter.
  8. Drop into pan flip as needed until golden brown and crispy.
  9. Remove and place on paper napkin to absorb fat.
  10. Powder with sugar and serve with wedges of fresh lemon and dollop of custard with more custard in a gravy boat.
  11. Serve hot with champagne or dessert wine or brandy.

Cook’s Notes:

  • You want small dense sour cooking apples for this, the kind you might use for pie. Grannys are too wet. We used pippins.
  • Only needed about 5 apples, billiard-ball sized, to make 3 fritters each plus extra.
  • There were no less than four different apple fritter recipes in the cookbook. This is a batter from one recipe combined with the apple preparation style from another. We made the batter ahead of time and kept in in the fridge for several hours before using. Worked fine.
  • Batter does not need salt if you use salted butter for frying. Even then I suggest 1.5 cubes of unsalted to 1/2 salted instead of 50/50.
  • Glass of brandy probably implies 1/2 or 3/4 of a cup, not a whole cup. We ended up adding lots of flour to compensate, but it still worked out.
  • Would add a little more nutmeg and/or cinnamon for modern taste.
  • These are beautiful but do take a while to make. Three or four batches.
  • Timing works out if one cook makes fritters while other does custard. I made Bird’s Custard with 1/2 whole milk, 1/2 cream, and 1/2 tsp less the recommended sugar, and a little lemon zest (could also add bit of brandy to this).

Diner’s Thoughts:

Success! Ladies went for the dessert wine while the gentlemen opted for brandy, with a few going back to the fruity white from the second course. Apple fritters tied nicely into the pork theme and were light enough to follow such a full meal. Extra custard was appreciated. Brandy batter was pronounced lovely. You could definitely taste the brandy!

After dinner, in the most modern and shocking of ways, the ladies and gentlemen did not separate, but played charades and swilled booze in a most hedonistic manner.

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Resources for Victorian Food & Tea

Quote of the Day:

It is very strange, this domination of our intellect by our digestive organs. We cannot work, we cannot think, unless our stomach wills so. It dictates to us our emotions, our passions. After eggs and bacon it says, “Work!” After beefsteak and porter, it says, “Sleep!” After a cup of tea (two spoonfuls for each cup, and don’t let it stand for more than three minutes), it says to the brain, “Now rise, and show your strength. Be eloquent, and deep, and tender; see, with a clear eye, into Nature, and into life: spread your white wings of quivering thought, and soar, a god-like spirit, over the whirling world beneath you, up through long lanes of flaming stars to the gates of eternity!”

– Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men in a Boat

These dishes and more show up in many of my parasolverse books! The Parasol Protectorate, Custard Protocol, and Delightfully Deadly books particularly.


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