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mrs-beetonThose meals! Those endless, extravagant meals in which they all indulged all the year round!…First two soups, one hot and one cold were served simultaneously; then two kinds of fish followed, again one hot and one cold. Then came an entrée, then a meat dish, followed by a sorbet. This was followed by game — grouse or partridge, pheasant, duck, woodcock or snipe. In the summer, when there was no game, there were quails from Egypt, fattened in Europe, and ortolans from France ‘which cost a fortune’. An elaborate sweet followed, succeeded by a hot savory with which was drunk the port so comforting to English palates. The dinner ended with a succulent array of peaches, plums, apricots, nectarines, raspberries, pears and grapes, all grouped in generous pyramids among the flowers that adorned the table.

Throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the well-to-do sat down to dinners of alarming richness. The modern vegetarian movement was a reaction to this, and was derived from the Age of Enlightenment, which emphasized the questioning of traditional institutions, customs and morals, and the recognition of the need for major reformation of the human condition. One the earliest vegetarians of the nineteenth century was Percy Bysshe Shelley, who converted to the meat-less diet in 1812. Fervent in his renunciation of meat consumption, he also added a political dimension to the cause, citing meat production–which then was the reserve of the privileged–as a reason for food shortages among society’s most needy.beeton_1923_vegetables

Joseph Brotherton, MP and social reformer, was principal in the formation of a traditional organization of vegetarians. With his wife, who published the first vegetarian cookbook in 1812, they formed the Vegetarian Society in 1847 at a conference in Ramsgate. By 1853, the Society boasted of 889 members, all motivated by their beliefs in a “simple life and ‘pure’ food, humanitarian ideals and strict moral principles.”

The London Food Reform Society was formed in 1877, with baker Dr. T.R. Allinson one of its founding members. The two societies merged in 1885, with the LFRS becoming the London branch of The Vegetarian Society until 1888, when there was a breakaway and the formation of The London Vegetarian Society, with its own publication — The Vegetarian. In 1889 the Vegetarian Federal Union was established with the aim of bringing together all vegetarian societies, local, national and overseas. 1897 saw the second International Congress in London. The International Vegetarian Union succeeded the Vegetarian Federal Union in 1908, and a Congress was held in Nice. Since then, Congresses have taken place in many parts of the world.

By the 1880s vegetarian restaurants were popular in London, offering cheap and nutritious meals in respectable settings, and vegetarian cookbooks abounded. Found in every quarter of the town, the names were cheerful, such as the Apple Tree, within the City precincts, The Orange Grove in St Martin’s Lane, The Porridge Bowl in Holborn, The Rose, Finsbury Way, The Waverley in the Borough, and not far from Oxford Street, the Wheatleaf. Porridge was one of the mainstays of the vegetarian regime and the choices afforded included maize-mash and wheaten porridge; but the piece de resistance was, naturally, the Scotch oatmeal. Other recipes available included: vegetable goose, stuffing minus the bird; lentil cutlet with tomato sauce; steak-pie in a vegetable form; rump-steak from pot herbs; and macaroni, in various forms, was always in favor. With desserts, there were few things which could not be made on vegetarian principles–though suet was not allowed, plum pudding could be made without it–plum porridge, made of boiled wheat, sweetened and spiced, and with raisins. By the standards set by the Vegetarian Society, all food was cooked with all vegetable salts retained, and with no salt, soda or other substances added.

In periodicals of the time, two different accounts of a visit to a vegetarian restaurant were shared:

Passing up a flight of stairs we entered a large, cheerful-looking room, tastefully and quietly decorated, and lit by incandescent electric lamps…vegetable soup; lentil cutlets with tomato sauce–shaped like regular cutlets of meat, and were beautifully browned. Mashed potatoes with the cutlets; finished with a pot of tea. Cost 12 pence (24 American cents) and a penny for the napkin.


Soups: Vegetable, mock turtle, lentil
Porridges: with sugar and syrup, oatmeal, wheaten, maize-mush, Anglo-Scotch
Savories: lentil cutlet and tomato sauce, haricots, potatoes and sauce, savory omelet, rice and tomatoes, macaroni and tomatoes, vegetable roast beef a la Francaise
Extra vegetables: cauliflower, cabbage, brussel sprouts, parsnips, mashed potatoes, haricots, tomatoes, macaroni, rice
Sweet puddings: tapioca custard, cabinet pudding, lemon cheesecake, bread-and-butter pudding, macaroni and fruit
Pastries: plum, damson, apple, pear and apricot tarts
Stewed fruits: figs, dates, plums, French plums, damsons, apricots, apples, pineapple, pears; with cream, an option
Sundries: tea, chocolate, cocoa, coffee, minerals, soda-and-milk

At Furnivall Street, just off Holborn, a short flight of steps leads one into the spotless front hall of the Food Reform Restaurant. In the office to the right the smiling cashier offers you a small pamphlet of Dietetic Hints or a package of sample menus. At attention are trim waitresses in blue gowns, white caps and aprons.

Plain course dinner for one shilling: Choice of soup or porridge…3 pence; a savory…5 pence; a sweet…3 pence; cheddar cheese or fruit; coffee or lemonade.

Savory is a compound of nuts or vegetables with a sauce, or of two or three vegetables cooked together such as Rice Milanaise, Baked Potatoes, Turnip Tops, or Haricot Fritters, Tomato Sauce and Baked Potatoes.

Fresh vegetables in season, cooked, a specialty: choice of cauliflower, grilled tomatoes, spring cabbage, potatoes in four different ways for 2 pence; boiled parsnips, and a selection of three for 5 pence.

Great attraction of the house is its sixpenny teas. A cup costs 2 pence, a pot 6 pence. A roll is 1 pence and butter is also pence. This restaurant is liberal: offers watercress, scones, preserves, buttered tea cake, ripe fruit.

From the following, more luxurious Vegetarian luncheon, one may suspect that it was not only the carnivores who made an annual retreat to Marienbad or the cheaper Brighton: Purée de Céleri à la crème; Omlettes aux tomates; œufs durs au gratin; Risotto milanaise; Asperges; Sauce hollandaise; Salade de légumes; Crème caramel renversée; Pommes à la royale; Fromage.

Listed in Mrs. Mill’s Reform Cookery Book were the addresses of vegetarian and health food stores, where the Edwardian vegetarian could shop for Hovis health bread or flour, vegetable meats, Muesli, or other vegetable- or nut-based products. In London, the selection of stores included The Food Reform Restaurant, J.F. Croal, and Mapleton’s Nut Food Company. Vegetarian stores were available in cities such as Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Liverpool and Manchester–such as the Pitman Stores in Birmingham and Chapman’s Health Foods Depot in Liverpool. Even Scottish vegetarians were able to shop wisely and healthily in such stores as Edinburgh’s Heath Foods Depot, and Glasgow’s The Health Food Supply.

It seems a bit funny that a movement we consider to be “modern” had its roots in the “repressed” Victorian days, but the more I research, the more I see that our society has a much deeper tie to our past than we realize.

Further Reading:
Of Victorians and Vegetarians by James Gregory
The Bloodless Revolution: A Cultural History of Vegetarianism from 1600 to Modern Times by Tristram Stuart
Inside the Victorian Home: A Portrait of Domestic Life in Victorian England by Judith Flanders

The Viennese Cafe


viennacourtopera1902.jpg As the boulevards are associated with Paris, Hyde Park with London and Fifth Avenue with New York City, so also is the cafe entwined with the city of Vienna. Such was the renown of the Viennese cafe, Mark Twain was moved to rapture: “that unapproachable luxury–that sumptuous coffee-house, compared with which all European coffee and all American hotel coffee is mere fluid poverty.” The cafe culture of Vienna was such that it replaced the traditional gentlemen’s clubs a good deal, and members of clubs frequented them as much as other men.

According to legend, coffee was introduced to Viennese society after the Ottomans were finally expelled from its gates in the late 17th century. Leaving behind sacks of coffee, a victorious soldier, Georg Franz Kolschitzky was rewarded with them. He discovered coffee by accident, when, during his experimenting with the beans, he accidentally mixed milk with the bitter, black brew. In reality, the cafe culture originated with the Armenian Johannes Diodato, who was awarded for his spying with the monopoly on selling coffee for the period of 20 years. In 1700, four other Armenians named Isaak de Luca, Joseph Devich, Andre Ben and Philip Rudolf Perg, obtained a license to sell coffee when Diodato was accused of spying for both the Hapsburgs and the Serbians. Cafes were opened in rapid succession. In the year 1714 Vienna had 11 licensed “coffee-houses”, who found a rival in the “waterbrewers” (distillers) who sold coffee without license. In 1747 Empress Maria Theresa effectively ended the quarrel by uniting the two.

By the middle of the 18th Century the basics of the café-tradition had been established. People would meet to read newspapers, play cards, have a game of billiards or just meet friends to chat. By the early 1900s, close to 500 cafes flourished in Vienna. There were so many, it was said every fifth doorway in Vienna admitted one either to an antique shop or a cafe.

CafeLike the English with their five o’clock tea, the social hour of Vienna was 4 o’clock, when the cafes would teem with so many people none but a habitué could obtain a seat. The cafes typically held two kinds of clients: “stammgäste,” or habitué’s, and the “laufende” or transients. The stammgäste, who generally spent from 3 to 4 hours every day at his cafe, were commonly called “wirthausbruder” (cafe brothers), and had tables reserved for them—woe betide any man who ventures to take possession of this sacred property! The coffee house played an important part in all the business ventures organized in Vienna. No business was performed without coffee. When visited by a fellow businessman who had some scheme to propose, they would adjourn to the nearest cafe, order coffee for two, pass a flew pleasant remarks on the weather and compliment each other on one another’s prosperous appearance. When the cups were emptied then the gentlemen took out his dainty cigarette case, offered a cigarette, and they were considered ready to handle business.

The cafe was always full for they were about the only places in the city that were warm. Accordingly, on rainy days the coffee houses were filled all day long. Besides the 4 p.m. rush, the morning hours were also busy, for after breakfast businessmen were wont to drop in at their favorite cafe for an early cup before work. The early part of the evening found few loiters at the small, round tables, but later on, at 11 or 12, the theatergoers began to stream in, to drink and chat until the small hours of the night.

coffeehouseviennacafe340e.jpg Coffee was served in a variety of manners. Afternoon coffee was of two kinds–either a mixture served with cream, like the French cafe au lait, or a capucin: coffee served without milk. Other varieties which could be ordered were:

Schwarzer. Strong black coffee. A kleiner Schwarzer is the equivalent of an espresso; a grosser Schwarzer is a double shot. Also called a Mokka.

Brauner. Coffee with a dash of milk or cream.

Goldener. Coffee with milk; “regular coffee”

Mélange. Equal amounts of milk and coffee with froth.

Kaffee Crème. Coffee with a miniature pitcher of milk on the side.

Kapuziner. Cappucino.

Verlängter. Coffee with hot water added.

Einspänner. Coffee in a glass with a hefty dollop of Schlagobers or Schlag (whipped cream).

Fiaker. Espresso in a glass with sugar and Kirschwasser (a dry cherry brandy), topped with whipped cream and a cherry.

Pharisäer. Espresso in a glass with sugar, whipped cream, cocoa, and a shot of rum.

sacher_cafe.jpg The cafe was there to provide much comfort to its patrons. Every cafe subscribed to scores of newspapers and illustrated periodicals in all languages. In the summer the tables and chairs were moved out on the sidewalks, where, at either end were glass sides to protect the tables from the wind and, between the tables and the street, were vines trained in boxes that served to catch the dust of the traffic, and if the sun shone too brightly, an awning was unfurled. Austrian noblemen favored the cafes on the Graben and the Ring, the cafe of the National Hotel was the favorite rendezvous of pleasure seekers (actors, actresses, journalists and cocottes), and the Cafe Daum was renowned for its famous politicians, military aristocrats, statesmen and courtiers. The Hotel Sacher, which, under proprietress Anna Sacher, attracted the international set of socialites, politicians and diplomats met, housed the Cafe Sacher. It was here the Sachertorte was created, and subsequently became a Viennese delicacy.

michael_thonet_14.jpgOther items native to the Viennese cafe were created by German-Austrian furniture maker Michael Thonet. In 1849 he was commissioned by the Cafe Daum to design a coat stand, and the Konsumstuhl Nr. 14, or coffee shop chair no. 14, created in 1859, won a gold medal at the 1867 Paris World’s Fair. The unique technology of wood bending heated by steam made it one of the best-selling chairs ever designed. Made of six pieces of steam-bent wood, ten screws, and two nuts it could be taken apart easily. The seat would often be made out of woven cane/palm, because as this was a cafe chair the holes in the chair would let spilt liquid drain off the chair. So popular was this chair that over 15 million were sold between 1860 and 1930.

Further Reading:
Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How It Transformed Our World by Mark Pendergrast
The Devil’s Cup: A History of the World According to Coffee by Stewart Lee Allen
The Coffee House: A Cultural History by Markman Ellis

La Fee Verte


absinthe ad“A glass of absinthe is as poetical as anything in the world. What difference is there between a glass of absinthe and a sunset?” –Oscar Wilde

Invented by a Frenchman towards the end of the eighteenth century, absinthe was not originally known as the swirling, intoxicating drink favored by boulevardiers and artists. Dr. Pierre Ordinaire meant the cool, green liquid, concocted around the bitter-tasting wormwood, to be a digestive aid.
With the first stirrings of the Industrial Revolution, the population of Paris swelled alarmingly, and due to a combination of low wages, long hours and overcrowding, absinthe, cheap and easy to obtain, became the liquor of choice for working-class Parisians. By mid-nineteenth century, with the Pernod Fils distillery churning out some 20,000 liters per day, the drink soon became integral to the chaotic Bohemian lifestyle, its virtues extolled by no less than Van Gogh and Degas. So integrated the drink became, the cocktail hour in Paris became known as l’heure verte–the green hour.
As the century progressed, absinthe consumption had all but supplanted wine and brandy in France, and by 1908, Continental distilleries began shipping their product to all corners of the globe. It became the primary drink of the upper classes in London, and soon spread to America–New York to San Francisco, but most enthusiastically taken to in the “Little Paris of America”: New Orleans.
absinthe-glass-perigordThe drinking of absinthe was a ritual, rightly aided by a host of accouterments: the absinthe glass, the absinthe spoon, and the water drip.
The Absinthe glass was generally made deep, for the amount of absinthe poured into the glass, and sturdy, since the brasseries (bars) were rowdy, and cafes could ill afford to have their patrons break their glasses.

The Absinthe spoon was made of silver-plated base metal, and featured decorative slots through which the water dripped through, soaking the sugar, and into the absinthe. The most common designs for the slots were pipes, arrows, stars, clovers, clubs or crosses.
The water drip, its use very important to the preparation of the drink, came in the form of a carafe, a fountain, or a brouilleur, with the fountain being the most popular. Made of metal and glass with two to six tiny spigots, the drinker would turn on the tap and out would gush the ice-cold water over the sugar spigotcube sitting on the spoon and into the glass.
Other accessories included spoon vases, sugar dishes, saucers (whose surfaces featured the price of the various drinks served), and the topette. The topette, a small- to medium-sized glass bottle with an inverted conical shape featured numerous measuring marks for the efficient doling out of absinthe shots if one went to a bar or cafe in a group.
How to prepare the absinthe? After gathering the various items, one would take the absinthe bottle and pour one shot into an absinthe glass. The absinthe spoon was balanced atop the glass, and on the spoon, a sugar cube. The water was poured over the sugar cube until the absinthe turned a white, sage or pearly-gray color.  Absinthe was called “the green fairy” not only because of its color (produced by the addition of chlorophyll), but also its intoxicating, whirlwind effect upon its imbibers. It can be assumed that the green color of the drink colored the artists’ view during their intoxication. Built around anise, a sweet, very aromatic plant with the slight taste of “licorice”, absinthe rightly takes on the flavor of its base.But what comes up, must come down, and with the rise of the temperance movement, absinthe was seen as a menace more troublesome than regular alcohol. Leading doctors, already worried about the growing dependency absinthe drinkers on alcoabsinthe_spoonhol and drugs in the Western world (the upper classes freely indulged in “morphine tea parties”, cocaine use, and ether-soaked strawberries, as well as alcohol overindulgence by the 1880s), began to study the effects and dangers of these dependencies, and when two murders in Switzerland were linked to la fee verte, the death knoll began to ring for absinthe. Becoming the first country to ban the green drink in 1910, other countries were eager to follow suit, America banning absinthe in 1912, and France in 1915. Absinthe substitutes appeared on the market soon after the bans, but WWI, and its new generation found the drink unpopular, and for decades, absinthe was virtually eliminated.

Towards the end of the 20th century, absinthe slowly emerged from obscurity, aided by movies such as Moulin Rouge, From Hell and Dracula, the first absinthe bar opened in South America, soon spreading to other countries despite the bans. These days, those interested in this drink of La Belle Epoque can partake of absinthe in select bars across the country.

The book of absinthe : a cultural history by Phil Baker
Absinthe : history in a bottle by Barnaby Conrad
Elegant Wits and Grand Horizontals by Cornelia Otis Skinner
France, Fin de Siecle by Eugen Weber

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