Sunday, April 10, 2011

Cooking with the Victorians

I thoroughly enjoy cooking. Not only do I love to eat good food, I love to prepare good food. Recently I have reflected on the ease with which I can create a culinary masterpiece in a short amount of time and how difficult it must have been to cook in an age when ovens were run on coal (and had to be large enough to cook meals for the mid-Victorian family, which might contain a dozen people!)  Today, our kitchens serve almost as a multi-purpose room...storing food, preparing food, cooking, cleaning of food and dishes, and eating. But in the Victorian house, the kitchen held one purpose only - cookery. 

Essential functions of what we consider 'cooking' were kept separate. Food storage, preparation, and dishwashing were carried out, respectively, in the storeroom and larder, and the scullery:

  • Scullery - food preparation that was messy, such as cleaning fish, preparing vegetables; scouring pots and pans
  • Pantry - storing china and glass (and silver if there was any), washing and polishing china, glass, and silver
  • Larder - storing fresh-food
  • Storeroom - for dried goods and cleaning equipment

Fascinatingly, in the "ideal Victorian home," each separate room had a different type of sink:

  • Scullery - a sink, and maybe two, for cleaning food and washing pots
  • Pantry - sink was of wood lined with lead to prevent the glass and crockery from chipping
  • Storeroom - lead-lined wood sink and maybe a lead-lined slop sink (where chamber pots were emptied)

A Victorian advice book on housekeeping in 1872, called The Modern Householder, provided a comprehensive list of the necessities for a kitchen to fulfill the functions to cook and clean:

Open range, fender, fire irons, 1 deal table, deal bracket to be fastened to wall and let down when wanted, wooden chair, floor canvas, coarse canvas to lay before the fire when cooking, wooden tub for washing glass and china, large earthenware pan for washing plates, small zinc basin for washing hands, 2 washing-tubs, clothesline, clotheshorse, yellow bowl for mixing dough, wooden salt box to hang up, small coffee mill, plate rack, 
knife board, 
large brown 
earthenware pan for bread, 
small wooden flour kit, 3 flat irons, an Italian iron, iron stand, old blanket for ironing on, 2 tin candlesticks, snuffers, extinguishers, 2 blacking brushes,1 scrubbing brush,
1 carpet broom, 
1 short handled broom, 
cinder sifter, 
bucket, patent digester {akin to a pressure cooker}, tea kettle, 
toasting fork, 
bread grater  
bottle jack (a screen can be made with the clothes horse covered with sheets), {a spit for roasting meat set up in front of the fire of the open range}, set of skewers, 
meat chopper, 
block-tin butter saucepan, 
3 iron saucepans, 
1 iron boiling pot, 
1 fish kettle, 
1 flour dredger, a sifter
,1 frying pan, 
1 hanging gridiron ,
salt and pepper boxes, 
rolling pin and pasteboard, 
12 patty pans, 1 larger tin pan, pair of scales, 
baking dish.

*I included a note or two in parenthesis for items that may not be familiar to some. For more definitions on kitchen and household equipment from the 19th century, I recommend a website called "Old and Interesting: History of domestic paraphernalia." 

A few items are familiar to the modern day reader, such as a number of saucepans and baking dishes. But what is surprising is the number of duplicated items. The important thing was to keep the house clean. Therefore, specific items were required for specific functions, which is why there are four different types of washing bowls, four types of irons, and the different kinds of brushes. 

As fascinating at it is to relive the past when it comes to cooking and antique tools, I think I prefer my modern kitchen, modern appliances, and modern tools. With that, I'm off to cook! 


Judith Flanders, Inside the Victorian Home: A Portrait of Domestic LIfe in Victorian England

Website - Old and Interesting: History of domestic paraphernalia/Kitchen Antiques -

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