10 Facts about 18th Century Food and Drink

I’m happy to welcome The Wild Rose Press author Kathleen Buckley to the Power of 10 series. Today, Kathleen shares interesting facts about eighteenth century food and drink and her novel, An Unsuitable Duchess.

Here’s Kathleen!

I have enjoyed reading about the history of food since I was a child, and have done a good deal of research on the subject. Now that I write Georgian (18th century) romances, this hobby is becoming useful. This deals specifically with English/British eating habits, although most of this will apply to the American Colonies, too, with additions of foods specific to the New World.

1. They ate things we don’t: syrup of turnips, brain cakes (brains mixed with flour, salt, nutmeg and raw egg, fried in butter), calf’s foot pie, mutton ham, larks, lampreys, calf’s head surprise. Yes, really.

2. They pickled things we don’t: not only cucumbers and onions, but walnuts, beetroot, pigeons, barberries, celery, kidney beans, oysters and almost anything else you can think of.

3. Candy was completely different. No candy bars, no bon-bons, no fudge. An 18th century confectioner’s cookbook contained recipes for drying or preserving fruit, making jam, candying flowers (and other things), making wafers, biscuits (cookies), puffs, almond paste, creams, jellies, including hartshorn jelly, caraway comfits, clotted cream, and chocolate almonds (sugar and chocolate sifted together with musk and ambergris and some binding ingredients, molded into the form of almonds). The Compleat Confectioner, or The Art Of Candying & Preserving In Its Utmost Perfection, by Mrs. Eales, Confectioner to Queen Anne, 3rd ed., 1742.

4. Chocolate was used almost exclusively as a beverage until the 19th century, when the discovery of the “Dutch process” made chocolate’s use in candy and baking feasible. The “chocolate almonds” mentioned above would have been nothing like modern chocolate candy, as they were evidently made by grinding cocoa nibs. Though cocoa nibs are now a “thing” among foodies. Go figure.

5. Wafers, biscuits, cakes and tea cakes were plain. Cakes tended to fall into two categories: pound cakes and fruit cakes. They and the small cakes—the equivalent of cookies or cupcakes—often contained caraway seeds, rose water, wine or brandy, and a spices like nutmeg, mace, cinnamon, caraway, caraway comfits, and raisins or currants. Oh, and macaroons? They were made with ground almonds, not coconut. Very few cakes were iced.

6. Chelsea buns were the wildly popular specialty of the Chelsea Bun House (1712 to 1839), and no wonder. From contemporary descriptions, these yeast buns were filled with currants or raisins, lemon peel, butter, sugar, and spice, rolled up like our cinnamon rolls, baked and then coated with a sugar and water glaze. Other bun recipes of the period are very plain indeed. The families of both George II and George III visited the Bun House to indulge.

7. People ate what was in season, and what they could afford. Fruit and vegetables were not available all year as they are now, thanks to modern transportation. If you wanted fruit in the winter, you preserved it when it was available. Meat and fish were dried, pickled, salted or potted (by cutting it up, pounding and seasoning it, baking until it was soft, draining off any liquid or fat, putting it into a pot and covering the contents with clarified butter which presumably then sealed it).

8. Tea was the most popular non-alcoholic beverage, although it was expensive. Men socialized in coffee and chocolate houses. Everyone drank beer as a thirst-quencher. Gin was the scourge of the London poor.

9. Your 18th century dinner will probably not include potatoes. I found occasional recipes for potato pie and potato pudding. The 1805 edition of Hannah Glasse’s popular cookbook suggests boiling potatoes in their skins, removing the skins, and either buttering them or browning them on a gridiron or in beef dripping.

10. Meals were … different. If you could afford to eat well, your diet was heavy in meat and light in vegetables. Susanna MacIver’s late 18th century cookbook, intended for the “genteel and middling classes” suggests family dinners of five to fifteen dishes. This is a sample of a ten dish dinner (taken in the middle of the day):

Salmon – roast turkey – stewed celery – fried fish – marrow pasty – soup – baked pudding – veal cutlets – sliced turnips and carrots with melted butter – boiled tongue and udder with roots (root vegetables)

Supper was lighter and simpler. MacIver lists a page of possibilities, including hot or cold meat or fowl, pies, tarts, creams (think custardy things), anchovies, poached eggs with sorrel, and vegetables, from which “any lady of the smallest experience may form suppers of any extent according to the articles that are in season.”

If you were wealthy, your meals would be more elaborate. The poorest seldom had any cooking facilities, and probably bought their food in taverns or from street vendors. Bread, cheese, gin and beer were staples of their diet. Riots occurred when the price of wheat rose.


After her guardian’s death, Anne Sinclair comes to Town seeking a man with broad interests, rather than broad estates. She possesses a competence and a pretty face, so why did her late guardian think it might be difficult for her to make a match? The question becomes urgent when she discovers that London can be perilous for a young lady of inquiring mind—especially when she has a hidden enemy.

Lord John Anniscote unexpectedly inherits the title and responsibilities of his dissolute brother, the Duke of Guysbridge, including houses, servants, tenants, and the need to provide himself with an heir. Formerly poor, cynical, and carefree, he finds himself hunted by marriage-minded females. When a plot against a young lady up from the country touches his honor, can the new duke safeguard her reputation and repair his own?



Kathleen Buckley became interested in history before she learned to read (every Saturday when her mother took her to the Anchorage library, she insisted on going through the library’s fascinating exhibit of Eskimo artifacts). As soon as she learned to read, she wanted to write, and began with a dictionary of all the words she knew how to spell. This led to a Master’s Degree in English literature and a series of non-writing-related jobs: customer service in a hospital billing department, accounts receivable bookkeeper in a commercial print shop, paralegal, and security officer.

She has lived in both Anchorage and Fairbanks, Alaska, in Seattle, Washington, and now lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico (warmer than Alaska; dryer than Seattle). Favorite authors in no particular order: Jane Austen, Louise Penny, Sir Walter Scott, J.A. Jance, Lois McMaster Bujold, Robert B. Parker, Fiona Buckley (no relation), Georgette Heyer, Anne Perry, John Dickson Carr, Mary Balogh, Elizabeth Peters/Barbara Michaels, Andrew Vachss.

Where to find Kathleen…

Blog | Facebook | Goodreads

11 responses to “10 Facts about 18th Century Food and Drink

  1. Fascinating! And a bit stomach turning. It makes living in the country sound even more appealing, where at least part of the year you would have some fresh fruit and vegetables. Not a very healthy diet at all. Love your cover. Best wishes on sales.

    • Thank you! (I love the cover, too.) Actually, during the growing season, fruits and vegetables were available in London: there were market gardens all around the edge of the city. It simply seems to have been habit that made vegetables (except as pickles) a less favored part of the meal.

  2. As it’s the holiday season, I should probably mention that George Washington’s eggnog was so high octane that his guests found it too strong. Amazing in an age when men drank deep and frequently, and ratafia–which is basically flavored brandy–was considered a suitable ladies’ drink.

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