19 Victorian Foods We Can’t Imagine A Human Being Eating
When Queen Victoria took the throne in 1837, politics, religion, and family life were reformed throughout her 63-year reign. And as the times changed, so did the food that was placed on the table. Although progress was made within society, the class system was still firmly in place, and those classes were reflected in Victorian food, which, in turn, was sometimes really bizarre. Depending on one’s status and income, one would indulge in several of the Victorian foods listed below.
Luckily, many of these strange eats have been weeded out of modern cookbooks — however, some have remained and can still be sampled at several English pubs.
Many foods and recipes from the Victorian era are twists on old English classics that have been around since the 14th and 15th centuries. Others are simply products of what was available at the time. Victorians — especially those of the lower classes — made sure to use every part of an animal and made the most of what little ingredients they could afford. Think Oliver Twist and his gruel porridge — hey, it didn’t have to be flavorful. It just had to fill you up. The upper classes feasted on things we’re much more familiar with, like seasoned veggies, roasted meats, and sugary desserts.
We decided to explore some of the odd eats of the era, some appetizing — some repulsive.
We’re curious to know if you’d dare try any of the Victorian faves from this list.
1. Marrow Toast
Yup, bone marrow. Marrow toast was supposedly a favorite of Queen Victoria, according to her former cook Charles Francatelli, who included the recipe in his 1861 book, The Cook’s Guide and Housekeeper’s & Butler’s Assistant.
He instructs fellow cooks and house staff to procure bone from the butcher and remove the marrow.
Cut the marrow into small pieces and parboil with a bit of salt for about a minute. Drain and toss with parsley, salt, pepper, lemon juice, and a smidge of shallot. Spread the mix onto crisp toast and serve, preferably at dinnertime.
This is actually frightening. Times were tough for the poor during Victorian era, and many would take anything they could get — like broxy. Broxy was an umbrella term for any meat the butcher had for sale that had dropped dead from disease. Sheep, which, at the time, were incredibly susceptible to many communicable diseases like tetanus, salmonella, and ringworm, were most often sold as broxy meats.
Sadly, due to a major economic crisis, modern day Venezuelans have resorted back to the ways of the Victorian Englanders.
Hyperinflation and power outages have caused citizens to rely on spoiled meat as a source of protein, buying it in bulk at local markets. They rinse it with vinegar and lemon to remove potential disease that can make them ill.
3. Jellied Eels
Things were rough during this era. Working-class Londoners of the Victorian era snacked on jellied eels, which got their start in street carts in the East End. The name of the dish doesn’t leave much to the imagination, because it was (and still is) just that: jellied eels.
That’s right — you can still get this “delicacy” in some London eateries today.
Eels from the River Thames or imported from Holland were boiled in a stock made with a variety of herbs. The whole concoction was then cooled and the eels would jellify in their own naturally-produced gelatin. Some customers ate theirs with a splash of vinegar, and those who could afford it would slap on a pat of butter. And all jellied eels served from Victorian street carts were served in bowls that the last customer just used. Gross.
Kedgeree came about during England’s colonization of India, when curried foods were on the rise of popularity amongst the Victorian English.
This dish is a smoked haddock, milk, and rice stir-fry, topped with halved or quartered boiled eggs and seasoned with curry, coriander, and turmeric.
It’s seemingly a mish-mosh of strange ingredients that is still served today at English lunches and suppers. However, the Victorians loved to eat kedgeree for breakfast, which makes us a bit queasy.
5. Brown Windsor Soup
Brown Windsor Soup was everyone’s favorite dish during the Victorian era in England. Royalty, middle and lower classes alike, all slurped this soup down like no tomorrow. According to The Foods of England Project, Brown Windsor Soup was known as “the very soup reputed to have built the British Empire.” Holy moly.
With a dish so popular, one would think that it’s made with the best of the best ingredients.
ut actually, it’s comprised of beef gravy, malt vinegar, pepper, dark dried fruits like dates and figs, and an optional dash of hot Madeira wine. It sounds a bit sludge-like to us. But hey, if it was good enough for the Queen-Empress, we’d be willing to try it.
6. Boiled Calf’s Head
Vegetarians and vegans look away — this is the worst possible thing you could have been served in the Victorian era. 1861’s The Book of Household Management, edited by Isabella Beeton, horrendously details how one would prepare boiled calf’s head. The process began with “scraping off” the hair, removing the eyes and brain, and cutting off the ears. Yes, we’re gagging and crying, too.
The head was then boiled in salted water.
While it was cooking, the brains would be prepared separately, sautéed with salt, pepper, parsley, cayenne, lemon juice, and butter. These were then presented on a platter, neatly surrounding the detached tongue of the calf. The head would be placed at the center of the table for guests to ogle at.
7. Sheep’s Trotters
Similar to the boiled calf head, Victorians also loved a good sheep trotter (aka boiled sheep’s foot). Sheep’s trotters were popular among the lower classes because they were an affordable alternative to meat, despite there being little substance to them. Street vendors sold fried sheep’s trotters, which were even more enjoyable than the boiled variety.
8. Pickled Oysters
Okay, these aren’t that bad — comparatively. In order to preserve shellfish for longer periods of time, working-class Victorian folks would pickle oysters to have a source of protein that would last them a few days, weeks, or ahem, months.
Oysters, whelks, and periwinkles were sold for cheap, and when fresh, could be eaten raw.
However, if one was to buy in bulk, or if the shellfish began to turn, pickling was the best option for dragging out its shelf-life, so to speak.
9. Cold Boiled Turkey with Mayonnaise
This “galantine of turkey,” prepared above by an actor portraying the real Mrs. Avis Crocombe, the head cook at Audley End House in England, is nothing like the traditional turkey us Americans roast up at Thanksgiving. This Victorian turkey recipe, pulled from Mrs. Crocombe’s own 1880s-era recipe book, calls for a whole turkey, with bones removed and stuffed with a sausage and pistachio stuffing, to be wrapped, boiled in stock, and served cold, jellied, and covered with mayonnaise.
It doesn’t necessarily sound unappetizing — just different.
Although popular amongst the Victorians, haggis has been around since the mid 15th century — perhaps even earlier — and is still consumed by Scots and English today.
Haggis is like a sausage, made with the heart, lungs, and liver of a sheep or calf, with copious amounts of seasoning.
A Victorian English recipe for haggis calls for “heart, the tongue, and a part of the liver of the sheep, with a third of its weight in fat bacon,” anchovies, bread crumbs, grated lemon peel, eggs, wine, and salt and pepper.
A Victorian folktale describes haggis as the food of witches, specifically the famous witch, Mag Shelton.
Interesting. Very interesting. Saloop was the preferred morning or evening hot drink of many working-class Victorians.
A hot drink made with a sassafras bark flour and flavored with milk and sugar, saloop was considered a hearty and nutritious drink similar to tea.
Saloop actually got its start in the 1600s and was originally made with ground-up orchid roots. The drink is still popular in Turkey.
12. Water Souchy
What it means will hurt your stomach. Think seafood stew, but a lot less flavorful. “Water souchy” means “seafood water,” because that’s pretty much exactly what it was.
Victorians would throw their fresh catch or fishy leftovers into a pot with water.
They’d bring it to a boil, add some parsley root and wine, if available, and that’s pretty much it. This dish definitely had a fishy/low tide taste to it and was often filled with fish bones.
13. Heron Pudding
We feel bad for these birds. Even though this recipe was recorded for the first time in 1914, about a decade after the Victorian era ended, chances are heron pudding made an appearance on Victorian tables. The key to making sure one’s heron pudding turns out tasty is to make sure none of the heron’s bones are broken before cooking.
“These bones are filled with a fishy fluid, which, if allowed to come in contact with the flesh, makes the whole bird taste of fish,”
writes May Byron in her 1914 book, Pot-luck; or, The British home cookery book. “This fluid, however, should be always extracted from the bones, and kept in the medicine cupboard, for it is excellent applied to all sorts of cuts and cracks.” The heron is picked, flayed, and sliced into appropriate pieces for the pudding. The pudding itself is boiled for several hours depending on the size of the bird.
14. Mince Meat Pies
We’re just not sure if this mince meat pie recipe is supposed to be savory or sweet — or both? Made with ox tongue, raisins, suet, and lots of sugar, this traditional mince meat pie, which was a Christmastime staple at Victorian mealtimes, from Mrs. Crocombe’s collection, looks interesting to say the least.
15. Rice Milk
Similar to saloop, Victorians also commonly drank a hot cup of rice milk, usually served from street cart vendors. Rice milk is basically a watered-down rice pudding made by boiling rice in skimmed milk. Sugar and allspice could be mixed into the beverage, which was given out by the spoonful. And no, the spoon wasn’t often cleaned.
16. Fish Paste
Bloaters, or cured and salted herring that’s cold smoked, were popular among Victorians — cured fish meant it lasted longer. And bloater paste was even more popular because it didn’t spoil and could be transported all over England. Unlike the fish paste we use today to flavor soups and sauces, Victorians used it as a paté, simply spreading it on toast or adding it to sandwiches.
Let’s remember that people didn’t brush their teeth during this period of time either…
Still hungry? Let’s just be thankful that we can pop over to Panera rather than brew up some water souchy or saloop.
17. Bone Broth
The BBC reports that people living in slums during the Victorian era didn’t have many cooking utensils and as a result, they ended up living on gruel, bread, and broth.
This particular broth was made using leftover bones that were boiled in water.
In addition, Kettle & Fire reveals, “In the Victorian era, people started to take the gelatin from bone broth and use it to make all kinds of gelatin deserts.”
Similar to molasses, treacle is a thick syrup made from refined sugar. Victorian Children states that it was especially popular during this time, and British Food History explains that treacle was actually used as a medicine during the 17th century. It was believe that treacle was good for one’s blood and as a result, it was used during the treatment of poisoning.
19. Flour Soup
No thanks. According to Listverse, the Victorians ate something called flour soup, which is exactly what it sounds like: water, butter, flour, salt, and caraway seeds boiled and mixed until smooth.
We imagine that this tasted pretty bland, and honestly can’t fathom why one would eat such a thing without veggies.
But things were clearly different during this era, and Victorians had to do what Victorians had to do.