This section is from the book "Meals Medicinal", by W. T. Fernie. Also available from Amazon: Meals Medicinal: With "Herbal Simples" Curative Foods From the Cook in Place of Drugs From the Chemist.
At the Restoration period dinner never began with soup, and the fish was usually served together with the meats. Nearly every man dined wearing his hat, as the draughts in the dwellings were ghastly. Only one knife, and one fork, were placed before each diner, even at the Royal table, whilst at most dinners forks were an unknown quantity. "Dinner," as a modern writer declares, "should never be eaten without a Seventeenth Century Poet, in an old yellow-leaved edition, being on the table, not to be read, of course, any more than the flowers are to be eaten, but just to make a music of association very softly to our thoughts! Dinner is a mystery! a mystery whereof the greatest chef knows but little!" "Even our digestion is governed by angels," said Blake, "and (if you will but resist the trivial inclination to substitute ' bad angels') is there really any greater mystery than the process by which beef is turned into brains, and beer into beauty? Every handsome woman we see has been made out of beef-steaks, and the finest poem that was ever written came out of a grey, pulpy mass such as we make brain-sauce of".
Captain Gronow, formerly of the Grenadier Guards, wrote in his Reminiscences (1862) concerning "Diet, and Cookery in England," as he remembered them, in the early part of the eighteenth century: "Even in the best houses, when I was a young man the dinners were wonderfully solid, hot, and stimulating. The menu of a grand dinner was thus composed: Mulligatawny and turtle soups were the first dishes placed before you; a little lower the eye met with the familiar salmon at one end of the table, and the turbot, surrounded by smelts, at the other. The first course was sure to be followed by a saddle of mutton, or a piece of roast beef; and then you could take your oath that fowls, tongue, and ham would as assuredly succeed as darkness after day. The universally adored, and ever popular boiled potato, produced at the very earliest period of the dinner, was eaten with everything up to the moment when the sweets appeared. Our vegetables, the best in the world, were never honoured by an accompanying sauce, and generally came to the table cold.
A prime difficulty to overcome was the placing on your fork, and finally in your mouth, some half-dozen different eatables which occupied your plate at the same time; for example, your plate would contain, say, a slice of turkey, a piece of stuffing, a sausage, pickles, a slice of tongue, cauliflower, potatoes, and perhaps something more. A perpetual thirst seemed to come over people, both men and women, as soon as they had tasted their soup; and from that moment everybody was taking wine with everybody else until the close of dinner, and it was such wine as produced that kind of cordiality which frequently passes into stupefaction. From the bazaar of all these good things, according to habit and custom, a judicious, and careful selection had to be made, with the endeavour to place a portion of each in your mouth at the same moment. In fact, it appeared to me that we used to do all our compound cookery between our jaws. How all this eating and drinking ended was obvious, from the prevalence of gout, and the necessity (for everyone) of making the pill-box their constant bedroom companion".
"Better," said Solomon, the wisest of men, "is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a stalled ox, and hatred therewith".
Miss Horace Smith, of Rejected Addresses parentage, went on an occasion to the theatre at Brighton, and being asked after returning home if she had enjoyed herself, replied, "It was all dull; the house was nearly empty: there was no one in the stalls, not even an ox." As to relish for a meal, the French proverb "I'appetit vient en mangeant" embodies an indisputable truth - "Often will the relish increase as the meal progresses"; moreover, the sight of others eating is appetizing of itself. Major Loder, in Thackeray's Vanity Fair, is credited with a remark which goes to prove the truth of this assertion: "Come away into the supper room, Mrs. R.," he says to the guileless Becky; "seeing these nobs grubbing away has made me peckish, too".
In. or about the year 1600 it was customary to "dyne at XI of the clocke." For instance, "My Lady Cholmeley, having ordered her household during one morning, and instructed her many daughters in their various duties, went round her domaine from hop garthe to hen yard, from linen closet to larder, prying, tasting, and admonishing, until her family was call'd together to dyne at noon." During the time of Louis XIII of France the dinner was announced by blowing a horn, and thence came the order "Cornez le diner," leading to naming the viands "Corned beef," etc. "We had pudding before meat in my day," says Mr. Holbrook, the old-fashioned bachelor-yeoman in Cranford (Mrs. Gaskell, 1863). "When I was a young man we used to keep strictly to my father's rule, ' No broth, no ball: no ball, no beef,' and we always began dinner with broth; then came the suet puddings boiled in the broth with the beef; and then the meat itself. If we did not sup our broth we had no ball, which we liked a deal better; and the beef came last of all.