The Victorian cook was a key figure in the household but there was a great difference between the dishes produced by a “plain cook” working in a two or three servant household and cooks employed in large country houses.
“Queens of the Kitchen” (cooks) employed in grand houses where there were no male chefs employed were women who had worked their way through the kitchen ranks of scullery maid, still room maid and kitchen maid to reach the height of their profession. They were admired, feared and ruled their kitchens with a rod of iron. It was an extremely demanding job to produce elaborate dishes for entertaining guests of their employer because upon the cook’s competence depended a family’s reputation for hospitality.
In comparison with the huge rise in the urban population in Victorian times supplying the cities with food was problematic until the railways were well established. In addition at the time few slum dwellers possessed ovens or even cooking utensils and they had to survive on a meagre diet.
By 1900 there were many improvements with the import by sea of frozen meats, the introduction of canned food and the passing of important acts in 1875 concerning the safety of food.
This is a topic often ignored when considering Victorian life and with this talk Judith will address this failing!
About the speaker: Dr Judith Hill has lectured in adult education, for the WEA, various historical societies in the UK and overseas, and taught history at the University of Surrey. In 2007 she was awarded her PhD researching poverty and unrest in Surrey 1815-1834.
She has published several articles on emigration to Canada, the agricultural riots of 1830 to 1832 and 19th century cholera in Britain, and is now a freelance lecturer and researcher.