Victorian food – The good, the bad and the simply revolting!

Checking my diary recently, it made me realise that it’s only weeks away before Love Local set up a stall at the wonderful Gloucester Quays Victorian Christmas Market.

Add to that my 9 year old is working on a project at school about Dickensian London and the focus in our house seems to be all things Victorian.

These days the seasoned foodie can find a wealth of delicious artisan produce and street food at any good farmers market throughout the country but imagine stepping back in time and checking out some of the strange fayre our Victorian ancestors had to choose from?

Here are some popular Victorian foods that are unlikely to appeal to the masses today.

Sheep’s trotters

Sheep’s trotters were a favourite street food for working class Victorians. They would buy the trotter whole and enjoy sucking the sticky meat and fat from the bone.

Vendors would typically pick up the trotters cheaply from the slaughterhouse and prepare them for sale at home by removing the skin and parboiling them.

Toes and hoofs weren’t necessarily cleaned before sale, which didn’t seem to deter the consumers!

Eels for sale

Eels for sale

Hot eels

Eels were cut into pieces and boiled. The juices seasoned and thickened with parsley and flour and kept hot ready to serve.

A portion of eel meat was usually served in a cup with the juices separately and vinegar or butter could be added to enhance the taste.

Calves foot jelly

Well the name says it all really but this Victorian delicacy had an unexpected ’surprise’ ingredient… the calf’s head and brains!

Yes, the calf’s head and feet were boiled for many hours and then strained.  The calf’s brains were added to the mixture and then it was poured into a mould, which would set in its own natural gelatin.

A popular recipe thought to bring good health to invalids, apparently!

Bloaters

A bloater was effectively a salted herring; cold smoked whole including its head, eyeballs and guts resulting in a bloated appearance.

If you were really lucky your bloater might have roe in its body cavity!  Yum!

Broxy

Broxy was the name given to diseased sheep that had dropped dead of an illness.

The butchered animals were sold to the lower classes as a meat for those who couldn’t afford better.

The hungry, poor people of Victorian England not only risked getting heartburn or an upset tummy but they could catch one of the many sheep sicknesses that could be passed on to humans including tetanus, toxoplasmosis, salmonella and ringworm.

Those who couldn’t afford broxy, survived on potatoes and other rotting vegetables, which seems like a preferable option to me!

This seems like a good place to sign off from my ‘horrible histories for foodies’, as I’ve just come across a dish which may have been more suitable for a Halloween article… for the curious go and look up ‘slink’….. barf!

Thankfully not all Victorian food was this grim, wealthy Victorians enjoyed lavish feasts and traditions still in practice today but we’ll save that for next time.

Do you have any old recipes from a bygone era that you use or have adapted for today?

We’d love to hear about them!  Please share on Facebook.

Main photograph of Victorian shellfish stall holder by John Thomson (LSE Digital Library) Artwork from ‘Street Life In London’ by John Thomson and Adolphe Smith.