Further Back In Time For Dinner: 1900-1919

further back in time for dinner
The Robshaws are already two decades into their tasty time travels, eating their way through British food history decade by decade, and I've really been enjoying the series so far. (If you're in the UK and you've missed it, you can catch up on BBC iPlayer.) They're living a middle-class lifestyle, which makes sense in many ways, as poorer people probably wouldn't have experienced as much variety or been able take advantage of trends in cookery. However, as people of that class would have had at least one maid, they've got one too – and what a trooper Debbie is. She prepared calf's head for one meal, and plucked pigeons for another.

The 1900s was a very meaty decade, it seems. Chops for breakfast, anyone? Kidneys? The family seemed astonished at the amount of meat on the menu. One thing that came up in the 1910s was how the suffragettes had close ties to the vegetarian movement, and I can't blame the female Robshaws for being delighted at their veggie suffragette lunch in 1911, especially after the previous decade's supper of brains in scrambled eggs. That'd put me off meaty things for a fair time.
1910s kitchen
The 1900s kitchen was very rudimentary, with a solid-fuel cooker.
The number of courses to each meal was far more than we're used to nowadays. I half-expected it; my copy of Quaglino's cookbook from the 1930s features three-course lunch menus and five-course dinner ones, but it's still got to be an awful lot to live with. Even the picnic the family went on involved cooked meats and elaborate salads. Debbie was turning all this out pretty much singlehandedly, first on a solid-fuel stove and then, for the 1910s, a very early gas cooker. Needless to say, she doesn't have anything like a fridge, and most kitchen gadgets are pretty basic.
Fred and Brandon make a hay box
Fred and Brandon make a hay box
Over the 1910s food got more expensive, and menus much more limited. One of the reasons for this was the First World War. I hadn't realised just how much tinned food Britain imported in the first couple of decades of the 20th century, and war knocked that on the head. Debbie was dispatched to the grocer's with a massive dustbin to stock up on provisions, though the authorities really frowned on that. After slaving away day-in, day out, Debbie quite sensibly went off to join the Women's Land Army in the mid-1910s and left the Robshaws to fend for themselves, which meant Rochelle was left with all the cooking, though Brandon and Fred did build a hay box, the 1910s equivalent of a slow cooker.
wwI land girl
Earning four times as much as a land girl. Debbie, you are FREE.
I feel slightly sorry for Rochelle as her daughters should have been helping, by the standards of the day, but she really is inept in the kitchen and it's pretty funny too. (Yes, she has to use a tin opener at one point. Oh, Rochelle.)
Rochelle with a tin opener
NOOOO! (Apparently tinned tomato soup was a luxury, sold at Fortnums.)
Next episode is the 1920s, and what does that mean? Cocktails, I hope. And we can all drool over the transformation of their home, and whatever lovely crockery they end up with. I suspect we'll all be having severe homewares envy over the next fortnight.


  1. Wasn't Debbie a trooper? Maybe she'll get a spin-off series!

    I can't wait for cocktails!!

  2. I need to catch up on the I-player! I caused much hilarity with the serious runners in the office telling them about rubbing beef dripping on your feet to stop blisters and drinking champagne and cognac before and during to improve your performance!

  3. The clothes!! The clothes! I am dribbling over the clothes as I watch - sod the food!

    Debbie deserves some sort of an award; as I think do the family for eating all that meat.

  4. Mmmm...brains & scrambled eggs! (NOT!) I've found out I'm not much of a carnivore since moving to South Asia.
    I wonder when pressure cookers were invented?
    I wish I had as much storage in my kitchen as that 1910 version!

  5. I was going to watch the first episode tonight. Should only have read your post afterwards, shouldn't I? Couldn't resist having a peek, although the brains & scrambled eggs almost put me off watching ... xxx

  6. I'm loving this series and learning so much! Debbie was fantastic, I honestly don't know how she did it. All those hours must've hell and as for removing the meat from the calf's head, that really turned my stomach.

    I cannot wait for this week's and next. They're going to be amazing to watch and I know I'll be eating it all up! (yes, pun intended!!) xx

  7. I loved the first series and drooled over that 1960s kitchen! It says something when you watch these programmes and start picking out things that you've got. For us its all that Woods 'Beryl' Ware - they always cart that out for 1940/50s programmes.

    I'm glad that Beeb has started a second series though as the Robshaws are a really likeable family and get stuck in. (Chef's) Hats off to Debbie too - I really felt for her when she had t prepare that eight course dinner.


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