We settled down with a late dinner this evening to watch "Edwardian Super Size Me", an everyday gastronomic adventure with all the trimmings and a side order of lard. And extra trimmings.
And extra lard.
It turns out that the people of the Edwardian Era, led by King Edward VII or King Tum-Tum as he was known by his loving subjects, were rather fond of their food. It would be unfair to say that they ate like pigs, mainly because "entire pig for breakfast" seems like a pretty average start to the day!
For this experiment, restraint critic Mr Giles Coren and very funny but much underused Ms Sue Perkins were asked to be Edwardians for a week – wearing all the clothes and eating all the food.
Mr Giles went to see a DOCTOR, Doctor Petty. Or Doctor Pennyfarthing as Mr Giles ended up calling him after his soon-to-be-nightly glass or two of Madeira wine.
"You're completely mad," was Dr Pennyfarthing's professional opinion, "and you'll be dead in a fortnight!"
Good job they were only doing it for a week!
Monday's menu consisted of: Porridge, Sardines on Toast, Curried Eggs, Grilled Cutlets, Coffee & Drinking Chocolate, Bread & Butter, and Honey.
And that was just breakfast!
Luncheon of sauté of kidneys on toast, mashed potatoes, macaroni au gratin and rolled ox tongue (bleurgh!) was followed by High Tea of fruit cake, Madeira cake, hot potato cakes, coconut rocks, bread, toast, and butter before settling in for Dinner of oyster patties, sirloin steak, braised celery, roast goose, potato scallops, and vanilla soufflé to finish.
Well, "finish" if you don't count the aforementioned glass of Madeira and a goose leg that poor Sue just hadn't been able to face.
But Monday was just a run-of-the-mill sort of a day. No really! That's what they ate when they WEREN'T trying to impress anyone.
Tuesday started with breakfast at Simpsons on the Strand with a light repast of smoked haddock, scrambled eggs, kippers, cold cuts, one roast pheasant, fruit, bacon, sausages, devilled kidneys, scones and kedgeree.
By this time Sue and Mr Giles were barely able to move, so they decided to try out an Edwardian diet. This turned out to be, basically, exactly the same as any other Edwardian meal, but chewed and chewed and chewed until either the food turned to liquid or you died of lockjaw.
Oysters, foie gras terrine, roast cod with asparagus, mutton hotpot, pink Yorkshire rhubarb and clotted cream were all given this treatment. Which was a shame as it probably wasn't helping them cut calories but it was killing all the flavours stone dead.
It was claimed that King Edward had tried this diet himself – but, said Mr Giles looking at a portly portrait, the evidence would appear other wise. This made both of my daddies scoff. (No NOT in the Edwardian fashion!) Surely the evidence is only against him having used the Fletcherism Diet if it ACTUALLY WORKS! said Daddy Richard; personally, I think the evidence of him shows that the diet has no effect whatsoever, said Daddy Alex.
Still, no time to worry about that as they had to hurry home in order to host a dinner party.
Melon glacé, mock turtle soup, sole au gratin, crab and asparagus mousse in aspic, boiled mutton with caper sauce, quail pudding and a rather wobbly punch romaine jelly for pud. The quail pudding, by the way, was a whole quali each, wrapped in fillet steak and sealed in a suet crust.
By this point, Daddy Richard was looking rather queasy, but Daddy Alex said his mouth was watering. I said that we could try this diet if I could have the equivalent in STICKY BUNS, and Daddy Alex AGREED!
I reckon that this must be at least ten-million-and-four sticky buns, but Daddy Richard tells me that 5000 calories a day is only about 20 sticky buns. I think he is trying to get out of it, don't you!
Meanwhile, dinner guest Mr Roy Fattersly was pointing out, while tucking into the suet pudding, that only nought-point-one per cent of the population could actually afford to live like this. The rest were on bread and dripping once a day if they were lucky. Not that this had stopped Mr Roy from turning up for the dinner, but maybe it was just so that he could make exactly that point. And at least he had the grace to depart before the food fight broke out!
In fact, Mr Giles told us that a dinner party like this one – which, if you were a society hostess, you would be expected to serve up two or three times a week – would cost £24 in old money. Which was equivalent to TWO THOUSAND POUNDS today.
Or to put it another way, you would need something like SEVEN MILLION pounds of capital just to be able to afford the DINNER PARTIES.
And that was just dinner for 8 – you might be expected to have up to 20 guests. Multiply the money appropriately.
Wednesday, and after the usual breakfast, Mr Giles was off to Simpsons Chophouse of Cornhill for the lunch of a city gent: steak and kidney pudding with a giant sausage, then a huge pork chop and then stewed cheese served with mustard on little bits of toast.
Sue unfortunately was not allowed in. Simpsons did not admit women until 1916 and that was after the Edwardian era was over – King Tum Tum passed away from (to nobody's surprise) a massive double heart attack in 1910.
So, barred from the bastion of male do-dah, she took a day-trip to Brighton instead.
The Edwardians loved to take the train down to the coast, though on the way they would take in a – you guessed it – five-course luncheon. Sue doubted that South West Trains were quite up to the silver service these days, so brought a HUGE hamper and a picnic of lobster mousse, toasted whole sardines, a rolled salmon cone (which Sue called an oily fish CORNETTO) and something in a plastic tub made of curried fish and garlic the smell of which left most of the other passengers to Brighton in a semi-comatose state. I hope that the BBC paid for their train tickets!
Daddy Alex, on the other fluffy foot – a Daddy who claims not to be as fond of fish as he is of LARD – has CONFESSED to a strange HANKERING to find out what the deadly fish-and-garlic-box contained. But not while Daddy Richard is in the same hemisphere, he promises.
(Incidentally, on the subject of the EVIL FISH COURSE, dear Mr Paul suggests I might have something to say about Scottish politics. Whatever can he mean???)
Sue was, of course, doing all this in a full-on WHALEBONE CORSET. So, she admitted, it was sometimes something of a STRAIN. (And that was BEFORE we went into the to-camera TOILET MONOLOGUES!) Despite being taught the ETIQUETTE of eating cakes at the Ritz – small bites and then make conversation about sewing, or try a little French – she had to admit that a lot of the time she was just pushing the food around the plate and leaving lots. In fact, she said, many Edwardian ladies would confine themselves to bed rather than face the horrors of the breakfast and luncheon tables!
Mr Giles was also kitted out in Edwardian garb, and that afternoon it meant big flappy shorts in order to try some Edwardian exercise: a game of five which looked like a crowded squash court where everyone had forgotten their bat. I am NOT SURE that the athletic authorities today would approve of Mr Giles use of BANNED SUBSTANCES either – namely a big cigar and a bigger glass of brandy.
Then back home for another huge dinner.
In the interest of a more feminine approach – and to try and rebalance her now desperately Atkins diet – Sue took Mr Giles to a vegetarian restaurant on Thursday. Yes, it turns out they DID have veggie restaurants in Edwardian times. About thirty of them. Not that the Edwardians really thought of vegetables as proper food.
They were also a HOTBED of the SUFFRAGETTE movement. This came about for three reasons. Firstly, because the vegetarian restaurants were also Temperance Houses and so, with only ginger beer to drink, rather than falling asleep in the afternoon they could spend it in fervent political discussion. Secondly, vegetarian food did not need as much preparation as half-a-dozen meat courses and this liberated ladies from the stove. And thirdly, anyone unlucky enough to be sent to prison for protesting the right to vote was well advised NOT to eat the meat!
The thing to go with all of this FOOD is of course something to DRINK, and the Edwardians were it turns out terribly fond of CHAMPAGNE. In fact it was usually BREAKFAST TIME when they were wiring their way into their first bottle and the rest of the day would be carried along in a fizz of bubble.
No wonder Mr Steed is always dressed as an Edwardian gent!
So, after having some pink fizz at Harrods to start them off, Saturday saw Sue and Mr Giles off to Hampstead Heath for a spot of picnicking. Of course, they didn't have the forty-odd servants to lay it all out for them, and Sue did insist on experimenting with a newfangled (invented 1892 but commercially available from 1904) Thermos flask for TEA, but good old Mr Giles stuck in to his lobster and champers.
But the climax of the week was to be an all out blow out at the Savoy, recreating an actual meal from 1906. King Tum Tum had SERIOUSLY taken to eating out – after years of having to cope with his mother's home cooking at Windsor Castle, you cannot really blame him! And apparently, a huge meal, like the one that Mr Giles and Sue were about to indulge in, would cost only £7. Obviously that is still the equivalent to £600 today. But remember how expensive the dinner parties were in comparison. Eating out quickly became VERY popular.
(Plus there was the whole "you can mix with exciting and exotic actors and dancers and opera stars without having to invite such a vulgar class of people into your own home". Which was nice.)
Of course, today in the real world, eating at the Savoy has gotten a BIT more expensive. Here is what they had to eat. And by now they were no longer having to force it down. Which was nice for tonight, but probably a bit worrying for the next week when they have to come down to today's portions.
First course: £1,000 worth of Beluga Caviar and native and rock oysters.
Second course: Pot au feu Henry IV. Mr Giles called it the shoulder, shank, rib and tail of beef braised all day and served in their broth with a blob of béarnaise, but it's basically beef soup. With the beef added back in.
Third course: A choice of sole cardinale and whitebait. Or, if you're eating the Edwardian way, both.
Fourth course: Chicken d'Albufera, i.e. a whole chicken (each, obviously) stuffed with rice, truffles and foie gras, served in a sauce of boiled cream, triply-reduced, with mushrooms and more truffles and quenelles of veal tongue and chicken.
Fifth course: saddle of lamb with spring vegetables and parsley potatoes. Not that the Edwardians really thought of vegetables as proper food.
Sixth course: pressed Rouen ducklings. This was the bit where even Daddy Alex went a bit cross-eyed. Four duckling were individually hand strangled especially for them in France. Once roasted, they were placed into a solid silver duck press so that they could be crushed before their – and our! – eyes. "Ooh, it's a duckling smoothie," said Sue. What was left of their insides was then scraped out, stuck in the liquidiser, liquidised, brought back and boilded up in a silver dish with the blood that had been squeezed out and a dash of champagne (obviously) in order to produce a sauce for the meat. "Mmmm, slightly bummy duck's blood," said Sue.
Seventh course: asparagus hollandaise, just a little something to clear the palate. Or in Sue's case, to get caught immovably between the teeth. The Edwardians apparently loved this but it's supposed to be a bit bad for the gout.
Eighth course: Peach Melba, served in a hand-carved ice-swan that was bigger than ME!. This dessert is of course named after the famous opera singer: Dame Placido Flamingo.
Ninth course: Canapés à la Diane, which looked like yet more truffles on toast.
Tenth course: call for ambulance!
The week finished with a return visit to Doctor Pennyfarthing, whose tests of Mr Giles revealed that he had increased his body fat by 10%, increased his cholesterol by 15% and increased the gout-causing urea in his blood by a third! And he was now clinically dead.
The Edwardians, you see, had a life expectancy of 42. Yes, 42. Oddly enough, something about eating the equivalent of an entire family of hippopotami every week might have had some deleterious effect on their health. Either that or they just EXPLODED.
So presumably they didn't live long enough to learn that all that bacon was
Sadly, this whole way of life was killed off by World War part one and an invasion of American BREAKFAST CEREALS.
Anyway, even before the ICKY SQUISHED duck, Daddy Alex had started to realise that something was MISSING from all this Edwardian excess. And then it dawned on him: the missing ingredient – CHOCOLATE.
Stuff that for a game of soldiers, then, he said. The Edwardian diet is OFF!