By Ruth Haring
Dining during the Regency Period at an upper class house or manor was a great occasion. The meal itself lasted several hours or more, then the after-dinner tea and port, followed by games and dancing could last until the wee hours. The dinner followed several rules of etiquette different from today, and very much revolved around the class system of the day. Guests were assembled in the drawing room until the hostess announced that dinner was about to be served. Guests were advised to not rise too eagerly, and women especially were advised to wait until the gentleman of the house requested you to pass into the drawing room. He would offer the lady of most distinction his hand. The gentlemen then offered their arms to the ladies (Protocol dictated that they take the arm of the lady who was their closest social equal) and conducted them as far as the table. Gentlemen of lesser status were advised not to offer their arm to the most handsome or distinguished lady as this was considered a great impoliteness. The Procession into the dining room made guests aware of their relative social positions. Having arrived at the table, each gentleman respectfully saluted the lady whom he conducts, who in her turn bows also.
Dinners during the Regency were prolonged affairs lasting hours, then followed by cards, gambling or music. Dinner was served a la francaise in most grand houses, which meant that the majority of dishes were arranged in the middle of the table and people were supposed to help themselves from the nearest dish and then offer it to their neighbors. If someone wanted a dish at the other end of the table they had to ask a footman or fellow guest to pass it to them. A formal dinner consisted of two courses or removes followed by a dessert. Unlike today’s dinner of soup or salad, main course, then dessert, a complete variety of dishes was served at each remove. The first remove usually had a choice of entrees, side dishes and several roast joints. These would then be cleared but guests would retain their plates for the second remove, consisting usually of fish, pies, plum pudding, vegetables, small birds, chicken and a variety of puddings. These would all be served and eaten together, the apple pie by the roast trout, pheasant next to blancmange. Often roasts would include the body parts of the animal as a decorative finish. A roast hare might be served with its ears sticking straight up and with fur still on the paws, head, and tail, or a peacock with its tail fanned out and complete head attached. Dessert was usually fruit, cheese, and ice creams. Interestingly, the tablecloth was always removed before dessert. The best dishes – the roasts and fancy puddings, were always placed near the host or important guest and those further down the table had to make do with what was left (probably the vegetables.)
During dinner, there were some rules of etiquette to be followed. Some advice to guests: It is ridiculous to make a display of your napkin, to attach it with pins upon your bosom, or to pass it through your buttonhole. You should not eat your soup with a fork, or cut your bread with a knife for it should be broken by hand. Pour your coffee into the saucer to cool. The question of whether it is proper or not to sing at the table depends upon the ton of the gentleman of the house. People do not sing at the table of people of fashion and the high classes of society, but they still sing at the tables of the middling classes. At the end of the meal, custom allows ladies to dip their fingers into a glass of plain water and to wipe them with their napkins.
You had conversation only with the person on your left or right, therefore where the hostess sat her guests was critical. Informal dinners were less rigid and you could talk across the table. You only drank wine with someone else. A lady or gentleman would “raise his glass” to you and you also would drink in return. Even though Wine glasses were much smaller in the Regency, quite a bit of wine was consumed.
In England, after dinner, the women would withdraw to the drawing room where tea was served. A tray loaded with a spirit lamp and an ornate urn would be brought in and the hostess would leave the table to brew tea for her guests. The men would join later and then the Port would appear.
Leek and ham soup
Salmon baked in pastry
Fricassee of chicken
Cabbage and spinach cake
Roast saddle of mutton
Asparagus with butter
Boiled beef tongue
Port wine sauce
Salmagundi (a dish composed of chopped meat, anchovies, eggs, onions with oil and condiments)
Boiled turkey with crayfish
A raised game pie
Wine and butter sauce
Regency House Party by Lucy Jago
Everyday Life in Regency and Victorian England by Kristine Hughes