Musings & Contemplations

Vegetarians in The Victorian Times and Baked Tomatoes #MuseumWeek, #GetCreative

Archive image from the Powell-Cotton Museum, Quex Park, Birchington, Kent

Archive image from the Powell-Cotton Museum, Quex Park, Birchington, Kent

This week is #MuseumWeek on twitter and today is #GetCreative day so in the name of having fun and being creative I researched some interesting facts about vegetarians in the Victorian times and then had a go at making a few traditional vegetarian dishes from the era!

My friend at the Quex Park and Powell Cotton Museum in Kent (@LizBotts, @PowellCotton) recommended some great websites which I reference in this post and was kind enough to point me in the direction of this great twitter campaign. Of course I jumped at the chance to be involved and to learn about vegetarianism and food in general from a historical point of view. This is a slightly different tone of post than I usually share but hopefully you will find it interesting 🙂

Staff group c.1887-1

Staff at Quex House c.1887 Archive image from the Powell-Cotton Museum, Quex Park, Birchington, Kent

There is a lot of information regarding vegetarians in the Victorian times online and it is clear that the concept of a vegetarian diet was quite new, well actually it is very very old but it fell out of fashion and then started to come back again. It wasn’t a popular movement in the upper classes so you would find the poorer public or servants (such as the ones pictured above) were the ones following a low meat diet due to the high costs of meat. If they did eat meat is was cheap cuts such as offal and it was cooked simply and made to stretch far.

Many religious circles also favoured a vegetarian diet. Reverend William Cowherd‘s headed the first fully vegetarian church and demanded that the congregation follow this diet. He believed every animal was inhabited by God and that eating the meat was therefore a sin. His followers formed The Vegetarian Society which still runs and is widely popular to this day!

But money and religion weren’t the only reason there were vegetarians! I found the following extract from Vichist blog really interesting:

“Health was one of the great obsessions of the Victorians. There were frequent and devastating outbreaks of disease during the Queen’s reign. If it wasn’t influenza, it was typhus, if not typhus, then cholera. And if that wasn’t enough, there was always the possibility of Scarlet fever or typhoid.
We can clearly see two streams of thought in support of vegetarianism. The first is medicinal, arguing that a diet which excludes meat is better for the health and more likely to help in the avoidance of certain types of disease as well as having curative properties. The other, even amongst medical practitioners, is essentially a moral argument that it is immoral to kill and eat animals.”

It is a common fact these days that a high vegetable diet is the most healthy option for our bodies and it is interesting to see that even back then they were realising that fruits and vegetables had medicinal properties and could promote good health. In fact there is a strong chance that this was a more mainstream concept than it seems to be today!!

Next I looked into a great recommended website called A website about running a Victorian household. I also found this passage from chapter 4 interesting about the reasons people strayed from a vegetarian diet historically.

Man, in his primitive state, lives upon roots and the fruits of the earth, until, by degrees, he is driven to seek for new means, by which his wants may be supplied and enlarged. He then becomes a hunter and a fisher. As his species increases, greater necessities come upon him, when he gradually abandons the roving life of the savage for the more stationary pursuits of the herdsman. These beget still more settled habits, when he begins the practice of agriculture, forms ideas of the rights of property, and has his own, both defined and secured. The forest, the stream, and the sea are now no longer his only resources for food. He sows and he reaps, pastures and breeds cattle, lives on the cultivated produce of his fields, and revels in the luxuries of the dairy; raises flocks for clothing, and assumes, to all intents and purposes, the habits of permanent life and the comfortable condition of a farmer.

This is true in many ways of the modern man. The more we expand and advance the more we feel we need and the more we seek in terms of food.

I also loved reading the advice on cooking and presenting food, everything used has a real purpose and nothing is too fancy or ‘simply garnish’. I found the recipes really fun to browse through, everything is cooked very simply with plenty of butter, gravy, cream and parsley. Their preferred cooking method seems to be baking or stewing (even stewed cucumbers!!!) and when it came to fruits everything is preserved in some shape or form and then used to cook with.

So, how did I get creative? I made these tomatoes of course! They were cooked in a little butter (I used vegan spread), salt and pepper and topped with home made bread crumbs. They are then baked for approx 20 minutes and served ‘piping hot’. It was recommended this is served as a side dish. I plan to stir mine into salads for a great sweet addition.

She provides this extra information on tomatoes which I found very interesting. Tomatoes aren’t something I imagined they ate a lot of but it was obviously a well used ingredient!

TOMATOES.—The Tomato is a native of tropical countries, but is now cultivated considerably both in France and England. Its skin is of a brilliant red, and its flavour, which is somewhat sour, has become of immense importance in the culinary art. It is used both fresh and preserved. When eaten fresh, it is served as an entremets; but its principal use is in sauce and gravy; its flavour stimulates the appetite, and is almost universally approved. The Tomato is a wholesome fruit, and digests easily. From July to September, they gather the tomatoes green in France, not breaking them away from the stalk; they are then hung, head downwards, in a dry and not too cold place; and there they ripen.


Here is another recipe I can’t wait to try:

Baked pears.

1574. INGREDIENTS – 12 pears, the rind of 1 lemon, 6 cloves, 10 whole allspice; to every pint of water allow 1/2 lb. of loaf sugar.

Mode.—Pare and cut the pears into halves, and, should they be very large, into quarters; leave the stalks on, and carefully remove the cores. Place them in a clean baking-jar, with a closely-fitting lid; add to them the lemon-rind cut in strips, the juice of 1/2 lemon, the cloves, pounded allspice, and sufficient water just to cover the whole, with sugar in the above proportion. Cover the jar down closely, put it into a very cool oven, and bake the pears from 5 to 6 hours, but be very careful that the oven is not too hot. To improve the colour of the fruit, a few drops of prepared cochineal may be added; but this will not be found necessary if the pears are very gently baked.

Time.—Large pears, 5 to 6 hours, in a very slow oven.

Average cost, 1d. to 2d. each.

Sufficient for 7 or 8 persons.

Seasonable from September to January.

So go and check out the twitter campaign and see what else everyone has been doing to GetCreative!

4 thoughts on “Vegetarians in The Victorian Times and Baked Tomatoes #MuseumWeek, #GetCreative

    • Hey, I know I found it very interesting reading the recipes. Their recipes were all very simple and focused on cost but that’s not very different from a lot of people these days. Not sure I’d ever stew some of the things they recommend though! Like cucumbers and Celery… mmm 🙂

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