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melissajm in food_in_fiction

How things change!

"Common" foods at the turn of the 19th-20th centuries:
Oysters, lobster, foie gras and goose fat (at least in the NYC ghetto), dark, whole-grain bread

"Luxury" foods at the turn of the 19th-20th centuries:
White bread, chicken, canned fruit, lettuce

"Common" foods at the turn of the 20th-21st centuries:
Chicken, canned fruits and vegetables, mass-produced white bread, iceberg lettuce

"Luxury" foods at the turn of the 20th-21st centuries:
Oysters, lobster, foie gras and goose, organic whole-grain bread


Just goes to show, how much of our ideas about health are culturally constructed.

Edited at 2011-03-19 04:04 pm (UTC)
Yeah. Back then bland food was "nourishing" and spices were dangerous.

In this case, I think it was an issue of "rare" vs "easy to obtain" foods.
wow, thanks for pointing this out...I have a Victorian piece in the works and this is really useful...guess a merchant class family would consider a lettuce salad something special for a b-day meal.
British Victorian? Sometimes the term gets used in American books too.

I've been watching "Victorian farm" and "The Victorian Kitchen Garden" They've both been very informative.

Oo, check this out! http://www.mostly-victorian.com/cooking.shtml

And this: http://www.judgeslodging.org.uk/recipes/vegetables/salads_the_victorian_way/

In the old kids' books I got from my grandma (more early 1900s, and American), "pink and white" ice cream in molded shapes is often a big deal at fancy birthday parties. I don't know how far back that goes.

I've always found the cultural significance of lobster interesting. On Canada's east coast, lobster used to be so plentiful that they were turned into the soil as fertilizer. Eating the things was considered a sign of poverty.
I remember in early 1960s England when chicken was a Sunday treat even for the well-off middle classes. Mind you, that was slow-grown free-range traditional breed chicken, because there wasn't any other kind; and that kind of chicken is still a luxury food. It's only the limp tasteless meat of teenage antibiotic-filled factory-farmed birds that is cheap.

What's your source for the idea that foie gras (as opposed to ordinary goose liver) has ever been a really cheap food? I find that hard to believe. Geese are cheap to rear if you have plenty of grassland and can send an eight-year-old girl (paid a pittance or nothing at all, if she's a family member) out all day to mind them as they graze on it; that's why goose was a traditional food of the poor in Hungary, for example. But to produce foie gras you have to keep your geese penned (so they don't use up calories wandering about) and force-feed them (a skilled and laborious process, not one you could leave to a child) for months with expensive grain.
This book: http://www.amazon.com/97-Orchard-Immigrant-Families-Tenement/dp/0061288500

I wasn't sure it applied everywhere, which was why I added the parentheses. It seemed unbelievable for the reasons you mentioned, but apparently people did fatten geese in the tenements. I never would've guessed.

This book was also interesting. (It's where I learned about the oysters. http://www.amazon.com/Twains-Feast-Searching-Americas-Footsteps/dp/1594202591
Keeping geese in tenements I can just about imagine, but actually fattening them to foie-gras levels? Gosh.

Oysters were a staple food of the poor in Britain too, from Roman times to about a century ago. Archeological digs of coastal towns turn up massive deposits of oyster shells: I remember digging through a midden from Roman Colchester that was virtually solid oyster shell to a depth of about 6 feet. And a popular 19th-century cookshop recipe was steak and oyster pie - the oysters were included to eke out the expensive steak, not vice versa! Only when the overfishing of oysters made them relatively rare in the early 20th century did they become expensive.
Apparently it was a big public-health issue. Goose fat was kosher, while most people cooked with pork fat, so people who kept kosher raised their own geese in their homes. The book has a recipe for the dough-pellets used forthe fattening.

The Twain book has an interesting part about the history of oysters, especially in San Francisco. Actually "97 Orchard" talks about them too. You're right; they were everywhere.

The BBC show Edwardian Farm had a recipe called "carpetbagger steak," http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carpetbag_steak
I wonder if it's also meant to stretch the beef?