Chapter 3

Recipes for the Gentry

fish mold

Dining in a rich man’s home provided visitors with more and better quality food. A wealthy man spent his money not only on sugar and spice, but also on rarer items like tortoise. Here you would have found the best furniture, and children might even be allowed to sit for their meals.

You would have eaten your food off china plates and bowls. Beverages would have been served in glasses, although like today children would have had theirs in a cup. A rich man’s table might have as many as 19 different dishes for visitors to choose among, particularly at dinner parties. Here the dishes would include as much sugar and spices as the household owner wished.

In the homes of the gentry, many guests drank beer and imported wines. Children were still served small beer. The dishes tasted good (to our modern tastes) and were presented in a special manner. The Blanc-mange, a type of jellied custard, may have been presented and served in a mold resembling an animal or sea creature. Wealthier households had fun with their foods. For example, a food that was shaped to look like a fish—but wasn’t a fish—was called an “illusion” or “subtlety.” Preparing food in this manner made the meal into a theatrical presentation and allowed the host family to show off its wealth.

This project was developed through a Teaching American History Grant partnership between Anne Arundel County Public Schools, the Center for History Education at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) and Historic London Town and Gardens.