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Friday, August 8, 2014

Regency Food & Seasons


I recently taught a workshop for the RWA's Beau Monde chapter on Regency Food & Seasons. I was delighted to be awarded for Excellence in Teaching for the workshop. And so here is a bit of information from that workshop.



When talking about the Regency seasons, which includes holidays and seasonal food, we need to keep in mind a couple of things.

The first is that calendars have changed over the ages. We had the Julian Calendar in use from 45 BC on through the 1500's. By the 1500's this calendar was showing problems in not tracking days accurately. From the mid 1500's through 1752, multiple calendars were in place, and different New Years days were around—this is still a headache for historians.

In 1750, an Act of Parliament established the Georgian Calendar which went into effect in 1752. Days were lost and changed around and it took some time for some folks to adopt the new dates.

All of this matters because it affected what celebrations were held—meaning the very important feast days.

A good article on all this can be found here: http://www.cslib.org/CalendarChange.htm

Now, by the Regency, the Georgian Calendar was well into effect. However, do keep in mind that this calendar change happened within living memory of those Georgians—it was only two generations in the past.

The other thing to keep in mind is that the world of the early 1800’s was a highly localized world: this is the era before mass production and well before mass information. This means that local traditions were deeply entrenched—folks in Devon would have a different set of traditions than folks in Yorkshire. Meaning different foods, recipes, and seasonal events.


The unifying force in all tradition, however, was the Church.

This started as “The” Church—the Catholic Church. The Church, in turn, adopted many of the holidays that were part of local pagan celebrations. This was a great conversion tool—it’s often hard to get someone to give up their feast days, so it was often easier to add in a Saint’s Day or set up a feast that could be a sanctioned Church holy day instead of trying to get the locals to give up their fun by disapproval. (Decking the halls with holy is an ancient Celtic tradition that made its way into the Church sanctioned Christmas tradition.)

Celtic and Nordic traditions also influenced Saxon ways and foods (as in pickled fish), which in turn influenced Norman ways. In general, you’ll find more Nordic/Viking influence along coasts of England and along major river ways—places where Viking raids were a regular occurrence. The Welsh, Scottish, and Irish held onto their Celtic influences, so their lands would be places where old Celtic traditions and foods were stronger.

After Henry VIII, the Church of England split from “Popeish” ways. The C of E did not toss out the holy days, but the idea of High Mass was dropped along with other trappings, and religious reform brought in yet a new influence. It also brought in new foods since a number of these Protestants held with plain fare. But traditions—the old ways—are still celebrated: as in the Celtic Holiday of Samhain (pronounced sa-win) became All Saints (or All Hallows, and All Hallows Eve became Halloween)—and with that came the feasts that went with those seasons.

A couple of good calendar of C of E saint’s days and movable feast days are: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calendar_of_saints_%28Church_of_England%29
http://www.churchofengland.org/prayer-worship/worship/texts/the-calendar/holydays.aspx

(For some, it might be easier to look at the C of E calendar as the seasons set up for church celebrations: http://www.churchofengland.org/prayer-worship/worship/texts/the-calendar/seasons.aspx.)

Another good source of information is any Book of Days. For example, the Norwich Book of Days gives holidays and important dates and traditions for Norwich: http://www.amazon.com/Norwich-Book-Days-Carol-Twinch/dp/0752465899/ref=sr_1_12?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1352136591&sr=1-12&keywords=%22book+of+days%22

As we go through the workshop, we’ll talk more about other resources, but it’s good to remember that you’ll want to decide on your fictional character’s history; what are their local roots (if they have any), do they have a predisposition for adopting new foods coming into England? Or do they hold with traditional fare?


Always remember this is about research to build characters, and every person is more than an individual—a character has the influence of family, society, upbringing, and all the trappings of their world.

2 comments:

Sue Bursztynski said...

Thanks, this is great! I will have to bookmark this page until I can do the same for those individual web sites.

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