Speaking of Food in the Eighteenth Century . . .

Posted in books, exhibitions by Editor on August 18, 2011

From the MFAH:

English Taste: The Art of Dining in the Eighteenth Century
Rienzi, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 17 September 2011 — 29 January 2011

Installation by Ivan Day

Elizabeth Raffald, "Directions for a Grand Table," illustration from "The Experienced English Housekeeper" (Manchester: Printed by J. Harrep, 1769), p. 361

The 18th-century English dinner table was a feast for the eyes. In order to impress their guests and assure them that they were dining amid fashionable people of consequence, hosts served sumptuous dishes, adorned with towering sugar constructions and amusing trompe l’oeil (fool-the-eye) jellies of playing cards or bacon and eggs, all on exquisite silver and porcelain.

Rienzi re-creates this elaborate dining experience in English Taste: The Art of Dining in the Eighteenth Century. The first special exhibition ever held at Rienzi, the MFAH house museum for European decorative arts, English Taste treats you to a dining-room extravaganza typical of a 1760s English country house. Lifelike fish, fowl, and flummeries—complete with lavish, Georgian silver fittings and place settings—grace the table, created with guidance from the influential period cookbook The Experienced English Housekeeper by Elizabeth Raffald, the “Martha Stewart of the 18th century.”

Eminent English food historian Ivan Day uses Raffald’s recipes to create the faux foods—perhaps shockingly realistic to 21st-century eyes—which include roasted pheasant, beaked snipe, flummery jellies, and a larded hare. The meal also features macaroni and cheese (yes, this dish did exist in the 18th century!) made with imported pasta. Raffald’s illustration “Directions for a Grand Table” from 1769 serves as the design template for the installation.

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More information and terrific images from Raffald’s book are available from Kansas State University Library’s online Cookery Exhibition.

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From the MFAH:

Rienzi is situated on four acres of wooded gardens, about three miles from downtown Houston in the historic River Oaks neighborhood. Formerly the home of philanthropists Carroll Sterling Masterson and Harris Masterson III, Rienzi was designed by prominent Houston architect John Staub in 1952. Opened to the public in 1999, Rienzi now houses a substantial collection of European decorative arts, including paintings, furnishings, porcelain, and extensive holdings of miniatures. Rienzi welcomes some 8,000 visitors a year for tours, family programs, lectures, concerts, and a variety of special events.

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