The Supersizers Go ... Regency
The sixth and final episode of The Supersizers Go was dedicated to the Regency period, the time of Jane Austen and the lecherous, gluttonous, foppish, trend-setting Prince Regent, later George IV. Again, Giles and Sue play a well off middle-upper class couple of the day—he is a small landowner with an inheritance of around £50,000—but instead of being married as in other episodes they are brother and sister. This is so that they can portray the difficult state of an unmarried woman (Sue) with not much of her own income. The cold and sometimes horrified expressions on her would-be suitors’ faces reacting to her desperate advances seemed a bit too genuine. Here she is trying to hang onto a gentleman.
Despite the elegance and relative comfort of the age for the gentry, factors such as the Enclosure Act which prohibited anyone but the landowners from hunting on the land (anyone else became guilty of poaching), bad harvests and high taxation lead to food riots and famines. It was a desperate time for the poor. The episode only touched lightly on this facet of Regency society though, and concentrated on the frivolous lifestyle of the wealthy. (The scene where Sue goes around to the ‘poor’ distributing leftovers, reminded me of the scenes in Little Women where the girls go to poor German or Irish families and give them hampers, which made up of their own food wrapped up. Granted, Little Women was written in the later half of the 19th century and is set in New England, but the sentiment seems to be the same. And it’s very uncomfortable to read about or watch with modern eyes, or at least my eyes. I was not born to act out noblesse oblige.)
At the beginning of the period, the English were at war with the French, so all French foods and drink (especially the beloved claret) were banned from dinner tables. Instead, people at food that is even now recognized as being Very English: Roast beef, Yorkshire Pudding, trifle, and so on. Later on after Napoleon was defeated, French food was politically correct again, and the Prince Regent hired Marie-Antoine Carême, who is still regarded as one of the greatest chefs of all time. Just looking at the English menus vs. the French menus, there’s little wonder that French haute cuisine became so revered. (Though surely the ‘very English food’ wasn’t that bad?)
Quite a lot of things about this period seemed quite familiar, mainly I suspect from all the hours I’ve spent watching Jane Austen dramas. (I have read Pride and Prejudice but admit to having never read her other books.) Even the offal didn’t seem so bad - I suppose sweetbread came the closest to that, but I happen to like sweetbread (it’s quite bland and soft, and is usually fried until crispy on the outside in butter). The obligatory Animal Head Dish was a stuffed and elaborately decorated small boar (though they probably used a pig)…it looked rather cute. Here Sue takes a nice slice of snout.
Most of the food looked quite edible really, if a bit heavy. I’d be happy to eat things like roast beef with Yorkshire pudding, trifle, and ice cream, though in smaller quantities and with more vegetables. And now I finally know what the heck jugged hare is. (It’s chopped up bunny meat cooked with herbs and things in a jug that is poached in a vat of hot water.)
Other things from this episode:
- The main chef was TV chef Rosemary Schrager, who is a very fun lady to watch. If you have never seen her, she’s sort of like the Fat Ladies, but more down to earth.
- The ‘restaurant’ chef was Mickael Weiss of London restaurant La Coq d’Argent, who appeared in several other episodes too.
- Exotic fruits were grown in greenhouses by the rich, and were highly desirable, as were imported nuts like pistachios.
- Giles had an inheritance of £50,000, equivalent to £2.5 million today. I went back to Pride and Prejudice to compare this with what Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy had - Mr. Bingley had an annual income of £4,000, while Mr. Darcy’s income was more than £10,000. No wonder Mrs. Bennett went bonkers over the prospect of her daughter ‘catching’ Mr. Bingley, and Mr. Darcy must have had her awed once she found out. Here is a great page with a chart that compares Regency and present-day money figures, which seem to differ a bit from what is stated in Supersizers, but you can get a general idea.
- Cheese was rather maggoty… (but such cheese still exists on Sardinia!)
- Instead of French wine, people drank port (from Portugal), sherry (from Spain), and German wines.
- Drinking and bathing in mineral water (especially at Bath) was very popular for ones health.
- A lot of men suffered from gout, a very painful illness.
- An unmarried gentlewoman with no income of her own really had it hard when it came to life prospects.
- There was a bestselling guidebook to prostitutes called Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies. Sounds quite useful.
List of food and drink consumed in this episode
- Toasted Bread
- Turtalong (bread rolls looking like mini-bagels)
- Seed cake
- Hot Chocolate
- Tea (they were complaining about the weakness of the tea…it seems Sue Perkins prefers “builder’s strength” dark tea)
Taken any time between 11AM and 2PM
- Mackerel broiled with Herbs
- Roast Beef (very very well cooked)
- Yorkshire Pudding
- Wow-wow Sauce (sauce made with gherkins, onions and port)
- Jugged Hare (cut up bunny mixed with herbs and steam-cooked in a jug for three hours)
- Potted Venison
- Beetroot Pancakes
- German Wines
By fashionable candlelight, around 10PM
- Cold roast beef
- Apple Pie
- English Rarebit (cheese on port-soaked toast)
- Stewed Celery
Giles’ breakfast in bed, as the Prince Regent ate
- A big Meat Pie with 2-3 pigeons and beef
- Laudanum to kill the pain
(The Prince Regent suffered from gout and became morbidly obese. His nickname in the press was the Prince of Whales.)
Taking the waters at Bath
- Spring water to treat whatever ails you
- Ice cream (flavors include brown bread, parmesan, cinnamon, pumpkin, cardamon, nutmeg, tea)
Luncheon at the Inn
On the way to London (Luncheon, also called Noonshine, was the precursor to lunch)
- Stilton Cheese with optional maggots
- Cheddar Cheese with cheese mites
- Cold Meats
- Cucumber Salad
A Patriotic Beef Steak Supper with members of the Sublime Society of Beefsteaks
This was supposed to be a patriotic, anti-French statement. The Society is still alive and well, apparently. (I confess, I instinctively wanted to punch my foot through the screen and kick these geezers for some reason.)
- Beef Steaks
- Baked Potato
- Cheese on Toast
Dinner a la Marie-Antoine Carême
- Potage de Bisque à la Régence
- Pain de Volaille
- Bure de Sanglier en Galatine (a stuffed and dressed boar’s head, with jellies and deep fried cockscombs)
- Bâtelets à la Royale
- Saumon à la Rothschild (salmon poached in champagne with truffles)
- More Champagne
- Pièce Montée (an elaborate sugary centerpiece)
- Strawberry Soufflé
- Marzipan Fruit
- Vol-au-Vents à la Neslé (a savory puff pastry pie, with a surprise inside of cockerel’s testicles, an aphrodesiac)
- Even more Champagne
Byron’s Breakfast before a duel
Apparently Byron was a bullemic and anorexic obsessed with this weight.
- Tea mixed with a raw egg
Where Giles gambles away his family fortune
- Sandwiches (meat in between slices of bread, invented by hardened gambler Lord Sandwich)
Giles in Debtors’ Prison
- A Cheshire Pork Pie, brought in by Sue (to last for several days)
Ball to celebrate the Coronation (1821)
- Sue massages her head with raw eggs and gives herself a brandy-milk-lemon facial, then rinses her hair with rum
- Brandy and claret punch
- White Soup (soup with mutton, veal, bacon, almonds, macaroni)
- Hare Cake in Jelly
- Chicken Hogs Tongues
- Petit Pasties of Veal
- Collared Beef
- Pyramids of Crayfish (in jelly)
- Artichoke Bottoms
- Selection of ices
At the conclusion of Supersizers Go
There are three things that will stay with me after viewing the Supersizers Go series.
- Wealthy English people throughout the ages used to eat a Lot. Of. Meat.
- Gelatin (leaves or powder) must have been a revolutionary invention.
- Giles Coren looks fantastic in period costume. I think his best periods were the Elizabethan and Regency. (He looks rather ordinary in present day garb.) Here he is enjoying breakfast in bed as a Regency gentleman, with his hair in curlers.
I’m not sure how much educational benefit there was to the series in the end, but it sure was entertaining. I would not mind seeing another season, sending Giles and Sue to other periods or perhaps even other lands. The Greeks? Byzantium? The Ottoman Empire? Vikings? The Eighties? Why not?
This of course concludes my lengthy recaps. I hope you enjoyed them.