Food Video Project

For this project, we wanted to look at regional and social differences in 18th century England using workhouse food as a case study. With this case study, our goal was to view it from a 21st century perspective and to film it in a Buzzfeed video-style format. We felt this would create empathy and reach a wider audience. We were inspired by the bottom-up perspective emphasized in this class, and decided to compare the foods of people in workhouses – both from the pauper’s and the master/middle class’ point of view.

The first dish we decided to recreate was plum pudding, which is still a traditional holiday dish made today in the UK. Various types of pudding were served in many workhouses across England, but this specific example of plum pudding is taken from Eden’s State of the Poor at St. Martin’s in London, where a pound of it per person was served every Saturday. We had to make a few ingredient substitutions: whole milk was as close as we could get to the fresh, unpasteurized milk from the time, and for the bread, the recipe called for a penny loaf, so we substituted dinner rolls. The major change in the recipe was in the way we cooked it. Hannah Glasse’s The Art of Cookery says “boil for 5 hours”, which we assumed to literally mean boil, but further research revealed that pudding is actually steamed. Since we didn’t have the dish or tripod required to do that, our final setup included a small pot containing the pudding, which was situated within a larger pot half filled with boiling water, and tinfoil to make the top as airtight as possible. This method of cooking may have slightly altered the consistency final product, but we did the best we could with our 21st century American cookware.

We wanted to choose a dish representative of the Southeastern region, so we chose pease porridge. Eden’s State of the Poor at the Gressenhall in Norfolk highlights that pease porridge was served for dinner on Mondays and Fridays. Although this dish was not as prevalent compared to gruel or bread and cheese, the fact that pease porridge was incorporated in the Gressenhall diet was due to its simple ingredients and versatility. According to Hannah Glasse’s The Art of Cookery, the ingredients of the dish were peas, water, milk, dried mint leaves, butter, flour, salt, and pepper. The cooking method was relatively simple as well: Glasse illustrates “boil till the peas are quite tender, and then put some beaten pepper, a piece of butter as big as a walnut, rolled in flour. Then, stir all together and then let it boil for a couple of minutes. Then add two quarts of milk, then let it boil for a quarter of an hour, then take out the mint and serve it up.” With a total cooking time that was approximately an hour, the dish was easy to make for the workhouse cooks, and the dish was a nutritious meal for the inmates as well. Furthermore, since the dish could incorporate either dry or fresh peas, it could be served year-round, making it a staple of the workhouse diet.

To specifically highlight a regional difference in food in the workhouse, we purposely chose one location that was along the coast. We ultimately decided to focus on North Shields in Northumberland, which is located along the Tyne River. Its location allowed those who lived nearby to easily obtain fish both fresh and inexpensively – that is not to say everyone could purchase fish, because it was still an expensive item. Fish was also available in non-coastal areas and year-round because it is easily pickled and dried. Nonetheless, it was only served once a week at North Shields, according to Eden’s State of the Poor. For the recipe, we chose a simple fried fish recipe from Hannah Glasse’s The Art of Cookery because it did not seem like the workhouse made meals that called for excess ingredients. The ingredients for this fried fish include fish, flour, and suet. Glasse called for beef drippings or lard to fry the fish; we chose to use suet because of its convenience, it served the same purpose as beef drippings and lard, and the workhouse tended to reuse food ingredients. Trout was used in the final dish even though herring was one of the most commonly eaten fish. We chose trout because it was an oily fish like the herring and it was easily obtainable.

Finally, we decided to choose a dish representative of the middle class as something a workhouse master would eat: steak. From Hannah Glasse’s The Art of Cookery it was pretty representative of a middle class dish from all parts of England. In Glasse’s book, she outlined the process of frying steak along with relatively common ingredients to cook along with it. The ingredients for frying the steak were an ale, that was not too bitter, onions, thyme, parsley, nutmeg, pepper, salt, butter and flour. The raw steak was beaten with a roller, and then it was rubbed with nutmeg, thyme, parsley, pepper and salt. It was then cooked in a half pint of the ale, adding parsley and onions to the pan. The steak was properly done when the sauce was thick, and the meat was light pink. The recipe called for frying the steak in beer. We looked on a more contemporary site,, to find why people cooked steak with beer. The Art of Cookery did not have an explanation for why, but we found it tenderizes the beef, sweetens the taste, and cooks well with onions, which were also in the recipe. Glasse also wrote on the ways and times to buy the best meat and other ingredients. She outlined when certain ingredients are in the best season, and explains the best way to select butter and meat from the market. Steak is very high in protein and calories, so it was a very essential dish for middle class families to get enough nutrition.

Taste Test: Bringing the English Past to Life- Final Cut from Carleton CAMS on Vimeo.

This type of project is potentially very useful in terms of digital historical recreations. Overall, the product is family-oriented and accessible to a wide range of ages. It is also geared toward people with limited previous knowledge and experience with workhouse history. The format of the video is a familiar one, as Buzzfeed is an international website, so in theory this format would be generally accessible to English people as well as Americans, which is especially important being a class of American students making content for an English audience.


Glasse, Hannah. The art of cookery, made plain and easy; which far exceeds any thing of the kind ever yet published. [1747]. Eighteenth Century Collections Online. Gale. Carleton College. 6 Mar. 2016.


Eden, Frederick Morton. The State of the Poor. London : printed by J. Davis, for B. & J. White; G. G. & J. Robinson; T. Payne; R. Faulder; T. Egerton; J. Debrett; and D. Bremner, 1797.