18th Century meals were a transitional stage between the medieval and modern dining styles. You still had a large, banquet-style selection of dishes, but these dishes were now being served in distinct courses, or “removes” (they were called removes because each course had its own set of tableware; the tablecloth and everything on it was literally removed after each course until you were serving dessert on a bare table). Generally the courses ran as follows:

  1. First remove: heavier dishes
  2. Second remove: lighter dishes

A wealthier and more showy dinner-giver would increase the number of removes, but this was relatively rare in the 18th Century except amongst the more old-fashioned of the nobility. In  particular, the Hanoverian monarchs of Britain during this period were renowned for their relatively simple dining habits (George III was particularly famous in this regard). To give you some idea of what a real 18th Century dinner might look like, I have reproduced a menu/table setting from John Farley’s The London Art of Cookery below:

A menu for february

A typical late Winter meal -note the preponderance of meat and easily preserved or winter seasonal vegetables.

On the surface, this is a lot of food, but when you consider that the kitchen and serving staff would be consuming the leftovers, it’s much less waste than you’d think (despite the horror stories we moderns often associate with being a servant it was a prime job in the 18th Century because of the easy access to food). Additionally, 18th Century Britain and its colonies were patronage-fueled societies, so you were likely to have at least one or two dinner guests at every meal. The local squire, for example, might invite the local vicar (who might owe his placement to the squire’s influence), other landowners, and even a representative or two from the local tradespeople not to mention poets, authors, artists, itinerant swindlers, and other like hangers-on. You were not, by the way, expected to eat everything on the table, but instead concentrate on one or two dishes you liked best. The scenario would be the same in the colonies, but with business partners and other local notables.

As a librarian living in a rather small apartment, I unfortunately have neither patrons to wine and dine or a large kitchen staff, so my own recreation dinner for Cat was on a far more modest scale. I did, however, keep to the basic meal structure of soup, two removes, and dessert.

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