Saturday, 31 May 2014

1901: The Last Suppers

It's finished. The Workhouse Diet ended as it began; an early morning interview on local BBC radio, and me feeling disproportionately excited about the whole thing.

This week I've left out the gruel but cooked main meals for myself and my family from the 1901 Workhouse Manual. This was a recipe book and cookery guide issued to all workhouse cooks after a damning Governmental report of workhouse food standards nationwide.

The manual includes recipes for adults, children and 'invalids'. Adults and children all got tea and even cocoa this time around (extra milk used for the kiddies) and the sick  were treated to lemonade. Unsurprisingly, I already know how to make tea, so I tried the Edwardian lemonade. It was certainly sweet and lemony, but not fizzy.

Poorly inmates were also served restorative Beef Tea (a strong, reduced beef stock, really). I've been fascinated by the idea of Beef Tea since reading The Railway Children as a child: 'Mother' was prescribed Beef Tea, but they couldn't afford it. Anyway, the way I made it, it tasted like weak Bovril and I wasn't very keen. I expect it would have been considered a most nutritious broth in 1901, though.

I had more success with Pasties. The Manual was part of a national standardisation campaign, so regional favourites from all corners of Great Britain were included. The pasties I made were just like Cornish Pasties, only less tasty. There's a YouTube film of my Triumphant Pasty-Making available here.

Another notable meal was Sea Pie. I have no idea why it is called Sea Pie. There is nothing briny or nautical about it, no fish in it, no cockles or mussels (alive, alive-oh or otherwise). Not even a touch of Piratical Rum. It was just a pie, albeit one with a bit of a slimy crust, due to steaming. I used my slow cooker to replicate the low, steady warmth of a Workhouse Kitchen Range. If you'd like to witness the entirely landlocked nature of my Sea Pie, there's another YouTube film here.

The greatest success of the week was Roley Poley Pudding. This was a splendid lump of jam-smothered suet pastry tied up in a cloth and boiled to Kingdom Come. Delivered, oozing and steaming, onto a plate, it looked like an albino lung, but tasted WONDERFUL. Again, a YouTube film here (this film also mentions the gorgeous personalised plate in the photo at the top).

The recipes for all these items are available in the Workhouse Cookery Book by Peter Higginbotham, and reproduced from the original in the '1901 Recipes' page of this blog.

I've been asked whether I'm planning to do one of my 'talks' about the workhouse diet. I'm not. But I am going to put together some sort of report or conclusion; maybe as part of this blog, or maybe as a separate publication. Watch this space!

One thing is certain: as a result of Living The Workhouse Diet, my empathy for the workhouse inmates has risen a thousandfold, as has my appreciation for the variety and tastiness of the foods I have available to me in 2014.

My knowledge about cookery has been increased too. I think I might start making my own pastry again instead of buying frozen- I'd forgotten how quick and easy it is. And best of all, I've definitely kicked the sugar habit!

I've been impressed that my ten-year-old son, George, has been prepared to try all the strange foods laid before him over the last few weeks, and he deserves a great big thank you for being such an able cameraman. I'm very grateful that my colleagues and friends and, most of all, my partner Martyn have been so patient with my gruel-induced mood swings and continuous Social Media updating. Thank you!

You Have Been Watching

George Duffield (Camera & Food-Tasting)

Lucy Child (Dietary Advice)

Martyn Shults (Food-Tasting & Eye-Rolling)


Rachel Duffield

To be continued...

Sunday, 25 May 2014

1901 Workhouse Diet Survival Strategy

I had a really bad time on the gruel-and-bread 1834 diet. To be brutally honest, the gruel was as bad on the way out as it was on the way in. And now, starting tomorrow, I have to do it all again for the 1901 diet.

So, during this 'break' week, I’ve eaten loads (and I sincerely mean LOADS) of fruit and vegetables while I’ve been planning what to do about the oncoming gruel-tanker that is the 1901 diet. I really don’t fancy another experience like last time. 

I asked myself if food in the workhouse could really still be as bad as all that in 1901? I mean, that’s only just over 100 years ago, and most of my life has so far been lived in that same century. Surely we had moved on from gruel by 1901? 

Happily, my research has revealed that workhouse food did improve in the 1900s -but there was still gruel on the menu.

And so to the history bit: Records show there were increasing complaints and concerns about the quality and quantity of workhouse food during the last few decades of the 1800s. Finally in 1901 the Local Government Board decreed that standards must be raised, and produced a manual and a training program for workhouse cooks.

I have a copy of the manual. We know that cheap, but now thicker, gruel still featured, and it was probably eaten for breakfast. Other than that, the newly trained Edwardian cooks could choose whichever meal combinations they thought best. Norfolk workhouse cooks didn’t seem to write any of their choices down (or if they did, they’re now long lost), so I have no option but to make up my own meal plans. 

I’ve done gruel, and it was disgusting. In 1901 they doubled the amount of oatmeal back to two ounces per pint of water, exactly like the older 1797 diet. So I have tasted it (YouTube video here) and I’ve run out of expletives, so I’ve decided to give gruel a miss this time.

I've opted to eat normally for the week, with one daily exception: my main evening meal. That’s when I’ll be trying out the 1901 workhouse meal recipes. My family will be joining me on this venture (they don’t know about it yet, but I’m the one who cooks tea in our house, so they really have no choice)!

George tucks into Hog Roast at GFW
Luckily they won't have too bad a time, because the 1901 diet includes pasties, shepherd's pie, roly poly pudding and all sorts of other relatively normal sounding meals. 

From a cookery perspective, it will be interesting for me to put away all my shop-prepared 'essentials' like frozen pastry and to make meals entirely from scratch. I'm no Delia, but I'm not a terrible cook -and lets be clear, no ready-meals ever darken my doorstep- but I do like the convenience of bottled sauces with pasta, and I admit I am no stranger to the pre-washed potato. 

The first day of the 1901 diet coincides with a super event at Gressenhall, 'The Workhouse Experience'. Do come!

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Saturday, 17 May 2014

1834 Workhouse Diet Reality Check

Feeling exhausted, tongue tied and with burning bowels after three days on the 1834 diet, I had to admit defeat. Here's how events unfolded this week.

Picture the scene: It's the end of Day Three on the 1834 diet. I've eaten only gruel, bread and cheese for three days- with the exception of one meal of boiled meat and veg- and I'm doing a talk on Queen Elizabeth 1st for Thorpe WI.
It's been a busy week so far at work; two days playing an environmentalist for the benefit of Year Eight geography students, a day of WW2 for Year Five and Six kids, an evening of Marie Lloyd for Drayton WI and -oh yes, the small business of being a mum and 'other half'. For the purposes of The Workhouse Diet I've spent a lot of time and effort keeping up with Twitter, Facebook and this blog- all done at home because the wifi at Gressenhall is imaginary. 

Due to the diet, my bowels have turned into something engineers at KitchenAid's liquidising department would be proud of. Ahead of me at this point is another day of WW2, a supportive visit to a theatrical production lots of friends are in, 3 educational sessions about gruel at my son's school and two evenings performing in Gressenhall's Museums At Night murder-mystery. 

I've spent the journey to Thorpe panicking that a) I've somehow brought the wrong costume and they actually wanted Queen Victoria and b) the petrol gauge has been flashing since Dereham and I'm crawling along in first gear due to roadworks. I think I'm running on fumes. Me AND the car, that is. 

By some miracle I arrive on time, with the correct kit, at Thorpe Adult Ed centre to do the talk. Not able to begin until after the allotted time, I wig-up and wait in an entrance hall avoiding curious/disdainful glances of other hall users (and dashing to the loo every so often), for 40 minutes.  

The talk begins. It's going ok, but I just can't seem to find the right words. My usual patter isn't flowing, and I can't instantly recall the usual dates, names and references. I've been doing this talk for six or seven years, so it's not as if I don't know the material intimately. I apologise, gulp down some water and explain about the workhouse diet. Some ladies had seen the EDP article.
We laugh about it and I continue.  I realise the room is beginning to sway a little. I slurp some more water down and carry on, feeling increasingly lightheaded. Somehow or other I lurch to the end of the talk without fainting, but feeling absolutely awful. I nobly refuse tea and biscuits as per The Diet, pack the car (my treasure chest of equipment feeling about twice its normal weight), buy petrol and head home.

On the way I came to the decision that Enough was, on this occasion, Enough. I got home, ate four eccles cakes straight down, and went to bed.

On Thursday I think I became the Very Hungry Caterpillar. I tucked into smoothies, vitamin pills, and masses of dried fruit and nuts. We had pasta bake for tea, and I shared my son's ice-cream at the theatre. On Friday, after force-feeding gruel to ten year-olds I ate through a huge plate of cheesy chips.

Today is Saturday. I've had a lay-in, marmalade on toast, a photo session and a leisurely stroll around my local farm shop to buy lots of fruit and vegetables for the week ahead. I'm about to drive to Gressenhall for the last performance of the murder-mystery and I've pre-ordered a large portion of quiche from the cafe for before the show.

I will eat normally for next week and then it's time for the third and final phase of the project, the 1901 diet. 

In conclusion, I am astonished at how bad I felt on the gruel diet, and how quickly I went downhill. The inmates of Victorian workhouses have my sincerest sympathies. I am so lucky to have never before felt what it is to be malnourished, and so grateful I was able to call an immediate halt to it when it became unbearable. This week has made me painfully aware of the suffering of people in past times and made me think seriously of those who still suffer in the same way today. 

I repeat what said at the end of the 1797 diet:  I'm so lucky to be me, here, now.  

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

1834 Days 1&2: Interview with A Dietician

Wind, bloating, hunger and a REALLY bad mood- the 1834 diet has made me feel terrible after only two days. The gruel is thinner, there is less cheese to eat, and I'm drinking only water. Worse than all of this, I am sooooo unbelievably tired. Bring back 1797!!

Lucy (pictured coyly, left), has kindly agreed to act as dietician for the project, and she explains ...

1)  Thank you so much for agreeing to share your expertise for the Living The Workhouse Diet project. Could you tell readers a little about yourself and give a brief summary of your work?

Thanks for asking me Rachel – it’s proving a very interesting project. I am a dietitian, registered with the Health and Care Professions Council. I qualified a long time ago before our current intake of students were born. Most of the time I work in the NHS and I also do some freelance work.

2) What has interested or surprised you most about the project so far?

I’ve really enjoyed trying to translate the old recipes into something I can analyse. The hardest was trying to think of an equivalent to “hull’d and boiled wheat”. I was quite surprised by the generosity of the 1747 diet – I hope it was true that “cabbages, carrots, turnips, potatoes, beans, etc are served in great plenty during the season”. They didn’t have the Care Quality Commission in those days!

3) People have been astonished that I didn't lose any weight on the first (1797) diet. What was the main reason for this?

You were only on the diet for a week – people are not machines and all sorts of regulatory mechanisms endeavour to prevent weight loss. And you were pretty constipated. Sorry to be crude...

4) Do you predict that I will lose weight on the 1834 or 1901 diets?

I think you could lose weight on the 1834 diet – it is much lower in energy – but it would only be 1-2 lb. I would not recommend it as a healthy weight reducing diet as it is totally inadequate in protein and many vitamins and minerals, especially vitamin C and riboflavin. I haven’t seen the 1901 diet yet.

5) I stopped drinking tea two weeks before the 1797 diet, so I blamed lack of sugar, not lack of caffeine, for my headaches on the first three days. Was this really the reason?

I’m not sure why you had a headache. Constipation (again) could be one – it does cause one to feel pretty lousy. Alcohol would be another. It acts as a diuretic (makes you pee) so would leave you mildly dehydrated. Dehydration causes headaches and is the main cause of a hangover headache. I think you did very well to wean yourself off caffeine 2 weeks prior to the diet as the headache from suddenly withdrawing caffeine is awful. You did make a sudden and significant dietary change so some sort of symptom would be expected but I’m not sure that it was anything to do with lack of sugar. I am happy to be corrected on this.

6) You correctly predicted that I would suffer constipation and have no energy, whilst on the 1797 diet. The 1834 diet is more harsh; what symptoms can I expect?

On the 1834 diet I predict major wheat bloat, maybe tummy cramps, hunger, light-headedness and dizzyness. Please keep your fluid intake up.

7) Since finishing the diet I have not craved biscuits, snacks between meals or cups of my beloved tea. What has happened to me?!

You have adapted! Your body was habituated (not addicted). If things are routinely eaten your body will expect to keep getting them.
High sugar foods have what is known as a high glycaemic index, which means they make your blood sugar levels rise quickly. Insulin is rapidly produced in response to this which causes blood sugar levels to rapidly fall again. This rapid fall in blood glucose makes us feel hungry again, so we have another snack and so it can go on. The food in the 1797 diet had little sugar in it, and what there was was mixed into starchy foods. So the 1797 diet had a very low glycaemic index. It was very slowly digested and absorbed, put blood glucose levels up very slowly and they would never have risen to high levels. A steady trickle of insulin would have kept the cells supplied with glucose and there would be no sudden decrease in blood sugar levels. Our bodies like it this way and once adapted to this would not crave to go back to high sugar foods such as biscuits. That’s not to say that a liking for sweet foods goes entirely!
Caffeine, from tea and coffee for example, is not addictive in the clinical sense. It’s not like, say, heroin. But we do get habituated to it which means we don’t get addicted to the high it gives us but we really miss it when it is taken away. Humans are however highly adaptable creatures and we can, given time, lose our habituation to all sorts of things including caffeine.
Thank you to Lucy for sharing her time and expertise so generously for this project.

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Sunday, 11 May 2014

1834 Workhouse Diet Begins

Here's a picture of some chocolate cake I won't be eating this week- because tomorrow I embark on Phase Two of this project, the 1834 diet.  

In 1834 we leave Georgian frumenty and pottage behind to enter into the realm of Oliver Twist- the Victorian literary creation of Charles Dickens, embedded forever in the popular imagination with the plaintive cry, "please Sir, I want some more'.

Of course, we all know, possibly via Lionel Bart's musical version, that food-wise, all they ever got was gru-el.
Bart, and even Dickens, got a few of the workhouse details wrong, but they were right about the gruel.

Here's my menu for this week.

For a transcript, you can click to the 1834 diet page of this blog. It's pretty repetitive. 

  • ALL suppers are bread and cheese. 
  • For dinner, once a week, I get meat pudding and veg, and once a week, suet pudding and veg. 
  • For women, two dinners are bread with 1oz cheese, two dinners are bread with 3/4 oz butter, and one is bread with broth. 
  • Men get larger dinner and supper portions than women but ALL the breakfasts are a pint and half of of gruel- with a side order of more bread. 
  • I'll be chomping through a total of 18oz of heavy rye bread a day.

That's about a small loaf per day. The amount of cheese pictured will last me the week (not sure if the workhouse cooks got theirs from Waitrose)!  

Drinks, again, are not specified, but at least it's not beer this time! I may have to pretend to be elderly or infirm to get a cup of tea...

Interestingly, at this time in the workhouses food (and beer and tobacco) was sometimes used to reward good behaviour and hard work. Inmates were also put on a bread-and-water diet for punishment. 

Here's a bit of history about why it all changed for the poor in 1834.

During the first two decades of the 19th Century the workhouses became full to bursting. A report by the Royal Commission reviewed existing workhouses and found that- 
"poverty was essentially caused by the indigence of individuals rather than economic and social conditions. Thus, the pauper claimed relief regardless of his merits: large families got most, which encouraged improvident marriages; women claimed relief for bastards, which encouraged immorality; labourers had no incentive to work; employers kept wages artificially low as workers subsidized from the poor rate."*

In answer to this report, the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act was introduced to toughen up conditions inside workhouses, actively discouraging new entrants. 

After 1834, families, previously able to stay together, were now separated; men from women, adults from children. All inmates were judged and segregated: the 'deserving' and 'undeserving' poor were treated differently. For example, the undeserving, such as single mothers and tramps, were given isolated accommodation and distinguishing uniforms. On the other hand, the virtuous widows, children, orphans, and sick or disabled paupers received much more consideration, including education and medical care.

Classification continued into the diet of the inmates. In other words, different people got different food, according to which category they fell into. Below is a list of categories from the website. As a general rule, children, the elderly and the infirm got more meat, and were given tea and sugar too. Tramps and single mothers were given their food last. Cold gruel- yum yum!
Class 1Men not employed in work
Class 1AMen employed in work (as 1 but with an additional meal on weekdays)
Class 2Infirm men not employed in work
Class 2AInfirm men employed in work (as 1 but with an additional meal on weekdays)
Class 2BFeeble infirm men (as 1 but with an additional meal on weekdays)
Class 3Women not employed in work
Class 3AWomen employed in work (as 1 but with an additional meal on weekdays)
Class 4Infirm women not employed in work
Class 4AInfirm men employed in work (as 1 but with an additional meal on weekdays)
Class 4BFeeble infirm men (as 1 but with an additional meal on weekdays)
Class 5Children aged from 3 to 8
Class 6Children aged from 8 to 15
Class 7Children under 3
Class 8Sick diets

You can click on the links below to follow my progress on FB or Twitter. Wish me luck!

*I guess the same opinion these days is summed up by the media in two words: "Benefit Scroungers"

More Gruel -With a Dash of Mustard

Last Friday I had great fun filming an interview about the workhouse diet on my local tv channel, Mustard TV. 

It will be available on catch up here for the next few days, but if you've missed it here's couple of pictures!

...and here's the gruel I took with me!

Saturday, 3 May 2014

1797 Workhouse Diet Day 7: Food for Thought

Day 7 Stodge-ometer rating: 5/10

I got very excited on the last day of the diet. I'm not talking a little bit jittery, I'm talking sweaty-palms-and-butterflies-in-the-tummy levels. You know, like when you hear the sound of a cheering audience or glimpse a new sparkly dress. Or is that just me?

Obviously the day's food was not the cause of my excitement. It was merely a repeat of a previous day; gruel for breakfast, stew for lunch and broth & bread for supper.

Here's a YouTube clip of me getting excited at breakfast time. I was so excited I accidentally called it video No.7 instead of No.8.

My great excitement was, of course, because I'd successfully completed the first of the diets. I didn't have to go without tea or biscuits any longer! 

However, 24 hours later I've only had one cup of 'real' tea, and no biscuits other than medicinal fig rolls -and I need not expand any further on those. 

In spite of all predictions, all I wanted when I got to the end was oranges, orange juice, and dried fruit and nuts. And I had a green smoothie too, to pack in a bit of goodness. To be honest, I haven't fancied anything REALLY sugary, like biscuits, in the slightest (not even Lemon Puffs). 

Has this diet made me lose my incredibly 'sweet tooth'? Maybe it has. This shocking revelation made me ponder about various other surprises the 1797 diet had to offer.

Here are some things I noticed while on the 1797 diet: 

  • I had blinding headaches for the first two and a half days.
  • I suffered painful bloating on the first day.
  • Beer for breakfast made me sluggish and woozy.
  • My -ahem- 'digestive transit' slowed right down.
  • The meals took a lot of eating! Much more chewing required.
  • I got big dark circles around my eyes.
  • People kept telling me I looked pale.
  • I was physically incapable of remaining awake beyond 9.30pm.
  • I felt increasingly lethargic and sluggish through the week. 
  • I was psychotically looking forward to oranges by the end of the week.

On the bright side, I was never, ever hungry- not even once. 

Would the inmates of 1797 have felt hungry on the same rations? The simple answer is, we can't tell. This experiment has, so far, raised more questions than it has answered. Dietician Lucy's prognosis was gloomy, but historians at Gressenhall wondered whether inmates really did work that hard every single day and burn off all those calories? We'll never know. We haven't found records to back up the nutritional deficit we now know would have caused inmates dental problems and hair-loss; but if it happened, it was probably as unremarkable then as it is startling now, so its reasonable to assume that nobody would have bothered to write it down. 

How did the diet in the workhouse compare to that of people in the surrounding villages? Was it better, or worse?

If Gressenhall Workhouse was known as  "The Paupers' Palace", the implication is that conditions were better inside than outside those daunting gates. The tough 1834 legislation to deter entrance into the place indicates the same thing.

We can theoretically try to compare 1797 diets inside and outside the Workhouse, but realistically I can only compare it to my own, modern eating. I'm interested in the   tangible, burpy, bloaty, sleepy, human experience, which is, after all, why I'm doing it. The 'Voices from the Workhouse' were probably muted by flatulence and muffled by toothless yawning. The 1797 diet yet was tricky for me; I think the 1834 diet will be considerably worse. In the meantime, I shall enjoy the wide variety of delicious fruits and vegetables freely available in 2014 and feel lucky to be me, now.

The next part of this project is the 1834 diet which begins on Monday 12th May.

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