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Scones and Chocolate – A Taste for the Past

As writers, we often weave tales to bring our readers into the world we depict in words. As historian, it is a great delight to open the past, to walk through it, down the streets of old. To feel the turn of the carriage wheels, the touch of saddle leather, the scent of the air – both perfumed and tainted, and what past through their lips.

Food. An enticing subject. More years ago than I’d care to admit, back when romance novels were referred to as “bodice-rippers” & Fabian donned many covers, the favored Regency breakfast for the heroine was a drink called chocolate and scones – always served in bed by her maid. Far removed from true meals. Upon research, the chocolate wasn’t hot chocolate like we know it today but a mixture of true chocolate and hot water, similar to tea. Scones are more of a teatime offering, not breakfast fare.

I write of various periods so finding out groceries, mentioning correctly what was devoured, adds more depth to the story when appropriate. Many times, what you find is fascinating and educational. Remember, the past, the periods I write about, have no refrigerators, no microwaves, no pasteurized milk, and no frozen pizza – no pizza period! And that’s just the beginning of elimination of our eating today…

From Isabella Beeton’s Book of Household Management, 1861 a picnic for forty people:

A joint of cold roast beef, a joint of cold boiled beef, two ribs of lamb, two shoulders of lamb, four roast fowls, two roast ducks, one ham, one tongue, two veal-and-ham pies, two pigeon pies, six medium-size lobsters, one piece of collared calf’s head, eighteen lettuces, six baskets of salad, six cucumbers. Stewed fruit well sweetened, three or four dozen plain pastry biscuits to eat with the stewed fruit, two dozen fruit turnovers, four dozen cheesecakes, two cold puddings in moulds, two blanc-manges in moulds, a few jam puffs, one large cold plum pudding, a few baskets of fresh fruit, three dozen plain biscuits, a piece of cheese, six pounds of butter, assorted breads, rolls and cakes, on half pound of tea. Coffee is not suitable for a picnic, being difficult to make.

As to beverages – three dozen quart bottled of ale, packed in hampers; ginger-beer, soda-water and lemonade, of each two dozen bottles; six bottles of sherry, six bottles of claret, champagne a discretion and any other light wine that may be preferred and two bottles of brandy.

Water, of course, was available wherever you set up your picnic.

I’m not sure where you’d find a collard calf’s head – nor do I think I’d want one. Also think I’d pass on the tongue but otherwise, most of the menu we have available today. Go back further in time and find limitations. I write stories in Ancient Rome. Wine is available and grape juice (before fermentation), cider, barley water but no coffee.

Some of the recipes I’ve seen have been modernized to try today, such as Boiled Ostrich with Date Sauce, Stuffed Thrushes or Pigeons, Stuffed Hare, Squid Patties, Peas or Fava Beans a la Vitellius, Beets with Mustard, Carrots with Cumin Sauce, Artichokes with Egg. Desserts included Egg Pudding, Honey Custard, Peach Patina and Melca (curdled milk) – and the majority of all their dishes, including some desserts like Melca, called for garum – inherited from the Greeks and its use spread over the Mediterranean region. Garum is a fish sauce. Gargilius Martialis, De medicina et de virtutue herbarum, 62 (3rd Century AD) –

Use fatty fish, for example sardines, and a well-sealed (pitched) container with a 26-35 quart/liter capacity. Add dried aromatic herbs, possessing a strong flavor, such as dill, coriander, fennel, celery, mint, oregano, etc, making a layer on the bottom of the container; then put down a layer of fish (if small leave them whole, if large use pieces); and over this add a layer of salt two fingers high. Repeat these three layers until the container is filled. Let it rest for seven days in the sun. Then mix the sauce daily for twenty days. After that time it becomes a liquid (garum).

From what I’ve investigated, garum is very strong fishy sauce. It isn’t sold in the US but even if it was, not sure I’d want to try it.

So how far do you go in portraying menus of the time you write?


  1. Great article. I touch on the foods of history, but yes, some of them can sound unappetizing or bizarre at best. I think I’d stick with the chocolate tea and scones too 🙂

    1. Gina Danna says:

      Yes, they do sound delicious though not historical accurate. Makes me want to go to Starbucks & get a scone – sad but true. Thanks for stopping by 🙂

  2. Melissa Keir says:

    Luckily I write about contemporary times so my food is limitless. Although I do love to share stories about food that relates to the book. In Forever Love, the characters live along Lake Erie and love some fried Lake Erie Perch with a beer batter.

    Frankly I thought scones would be harder to make but since I’ve learned how to do it, I make them each weekend now. Mine have dried cherries and white chocolate. Yum!

    1. Gina Danna says:

      Yum! I’ve done them plain, with chocolate and with cranberries & pecans.

      Thanks for stopping by! 🙂

  3. Brenda D says:

    Wow, really enjoyed your post. I write in modern times, so it is a lot easier for me to write about the foods my characters eat. LOL, and I’m so glad. I’m not a fan of research.

    1. Gina Danna says:

      LOL But I learn a lot by delving into the research. Fish sauce still makes me cringe though. Eww!

      Thanks for stopping by 🙂

  4. Ella Quinn says:

    I frequently use historic foods in my books, but I’m very careful to use foods that are in season and were actually prepared at the time. Living in Europe and England helped, as well as many visits to Williamsburg, and reading old cookbooks. Tweeted and shared.

    1. Gina Danna says:

      Thank you 🙂

  5. Lani says:

    Oh, food! Myself, I prefer a touch of accuracy when reading a historical novel. I’m a historian too, and when I find other nerds like me, we go nuts making meals that were similar to the time we’re studying. Recently, a historian friend of mine shared his recipe that he’d discovered while studying George Washington. Not that Washington cooked, but apparently he liked the sweets, and someone asked Martha for a recipe that was one of George’s favorites. It was Cherry Jubilee. I’m not much of a meat eater, so I stay clear of some of the calf head plates, but I’ve tried quite a few sauces. Talk about salty. I sure wish there had been more modern science back then, to discover just how many people suffered from high blood pressure, you know?

    As ever, great post!

    1. Gina Danna says:

      Thank you so much! 🙂

      Meals of old can be fun… Loved Jeff Davis pie but the calories in that alone had to be like 8000! LOL

  6. Heh. Mine is easy, since I write contemporary. But I do try to include local cuisine.

    1. Gina Danna says:

      Thank you Abby! 🙂

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