Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Prisoners’ Dumplings.

The prisoners in Bedfordshire County Gaol (England) in the early 1840’s were not a happy bunch. There was a high rate of illness, and constant complaints about the food. The incidence of illness (especially diarrhea and typhus) was of concern to the authorities, and an investigation was held and the results summarised in the Parliamentary Papers, House of Commons and Command, Volume 20, 1842.

It was determined that :

“The causes were, insufficiency of diet, cold, defective ventilatoni, locality low and damp, the previous season wet and cold.”

At the time, the diet consisted of:

“Two pounds of bread per day, best seconds; two ounces of cheese on four days of the week and three small onions on the remaining three days; and for prisoners before trial, and for convicted prisoners after three months’ imprisonment, twelve ounces of meat dumpling on three days in the week instead of the onions. The mode in which the diet was issued was very injudicious. The provisions were served out to the prisoners in two meals each day; viz.: at quarter before eight in the morning, and quarter before one in the forenoon. So that  from midday until the following morning, the prisoners had no meal. The cheese was served on four successive days, and the dumplings on three successive days, to as to occasion as little change and variety as possible.”

The Secretary of State called the attention of the visiting Justices to the situation, and recommended that they remedy it immediately by improving the diet of prisoners. A new diet was ordered on February 28, 1842, but was altered again on May 23 (the report does not specify these changes.)  On July 18, the following diet was ordered for all classes of prisoners both in the Gaol and House of Correction.

Breakfast.                    1 pint oatmeal gruel.
8 oz. bread.
Dinner, 3 days.            8 oz. suet dumpling
                                    8 oz. bread.
Dinner, 4 days.            2 oz. cheese
                                    2 oz. onion
                                    8 oz. bread.
Supper.                        1 pint oatmeal gruel
                                    8 oz. bread.
The bread is the best seconds bread.
The gruel contains 1 oz. of oatmeal per pint.
The suet dumpling contains about 6 oz. flour and 1 oz. suet.
We think this diet insufficient, and it is also greatly deficient in vegetables. Potatoes form no part of it. The prisoners complain that they have not enough food, and the Governor states he has heard them use strong expressions in speaking to the justices of its insufficiency.

How the breach of authority, and the insufficient diet were subsequently addressed, this volume does not say, but it is to be hoped that the prisoners did receive more and better food, and significantly less stodge. It is likely however that any improvements in the prisoners’ diet did not extend to including currants and spice in the prisoners’ dumplings.

Suet Dumplings, with Currants.
Take a pint of milk, four eggs, a pound of suet shred fine, and a pound of currants well cleaned, two teaspoonfuls of salt, and three teaspoonfuls of ginger; first take half the milk, and mix it to the consistence of a thick batter, then put in the eggs, the salt, and ginger, then the remainder of the milk by degrees, with the suet and currants, and flour enough to make it into light paste. Make the dumplings of about the size of an apple, flatten them a little, put them into boiling water, move them softly to prevent them sticking together, keep the water boiling, and, in rather more than half an hour, they will be done.
Milk, 1 pint; eggs, 4; suet, 1 lb.; currants, 1 lb.; salt, 2 teaspoonfuls; ginger, 3 teaspoonfuls; flour, sufficient.

The Dictionary of Daily Wants, by Robert Kemp Philp (1861)


Les said...

Is best seconds bread day old bread?

The Old Foodie said...

Hi Les, no, it is bread made from second quality flour ... will post on it in a couple of days.