Sunday, August 09, 2015

A Weight of Viands: The Great Banquet of 1840.

On Monday, 13th of January 1840, a banquet of spectacular proportions was held in Manchester, England, by the Anti-Corn Law League. It was “one of the most prominent demonstrations of public feeling, and on the most extensive scale ever witnessed in this country, …. [and was held] in token of the hostility of the manufacturing community to the corn-law restrictions.”

The banquet was held in a purpose-built Pavilion in Peter-street, and it must have been an awe-inspiring sight. More than 3,300 officials and guests enjoyed the dinner and proceedings, with a further 1000 allowed to observe from a gallery. The gallery-guests were mostly ladies, who were not at that time allowed to attend public dinners, but were expected to show up in all their finery to be admired.

Local and national newspapers almost choked on the reporting opportunity. Many paragraphs were given over to the content of the various speeches, but the catering of the dinner itself provided a great deal of interest.  

The logistics of the food preparation were immense, of course, at a time before refrigeration (although this would have been less of an issue in January.)

…. The committee for this great dinner, consisting of only six gentlemen, undertook the Herculean labour of providing the supplies requisite for the thousands of guests to be assembled on this interesting occasion. …. Instead of the usual mode of contracting with some hotel-keeper to furnish the dinner at so much per head, the whole of the provisions were purchased by members of the committee themselves, and the requisite cookery was conducted under the management of able superintendents, in the kitchens and cellars of the building recently occupied as Bywater’s Hotel.

One incident almost marred the proceedings – the tradesman who had undertaken to supply the glass ‘relinquished the order after having had it for more than a week.’ Another manufacturer stepped in and “immediately commenced the manufacture of wine glasses to supply the immense and sudden demand”, thus saving the situation, and no doubt the sanity and reputations of the organisers.

The other aspect of great interest of course was the sheer size of the event. Slightly different details of the meal were provided by different newspapers, but all gave prominence to the massive quantity of food and tableware required. The Sheffield & Rotherham Independent of January 18, 1840 emphasized, as did most other papers, the total 'Weight of Dinner Viands.' 

The earthenware used consisted of 9928 pieces; the glass of 10,032 pieces; the knives and forks, supplied by Mr. Ibbotson, 8300 pairs; 648 mustard and salt spoons. The dinner viands, exclusive of condiments, dessert, 2477 bottles of wine, and a great quantity of other beverages, consisted of:

Roast and boiled meat  ………….….           2687 lbs.
78 hams                                          ……………..           1504 lbs.
200 tongues                                   ……………..           620 lbs.
2166 veal pies                                ……………..           688 lbs.
12 turkeys                                       ……….…….           120 lbs.
24 capons                                       ……………..           72 lbs.
500 mince pies, say                      ……………..           50 lbs.
Cheshire cheese                            …………….             200 lbs.
20 American barrels of dinner buns ……….           500 lbs.
600 loaves, of 6 lbs. each            ……………….          3600 lbs.
Weight of dinner viands              ………………           10,041 lbs.                            

A few more details of the dessert were included by The Manchester Times and Gazette:

Sponge cakes                   100 lbs.
Wine biscuits                   80 canisters
Chests of Oranges          8
Barrels of Grapes            6
Boxes Muscatels             14
Ditto, Dates                      2
Barrels of Apples            9
Boxes of Almonds          2
Ditto, French plums       8
Pipes of Wine                  6

Another newspaper included 1200 Scotch sweet buns in the list. Yet another gave details of the 2477 bottles of wine: the breakdown was (approximately): port, 1000; sherry, 1300; hock, 60; champaign [sic], 19; claret, 24; red hermitage, 3. The catering supplies also apparently included 5 wt. of salt, 4 casks (18 lb.) mustard, and twenty shillings worth each of parsley and horseradish.

This would be an incredible organizational effort to pull off today. For the time, considering the lack of the technological advantages we have today, it was truly astounding.

Please enjoy some rich, sweet Scotch Bun from A New System of Domestic Cookery, by a Lady [Mrs. M.E. Rundell.] (1842)

A Rich Scotch Bun. – E.R.

To four pounds of flour (half a peck of Scotch), stone and cut two pounds of raisins, and clean two pounds of currants. Take six ounces of orange-peel, the same of citron, and of almonds, blanched and cut; mix all these together. Take one drachm of cloves, a large nutmeg, half an ounce of allspice, and the same of ginger, pound them, strew the spice on the fruit, and mix them very well. Make a hole in the flour, break in nearly a pound and a half of butter, pour warm water on the butter to soften it a little; then work the flour and butter together, spread the paste, and pour in half a pint of good yest [yeast]; work it up very well until the paste is light and smooth. Cut off about a third part of the paste for the sheets, spread out the rest of the paste on the table, put the fruit on it, pour about a gill of yest over the fruit and paste, and work the fruit and paste very well together. Then make it up round; roll out the sheet which was reserved in a circular form, lay the bun on the middle, and gather the sheet round it; roll it out to the desired thickness, run a fork through in different parts down to the bottom, and pinch it on the top. Flour double gray paper and put the bun upon it, give it a cut round the side, put a binder of double paper round it to keep it from running too thin in the oven. Bake in a moderate oven.


Elizabeth Guster said...

Truly amazing. I'm wondering how, in 1840, this incredible amount of food would have been cooked. What would they have used for ovens in the cellars and indeed the kitchens as even a hotel could not have had enough kitchens for half the food.

The Old Foodie said...

Hi Elizabeth. I suspect that the cooking of a lot of it would have been outsourced. But the logistics were amazing, that is for sure! It would be an amazing feat even today.