Some years ago a Sri-Lankan friend said that he found British Food bland, I had to disagree and still do. Is it spicy then? well no, not really but flavoursome it is and bland it most certainly is not.
It is was herbs such as basil, sorrell or rosemary that gave shape to some wonderful Victorian Era dishes and indeed some dishes today, but alongside flowers herbs also enriched the Victorian parlor more than any other room in the home.
You would generally find botanical designs on wallpaper, wall hangings, pottery, lace with fresh flower arrangements were scattered through the room.
Large vases of scented geraniums were positioned on the floor so that women’s wide skirts would brush against them and release their fragrance. The parlour was the most public room in the house but also the place in which more intimate entertaining, socialising, tea and dare I say it…’courting’ happened! so a great deal was made of the parlour.
Back in the 1800’s there was no TV, Xbox, PC or PlayStation so most families would gather together to entertain themselves and the most common parlour pastimes were apparently floral crafts and the study of botany. Women were actually encouraged to study botany as other scientific matters being considered too complex for delicate minds!
Of course it was expected that by a young Victorian woman reached marriageable age she would’ve been expected to have some knowledge of plant anatomy and botanical nomenclature along with a herbarium of pressed, dried plants and the ability to arrange fresh and pressed flowers with skill, not just for cooking though. Society judged a Victorian woman by how well she maintained her home with her own hands or those of servants under her direction, they would judge its sweet-smelling rooms, highly waxed furniture, and sparkling windows.
For us the job is so much easier but back those days both Herbs and flowers played an important role in keeping the house clean.
For instance a usual practice was to purchase unscented soap, melt it down, stir in favorite essential oils and remold it to produce a personal soap. If you look around you can still find old ‘Stillrooms’ there were attached to the kitchens of many old English country manors were used to distill spirits and essential oils from herbs and to concoct preserves, medicinals, soaps and cosmetics.
In fact you only have to check out of the Cookbooks of the time, they are filled with recipes for furniture polish, soap, insect repellent, and oddly enough scented ink!
So now I grow my own and I have to say it’s nice to pop out and pick your own when cooking.