Food was very important in Georgian England and often seen as a status symbol, showing how much money and influence a family had. It was important to receive invitations to dinners and be able to offer a great dinner too if you wanted to make a good social impression. In Pride and Prejudice Mrs Bennet invites Mr Bingley to a ‘family dinner’. Although it sounds a simple meal, her real intention is to impress Bingley. She wants him to marry her oldest daughter Jane and so the dinner must show how rich and sophisticated her family is!
So what did they actually eat? Well, the Bennet’s was a ‘two course dinner’: all the best families served two courses. This seems quite normal for our standards but, in Georgian England, a single course would contain about 12 different dishes and cover the whole table. In a dinner that probably lasted several hours the guests could enjoy fish, roast meats, birds, pies, vegetables and soups.
Jane Austen was one of seven children and responsible for looking after the house if her mother was ill. In letters to her sister Cassandra we see that she enjoyed the irony of organising food for the family and used the experience in her novels.