Cook­ing Dick­ens’ In­spired Dishes


Victorian Homes - - Contents - By Emily Irby

Dis­cover and recre­ate Vic­to­rian meals in­spired by Charles Dick­ens’ fa­mous char­ac­ters.

Charles Dick­ens is one of the most fa­mous, and cel­e­brated, writ­ers of the 19th cen­tury. His nov­els not only pro­vide en­ter­tain­ment, but also give us a glimpse into the re­al­ity of the so­ci­ety in which he lived. In Pen Vogler’s book Din­ner with Dick­ens, the au­thor teaches how to cre­ate Vic­to­rian recipes in­spired by Charles Dick­ens’ char­ac­ters. Th­ese recipes are great fun for Dick­ens fans, and his­tory buffs will en­joy Vol­ger’s com­men­tary that gives in­sight into the im­pli­ca­tions of each dish, and what it says about the char­ac­ter’s feel­ings or po­si­tion in so­ci­ety.


For those ex­cited by authen­tic­ity, Vol­ger pro­vides the orig­i­nal in­struc­tions for each recipe along­side her mod­ern adap­ta­tions. Some of the recipes even come from Dick­ens’ wife, Cather­ine, who pub­lished her own recipe book dur­ing the Vic­to­rian era. While many of us might love to try our hand at cook­ing with a coal stove, it’s prob­a­bly not an op­tion avail­able to most of us. Vol­ger keeps the dishes true to his­tory, but still ac­ces­si­ble to the mod­ern-day cook, by trans­lat­ing the steps with a re­al­is­tic ap­proach. Some recipes are for ex­pe­ri­enced cooks, like the time-con­sum­ing raised pie, but many dishes trans­late won­der­fully to mod­ern din­ner par­ties, like the bat­ter pud­ding.

Din­ner with Dick­ens adds an ex­tra layer to Dick­ens’ beloved nov­els by elab­o­rat­ing on the depth and im­por­tance of the ref­er­enced foods and drinks in his work. If you want to know what poor char­ac­ters like those in Oliver Twist were eat­ing, look no fur­ther than the rab­bit pie recipe; or if you’re in a more lux­u­ri­ous mood, pay homage to the clas­sic Dombey and Son feasts by recre­at­ing the orange and red­cur­rant jel­lies served at the wed­ding break­fast of the ti­tle char­ac­ter. Don’t be de­ceived by the food’s sim­ple ap­pear­ance—the en­tire process is long and takes much care and prepa­ra­tion, as one would ex­pect of a dish served at a high so­ci­ety wed­ding.


Dick­ens of­ten strad­dles the fine line of be­ing part of so­ci­ety and crit­i­ciz­ing the very times in which he lived. The en­joy­ment of food in his nov­els is typ­i­cally ac­com­pa­nied by the re­minder that the lower class was suf­fer­ing and starv­ing while great feasts were tak­ing place in up­per class homes. The events of Oliver Twist, for ex­am­ple, were in­spired by all-too-real events in Dick­ens’ child­hood when he worked in a fac­tory. Vol­ger pro­vides a gruel recipe if you’re cu­ri­ous to taste what sus­tained many im­pov­er­ished peo­ple of the Vic­to­rian era. While she ac­knowl­edges that this isn’t the tastiest dish in her book, its pres­ence adds to the his­tor­i­cal va­lid­ity she care­fully main­tains through­out.

If you’re a fan of the Vic­to­rian era, there’s no es­cap­ing the fact that Charles Dick­ens was a piv­otal fig­ure dur­ing this time, revered for cre­at­ing sto­ries about peo­ple, for the peo­ple. We have his nov­els to thank for lit­er­ary en­joy­ment, but as Vol­ger points out in Din­ner with Dick­ens, we can also thank Dick­ens for his in­sight into a his­tory that is com­pli­cated, beau­ti­ful and di­verse.

Cre­ate an el­e­gant and col­or­ful dessert with Vol­ger’s recipe for the “Highly Ge­o­log­i­cal Home­made Cake.” Add rose petals to the top of your cake for ex­tra flair.

For a sa­vory de­light, try the “Roast Goose” recipe. Pay homage to A Christmas Carol with this tasty and clas­sic dish.

Din­ner with Dick­ens by Pen Vol­ger, pub­lished by Cico Books, © 2017; ry­land­

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