Food and Cooking According to Class in 1632
In the Germany of 1632 the difference between the food available to the rich and to the poor was immensely bigger than it is today. Not so much because of the various class-based anti-luxury decrees aimed at cutting down on expensive imports—those were largely ignored—but because there were very few stores selling anything not locally grown or produced. Only those rich enough to arrange their own imports could usually supplement what they—or their neighbors—could grow and preserve for the winter.
This article is concerned with what was eaten by whom, when and why, but with the most attention to how the major part of the population lived. Anyone looking for descriptions of royal banquets and elaborate feasts can find those in library books about the Renaissance. The information in this article is presented in four sections concerning respectively: the householdless, the poor households, the middle-class households, and the upper-class households. In a final section there are some speculations on the changes caused by the arrival of the Americans.
Street-beggars were usually not allowed in German towns. A few of the more respectable poor—such as crippled soldiers and impoverished widows of local origin—were sometimes given permission from the council or parish to go from door to door—back-doors, of course—and beg leftovers from the kitchens. The major towns would have a poorhouse, while in smaller towns and in rural parishes those not able to fend for themselves would be housed and fed in a rotation system. Typically this worked as a part of the tithe (church tax) arrangement, and all major farms and households were assigned a certain number of days in the year in which they were to feed and house one or more of such non-working persons. The people thus housed were not limited to cripples and widows unable to find employment, but would include the old and the senile as well as those born with a physical or mental handicap. In fact, any disabled person that the rest of the society preferred to keep out of sight and forget about. These people, depending as they did on the generosity of others for their food, might do fairly well in times of plenty, but as the war created shortages, they were the first to suffer.
Somewhat better off than the non-working poor were the apprentices, farm-workers and the lower servants. These people, which together with the small farm households formed the major part of the population, would have little or no money of their own, and were almost completely in the power of their employers. It was, however, a major part of their wages that they had a place at the table of the household they served, and while the food at the lowest end of such a table would be coarse and dull, they rarely went hungry unless the entire area was starving. Also, while it wasn’t possible for people in this group to marry and set up a household of their own, there were opportunities for advancement to journeyman, farm foreman or upper servant, and thus to a life with far better prospects for independence.
A third group too poor to afford an independent household were the day-laborers, poor students, non-famous artists, and others who would rent a single room with no way to prepare their own meals. Instead they would go to the cheapest taverns and ale houses twice a day and buy a bowl of soup or stew along with bread smeared with drippings (fat from roasting meat) and beer. These people had more freedom—and often more money—than those mentioned above, but there was no kind of security to their livelihood, and the wages offered by the hiring armies often seemed an attractive alternative to starving. In most areas this group of poor independents would be quite small, but in the major towns—and especially those with a harbor or a university—there would be enough such persons to keep several very cheap eating places going. Including students in this group might seem odd, since only young men with a wealthy family or patron could afford to pay for the tuition at a university, but a father/patron willing to pay tuition did not necessarily mean a father/patron willing to pay for an expensive lifestyle. Contemporary journals and letters show that many university students did in fact rent an attic room and eat the cheapest meals for sale.
For soldiers and sailors the situation was somewhat different, as they would often have money, but rarely much freedom in planning their life and meals. The common soldiers and low-ranking officers could—and often did—have their family with them on campaigns as a kind of mobile household. The army the soldiers served in would be expected to provide the basic food items such as porridge grains, rye bread, beer and salted meat or fish as a part of the wages. These foods could either be eaten without cooking, or simply mixed in various ways and boiled over a campfire. From time to time there would also be opportunities to supplement this dull diet by plundering, trading or gathering other items. The sailors would normally have a home-port where they could keep a permanent base with a family supported by their wages. While on ship their diets would however be limited to what could easily be stored and transported, namely porridge grains, hardtack/ship’s biscuit, beer, salted meat, dried and salted fish, sauerkraut, cheese, mustard and vinegar.
The Poor Households
In the smallest households, be they in the country or in towns, two questions really decided how poor you were. First: could you buy a piglet in spring, and let it roam to fatten for slaughtering in autumn? Second: was it possible for you to grow a few plants of your own on a small fenced plot? If the answer to both was yes, the household should do all right—unless the pig died or was stolen. If the answer to both was no, then chances were that everybody would get so weak and malnourished during the winter that any disease could kill them.
That having a pig to slaughter could literally mean life or death to a family seems unbelievable in modern terms, but a low-income household in 1632 would not have the cash to buy the 150-200 pounds of meat-products a pig was expected to provide. And as this was likely to be the only fat and the only animal protein available during the winter, its production and preservation was vital.
If you had a small plot—called a kailyard— of your own, the bought winter vegetables could be supplemented by fresh winter-hardy kale plus stored onions, roots, and garlic, thus adding not just variation, but also some sorely needed vitamins and minerals to the winter meals.
During the summer the danger of malnutrition—or outright starvation—was less for this class, partly because the prospects of earning a wage were bigger during the growth-season, partly because even the poorest family could supplement their meals by gathering wild plants such as young nettles, dandelions, wild onions, lovage, ground elder, and angelica.
Aside from salted pork and fresh kale, the winter food in a poor household was likely to consist of bought grain for porridge, a few of the cheapest vegetables, plus the coarsest bread from the baker and the cheapest small beer from the brewer. If any kind of spices were bought they would most likely be mustard and vinegar, but other flavorings would be limited to whatever herbs and berries could be gathered or grown.
Which vegetables were the cheapest would, of course, vary from area to area. Some food items such as beans, turnips/swedes, oats, and millet were considered too coarse to be digested by anyone but those doing the coarsest labor, and were thus found exclusively on the tables of the poor. Other items such as peas—and, in some areas, cabbage—were cheap to buy, but eaten by everyone. The peas, by the way, would not be the fresh, green summer vegetables we think of today, but the hard yellow or green split-pea types, allowed to mature fully on the plants before being dried for storage.
Buying the rye as whole grain or flour to be baked to bread—and the barley as whole grain or crushed malt to be brewed to beer—would often be cheaper than buying the finished products, but making these items in a small house created other problems.
A small house in 1632 might be just a single room, and the kitchen might be nothing more than a hook over the fire to hang your clay pot on. This would serve to boil the grain porridge, pea soup or kale gruel that was the usual meal. To save firewood this would often be done only every other day. The leftovers would then be served cold the next day.
Without an oven it was possible to make a primitive dough of flour and young beer, and bake this to a kind of bread in a lidded pot placed on the embers after the main meal was cooked. It was also possible to bake clay wrapped items—such as roots—in the ashes, but real bread could be made only by paying a fee to use a big brick oven that belonged to somebody else. The fee wasn’t fixed, so if that “somebody” was the local baker, there might not be anything saved compared with buying his cheapest bread.
Drinking beer instead of water was not a luxury, but something necessary in even the poorest household. There was no piped water available, and the buckets of water somebody from every household had to carry to the house would come from a common well or the village pond. The pond was also the place used for watering the animals. Even if the water was drawn from a closed well, the lack of sanitation made the water much too dangerous to drink. Once the water was used—for bathing, washing or housecleaning—the dirty water, along with any refuse (including human and animal urine and feces), would be thrown into the open gutter or onto the midden. All water—be it clean or dirty—runs down-hill, so the filthy water and waste would eventually end up in the same location.
Making the simplest ale did not demand a lot of expensive equipment, but did require more space for trays and containers than might be available in a small house, and it required more firewood. So—as with the bread—it might be necessary to buy the lowest quality rather than make something better yourself.
A special problem in poor Catholic households were the many meatless days—often three days a week plus the weeks of Lent—where some kind of fish, shellfish or snails had to provide the needed protein. The cheapest option was to buy a barrel of salted herrings imported from the Baltic area, and a single barrel was expected to last a whole year in a small household. It was, however, to be paid for in cash. If that much cash wasn’t available the fish either had to be bought in smaller portions at a higher price, or the household had to make do with bread, beer and vegetables.
Theoretically—based on religious instructions—there were only supposed to be two meals during the day: one around nine or ten in the morning and one around five or six in the evening. In reality, nine in the morning was much too long a wait for people who had often been working since dawn. Working people would therefore start the day with a breakfast around five o’clock in the morning, after feeding the animals on a farm, and before starting work in the town. The next meal—the largest in the day—would be served around noon or a little earlier, and finally there would be a smaller evening meal around sunset. In between these meals those doing hard manual work would have small snacks—usually a piece of rye bread and a glass of beer—if they could afford it.
Breakfast in a poor household would be cold to save firewood, and would most likely consist of beer with rye bread or cold porridge from the day before—and perhaps a herring straight from the barrel, just with the salt brushed off.
The warm meal in the middle of the day would most likely consist of grain, pulses or vegetables boiled to a gruel, soup or stew. If some salted meat was added, this would first be soaked a bit, and then boiled in the liquid forming the base of the meal. Rye bread and beer would also make up part of the meal.
The lighter meal in evening would most likely be a soup—perhaps made by diluting the leftovers from dinner. In any case, beer and bread were certain to be included.
The meals in a small and poor household would be served by placing the food at the center of the table, and each person would then eat directly with a spoon from the common pot. In addition to the personal spoon—which would be licked clean after each meal and stuck somewhere until the next meal—each person would bring a personal knife and get a piece of bread. The bread could be used as a trencher in the Medieval fashion—that is: to place any firm parts of the meal on for cutting—but it could also be broken into bits and used to soak up liquids from the common pot, or it could be spread with fat or mustard and eaten during the meal. In the country this way of serving the meals would continue in the smaller households for several centuries after 1632, but in the towns the fashion for individual bowls or platters slowly spread down the social layers.
Beer would be served with all meals to all classes, but in the poor households there wouldn’t necessarily be individual mugs to drink from. Instead a tankard would be passed around and each person drank in turn. Such tankards—and mugs—had to be covered to keep the flies out. In the poor households, where hinged metal lids would be too expensive, the cover would simply be a slice of dry bread—thus “drinking a toast” when you removed the bread to drink.
The Middle-class Households
In households where starvation or malnutrition were not just around the corner, the range of food products was quite a lot wider; in the towns because you could buy from the farmers and merchants, and in the country because the farm would be arranged to provide almost everything needed for the household.
As in the poor households, the most important meat products on a farm would come from the pigs. But there would also be oxen to slaughter once they grew to old to work as draft animals, as well as a few cows producing milk to be preserved as cheese and heavily-salted butter, some sheep or goats for wool, milk and meat, and poultry for meat, eggs, down and feathers. The pigs, however, were the only animals raised solely for their meat, and—to save the cost of feeding the animals during the winter—most pigs slaughtered in late autumn and the meat preserved in various ways.
On a fair-sized farm in central Germany you’d also expect to find a large vegetable garden in addition to the fields of grain, peas and swedes. In addition to the vegetables that were grown in the small household’s kailyard, such a large garden would also contain head cabbage, leeks, spring turnips, carrots, parsnips, and beet-roots, as well as several herbs such as thyme, marjoram, dill, horseradish, and caraway. A row or two of fruit trees or grape vines would also be expected, and if the soil and climate were suitable this might have been expanded to a small arbor with the fruit grown as a cash crop.
In order to buy the few things the farm could not produce—such as salt and salted fish—at least a few cash-crops were needed. Aside from apples for cider, this could be grapes for wine, cabbage for sauerkraut, or flax for textiles, or—if the acorn production in the forest looked good— a few extra pigs might be fattened for sale. Especially in Catholic areas there could also be fish ponds for carp or pike, either on major farms or owned in common by a village. Many farms would also either sell any excess products at the weekly market in the nearest town, or have arrangements with one or more major town households for delivering meat, vegetables, eggs, butter, etc. The main purpose of the farm was, however, to supply the food for the household, and many of the more isolated farms had very little trading with the rest of the world.
In the town household of a well-to-do craftsman or merchant you’d find all the local farm products, as well as imported goods such as rice, chickpeas, wine, spices and sugar. A big household would most likely also have a few pigs in a sty behind the house, where they would be fed on the garbage and leftovers from the kitchen. A few chickens, and perhaps a cow for milk, were also quite normal, as was a pigeon coop for squabs.
In the larger fireplace of a middle-class household there would be other ways of cooking than boiling. At least some of the pots hanging from the kettle hook would be of metal, usually brass, suitable for braising meat, and the fire itself could be both logs supported on fire-dogs, and coals in iron-baskets. An iron grid placed over such a basket filled with glowing coal, was the fore-runner of the barbecue. An iron frying pan on legs, used the same way, allowed the option of fried and broiled food, in addition to the boiled dishes of the poor. Poaching delicate food such as fresh fish or dumplings was also possible by placing a small pot or pan filled with water over one of the smaller fires.
A large household might also have a baking oven of bricks and clay, either built into the kitchen wall or as a big hive-shaped structure outside. It would be fired only once a month or so, but in the weeks between the baking days the bread could be supplemented by various kinds of pan- and griddlecakes as well as deep-fried donuts-like fritters. There would, however, still be no access to clean water. Such a household would probably also brew its own beer—but that’s another story (The Daily Beer, Grantville Gazette, Volume VIII).
Boiling was, of course, also done in the bigger households, and here—where the firewood wasn’t limited—a large metal cauldron filled with water could be left to simmer for hours with various sealed pots and bundles tied to its handles to keep them suspended in the water or steamed just above. The pots would be of clay with a lid glued on with a mix of flour and water, and could contain—for example—a rabbit stew or what would today be called a casserole. The bundles could contain vegetables or puddings of meat or dough, which would be tied or sewn into a cloth, and boiled or steamed in the manner still used in the UK and Holland.
The meals in a middle-class household tended to follow the same pattern as in the poor household, but with a bit more flavor and variation. The average breakfast would consist of a warm porridge of barley grains or rye bread boiled in beer, served along with beer and either a boiled or broiled herring or a slice of some kind of pork product. Warm beer—perhaps with an egg beaten into it—and a slice of fine bread with honey would be the luxury version of a breakfast, and would sometimes be served as a treat or to an invalid.
The big meal in the middle of the day would most likely include a kind of soup, gruel or stew, but it would be served with boiled, baked or fried meat or fish—and perhaps vegetable side-dishes as well. And in addition to the bread and beer, there would certainly be some kind of condiment like mustard or pickled beet-root.
The evening meal would most likely be a soup served with slices of bread spread with fat and a bit of cheese or sausage, but a treat in the shape of a pie or a dish of baked apples were also possible.
By 1632 some large households—in towns as well as country—still kept the old tradition, and had one set of common pots and platters at the low end of the table for the servants to eat from with their spoons, and another set—of more and more refined dishes—for the family and guests at the other end. However, in households too big for everybody to easily reach a common pot placed at the center of the table, it made sense to acquire individual bowls and platters. For this kind of serving the food would either be placed in large pots and on platters at the center of the table, and from here ladled or lifted to the individual bowls, or the housewife would remain away from the table and ladle the soup, porridge or stew into the individual bowls of clay or wood, which would then be brought to the table.
Regardless of whether the food was eaten from individual bowls or common pots, the drinking vessels in a large household would by 1632 most likely be individual, or at most shared between only a few persons. Such vessels would often be of clay or stoneware, but wood, metal, and glass were also around. It all depended on the wealth of the household and, regardless of the material they were made from, most drinking vessels would have a metal lid to keep the flies out of the beer.
The Upper-class Households
On the major estates and in the households of those able to buy and import freely, the range of both stored and fresh products increased hugely. Aside from all the local farm-products, such households would also have access to venison, wild boar, hare and game birds, as well as the more exotic peacocks and turkeys. There would also be fresh fish and crayfish from the ponds, lakes and streams, and in the forcing-houses and cold-frames out-of-season and exotic vegetables and fruits would be grown for the family table—while the servants, of course, ate the ordinary food that was served in the classes below.
On the major estates slaughtering and the ensuing fresh meat was not limited to a single occasion in autumn, but happened whenever an occasion demanded it. Some cows would be fed well enough to stay in milk during the winter, and all kinds of poultry—including geese, ducks, pigeons, peacocks, and turkeys—would be kept for fresh meat and eggs.
In the vegetable garden of such households you’d find lettuce and asparagus, and the new cauliflower and broccoli from Italy would be grown along side cane-supported rows of garden peas. Cucumbers, melons and artichokes as well as basil and rosemary would be on their northernmost border in Germany, and had to be grown—or at least started as seedlings—in the forcing-houses. The heated glass-houses—for pineapples, etc.—so popular in Victorian times had not yet been developed, but brick buildings with large glass windows called orangeries were being build at the royal palaces to keep citrus trees and other Mediterranean plants alive during the winter.
To further vary the dishes served, items like saffron, dried peaches and apricots, almonds, lemons, olives, capers, pine nuts, dates, figs, and rice would be imported from the Mediterranean, while sugar and spices would be imported by the crates directly from the producers.
In 1632 the kitchen would most likely consist of a big central room surrounded by several smaller rooms, each with its own function. The central room would be the location of the big fireplace, several working tables, a large butcher’s block for slicing and chopping meat, and a stand for the big granite mortar, as well as shelves and cupboards with all kinds of kitchen utensils along the walls.
A laundry, a brewery, and a dairy might be located either in connection with the kitchen or in separate building, but a bakery room or two—one for bread and one for sugar cooking—would certainly be found next to the main kitchen room.
The big bread oven would most likely be a separate structure in the court outside the kitchen door, but a smaller oven intended for pies, cakes and glazing could be located either in the main room or built into the wall of the separate bakery room.
A third fire in the scullery or in a laundry room solely to heat water was also a possibility, but even in quite large households all water would be heated in the main fireplace, and most washing up would be done by scrubbing with cold water and sand.
Depending on how the meals were arranged, the servants might have a separate dining room, but a scullery, a wet larder and a dry larder were certain, and a bedroom for at least the head cook would most likely also be connected to the kitchen. A pantry, where the dishes for the family would receive their final garnishing, could be located either by the kitchen or close to the dining room, and somewhere not too far from the kitchen there also had to be rooms for storing water and firewood.
In 1632 the chimney—basically a big funnel leading the smoke away from the fire below—was still a fairly new invention, and no one had even heard of an iron stove or range. Instead, the big kitchens would have a six to fifteen foot long fireplace with room beside the main fire for a series of small fires or coal baskets as well as a spit on cob-irons to suspend a piece of meat over a tray to roast in front of the main fire.
On the main fire, very large kettles of thinly beaten copper would be used for boiling large amounts of liquids, not just for cooking but for all the warm water needed in the household. Thick liquids—such as the daily gruel, porridge or stew for the servants and bread-thickened sauces for the fine table—tend to scorch if kept directly over a fire, so for dishes needing a long slow simmer there would be large clay pots with two handles for lifting by two persons, and smaller, three-legged clay casseroles with a long handle—hollow to keep the handle cool. These clay pots would first be brought to a boil on the fire and then pushed to the back of the fireplace, where they could be left to simmer surrounded with hot ash. The expensive brass pots of various sizes could stand quick heating directly on a fire or bed of coals, and were thus the best for roasting, braising and stewing, where what was wanted was a quick browning rather than a long boil or slow simmer. Bronze frying pans with three legs and an very long handle were also a possibility, and for broiling there would be iron grids of various sizes. Baking the very popular pies and other delicacies on a daily basis was also possible in the main fireplace by placing the items in deep, hollow-lidded copper pans and heaping glowing coals both on top and below. All these different ways of heating the food would enable the cook to produce the elaborate dishes of roasts, pies, sauces, etc. needed for an upper-class household. A few of the most modern kitchens would also contain one of the first primitive stoves. These were not of metal, but were constructed as a masonry bench with hollows build into the surface to contain glowing coals.
All the kitchen rooms would be white-washed with tiled floors, and fairly high ceilings. The rooms with a wall to the outside might also have windows, but glass was expensive, so candles made from sheep fat were the main source of working light aside from the fireplace. The high ceilings might make the rooms seem fairly well ventilated, but by modern standards the 1632 kitchens would be very badly lit.
The water supply for such a big household had to be more efficient than having somebody draw and carry every drop used for both cooking and cleaning in and out of the house. The water still wouldn’t be piped—nor was it likely to be clean enough for drinking—but there would most likely be a private well in the courtyard, lined with a hollowed-out log and closed with a pump. From this a trench of wood or stone would lead into a room near the kitchen, so the water could be pumped up from the well and into the water barrels or basins. There would probably be a hole in a kitchen wall, where dirty water could be sent either directly into the moat or into a sewage trench leading to a midden area on an estate, but in town all refuse was likely to end in the open gutter behind the house. Many major towns did try to make arrangements with the surrounding farmers for removal of feces and other firm garbage to fertilize their fields instead of stinking up the town, but these arrangements were rarely very efficient, and did little to clean up the water supply.
Due to the major fire-hazard of the kitchen fire and oven, the kitchen of a large household was often in a separate building—or at least in the other end of the house—from the room used to dine in. This made covered serving platters very popular, both for keeping the food warm and to keep the flies away. These lidded platters would usually be of metal such as pewter, brass or bronze, and heated to aid in keeping the food hot. Carrying such hot and heavy loads from the kitchen to the table was often done by balancing the platters on the head of the servant with his hands holding onto the edge on each side. Aside from thick gloves, this made a padded hat necessary. The hat was usually black and shaped like a low version of what is now considered the traditional white chef’s hat.
For the upper classes, waiting for breakfast was not likely to be a problem, but anybody going to an evening party would get much too hungry if not eating until after sunset in winter. These people would usually start the day with a warm drink—a posset, tisane, beer or wine—and a bit of sweet bread around nine or ten in the morning, followed by a small lunch at noon, while the largest meal would be in the evening.
The size of an upper-class lunch could vary from a few slices of fine wheat bread soaked in a glass of wine posset for a single lady of small appetite, to a elaborate serving of cold meat, pies, poached fresh fish, cheese, fruit and nuts for a large household with guests.
On an ordinary day, the main meal in the household of a wealthy merchant, prelate or nobleman would consist of up to a dozen dishes served in two or three sets. First would come the coarsest food such as porridge, stew, and various boiled, salted meats and fish. This serving would be for everybody to eat, regardless of rank. Then the more elaborate dishes such as pies, roasted fresh meat with sauce, salads and other fine vegetables, game dishes, and jellied meat or fish would be served, but only to the family and the guests. Finally, a third set of fruits, cheese, nuts, and sweets might be served, but again only at the upper end of the table. At least, that was the theory. But since a table set with many work-demanding dishes twice a day was also a sign of prestige, a large number of the fine dishes would usually be passed down to the servant’s end of the table.
The difference between the dishes eaten by upper-class and middle-class wasn’t entirely a matter of number, variation and elaboration. In late-medieval times, a lighter diet with more vegetables and fewer spices had spread from Italy to the royal French court, and there replaced the heavy and spicy medieval dishes. By 1632 this style had spread to the German nobility and, while most people north of the Alps still considered raw fruit and vegetables to be unhealthy, it was fashionable to fill your table with stuffed cabbage, green peas in butter, braised lettuce, and steamed pumpkin salad with pomegranate seeds.
In a 1632 upper-class household, no one was likely to be eating directly from a common pot at the center of the table. Instead, each person would have a dinner plate of wood, clay, metal or—in very wealthy households—glass or porcelain. This made it possible to combine both firm and liquid food in individual servings, and the modern western combination of meat, sauce and vegetables had begun.
Forks were not yet commonly used and, in addition to spoons and knives, people used their fingers. This made hand washing both before and after a meal necessary and—as people would clean their fingers on the tablecloth as well as on napkins during the meal—the tablecloth might also need changing between each course at a large feast.
Cups and goblets were also becoming individual utensils, rather than being shared as had previously been the custom, but even when several wines were served for a large dinner, there would not be a row of glasses for each person. Instead, the servants would remove the empty vessels and clean them between each filling.
The plates, cups, etc. used were not the uniform dinner-sets we know today, but items of any size, shape and material. They would often be a combination of new imports and old heirlooms at the upper end of the table, while at the lower end they would be of local make. People also brought their own service when traveling to visit friends and relatives, and even in royal palaces it was common for the prince or king to borrow cups, plates and platters from the surrounding estates in preparation for a major party.
Possible Changes after the Ring of Fire
The arrival of the Americans with their new ideas and products would certainly change the pattern above, but probably slowly and probably not in anything like a systematic way. The major USE towns such as Magdeburg are likely to be modernized first, but before the basics of clean, piped water, a sewage system, and electricity can be widely installed, the metal mining and production has to be increased and stabilized (water pipes, pumps, electric cords). In 1632 most of the German population was farm workers and small farmers, and in a pre-industrial society most of the population has to work at food production. So, in order to feed a sizable group of factory workers mainly recruited from this part of the population, farms must increase their yield (hybridizing, fertilizers, field machinery), and transportation (roads, railroads, wagons, motors) and storage (industrial freezers and refrigerators) become more efficient. In between and after these major basics are in place—which is likely to happen in a highly disorganized fashion town by town, area by area over several decades—smaller companies could set up production of items like iron stoves, textiles, vermin-proof jars, smaller freezers, electric lamps, vacuum cleaners, etc.
Side by side with the technological changes—but sometimes faster and sometimes slower—new ideas are likely to spread. From voting rights, legal reforms, and social security to specialized farming, cooperatives, and a more healthy diet, all these changes are going to influence people’s everyday lives.
For the householdless, it is to be hoped that the notion of social security would spread as the society grew more politically stable and democratic. Stipends for the old and disabled could go far toward removing the need to beg for a living—and might even leave people with some dignity—while more uniform laws—enforced for the rich as well as the poor—would also offer better protection for those totally dependent on their employers.
Another major change for this group of people would be that an industrial revolution is likely to severely reduce the number of people unable to afford a household of their own. Mass production in factories is likely to cause a lot of new problems, but this type of work generally needs less physical strength than doing things the pre-industrial way, and—providing the pay is in scale with the value of the product—it also pays better.
A new major population group of industrial workers recruited from the lower part of the servant and farmer classes would also cause new demands for food products. Apartments leave no room for keeping a pig or storing the pork, and even if running water, freezers and stoves make the entire process easier, the old system of self-sufficiency is likely to be replaced by much more daily shopping, fast-food and pre-fab meals.
For the poor households, a stable political environment combined with better storage and transportation would go far toward removing the danger of starvation due to war or crop-failure, and the spread of knowledge about nutrition should make the chance of not just surviving but also remaining healthy much better. Presumably a large number of this class would become part of the new industrial workers, but—even for those keeping their small farm or business—clean water, replacing salted meat with frozen, adding more vegetables to the diet, etc. would be major changes for the better.
For the well-to-do farmers, the changes are likely to be more in the farm work than in the household. To make the most of the new improvements bigger fields would be better—which would mean each village had to do a land reform or form a cooperative—more cash crops would be needed to pay for things like fertilizers and gasoline, and each farm or farming area would need to specialize in the crop or product best suited for the location. More specifically: growing additional fodder crops would enable the cows to stay in milk over the winter and thus start dairy farming, cork stoppers for wine bottles would increase the popularity of the wine produced, refrigeration and better roads would make truck gardening possible, and, of course, potatoes would be in demand to feed the new industrial workers. As a class farmers tend to be rather conservative, but when farm workers start moving to the towns, the reforms are likely to speed up.
In the farm households, the biggest change is likely to be freezers—either on the individual farms or for each village. Things like other electrical applications, running water, and linoleum are also likely to be appreciated, but the biggest change should be the fresh, frozen food replacing the salted and dried.
For the town middle-class, the advances in transportation and preservation technology are likely to totally change their original pattern of self-sufficiency. This class would have the money to take advantage of the new knowledge and possibilities, and with the removal of the need to always keep food in storage for the following year, their eating pattern is likely to change almost completely. Again, freezers are likely to play the main part, but iron ranges, private ovens, more goods in the stores, clean water, perhaps even running hot water, sewage removal, and public laundries are all going to have to make up for fewer servants being available.
How the guilds would react to the changes is another matter . . . but the wives of guild members are likely to approve—while, of course, complaining about the outrageous wages now demanded by the servants.
The upper-classes rarely involved themselves directly in the running of their households and they already had access to the range of food available, but presumably modern changes would become a matter of prestige—same as it did in this world. Electric light, running hot and cold water, gas-heated glass-houses, more and bigger windows, etc. would all become available on the major estates and in the big townhouses long before they did in the villages and poor households. As is this world, however, what started out as toys for the wealthy would eventually make life easier for their servants.
Art Director’s Note: The cheese image is by Boudewijn Rempt, used under the Creative Commons License.