Today as we were cooking our festive dinner, I suddenly found myself having one of my History Moments where I say something like "hey, this thing we're doing - it's got this historical link to it!" (I don't do this often except around family/friends, because I fear being tedious. Because academia can sometimes do that to you!)
Do you remember the descriptions in A Christmas Carol that indicated that the meat dish wasn't cooked at home? Well, that's not entirely about poverty.
A Christmas Carol, in The Second of the Three Spirits chapter:
"...And now two smaller Cratchits, boy and girl, came tearing in, screaming that outside the baker's they had smelt the goose, and known it for their own; and basking in luxurious thoughts of sage and onion, these young Cratchits danced about the table..."
Even those who could afford a stove often would have their meat cooked elsewhere - the baker wasn't just someone who made bread. He had an oven large enough to bake all sizes/cuts of meat, and the fuel to cook it. Both of those things were pricey and took a bit of work, so it was easier to delegate cooking all large foods this way. Even if you had a fireplace to cook over, your food might not fit in there - many fireplaces were very small. You might not own a pan that'd fit inside the fireplace, or that your food would fit inside - especially if it was a large piece of meat you'd only afford once a year. Both rich and poor would have their main meat dish cooked elsewhere and brought to their houses - it was only a certain percent of homeowners/wealthy folk who'd have the whole thing cooked on site.
This wasn't just true of Victorian London - many other societies and cultures had cooking shops for the same reasons of affordability and resources needed. Ancient Rome was full of cookshops, some of which you can still visit (thank you, archeologists). And it was the same sorts of shops that provided a lot of street food for people - because fast food isn't really all that new either.
In our family it's made things much less stressful to have our turkey cooked elsewhere and then pick it up a few days before. (There are ton of restaurants that offer this service now, which is also fun.) I still think one of the more difficult parts of cooking a big meal is to time everything so all the side dishes and the main meat dish are fully cooked and warm by serving time. Now all we have to do is heat up the turkey - and we have plenty of time to mess about with our favorite side dishes. My job (as always) is mashed potato wrangler, and today I mixed in a nice shredded cheese (Havarti, yum) and lots of butter. It makes for epic leftovers.
I reviewed A Christmas Carol back in 2012 here - there are some quotes but more importantly loads of links, especially to articles about treatment of the poor at that time. At this time of year, especially in the US, I'm still always amazed that the focus on A Christmas Carol (in its various film/tv retellings) is "one man learns the True Meaning" - and not as much on "our society still ignores the poor and those who need help instead of trying to help them." The message Dickens was trying to get through was the social one, not so much on inner happy thoughts. And we in the US do still have a problem with this, and with having compassion and empathy for others.
On a lighter note I am still fascinated by the glowing lobster quote. Because yes, there is a glow-in-the-dark-lobster reference in A Christmas Carol. (It's bolded in my review.) I still don't have a nice science link to a story about bio-luminescence in decaying lobster. I have a feeling there's an article in a journal somewhere though, I've just not found it yet. Maybe next year? I need to find some lobster researchers and pester them about this.