Food Glorious Food

Flicking through Dickens’ most famous work, it suddenly dawned on me that his representation of food is not unlike the tempestuous relationship between the student and their budget meal. Unlike the typical 20 year old however, Dickens' possesses the ability to make even the most meagre dish sound sumptuous.
Often referred to as a Victorian foodie; Dickens’ culinary interest most likely stemmed from his relatively humble beginnings. This resulted in an overriding compassion for the poor, championing the overworked and the underpaid. 
Dickens’ first taste of success came with Oliver Twist:

The master, in his cook's uniform, stationed himself at the copper; his pauper assistants ranged themselves behind him; the gruel was served out; and a long grace was said over the short commons. The gruel disappeared; the boys whispered each other, and winked at Oliver; while his next neighbours nudged him. Child as he was, he was desperate with hunger, and reckless with misery. He rose from the table; and advancing to the master, basin and spoon in hand, said: somewhat alarmed at his own temerity: "Please, sir, I want some more."

                                                                      - Charles Dickens 'Oliver Twist' (1838)

Gruel is clearly not a particularly appetising meal for the orphans yet Dickens finds a way of treasuring the importance of food and making do with what you've got.

Gruel Recipe
This recipe is based on the ingredients used in an 18th Century workhouse. Gruel would have been one of the main meals provided.

Preparation time: 2 mins
Cooking time: 10 mins

- 3 tablespoons of oatmeal
- 1 pint of water
- a little salt

- spoon
- measuring jug
- pan
- wooden spoon

1) Mix the oatmeal with cold water to make a paste

2) Put the rest of the water in a pan
3) Add the mixture and boil for 10 mins
4)Add the salt

The line "Please, Sir, I want some more", the emphasis lying on the 'want', seems odd in connection to the thinned-down porridge recipe. Dickens' truly illustrates Oliver's state of neglect through his plead for more food and his compliance in eating it in the first place.

     It strikes me that the modern day student might financially benefit from such a dish, especially as a breakfast option. (Maybe with a little added honey and/or banana to take away the workhouse vibe).

Work Cited

Dickens, Charles. Oliver Twist. London: Penguin Books, 1994.

Student Living

Perusing through classic literature of the last few centuries, it seems Britain and its authors have a volatile relationship with food. Whether one is looking at Nineteenth century Dickens or Twentieth Century wartime literature, it seems that British writing likes to emphasise both poverty and excess throughout both periods, with little in between. It occurred to me that student living isn’t too dissimilar. Whilst I know some students who heavily tightrope the breadline trying to make their final porridge oat last, I also know some, ostensibly male, who will eat fifty chicken nuggets in one sitting as if trying to emulate King Henry VIII in his prime.
   Quality is clearly far more of an issue than quantity when it comes to a student’s frugal food shop and therefore I believe 20 year olds might be able to relate to a Dickens’ description of gruel or benefit from a war time ration recipe.

Weekly rations consisted of:

40z. Butter 2 oz Preserves

8oz. Sugar 2pt. Milk
4oz. Bacon/Ham 2oz. Cooking Fat
2oz. Tea 4oz. Cheese
1 egg 3oz. Sweets
14oz. Meat

Weekly war rations - 1941

With the money left over from a student’s allocated loan (after rent is paid and alcohol money is set aside of course), my cupboard doesn't look too dissimilar to the collection of food pictured above. It seems that if a student prefers to buy fresh produce, the helpings get a lot smaller – of course it is very easy to head to the frozen section of any supermarket and buy obscene amounts of anything bread crumbed if preferable.

My cupboard this week - 2014

Pictured abovet is the contents of my fridge and cupboard. As you can see, there is little that can be created just from these products alone. Unlike some of my student friends, I like to stay away from frozen items where possible. This does however come at a cost, meat will often have to be forgone and vegetarian recipes, as well as countless omelettes, will have to be made and eventually exhausted. All this food photography has made me hungry, may treat myself to a bacon omelette while I have the meat available...