Stobart, J. (2010) Tea and cakes: elite consumption of groceries in eighteenth-century England. Paper presented to: European Social Science History (ESSHC) Conference, Ghent, Belgium, 12-16 April 2010.
Food played an important part in the material culture of English elites, not least through the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, when an ever wider range of novel and exotic foods became available. Goods such as sugar and tea brought with them new social practices and new material goods through which these practices were articulated. Whilst we know a lot about the spread of these goods and material cultures through the middling sorts, less attempt has been made to assess how the elite purchased and consumed these imported groceries. This paper will explore the consumption patterns of such foods amongst a small sample of elite families. I will draw upon account books, recipe books, diaries and inventories to examine what was bought, how it was consumed and in what contexts. I argue that these novel consumables were linked to a changing material culture, but that this was interpreted by the elite in ways which allowed them to maintain their social distinction, for example through the quality of the material goods and the production of elaborate meals.