Thursday, January 18, 2018

Early Nineteenth-Century Breakfast Display at Riversdale House Museum

About Riversdale
Riversdale House Museum, located in Riverdale Park, Maryland, is a five-part Georgian mansion whose construction was initiated by Flemish emigre, Henri Stier, in 1801. Stier, his wife, and their older children returned to Antwerp after the danger of the French Revolution no longer forced them to live in America as refugees.  However, their youngest daughter, Rosalie Stier Calvert (1778-1821), stayed in Maryland because she married a Marylander, George Calvert (1768-1838). The Stiers gave the property to Rosalie, and then she and her husband completed it by 1807.

The majority of the interpretation of Riversdale revolves around its earliest era, from about 1801 until Rosalie dies in 1821 when the George and Rosalie Calvert and their nine children (only five of which survived childhood) lived there. Another important era of interpretation is when the Calverts' younger son, Charles Benedict (1808-1864) took on the ownership and management of Riversdale and its vast acreage of farmland in 1838.

Interpreting the Meal: Breakfast
The winter 2018 dining room table display features a family breakfast. Inspiration for this meal comes from The Servants Guide and Family Manual, printed for John Limbird, London, 1831

According to this 1831 guide, breakfast was meant to be " . . . neat and simple, since the ladies breakfast in a simple negligé.” Obviously, breakfast dishes were meant to contain few stain-inducing sauces. However, rolls “differing in form as in taste” were to be included which could create lots of crumbs that could mar the perfection of a lady's negligé.

Because people rise at different times in the morning, breakfast was generally available whenever each person was ready for it; therefore, people could stroll down to breakfast at their leisure. The Riversdale breakfast scene has six place settings, but only three are being occupied be the early-risers. The others will enter in their own time.

With this in mind, a side table was laid with a variety of cold dishes such as fowls, pheasants, partridges, tongue, ham, cured/kippered fish, and cold patés. For this scenario at Riversdale, ham, beef tongue, and cheeses are on the sideboard. If hot dishes were to be served, they would be brought out for the diners when they were sat at table. Such items would be mutton kidneys, a la brochette (meats skewered and broiled over a small spit, possibly right in the dining room hearth), new laid eggs, eggs and bacon, broiled cutlets, lark a la minute, and deviled fowl. As you can see in the Riversdale scene, at each place setting eggs and bacon have been prepared to order and served hot to those seated at the table.

Breakfast drinks in the ninetieth-century were much as they are today and consisted of tea (green and black), coffee, and hot chocolate. What makes the Riversdale House Museum breakfast scenario special is that the teapots for black and green tea in the collection actually belonged to Rosalie Calvert. According to Riversdale Collections' Manager, Jenn Flood, "The teapots appear to be Swinton pottery from the late 18th century. Around 1770 Swinton developed the popular brown glaze that later became known as "Rockingham" glaze in the mid 19th century. Wares from this earlier period were often expensive teaware vessels decorated with gold gilding."