You might have noticed, my avid readers, that the Authoress of this Blog has revealed a fair amount of cynicism when it comes to the 21st century feasibility of adopting an 18th century work-house diet. At least it doesn't sound like very much fun. But everything, I fear, is relative, and I don't want to demonize the workhouse overseers as a bunch of hypocritical cheapskate skallywags straight out of a Dickens novel.
The New Poor Law of 1834 stipulated that every workhouse must have a bill of fare, but in the 18th century this wasn't required. There was usually a diet table of some sorts, but this doesn't mean that it was always rigidly adhered to. I've run across a bunch of announcements that the poor would, on certain days, be dining on things like "beans and bacon" and "mackarel ... as they master shall think convenient." At one workhouse, I found out that a baronet was shelling out twenty pounds a year during the 1720s to ensure that the poor had roast beef for dinner every Sunday.
Economy was certainly a key element in the provision of the workhouse diet, and there were, at times, painful cutbacks –– my heart nearly broke, gentle readers, when in 1769 a cheaper and substantially less tasty-sounding broth was substituted for pudding at one workhouse on account of the latter's expense –– but overseers wanted the food to be more than just palatable, and often sent provisions back if the basics didn’t measure up to standards.
|When in Rome...|
(Rachel's Organic 'Divine Rice' Pudding)
And for the record, my friends, it "answered well"
When a vendor offered one London workhouse four different kinds of rice at different prices in 1796, the overseers opted for the second most expensive kind, deeming that the cheapest kind, "did not answer so well ... as to make rice milk." And they only went with this upscale East India rice after whipping up some rice milk using the free sample, serving it up for dinner, and then informing the committee that, yes, indeed, the “poor were satisfied therewith."
We can't underestimate the centrality of the “bang” in contemporaries' desire to get their bang for the buck.