What’s the first thing we jump to when we think of so-called “fast food” in late Victorian London? Fish and chips, right? And of course there are always the vendors who sold fruit such as oranges and apples to passersby who got the munchies. But here are three types of Victorian ready-made food vendors you may not always think of, discussed by Neil R. Storey in his book A Grim Almanac of Jack the Ripper’s London, 1870-1900.
Tater Men: These were the baked potato sellers who would set up shop near pubs with the hope of selling drinkers their wares. The portable baking ovens were often made out of “an iron baking box with chimney and looking not dissimilar to a steam engine,” and they were “simple and easily pushed as a handcart or pulled by a donkey.” Their taters were often “‘heavily dusted with salt (and a dab of yellow grease they euphemistically called ‘butter’).” How much do you want to bet Samwise Gamgee would be all over that?
Hot Pie Sellers: London’s East End took the cake for having the biggest variety of hot pies available for purchase in the city. There were pies of “hot beef-steak, eels, kidney, meat, fruit, and mincemeat. Dressed in his distinctive clean white apron, the pieman would lift the lid of the metal receptacle in front of him on his cart with nimble deftness, whip out a hot pie, run a knife around the outside of the dish, and turn it out on to a piece of paper for his customer.” Okay, now I want some pie. Just not eel pie.
Jellied Eel Sellers: No, really. Eel jelly was a big thing in London’s East End. There were stalls that specifically sold this concoction. “In great white basins you see a savory mess. Behind the stall mother and father, sometimes assisted by son and daughter, wash up cups and spoons, and ladle out the local luxury to a continuous stream of customers. Many a time on a terribly cold night I watched a shivering, emaciated-looking man eagerly consuming his cup of eel jelly and only parting with the spoon and crockery when even the tongue of a dog could not have extracted another drop from either,” reported one writer. Has anyone reading this ever had eel jelly? Because it sounds like it may be worth trying if people liked it that much!
Source: Storey, Neil R. A Grim Almanac of Jack the Ripper’s London, 1870-1900. Sutton Publishing Limited, 2004.