Jellied Eels and Cow Foetus: What Strange Foods Did the Victorians Eat?

What Strange Foods Did the Victorians Eat?

An advert for condensed milk, c. 1887.
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The Victorians were a peculiar bunch. Turns out, that could have something to do with what they ate. Though many of the dishes that landed on Victorian dinner tables may appear stomach-churning today, at the time they were commonly enjoyed or even regarded as delicacies.

The Victorians’ penchant for odd food and flavour combinations was especially pronounced since the finest and best quality foods were reserved for the wealthy: poorer Victorians were forced to come up with ingenious and sometimes bizarre recipes to make their ingredients go further. Not ones to waste any part of an animal, you might wash down a mouthful of cow brain with a cup of fresh blood.

Hold on to your stomachs: here are 9 strange Victorian ingredients and dishes.

Jellied eels

Jellied eels.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Exactly what it sounds like, the dish ‘jellied eels’ consists of eel chunks coated in their own ‘naturally produced gelatin’. Invented in London’s East End and sold directly from street food carts, the dish was often flavoured with a splash of vinegar or dollop of butter. But don’t worry if you think you’ve missed out: jellied eels continue to be enjoyed in parts of the world today.

Flour soup 

Flour soup was just that… flour soup. Made of water, flour, butter, salt and caraway seeds or nutmeg, the soup was boiled and mixed until it had a smooth texture. Though variations on flour soup exist today, the recipe has certainly been refined over the centuries.


Slinks – or cow foetus – were taken from the bodies of slaughtered pregnant cows. Since Victorian butchers didn’t want to waste meat, they’d offer slinks to customers as a less expensive option than veal or lamb. Sometimes served alongside bread with drippings and a handful of watercress, slinks were eaten by the poorest in society.

Soused pig’s face

Soused pig’s face was made from a pig’s head which was then boiled in a pot with calves’ feet and rubbed with salt before brining. It was often served with a dollop of mustard. For an extra special treat, it was customary to remove the face from the bone, cover it with jelly and serve it as a delicacy.

Egg wine

Richard Dagley’s illustration “Taking caudle” of Thomas Gaspey’s poem. The new mother reclines in a four-poster bed, recouping her energy. A member of the household sits at the foot of the bed, entertaining a visitor, who keeps her bonnet on; both of them are drinking caudle.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Egg wine is also fairly self-explanatory. A variation on a caudle – a hot drink that existed in various formulations throughout British cuisine from the Middle Ages to Victorian times – egg wine was made with an egg which would be blended with half a glass of water, a glass of sherry, sugar and nutmeg.

Calf ear fritters

Not ones to waste a single part of an animal, Victorians ate calf ear fritters. To make the recipe, a calf’s head was boiled, the brains made into a sauce and the ears shaved and deep-fried. In all fairness, you might find this on a Michelin-starred restaurant menu today.


This is definitely one of the most nauseating Victorian foodstuffs on this list. In the Victorian era, times were tough for the poor. Broxy was an umbrella term for any meat a butcher was selling from an animal that had dropped dead from disease.

Sheep in particular were susceptible to many contagious diseases such as tetanus, salmonella and ringworm, and ended up on the plates of the poorest in Victorian society… who may well have ended up dropping dead themselves.


Saloop. Rowlandson’s characteristic Sketches of the Lower Orders (1820).

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Since coffee and tea were expensive, shopkeepers sometimes offered a poor man’s alternative called saloop. Brewed from ground orchid root and later the sassafras plant (the main flavouring for root beer), saloop was flavoured with steaming milk and sweetened with a heap of sugar. It later fell out of popularity after a reduction in tax made tea affordable.


Also straight to the point, blood was drunk by those stricken with tuberculosis, then called consumption. The disease was rampant in Victorian society, and it was believed that the fresh, hot blood of a slaughtered animal would fortify a sick person’s constitution. Consumptives would line up with cups at the slaughterhouse ready to catch the blood, which was swallowed right away. Delicious.

Lucy Davidson