The kitchen garden was a common thing for many households in England with a bit o’ land, particularly after the medieval era made them popular for physic uses. By the Regency era, the use of herbs and spices for their culinary properties would have been common practice, particularly as Imperialist expansion saw the import and adaptation of many food stuffs into British cuisine.
By the early 1800s, nearly ten thousand acres of London were established as market garden which served the teeming metropolis. Manure from the street and stables of London fertilized the gardens, along with marlstone (calcium carbonate rich mud) from north London Enfield which had the result of digging up fozzilized dinosaur bones which many were sent to the British Museum.
Once the weather was favorable, in January, gardeners would busy themselves with planting root vegetables like radishes and leafy greens like spinach along the borders. In February, the interior gardens would be filled with cauliflower, at which time radishes would be ready for harvest and land on the tables of Londoners.
After cauliflower, sugar loaf cabbage, endives and celery would follow. The Neat House Gardens, in Chelsea, were one example of a commercial garden and agricultural operation supply Town. Cattle farming was also prevalent at Neat House, and market gardens like it, as well as some fruit production.
A publication on market gardens from 1796 tells us that “the first introduction of the culture of vegetables forsale in this kingdom..appears, by Fuller’s account , to havebeen about the year 1590. In some bills of fare for dinners, in1573, I find several charges for “parsley, sorill, and strong herbs;”and one charge of 12d. for “2 dishes of buttered peason,” on thefirst of July (fn. 3) , which, supposing the value of money to have beenthen four times greater, would now, at that season, purchase abouteight pecks. Fuller says, that previously to the time which he fixesfor the introduction of gardening, for profit, a mess of rath-ripe, orearly peas, was a dainty for ladies, they came so far and cost sodear.” (http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=45495 Date accessed: 16 January 2012.)
As gardens grew from the medieval era to Regency England, the exotic offerings would only increase. Beyond culinary agricultural, nursery products in outlying rural London spaces would also become a thriving business until sprawling growth would push it further out.
The conception that food in England was bland is unnecessarily biased, and based on the oversimplification that British cuisine rises and sets at the tables of the working man.
Indeed, for a household well off enough to afford not only a plot of land to grow their own vegetables, fruits and herbs, as well as visit the market gardens for meats, cheeses, and other produce, the table could be very well set for a variety of rich, flavorful foods.
Most interesting! I had no idea what a huge area was taken in London for market gardening. (It makes sense, given the population, but I still had visions of everything being brought in from the countryside.) Thank you for this very enjoyable article!