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Food and the Turners: Was a fine table set?

October 6, 2019 Published By Julie Arrison-Bishop

From our September Member Newsletter

By David Moffat & Dan Marshall

What did the Turners eat? While we may never know for sure due to the scarcity of domestic records for the family, we can glean some insights from 18th-century cookbooks and the probate inventory of John Turner II.

Eliza Smith, in The Compleat Housewife or, Accomplished Gentlewoman’s Companion, first published in London, suggests a bill of fare for each month. This is what she recommends for September in the third edition from 1729:

First Course.

Boiled Pullets with Oysters, Bacon, etc.

Bisque of Fish

Batallio Pye

Chine of Mutton

Dish of Pickles

Roasted Geese

Lumber Pye

Olives of Veal with Ragoo

Dish of boiled Pigeons with Bacon


Second Course.

Dish of Ducks and Teal

Dish of fried Soles

Buttered Apple-Pye

Jole of Sturgeon

Dish of Fruit


While we will probably not be serving ‘Dish of boiled Pigeons with Bacon’ at the Taste of The Gables this year, guests of the Turners in the 18th century may have expected similar fine foods.

John Turner II’s inventory in 1743 lists a variety of wares related to luxury foodstuffs of the time. These wares show the high level of entertaining in the home but also the huge amount of labor needed to prepare and present meals like these. The indentured servants and enslaved people that lived and labored here would have been doing the bulk of the heavy work to support this lifestyle. Several rooms contain items related to sugar, coffee, tea, and wine, which were all expensive imported luxuries at the time. Additionally, punch bowls, breakfast bowls, and a milk pot are found in the Best Room. Oil cruets are also found in the Hall and Hall Chamber. The kitchen contains soup plates and cheese plates among the other cooking wares. The Great Chamber displays beer glasses, salts, some earthenware fruit dishes, a vinegar jug, and a syllabub pot.  Syllabub was a dessert of wine and whipped cream that was popular in the 1700s.

John Turner II’s warehouses also included foodstuffs for trade, showing the importance of food to the economy. Within were 116 pounds of Virginia pork, 96 gallons of rum, a tierce (35 gallons) of sugar, 8½ bushels of English salt, and a good quantity of fish.  The fish included some pollock, “quality” and “middling” fish (most likely cod), and a barrel of old pickled fish.

While this inventory us a glimpse into culinary life in the Turner-Ingersoll Mansion in the 18th century, we don’t know exactly what they ate. However, we can certainly guess that many a guest enjoyed a syllabub with the Turners over the years.


While you might not have a syllabub pot at home, you can try your hand at some 18th century cooking. The following is from the fifth edition of The Art of Cookery made Plain and Easy by Hannah Glasse, published in 1755. Sack was fortified white wine from Spain, similar to sherry.

To make Whipt Syllabubs

TAKE a Quart of thick Cream, and Half a Pint of Sack, the Juice of two Seville Oranges or Lemons, grate in the Peel of two Lemons, Half a Pound of double-refined Sugar, pour it into a broad earthen Pan, and whisk it well; but first sweeten some Red Wine or Sack, and fill your Glasses as full as you chose; then as the Froth rises take it off with a Spoon, and lay it carefully into your Glasses till they are as full as they will hold.  Don’t make these long before you use them.

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This post was written by Julie Arrison-Bishop