LONDON (Reuters) - Oliver Twist wouldn’t have needed any more gruel in real life, scientists said on Thursday.
The picture painted by Charles Dickens of starvation rations in an 1830s workhouse north of London is wide of mark, according to an analysis of menus and other historical evidence.
Dickens’ eponymous hero famously asked for more of the “thin gruel” doled out three times daily in the grim institution for the poor where he grew up.
In fact, contemporary recipes suggest such workhouse gruel was substantial, with each pint containing 1.25 ounces of best oatmeal, and servings supplemented by wholesome coarse bread.
Historical data also shows large quantities of beef and mutton were delivered to workhouses, pediatric dietician Sue Thornton of Northampton General Hospital and colleagues wrote in the British Medical Journal.
Such a diet, comprising three pints of gruel a day, would sustain growth in a nine-year-old child like Oliver, unless he was exceptionally active.
“Given the limited number of food staples used, the workhouse diet was certainly dreary, but it was adequate,” they concluded.
Reporting by Ben Hirschler; Editing by Dominic Evans