The Shepherdess and her followers: History of Turn of the Century England 

and the connection to America’s Cottage core Fantasy

Cottage core and its History

Cottage core is an aesthetic and a way to escape the overstimulated and stressful day-to-day, where people strive for a simpler life, a life similar to a traditional farm life, where they make handmade crafts and spend time in nature. “Cottage core, a movement harkening back to agricultural life, skills, and crafts, is on the rise. ‘As a concept, it embraces a simpler, sustainable existence that is more harmonious with nature. Aesthetically, it’s a nod to the traditional English countryside style, romantic and nostalgic.’”1 The desire to return to a simple life has appeared many times throughout history and the aesthetic has popped up over and over again. 

In England, the cottage core aesthetic begins in the Elizabethian era, the start of “pastoral” references, however, the cottage core lifestyle or aesthetic has been a trend that has appeared every so often since ancient Greece.2 Ancient Greece had the first instance of what we now call “cottage core,” or the want for a simpler life often looking back towards the past for reference and inspiration. In Ancient Greece at the height of the Hellenistic Age, the people of Alexandria were living in an early metropolis ravaged by filth and diseases, they developed a nostalgia for the idea of Arcadia, where people were hunter-gatherers, lived in the country that represented a haven or an escape that those in the city could not achieve.3 In History we see the repetition of the ‘want to escape’ in reaction to disastrous events, or disease or “the chaos, violence, and disorder of war.”4 The popularization of it in the Elibezathian era was not at the result of war or disease, but just due to the idea of  the “imagined as an ideal world of respite from the corruption of the court or city, but it is actually the invitation that creates the ideality of that world.”5 Humans throughout history have always strived for something more, a haven or heaven, Cottage core is just this once again, an escape from our reality into a different existence, often a want to escape from the dark nature of our unideal world and for something we cannot achieve but hope to attain.

In 2020 a virus named COVID-19, spread across the World, a global pandemic affecting everyone. Time stopped, day to day paused, and we all went into quarantine. The only escape from this dark reality was Tv, social media, and our imagination of what life will be like after. Stuck in one’s home, seeing the same stuff every day for months, people began to dream of a better existence, a different one from what they were living. Getting into hobbies, baking bread, cooking, as well as scrolling endlessly on social media became a norm, anything to distract one’s self. Tik Tok became a refuge with endless content personalized to you. Through this and other social media, the Cottage core aesthetic became trending, sharing a different way of life with people and providing the mind with a world that one could hope to be in one day, a simpler life, an escape from the bustling city, and endless news of a confusing and turbulent time. 

History shows us that what they want to escape reappears as a result of stressful and dark times. The most recent occurrence that has popularized the cottage core aesthetic was due to the use of social media sharing the lifestyle. This was the result of the overwhelming nature of the Pandemic and the time that people had due to a year of quarantine and working from home.6 Cottage core trying to create an escape from reality, from daily life, creating a fantasy. However the cottage is not just an aesthetic, it is a real style of life, where people work hard, are self-sufficient, and live by little means. The real cottage core is living without comfort, following a lifestyle similar to that of the poor or middle-class farmers.  English and Irish farmers are the inspiration to the central cottage core movement. Living in a beautiful place, surrounded by animals, green fields, and living in a simple cottage. The photos shared on the internet do not show much past the idyllic and fantastical, it does not reveal the hard work and struggles that go into living this kind of lifestyle.

English Country Life: The Embodiment of Cottage core

Cottage core is the want to escape from real life to that of a simpler one. We see in social media the aesthetic shows that of farm life, living secluded, using resources from the land. It takes inspiration from real life, mainly the lives of people in England that lived in the late 1800s-1900s, and some inspiration from people living simple lives today. The 1800s-1900s was simpler, without the technologies that we have today and when people lived off of the land. Living on a farm or living simply was a norm at this time. Food and goods were commonly homegrown or homemade, farming was a common career, and local exchange of food was needed in order to survive. The turn of the century brought industrialization, new opportunities, but not the end of the large wealth gap and poverty level.7 The “cottage core” aesthetic that people are trying to achieve follows what they believe life was like during this time, however people in this time worked hard, life was anything but simple, they lived by small means and often struggled to make ends meet. Cottage core was not an aesthetic choice but a common lifestyle of the poorer and lower class often forged out of necessity. 

The cottage core aesthetic that people think and strive to attain, follows the ability of the wealthy class to be able to get away and take a break from the aristocracy and city life by escaping to the country. Marie Antoinette was an example of this, “… she had an entire hameau (rustic village) built as a place of leisure: it comprised meadows, lakes, grottos, streams, a dovecote, a dairy, cottages, vineyards, fields, orchards, vegetable gardens, and pagan temples. It was a fully-operational farm, where the queen would host social events. She and her entourage would “cosplay” as farmers and shepherdesses.”8 Marie Antoinette shows the “pretty,” the fantasy that people want, people want an escape from their reality. Cottage core is very different from one’s life, and the lack of knowledge of the true struggles of simple living, farming, and other cottage core elements makes people imagine and create a fantasy. 

Cottage core takes many inspirations from history, including where it gets its reference of the simple life. England and the fascination people have with the period dramas of Jane Austin are the closest time we think of going back to a “simple life.” There are many references to that time, living in areas isolated with fields of beautiful flowers, surrounded by farms, living without technologies or stresses from the complicated world now. Fashion of that time and the past also inspires. Gorgeous handmade dresses, corsets, and elements that even though are real seem like a fantasy, by being so different from today’s styles. The lifestyle and fashions of cottage core are what attract its many followers. True people living this “cottage core” lifestyle look very different from what followers imagine. 

#Cottagecore

During Quarantine and the year we had of social distancing, Cottage core began to trend on TikTok, Instagram, and Twitter. The aesthetic became a way for people to imagine another life, a simpler one without the stresses of today. What they believe is that cottage core life will be like the fantastical images found on social media or made from the imagination of what they want their life to look like. “ The countryside sounds really nice to a lot of people right now. Lots of folks are ditching cities in favor of the country and surrounding suburbs. But going off into the countryside isn’t so easy, either. There’s a high cost to “panic move” during a pandemic…Take it from Jenna Woginrich, a blogger and author who left her job working at a television network to become a homesteader, which she described as ‘“basically farming for one’s own family or consumption, not necessarily for profit.’”9 The truth is, it’s a lot of hard work, you usually live isolated, relying on what you grow or make, and not always living in the comfort that you’re used to. 

It’s not for everyone, but people still love the idea and some even live that life. Alison O’Neil or the Shepherdess on twitter and instagram shows her life on a sheep farm in Northern England. She lives and works alone running this farm. Her page shows the truth, bad and good of living this cottage core aesthetic. Even though her followers love her photos and tweets, she isn’t living the life because she follows the cottage core aesthetic, this is just her life, her way of making a living. Oftentimes the real is forgotten, for social media often makes things look like a fantasy or only shows the positives, which isn’t real life. All over social media, it only shows the fantasy life and way less of the truth, Shepherdess is one of the few influencers striving to show the good, and bad of her lifestyle. 

If you search cottage core on any social media app, thousands of videos, photos, and messages will pop up about the trend. The aesthetic has spread worldwide with the use of social media. The trend seems to have stuck this time and is unlikely to disappear anytime soon. More and more people will strive to live this simple life and even go as far as moving to the country, which is even now more plausible than ever with remote work becoming a norm. If a time where this dream of cottage core would be attainable, now is the time, as the world becomes more complicated, the number of people fleeing the city is on a rise. Anything seems better than the reality of a pandemic and often the isolation of the country seems safer. The realities of the world have become too much, influencing people to take drastic measures even if they are difficult, expensive, and temporary to have a break from “real” life. Cottage core has captured the attention of teens, and young adults around the world, and has become a lifestyle to try to achieve even if it’s a fantasy, anything to act as a distraction. 

The “Queen” Cookery Books

The “Queen ” Cookery Books Number 5, Meats and Game was a collection of recipes that S. Beaty Pownall gathered from recipes that were published in The Queen Newspaper. The cookbook was an English cookbook full of old traditional recipes from the turn of century England. The Meats and Game were Number 5, is a collection of 14 cookbooks. The Queen Newspaper was “… an illustrated weekly society magazine established by Samuel Beeton in 1861 and originally focused on the proceedings of high society and the British aristocracy…However, by the end of the 1950s, the title was shortened to Queen and the content recalibrated to appeal to a younger readership – a significant shift in tone from the paper’s origins.” 10

In the Meats and Game cookbook, I chose a recipe to try to recreate while trying to stay as close to the recipe as possible. I originally discussed cooking the recipe Leg of Lamb à l’Indienne, however, in my research and trip to the grocery store, I realized that lamb was very expensive, especially a whole leg of lamb, as well as a leg of lamb being so big and difficult to cook. I decided to switch recipes to another option in the cookbook. I will now be cooking Irish Baked Beef Stew. A traditional and hearty English recipe, “Lancashire Hotpot is thought to have originated during the cotton industry in the 19th century.  It’s a simple meal that would have been left to cook slowly all day, ready for the hungry cotton workers at the end of their shift.  It was probably more likely to have contained mutton in those days, and would invariably have been left to cook with a lamb bone still in the dish – for added flavor.”11 The meat was often mutton with oysters added12 but in my recipe, it was beef, the cheaper selection of meat both in the 1900s and now.

The Rise in Lamb Prices

I was originally going to cook Leg of Lamb à l’Indienne and connect it with a farm/ cottage core, but a trip to a grocery store soon changed my mind. I discovered that a leg of lamb costs $10 a pound or more, and upon finding that out I was dissuaded from following my originally planned recipe. In further research, I discovered that lamb hasn’t always been as expensive as it is today, once lamb was so common it was available to both classes in America and England. Lamb was a commonly made dish with many different recipes, “A 1915 menu from Fraunces Tavern in New York City offered broiled English mutton chops with baked potatoes for $1.50 — 25 cents more than the price of its roast spring lamb. First-class passengers on the RMS Titanic were served grilled mutton chops, while spring lamb was reserved for second class. And, at Keens Chophouse in NYC in 1941, the English mutton chop, kidney, sausage, and bacon cost $1.61, just 60 cents less than its pricey filet mignon.”13 Once Mutton was the type of lamb that remained on the high-end side of the meat industry, only available to the high class, now we see Spring lamb is more expensive where it was once very common and obtainable for the second-class citizens in English society. 

During World War II, lamb was the main dish eaten by families and soldiers in America. It was cheaper and not as fancy as other red meat available. After the war, people grew tired of the same meat and dishes, “They were forced to eat mutton during wartime and they wanted to get away from it.”14 As industrialization arose, so did better processes in many industries, the wool and farming industry changed. The availability and price of sheep depended on the importance of wool, as well as the availability of it in local butcher shops.“Even if sheep had come out as victors, our faster-paced post-war lifestyle — a shift from butcher shops to grocery stores, wool clothing to polyester blends, and an increase in women leaving kitchens and entering workplaces — may not have supported mutton.”15

Lamb not native to the Americas also contributed to the higher price before and now. Lamb was brought over originally by the Englishmen and other Europeans, and in the development of the American farming industry had to compete with the growing importance of cows in milk production, and the meat industry. A war sparked between cow farmers and shepherds made it impossible for sheep farming to ever take hold in America, “The infamous sheep and cattle wars that took place in Western states like Texas, Arizona, Colorado, and Wyoming between 1870 and 1920 threatened to bring the sheep industry to its knees. Shepherds, who were generally Native American or Latin American, required a free-range and plenty of grass, which often left cattle subsiding on weeds and fighting for the same territory. Cattle farmers, who benefited from the support of government officials, viewed sheep as invaders.”16 The history behind why lamb is so expensive is long, and complicated with many factors contributing to why we pay such a high price today. 

In the last twenty years, lamb has only risen in price, now customers are getting a lot less for a larger price. Lamb is very hard to produce, its price depends on the amount of lamb available, the quality, shipping, and many other factors. Lamb is also very expensive to raise, and it produces a lot less meat than say a cow.17 It can’t be raised in the same environment as cows, chicken, or pork, it needs special care if you want it to grow, so it doesn’t fit into America’s mass-producing environment. America lacks a highly regulated lamb market,18 so I would not know for sure if the meat I’m getting is aged to classify as mutton, spring lamb, or older. 

Lamb can also be a challenge to cook depending on the part of the animal you are working with. If I tried to cook the recipe I originally chose, I would have had to research in detail how to cook a leg of lamb, “‘ You’ve got to cook mutton long and slow, which makes it less tough,’” Kennard says. “’ A leg of mutton takes 25 minutes a pound to cook.”19 Every part of the lamb cooks at different rates, and different parts cook better with different methods. Lamb would have been a great challenge to cook for this project if it was more affordable, however, it still remains expensive and is available now mainly for the wealthy or special occasions. 

Irish Baked Beef Stew

In my attempt to cook Baked Irish Stew, I went through the recipe and followed what steps were provided. The recipe from “Queen ” Cookery Book gave me the knowledge of what pan to use, the ingredients, and what quantity of the ingredients to use. It said to use three or four onions and potatoes for one pound of steak. The recipe also mentions the use of stock and the use of a couple of drops of Worcester as an alternative to the “essence of anchovy.” The recipe said to layer the ingredients, first a layer of onions, then steak, and finally, the potatoes, repeating as necessary and salting and peppering each layer.20
The recipe from The “Queen ” Cookery Books Number 5, Meats and Game had no cooking time listed. It also said to pour a Gil of stock into the pot, I wasn’t sure what a Gil was, so had to research.  In order to find more details on the recipe, images, and better directions including cooking time, I looked up similar recipes online. I tried to find ones as close to the original recipe as possible. I found four or five good recipes to look at and base the cooking time and just see how the recipe should come out. All the recipes were pretty similar, with only a couple of changes in the way they cooked the stew or the choice of meat. I chose to use an English woman’s recipe because the original recipe is English so I felt it would be correct to follow. In her recipe, she cooked it slightly differently but she had directions for when cooking it in the oven. She used lamb instead of beef, so that was one difference. I followed the way she cooked the dish in the oven, heating the oven to 350 degrees and cooking it for an hour covered, then raising the temperature to 400 degrees and cooking it uncovered for another 30 minutes.21

The recipe came out fine, It cooked perfectly using that recipe I found with an actual cooking time. I don’t know if I prepared it wrong, or didn’t salt/pepper it enough, or the fact it’s just a very English recipe, but I found it bland. I technically cooked it right and followed the recipe but if I had to change something definitely more spices, more herbs to add flavoring. I can see how the recipe can be very hearty with the use of vegetables and meat, it is way too much for me to eat alone. Luckily the beef was way cheaper than the lamb so even if it doesn’t get eaten, I don’t feel so bad. 

I realized through my research and cooking, that the two recipes were very different, one had the background of “true” cottage core; homely, simple, made by hand, and available to the working class, whereas the other recipe, the lamb, was unattainable by most, very difficult to make, for way more people than the beef stew, and more for the wealthy than the people living the “true” cottage core life. The food, the aesthetic, and the lifestyle of cottage core are all fantastical truths in eyes of the people, especially Americans that follow it, the past shows us the real “cottage core” was difficult, hard work from not living in pleasure or in a utopia, the cottage core aesthetic is a dream, a dream enticingly and inherently different from that of our world. 

Here is my cooking process for the stew, and the final photo of how it looked.

Notes:

1. Kate Reggev, What Exactly Is Cottagecore and How Did It Get so Popular

2. Angelica Frey, Cottagecore Debuted 2,300 Years Ago – Jstor Daily

3. Angelica Frey

4. Angelica Frey

5. Angelica Frey

6. Kate Reggev, What Exactly Is Cottagecore and How Did It Get so Popular

7. Victorian England Rural Life: Definitive Guide

8.  Angelica Frey

9. Ambar Pardilla. “Do It for the (Agri)Culture: How the COTTAGECORE Trend Took over 

Quarantine

10. Archive, The British Newspaper.

11. Nicky Corbishley, “Traditional Lancashire Hotpot.”

12. Nicky Corbishley

13. Lisa Fogarty, After WWII, Mutton Fell Out Of Favor In The U.S. Can It Make A Comebac

14. Lisa Fogarty

15. Lisa Fogarty

16. Lisa Fogarty

17.  Greg Jericho, “The Price of Lamb Has Soared by 200% since the 90s

18. Lisa Fogarty

19. Lisa Fogarty

20. S Beaty Pownall, “Meats and Game,” 42

21. Nicky Corbishley, “Traditional Lancashire Hotpot.”

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