Iconic Literary Food Moments

In honour of our coverage of Writing NSW’s Kids & Young Adult Festival, this episode’s Iconic Literary Food Moment is devoted to the children’s classic Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens. Millions remember the moment when Parish orphan Oliver Twist returns with his bowl of gruel to Mr Bumble and says “Please Sir, I want some more?” The scene tugs at the heart strings as only Dickens can, its poignancy outrivaled perhaps only by the death of Nancy at the end, and the death of Little Joe in Bleak House.

The extract is as follows:

Please, sir, I want some more.’

The master was a fat, healthy man; but he turned very pale. He gazed in stupified astonishment on the small rebel for some seconds, and then clung for support to the copper. The assistants were paralysed with wonder; the boys with fear.

‘What!’ said the master at length, in a faint voice.

‘Please, sir,’ replied Oliver, ‘I want some more.’

The master aimed a blow at Oliver’s head with the ladle; pinioned him in his arm; and shrieked aloud for the beadle.

The board were sitting in solemn conclave, when Mr. Bumble rushed into the room in great excitement, and addressing the gentleman in the high chair, said,

‘Mr. Limbkins, I beg your pardon, sir! Oliver Twist has asked for more!’

There was a general start. Horror was depicted on every countenance.

‘For MORE!’ said Mr. Limbkins. ‘Compose yourself, Bumble, and answer me distinctly. Do I understand that he asked for more, after he had eaten the supper allotted by the dietary?’

‘He did, sir,’ replied Bumble.

‘That boy will be hung,’ said the gentleman in the white waistcoat. ‘I know that boy will be hung.’

If you want to time travel back to Charles Dickens’ London with some workhouse fair, this gruel recipe from 1872 should do the trick. Although this version would no doubt have been considered a treat.

  • 16 ounces oatmeal

  • 1 pint of water

  • Salt

  • 4 ounces of treacle

  • Allspice to be used occasionally


Mix the oatmeal with a little cold water to make a paste

Put the rest of the water in a pan

Add the mixture and boil for 10 minutes

Add the salt

Stir in the treacle or allspice.

Sarah’s notes: Some recipes suggest adding lemon zest, nutmeg, dried fruit, wine or port spirits. For those who want to give it a 21stcentury twist, try adding fresh fruit, maple syrup and a dollop of yoghurt.

Image Credit: By James Mahoney (1810-1879) (Scanned by Simsalabim) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons