I thought this might be an interesting topic to write about for all you fellows out there who will eventually end up writing about lunches and dinners with family and friends in your threads and whatnot.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, the modern refrigerator, of course, did not exist. Practical electronic fridges of the kind we have today, would not become available until the 1930s. How then, did people in the Regency-era, keep their food fresh? Of course, going out every single day to buy fresh food is not always possible and it had to be stored somewhere, somehow. Proper fresh food will only store for a few days (perhaps up to a week), before it starts going off.
Methods of preserving food in the 19th century
There were many methods of food-preservation in the 19th century, some of which are still used today, but perhaps to a lesser extent.
This is one of the oldest methods of preserving food, usually meat or fish. Any meat which had to be kept fresh for long periods of time would be stored inside containers (barrels, usually), of salt to help preserve it. Foods such as salted pork and beef are commonly associated with the Royal Navy. Such meats were packed in barrels of salt and stowed away on ships and under ideal conditions, could keep for weeks.
Smoking was another common method of preserving meats. It was used mostly to preserve cold-cuts, fish and various other meats and poultry. The food would be locked inside a smokehouse or smoker, and a fire would be lit. The smoke from the fire would coat the entire piece of meat in smoke and soot, creating a protective 'coating', which would prevent the food from going bad --- along with giving the food a delicious smoky flavour.
In the days before the modern fridge, this might seem like a very out-of-place method for preserving food in the 19th century, but refrigeration was possible.
Before the fridge, there was the icebox. An icebox was not a 'cooler' or an 'esky' as we know today, but more like a modern fridge. Only it was made of wood and metal and packed with all kinds of insulating material (such as metal sheeting, sawdust, seaweed, etc).
An average icebox was anywhere from five to seven feet high. At the top of the icebox was a large door or drawer which opened to reveal the ice-compartment. In this compartment, huge blocks of ice (supplied by your local iceman in summer, or by Mother Nature in winter) would be stored.
Underneath the ice-compartment were the main storage-lockers with shelves, much like a modern fridge. The items requiring the most coldness were placed at the top and those requiring the least refrigeration were placed at the bottom. Warm air inside the food-locker circulated upwards, melting the ice, which sent cold air down into the food-locker, thus keeping the items stored within, nice and fresh. Melted water would drain down a metal pipe at the back of the icebox into a metal pan or tray at the bottom of the icebox. This pan would have to be emptied (usually once a day) so that water would not overflow onto the kitchen floor.
Another common method of preservation. Food left in the heat of the sun would dry out and become crisp and hard. This method was generally used on fruits such as oranges, bananas, apples and most other fruits which contained large amounts of juice, like the pineapple. Dried fruit could store for weeks if kept properly. And dried, crunchy banana-chips are really yummy, too.
Much like salting, food, in this case, fruits, would be packed in sugar to prevent spoilage.
One foodstuff which would have been extremely common during the Regency era, was practically indestructible. While not something consumed daily by the upper-class, it was a staple of seamen (a useful tip if any of your younger characters are sailors). That food was hard-tack. Also called the 'ship's biscuit'. Hard-tack was baked in squares or circles and when it was done, it became absolutely rock-solid. Stored away in tins and barrels, this baked good would outlast the Twinkie and could be stored onboard sailing ships without spoilage (under ideal conditions), for months at a time.