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Archive for December, 2011

Gentle Readers, ‘The Many Lovers of Jane Austen’, a television special hosted by Amanda Vickery, was aired in Great Britain just before Christmas. Frequent contributer Tony Grant, who lives in Wimbledon and is the blog author of London Calling, graciously sent in his review. Those who cannot watch the show might enjoy this BBC radio interview. During the last eight minutes, Amanda Vickery discusses ‘The Many Lovers of Jane Austen’ with Libbie Purvves. You will need to download aBBC iPlayer.

On Friday 23rd December at 9.30pm BBC 2 showed Amanda Vickery’s exploration of the world of Jane Austen.

Vickery filming The Many Lovers of Jane Austen

Amanda Vickery wanted to explore how and why generations of readers have been won over to Jane Austen by just six classic novels. She takes us from the JASNA annual conference at Fort Worth, Texas; to Althorpe House, the ancestral home of Princess Diana’s family; Chawton Cottage, where she lived the last years of her life; her tomb in Winchester Cathedral; Bath, where Jane Austen is revered and celebrated; the trenches of The First World War; Sotheby’s auction house in London, where a global bidding war ensues over a fragment of Jane Austen’s writing; to Hollywood and the silver screen, and tries to discover how Jane Austen became a national treasure.

Vickery among the stalls at JASNA Fort Worth

The programme starts with Amanda Vickery strolling around the multitudinous market stalls laid out within a vast arena in the conference centre at Fort Worth. There are country and western singers and hundreds of people dressed in Regency fashions supplied by a costume company doing a very brisk trade. This is what the conference appears to be about, trade and commerce, almost “rampant commercialisation,” as Amanda Vickery describes the scene. The spin-off culture and the merchandising of Jane Austen is very evident at the Fort Worth conference. Amanda Vickery is almost surprised to find that there are actually many committed readers of the novels present. There is a mixture of popular devotion and academic prestige.

Images of The Many Lovers of Jane Austen @Shanitsinha

Trade and commerce, this is what lies at the heart of America and what has made America. The great driving force that drives a nation appears to drive the American people response to all they encounter, including Jane Austen. This intense commercial activity could actually be their way; their only way, of saying they love Jane Austen. It’s their default reaction. I think commercialisation and art have a very close relationship. Art and literature are made and written but they also have to be sold and for writers to develop they need to make money. But the balance has to be kept. The piece of art or novel has to be paramount. All this spin-off culture of nick knacks, crafts and spin-off novels can be in danger of burying the original creation.

Google screen shot of "Jane Austen"

Amanda Vickery next moves to London and visits Sotheby’s, the auction house, where she attends the auction of a fragment of Jane Austen’s handwriting. It is an edited piece of The Watsons, one of her two uncompleted novels. Vickery handles the piece reverentially and reads it to us straight from Jane Austen’s very own handwriting. A great privilege for her and for us. She discusses the meaning of the fragment with the curator at Sothebys. It is the only piece of first draft written in Jane’s own hand still in existence. The words on the page are the first words that formed in her mind, which she then wrote on the paper – a very special document.

The Watson's manuscript with Jane's handwriting and edits

The Sotheby’s expert estimates a price of £ 300, 000 for the document. Amanda Vickery watches the auction taking place and we are there with her. The price soon goes past the £300,000 mark and continues on and upwards. It is eventually sold to the Bodleian Library in Oxford for a colossal, £850, 000. Nearly a million pounds. Everybody in the auction room is shocked and amazed. I could feel my heart thumping away just looking at the TV screen. Amanda looked flushed too. The document is a financial investment but in going to the Bodleian it will be displayed and used for academic and literary purposes. The importance to the Bodleain is obvious but it also means that it is kept here in the United Kingdom and remains a national treasure.

The Bodleian Library reading room. Image @The GuardianUK

So how did Jane Austen become a national treasure herself?

To start with her first readers were members of her own family. Jane would read to Cassandra, her sister, in their shared bedroom before the fireplace at Chawton. They would read, reread, act out scenes and discuss ideas together. Her brother, Henry, the banker, negotiated with publishers on her behalf. Professor John Mulllen suggests that Jane Austen wasn’t as private and shy as some make out. The statement of “By a lady,” on the title page of Sense and Sensibility, was not so much an attempt to be anonymous but to portray to the buyer of her book certain expectations. A novel,” by a lady,” suggested a certain plot arc; unmarried woman meets eligible bachelor, then courtship with certain misunderstandings occur, but all works out in the end and they marry. She was advertising a social and psychological drama of courtship. It was a commonplace deceit. Jane was aiming her novels at a certain readership. However there is little evidence and few clues about who first bought her novels. Lady Bessborough, a distant ancestor of Lady Diana Spencer, who lived at Althorpe, bought Sense and Sensibility, because she discusses the novel in letters to her friends. Austen’s novels would have been read out loud in the drawing rooms of the aristocracy as a sort of group event.”

Earl Spencer reading Jane Austen at Althorp. Image @BBC

Soon after Jane died in 1817 at the age of 41, her novels went out of print and for a few years and they were no longer sold. The Romanticism of the 1840’s epitomised by the Brontes with stories set on wild moors and characters with wild passions, became all the vogue. Emily Bronte thought that Jane Austen was in  “denial about human psychology.” But if you really read Jane’s novels all the emotions and human frailty, the passions and the lusts, are quietly there beneath the surface not being broadcast loudly from some windswept moor. The Brontes for all their brilliance probably misread Austen because they were so caught up with their own wild passions. The emergence of circulating librarie,s however, saw her novels being reprinted. These libraries needed a vast source of material to fill their shelves, and writers who had gone out of fashion were brought back into fashion for new readers who had a great appetite for novels. As these became accessible to a broad swathe of society an increasing number of lower middle class people started to read her novels.

Yellow back version of Northanger Abbey

By the end of the 19th century Jane Austen got a boost through the development of the railway system throughout the British Isles. People on long journeys needed something to do so W.H.Smiths opened book shops and newspaper booths on the railway platforms. They published books that had been out of print and out of copyright because they could do this cheaply. Published  in standard yellow covers, they became known as yellow backs. Jane Austen’s novels were one such series of  yellow backs that were sold to travellers on long train journeys. They became popular again. In the late 1800’s, Persuasion became what we might term low price pulp fiction.

James Edward Austen Leigh

The real turning point in the success of Jane Austen was in 1870 when James Edward Austen Leigh wrote a biography of his relative’s life and so created the Jane Austen myth. Professor Kathryn Sutherland, talking to Amanda Vickery at Chawton Cottage, describes how the family took the only portrait they had of Jane, the rough sketch drawn by Cassandra and commissioned an artist to create a new, beautified copy of it so that they could publish it with James Austen Lee’s biography.

"Saint Jane"

There was very much a sense of the Austen family beginning to shape a view of Jane that they wanted the world to know. Amanda Vickery describes this mythical Jane as “Saint Jane.”

Amanda in Bath

These days, Bath, in Somerset, likes to think of itself as the spiritual heart of the Jane Austen culture. The fact that Hampshire, where she loved most of her life, has far more to do with Jane Austen appears to pass them by; perhaps more accurately, the Bathites would like us not to notice. Jane Austen used the setting of Bath in two of her novels, Persuasion and Northangar Abbey. In Persuasion especially Jane portrays the underclass side of Bath alongside the rich upper-class side. She herself was never reverential of Bath.

2008 Jane Austen Festival, Bath. Image @The Jane Austen Centre Online

Today Bath holds its festival once a year with balls and hundreds of people parading the streets in 18th century costumes. It is the home of the Jane Austen Centre positioned half way up the hill in Gay Street. But it appears to me that these are more attempts to create a tourist trade. They want the custom. Jane Austen herself did live in Bath for four years in various houses around the city, the family seemed to be forever on the move, but she was not particularly happy there. She felt that she had been torn from her dear Steventon in Hampshire by her parent’s sudden wish to retire and move to Bath to have a good time. Similar to the Fort Worth experience, Bath appears to be out to make money from Jane. Bath does create a world focus for Jane Austen and brings her to the attention of many. So it’s not all bad.

Jane Austen in the trenches of WWI. Image @BBC

In 1894 Sir George Saintsbury coined the term, Janeite. Rudyard Kipling was a renowned Janeite and so were other writers and academics.Rudyard Kipling wrote an article about a group of World War I soldiers in the trenches who read Jane Austen novels. Life in the trenches was horrific from more than one point of view. It wasn’t just the horrors of  “going over the top,” but it also included boredom, filth, lack of clean water and the deafening sounds of artillery, shell shock,and just grinding fear. Soldiers required a reading material that could take them away from this hell on earth. Jane Austen became very popular amongst soldiers in the trenches because she took them back to a pleasant land, a good, a peaceful England of quiet gentle manners and drawing rooms. William Boyd Henderson writing a letter home describes how much he enjoyed reading Jane Austen’s Emma. Winston Churchill is renowned to have said, when he was ill with a fever, “antibiotics and Pride and Prejudice have cured me.” Rudyard Kipling is said to have read Jane Austen constantly after hearing of his son, Jack’s, death in the trenches of the First World War.

F. R. Leavis

After the First World War there was a great need for the civilising power of culture , the humanities and English Literature, to be part of the salving cure for damaged and bereft lives. F.R. Leavis, the great English Literature don at Downing College Cambridge was the driving force behind all analysis of English literature. The Professor of English literature at Downing College between the 1930’s and 1960, his was the dominant and dominating view that all others looked to. He talked about the great tradition and said there were only five great writers of the novel: D.H.Lawrence, Henry James, Joseph Conrad, George Elliot and the mother of them all, Jane Austen. Leavis’s view held dominant for decades and few could survive criticism of this view. Careers could be and were destroyed or limited if anybody went against him. Professor Janet Todd tells Amanda Vickery that Leavis thought English literature could save the world.

Female cast in Pride and Prejudice, 1940

In 1940 Hollywood took on Jane Austen when Pride and Prejudice with Lawrence Olivier and Greer Garson was produced. In the 1960’s the BBC produced a whole series of costume dramas portraying Jane Austen’s novels. In 1980, Pride and Prejudice was filmed again. Amanda Vickery says, ” It was as though Jane Austen was trapped in the Quallity Street tin.” It was a Laura Ashley version of Austen. This suggests that perhaps each generation gets the Austen they deserve. Each decade produces productions of Austen that reflect the age they are made in.

Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy

In 1995 came Andrew Davis’s wet t-shirt version with Colin Firth emerging from the lake at Pemberley, wet to the skin, pumping testosterone. A film for the young with hormones. There is lovely scene with Amanda Vickery taking the part of Elizabeth Bennett as Darcy/Firth emerges from the lake and Amanda gives Elizabeth Bennett’s lines in response to Darcy and the two films are cut together as though they are one. The 1995 film still appears to be the most popular version, even now in 2011, anyway it appeared to be so with the hordes of fans at The Forth Worth assemblage. Andrew Davies was the main guest speaker and he was very very popular. Do Janeites create a hysterical response like a form of Beatle mania? Well, perhaps not. They don’t throw their knickers at Andrew Davies; they just receive, rather cheekily, tiny black lace thongs in little black net bags provided with Willoughby’s phone number. Apparently Willoughby is sounding rather exhausted, if polite, on the phone these days!!

Andrew Davies. Image @The Telegraph

Dr Cheryl Kinney, a gynaecologist and the organiser of this year’s JASNA conference at Fort Worth, denies that the Willoughby knickers are a way of increasing the likelihood of sexually transmitted diseases so that she can make money curing people. The contemplation of this possibility makes Amanda Vickery laugh like a drain. Yes, we DO get the Austen we want.

We are left with a thought for the future: Austen has peaked in the west. Could  China and Japan be the next stops perhaps?

Other reviews: These will give you more insights and images!

Please note: The ads are placed here by WordPress. I do not make money from this blog.

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Gentle Readers: Jane Austen Pilgrimage III: Jane Austen House Museum and the Writing Class I Took There is Christ Steward’s third post on her travels to England last summer. The author of the blog, Embarking on a Course of Study, Chris has been closely examining the life and novels of Jane Austen for well over a year.

We arrive at the magical day I’d been dreaming of for many years!

The day after my visit to Winchester I woke up in my charming little room at the Alton Grange so happy because I’d slept well but I had the best day of all ahead of me: a visit to the Jane Austen House Museum – Jane’s home – also known as Chawton Cottage.

This is where Jane’s writing life came back to life, after the grief over her father’s death and moving around to several places in Bath, the rectory in Adlestrop and also Stoneleigh Abbey. Finally she had a place that felt like home again—peaceful, beautiful, with a garden she loved. And it was here that she resurrected previous work and wrote new novels that were subsequently published, two posthumously.

It was a gorgeous day!

I thought I could take a taxi to Chawton (the map on the Jane Austen House Museum – JAHM from now on – site wasn’t at all clear about how to walk there, in my opinion. It looks easy, but once you’re standing there with the map and no real street signage, it’s not), but there was some conference in the area that was monopolizing all of them so I took the bus right outside the hotel.

I was told too late about the taxi problem to catch the right bus, so had to wait an hour for the next, fretting, I don’t mind telling you, all the while about how late I would be for the class. It started at 11:00 and the bus didn’t come until 10:50. I really didn’t want to walk in late to the class and miss anything.

But, lucky me, the bus driver was the same gentleman who had dropped me off the night before! I told him where I was going and he said he’d get me as close as he could, which he did. I was dropped off at a roundabout (middle of nowhere it looked like) and told to cross it to the other side and keep going.

To read more about the visit, the class, a charming tearoom, visiting Cassandra’s grave: http://www.embarkingonacourseofstudy.com

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A Christmas Story, John Everett Millais, Illustrated London News, Dec 20, 1862. (Note the mistletoe)

Christmas is for taking time with family and chats by the fireside, for love and devotion, for celebrating the birth of the Christ child. May all who believe in this holiday have a most special, wonderful day.

 

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Dear Readers, Happy Holidays! If you happen to stand under a sprig of mistletoe (these days it is most likely artificial), you will probably hug or kiss the person standing nearest you. This tradition did not appear in English literature until the 18th century. The practice of gathering mistletoe began in the second century BC with the Druids in ancient Britain. They gathered the parasitic plant at the start of winter from the sacred oak as a symbol of hope, peace, and harmony. Sprigs were hung in homes to herald good fortune. The plants were also used for medicinal purposes to promote female fertility and as an antidote for poison. Today we associate mistletoe boughs with Christmas. Gathered on this page are a few quotes from various sources.

Illustrated London News, Dec 20, 1851

The Mistletoe Season

Down South for the past month all the boys and girls who want to earn money have been gathering mistletoe.

Weeks before the Christmas-time, these young people begin to hunt the woods for mistletoe. Having found it, they watch it growing. If they find that some one else watching the same bunch, they announce it is their mistletoe.

The mistletoe grows on the tree, but is no more a part of the tree than the moss with which Northern children are familiar, or vines that climb up the outside of the tree. The mistletoe grows high up in the tree and, if out on a slender branch, must be reached after with a stick and pulled off gently. Even then it is not out of danger, for the beauty is marred if the little plant falls to the ground. –  New outlook, Volume 52, edited by Alfred Emanuel Smith, Francis Walton Outlook Publishing Company, Inc., U.S., 1895, p. 1146

Mistletoe sprigs decorated chandeliers, doorways, and ceilings.

A ball of mistletoe, ornamented with ribbons, would be hung around Christmastime, and no unmarried girl could refuse a kiss if she was underneath it. At every kiss, the boy would pluck one of the mistletoe berries, and when there were no more berries, the ball was taken down until the next year. If a girl didn’t receive a mistletoe kiss by the time the ball was taken down, she couldn’t expect to marry in the following year. So the kiss could be a promise of marriage or a symbol of admiration, but it was also a kind of mystical fortune-telling trick. – Apartment Therapy – History of the Mistletoe

Gathering mistletoe in Nomandy

The best time for gathering mistletoe is in November after a few frosts have fallen and before the sap freezes, though it may be gathered and used at any period of the year. When gathered it should at once be spread out to dry as it will mould in a very short time if kept in a box or sack. It is best to dry it in the shade. – United States medical investigator1878,  p 132.

Kiss under the mistletoe

Mistletoe grew in England and the United States. The common mistletoe of England grew on orchard trees and forest trees, and seldom on oak trees, which is why Druids revered it for its rarity. Mistletoe sapped the strength of apple trees in Brittany and Normandy. There it was gathered for the London market. The American mistletoe grows on deciduous trees, especially the tupelo poplar and red maple, from New Jersey, southern Indiana and east Kansas, to the Gulf. –  The Standard reference work: for the home, school and library, Volume 5, edited by Harold Melvin Stanford Standard Education Society, 1921

Mr Fezziwig's ball, John Leech, A Christmas Carol by Dickens

By the Victorian era, there was scarcely a house or cottage that did not have mistletoe at Christmas time.

Down with the rosemary, and so,

Down with the baies and Mistletoe;

Down with the holly, ivie, all,

Wherewith ye dressed the Christmas Hall.

19th c. mistletoe gatherer

The damsel donn’d her kirtle sheen;

The hall was dress’d with holly green,

Forth to the wood did merry men go

To gather in the Mistletoe.”

English botany, or, coloured figures of British plants, Volume 4, By James Sowerby G. Bell, 1873

Kiss under the mistletoe

Happy Christmas Eve and Christmas Day to All!

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Gentle Readers, Tony Grant’s latest contribution to this blog centers around Jane Austen’s two sailor brothers. What a delightful read just before the Holidays. His blog, London Calling, is worth visiting.

Horatio Nelson as a midshipman (middie) in the year Jane Austen was born, 1775

Francis was the older of Jane’s two brothers who joined The Royal Navy. He was twelve years old in 1786 when he travelled to Portsmouth from Steventon, a mere twenty miles away, to be enrolled at The Royal Naval Academy.

Young midshipman going off to sea. Would such a scene have been reenacted in the Austen household? Image @The Joyful Molly

His father thought it would provide a good education for Francis. The Royal Naval Academy provided a very formal education. He was taught, navigation, mapping, how to use and handle sails, the construction and architecture of ships and gunnery, ropework, communications, maritime law, weather, meteorology and watch standing. He needed a thorough knowledge of mathematics to be able to be proficient at all these skills. The mathematics he had to learn and become adept at included pure mathematics, stations, elongations of an inferior planet, reflection at plane surfaces and reflection at two plane surfaces, Euclid, algebra and trigonometry. Future officers were also taught politics and diplomacy alongside fencing, French and dancing. It was thought that these skills were needed in diplomacy and often officers of ships, arriving at far-flung parts of the world, were required to act as diplomats for Britain.

Life for middies on board ship. Image @The Joyful Molly

Jane’s brother Charles joined The Royal Navy five years after Francis and followed a similar course of education.

Life at the Royal Naval College in Portsmouth was tough. We might say more than tough, in these enlightened times. Claire Tomlin, in her biography , Jane Austen A Life, writes,

“…and Francis was at the naval school in Portsmouth. The regime there was tough, not to say brutal; discipline was maintained with a horsewhip, and there were complaints about bullying, idleness and debauchery.”

From our point of view, in the Britain of the 21st century, horse whipping and a very rigid regime of rules and punishments might be termed as abuse and a criminal offence, damaging individuals for life. I don’t think it was seen like that in the 18th century.It is difficult for us to get into the minds of people in the 18th century but the Christian religion in the form of the Anglican church as part of the state, primarily possessed the minds, hearts and actions of people in very authoritarian and draconian ways. What was written in the Bible was law. Man’s baser instincts and proclivity for the seven deadly sins of wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony could be legitimately beaten out of them through pain and fear. Hence the horsewhipping. This obviously created the opposite scenario too. The secret lives of people in the 18th century, particularly those who could afford it, created a world of brothels and the prostitutes of Covent Garden and the affairs and licentious living that took place in a city like Bath. It just shows that fear and pain do not create the noble perfect man, they create somebody with two diverse sides to their personality . But of course in the 18th century psychiatrists and behaviourists had not been invented . A hundred years later,the story of Jekyl and Hyde was trying to grapple with this more overtly, and Darwin was beginning to challenge the viewpoint of religious status quo through science. With the fear of wrongdoing and the prospect of going to hell, at the back of peoples minds it took strong intelligent characters to question and be creative in their views about life and living.

Claire Tomlin goes on to explain that Jane’s two brothers did not appear to mind this strict regime of corporal punishment. They were both bright and intelligent and so succeeded. They probably avoided being punished because of their abilities and being successful and probably also, as we say, by“keeping their heads down.”

Middie sleeping on duty. Image @The Joyful Molly

The two brothers, during their careers saw action and provided a diplomatic service in many places across the globe including, the Mediterranean, the Adriatic, the Indian Ocean, the North and South Atlantic, the China Seas, the Caribbean and in South American waters.

Frigate before the wind

The Royal Navy provided a very rigid hierarchical career structure. Once an officer had progressed past midshipman to Lieutenant, their career was often guaranteed. They progressed because of age and endurance. As people above them advanced, they moved in to fill their positions. Nowadays the Royal Navy and every professional and modern navy promotes their officers depending on their abilities. In the 18th century ability was not taken into account. Skilled people like Admiral Nelson or Jane’s two brothers rose through the hierarchy, but not because they were necessarily deemed as more able than others. Officers were in the navy virtually until they died, and as long as they stayed alive they progressed up the career ladder.

Francis Austen

Francis and Charles both rose through the ranks. Francis eventually became a full admiral and was the Commander in Chief of The North American and West Indian fleet. He became the Senior Admiral of the Fleet in 1868 when he was 89 years old. That seems ridiculous to us now. Unfortunately, Francis, did not have a very good opinion of Americans. He disapproved of the men spitting and didn’t like the flippant attitude of the women. The American women were not as cultured and sedate as his dear sister, Jane.

Charles Austen

Francis was unhappy about his career. Many things passed him by or were too slow in coming,  such as the position of Senior Admiral of the Fleet. His deepest regret was that he missed being at The Battle of Trafalgar with Nelson. His ship was there, but at the time he was ordered to perform another duty ashore.

Barringtons action at St. Lucia 1778

Jane Austen includes Royal Naval characters in her novels, Persuasion and Mansfield Park. She had a great deal of affection for her brothers and knew a lot about the navy through them. Like her brothers, her naval characters were honest and chivalrous.

More on the topic

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Gentle readers, Recently I had the pleasure of watching Cold Comfort Farm, a film adaptation of the comic 1932 novel by Stella Gibbons.  In 1995, Kate Beckinsale played the delightful Flora Poste, the girl who likes to organize things and tidy up. Kate also portrayed Emma Woodhouse at this time, before she turned Hollywood glam and began to play a vampire.

"I want to be a writer. I've so much in common with Jane Austen."

I find all of Cold Comfort Farm enchanting, but as a Jane Austen fan I naturally gravitated towards the conversation between Flora and her friend Mary Smiling (played by Joanna Lumley), who tells her young, recently orphaned friend that with an income of only 100 pounds per year she must find employment.

Mary Smiling's reaction to Flora's announcement is priceless.

Flora, who lived a life of luxury and was gently bred, counters with the thought that she would like to become a novelist much in the mold of Jane Austen. All she really needs is a few more years of observing life and she could write a novel as good as Persuasion.  After accepting the invitation to live with distant relatives – the Starkadders who have always lived at Cold Comfort Farm – Flora begins to write her novel on the train.

"It was winter ...."

With ‘gems’  like these, do you think she will ever realize her dream of becoming the 20th century answer to Jane Austen?

“It was winter, the grimmest day of the darkest hour of the year…”

“The golden orb had almost disappeared behind the interlacing fingers of the hawthorne…”

Flora arrives at her destination immersed in her writing.

“The man’s huge body, rude as a wind-tortured thorn, was printed dark against the flame of sand that..that throbbed..that throbbed on the tip of …”

One of my favorite quotes from the film is by Ada Doom (Sheila Burrell), who’s often repeated phrase – “I saw something nasty in the woodshed” – casts a pall over the entire Starkadder clan and is the theme of the movie. Can you remember other pearls of wisdom from this fine film/novel?

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The riding habit, was first introduced in the 17th century. They were tailored by men in the manner of men’s dress: a fitted jacket worn over a long skirt, often worn with a masculine hat. Samuel Pepys, ever helpful with observations of his time, wrote in 1666 of seeing the Queen’s ladies of honor “dressed in their riding garbs, with coats and doublets and deep skirts, just for all the world like men, and buttoned their doublets up to the breast, with periwigs and with hats; so that, only for a long petticoat dragging under the men’s coats, nobody could take them for women in any point whatever — which was an odd sight, and a sight which did not please me.” – Candice Hern

In the 18th and through most of the 19th centuries, women’s riding habits were generally made by tailors and constructed like men’s wear. They were usually buttoned left over right, like a man’s coat. Other women’s fashions were made by dress makers and mantua makers. Masculine touches onwomen’s riding habits included mariner’s cuffs and fabrics and trims as seen on naval uniforms.  These riding habits were functional, but in the late 1700s they became fashionable dress as well, and were worn for informal day wear for traveling, visiting, or walking.

Madame Gaspard de Péleran by Jean-Etienne Liotard, 1738

The materials worn for riding from the mid-seventeenth to the early twentieth centuries were easily distinguished from the silks, muslins, and velvets of fashionable evening dress. Equestrian activities required sturdy and often weatherproof fabrics such as woolen broadcloth, camlet (a silk and wool or hair mixture), melton wool, and gabardine for colder weather and linen or cotton twill for summer or the tropics. In the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, habits were frequently adorned with gold, silver, or later woolen braiding, often imitating the frog-ging on Hussar or other military uniforms. – Equestrian costume

Equestrian portrait of Marie-Louise-Elisabeth d'Orléans (The Duchess of Berry in hunting-costume in 1710)

The appearance of a lady on horseback in a fashionable London riding-habit, and tricked out in the newest guise with patches, is amusingly described by Steele. The lady is supposed to be riding through the town of Kettering in Northamptonshire, in the month of July, 1724. ” Yesterday astrange and surprising creature was seen to pass through our town on horseback. It had the face of a young woman, stuck full of patches ; a perriwig which hung down to its waist; a hat cock’d with the smartness of a young officer; a huge bunch of ribbons fastened behind its left shoulder; a shirt laid in large pleights on the breasts and tied close at the neck and wrists, which, with a vest of white satteen, trimmed with black, had much the resemblance of a shroud.

Portrait of Lucy Pelham-Holles, Countess of Lincoln (d. 1736), three-quarter-length, in riding habit, in a landscape

Our whole town was soon alarmed with this strange appearance, and various are still the opinions what it really was. The old people, who were the most couragious generally, went pretty near to it with their spectacles on to view it more distinctly; the younger sort kept it at an awful distance. Some were of opinion that it was a highwayman in disguise, and accordingly were for seizing it; others took it for a nun; but by a certain arch leer it had with its eyes I dare engage it had not a bit of nun’s flesh about it. However, by its pale complexion and shroud-like dress, most of my neighbours at last concluded it to be a ghost, and so took to their heels, and left me (who am no great believer in these things) almost alone with it in the road. I had now an opportunity, during the time it was drinking a glass of Rhenish wine and sugar at the Saracen’s Head Inn, to survey it well, and thereupon concluding it to be an Hermaphrodite, I enquired of the man who seemed to have the keeping of it, if he intended to show it in our town, and at what inn? For you must know, Sir, that I have a mighty curiosity to see one of those creatures all over. But the man with an angry countenance told me: That what I took for an Hermaphrodite was only a young lady, and that the sort of dress she was in was commonly worn for a riding-habit by the ladies of fashion at London. But as neither I nor my neighbours can believe it possible for folks upon no ill design to disguise themselves in such a manner… – A history of English dress from the Saxon period to the present day, Volume 2 (Google eBook)R. Bentley, 1893

Women's riding Coat, 1750-59. Image V&A museum

Women’s riding outfits, known as ‘riding habits’, of the 18th century adapted elements of men’s dress. This jacket of the 1750s is styled after a man’s coat, although it has been modified with a waist seam to fit over stays and a wide petticoat. A narrow straight collar attached at the back neck and buttoning in front added protection on chilly rides. The fine tailoring and plain aspect of this jacket is typical of 18th century women’s riding habits. – Victoria & Albert Museum.

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Gentle Readers, Frequent contributor Patty from Brandy Parfums recently attended a cooking class that featured classic recipes. She says of her experience: “When we think about our wonderful holiday dinners coming up, it is good to remember the origins of mid-winter celebrations, so ingrained in our DNA.” I can’t think of two more interesting recipes to try than the two Patty describes in this post.

Cooking Class Taught by Culinary Historian Cathy Kaufman at I.C.E, the Institute of Culinary Education, New York, NY on December 5, 2011 by Patricia Saffran

Before there was Christmastime, the cherished holiday and lovely dinner that many have come to look forward to each winter, in ancient times there was the winter solstice celebration of rebirth focusing on the sun, in Stonehenge and other Neolithic sites. Later, light-starved Romans celebrated the Saturnalia, in 217 BC starting with December 17th and extending to a week long festival with gorging and other very pagan activities.

Stonehenge

Then there was the Roman and Mithra Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, the birthday of the invincible sun, December 25th. Old customs die hard but we still pay tribute to tree worship in the form of the Christmas tree, that came to Great Britain from Germany. It was first introduced by Queen Charlotte, with the connection made stronger later by Prince Albert. When we come to Victorian times is when the present traditions take hold.

As culinary historian, Cathy Kaufman described the holiday’s traditions and her special class:

A Charles Dickens Christmas

“Nothing pushes the nostalgia button at Christmastime more than Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, with its warming images of a candlelit tree and Victorian plenitude. Yet prior to the 19th century, Christmas was a very different holiday, and it was only in the Victorian era that our concept of Christmas as a child-centered family holiday arose. After reviewing the evolution of Christmas holidays, we will use 19th-century English cookbooks, such as Charles Francatelli’s The Modern Cook and Eliza Acton’s Modern Cookery for Private Families, to create a groaning board of Victorian delights, including Jerusalem Artichoke Soup; Lobster Fricassée; Baked Goose with Chestnuts; Roasted Filet of Beef à l’Anglaise; Endives with Cream; Christmas Pudding; Gingerbread; and Twelfth Night Cake.”

Cathy continued, “This is upper class food that we’re making tonight, that took a large staff in the kitchen to prepare, with no expenses spared, using the most luxurious ingredients. It’s also infusion cuisine made with expensive stocks, showing the French influence in this period. There’s also a fair amount of cream in many dishes with a touch of cayenne pepper, an influence of the British colonials in India. The French at this time would have just used nutmeg. There were many women cooks in the kitchens of the wealthy in England, and in France there were more men in the kitchens.”

Charles Elme Francatelli

We separated into three groups to make the various dishes. I chose the group that was making the Charles Francatelli recipe for Beef à l’Anglaise. Francatelli was born in London in 1805 and went on to study with the great chef Marie-Antoine Carême in France, inventor of haute-cuisine. (At the downfall of Napoleon, Carême later went to work in London for the Prince Regent and George IV.) Francatelli was the chef for Queen Victoria and went on to be the chef at the Reform Club. His influential book was called The Modern Cook, published in 1846. This recipe is very time consuming and labor intensive with a vegetable and olive oil marinade and Financière and Espagnole (including truffle juice and veal stock) sauces for basting and serving. Our group also made vegetable garnishes and one of the three desserts, the Plum Pudding.

Another group made the Lobster Fricassée from an Eliza Acton recipe. Eliza Acton was born in Sussex in 1799. Like Francatelli, she spent time in France. She is credited with writing the first practical cookbook with a list of ingredients and instructions. Mrs. Beeton was supposed to have modeled her cookbook on Acton’s. The lobster recipe is somewhat complicated in that uses both a Béchamel and Consommé made from veal, mushrooms, ham, vegetables and stock. Final baking in the oven with the sauce and bread crumbs finished off this delectable dish.

The goose recipe from Charles Francatelli featured a Madeira wine mirepoix and a luting paste, a flour and water cover for the goose’s first hour of cooking to keep it moist.

Here are two recipes that are absolutely delicious and will be easy to make for a home version of a Victorian Christmas feast. Both recipes are presented in the original text and then in Cathy Kaufman’s modernized version for today’s kitchens.

Jerusalem artichoke

Jerusalem Artichoke, or Palestine Soup (Eliza Acton)

Wash and pare quickly some freshly dug artichokes, and to preserve their colour, throw them into spring water as they are done, but do not let them remain in it after all are ready. Boil three pounds of them in water for ten minutes; lift them out, and slice them into three pints of boiling stock; when they have stewed gently in this from fifteen to twenty minutes, press them with the soup, through a fine sieve, and put the whole into a clean saucepan with a pint and a half more of stock; add sufficient salt and cayenne to season it, skim it well, and after it has simmered two or three minutes, stir it to a pint of rich boiling cream. Serve it immediately.

2 lb. Jerusalem artichokes
4 cups chicken stock
Salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or more to taste
5/8 cup heavy cream mixed with 1/4 cup Crème fraîche

Pare the Jerusalem artichokes.  Drop the pared Jerusalem artichokes into a pan of boiling salted water.  Cook for ten minutes to set the color.  Drain and refresh.

Slice the Jerusalem artichokes into pieces of about 1/2 inch thick and place in a saucepan with the chicken stock.  Simmer for 20 minutes and pass mixture through a food mill three times [or puree in a blender].

Return the puree to a clean saucepan and add the spices and heavy cream mixture.  Cook for two minutes, skim any impurities off the surface, adjust the seasoning and serve.

 

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Fronticepiece, Modern Cookery by Eliza Acton

Gingerbread (Eliza Acton)

Whisk four strained or well-cleared eggs to the lightest possible froth (French eggs, if really sweet, will answer for the purpose), and pour to them, by degrees, a pound and a quarter of treacle, still beating them lightly. Add, in the same manner, six ounces pale brown sugar, free from lumps, one pound of sifted flour, and six ounces of good butter, just sufficiently warmed to be liquid, and no more, for if hot, it would render the cake; it should be poured in small portions to the mixture, which should be well beaten up with the back of a wooden spoon as each portion is thrown in: the success of this cake depends almost entirely on this part of the process. When properly mingled with the mass, the butter will not be perceptible on the surface; and if the cake be kept light by constant whisking, large bubbles will appear in it to the last. When it is so far ready, add to it one ounce of Jamaica ginger and a large teaspoonful of cloves in fine powder, with the lightly grated rinds of two fresh, full-sized lemons. Butter thickly, in every part, a shallow square tin pan, and bake the gingerbread slowly for nearly or quite an hour in a gentle oven. Let it cool a little before it is turned out, and set it on its edge until cold, supporting it, if needful, against a large jar or bowl. We have usually had it baked in an American oven, in a tin less than 2 inches deep; and it has been excellent. We retain the name given to it originally in our circle.

Please note: The treacle, sugar and flour are measured by weight, not by volume.

2 tablespoons softened butter for preparing the baking pans
3 eggs
20 oz treacle
6 oz light brown sugar
6 oz butter, melted and cooled
16 oz cake flour, sifted
4 tablespoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cloves
grated zest of two lemons

Preheat the oven to 350ー F.  Generously rub the inside of a 9 x 9 x 2 baking pan with the softened butter and set aside.

Stir the eggs together and pass them through a strainer to remove the white threads holding the yolks. Transfer to the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat for two minutes. Very slowly pour in the treacle, beating constantly. Add the brown sugar in a slow trickle and continue beating. Add the butter and a steady stream, beating thoroughly to incorporate. Add flour in several additions, continuing to whisk. Finally, whisk in the spices and the lemon zest.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 50 minutes to an hour, or until baked through. Cool on a rack before unmolding. Dust with confectioners’ sugar before serving.

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Let’s face it. Cassandra Austen’s tiny watercolour of her famous sister simply does not satisfy viewers. Jane Austen’s fans have been dying to find another authentic portrait of their favorite author. Has Dr. Paula Byrne accomplished this task? The Guardian.UK features an article with an imaginary portrait that Dr. Byrne believes was drawn from life.

Jane Austen portrait drawing, in graphite on vellum

The portrait drawing, in graphite on vellum, had been in a private collection for years, and was being auctioned as an “imaginary portrait” of Austen, with “Miss Jane Austin” written on the back. “When my husband bought it he thought it was a reasonable portrait of a nice lady writer, but I instantly had a visceral reaction to it. I thought it looks like her family. I recognised the Austen nose, to be honest, I thought it was so striking, so familiar,” Byrne told the Guardian.

Compare this portrait with images of Jane’s family and of Jane herself.

Cassandra's watercolour of Jane

Captain Charles Austen, Jane's brother

Francis Austen, Jane's brother

George Austen, Jane's father

James Austen, Jane's eldest brother

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Gentle Readers, a few months I featured a new book, The Pump Room Orchestra: Three Centuries of Music and Social History, by Robert Hyman and Nicola Hyman, which you can order from Amazon.com. Recently BBC Radio 3 came to the Pump Room to do an interview with the Pump Room Trio. The review/feature will be on ‘Music Matters’ which starts at 12.15 pm on Saturday, December 10th. Nicola sent me a few images from the event. I do hope you will tune in on Saturday to listen to the interview! Meanwhile, enjoy these images.

The Pump Room Trio

Here’s the link to listen to the 12 minute program on Saturday! Fabulous.

Robert and Nicola Hyman

The gathering in the Pump Room. Note the breathtaking chandelier and the marble statue of Beau Nash carved by Joseph Plura that sits in an alcove above the clock.

Bath Minuet Company

The Bath Minuet Company

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Wood floors of Brunswick House

In researching floors and floor coverings of Georgian houses, I came across these interesting tidbits of information.

During the middle ages, the floors of simple peasant households consisted of dirt. Hay and straw were strewn on top of the surface, and often cow dung and household wastes were tossed on top of the rushes. This mixture was trampled upon by the inhabitants. (During the middle ages, animals often shared the house with their human owners.) The result was a surface that became as hard as cement over time. Around the 1100s, saltpeter (potassium nitrate) was used for gunpowder, and the floors of former peasant homes provided a good source for this mineral. Mint was used as a deodorizer to cover the smell of the floors, for walking around the room and tramping onthe herb helped to spread its scent.  (A Not So Boring History of Flooring)

The interior of this Irish cottage shows the rough dirt floor. This image was taken in the late 19th century

Concrete floors were also widespread. They were made by plastering a concrete preparation over reeds that were fastened to joists. When this substance dried the concrete assumed the character of a slab of unbroken stone which was strong enough to bear a heavy load without the aid of supporting joists. This hardy substance was both fireproof and long lasting.

Pigs shown entering the Irish cottage. Late 19th century

Concrete floors eventually began to be replaced with wood floors during the Middle Ages.

We are not able to find any distinct records of wood having been employed for the boarding of the floors of dwelling-houses until towards the latter part of the middle ages, when an upper story began to be attached to middle-class houses in consequence of the increased value of land. The most abundant specimens of these early wooden floors are to be met with in London, probably for the reason that land being of higher values there than elsewhere, upperstoried houses wore more common. The name of 1′ lofts” was given to these upper storied rooms on their first introduction, from whence we have the compound word sentence of “up-a-loft,” and the word “cock-loft” has, probably, the same derivation, for wo find it now to be occasionally employed in some of the villages in the Midland counties to signify an up-stairs bedroom.- Building News and Engineering Journal, Vol 41, 1881

Wood floor planks were rough at first, and hand planed and hand finished with stone or metal. Old growth trees allowed for the maximum wood plank width (about 1-2 feet), which minimized the work required to cover a floor surface. In the 18th century, floorborads were irregular in shape and ranged in size and length. The goal was to use the smallest number of boards to cover a surface. More formal rooms used narower floorboards, indicating the wealth of the family who could afford to pay for the extra hours that craftsman took for the smaller sized boards.

Antique hemlock flooring with nail holes and saw marks.

Narrower floor boards general adoption gained rapid foothold during the Industrial Revolution after the repeal of duties place on foreign timber and the introductionof steam-powered planing machinery. In the early 1800s, production for such boards increased. The irony is that today wider floorboards have become a status symbol, for they have become more valuable as old growth trees have become scarce.

Wood floors had a variety of finishes. They were left unpainted and scrubbed with a mixture of sand and herbs. They were lymewashed, or oil painted in solid colors and stenciled. The floors were not sanded or washed or varnished during this early period. At a  later time varnishes and stains were applied to help make the wood last longer.

This charming watercolour by Diana Sperling shows the bare wood floor. It was the custom during this period to roll up the carpet and shove furniture aside for impromptu casual dancing.

In the mid 1800s decorated floor tile floors became popular in Europe. They had been used in Turkey, the Middle East, and in Dutch houses during the 1600s, and can be readily seen in Dutch interior paintings.

Floors were covered with a variety of rugs: rag rugs made of old bits of cloth; oil cloths; marble cloths; floor cloths, which were often painted to resemble carpets; and Persian rugs for the wealthy, which were prized for their color, design, and durability. Floor cloths were used in fine homes in France in the 14th century and made their appearance in England in the 17th century. Designs were often painted on them, as this U.S. example from Lakeport Plantation shows:

Floor cloth sample from Lakeport Plantation

One can see from this example how sturdy the cloth was after treatment.

Another fascinating fact is that rubber floors were used as far back as the 13th century and remained popular until the 1600s. In 1863, Frederick Walton, an English rubber manufacturer, patented linoleum, which is still made in the same way today.

Interesting fact: From ‘besom’ to broom

To sweep floors during the Middle Ages, the British used a ‘besom’ – a handful of twigs with the leaves attached. Besoms were often made of twigs from the ‘broom scrub,’ and so the sweeping implements came to be called ‘brooms’ around AD 1000.

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Amongst herbs to be eaten I find gourds, cucumbers, coleworts, melons disallowed, but especially cabbage. It causeth trouble-some dreams and sends up black vapours to the brain . . .” – Richard Burton, 16th century

Cabbage was first introduced in Great Britain by the Romans. In ancient times the Greeks revered it for its medicinal qualities, and it was well known in the Mediterranean region, where it spread out to other parts of Europe. The vegetable was cultivated as food for man and cattle and consumed mainly by the poor,  for this hardy plant could be grown in the vegetable garden in temperate climates for long periods and harvested into early winter. White cabbage, used for boiling, braising, and stewing, was distinguished from the red cabbage, which was mostly used for pickling. From the 14th century and on, European peasants consumed cabbage in the form of soups and stews, which nourished them through the long winter months. It wasn’t until the 18th century that cabbages began to make their appearance on more aristocratic tables.

Cabbage’s long lasting quality made it a valuable and nutritious vegetable staple for long sea voyages. One imagines that Jane Austen’s sailor brothers ate a great deal of cabbage while sailing.

In his journal for July 1772, Cook gives the following account of the provisions placed aboard the Resolution and Adventure…Biscuit, flour, salt beef, salt pork, beer, wine, spirit [distilled alcohol], pease [dried peas], wheat, oatmeal, butter, cheese [hard], sugar, oyle olive [olive oil], vinegar, suet, raisins, salt, malt, sour krout [sauerkrout], salted cabbage, portable broth [dessicated soup], saloup, mustard, mermalade [marmelade] of carrots, water…” – Sailors & Sauerkraut: Excerpts from the Journals of Captain Cook’s Expeditions All Pertaining to Food With Recipes to Match, Barbara Burkhardt, Barrie Andugs McLean & Doris Kochanek [Grey's Publishing:Sidney BC] 1978 (p. 23)- The Food Timeline

High in vitamin c and anti-inflammatory properties, this cruciferous vegetable was not only nutritious and helped to fight scurvy, but an apocryphal story states that during Captain Cook’s first voyage, members of his crew were saved from gangrene by doctors who applied poultices of cabbage to their patients’ wounds.

At the time, cabbage was called a ‘cabbage cole’ or ‘colewort. ‘By the mid eighteenth century, an array of different cabbages was grown, and as one anonymous writer put it:

‘There various Kinds of this Plant are endless to describe_’ The common White Cabbage, Sugarloaf, Pontefract, Battersea, Red Cabbage, and the green and White Savoy Cabbage’ [Anon (1744)].

1770 creamware teapot. Image @Earle D. Vandekar of Knightsbridge

Cabbages were grown in family gardens in raised beds, near the door for easy picking, and protected from damaging winds by a fence or hedge and mulch. Recipes for cooking cabbage were included in early cookery books, however, one defies the modern cook to be able to follow Hannah Glasse’s charming recipe for beans ragoo’-d with a cabbage (at least I would have a difficult time.)

TAKE a nice little cabbage, about as big as a pint bacon ; when the outside leaves, top, and stalks are cut off, half boil it, out a hole in the middle pretty big, take what you cut out and chop it very fine, with a sew of the beans boiled, a carrot boiled and mashed, and a turnip boiled,  mash all together, put them, into’a sauce-pan, season them with, pepper, salt, and nutmeg, a good piece of butter, stew them a few minutes over the fire, stirring the pan often. In the mean time put the cabbage into a sauce-pan but take great care it does not fall to pieces; put to it four spoonsfuls of water, two of wine, and one of catchup ; have a spoonful of mushroom-pickle, a piece of butter rolled in a little flour, a very little pepper, cover it close, and let it stew softly till it is tender; then take it up carefully and lay it in the middle of the dish, pour your mashed roots in the middle to fill it up high, and your ragoo round it. You may add the liquor the cabbage was stewed in, and send it to table hot. This will do for a top, bottom, middle, or side-dish. When beans are not to be had, you may cut carrots and turnips into little slices, and fry them; the carrots in little round slices, the turnips in pieces about two inches long, and as thick as one’s finger, and toss them up in the ragoo.

Cabbage tureen, mid-19th century Jacob Petit Porcelain. Image @Christie's

By 1773 the cultivation of cabbage in England was sufficiently commercialized to make it a criminal offence to steal or damage growing crops of cabbage, whose price had dropped by half since the 1730s. Chefs and cooks used cabbage to make ragout and pudding, or stuff it with meat. In the 16th and 17th centuries warm milk was added to make cabbage cream that was left to mature before being presented at dinner tables.

Red cabbage was prepared and sold as a pickle. Newspapers advertised the sale of cabbage seed, where it was defined as flat sided, green savoy, hellow (probably a misprint for yellow) red, Russia, sugar loaf, turnip, yellow savoy and Yorkshire. (Simone Clarke – British History Online.)

Still life with cabbage, James Peale

“The time has come…to talk of many things: Of shoes–and ships–and sealing wax–of cabbages–and kings–And why the sea is boiling hot–And whether pigs have wings.” – Lewis Carroll

Mrs. Beeton’s STEWED RED CABBAGE (19th century)

INGREDIENTS – 1 red cabbage, a small slice of ham, 1/2 oz. of fresh butter, 1 pint of weak stock or broth, 1 gill of vinegar, salt and pepper to taste, 1 tablespoonful of pounded sugar.

Mode.—Cut the cabbage into very thin slices, put it into a stewpan, with the ham cut in dice, the butter, 1/2 pint of stock, and the vinegar; cover the pan closely, and let it stew for 1 hour. When it is very tender, add the remainder of the stock, a seasoning of salt and pepper, and the pounded sugar; mix all well together, stir over the fire until nearly all the liquor is dried away, and serve. Fried sausages are usually sent to table with this dish: they should be laid round and on the cabbage, as a garnish.

Time.—Rather more than 1 hour. Average cost, 4d. each.

Sufficient for 4 persons.

Seasonable from September to January.

Hannah Glasse’s 18th century Recipe for Pickled Red Cabbage declares this dish to be useful only for garnish:

To pickle red-cabhage.

SLICE the cabbage thin, put to it vinegar and salt, and an ounce of all-spice cold cover it close, and keep it fer use. It is a pickle of little use but for garnishing of dishes, sallads, and pickles, though some people are fond of it.

Years ago, my then husband and I spent an outrageous sum of money eating Bubble and Squeak at a chichi Mayfair restaurant in London. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that this costly (to us) side dish consisted of the humble potato and cabbage, a dish invented by Maria Rundell in 1806.

Maria Rundell’s recipe for Bubble and Squeak.

Boil, chop, and fry, with a little butter, pepper, and salt, some cabbage, and lay on it slices of rare done beef, lightly fried.

In both the following receipts, the roots must be taken off the tongue before salted. – A new system of domestic cookery: formed upon principles of economy, and adapted to the use of private families, Maria Eliza Ketelby Rundell, 1808

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