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Archive for the ‘Regency food’ Category

St. James’s Park offered some of the freshest, most wholesome milk during a Georgian London summer – the frothy hot liquid, or new milk, was drawn at the request of customers from cows that had grazed on the park’s lawns.

An estimated 8,500 cows were kept for milk near London.* Farmers milked their herds and carted in the milk to dairy retailers from as much as 20 miles away.

St James's Park, Soiron, François David, about 1780, Colour stipple engraving, with additional colour by hand. Bequeathed by Mrs M. V. Cunliffe. V & A Museum

St James’s Park, Soiron, François David, about 1780, Colour stipple engraving, with additional colour by hand. Bequeathed by Mrs M. V. Cunliffe. V & A Museum

In idealized scenes, artists give us an insight into contemporary customs. A milkmaid is milking a cow in St. James’s Park as a young boy in a skeleton suit waits with his empty cup. The party consists of a soldier and a mother with two other children, a boy and a girl. These two have already received their share of milk, with the mother helping the younger child sitting on her lap. It is hard to tell if it is a girl or a boy, for in their early years both sexes were dressed similarly.

One is struck by the tin cups on display at the wood table. There are no washing facilities nearby, and one can only assume that these cups are reused by strangers. A more finicky person would probably bring their own cup to the park. In this instance, a basket filled with hay is placed next to the table, ostensibly as fodder for the cow.

The following illuminating passage c0mes from Henry Mayhew’s account of London Labour and the London Poor, 1861 (Tufts Digital Library:

The principal sale of milk from the cow is in St. James’s Park. The once fashionable drink known as syllabubs—the milk being drawn warm from the cow’s udder, upon a portion of wine, sugar, spice, &c.—is now unknown. As the sellers of milk in the park are merely the servants of cow-keepers, and attend to the sale as a part of their business, no lengthened notice is required.

The milk-sellers obtain leave from the Home Secretary, to ply their trade in the park. There are stands in the summer, and as many cows, but in the winter there are only cows. The milk-vendors sell upon an average, in the summer, from eighteen to quarts per day; in the winter, not more than a of that quantity. The interrupted milking of the cows, as practised in the Park, often causes them to give less milk, than they would in the ordinary way. The chief customers are infants, and adults, and others, of a delicate constitution, who have been recommended to take new milk. On a wet day scarcely any milk can be disposed of. Soldiers are occasional customers.

A somewhat sour-tempered old woman, speaking as if she had been crossed in love, but experienced in this trade, gave me the following account:

It’s not at all a lively sort of life, selling milk from the cows, though some thinks it’s a gay time in the Park! I’ve often been dull enough, and could see nothing to interest one, sitting alongside a cow. People drink new milk for their health, and I’ve served a good many such. They’re mostly young women, I think, that’s de- licate, and makes the most of it. There’s twenty women, and more, to one man what drinks new milk. If they was set to some good hard work, it would do them more good than new milk, or ass’s milk either, I think. Let them go on a milkwalk to cure them—that’s what I say. Some children come pretty regularly with their nurses to drink new milk. Some bring their own china mugs to drink it out of; nothing less was good enough for them. I’ve seen the nurse-girls frightened to death about the mugs. I’ve heard one young child say to another: ‘I shall tell mama that Caroline spoke to a mechanic, who came and shook hands with her.’ The girl was as red as fire, and said it was her brother. Oh, yes, there’s a deal of brothers comes to look for their sisters in the Park. The greatest fools I’ve sold milk to is servant-gals out for the day. Some must have a day, or half a day, in the month. Their mistresses ought to keep them at home, I say, and not let them out to spend their money, and get into nobody knows what company for a holiday; mistresses is too easy that way. It’s such gals as makes fools of themselves in liking a soldier to run after them. I’ve seen one of them—yes, some would call her pretty, and the prettiest is the silliest and easiest tricked out of money, that’s my opinion, anyhow—I’ve seen one of them, and more than one, walk with a soldier, and they’ve stopped a minute, and she’s taken something out of her glove and given it to him. Then they’ve come up to me, and he’s said to her, ‘Mayn’t I treat you with a little new milk, my dear?’ and he’s changed a shilling. Why, of course, the silly fool of a gal had given him that there shilling. I thought, when Annette Myers shot the soldier, it would be a warning, but nothing’s a warning to some gals. She was one of those fools. It was a good deal talked about at the stand, but I think none of us know’d her. Indeed, we don’t know our customers but by sight. Yes, there’s now and then some oldish gentlemen— I suppose they’re gentlemen, anyhow, they’re idle men—lounging about the stand: but there’s no nonsense there. They tell me, too, that there’s not so much lounging about as there was; those that’s known the trade longer than me thinks so. Them children’s a great check on the nusses, and they can’t be such fools as the servant-maids. I don’t know how many of them I’ve served with milk along with soldiers: I never counted them. They’re nothing to me. Very few elderly people drink new milk. It’s mostly the young. I’ve been asked by strangers when the Duke of Wellington would pass to the Horse-Guards or to the House of Lords. He’s pretty regular. I’ve had 6d. given me—but not above once or twice a year—to tell strangers where was the best place to see him from as he passed. I don’t understand about this Great Exhibition, but, no doubt, more new milk will be sold when it’s opened, and that’s all I cares about.

Benjamin West, P.R.A. (Springfield 1738-1820 London)  Milkmaids in St. James's Park, Westminster Abbey beyond  oil on panel

Benjamin West, P.R.A. (Springfield 1738-1820 London)
Milkmaids in St. James’s Park, Westminster Abbey beyond
oil on panel,  Christie’s.

Benjamin West’s scene of St. James’s Park evinces a more majestic tone, with the industrious maids in the center and an assembly looking on or promenading into view, such as the soldiers on the right escorting their ladies. The hard working milk maids are merely the servants of cowkeepers, as Henry Mayhew’s passage explains.

St. James's Park, detail, West

St. James’s Park, detail, West

Although this painting is quite formal, the details are similar to those described in the Mayhew passage. The milk maid is on her knees, not sitting on a stool, and some people have brought their own vessels in the shape of cups or buckets. The majority are women and children, who wait patiently on benches as the maid fills their orders. The rest of the herd can be seen in the background, awaiting their turn to supply milk, for only two cows are being actively milked.

St. James's Park, detail, West

St. James’s Park, detail, West

Customers come from a variety of social backgrounds. A small child sits and drinks her milk on a bench by a table, others wait in line with their mothers or governesses. One maid holds a flask on top of her head in a classic pose that one suspects is more of a nod to classic sources than contemporary British customs.

St. James's Park, detail3, West

St. James’s Park, detail3, West

I simply had to add this detail of West’s painting, for the soldiers and their female companions are described in detail in the Mayhew passage. They also remind me of the immature and idealized view that Lydia had of herself when in Wickham’s company – that of a lady who cut an elegant impression next to a man in uniform.

st. James's and Green Park

As one can see from a map of the era, the lawns are not huge.  St. James’s Park consists of 58 acres that were originally purchased from Eton College by Henry the 8th in 1532. I have not read any sources regarding the regular maintenance of these parks, but imagine that grazing sheep and cows kept the grasses under control, but, anyone who has ever wandered through a cow pasture knows how much dung cows can leave behind!

Cow Keeper's Shop 1825 George Scharf

Cow Keeper’s Shop, 1825, George Scharf

George Scharf’s Cow Keeper’s Shop in London shows where city cows were kept – indoors. These creatures were fed indoors in back street yards and fared badly compared to their country cousins. Their milk was of a poorer quality, which came as a shock to country-bred Jane Austen, when her family move from Steventon to Bath. In many instances, unscrupulous retail milk-dealers seeking to increase their profits thinned the milk with water. Roy and Lesley Adkins in their splendid book, Jane Austen’s England, describe how cow-houses were furnished with water pumps. Milk was diluted in front of the customers. In some instances, merchants did not bother to use “clean” water (the only safe water in those days was boiled), but watered milk from a horse’s trough or, worse, from streams that had been fouled by animal dung and urine.*

The milk was next taken to the retailers’ homes and left for a day, so that the cream rose to the surface to be skimmed off. The deteriorating milk was then sold as fresh, while the cream was sold separately…” (Adkins, page 105)

Ironically, the deterioration of milk was at its highest when the fashionable set came to Town for the winter season, and at its freshest when the Beau Monde returned to their country estates for the summer.

Milk maids, George Scharf

Milk maids, George Scharf

In Scharf’s image, milkmaids  and a milkman are preparing for a day of sales. Pyne’s illustration clearly shows the five-gallon pails hanging from a wooden yoke,  the vessels that transported the milk into other containers, and the cups that were used to sell milk to individual buyers. Much of this milk was used largely for cooking.

milk woman, william henry pyne, 1805

Milk woman, William Henry Pyne, 1805

The milk maid’s cry, which proudly (and ironically) proclaimed the fine quality of her milk, was shortened to Milk Below and eventually to Milko!

Milk Below.

Rain, frost, or snow, or hot or cold,

I travel up and down,

The cream and milk you buy of me

Is best in all the town.

For custards, puddings, or for tea,

There’s none like those you buy of me.

From A history of the cries of London, ancient and modern [with woodcuts by T. and J. Bewick]. (Google eBook)

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This frontispiece from L’Art de bien faire les glaces d’office,  a book by M. Emy, an 18th century French confectioner, about whom very little is known, depicts how ices and ice cream were made at the time.

M. Emy Fronticepiece2

Click on image for larger view.

Buckets filled with ice and salt held covered metal freezing pots that contained the ice cream mixtures. As the mixture froze, the pots were taken out occasionally to be shaken. The ice cream was scraped from the sides of the pots and stirred. When the mixture was ready, it was placed in decorative molds and served almost immediately. You can see the all the steps of ice cream making in the above image, with ice being delivered from ice houses in the background, and cherubs tending to the freezing mixture, while another hastens to the main house to serve the ices before they melt.

Confectioners tools

Confectioners tools from Gunter’s modern confectioner by William Jeanes. Figure 18 represents a copper funnel. Figure 24 is an oval tub surrounded with ice and salt and containing tow freezing pewter pots. At the bottom is a plug to let out water. Figure 25 represents a Bomba ice mould, which has the impression of fruit and holds from four to six pints each. Figure 26 shows how the hands are positioned whilst modelling flowers.

The process was expensive, for hauling and storing great blocks of ice was a laborious process that began in winter. The ice was stored in ice houses that were dug deep into the ground to keep the blocks from melting even in summer.

The Eglinton Ice House being filled with ice. Eglinton Castle, Kilwinning, Scotland. Image @ Wikipedia

The Eglinton Ice House being filled with ice. Eglinton Castle, Kilwinning, Scotland. Image @ Wikipedia

Only the rich were able to afford this luxury food to any extent until the mid-19th century, when Carlo Gatti began importing  ice in large quantities to London from Norway.

domenico-negri915-correction

Negri’s trade card of the Pot and Pineapple with his description of his shop’s offerings.

The first references to making ice cream harken back to ancient Rome and China. By the mid 18th century, French, Italian, and British chefs had published cookbooks with recipes for ices and ice creams. Specialty confectioner’s shops that offered ices and ice cream began to pop up in London: the most famous of these became to be known as Gunter’s Tea Shop, which survived in one form or another until quite recently.

pot and pineapple detail negri

Detail of the pineapple in Negri’s trade card

In 1757 an Italian pastry cook named Domenico Negri opened a confectionery shop at 7-8 Berkeley Square under the sign of “The Pot and Pineapple”. At that time, the pineapple was a symbol of luxury and used extensively as a logo for confectioners. Negri’s impressive trade card not only featured a pineapple, but it advertised that he was in the business of making English, French, and Italian wet and dry sweetmeats. The confectioner’s art required as much precision and craft as a sculptor or silversmith. Equipment for refining sugar resembled those of a foundry, including specialized pans for melting, devices that calibrated heating and cooling, and a variety of molds to create shapes for chilled custards and ice cream, frozen mousses, jellied fruit, and candies and caramels. Negri’s shop sold

Cedrati and Bergamot Chips, Naples … Syrup of Capilaire, orgeate and Marsh mallow … All sorts of Ice, Fruits and Creams in the best Italian manner’. It also sold diavolini, or little icing-sugar drops scented with violet, barberry, peppermint, chocolate and neroli made from the blossom of bitter orange. For those who could not stretch to the luxury of shop-bought produce but who could afford a book of recipes, a long struggle with the complexities of sugar science ensued.” – Taste, Kate Culquohon

Detail of a James Gillray cartoon of soldiers eating  in a confectioner's shops, 1797. Image @Library of Congress

No Regency image of The Pot and Pineapple or Gunter’s exists. This is a detail of a James Gillray cartoon of soldiers eating in a confectioner’s shops, 1797. Image @Library of Congress

As the chefs of the era attest in their recipes, the taste in ice cream seemed to change with each generation. M. Emy made a glace de creme aux fromages that was flavored with grated parmesan and Gruyere cheeses. Joseph Gillier made an artichoke ice cream and a fromage de parmesan with grated Parmesan, coriander, cinnamon, and cloves frozen in a mold shaped like a wedge of parmesan cheese.

Ivan Day image of ice groups. One can see the recreation of the incredible detail that confectioners were able to create for their wealthy clients.

Ivan Day image of ice groups. One can see his recreation of the incredible detail that confectioners were able to create for their wealthy clients. Ivan Day, Ices and Frozen Desserts

Flower flavors were also common – violets, orange flowers, jasmine roses, and elder flowers – were used in ices. The vanilla bean, although appreciated for its agreeable flavor, did not rise in popularity until Victorian times. Negri must have done a booming business selling syrups, candied fruits, cakes, biscuits, ices, delicate sugar spun fantasies, and elaborate table decorations that showcased his deserts, for his shop survived many decades.

Illustration of ice cream goblets from Emy's cookbook

Illustration of ice cream goblets from Emy’s cookbook

Twenty  years after starting his Berkeley Square establishment (1777),  Negri took in a business partner named James Gunter. The Gunter family, which had both Catholic and Protestant members, had lived in Abergaveny in Wales for generations. (Read a fascinating history about the family at this site, Last Welsh Martyr.)

Exterior of a confectioner's shop in Persuasion, 1995.

Exterior of a confectioner’s shop in Persuasion, 1995.

The shop employed famous apprentices like Frederic Nutt, William Jarrin, and William Jeanes, who would go on to write their own cookbooks. All proudly noted their association with the shop. Interestingly, William Gunter, who was James’s son, wrote the most frivolous cookbook, Gunter’s Confectioner’s Oracle (published in 1830), in which he gossiped, name-dropped, and included some illogical details.

William Gunter in 1830

William Gunter in 1830

One section of the book was supposed to be a dictionary of raw materials in use by confectioners. It started with A for apple, and skipped B because it ‘is to us an empty letter.’ C was a fourteen-page treatise on coffee, in French … Gunter did not name its source…The dictionary skipped D and E. The letter F was for flour. Then Gunter wrote, ‘I now skip a number of useless letters until I arrive at P.” – ‘Of Sugars and Snow: A history of ice-cream making’, Jeri Quinzio, University of California Press, 2009, p. 65.

Tea Room in Bath, as depicted in Persuasion 1995

Tea Room in Bath, as depicted in Persuasion 1995

With two men at the helm, The Pot and Pineapple flourished and by 1799 Gunter had become its sole proprietor, changing the name to Gunter’s Tea Shop.  (I tried to find Negri’s birth and death dates, and can only surmise that he must have retired or died when Gunter took over.)

Berkeley Square, Greenwood's Map

Berkeley Square, Greenwood’s Map

Berkeley Square was uniquely situated to appeal to the upper crust.  Many notable people lived there – Beau Brummell at #42 in 1792;  Lord Clive the founder of the British Empire in India, lived at #45 until he killed himself in 1774; and Horace Walpole, whose letters give the record of fashionable society of his day, lived at #11 until he died in 1797. (Nooks and Corners of Old England.) The square was described as a

frontier land between West-end trade and West-end nobility. The east side is half shops, on the northern there is an hotel. Confectioners and stationers here confront peers and baronets.” – Every Saturday: A Journal of Choice Reading, Ticknor and Fields, 1867.

Berkeley Square in 1813

Berkeley Square in 1813

By the early 19th century, Gunter’s ices had become so fashionable that the Beau Monde, many of whom already resided in tony Mayfair, made it a custom to stop by the shop for a cool ice during carriage rides.

A custom grew up that the ices were eaten, not in the shop, but in the Square itself; ladies would remain in their carriages under the trees, their escorts leaning against the railings near them, while the waiters dodged across the road with their orders. For many years, when it was considered not done for a lady to be seen alone with a gentleman at a place of refreshment in the afternoon, it was perfectly respectable for them to be seen at Gunter’s Tea Shop.- Encyclopedia of London

View from the shop at #7 to Berkeley Square. Note that the plane trees are among the oldest in central London, planted in 1789 by

View from the shop today at #7 to the green space of Berkeley Square. The plane trees are among the oldest in central London, planted in 1789 by Edward Bouverie. One can imagine the carriages parked in this area, with waiters scurrying back and forth. (Few of the original buildings still stand today.)

It seemed that a rendezvous at Gunter’s in an open carriage would not harm a gently bred lady’s reputation! One can also imagine waiters running at a full clip across the street on hot days when ices began to melt as soon as they were released from their molds!

7 berkeley square today

How #7 Berkeley Square looks today

Gunter’s was also known for its catering business and beautifully decorated cakes. In 1811, the Duchess of Bedford’s and Mrs. Calvert’s ball suppers featured the shop’s confectionery, a tradition followed by many a society lady, I am sure.

plate X Gunters

Illustration of an elaborate Gunter’s cake

James Gunter’s success allowed him to purchase land in Earl’s Court, which was largely farmland in the 18th century.

Normand House, built in Earl's Court in the 17th century, is now demolished.

Normand House, built in Earl’s Court in the 17th century, is now demolished. Image @MyEarlsCourt.com

Gunter bought the tracts of land so he could run a market gardening business. The produce  – fruits, vegetables and flowers – was taken daily by horse-drawn wagons to Covent Garden to be sold. Gunter also

bought Earls Court Lodge (near the present Barkston Gardens) which was to be the Gunters’ family home for the next 60 years. This was one of the few substantial houses in the area. (The aristocratic neighbours at nearby Earls Court House, who weren’t keen on having a cake shop owner next door, called it “Currant-Jelly Hall”).” – The Gunter Estate

Gunter died in 1819 and his son Robert (1783-1852), who studied confectionery in Paris, took over the business. Robert hired his cousin John as a partner in 1837, ensuring that the business would stay in the family for several generations. Gunter’sTea Shop moved to Curzon Street when the east side of Berkeley Square was rebuilt in 1936-37. The shop closed in its new location in 1956, although the catering business continued for another 20 years in Bryanston Square. More on the topic:

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Inquiring readers, It’s such a delight to receive first-hand information from a friend who lives in the U.K. Frequent contributor, Tony Grant, writes about his impressions of seeing the BBC2 special last Sunday entitled Pride and Prejudice: Having a Ball. The scenes were filmed in Chawton House wherein a Regency ball was reconstructed in a way that Jane Austen’s contemporaries knew well, but whose meanings in many instances have been lost to us. I had the privilege of watching the show as well and have interspersed my comments as if Tony and I were engaged in a dialogue. (Italics represent my comments.)  Let’s hope this special will be available soon the world over.

Amanda Vickery. Image courtesy of

Amanda Vickery and Alistair Sooke. Image courtesy of BBC2

It is Winter, 1813.

Amanda Vickery and Alaister Sooke, the art critic for The Daily Telegraph and who also presents art history programmes for the BBC, present this amazing programme. It is one and a half hours long and, being a BBC production, there are no breaks or intermissions.

The programme is a tribute to the two hundredth anniversary of the publication of Pride and Prejudice. The producers have taken the Netherfield Ball as their focus. They did not choose the Merryton Assembly ball, which was a public ball where everybody from the butcher, baker and candlestick maker was eligible to attend. The Netherfield Ball was a more intimate and select affair and by invitation only. One would be assured to rub shoulders with only the best families in the community.

Jane and her sister and mother lived in Chawton Cottage, where Pride and Prejudice was prepared for publication. It was a time when courtship was a serious business. “A woman must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing and drawing,” Jane wrote, and a man had to marry well if he was to secure his dynasty.

Research into costumes, food, dance, music, carriages, conversation and so on focussed on the year 1813.

Filming at night on Chawton House grounds

Filming at night on Chawton House grounds. Image courtesy of Chawton House

The writers and producers consulted and interviewed professors and experts about the minutiae of Georgian life. One professor, Jeanice Brooks at Southampton University, showed Alexander Sooke the very music manuscripts that Jane Austen wrote out by her hand with little cartoon doodlings in the margin.

Jane Austen doodle in a music manuscript

Jane Austen’s doodle in her music manuscript. Image @BBC2

That was one of the many wow moments for this viewer. (For me too, Tony!)

Popular music was widely collected at the time and summarized for the piano. Jane Austen must have spent hours copying music in her neat hand, for there are quite a number of her music manuscripts still in existence. 

ivan day food expert

Ivan day, historic food expert. Image @BBC2

The food was researched to the minutest degree. Ivan Day and his kitchen staff used Georgian cooking implements, although the Georgian cooking range at Chawton House was not in working order, so they used modern ovens. The recipes were authentic and came from Martha Lloyd’s cook book and other original Georgian documents.

Martha Lloyd's recipe for white soup, a common dish served at supper dances.

Martha Lloyd’s recipe for white soup, a common dish served at supper dances.

Food denoted status. Game shot on a gentleman’s land was turned into a partridge pie, a symbol of upper class dining. At the Netherfield Ball, Mr. Bingley would be sure to provide only the most excellent food, such as fresh grapes, nectarines and peaches in winter, which would have been expensive to import or grow indoors in hot houses. The grand spectacle of the supper table, with its silver platters, silver dishes, and silver tureens, gave an overall impression of austentation [sic] and of the host’s status. 

Ivan Day's recreation of Solomon's Temple, a very difficult flummery to recreate.

Ivan Day’s recreation of Solomon’s Temple, a very difficult flummery (Georgian jelly) to recreate. Image @BBC2

Stuart Marsden, an expert in Georgian dances and a former ballet dancer, assembled students from the dance department of Surrey University at Guildford, about twenty miles north of Chawton, to dance at the ball. Although these young dancers were fit and professional, in their Georgian costumes and in the full glare of hundreds of candles, they suffered from heat and encroaching exhaustion as the evening went on.

This fan served to cool the dancer and as a crib sheet, in which the steps of intricate dances were written down. Usually made of paper, few have survived.

This fan served to cool the dancer and as a crib sheet, in which the steps of intricate dances were written down. Usually made of paper, few of these fans have survived. As all fans of the Regency know, they also served as the perfect tool for flirtation. Image @BBC2

During the course of the evening, the dancers were supplied with Portugese wine and fortified negus punch. Punch a la Romaine, or Roman punch, was a mixture of rum or brandy with lemon water, lemon meringue and a very hot syrup. It was a sort of creamy iced drink that was 30 or 40 percent alcohol, a Georgian equivalent of a cold Coca Cola that cooled the dancers down between dances.

Punch a la Romaine

Punch a la Romaine. By the end of the night the dancers were a little tipsy, shall we say. The spoons used in the production belonged to the Prince Regent and came from Brighton Pavilion. Image @BBC.

Although Chawton House is large, the room where the dance was held seemed rather crowded once all the dancers were assembled. Candles blazed everywhere. The men wore stiff jackets, waistcoats, and neck high cravats. The ladies, whose bosoms were exposed, also wore many layers. They had donned swaths of petticoats under their skirts, and wore long stockings and long gloves. One can imagine that with the press of bodies, heat from the candles, constant exertion in long dance sets, and frequent imbibing of alcohol that the assembly quickly felt heated.

One can see from this image how crowded the ball room was and how 300 candles and all that exertion might have heated the dancers.

One can see from this image how crowded the ball room was, and how the blaze from 300 candles and hours of exertion might have heated the dancers. I was amazed at the lack of evident sweat.

It was interesting to find out that everybody knew how a long a dance would last from the length and quality of the candles. There were four-hour candles and six-hour candles. For this production eight-hour candles were used.

The finest, most expensive and clean burning candles were made of beeswax. Up to 300 might be used for a ball – quite an expense, for the cost was around £15, or a year’s wages for a manservant. Less expensive (and smokier and stinkier) were tallow candles, which were purchased by the less wealthy. The very poor had to make do with rush sticks, which didn’t last very long.

Peoples’ wealth and position in the upper and gentry classes were evident from the outset. Hierarchy pervaded all strata of Regency society. Social signifiers included the materials used for clothes, their style and the embellishments they had personally chosen for their costumes, the cut of the material and garment, the very buttons they had on their costumes, and so on. These details would reveal not only their status but their personalities too.

Professor Hillary Davidson explains the personal involvement that people had in their clothes, which were hand made.

Professor Hillary Davidson explains the personal involvement that people had in their clothes, which were hand made and reflected personal taste and input. In addition, the outfits “reflected the range of social rank and social division by cut, color, and texture.” Appearance meant everything at a ball. Many refashioned their frocks from hand-me-downs from an older sister or cousin, creating “hybrid” fashions, for the value of these outfits lay in the material, not the design of the dress. Individual details and features were immediately evident to Jane Austen’s contemporaries, for fashion and jewelry represented a public display of one’s assets. Image @BBC2

Silk would be worn by Miss Bingley, for it was a rich and expensive fabric. Miss Bingley and Miss Hurst would have worn the latest fashions from London, which is quite evident in the film costumes of Pride and Prejudice 1995. Lydia Bennet would have chosen a fine gown,  for she was fashion forward for a country girl (and her mama’s favorite), whereas Mrs. Bennet would have worn a print gown with a frilly but modest matronly cap that denoted her status as a woman with some authority. The Bingley sisters would have sneered at the simply styled hybrid dress that the Bennet sisters might have refashioned from a combination of old clothes and newer fabrics.  If you were a good needlewoman, such a gown might have been embellished with embroidery, lace, or ribbons.

Simple hybrid dress, much as Elizabeth Bennet might have worn. Notice the coral necklace.

Simple hybrid dress, much as Elizabeth Bennet might have worn. Notice the coral necklace.

Shoes were changed in the cloak room, for some people walked quite a distance to get to the ball, and even soldiers exchanged their Hessian boots for dancing slippers. Over the course of the evening, delicate dance slippers might be worn down to a thread.

Historical makeup and rouge pots. Too much, and a lady might be labeled a trollop.

These are Sally Pointer’s historical makeup and rouge pots for rosy cheeks (even for the redcoats, like Wickham). Apply too much color and a lady might be labeled a trollop. Image @BBC2

Everything – one’s clothes, actions, and relationships – how you arrived at the ball – could be read and interpreted. This was one of the main points made by the programme.

It’s not so different today, really, is it Tony? At a glance we can tell who is fashion forward, who is a frump. Whose jewelry reeks of Tiffany’s and who shopped at Walmart. We know from each others speech, friends and business associations, educational background, and other social signifiers who belongs in our social strata and who does not. My mother especially had a keen sense of which of my suitors suited and who did not. Her primary social signifiers were persons of moral character and compassion. It was who that person was inside that mattered, not what they wore or what possessions they had acquired. I suspect that during the Regency such distinctions were also important. Jane Austen was a genius at distinguishing wheat from chaff, and ferreting out the foibles of her contemporaries.

Walking to the ball carrying lanterns.

Walking to the ball carrying lanterns. The hooded cloaks reminded me of the medieval era and monks. Image@BBC2

I noticed how most of the actors in the production walked to the ball holding lanterns. Carriages were expensive. If possible, those who had carriages would arrange to pick others up and bring them. If not, the guests walked to the ball. A similar scene was shown in Becoming Jane, where guests arrived on foot and walked along a lane strung with lanterns. Back in those days balls were planned to coincide with a full moon for maximum light at night and for a bit of safety from bandits and robbers. One wonders about such well-laid plans in rainy England, where a blanket of storm clouds would block the moonlight and rain would soil the hems of delicate ball gowns.

The most interesting thing I found from the programme was the meaning of the dance. This Darcy quote, “every savage can dance,” is used to highlight that the dance alludes to something primal. Elizabeth and Darcy have their most unguarded conversation during a dance. Interestingly, the Savage Dance was a craze in 1813 and taken from a song and dance routine from a musical based on Robinson Crusoe.

Balls, to quote Amanda Vickery, were sexual arenas of social interaction. In Pride and Prejudice, Darcy and Elizabeth dance around their sexual attraction for each other. The truth is that in those days single men and well-protected young and unmarried ladies could not spend one moment in private with each other before they were officially engaged. But at a dance they could touch each other (through gloved hands) and flirt and talk at length without a chaperon breathing down their necks. The long dance sets were strenuous and required stamina, however. To quote Amanda Vickery, “The entire ball is hard work, with physical, social, and emotional investment and cost.” The cost being one of expenditure (looking one’s best) and exertion (maintaining one’s stamina.) 

dance chawton

Dancing the cotillion. Image @BBC2

Young ladies and young gentlemen practiced and prepared for the balls from childhood on. They had to be good and graceful at dancing to be admired and looked at. This was necessary for their futures, for they were actually dancing for their lives. You were likely to dance with a person from the same rank and expertise: they endured these dances for a very long time with one partner. There were moments of physical contact and movement. Aristocratic young men like Darcy sought strong and accomplished women to be the mother of their children for the sake of inheritance and future generations of their families. Young women needed to attract a good catch for their happiness and futures too. So much effort and hope was invested in the “ball,” for a girl’s future could be sealed at a dance.

No wonder the excitable Lydia Bennet went ballistic when the Netherfield Ball was announced! She was not only man crazy, but she had a competitive streak in her, frequently pitting herself against her older sisters. I was also struck by how much dancing masters could make per person from dance lessons. Every young boy and girl from a respectable family was expected to practice dance steps. It was quite a telling detail for Jane Austen’s contemporary readers that Mr. Collins is a poor dancer and that Mr. Elton exhibited such ungentlemanly conduct towards Miss Smith at the Crown Inn ball, where Mr. Knightley (a true knight in shining armour) came to her rescue and saved her from public humiliation. Mr. Elton’s reaction towards Miss Smith pointed out how much Emma misjudged Miss Smith’s tenuous connection to the gentry, for Mr. Elton thinks too highly of himself and his own social standing to ally himself to the bastard daughter of a gentleman.

 Alaister Sooke makes the comment that for all its finery and sophistication the ball (it was decorous and tightly controlled) was also primeval, with the subconscious very much in play. The way the dancers were dressed, with women revealing lots of cleavage and the men revealing their groins in tight-fitting trousers, was totally sexual in nature.

men's breeches

The dancers get fitted for their breeches, which revealed quite a bit of the male anatomy, especially the groin area. Image @BBC2.

You are so right, Tony. Let’s take the case of menswear ca. 1813. Although the colors were muted, the silhoutte was quite athletic. The front of a man’s coat was cut high so that his body was fully revealed in front from the waist down. Men tucked their long shirt tails between their legs, which served as underwear. Because their calves were exposed, it was important for men to dance well, since all their steps were in full view. Women’s legs were hidden by their skirts and they could make a mistake or two without much notice.  I was struck by how much the modern dancers enjoyed the evening and how much their costumes and the setting affected them.

corset

The ladies in the series wore authentic underwear. Underneath the muslins  and silks they wore undergarments consisting of a chemise and petticoat. There was actually a lot going on below the skirt, but the ladies  generally went knickerless. Even when women wore underdrawers, the crotch area remained open and they remained so until the late 19th c. or early 20th century.  Crotchless knickers were the norm! Image @BBC2

A courting couple made sure to reserve the supper dance for each other (or the dance just before the evening meal), for this meant that they could extend the time they spent together to include the meal, which was generally served at midnight. In the series, Ivan Day and his staff slaved to make the dishes, for they were served à la française (in the French style), or all at once. Preparing dishes for such a service required a great deal of skill and Herculean effort, for hot meals needed to be served hot, while delicate ices needed to remain frozen until they were consumed. At the dinner table in this special, a mild scene of chaos ensued, with servants bringing platters from one end of the table to the other, guests handing platters around, and others reaching across the table to sample a tidbit. Ragout of Veal, one of Jane Austen’s favorite dishes, was served. This dish was frequently mentioned by her, particularly in Pride and Prejudice. As an aside, one could readily discern at the supper ball which guests had manners and those who did not.

Ragout of

The ragout of veal at the supper dance was associated with high living. Image @BBC2

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Chelsea Buns. Image courtesy @

Chelsea Buns. Image courtesy @Kathleen Corfield, The Ordinary Cook (Click on blog for the British recipe.)

Our crocuses and daffodils are blooming in Richmond, making me realize that Easter and spring and hot cross buns are just around the corner. Back in Jane Austen’s day, the Chelsea bun was the treat of choice.  These sticky sweet buns, filled with raisins and currants and topped with a sugary glaze, were sold by the tens of thousands at the famous Chelsea Bun-House on Pimlico Road near Sloane Square in London (technically Pimlico, not Chelsea), which was frequented by Royalty and the public alike.

During the last century, and early in the present, a pleasant walk across green fields, intersected with hedges and ditches, led the pedestrian from Westminster and Millbank to “The Old Bun House” at Chelsea. This far-famed establishment…stood at the end of Jew’s Row (now Pimlico Road), not far from Grosvenor Row. The building was a one-storeyed structure, with a colonnade projecting over the foot pavement, and was demolished in 1839, after having enjoyed the favour of the public for more than a century and a half. ” - Old and New London: Volume 5, Edward Walford, 1878, British History Online, Chelsea

“I soon turned the corner of a street which took me out of sight of the space on which once stood the gay Ranelagh. … Before me appeared the shop so famed for Chelsea buns, which for above thirty years I have never passed without filling my pockets. In the original of these shops—for even of Chelsea buns there are counterfeits—are preserved mementoes of domestic events in the first half of the past century. The bottle-conjuror is exhibited in a toy of his own age; portraits are also displayed of Duke William and other noted personages; a model of a British soldier, in the stiff costume of the same age; and some grotto-works, serve to indicate the taste of a former owner, and were, perhaps, intended to rival the neighbouring exhibition at Don Saltero’s. These buns have afforded a competency, and even wealth, to four generations of the same family; and it is singular that their delicate flavour, lightness, and richness, have never been successfully imitated.” – Sir Richard Phillips,  “Morning’s Walk from London to Kew,” 1817.

Chelsea Bun-House image from The Mirror, Google eBook

Chelsea Bun-House image from The Mirror, Google eBook

The building was fifty-two feet long, by twenty-one feet wide. The colonnade e xtended over the foot pavement into the street, and afforded a tempting shelter and resting-place to the passenger to stop and refresh himself. Latterly the floor of the colonnade was level with the road, which has probably been considerably raised; as in the old print it is represented as a platform with steps at the three doors for company to alight from their carriages. – The Gentleman’s Magazine and Historical Chronicle, Volume 11, 1839

Not all of the bun house’s customers enjoyed the sweet sticky buns, as Dean Swift attests in 1711: “Pray, are not the fine buns sold here in our town? was it not R-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-rrare Chelsea buns ? I bought one today in my walk ; it cost me a penny ; it was stale, and I did not like it, as the man said, [R-r-r-r-rnre] Sec.” – (Journal to Stella. May 2, 1711.)

It is not to be wondered at, that the witty Dean did not relish his stale bun ; for, to be good, it should be made with a good deal of butter, be very light, and eat hot. Chelsea Buns formed a frequent cry in the streets of London during the last century, and were as popular as the Bath Buns of the present time. The cry (or rather song) was ” Chelsea Buna, hot Cheheii Buns, rare Chelsea Buns! ” Good Friday was the day in all the year when they were most in request; and the crowds that frequented the Bunhouse on that day, is almost past belief. – Gentleman’s Magazine

The following account was written in The Mirror, April 6, 1839, the year that the original Bun-House was demolished for improvements.

CHELSEA BUN-HOUSE. This Bun-House, whose fame has extended throughout the land, was first established about the beginning of the last century; for, as early as 1712, it is thus mentioned by the celebrated Dean Swift:—”Pray are not the fine buns sold here in our town, as the rare Chelsea buns ? I bought one to-day in my walk,” &c.

The building consists of one story, fifty feet long, and fourteen feet wide. It projects into the high-way in an unsightly manner, in form of a colonade, affording a very agreeable shelter to the passenger in unfavourable weather.

The whole premises are condemned to be pulled down immediately, to make way for the proposed improvements of Chelsea and its neighbourhood, the bill for which is in committee of the House of Commons, under the superintendance of that most active member, Sir Matthew Wood.

It was the fashion formerly for the royal family, and the nobility and gentry, to visit Chelsea Bun-House in the morning. His Majesty King George the Second, Queen Caroline, and the Princesses, frequently honoured the elder Mrs. Hand with their company.

Their late Majesties King George III, and Queen Charlotte, were also much in the habit of frequenting the Bun-House when their children were young, and used to alight and sit to look around and admire the place and passing scene. The Queen presented Mrs. Hand with a silver half-gallon mug, richly enchaced, with five guineas in it, as a mark of her approbation for the attentions bestowed upon her during these visits: this testimonial was kept a long time in the family.

On the morning of Good Friday, the Bunhouse used to present a scene of great bustle; it was opened as early as four o’clock j and the concourse of people was so great, that it was difficult to approach the house; it has been estimated that more than fifty thousand persons have assembled in the neighbourhood before eight in the morning; at length it was found necessary to shut it up partially, in order to prevent the disturbances and excesses of the immense unruly and riotous London mob which congregated on those occasions. Hand-bills were printed, and constables stationed to prevent a recurrence of these scenes.

Whilst Ranelagh was in fashion, the BunHouse was much frequented by the visitors of that celebrated temple of pleasure ; but after the failure of Ranelagh, the business fell off in a great degree, and dwindled into insignificance.

Interior of Chelsea Bun-House. Image from 1839 edition of The Mirror, Google eBook

Interior of Chelsea Bun-House. Image from 1839 edition of The Mirror, Google eBook. The inside of the Bun-House was fitted up as a museum. It might have contained some very curious articles, but the most valuable had long since disappeared.The materials of the building, with the relics of the museum, were sold by auction April 18, 1839, and the whole was immediately cleared away. – Gentleman’s Magazine

Click here to see a color drawing of the Bun-House interior at the British Museum

See another image of the Bun-House at Swann Galleries

INTERIOR Of CHELSEA BUN-HOUSE. The interior was formerly fitted up in a very singular and grotesque style, being furnished with foreign clocks, and many natural and artificial curiosities from abroad ; but most of these articles have disappeared since the decease of Mrs. Hand.

At the upper end of the shop is placed, in a large glass-case, a model of Radcliffe Church, at Bristol, cut out very curiously and elaborately in paste-board ; but the upper towers, pinnacles, &c. resemble more an eastern mosque than a Christian church.

Over the parlour door is placed an equestrian coloured statue, in lead, of William, the great Duke of Cumberland, in the military costume of the year 1745, taken just after the celebrated battle of Culloden: it is eighteen inches in height.

On each side stand two grenadier guards, presenting arms, and in the military dress of the above period, with their high sugarloaf caps, long-flap coats, and broad gerilles, and old-fashioned muskets, presenting a grotesque appearance, when compared with the neat short-cut military trim of the present day. These figures are also cast in lead, and coloured; are near four feet high, and weigh each about two hundred weight.

Underneath, on the wall, is suspended a whole-length portrait, much admired by connoisseurs, of Aurengzebe, Emperor of Persia. This is probably the work of an Italian artist, but his name is unknown.

After the death of Mrs. Hand, the business was carried on by her son, who was an eccentric character, and used to dress in a very peculiar manner,; he dealt largely in butter which he carried about the streets in a basket on his head; hot or cold, wet or dry, throughout the year, the punctual butterman made his appearance at the door, and gained the esteem of every one by his cheerful aspect and entertaining conversation ; for he was rich in village anecdote, and could relate all the vicissitudes of the neighbourhood for more than half a century.

After his decease, his elder brother came into the possession of the business; he had been bred it soldier, and was at that time one of the poor knights of Windsor, and was remarkable for his eccentric manners and costume. He left no family, nor relations, in consequence of which his property reverted to the crown…A writer in the Gentleman’s Magazine, vol. LIU. for July 1783, p. 578, speaking of Cross Buns in Passion week, observes, that ” these being, formerly at least, unleavened, may have a retrospect to the unleavened bread of the Jews, in the same manner as Lamb at Easter to the Pascal Lamb. “

Chelsea Bun-House, image @ Gentleman's Magazine and Historical Chronicle, Volume 11

Chelsea Bun-House, image @ Gentleman’s Magazine and Historical Chronicle, Volume 11. One can see the raised steps leading to three doors where ladies and gentlemen could alight comfortably from their carriages.

 

Apparently when Chelsea Buns were invented there were two rivals who vied for the honor of selling the best buns: the Old Chelsea Bun House or the “Real Old Original Chelsea Bun-house.” On Good Friday, long lines of people waited to purchase the buns. In 1792, the Good Friday line was so long that the Bun-House skipped selling them the following year. A notice stated:

“Royal Bun House, Chelsea, Good Friday.—No Cross Buns. Mrs. Hand respectfully informs her friends and the public, that in consequence of the great concourse of people which assembled before her house at a very early hour, on the morning of Good Friday last, by which her neighbours (with whom she has always lived in friendship and repute) have been much alarmed and annoyed; it having also been intimated, that to encourage or countenance a tumultuous assembly at this particular period might be attended with consequences more serious than have hitherto been apprehended; desirous, therefore, of testifying her regard and obedience to those laws by which she is happily protected, she is determined, though much to her loss, not to sell Cross Buns on that day to any person whatever, but Chelsea buns as usual.”

Forty six years later, the Bun-House closed its doors for good. One has to wonder today if during her many trips to London Jane Austen traveled to the Bun-House on Pimlico Road to purchase a half-dozen of these fresh-baked delicacies.

Pimlico Road in 2012

Google map image of Pimlico Road in 2012 London, near what was once Grosvenor Row.

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The week of Christmas and the new year has been traditionally a time for joy and celebration. In Jane Austen’s day, the decorations and celebrations weren’t quite so over-the-top commercial as they are today. Mistletoe, holly, and evergreen boughs decorated the halls, while roaring fires warmed hearth and home. Fine foods were prepared for friends and family at holiday gatherings, and gift giving was considered optional and not mandatory.

Cruikshank image. Holiday dinner party. Image @LIFE magazine.

Cruikshank image. Holiday dinner party. Image @LIFE magazine.

In her letters, Jane mentioned making wine. She was also  known to imbibe a glass or two, as did many Regency ladies. One can imagine that she heartily enjoyed a glass of homemade wine during long winter evenings. A Regency household in the country was akin to a cottage factory, processing freshly picked fruits and vegetables in summer and fall for consumption during the winter months.

Elderberry bushes, native to both Europe (Sambucus nigra)  and North America (Sambucus canadensis), ripened in August and September. The American elderberry can be found growing in old fields and meadows. The European elderberry blooms earlier than its American counterpart, with some sporting pink flowers. By Christmas, the first flasks of elderberry wine could be served at the table.  Some elder wines (depending on their strength) were ripened until spring. (Edible Landscaping)

Elderberry wine has a rich red color.

Elderberry wine has a rich red color.

Mrs. Maria Eliza Ketelby Rundell’s elder wine recipe, written over two hundred years ago, reflects how housewives made the wine back then, using ingredients and kitchen supplies that were readily available. In 1806, John Murray (who published Emma, a second edition of Mansfield Park, Persuasion and Northanger Abbey)  published  A New System of Domestic Cookery: Founded up Principles of Economy; and Adapted to the Use of Private Families. Rundell’s cookbook became wildly popular in the first half of the 19th century in both England and America. One imagines that the Austen women were well aware of its existence.

Mrs. Rundell

Mrs. Rundell

According to Mrs. Rundell:

English wines would be found particularly useful, now foreign are so high priced, and though sugar is dear, they may be made at a quarter of the expense. If carefully made, and kept three or four year,s a proportionable strength being given, they would answer the purpose of foreign wines for health, and cause a very considerable reduction in the expenditure.”

Holly Bush Inn, where Mrs. Rundell, it is speculated, wrote her recipes.

Holly Bush Inn, where Mrs. Rundell, it is speculated, wrote her recipes. Image @Persephone books (Link below)

Rundell’s book of recipes went through dozens of editions in Britain and the United States, where it was published in 1807. The following recipe for Elder Wine comes from the Google eBook 1857 edition:

Rundell Domestic Cookery

Elder Wine.

To every quart of berries put two quarts of water, boil half an hour, run the liquor, and break the fruit through a hair sieve; then to every quart of juice put three quarters of a pound of Lisbon sugar, coarse but not the very coarsest. Boil the whole a quarter of an hour with some Jamaica peppers, gingers, and a few cloves. Pour it into a tub, and when of a proper warmth, into the barrel, with toast and yeast to work, which there is more difficulty to make it do than most other liquors. When it ceases to hiss, put a quart of brandy to eight gallons, and stop up. Bottle in the spring or at Christmas. The liquor must be in a warm place to make it work.

Elder berries and elder flowers. Public domain image

Elder berries and elder flowers. Public domain image

While Rundell’s recipe seems simple, some terms require explanation. In those days, sugar was classified according to place of origin, such as Brazil, or entrepot, a place of entry without excise duties, such as Lisbon. (Richard Bradley, 1736) Prospect book glossary.

19th c. hair sieve

19th c. hair sieve

Image of Hair Sieve at Worth Point

The hair sieve mentioned by Rundell was most likely made with coarse horse hair, as shown in the above image. The mesh is quite fine. Sugar was an expensive commodity (Jane Austen was in charge of the tea and sugar stores in Chawton cottage, keeping the keys, no doubt, to the locked containers), but as previously explained, making your own wine provided a cost saving measure. The High Price of Sugar.

Jamaica peppers are generally known today as allspice. The peppers are larger than peppercorns and were gathered from Jamaica pepper trees. The “toast and yeast” mentioned in the recipe most likely meant bread yeast. Elder wine ferments particularly well in oak casks.

Jamaica pepper

Jamaica pepper

One can only guess what Mrs. Rundell’s elder wine, which was fortified with brandy, tasted like – strong, sweet, alcoholic, and fruity. The clusters of berries, dark purple when ripe, had many uses:

Elderberry bushes … [have] a long history of use for food, drink and medicinal purposes. Elderberry pie, jam and jelly, tarts, flavored drinks, and of course wine are a few of its better known uses.

Elderberry wine has a unique flavor that changes considerably over time. When too few berries are used, the wine is thin and unlikely to improve. When too many berries are used, the tannins and other flavor constituents may overpower the palate and require dilution, blending or prolonged aging to mellow. Between these extremes are wines that often offer exceptional enjoyment. – Winemaker Magazine

It seems that the berries had to be processed as quickly as possible after picking. There were times, I imagine, that the Austen women were busy working alongside their servants in the kitchen, processing foods, canning and pickling, and making wines and ales from recently harvested produce.

Another “job” that the Regency housewife assumed was that of nurse. Recipes for cough lozenges and simple medicinals made from herbs and plants were passed down through the generations. Elder berries were known to have many medicinal benefits:

Recipe for a "Decoction fameuse," which contains elderberry (among other ingredients). Image @MCRS Rare Book Blog

Recipe for a “Decoction fameuse,” which contains elderberry (among other ingredients). Image @MCRS Rare Book Blog

Recent research shows that elder builds up the immune system and directly inhibits the influenza virus. Elder contains an enzyme that smoothes the spikes on the outside of the virus, which the virus uses to pierce through cell walls. Elderberries have also been recommended in cases of bronchitis, sore throat, coughs, asthma, colds and constipation.” – The Health Benefits of Elderberry Wine

18th century red wine drinker, Franz Laktanz Graf Von Firmian

18th century red wine drinker taking his “medicine”, Franz Laktanz Graf Von Firmian

What better way to soothe one’s respiratory condition than with a nice glass of elder wine!

Ma(i)sonry Maisonry - Vintage 18th Century Wine Bottles - 1stdibs

This article from KansasCity.com, “Elderberry wine as a medicinal: A recent USDA reaction,” shows how ridiculous current U.S. health laws can be on the use of medication:

Federal authorities have seized bottles and drums of elderberry juice concentrate from a Kansas winery, contending that the company’s claims of its benefits for treating various diseases make the product a drug.

…”Products with unapproved disease claims are dangerous because they may cause consumers to delay or avoid legitimate treatments, Dara Corrigan, the FDA’s associate commissioner for regulatory affairs, said in a news release. “The FDA is committed to protecting consumers from unapproved products on the market.”

Aquatint, Rowlandson. Image @Amazon

Aquatone, Thomas Rowlandson. Image @Amazon

Wine was reserved not only for medicinal purposes or family gatherings, but for daily consumption. Bumpers of wine, or a tankard or cup filled to the brim, were common quantities.  The Georgians were notorious drinkers, for alcohol was safer than unboiled water and contaminated city or town wells.

London society of the Georgian period was renowned for its heavy consumption of alcohol. Poor people tended to drink beer or gin, but a wider range of alcoholic drinks was available to the rich. These included wines such as French claret; fortified wines such as sherry, port or Madeira; and spirits such as brandy and rum. It is noted in the text that Mr Stryver and Sydney Carton have wine, brandy, rum, sugar and lemons with which to concoct their punch.

During the Georgian period, beer might be drunk from pewter tankards, and other drinks, from glass goblets or tumblers.- Bookdrum

Detail, Elder Win Stand in Holborne, by George Scharff, 1842

Detail, Elder Wine Stand in Holborne in Winter, by George Scharff, 1842

In winter, elder wine heated in coppers was sold for a penny per wine glass from portable wood stands that contained glassware. (See image above.) This tradition lasted at least through the Victorian era, as attested by the modern Wedgewood scene below.

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Wedgewood. Victorian scene of an elder wine stand

Wedgewood. Victorian scene of an elder wine stand

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Inquiring readers: Paul Emanuelli, author of Avon Street, has contributed posts for this blog before about the City of Bath as a Character and Law & Order and Jane Austen’s Aunt. He has graciously sent in an article about food preparation in the 18th and 19th centuries. The content will astonish you. Paul writes about Bath in his own blog, unpublishedwriterblog. It is well worth a visit!

Miss Bates, let Emma help you to a little bit of tart–a very little bit. Ours are all apple-tarts. You need not be afraid of unwholesome preserves here. I do not advise the custard.”

Michael Gambon as Mr. Woodhouse, Emma, 2009

So says the ever-cautious, Mr Woodhouse, in Jane Austen’s Emma as he entertains his guests at supper. Yet Mr Woodhouse’s fears were not entirely in his imagination. At the time it was relatively common for commercially bought pickles and preserves to contain poisonous sulphate of copper to improve their eye-appeal. And even when prepared at home, the copper pans in which they were cooked, unless properly looked after, could also poison the ingredients.

Churning butter

Yet for most people who lived in the country, as Jane Austen did for much of her life, food-safety was not a major concern. Food was prepared and preserved either by the family themselves or by their domestic staff, and cooking and baking was done at home.

Food preparation in the kitchen.

The ingredients were for the most part grown and bought locally, and word travels quickly in small communities. Meat came from local farms or estates, and farmers and landowners had reputations to maintain, as did the local mill for flour, and the local shopkeepers for all that they sold.

Costermonger from Henry Mayhew’s London Labour and the London Poor, 1840s.

The situation though, was very different in towns and cities. Here it was the shopkeepers and “costermongers” who sourced, stored, prepared and supplied the produce. And with a wider market at their disposal these tradesmen were often less concerned with quality, as they were with cost. The worst affected were the poor. For the most part they lived from hand-to-mouth and bought food in “pennyworths” or even “half-pennyworths.” Buying in these smaller quantities (enough for the day) meant goods often cost four or five times more than they would have cost had they been bought in regular quantities.

Bread Seller, William Henry Pyne, ca. 1805

Bread itself could be bought as quarter or half loaves and the poor subsisted largely on bread. But even then, bakers used chalk to make the bread whiter, and alum to enable the use of inferior flour, and while alum was not poisonous it inhibited the digestion and decreased the nutritional value of anything else their customers ate.

Rabbit seller, William Henry Pyne, 1805

The wealthier residents in towns and cities could afford a “better” diet, yet this too carried its own dangers. There was of course no refrigeration at the time and little concept of hygiene. In towns and cities most meat was killed locally, but then it had to be stored, sold and transported to the home. As late as 1862 the government estimated that one-fifth of butcher’s meat in England and Wales came from animals which had died of disease or were carrying considerably disease. And at the start of the nineteenth century butcher’s boys would deliver meat to the wealthier homes, carried on their heads, in baskets or trays, open to the heat and dirt of the day.

A butcher’s shop, by James Pollard

As the Industrial Revolution took hold, the British population grew, and so did the towns and cities. The nation became more dependent on imported and processed foods. The growing “middle classes” were acquiring a growing taste for tea, coffee, sugar, cocoa, and sauces and spices from around the world. The problem that the fictional Mr Woodhouse had been concerned about a few years earlier rapidly became a fact of life as the century progressed.

Coachman, seated, holding a tankard. Mezzotint by Ryley, printed in colours for John Bowles in London Feb. 1st, 1768

The “adulteration” of food and drink became increasingly commonplace. Producers, importers, merchants and sellers were all adding ingredients to increase bulk or “improve” appearance. The making of beer had more to do with chemistry than the brewing process. As Dr Richard Wetherby says, in my novel, Avon Street,

Have you any idea of how they adulterate the beer in the ale houses around Avon Street? It is full of foxglove, henbane, opium and God knows what other concoctions. They use chemicals so that they can water down the beer, keep its taste and appearance, but make it stronger, and still sell it cheaply.”

Cow Keeper’s Shop in London, 1825, George Scharf

Milk too, was often watered down, sometimes by as much as 50%. So common did the adulteration of food become that books on housekeeping routinely carried warnings and tests for detecting added chemicals like plaster of Paris. Mrs Beeton in prefacing a recipe for a popular anchovy paste warned against shop-bought pastes,

In six cases out of ten, the only portion of those preserved delicacies, that contains anything indicative of anchovies, is the paper label pasted on the bottle or pot, on which the word itself is printed.”

Typical coffee house, late 18th century

In 1851 The Lancet, medical journal, commissioned a doctor from the London Royal Free Hospital to examine the adulteration of thirty common foods. The study revealed that China tea contained 45% sand and dirt together with traces of sulphate of iron; lard contained carbonate of soda and caustic lime; coffee included chicory, mangel wurzel (root vegetable) sawdust, and acorns; cocoa and chocolate were coloured with earth and included arrowroot and Venetian lead; sweets (candy) were found to contain chromate of lead, sulphate of mercury and various other noxious flavourings and colourings. Red lead and other chemical colourings were found to be routinely used in foodstuffs such as “Red Leicester Cheese.”

Six pence a pound, fair cherryes

Even after the study was published the merchants, tradespeople and government were slow to respond. It was not until 1860 that the Adulteration Act was passed. Thankfully, technology and innovation helped in the interim. In 1857 a process for the mass production of ice was patented allowing foods to be better preserved and transported. The availability of canned goods also increased. The army had been supplied with canned foods since 1820, but the cans had to be opened with a chisel or a bayonet, until the can-opener was invented in 1858. As technology improved, mass-produced processed foods like soups, sauces, biscuits, chocolate, pickles and egg-powder became more popular and were prepared to more rigorous standards. And though the Adulteration Act was still largely resisted, in 1872 official inspectors were created with the power to test food and impose substantial fines. Quality and safety of food gradually improved, which I am sure would have pleased the fictional Mr Woodhouse.

Old Covent Garden market, 1825, Scharf

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Refrigerated milk cart, 19th c. This design, from the USA, used ice to keep the air temperature cool for the transport of milk. Holes in the compartments allowed air to circulate from where the ice compartments to the milk compartments.

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As a blogger who is curious about all things in Jane Austen’s world and customs in her past that might have influenced her, I am still amazed at how one tiny clue points to another until I land on a series of sites that open up a whole new topic. While history foodies probably know about the elaborate lengths that pastry chefs took to please their patrons, the visual results of a full banquet are simply astounding. I can only assume that Georgian taste buds were equally pleased.

Modern chef and historian, Ivan Day, recreated a feast from the past using sugar structures and porcelain figures to arrange a fanciful garden centerpieces for the table.

I already knew about The Prince Regent’s elaborate 1811 dinner at Carlton House, which was described as thus:

“Along the centre of the table about six inches above the surface, a canal of pure water continued flowing from a silver fountain beautifully constructed at the head of the table. Its banks were covered with green moss aquatic flowers; gold and silver fish swam and sported through the bubbling current, which produced a pleasing murmur where it fell, and formed a cascade at the outlet.” – The Gentleman’s Magazine, describing the Prince Regent’s fete at Carlton House, June 19, 1811 in honor of the exiled French royal family.

The great kitchen at the Prince Regent’s Pavilion at Brighton could accommodate creating dishes for huge and fanciful banquets.

So great was the interest that the doors of Carlton House were opened for three days in a row. But instead of satisfying the curiosity of the masses, the result was ever-increasing crowds. Chaos ensued.

‘The condescension of the Prince in extending the permission to view the arrangements for the late fete at Carlton House has nearly been attended with fatal consequences,’ reported one newspaper. Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1039063/As-Queen-opens-Palace-Ballroom-public-story-decadent-royal-banquet-ever.html#ixzz1s7ijkAEv

Detail of the design for an elaborate garden centerpiece. These engravings were showcased in Le Cannameliste Français by famed confectionary chef, Joseph Gilliers, in the mid-18th century. View the entire centerpiece here: Click on this link.

The banquet featured a recreation of a landscape at its center. Such a method of decorating a table was not new, especially when it came to desserts. Elaborate set pieces with architectural French influence were created for tables using spun sugar and Sevres bisque figures to create fantasy landscapes. Before the Napoleonic Wars, travel over the English Channel between British and French courtiers and diplomats was common, and thus the French chef’s custom of creating these elaborate centerpieces became well-known in England. Upper class households vied for highly paid (and desired) French chefs, and by the 1820s these gentlemen had by and large invaded British upper class kitchens. Their ability to create dishes that feasted both the eyes and the stomach was unrivaled.

 SEVRES BISCUIT FIGURES CIRCA 1755, Modeled after François Boucher. Image @Christies.

This was an era when confectionary was considered as much a branch of the decorative arts as of cuisine, and porcelain for the table represented prestige as well as a demonstration of power. The combination of French chef, porcelain, and fanciful confectionary desserts served as symbols of prestige and wealth, for no ordinary household could offer such an extravagant display of food and panoply. (View this porcelain table centerpiece set.)

Detail of Gilliers’ templates for cut outs.

Most of the images of the banquets and figurines are copyrighted. I encourage you to click on the links to view the spectacular results of sugar and porcelain table centerpieces that mimic gardens, sculptures, and figures based on famous paintings. The fanciful recreation included redesigning tables as well.

Modern version of Gilliers table. Image @Simon Beer.

Gilliers’ 1751 sketch of the table, plus seating.

Amy Hauft, VCU sculpture department. Confectioner Joseph Gilliers conceived his 100-seat rococo fantasy for the serving of a single course — dessert — in a garden setting. The centerpiece atop the tailored white tablecloth was to be a sculpture made of sugar paste fortified with dried sturgeon bladder. There is no record that this table was ever built by Gilliers. Image@Richmond Times Dispatch

More on this fascinating topic:

Ivan Day’s  pavilion made from a “pastillage sugar paste for an exhibition at the Met in NYC two years ago. They were exact replicas of ones made for Maria Theresa, the Empress of Austria in 1740. “

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