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Posts Tagged ‘Regency food’

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.

More About the Topic

Wedgewood. Victorian scene of an elder wine stand

Wedgewood. Victorian scene of an elder wine stand

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Poor Miss Manners is always having to explains why Americans hold forks in their right hands as opposed to Europeans, who use their left hand to spear their food. Have American table manners deteriorated? Or are we following an historic tradition?

Image @Silver Collect Blog*

To answer that question we need to go back to ancient times when two-tined kitchen forks were used to help carve and serve meat. (We still require the assistance of large two-tined forks when barbecuing foods on a gas or coal grill.) In the 7th century the people in the Middle East began to use forks when dining, and by the 10th through the 11th centuries such usage had become quite common. The Italians were introduced to the fork in the 11th century.

One tale of the introduction of the fork to Western Europe credits Maria Argyropoulina, the Greek niece of Byzantine Emperor Basil II, who brought a case of golden forks to Venice in 1004, when she was to be married to the son of the Doge. She shocked guests at the wedding feast by using a fork, leading one priest to comment, “God in his wisdom has provided man with natural forks — his fingers. Therefore it is an insult to Him to substitute artificial metal forks for them when eating.” Italian clerics viewed it as God’s vengeance when Argyropoulina died of the plague two years later. – Early British Table Silver: A Short History

Image @Silver Collect Blog

It took 500 years for the implement to be used widely in that land. The French had their first look at the fork in 1533 when Catherine de Medici brought them from Italy upon the occasion of her marriage. The fork was at first thought to be an affectation, thus its adoption was slow, as it was in England after Thomas Coryate brought the implement back in 1608 from one of his travels to Italy. He observed that at their meals Italians  “use a little forks when they cut the meats.” Early table forks were small and two-pronged, but the sharp straight tines were unable to hold much food, inspiring mockery.  “Why should a person need a fork when God had given him hands?” one Englishman asked. (History of the Fork).  Ben Johnson satirized the fork in 1616 in The Devil is an Ass for “the sparing of napkins.”

One wonders how the Europeans ate their food without a fork. If you’ve ever attended a reproduction of a medieval banquet you have an idea. People used knives to spear food, spoons to scoop up, and fingers to grab. Only one implement was used at a time, and it was held in the right hand.

Slowly but surely the fork began to make inroads upon the dining table. As is the usual case, the wealthy began to adopt the new implement first. The upper crust began to impress their guests with forks made of expensive materials. Called suckett forks, they were used to protect the hands from sticky and messy foods or foods that stained the hands, like mulberries. By the mid 1600s, forks had become luxury items and were considered to be marks of fashion.   At the end of the 17th century and beginning of the 18th century the three-tined fork was introduced. The “sherbet course”, introduced in the early 1700’s, was created to wash the single fork for the next course.” (The History of the Fork)

Image @Silver Collect Blog*

Four-tined prongs became popular in the 1750s.  These tines were curved and served as a scoop, reducing the need for the spoon. By the time Jane Austen and her family had moved from Steventon to Bath, the four-tined fork was also being made in Germany and England and had traveled to the Americas. In the mid 19th century specialized forks were produced for every kind of food, including cakes and fish.

Table fork, 1771

This short history still does not explain why Americans and Europeans hold their forks in different hands. History Matters: Cutlery provides an insight:

Cardinal Richelieu of France supposedly was so disgusted by a frequent dinner guest’s habit of picking his teeth with his knife that he had the tips of the man’s knives ground down. The fashion-conscious French court picked up on this style and followed suit. In 1699, to reduce the risk of dinnertime knife fights, French King Louis XIV banned pointed knives outright. Since blunted knives were useless for spearing food in the old two-knife dining style, forks replaced the knife held in the left hand.

The newfangled blunt knives reached the American colonies in the early 1700s, where few forks were available. Americans were forced to use upside-down spoons to steady food for cutting. They would then switch the spoon to the right hand, flipping it to use as a scoop. Even after forks became everyday utensils, this “zigzag” style (as Emily Post called it in the 1920s) continues to divide American eaters’ customs from the Continental style of dining. (Shifting the fork to the right hand after cutting is considered uncouth by Europeans.) – (This passage seems to have used The Uncommon Origins of the Common Fork as its source.)

18th C. flesh forks for broiling meat

In a recent Washington Post advice column, Miss Manners contends that Americans follow the correct European way of eating centuries ago and that it was the Europeans who sped things up by keeping the fork in the left hand as they cut their food with the right hand. She concludes her advice with this thought:

Those who point out that the European manner is more efficient are right. Those who claim it is older or more sophisticated — etiquette has never considered getting food into the mouth faster a mark of refinement — are wrong. – Miss Manners: Fork’s History is not a big Mystery

Silver serving fork, 1825

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I am at a conference for the rest of the week. Workshops begin at 8:30 AM. Working backwards, this means I must be up by 5 AM to get washed and dressed, eat breakfast, drive to the training site, set up the workshop room, and be ready to greet participants (without a bleary eye) by 8:15 AM.

Upon reading my statements, early morning risers will think, “What’s so strange about that?” But for those of us who were meant to keep Regency hours, this schedule is akin to torture. I would much have preferred Jane Austen’s hours.

How the English during the Regency era spent their mornings depended on their status. The schedule of the modern day trainer or worker is, in fact, one that a servant in the 19th century would have kept, rising at dawn to haul and boil water, stoke the fires, and get the house in shape before the gentry arose. Unlike  19th century  servants, modern day folks generally eat breakfast before the workday begins. Servants, who had been toiling for at least 3-4 hours making the house ready for the day and tending to the family’s needs, would not break their fast until after the family’s breakfast dishes had been cleared and rinsed.

Ladies in their morning gowns at breakfast. Heideloff, 1794. Image @Fashion Gallery

Mrs. Bennet or Mr. Knightley, both country gentlemen, would rise earlier than their city counterparts, who kept later more fashionable hours. Upon rising at 7 AM, Jane Austen, for example, would not immediately sit down to breakfast. She would write letters or practice on the piano, walk in the garden to pick flowers, or even go into the village to run a short errand before sitting down with her family at 9 AM to partake of a simple breakfast consisting of rolls, breads, butter, preserves, and tea or a pot of hot chocolate. If she were on vacation or at the seaside, she might take a leisurely stroll to the beach or point of interest before partaking of the morning meal at an inn.

Mr. Darcy and Miss Bingley interrupted at breakfast, Pride and Prejudice 2005

Lady Bertram, whose day revolved around pleasing herself, would in all likelihood arise from her bed much later than Jane and remain in her dressing room with her maid until she was suitably dressed. Before breakfast, she would also consult with her housekeeper about the household plans for the day, giving her instructions to relay to the cook about the day’s meals. She might write letters in her boudoir and emerge in her morning gown and cap to eat breakfast with her family, or perhaps have it sent to her rooms on a tray.

Sir Thomas Bertram or Mr. Knightley would also delay breakfast. They might consult with their bailiffs, or check out a new horse at the stable before consuming their morning meal. General Tilney stuck to a strict schedule and had the family eat breakfast at nine. The Middletons, whose house was always filled with guests, ate breakfast at Barton Park around 10 AM. Some families sat down together, while others strolled in during a certain set time, say between 10 and 11 AM let’s say, to help themselves from dishes placed on a sideboard. One imagines that the Tilneys observed the former practice, whereas Mr. Bingley and the Middletons allowed people to wander into the breakfast room at their own pleasure. Edward Austen Knight, Jane’s rich brother, had breakfast served at 10 AM, and expected the entire family to be at the table.

By 11:30 AM, breakfast service was generally over. Town times were much different, and meals were served at a later, more fashionable hour. Often the very fashionable would stick to those hours even when in the country. Lizzie Bennet walked 3 miles to Netherfield Park after breakfast to be with her sick sister, Jane, only to encounter Mr. Bingley’s town guests just sitting down to breakfast over an hour later.

Regency family eating a meal together

The Regency definition of morning differed vastly from ours. Visiting hours were kept at set times. A family might receive visitors on Tuesdays and Thursdays, for example, or on Wednesday, between 11 AM to 3 PM. These hours were considered morning hours. When Anne Elliot arrived at Uppercross Cottage at 1:00 PM, she considered the time to be early in the morning.

Regency ladies wore morning gowns when they were at home. If a lady had no plans to go visiting or receive visitors, and simply stayed at home, she would wear her morning gown well past the hour of three, not bothering to change until dinner, when she was expected to dress more formally. Morning gowns could be made of simple dimity gowns covered by a pinafore if the lady, like Elinor Dashwood or Cassandra Austen at Chawton Cottage, was working in the kitchen or garden, or the gown could be made of finer stuff, like a delicate muslin. Ladies in morning gowns could be seen by family and guests, but they would never dare set foot in public while wearing one.

I must admit to liking Regency hours. On the weekends or on vacations, I rise late and will lounge for hours in my study/dressing room, reading or writing for my blog while sipping coffee. I’ll throw on some clothes and walk my dog Cody, and afterwards will make breakfast. I’ll then hang around the house in my ratty lounge wear, doing a little of this and a little of that, before donning more respectable garments to receive visitors, go out and shop, or visit with friends and family. If I am home all day, I’ll stay in my frayed jeans and tee shirt.

Would that my daily schedule resembled my weekend schedule! But, alas, I must work to earn my dog’s kibbles. The clock tells me I must get dressed now and be out of the door in half an hour. The powers that be decreed that our work day starts anywhere between 7 and 9 AM (even earlier for many). Obviously, considering those hours, our bosses view us more as servants than as revered guests.

I, for one, was meant to be a lady of leisure. Perhaps I shall be reincarnated as one?

More on the topic:

Sources:
Wilson, Kim. Tea With Jane Austen. Frances Lincoln LTD, ISBN: 9780711231894
Le Faye, Deirdre. Jane Austen: The World of her novels, Frances Lincoldn LTD, ISBN: 9780711222786

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A Receipt for a Pudding

Contributed by Mrs. Cassandra Austen (Jane’s mother) to Martha Lloyd’s collection of recipes, 1808. As this recipe attests, Jane Austen came by her talent honestly. For amusement, her family wrote riddles, charades, poems, and plays for each other. Mrs. Austen excelled at poetry to the extent that one can easily follow her recipe in rhyme.

Puddings, Mrs. Beeton

If the vicar you treat,
You must give him to eat,
A pudding to hit his affection;
And to make his repast,
By the canon of taste,
Be the present receipt your direction.

First take two pounds of Bread,
Be the crumb only weigh’d,
For the crust the good house-wife refuses;
The proportion you’ll guess,
May be made more or less,
To the size that each family chuses.

Then its sweetness to make
Some currants you take
And Sugar of each half a pound
Be not butter forgot
And the quantity sought
Must the same with your currants be found

Cloves & mace you will want,
With rose water I grant,
And more savory things if well chosen;
Then to bind each ingredient,
You’ll find it expedient,
Of Eggs to put in half a dozen.

Some milk dont refuse it,
But boiled ere you use it,
A proper hint this for its maker;
And the whole when compleat,
In a pan clean and neat,
With care recommend to the baker.

In praise of this pudding,
I vouch it a good one,
Or should you suspect a fond word;
To every Guest,
Perhaps it is best,
Two puddings should smoke on the board.

Two puddings! – yet – no,
For if one will do,
The other comes in out of season;
And these lines but obey,
Nor can anyone say,
That this pudding’s with-out rhyme or reason

Jean at Delightful Repast has created a modern interpretation of this bread pudding. It looks so delicious, I think I shall try it at my next Janeites meeting! Click on the link for the recipe. Thank you for sharing, Jean!

Jean's bread pudding

Bread and Butter Pudding, also called simply “bread pudding,” is a dessert that has been a first for many of my dinner guests. Since I grew up with it, I’m always amazed when people tell me they’ve never had it before. They always like it and think it was something very difficult and time-consuming to make, when actually it is quite the opposite (Isn’t that what every hostess aims for!).

If you are a Jane Austen aficionado, you may have read her mother’s recipe, written in rhyme. My recipe makes about a fourth the quantity of Mrs. Austen’s and uses proportionately less sugar and butter and more eggs. Also, I skip the cloves and rosewater–the cloves because so many people don’t like them and the rosewater because I seldom have it on hand.

Sometimes I serve it with custard sauce, sometimes with my Banana-Pecan Rum Sauce (see below), but this time I served it with softly whipped cream sweetened with a drop of real maple syrup.

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Inquiring Readers: This is the third of four posts in honor for Pride and Prejudice Without Zombies, Austenprose’s in-depth reading of Pride and Prejudice. My first post discussed Dressing for the Netherfield Ball and my second post talked about the dances. This post discusses the suppers served during Jane Austen’s era, and concentrates on what kinds of food and drink might have been served at the Netherfield Ball.

“As for the ball, it is quite a settled thing; and as soon as Nicholls has made white soup enough I shall send round my cards.” – Charles Bingley, Pride and Prejudice

Mr & Mrs Bennet sit down to supper. Notice the lavish bowl of fruit.

The sit-down supper served at the Netherfield Ball in Pride and Prejudice probably occurred around midnight. By that time, people would be famished after their physical exertions or from playing cards nonstop in the card room. They had most likely eaten their dinner between 3-5 p.m. (earlier in the country, and later in Town). Dinners consisted of between 5-16 dishes and could last several hours. The best families would serve up two courses, for a meal’s lavishness depended on the number of courses and dishes that were served. Dishes representing a range of foods, from soups to vegetables and meats, would be spread over the table in a pleasing arrangement and would be set down at the beginning of the meal.

Large Derby porcelain supper dish from Ruby Lane

It is conjectured that by the time the covered dishes arrived from the kitchen and the family and guests were seated, the food had turned cold. Diners would be confined to eating from the dishes placed closest to them. In the Bill of Fare from the Universal Cook, 1792 (Francis Collingwood and John Woollams) one can see the foods that were available in November.

Bill of Fare, November 1792

The evening meal, which also included a dessert course, lasted as long as two hours, leaving the diners sated. Suppers were therefore served quite late and were simple and small in comparison. Often called a “tea board”, this small repast was frequently served on a tray between 10-11 p.m. If more than one person was hungry, a cloth would be laid on a small table, not the dining table, and a limited assortment of cakes, tarts, biscuits, pastries, jellies, cheeses, cold meats, sandwiches, savories, salad, dessert, or local fruits – whatever was at hand – would be made available. (One can imagine how tired the servants must have been, rising early as they did.)

Mr. Darcy observes the Bennet family during supper and is accosted by Mr. Collins

Suppers served at private balls were an entirely different matter for they reflected on the splendor of the event. Balls generally began at 8-9 p.m. and the dancers sat down to a lavish spread at 11 p.m. or midnight. A gentleman accompanied his dance partner into the supper room, which makes one think that it would have been wise for a suitor who wished to further his acquaintance with a young lady to reserve a dance just before the meal.

Jane and Elizabeth at supper

Mr. Bingley most likely served a sumptuous supper on a magnificent table set with his finest china and silver. The food would consist of white soup, which during this time was made with veal stock, cream, and almonds; cold meats, such as chicken or sliced ham; poached salmon; glazed carrots and other seasonal vegetables; salads; fresh fruits;biscuits;dry cake (which meant unfrosted cake, like the pound cake recipe from the Delightful Repast at the bottom of this post); cheeses; short-bread cookies; pies; ice-cream; and trifles. One must not forget that during this period cockscombs and testicles were considered delicacies, and that bone marrow was routinely added to pies for richness. (Fancy Tripe or Trotters for Supper?)

Kitty and Lydia tippling, Netherfield Ball, P&P 2005

Drinks of tea, coffee, lemonade, white wine claret, and red wine (sweet madeira wine was especially popular) were served. Regency cups were filled with punch, negus (wine mixed with hot water, lemon and nougat); orgeat (made with a sweet syrup of orange and almonds); or ratafia (a sweet cordial flavored with fruit or almonds). Port was reserved for gentlemen, though I am not sure that they were allowed to imbibe this liquor in front of the ladies.

A footman holds a tray of drinks, Netherfield Ball, P&P 2005

A private midnight supper at Netherfield was a more splendid affair than the suppers served up at the weekly Wednesday night balls at Almack’s. These subcription dances coincided with the three months of the London social season. Alcohol was not served to discourage drunkenness among gentlemen, who were known to imbibe several bottles of wine per day, and only an assortment of thinly sliced stale bread (which was a day old), dry cakes, lemonade and tea were provided. Simpler balls given by hosts who were not as rich as Mr. Bingley  might offer a little bit of hot supper consisting of six dishes, including salad, dessert, and fruit, and coffee, tea, lemonade and wine.

Trifle, The Delightful Repast

The links to the two recipes in this post were created expressly for us by Jean at The Delightful Repast. The pound cake (dry cake) recipe is one that even I am able to attempt with some success, and Jean’s solution of serving trifle in individual dessert dishes is sheer genius.

The last to leave the Netherfield Ball. Kitty and Lydia sleeping off their drinking. P&P 2005

The Food Timeline shows when meals were served during the Georgian and Regency periods, and how the hours changed.

  • 1780: Breakfast 10AM; Dinner 3-5PM, Tea 7PM, Supper 10-11PM
  • 1815: Breakfast 10AM (leisurely), 9AM (less leisurely), 8AM (working people); Luncheon Midday; Dinner 3-5PM; Supper 10-11PM
  • 1835: Breakfast, before 9AM; Luncheon (ladies only) Midday; Dinner 6-8PM; Supper depending upon the timing and substantiality of dinner

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Making traditional black butter

Inquiring readers: Reader Cora Harrison recently placed this comment on my blog: “In one letter, Jane [Austen] spoke of serving ‘black butter’ with wigeon and that she thought the butter was bad … Poor Jane, I thought. However, in reading a book called The Feast of Christmas I discovered that black butter was not butter at all, but what I would call a fruit cheese, made from equal quantities of apples, blackcurrants or blackberries and less sugar, and then boiled until it sets – and of course, the colour would be black!”

Her comment so intrigued me, that I decided to look up the topic. Jane wrote to her sister on December 27, 1808:

The first pot [of black butter] was opened when Frank and Mary were here, and proved not at all what it ought to be; it was neither solid nor entirely sweet, and on seeing it Eliza remembered that Miss Austen had said she did not think it had been boiled enough. It was made, you know, when we were absent. Such being the event of the first pot, I would not save the second, and we therefore ate it in unpretending privacy; and though not what it ought to be, part of it was very good.”

The recipe for making black butter, or apple butter as it is commonly known today, harkens back to medieval times. After the winter crop was picked, the preserve was made in huge quantities. In the 18th century, twenty percent of Jersey’s arable land was made up of orchards, and the tradition of producing ‘black butter’ or ‘Le Niere Buerre’ became an annual social  and festive occasion.  Jersey black butter was made from cider apples that were slowly boiled over a fire. Women would peel hundreds of pounds of apples, while the men and children would gather enough wood to keep the fire going for almost two days. After the cider was ‘reduced’ by half, apples, sugar, lemon, liquorice and spices were added. The Jersey tradition of making black butter included singing, dancing, and storytelling all through the night and until early morning. Jersey Island black butter is characterized by the addition of liquorice, which made the preserve quite dark. – RecipeZaar & BBC Jersey Black Butter.

According to Food Legends, black butter “contains no butter, the butter in the name being like the cheese in lemon cheese, more a description of the consistency and application of the product than anything else; and second, it is not really black, indeed a great deal of effort goes into avoiding the burning that would change the dark brown mass to black.” The following is likely Jane Austen’s recipe for Black Butter. Traditionally, the preserve is spread on bread, or it can be eaten by itself:

    Take 4 pounds of full ripe apples, and peel and core them. Meanwhile put into a pan 2 pints of sweet cider, and boil until it reduces by half. Put the apples, chopped small, to the cider. Cook slowly stirring frequently, until the fruit is tender, as you can crush beneath the back of a spoon. Then work the apple through a sieve, and return to the pan adding 1lb beaten (granulated) sugar and spices as following, 1 teaspoon clove well ground, 2 teaspoons cinnamon well ground, 1 saltspoon allspice well ground. Cook over low fire for about ¾ hour, stirring until mixture thickens and turns a rich brown. Pour the butter into into small clean jars, and cover with clarified butter when cold. Seal and keep for three months before using. By this time the butter will have turned almost black, and have a most delicious flavour. – Copyright Maria Hubert von Staufer March 1995

Black butter on bread

This recipe, which Cora must have at first thought Jane Austen was referring to, is a black butter that is generally served with fish, such as skate or salmon:

Black Butter: Put into a frying pan the necessary amount of butter, and cook it until it has a brown color and begins to smoke. At this moment add a large pinch of concassed parsley leaves and spread it immediately over the object to be treated. - Chest of Books

More on the topic:

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The Cooks and Confectioners Dictionary, Or, The Accomplish’d Housewifes Companion, By John Nott, Published by Printed for C. Rivington at the Bible and Crown, in St. Paul’s Church-yard, 1723

food-18thJohn Nott, the chef for the Duke of Bolton, who resided in St. Jamess’s Street, wrote this charming introduction to his cookbook, which was published in 1723 and is now in the public domain. A learned man, Nott’s French inspired recipes show that vegetables, such as carrots and new varieties of asparagus and spinach, which were brought from overseas, were becoming more plentiful on tables. He also makes frequent mention of marmalades, blanc-manges, creams, biscuits, and sweet cakes.* The cookbook includes two peacock recipes and a collection of 13 red currant recipes.

He seems to have been a fairly-read and intelligent man, and cites, in the course of his work, many celebrated names and receipts. Thus we have:—To brew ale Sir Jonas Moore’s way; to make Dr. Butler’s purging ale; ale of health and strength, by the Viscount St. Albans; almond butter the Cambridge way; to dress a leg of mutton à la Dauphine; to dress mutton the Turkish way; to stew a pike the City way. Dr. Twin’s, Dr. Blacksmith’s, and Dr. Atkin’s almond butter; an amber pudding, according to the Lord Conway’s receipt; the Countess of Rutland’s Banbury cake; to make Oxford cake; to make Portugal cakes; and so on.- Old Cookery Books, W. Carew Hazlitt, 1902

In regard to the cookbook’s title, it is interesting to note that an extravagant use of sugar in recipes was a sign of the wealth and status, as sugar remained a luxury item for most people until well into the 19th century.** Nott told hostesses who served desserts (there should be as many dishes of dessert as courses offered) to make the table arrangement perfectly symmetrical in design and color, and provided an illustration of the ideal dessert “pyramid”.

Nott included bills of fare for every month of the year. Below is the one he created for January. Note the absence of vegetables.


The Cooks and Confectioners Dictionary, Or, The Accomplish’d Housewifes Companion By John Nott, cook John Nott

Nott’s 18th Century Recipe for Hot Milk Chocolate (said to be rich and delicious):

1 quart milk
4 ounces chocolate without sugar
1/8 ounce fine sugar
1/8 ounce flour or starch
Salt to taste

Mix, dissolve and bring to a boil before serving hot.

Nott’s recipe for a posset, the 18th century version of a nightcap:

“To make a posset: set a quart of milk on the fire; as soon as it boils, take it off, and set it to cool a little; then, having put four spoonfuls of sack [sherry] and eight of ale into a basin with a sufficient quantity of sugar, pour your milk to it; then set it before the fire and let it stand till you eat it.”

More links:

  • Find a recipe at this Historic Foods link for Nott’s lamb pasty and pasty crust. In this 1720’s recipe, the design for the crust was created by Edward Kidder.

*Old Cookery Books and Ancient Cuisine By William Carew Hazlitt, p 49

**Savoring the Past, Shax Riegler


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