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Archive for November, 2015

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Cooking With Jane Austen, Kirstin Olsen

What can be a better way to celebrate fall and the Thanksgiving holiday than to examine a recipe or two from Kirstin Olsen’s 2005 book, Cooking with Jane Austen? – spending time with family and friends and sharing the food!

I’ll just get my two major complaints about the book out of the way. The font is difficult to read – too fancy for my taste – and the book’s cost: $55.00. I found my copy (in excellent shape) via second hand means, which I recommend.

Now, for the good news. While we know that Jane Austen was spare in her descriptions of food, interiors, and clothing in her novels, she provided enough hints for Ms. Olsen to peruse cookery books of that era. Using a variety of sources, Ms. Olsen found recipes similar and close to those she thought Jane might have known. Elizabeth Raffald’s and Hannah Glasse’s recipes are consulted, as well as those from John Farley, Martha Bradley, and more. Ms. Olsen provides historical context at the start of her book and with each recipe category. Even if you never try out one of the recipes, you can glean much information for your personal interest or to add authenticity to a novel you are writing.

Turnip_Elizabeth Blackwell

Illustration by Elizabeth Blackwell

Boiled Turnips

This recipe for boiled turnips begins with a quote from Mr Woodhouse in Emma (172)

An historic explanation of the popularization of the turnip follows, with a typical description of a recipe from an 18th century cookery book:

Turnips may be boiled in the pot with the meat, and indeed eat best when so done. When they be enough, take them out, put them in a pan, mash them with butter and a little salt, and in that state send them to the table…

Ms. Olsen then provides the modern recipe for today’ cook, which is extremely useful for those of us who wish to recreate a regency meal for our Jane Austen book clubs.

Modern Recipe for Boiled Turnips

1 lb turnips, 3 T. butter, 1 tsp. salt.

Wash and peel the turnips and trim off the tops an bottom. Cut them into 1″ dice. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and add the turnips, boiling them until fork-tender, about 15 minutes. Mash the turnips with the butter and salt and serve immediately. (Olsen, p 216)

For my taste, I would prefer boiling the turnips with the meat, as suggested in the 18th century description, much as I prefer making stuffing inside the turkey over making the stuffing separately in the oven. The bird’s natural fat and juices add much more flavor, don’t you think?

Roast Stubble Goose

Goose_thehistoricfoodie

Roast Stubble Goose image found on The Historic Foodie blog

Here’s another recipe to celebrate this season and holiday – Roast Stubble Goose. It starts off  with a quotation from Emma, a novel filled with references to food. (Thank you, Jane.)

Mrs. Martin was so very kind as to send Mrs. Goddard a beautiful goose: the finest goose Mrs. Goddard had ever seen. Mrs. Goddard had dressed it on a Sunday, and asked all the three teachers, Miss Nash, and Miss Prince, and Miss Richardson, to sup with her. (Emma 28-29.)

Ms. Olsen tells us that a stubble goose is an older bird that fattened on harvest gleanings. In Jane Austen’s time, it was traditionally served with applesauce.

Elizabeth Raffald’s recipe for Roasted Stubble Goose starts with:

Chop a few sage leaves and two onions very fine; mix them with a good lump of butter, a teaspoonful of pepper and two of salt. Put it in your goose, then spit it and lay it down, singe it well, dust it with flour; when it is thoroughly hot baste it with fresh butter…

In this section of Cooking With Jane Austen (p 121-126), Ms. Olsen offers old and modern recipes for roast stubble goose, roast green goose, goose with mustard, and roast turkey. The book consists of 414 pages, so there are numerous recipes to try.

Other Jane Austen themed food books that I love include: Tea With Jane Austen by Kim Wilson and The Jane Austen Cookbook by Maggie Black and Dierdre le Faye, both still readily available. Also on this blog: 18th Century Cookery Books and the British Housewife and a review of Jane Austen and Food by Maggie Lane.

To all my U.S. readers, have a splendid Thanksgiving holiday. While we are thankful for our lives, family, and friends, please give a special thank you to the animals who were sacrificed to nourish us. They “gave” up their most precious gift – their lives.

chickens and pigeons 18th c.

Chickens and pigeons, 18th c. painting

 

 

 

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India shawl made of cotton, silk, and gold thread. 1790-1800, Napoleon-fashion.com

India shawl made of cotton, silk, and gold thread. 1790-1800, Napoleon-fashion.com

Indian influence on Regency dress included fine Indian muslin, used for dresses and cravats, and beautiful, expensive hand-loomed shawls. During the late 18th-early 19th century, an unprecedented number of Indian cloths, made of quality fabrics, were exported to Britain. These cloths were expressly made for the British market, with colors and chintz patterns toned down to appeal to the more restrained British taste.

While cheaper and inferior imitation paisley shawls were increasingly made in Great Britain (by 1821, shawls made in British locations like Spitalfields and Scottland would overtake the Indian exports in numbers sold), the authentic Indian shawl was highly prized for its quality, cost, and prestige. These shawls were so popular with those who could afford them that they were presented to friends and family members by merchants, soldiers, and visitors returning from the East Indies. Made of durable cloth, they were carefully handled and handed down from mother to daughter and aunt to niece over the years.

Shawls not only added prestige and style to a lady’s wardrobe, they served other functions, such as color and pattern. They definitely added warmth to the thin, gauzy, almost transparent muslin gowns that became so popular at the turn of the 19th century. The shawls lent themselves to other uses as well.

Lady Hamilton, Lord Horatio Nelson mistress, used the shawls to great effect for her “Attitudes,” as described by Mrs. St. George, who had the occasion to witness several of her performances.

From their book Drawings Faithfully Copied from Nature at Naples by Friedrich Rehberg, Engraver and Tommaso Piroli, Illustrator, 1794 4

From their book Drawings Faithfully Copied from Nature at Naples by Friedrich Rehberg, Engraver and Tommaso Piroli, Illustrator, 1794 4

She assumes their attitude expression, and drapery with great facility, swiftness, and accuracy. Several Indian shawls, a chair, some antique vases,  a wreath of roses, a tambourine, and a few children are her whole apparatus. She stands at one end of the room, with a strong light to her left, and every other window closed. Her hair (which by-the-bye) is never clean is short, dressed like an antique, and her gown a simple calico chemise, very easy, with loose sleeves to the wrist. She disposes the shawls so as to form Grecian, Turkish, and other drapery, as well as a variety of turbans. Her arrangement of the turbans is absolute sleight of hand, she does it so quickly, so easily, and so well. It is a beautiful performance, amusing to the most ignorant, and highly interesting to lovers of art. The chief of her imitations are from the antique. Each representation lasts about ten minutes. It is remarkable that, though coarse and ungraceful in common life, she becomes highly graceful, and even beautiful, during this performance. It is also singular that, in spite of the accuracy of her imitation of the finest ancient draperies, her usual dress is tasteless, vulgar, loaded, and unbecoming. – Account by Mrs. St. George, Wit, Beaux, and Beauties of the Georgian Era, John Fyvie, 1909, pp 335-336.

As I collected Pinterest images of fashion plates of elegant ladies and their shawls, I saw how much elegance and beauty these accessories added to a woman’s arm and hand gestures. The artists who drew the fashion plates were certainly aware of these effects. I have created a short gallery of an example of the beauty that shawls added to a woman’s figure and fashion statement. Enjoy.

More on the topic:

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Cassandra Austen

Cassandra Austen in old age

Jane Austen’s family was not rich, by any means, but the family was genteel and belonged to the English gentry. Rev. Austen earned a respectable living as a rector at Steventon rectory. His wife, Cassandra, was a close relative of Theophilus Leigh, head master of Balliol College. She was also a relation of the Leighs of Stoneleigh Abbey, a most impressive and well-regarded family.

When handsome Miss Leigh married the very handsome Mr. George Austen, her life became no picnic. After his marriage, Mr. Austen took to farming with a spirit. This meant that while he enjoyed the prestige of becoming a gentleman farmer, Mrs. Austen took over the daily charge of the dairy with a bull and six cows, plus ducks, chicken, guinea-fowl and turkeys, the vegetables that were grown in the garden, the honey used for mead, and the home-made wines.

Steventon Rectory, Images from BBC

Steventon Rectory, Images from BBC

Any surplus allowed the Austen family to sell the produce for a profit. Under Mrs.Austen’s supervision during Jane’s childhood and spinsterhood years, only tea, coffee, chocolate, spices sugar, and other luxury foods were purchased. As James Edward Austen-Leigh wrote in 1870 in his Memoir of Jane Austen,

I am sure that the ladies there [Steventon] had nothing to do with the mysteries of the stew-pot or the preserving pan;but it is probable that their way of life differed a little from ours, and would have appeared to us more homely.”

As with many wives of her station, Mrs. Austen accepted her role as the family’s housekeeper. However, she relied on servants, such as a cook and maid of all work to actually do the “hard” work, such as cooking, cleaning, laundry, and general sewing. While her servants performed the tasks, Mrs. Austen determined the duties of the day, much like a general manager. She met daily with her cook to superintend the meals of the day. There were also a dairy maid and a washer woman, who came once a month. Cassandra Austen’s other important tasks were to train her daughters in the art of overseeing a household.

Susanna Whatman shortly after her marriage

Susanna Whatman shortly after her marriage

Susanna Whatman was a contemporary of Mrs. Austen. Born in 1752, she was married to James Whatman, a papermaker. Shortly after her marriage in 1776, she wrote a housekeeping book to instruct her servants and offer advice about housekeeping duties and domestic life.

The following passage of her advice is of particular interest. Rev. Austen kept an extensive library, much like Mr. Bennet in Pride and Prejudice. In this instance, Mrs. Whatman instructs the housemaid to clean the library.

The sun comes into the Library very early. The window on that side of the bow must have the blind let down. The painted chairs must not be knocked against anything, or against one another. A chair must not be placed against the door that goes into Mr. Whatman’s Dressingroom. All the space between the daydo and skirting board is plaister. Therefore, if it is knocked, it will break. The books are not to be meddled with, but they may be dusted as far as a wing of a goose* will go. Nothing put behind the door besides the ladder. Tea leaves* used on the carpet in this room, Drawingroom, and Eating Parlor, and Mrs. Whatman’s Dressingroom, no where else.

*wing of a goose – dusters were made with goose feathers from their wings.

**During the Georgian era, carpets were sprinkled with moist tea leaves and cleaned with a hair broom.

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