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Archive for November, 2019

turkey for roasting

Image from The Frugal Housewife, 1796

Every November,  scores of American families sit down to Thanksgiving dinner, a tradition followed for almost 400 years in the New World. The main dish of this celebratory feast is a turkey, stuffed and roasted to perfection.

In the 18th century, The Frugal Housewife, or Complete Woman Cook, a cookery book written by Susannah Carter and published first in England and then in Philadelphia in 1796, must have influenced large numbers of colonial cooks, since Mrs. Carter’s books were hugely popular. Recipes back then were not given the precise directions modern cooks are accustomed to, but one can imagine that  Mrs. Carter’s contemporaries would have no trouble following her specifications.

roast turkey-frugal housewife

American colonialists most likely used the following Carter recipe, when chestnut trees were abundant in the east and before a fungal blight decimated them. Chestnuts were used in the stuffing, as well as the gravy.

turkey with chestnuts

Dishes accompanying the turkey included fruits and vegetables plentiful in the new world – sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, turnips, cabbage, tomatoes, corn, cranberry sauce, current jelly, pumpkin and peach pies, stewed apples, and more, such as fowl or fish, or anything seasonal that was at hand.

Photo of a slice of pumpkin pie and vanilla ice cream.

Pumpkin pie and vanilla ice cream. Image © Vic Sanborn.

My memory of a hot slice of pumpkin pie and a dollop of cold vanilla ice cream will always be tied to Thanksgiving.  Ices have had a long history in Europe and the New World Thomas Jefferson recorded his recipe for vanilla ice cream by hand. It is well known that he traveled to France, where ice cream recipes appeared in cookery books since the 17th century. While Jefferson did not introduce ice cream to the U.S. (it was consumed in England throughout the Georgian period), he helped to popularize the dessert by serving it during his presidency. (Ice Cream, an article courtesy of the Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia, downloaded 11/28/2019 at https://www.monticello.org/site/research-and-collections/ice-cream)

Thomas Jefferson’s Vanilla Ice Cream Recipe
(Recipe translation from the Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia)

2. bottles of good cream.
6. yolks of eggs.
1/2 lb. sugar

mix the yolks & sugar
put the cream on a fire in a casserole, first putting in a stick of Vanilla.
when near boiling take it off & pour it gently into the mixture of eggs & sugar.
stir it well.
put it on the fire again stirring it thoroughly with a spoon to prevent it’s sticking to the casserole.

sabottiere

Sabottiere

when near boiling take it off and strain it thro’ a towel.
put it in the Sabottiere14
then set it in ice an hour before it is to be served. put into the ice a handful of salt.
put salt on the coverlid of the Sabotiere & cover the whole with ice.
leave it still half a quarter of an hour.
then turn the Sabottiere in the ice 10 minutes
open it to loosen with a spatula the ice from the inner sides of the Sabotiere.
shut it & replace it in the ice
open it from time to time to detach the ice from the sides
when well taken (prise) stir it well with the Spatula.
put it in moulds, justling it well down on the knee.
then put the mould into the same bucket of ice.
leave it there to the moment of serving it.
to withdraw it, immerse the mould in warm water, turning it well till it will come out & turn it into a plate.15

While at Godmersham (Edward Austen Knight’s estate), Jane Austen wrote:

But in the meantime for Elegance & Ease & Luxury . . . I shall eat Ice & drink French wine, & be above Vulgar Economy. 

I can’t help but think that the elegance and ease she experienced must have been similar to the scene below, where a side table is set to serve ices and wine to an assembled group. Our family had a lovely time together. We wish the same good time for all.

027

Georgian ices as served in early 19th c. America. Image © Vic Sanborn: Hampton Mansion, MD.

Top 14 images of Georgian ices in Google search.

google search ice cream

This blog’s posts tagged Georgian Ices and ice cream

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BrideofNorthangerBirchallInquiring readers, I’ve met Diana Birchall on only a few occasions, but during those times we became fast friends. Her blog, “Bright and Sparkling” describes her conversational and writing styles to a tee. This interview is one prime example of a typical conversation one might have with Diana. Enjoy!

Diana, my dear, please explain to this uninformed dullish reader your genuine love for Henry Tilney. I am truly curious, for he leaves me *ahem* somewhat cold. His attraction towards the nubile, but very young and innocent Catherine mystifies me. Educate me, please!

Uninformed!  Dullish!  You!  Oh, how can you say so? In the words of John Thorpe in Northanger Abbey, “You have so much, so much of everything; and then you have such — upon my soul, I do not know anybody like you.” But I am come not to quote the oafish Thorpe, but to praise one of my favorite heroes, the charming, intelligent, original, ever delightful Henry Tilney. Yet, to tell the truth, for a long time I was puzzled by Mr. Tilney, in just the way you express. He was certainly witty, but in mind, education, conversation, and sophistication, he was miles above commonplace little Catherine, and as Jane Austen said, it was a match beyond her claims. Being seventeen she was nubile, but not a great beauty; remember we are told, “To look almost pretty is an acquisition of higher delight to a girl who has been looking plain the first fifteen years of her life than a beauty from her cradle can ever receive.”

So the relationship never set quite right with me, just as you say, and it was this aspect that I most wanted to understand, when I set out to write my book. In writing a paper for Sarah Emsley’s celebration of the 200th anniversary of Northanger Abbey, I focused on Henry’s father, General Tilney, and tried to understand the psychological dynamic of the peculiar Tilney family, and how this formed and influenced Henry. I called the piece “The Ogre of Northanger,” for it was easy to see that the General was a domestic bully who tyrannized over his children. He approved most of Captain Tilney, an insensitive cad who was following his own profession. Eleanor he turned into almost an abject slave, and Henry clearly disappointed him. Gentle, book loving, by profession a clergyman rather than a materialistic man of greed and action like the General himself, Henry probably was more like his own excellent mother, and not, in his father’s eye, likely to amount to much: he would never make money (which mattered most to the General), and so a rich match must be found for him. The General bullied Henry and Eleanor constantly, about every last domestic detail, dictating timetables and behavior, boasting and expecting to be flattered, making their lives a misery. He must have been the most exhausting father, and Henry suffered much, particularly by seeing Eleanor’s unhappiness and being powerless to help her. His father’s machinations and manipulations were precisely why he valued Catherine, finding her innocence and simplicity deeply refreshing after what he was used to at home.  He is charmed by her “fresh feelings,” and he tells Eleanor, “Open, candid, artless, guileless, with affections strong but simple, forming no pretensions, and knowing no disguise.” She replies, with a smile, “Such a sister-in-law, Henry, I should delight in.” Once I realized why Henry genuinely found Catherine the kind of woman who would be a solace and a support, the development of feelings between the couple began to fall into place, and it became quite a natural and convincing love story, worthy to stand beside Austen’s others. Catherine’s artless intense feeling for Henry is palpable from the start, but while he begins almost like teasing a younger sister, his feeling develops into real respect and affection. This is what I wanted to explore and continue in my book, alongside having some Gothic fun:  I wanted to show how the marriage would grow as Catherine matured and became better educated, a sensible woman, quite worthy to be Henry’s wife. And that’s what happens.

Alright, you’re convincing me regarding Mr. Tilney’s charms. You’ve alluded to Catherine and Henry’s physical attractions and connubial bliss in the story, but this 21stcentury voyeur wanted more! Yet I sense that you chose a restrained path because you honored Jane Austen’s voice? Tell me how you came to this decision.

It wasn’t even a decision. It never once occurred to me to put in sex scenes, however I may enjoy the “pleasing passion.” Jane Austen makes us feel her characters’ passions, loves, broken hearts and longings better than any writer who does show the Darcys bouncing in bed.  Hers was a good enough example for me – the best; and since my aim is to write in a style as closely and truly Austenesque as humanly possible after thousands (yes thousands!) of rereadings and years of close study of details of style, to baldly display Henry and Catherine in a defloration scene or whatever, would seem truly jarring. Let other pens dwell on sin and sexuality; not mine.

Excellent reply! Your characterizations of John Thorpe (especially), General Tilney, Captain Frederick Tilney, and that vixen, Isabella Thorpe – are spot on. How much fun was it to flesh these folks out for readers? (BTW I loved the references to Harriette Wilson, which I caught right away.)

It is so much fun for me to play with the minor characters that sometimes when I do it, I find myself laughing out loud!  I’ve always been drawn particularly to Austen’s villains and grotesques – hence my spending so much time with Mrs. Elton – and it is just a delight for me to revisit these people and listen to them talk. For that’s what happens; we know these characters (John Thorpe indeed!) so well, we’re able to imagine what they’d say about anything. Jane Austen’s own indelible characterizations are so vivid that it’s easy to carry them further; in fact, it feels as if they talk to me and I just try to get it all down! This is part of her genius and one of the reasons why she lends herself so superbly to sequels.

I agree. So often the minor characters add piquancy and spice to the plot and a raucous laugh or two. And now we come to your plot for the novel, which I found, well, novel to say the least. The twists and turns kept me perpetually surprised. Tell me a little about your creative process. I think you must have meticulously plotted the plot from the start, or did you allow your characters to speak to you as you went along? Or both?

You’re exactly right on both counts. I did write an outline of roughly what would happen in each chapter. Then I put the novel down for years, but I always meant to pick it up again, and when I did, I only had to follow what I had told myself to do. And yes, as I’ve said, the characters did just speak to me as I went along. I simply put down what they’re saying to me (sometimes I act it out to see how it sounds, in a hellacious English accent). Then when I’ve got it all down, I go over it again to improve it, until it actually starts to look like something; and then a third time for a close polish.

Fascinating! Do you want to add anything else for our readers? Please feel free to give it a creative go!

Just that after a lifetime spent poring over Jane Austen’s works (not a bad study or amusement, by the way – for one thing, she is the finest writing teacher you ever heard of), this close examination of Northanger Abbey showed me that far from being negligible compared to her more mature novels, it has more in it than meets the eye, and is very delightful and well worth revisiting. My greatest wish is that my novel will make people go back to Northanger Abbey, and find reading the two in tandem to be time well and pleasantly spent!

Thank you, Diana, for your fascinating insights. Also, kudos to Laurel Ann Nattress of Austenprose, who herded a score of bloggers together for this blog tour. You helped to make this process quite easy for me! Thanks to you as well.

Visit Diana at her Austen Variations author page, follow her on Twitter, Facebook and Goodreads

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