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Archive for the ‘Holiday’ Category

This Easter weekend is a perfect time to reflect on Jane Austen and Easter. Hats and bonnets were prevalent, of course, and so were Easter Fairs and eating hot cross buns.
Ladies' bonnets, 1802

In her book, Jane Austen and the Clergy, Irene Collins writes: Clergymen in Jane Austen’s day were not expected to write original sermons every Sunday. “Henry Crawford, assessing Edmund Bertram’s commitments at Thornton Lacey, judged that ‘a sermon at Christmas and Easter ‘would be’ the sum total of the sacrifice.” Mr. Collins produced only two sermons between his ordination at Easter and his visit to Longbourn in November of the same year.- p. 96.

Jane Austen herself mentions Easter, most notably in Pride and Prejudice:

In this quiet way, the first fortnight of her visit soon passed away. Easter was approaching, and the week preceding it was to bring an addition to the family at Rosings, which in so small a circle must be important. Elizabeth had heard, soon after her arrival, that Mr. Darcy was expected there in the course of a few weeks, and though there were not many of her acquaintance whom she did not prefer, his coming would furnish one comparatively new to look at in their Rosings parties, and she might be amused in seeing how hopeless Miss Bingley’s designs on him were, by his behaviour to his cousin, for whom he was evidently destined by Lady Catherine; who talked of his coming with the greatest satisfaction, spoke of him in terms of the highest admiration, and seemed almost angry to find that he had already been frequently seen by Miss Lucas and herself.

At Rosings with Colonel Fitzwilliam

Colonel Fitzwilliam’s manners were very much admired at the parsonage, and the ladies all felt that he must add considerably to the pleasure of their engagements at Rosings. It was some days, however, before they received any invitation thither, for while there were visitors in the house they could not be necessary; and it was not till Easter-day, almost a week after the gentlemen’s arrival, that they were honoured by such an attention, and then they were merely asked on leaving church to come there in the evening. For the last week they had seen ver little of either Lady Catherine or her daughter. Colonel Fitzwilliam had called at the parsonage more than once during the time, but Mr. Darcy they had only seen at church.

The invitation was accepted of course, and at a proper hour they joined the party in Lady Catherine’s drawing room. Her ladyship received them civilly, but it was plain that their company was by no means so acceptable as when she could get nobody else; and she was, in fact, almost engrossed by her nephews, speaking to them, especially to Darcy, much more than to any other person in the room.

Elizabeth Bennet, Mr. Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam at the pianoforte

Ellen Moody noted that dating Sense and Sensibility presented a problem. It was revised several times and as a result the chronology remains inconsistent. Towards the book’s end, Easter is mentioned as occurring on March 31. This would have fallen in 1793, when the first draft of the novel was written. But, there is another reference to Easter in early April, which would have placed the novel in 1798 (the most likely), 1801, 1803, and 1809.

More on the topic:

Jane Austen’s Easter: Jane Austen Centre Online Magazine

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I’m a little late for the party, but a full day still remains until Laurel Ann at Austenprose finishes her in-depth tour of Sanditon, Jane Austen’s last, unfinished novel. Click on this page to catch up on all the links and comments and guest posts.

Sea Bathing in Scarborough, 1813

Read more about the seaside and seaside fashions on this blog to round out your knowledge of how the Regency folks enjoyed their seaside excursions:

Poetical Sketches of Scarborough, 1813, is a digitized book about the seaside resort of Scarborough, including color plates.

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Happy Christmas from Jane Austen’s World



Heap on more wood! — the wind is chill;
But let it whistle as it will,
We’ll keep our Christmas merry still.
Each age has deemed the new born year
The fittest time for festal cheer.
And well our Christian sires of old.
Loved when the year its course had rolled,
And brought blithe Christmas back again,
With all his hospitable train.
Domestic and religious rite
Gave honour to the holy night:
On Christmas eve the bells were rung;
On Christmas eve the mass was sung;
That only night, in all the year,
Saw the stoled priest the chalice rear.
The damsel donned her kirtle sheen;
The hail was dressed with holly green;
Forth to the wood did merry men go,
To gather in the mistletoe,
Then opened wide the baron’s hail
To vassal, tenant, serf, and all;
Power laid his rod of rule aside,
And ceremony doff’d his pride.
The heir, with roses in his shoes,
That night might village partner choose.
The lord, underogating, share
The vulgar game of “post and pair!”
All hailed with uncontroll’d delight
And general voice, the happy night
That to the cottage, as the crown,
Brought tidings of salvation down.
The fire with well dried logs supplied,
Went roaring up the chimney wide;
The huge hail table’s oaken face,
Scrubb’d till it shone, the day to grace,
Bore then upon: its massive board
No mark to part the squire and lord.
Then was brought in the lusty brawn,
By old, blue-coated serving-man;
Then the grim boar’s head frowned on high,
Crested with bays and rosemary.
Well can the green-garbed ranger tell,
How, when, and where, the monster fell;
What dogs before his death he tore,
And all the baiting of the boar.
The wassail round in good brown bowls,
Garnished with ribbon, blithely trowls.
There the huge sirloin reeked: hard by
Plum-porridge stood, and Christmas pie;
Nor failed old Scotland to produce
At such high tide her savoury goose.
Then came the merry masquers in,
And carols roar’d with blithesome din;
If unmelodious was the song,
It was a hearty note, and strong.
Who lists may in their mumming see
Traces of ancient mystery;
White shirts supplied the masquerade,
And smutted cheeks the visor made
But oh! what masquers, richly dight,
Can boast of bosoms half so light!
England was merry England when
Old Christmas brought his sports again.
’Twas Christmas broached the mightiest ale,
’Twas Christmas told the merriest tale;
A Christmas gambol oft would cheer
A poor man’s heart through half the year.

Sir Walter Scott, 1808, from Marmion

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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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Gentle readers, I am taking a short hiatus from this blog for Thanksgiving week. Meanwhile, enjoy these images of people dining in days of yore…

Dining for most people was a simple affair and food was taken from the land. Many families, unless their house was large enough to accommodate a dining room, ate in the kitchen.

Notice in this image of a family sharing a meal by Thomas Rowlandson (from The Vicar of Wakefield by Oliver Goldsmith), that the meal is eaten during the day and near the fire.

The rich could afford to eat by candlelight, as in this early 20th C. image of a Georgian dinner scene.

For some, like the Prince Regent, dinners were elaborate affairs.

For other families the meal was more basic and simple.

Family Meal

The hours in which people ate meals were changing:

In the beginning of the sixteenth century in England, dinner, the main meal of the day, used to begin at 11:00AM. Meals tended over time to be eaten later and later in the day: by the eighteenth century, dinner was eaten at about 3:00PM…By the early nineteenth century, lunch, what Palmer in Moveable Feasts calls “the furtive snack,” had become a sit-down meal at the dning table in the middle of the day. Upper-class people were eating breakfast earlier, and dinner later, than they had formerly done…in 1808…dinner was now a late meal and supper a snack taken at the very end of the day before people retired to bed. For a long time luncheon was a very upper-class habit; ordinarily working people dined in the early evening, and contented themselves as they had done for centuries with a mid-day snack…Supper now means a light evening meal that replaces dinner; such a meal is especially popular if people have eaten a heavy lunch – The Rituals of Dinner, Margaret Visser [Penguid:New York] 1991 (p. 159-160) – Food Timeline

Meat made up a large part of the Regency diet, even for the middle class. For most people living in London, the animals had to be brought a long way to market. Due to the length of the journey, the quality of meat was often poor. In contrast, venison and game procured from country estates and served fresh was often considered prize meat.

The Breedwell Family, Thomas Rowlandson

Families tended to be large and extended. In this boisterous family scene by Rowlandson, the Breedwells obviously bred beyond “the heir and the spare.”

Desserts, Isabella Beaton

Desserts made up the last course of the meal. Even for the middle class this course was elaborate and plentiful, but for the rich it was spectacular.

Walled kitchen garden

Kitchen gardens provided fresh produce during the growing season. The very rich grew fruits and vegetables in hot houses, but most people ate meat, soups, or bread throughout the year. Fruit and vegetables were preserved, or, as in the case of apples and root vegetables, stored through the winter.

Seafood had to be served fresh and within hours of its harvest. Chances were that this tavern, where oysters were served on a platter, sits in a geographic area by the sea.

Life in Yorkshire

Elegant, or simple, the family meal meant togetherness.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone

More on the topic:

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Robert Burns, Auld Lang Syne

Robert Burns, Auld Lang Syne

Midwinter celebrations  have been celebrated in England since ancient times. In Scotland one such celebration was known as Hogmanay; in England it was called New Year’s Eve. The Gregorian calendar marks December 31st as the last day of the year, but New Year’s Day was not always celebrated on January 1st. In Anglo-Saxon England the year started on the 25th of December. The day has also been celebrated  on March 1st, March 25th, and September 24th, depending on which calendar was used. As early as the 17th century,when the legal year began on March 25th,  Samuel Pepys would write about the passing of the old year on December 31st, eighty years before England moved the start of the year to January 1st.

Father time

Father time

Today we sing  Auld Lang Syne at the stroke of midnight. Commonly thought to be written in the 1700s by the poet Robert Burns, who was inspired by earlier renditions, the song was published after his death in 1796. According to the BBC article, Have Old Connections Been Forgot? BBC news story, the song is “now thought that the tune to match the words was part of the overture for Rosina, an obscure operetta written in 1783 by Englishman William Shield, who was born in Swalwell, Gateshead in 1748.” The words Auld Lang Syne literally mean “old long ago,” or “the good old days.”

Since the days of the Romans, the passage of time has been associated with the god Saturn, who is the inspiration of Old Father Time.  Read my other post about New Year’s Eve at this link.

Have a safe and happy New Year’s Celebration!

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This rare 1791 edition of Les Amours de Psyché et de Cupidon at David Brass Rare Books features lovely illutstrations of Cupid and Psyche. Happy Valentine’s Day!

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