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The BBC One programme, Bargain Hunt yesterday broadcast a small film about the Georgian Kitchen at Number One, Royal Crescent, Bath.
This building was one of the grandest houses in the Crescent, which was designed by John Wood the Younger, and it was of course here that Catherine Morland promenaded with Isabella Thorpe in Northanger Abbey:
As soon as divine service was over, the Thorpes and Allens eagerly joined each other; and after staying long enough in the pump–room to discover that the crowd was insupportable, and that there was not a genteel face to be seen, which everybody discovers every Sunday throughout the season, they hastened away to the Crescent, to breathe the fresh air of better company.
The house has had many interesting residents including Frederick, Duke of York. It is now a wonderful museum run by the Bath Preservation Trust, and is always worth a visit to its fabulous restored and decorated rooms, staffed by really helpful, knowledgeable and, in some cases, very entertaining guides!
The house is decorated as it would have been in the Georgian era: below is the fabulous first floor drawing-room:
And here, below, is the ground floor dining room, the table set for a typical Georgian dessert course, with sweetmeats and nuts and decorated with some rather wonderful sugar sculpture:
But this part of the programme -a few minutes long only-was really about the Kitchen- which is rather wonderful as we do not get to glimpse inside Georgian kitchens very often. So let’s look, in some detail, at the items on show in the basement kitchen at Number One, and see how they would be used and how they would work.
From the right, on top of the scrubbed surface of the pine table you can just see the outline of some sugar nips, right next to a very typical 18th century conical sugar loaf. The nips were used to break up the sugar loaf, most likely imported from the West Indies into the nearby port of Bristol. Here is a better, clearer picture of some 18th century sugar nips, made from iron, for you to see:
In the picture below, you can see the sugar nips mounted on a piece of wood. Also on the table surface you can clearly see a wooden lemon squeezer and a brass pestle and mortar, used for pounding spices:
The kitchen has three types of spit turning devices on show: the first, the most infamous, a cage which was wall mounted and which would have held a Turnspit Dog,who would have run, hamster-like, in the case, turning the spit as required.
Here is another picture, from the book, Remarks on a Tour to North and South Wales, published in 1800 of a Turnspit dog hard at work:
it is really appropriate that this cage is still installed in a kitchen in Bath for it was in Bath that the last turnspit doges were used, when other parts of the country had resorted to other, mechanical devices with which to turn their roasting meat. Mechanical devices such as this clockwork jack, below. This is an 18th century counterweight jack with a flywheel:
This works by gravity : a weight is attached to a string, which winds down the mechanism, every 20 minutes or so, then it has to be rewound. I’ve operated one of these in the food historian, Ivan Day’s kitchen, at his home in Cumbria. You can see it in my picture, below, to the right of the fireplace:
His clockwork jack had a weight made from an old cannon ball. The sound of the clockwork mechanism working, tick-tocking away, and then being re-wound every so often, must have been a very familiar sound in smaller Georgian households.
The problem with clockwork spits was that they demanded a lot of attention in order that they could be re-wound, and they were not particularly efficient. Below is the frontispiece from Martha Bradley’s book,The British Housewife (1756) showing a very well equipped Georgian kitchen…
You can see the kitchen maid pulling the chain of the clockwork jack, to help turn the spit:
Another type of jack was on view in the Kitchen at Number One: a bottle jack set above a screen or a “hastener”:
This jack would move the joint of meat clockwise and then counterclockwise in front of the fire so that it cooked evenly. Below is a bottle jack- note that it gets its name from its shape- and a hastener on show in the Georgian House Museum at Bristol:
Bottle Jacks were spring driven, wound up with a key and they ran for a fair length of time before running down, and were an improvement on the clockwork jack. The meat to be roasted hung from small hooks in the bottom of the jack. They were designed to hang inside a vertical tin, reflecting oven-the hastener- which would be set in front of the fire, facing the coal grate. This produced heat evenly up and down the suspended joint or bird. In addition to the heat radiating from the fire, the sides and roof of the tin oven further reflected heat, making for more efficient use of fuel and more even roasting.
The drip tray, set before the fire and under the meat cooking before the it, was used to collect the fat which dropped from the meat during cooking time. The large basting spoon-which you can see underneath the tray- was used to baste the meat during the cooking process.
Also on show in the kitchen are some rudimentary and rather smoky and smelly sources of light. Tallow candies, above, are notorious for the smell and the smoke that they produced, very inferior to expensive wax candles. Tallow was normally the fat obtained from beef or lamb.
In the centre of this photograph, above is an iron crusie lamp- a lamp powered by animal grease or fish oil. The fat would be put in the bowl of the iron lamp, and a wick would then rest in it, and be lit to provide a light.
In the centre of this photograph is a wooden and iron rush nip, or rush light, typical of the early to mid 18th century. It was designed to hold a rush that had been covered in animal fat by immersing it in a trough, which was, ideally, as long as the rush to ensure the rush was well saturated with the fat. Gilbert White of Selborne, near Chawton in Hampshire tells us of the method of choosing rushes for used as rushlights, in his book, The Natural History of Selborne:
The proper species of rush for this purpose seems to be the juncus effusus or the common soft rush, which is to be found in most pastures, by the side of streams or hedges. These rushes are in the best condition in the height of summer but may be gathered so as to serve the purposes well, quite on to Auutmn….as soon as they are cut they must be flung into water and kept there for otherwise they will dry and shrink and the peel (the rind-jfw) will not run…The careful wife of a Hampshire labourer obtains all her fat for nothing for she saves the scummings of her bacon pot for this use: and if the grease abound with salt she causes the salt to precipitate to the bottom by setting the scummings in a warm oven….A good rush, which measured in length two feet four inches and a half burnt only three minutes shorter than an hour and a rush of still greater length has been known to burn one hour and a quarter. These rushes give a good clear light”
And finally, something that would have been in constant use, bearing in mind the presence of tallow fat candles and foodstuffs in the kitchen area…18th century mice traps on the pine dresser. One wooden, one iron:
You can even see some poor mice captured in the iron example to the centre right….
So, there you are, a short trip around some 18th century gadgets that would have been found in many kitchens and homes of the era. I do hope you have enjoyed it. The episode of Bargain Hunt is available to view, here, on the BBC iPlayer for the next six days for all of you living in the UK. The part of the programme that interests us begins at approximately 24 minutes in.
Kew Palace-once known as the Dutch House because of its building style- you can see the Dutch Gables in the roof, above- is a fascinating place to visit. It has had associations with the royal family since the early 18th century, and is now well known as the home of George III and Queen Charlotte who lived there occasionally (and at nearby White Lodge, Richmond) while a new palace at Kew, designed by Wyatt was being built. Sadly, this fantastical building was never completed, but the Dutch House- now known as Kew Palace- survives. Here is a rather famous portrait of George III’s father, Frederick Prince of Wales, and his sisters with Kew Palace in the distance:
George III’s last visit to what is now called Kew Palace was in 1806 when he stopped there to dine on the way to Windsor. Queen Charlotte actually died there in November 1818 : she had to take refuge there when becoming ill on the way to Windsor. This was the last time the palace was fully occupied, and as a result it became a sort of time capsule of life in a small but royal country home at the beginning of the 19th century.
The Palace was restored and opened to the public in 2006, and I’ve since been lucky enough to visit it. But this year the kitchens at the Dutch House have been opened to the public for the first time and I am hoping to visit them in the next few months. They have been renovated to recreate a specific day: the 6th February 1789, which was the day that George III was allowed to regain the use of knives and forks when eating, after his first acute episode of madness, for as he was no longer considered a danger to himself and to others.
I thought you might like to see some of the interesting videos the Royal Historic Palaces team have produced to explain the kitchens. Here is their introductory video:
This is a fascinating video about the 18th century kitchen, and the scullery and how they were restored, and the decisions the curator, Lee Prosser, and to make along the way:
This video explains the type of cookery that took place in the kitchen especially on the great roasting range (which is a rare survivor) and in the bread ovens:
Two of the Georgian dishes served to George III on 6th February 1789 have been adapted for modern kitchens and ingredients and you can see how to make therm here: first, a Rich Chocolate Tart:
You can download the recipe as a PDF file, here. A second video is also available to watch, how to make Soupe Barley:
You can download a PDF file of the recipe, here
A video and recipe sheet for a third dish, Mutton Smoured in a Frying Panne, will be published soon, but some other dishes served at the King’s table are available to read, here.
Teh kitchen garden has also been restored,and here is a picture of it courtesy of the RHP Twitter feed:
This is, I am sure you will agree, a fascinating project. The great Tudor Kitchens at Hampton Court have long been on the tourist trail and Victorian kitchens are a staple of many country houses open to the public. But Georgian examples are rare, as they were so often modernised when new innovations took place. I can’t wait to be able to report to you about this place in person but in the meantime I hope you enjoy these videos and recipes ;)
The BBC FOUR TV series, If Walls Could Talk concluded last night with a fascinating episode on the development of the kitchen throughout history.
I’ve not mentioned this programme to you before, because it is not primarily concerned with the era in which Jane Austen lived, being a general over-view of the development of key rooms in the house: the Living Room, the Bedroom, the Bathroom and in last night’s episode, the Kitchen.
The Kitchen, of course, developed apace during the 18th century and so I think you might like to see the interpretation of its history as it applies to our era, from last night’s show.
The series is presented by the rather endearing Dr Lucy Worsley who is the Chief Curator of the Historic Royal Palaces. She has come in for quite a lot of criticism for her presenting style, in particular for her habit of donning historic dress in every episode. Having now seen all the episodes I feel that when she did this in the company of other historical reenactors it made sense. She would look out of place in the swanky Victorian kitchen at Shugborough Hall, black leading the grate in modern dress when all about her were in pink maids uniforms and flounced aprons. But then I didn’t understand the need to dress up in a Georgian sack dress, when she was in the company of other experts, such as Professor Amanda Vickery, who were sporting modern dress. Ah, well….to Georgian Kitchens.
The great technological developments in our era, cast iron ovens raised from the ground fueled by the more efficient coal were considered. Dr Worsley experienced the hot and hard work of being a turnspit (dressed as a boy) in the Tudor kitchen at Hampton Court, and then the programme jumped to our era to consider one of the most intriguing labour-saving devices of the 18th century, the turnspit dog.
In West Street Lacock ( or Meryton or Highbury, given your choice of favourite adaptation!) in Wiltshire there still exists a public house , the George Inn,
which has retained a working turnspit which was once powered by the special turnspit dog, a breed of dog now extinct, shown below:
During the 18th century and until the early years of the 19th century this special breed of dogs were used, particularly in Bath, to turn the spit to roast meat, while running on a wheel attached to a wall, a subject that I’ve written about previously here. I wonder if any of the houses in which Jane Austen lived while in Bath had a similar contraption in their kitchens? I’ll bet they did….there is still one at Number 1 Royal Crescent.
Ivan Day, our friend of Historic Foods, was in charge of the operation. The dog they used to replace the turnspit was a modern border terrier, Coco.
She was placed in the wheel, shown above on the side of the chimney in the pub, and fed sausages hidden on the ledges in the wheel. Needless to day,Ivan Day’s doubts, that as Coco was not bred to the job and had longer legs than the original breed of dog, did prevail and she did not perform the job at all efficiently.
Dr Worsely, had to take over the job of turning the spit by hand via the wheel.
( And do let me rush to confirm and assure you that no dogs were hurt at all by the filming process: Coco was fed rather a lot of spit roasted mutton as payment for her valiant and good natured attempts to turn the wheel by Ivan who is a very lovely man and a confirmed dog lover!).
The next part of the programme took us up to Kedleston Hall in Derbyshire,
Robert Adams’ stern confection of a house built for Lord and Lady Scarsdale in the 1760s. Here we met with the fabulous food historian Peter Brears, who explained that the layout of this grand , up-to-the-minute country house was so designed that no cooking smells would ever permeate the rest of the house from the kitchen.Heaven forfend that aristocratic nostrils should be assaulted by cooking smells, like lesser motals who lived among their cooking pots !
If you look at the floor plan of Kedleston, below, you can see that
©The National Trust
it was first envisaged that the house would have a central block with four pavilions connected to the house by gently curved corridors, rather like the design for Holkham House in Norfolk.
Sadly only two pavilion wings were built.And you can see from the plan that the pavilion to the right housed the kitchen. This is now the National Trust tea room and in the programme though nearly everything tea room related had been cleared, you can just make out one of the large vending machines which was obviously plumbed-in in some way and could not be removed.
The kitchen with its stern warning shot to the staff, above,
The state dining room was decorated not with tapestries and carpets which would retain food odours, but with plain stuccoed walls and in the 18th century there would have been an oil cloth covering the floor. No aristocrat of this era wanted to be confronted with food smells unless the food was actually on his rather grand table.
And Robert Adam thoughtfully provided incense and pastille burners in the dining room to further cleanse the room of any lingering food smells.
Of course , it is a widely held belief that kitchens thus separated from dining rooms could only serve luke warm food at best.
Dr Worsley encouraged Mr Beares to run, while holding a tureen full of that Georgian staple, hot Pea Soup, along a route from the kitchen on the ground floor upstairs to the state dining room ( see the route above on the annotated plan) in order for him to prove that the food would not have arrived cold. Quite a sight to see….
This episode was one of the best of this series of four programmes. I’ve warmed to Dr Worsley’s presenting style as the series progressed, and hope you watch the four installments on series link on the BBC I player, linked above in the first paragraph, if you have missed it. Or look out for the DVD, which is sure to come. There is a book to accompany the series but I cannot comment on it as I’ve not read it, but do bear in mind that it covers periods before and after that in which we are interested if you have a mind to buy it.
Last week we talked about Burghley House and its fantastic Heaven Room which was used as the location for Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s drawing-room at Rosings in the 2005 film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.
Today we are going to consider another room at Burghley, whose rose garden is shown above and whose magnificent oriel window in the great hall is shown below….
The room that merits our attention this week is the Bow Room which served as Lady Catherine’s dining room at Rosings in the 2005 film.
This is another of Burghley’s many painted rooms. It was created in 1697 by Louis Laguerre, the French artist, who was also Louis XIV’s godson. He appears to have been an altogether more personable character than Verrio about whom we wrote last week, and, unlike Verrio, no tales of scandal and debaucheries are told about Laguerre at Burghley today.
The room is, as you can see, quite dark. It faces north and while these painted rooms worked well in sunnier climes, as seen, no doubt, by teh 5th Earl of Exeter on his Grand Tour of Europe, the decoration does cast rather a gloom in the cold Lincolnshire light. The room was originally designed by the 5th Earl as a State Dining Room, but its chilly aspect meant that it gradually fell out of use: the kitchens were a long way away and the food was invariably cold when it reached the hungry diners waiting in this room! Eventually it evolved into a second billiard room and then into a music room until 1990 when the painted surfaces of the room were extensively restored. The room is now fitted up for display and the dining table is set up as it would have been for a formal dinner during the Victorian era. The West wall, below….
And the East wall, compete with fireplace, again below, show scenes from the lives of Cleopatra and Mark Anthony.
The south wall, which can be seen behind Lady Catherine when she sits at the head of the dining table depicts The Conduct of Scipio Towards His fair Captive
The room now contains articles that had to be removed or put out of shot during the filming of Pride and Prejudice: this bust, below, of the Duke of Wellington would have been highly anachronistic for a film set in 1796, when he was merely a colonel serving in the Netherlands and India.
And this magnificent 19th century silver racing trophy , together with, on the window sill, a silver model of the 3rd Marquess of Exeter as Colonel of the Northamptonshire Regiment, made in 1888, were not seen in the film.
We did see a plethora of footmen( just what exactly is the correct collective noun for a group of footmen?) which is reflective of this section from Chapter 29 of Pride and Prejudice that describes the initial dinner at Rosings attended by Elizabeth Charlotte and Mr Collins-but note, not Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam:
The dinner was exceedingly handsome, and there were all the servants and all the articles of plate which Mr. Collins had promised; and, as he had likewise foretold, he took his seat at the bottom of the table, by her ladyship’s desire, and looked as if he felt that life could furnish nothing greater.
As to the dinner being exceedingly handsome, it was certainly very lavish in this production. And in what was most probably a deliberate move, the dinner is shown to be slightly old-fashioned. Do note the peacock pie to the right of Lady Catherine at the far end of the table, below:
Peacock pies were very popular throughout the 17th century till the mid 18th century, as part of courtly shows of expense and luxury. The one below made by Ivan Day of Historic Foods is typical of the 17th century : the head and tail feathers were always used to decorate such a pie, not only because they were spectacular, but because their presence also indicated what meat was to be found inside the pie.
The latest recipe I can find for a peacock pie is in John Thacker’s book,The Art of Cookery written in 1758
Here is the recipe which you can enlarge by clicking on it.
Thacker was the cook to the Dean and Chapter of Durham Cathedral and their hospitality was courtly, lavish and legendary. But ever so slightly old-fashioned by 1796 the date the film was set ( and also the date when Jane Austen wrote First Impressions which was to eventually become Pride and Prejudice in 1813).
Lady Catherine, who was played by Dame Judi Dench, is always shown in a sack dress( this purple confection was on show at Burghley House in the Bow Room tin 2005-6,and it was magnificent) which would also have be seen as old fashioned in 1796 . I can only conclude that the filmmakers wanted to depict Lady Catherine as grand and slightly set in her ways, which character traits were reflected in her choice of food and of dress. Qutie a clever conceit, bearing in mind how stubborn the old bat could be…..
Once again I should like to thank the Burghley House Preservation Trust , the House Manager and the Room Stewards for all their kindness and assistance shown to me when I visited Burghley to prepare this post.
As many of you know Fairfax House is one of my favourite museums, being the restored 18th century Georgian town house of Lord Fairfax, in York. The house has been very involved with the history of food and research into that topic, primarily through the wonderful research work and exhibitions organised by Peter Brown, and so it is entirely appropriate that this autumn Fairfax House is sponsoring two Georgian Food extravaganzas in September to be hosted by my favourite food historian, Ivan Day of Historic Foods, seen here at work in his marvellous 18th century kitchen in Cumbria.
The first of these events, Death By Chocolate, will beheld at Fairfax House on the 18th September at 7 p.m. and will be an exploration of the history of chocolate.
This is a picture of Ivan’s very own 18th century chocolate pot,
complete with tea bowl and saucer of 18th century Batavian ware, both of which I am sure will be used by Ivan during his demonstration. The evening looks fascinating and there will be a chance to taste Ivan’s chocolate confections during it. I do wish I could go but am sure that Ivan’s illustrated talk and demonstrations will be as wonderful as ever.
The second event is to be held on Sunday 19th September but this time in the glorious surroundings of Middlethrope Hall, just outside York, where Ivan will be demonstrating the art of making ice cream Georgian style. The ticket price includes an opportunity to take afternoon tea at the hotel, and if a taste of Ivan’s ice cream is also included then the afternoon is a bargain ;-)
As some of you know, I’ve made ice cream in the Georgian manner with Ivan on three occasions now and each time it has been a miraculous event, producing the ice cream the best I’ve ever tasted. And all done without the aid of a refrigerator. Like Jane Austen I was above vulgar economy on those days!
If you can’t make it to Fairfax House for the food events, then do try to get to see their current exhibition, Dress to Impress: Revealing Georgian Fashions, a small exhibit of Georgian era clothes on loan from various collections including those of the Castle Museum in York and Leeds museums and Galleries which runs until the 21st November.
There will also be three lectures on fashion to accompany the exhibit. The first, Dirt and What it Reveals, The Revelations of Conservation, will take place on Thursday 21st October at 7pm and is to be given by Mary Brooks. The second, Shaping the Style is to be given by Josie Shepherd, Curator of Textiles and Costume at the York Castle Museum, examines just how a lady dressed in the 18th century, from the niceties of style of the practicalities of wearing the dresses and corsets and, finally, on the 16th November “ Soe Neer Your Side ” will be a talk by Barbara Burman on the intriguing subject of pockets, that hidden but indispensable article of women’s attire during the long 18th century. The cost of the tickets, £12, include a glass of wine or soft drink.
And finally to the candles. On the 27th and 29th October at 7pm special tours of the house, Fairfax House After Dark, will be given when the house will be lit entirely by candlelight. You will be guided though the house by Lord Fairfax and members of his household staff to give you a glimpse into the life of the 18th century house, in appropriate(and rarely experienced) lighting. Sounds fascinating and an opportunity not to be missed!
If you would like to book a ticket to any of these events then please contact Fairfax House through the link above or telephone the Gift Shop on 01904 655 543.
I realised over the past week that I had not written about Jane Austen and Food for some time…so I’ve decided to make amends for that by giving you a detailed history of that most intriguing of dishes from Pride and Prejudice, White Soup.
White Soup is, I suppose, one of the most famous food dishes in Jane Austen’s works, almost on a par with Mr Woodhouse’s gruel. Virtually unknown today, we hear about it because in Pride and Prejudice the genial Mr Bingley famously and much to the chagrin of his sisters, informs the robust Lydia Bennet that she shall name the day for the Netherfield ball
once Nicholls has made white soup enough
White soup originated in 17th century France. Then known as Pottage a la Reine ( Queen’s Soup) it was a slightly different dish to that served to Charles Bingley’s guests and produced by the quart by the indefatigable Nicholls.
The first known recipe for this most aristocratic of soups is to be found in the cookery book, Le Cuisinier François (1651) written by Francois Pierre, known as La Varenne, who was chef to the Marquis of Uxelles. This was translated into English in 1653, and this is the frontispiece from that first English edition:
His recipe is as follows:
Get almonds. Grind them and set them to boil with good bouillon, along with a bouquet of herbs, a bit of lemon pulp and a little breadcrumb; then season that with salt. Take care they don’t burn, stirring them frequently and strain them. Then get your bread and simmer it in the best bouillon you have. After you have deboned some roast partridge of capon get some good bouillon, cook all of the bones with a few mushroom and strain everything through a cloth. Simmer your bread in the bouillon and as it is simmering sprinkle it with the almond milk, and with meat stock then add in a little chopped partridge flesh or capon until it is full. Then get the fire shovel, heat it to red hot and pass it over the top. Garnish your pottage with cockscombs,pistachios pomegranate seeds and neat stock.Then serve.
The decoration of dishes with pomegranate and pistachios-very rare and expensive ingredients in the 17th century- was a common feature of court cookery of the time.
For example, here is a winter salad as ordered by Robert May in his book, The Accomplish’d Cook (1660)
complete with sprinkled pomegranate and nuts
And a rosemary “tree” covered in white snow (egg white,whipp’t)
John Thacker, the cook to the Dean and Chapter of Durham Cathedral gives interesting directions for dressing and serving the soup in his book, The Art of Cookery (1758).(Do note you can enlarge all the illustrations in this post by clicking on them)
This is how Ivan Day,the wonderful food historian of Historic Food , and whose courses I love to attend, has interpreted it.
Rather faithfully, I think you will agree.(and I thank Ivan for his kind permission to use his images here).
Here is the heated shovel as recommended by La Varenne, as used by Ivan
Another way to do this would be to use a salamander
Here is one heating up in the roaring fire of Ivan’s Cumbrian kitchen
And here it is in use giving a toasted finish to some stuffed tomatoes which I helped cook on Ivan’s Regency Cookery Course I attended in 2009. This as you can see is a ferociously dangerous cooking method. Luckily for Nicholls it was not required to be used in recipes by the time she was preparing her soup.
in her book The Experienced English Housekeeper (1769)
gives a variant on the original French recipe
William Verral, the famous innkeeper of the White Hart Inn in Lewes in Sussex in his cookery book of 1759, The Complete System of Cookery, gives this disarming but very honest title to his recipe for the soup ; Queen’s Soup, What Queen I Know Not.(!)
By the time we get to Jane Austen’s era, and around the time of the publication of Pride and Prejudice in 1813, the recipe has altered further. Here is Frederick Nutt’s
recipe from his book The Imperial and Royal Cook etc (1809)
And it was not only the swankiest cookery books that gave recipes for White Soup. Our friend, Mrs Rundell gives these recipes for two variants of white soup,
in her book, A New System of Domestic Cookery (1816)
If you would care to make your own version of White Soup, here is a modern equivalent of the soup adapted from Eliza Acton’s recipe (dating from 1845-a long time after our era as you can see)quoted by Jane Grigson in her book, Food with the Famous .
2 ½ points of veal or light beef stock.
2oz blanched almonds
10z white bread, weighed without crusts
1 egg yolk
¼ pint each double and soured cream or milk Salt, pepper,
2 oz toasted or fried almonds to garnish.
To make the soup, put the almonds and bread into a blender, add some of the stock and liquidize to a smooth paste.
Using a sieve, strain into the remaining stock, pushing through as much as you can. Beat the egg yolk with the creams or cream and milk and add to the soup. If possible leave for an hour or two; this will improve and mellow the flavour.
Reheat, keeping the soup well below boiling point so as not to curdle the egg. Add salt, pepper, lemon juice and Cayenne pepper to taste and bring out the flavour.
Serve garnished with almonds.
Because Mr Bingley served white Soup at the Netherfield Ball, and because Miss Bates says wonderingly of the supper served at the Crown Inn Ball in Emma
Dear Jane, how shall we ever recollect half the dishes for grandmamma? Soup too! Bless me! I should not be helped so soon, but it smells most excellent, and I cannot help beginning.
it is sometimes assumed that soup is de rigueur at balls in this era. However, I have poured over my extensive collection of cookery books dating from the late 18th and early 19th century and I have only ever found one list of recommended dished to be served at a ball, and that is from William Henderson’s The Housekeepers Instructor,14th edition dating from 1807.
The Housewife’s Instructor was first written by William Henderson. It was a best seller and appeared in many editions. This revision overseen by Jacob Christopher Schnebblie contained his suggestions for a ball supper suitable for twenty people.
Jacob Christopher Schnebbelie had been the principal cook at Melun’s Hotel in Bath and Martelli’s Restaurant at The Albany, in Piccadilly, London.
This is his portrait from the frontispiece to his edition of The Housewife’s Instructor. You can clearly see the entrance to the Albany below him.
This place is still in existence: here is another view of it taken from inside the courtyard circa 1820.
The Albany has, of course, a connection with Jane Austen, in that Henry Austen’s bank’s offices and headquarters were at Number 1, the Courtyard at The Albany between the years 1804-1807. The building was divided into a series of apartments which were inhabited by officers, professional men and unmarried members of the aristocracy and the gentry. It was (and still is ) a fearsomely smart address.
Here are the for dishes for the first course:
Note the absence of soup in any form. If someone as smart as Schnebbelie did not include soup as a matter of course for a ball supper, then no wonder that Miss Bates was pleased by the appearance of soup at the Crown: it must have been a superior spread indeed, and this evidence suggests to me that soup at a ball was the exception and not the rule. It is clear therefore that Mr Bingley (and Mr Weston) were characteristically most generous hosts ;-)
To round up my posts on Sanditon, written to coincide with Laurel’s Group Read of Jane Austen’s unfinished fragment at Austenprose, I thought I might take the opportunity of writing about Jane Austen and donkeys , or asses as they were then called.
In Sanditon we hear much of Lady Denham’s asses and her money-making plans for them:
Well, Mr. Parker, and the other is a boarding school, a French boarding school, is it? No harm in that. They’ll stay their six weeks. And out of such a number, who knows but some may be consumptive and want asses’ milk; and I have two milch asses at this present time…Going after a doctor! Why, what
should we do with a doctor here? It would be only encouraging our servants and the poor to fancy themselves ill if there was a doctor at hand. Oh! pray, let us have none of the tribe at Sanditon. We go on very well as we are. There is the sea and the downs and my milch asses.
Now if we could get a young heiress to be sent here for her health — and if she was ordered to drink asses’ milk I could supply her — and, as soon as she got well, have her fall in love with Sir Edward!”
Unfortunately for her, the stout defensive attitude of Mrs Griffiths pours cold water on her plans for her asses milk:
Lady Denham had other motives for calling on Mrs. Griffiths besides attention to the Parkers. In Miss Lambe, here was the very young lady, sickly and rich, whom she had been asking for; and she made the acquaintance for Sir Edward’s sake and the sake of her milch asses. How it might answer with regard to the baronet remained to be proved but, as to the animals, she soon found that all her calculations of profit would be vain. Mrs. Griffiths would not allow Miss Lambe to have the smallest sympton of a decline or any complaint which asses’ milk could possibly relieve. Miss Lambe was “under the constant care of an experienced physician,” and his prescriptions must be their rule. And except in favour of some tonic pills, which a cousin of her own had a property in, Mrs. Griffiths never deviated from the strict medicinal page.
Why was asses milk thought good for invalids particularly consumptives?
Lets turn to William Buchan and his book Domestic Medicine
which was a very popular home reference book in the early 19th century, and one I think Jane Austen may have read., or at least had access to.
This is what he has to say about the use of asses milk, in particular in relation to consumptive patients:
Next to proper air and exercise, we would recommend a due attention to diet. The patient should eat nothing that is either heating or hard of digestion, and his drink must be of a soft and cooling nature. All the diet ought to be calculated to lessen the acrimony of the humours, and to nourish and support the patient. For this purpose he must keep chiefly to the use of vegetables and milk. Milk alone is of more value in this disease than the whole materia medica.
Asses milk is commonly reckoned preferable to any other; but it cannot always be obtained; besides, it is generally taken in a very small quantity; whereas, to produce any effects, it ought to make a considerable part of the patient’s diet. It is hardly to be expected, that a gill or two of asses milk, drank in the space of twenty-four hours, should be able to produce any considerable change in the humours of an adult; and when people do not perceive its effects soon, they lose hope, and so leave it off. Hence it happens that this medicine, however valuable, very seldom performs a cure. The reason is obvious; it is commonly used too late, is taken in too small quantities, and is not duly persisted in.
I have known very extraordinary effects from asses milk in obstinate coughs, which threatened a consumption of the lungs; and do verily believe, if used at this period, that it would seldom fail; but if it be delayed till an ulcer is formed, which is generally the case, how can it be expected to succeed?
Asses milk ought to be drank, if possible, in its natural warmth, and, by a grown person, in the quantity of half an English pint at a time. Instead of taking this quantity night and morning only, the patient ought to take it four times, or at least thrice a day, and to eat a little light bread along with it, so as to make it a kind of meal.
If the milk should happen to purge, it may be mixed with old conserve of roses. When that cannot be obtained, the powder of crabs claws may be used in its stead. Asses milk is usually ordered to be drank warm in bed; but as it generally throws the patient into a sweat when taken in this way, it would perhaps be better to give it after he rises.
It was also thought to be helpful whenever a patient presented with a persistent cough, coupled with other complaints such as smallpox:
When a cough, a difficulty of breathing, or other symptoms of a consumption, succeed to the small-pox, the patient must be sent to a place where the air is good, and put upon a course of asses milk, with such exercise as he can bear.
Should a cough, with difficulty of breathing, and other symptoms of a consumption, remain after the measles, small quantities of blood may be frequently let at proper intervals, as the patient’s strength and constitution will permit. He ought likewise to drink asses milk, to remove to a free air, if in a large town, and to ride daily on horseback. He must keep close to a diet consisting of milk and vegetables; and lastly, if these do not succeed, let him remove to a warmer climate.
Mrs Rundell, in her section of recipes for invalids in her book A New System of Domestic Cookery, ( my 1819 edition) advises the use of asses milk too.
In actual fact it has now been proved scientifically that all these old “cures” may have some truth behind them. Ass’s milk has been found to contain less solids than any other sort of milk. It is richer in sugar than other sorts (except for human milk). It is constituted with less curd and fat than other milks and it is consequently easy to digest. A rather good thing for ill people to consume therefore.
For an ass to produce milk of course the Jenny or female donkey had to have produced a calf, which is why Lady Denham is rather proud to have two milch asses and is eager to make the most of their milk producing period. The Jennys were usually milked twice a day, and usually gave up between half a pint to a pint at each milking. Milch donkey could be hired at the cost of one guinea a week, plus expenses of transport ,and no doubt this was Lady Denham’s plan.
But if you could not obtain fresh asses milk then you could make a substitute.
My copy of The Family Receipt Book,
a fanatically detailed and comprehensive encyclopedia of domestic knowledge circa 1810, gives this recipe for artificial asses milk:
And even Mrs Rundell obliged with three alternatives to fresh asses milk:
Some of the ingredients these recipes used may now seem odd to us –snails?– but some are now virtually unknown.
Eringo root is perhaps the most puzzling ingredient. It is in fact the roots of the Sea Holly, Eryngium maritimum
which have been candied or picked.
Sea Holly is in fact no relation at all to evergreen holly trees but is a tall, bluish-green evergreen perennial found growing wild on coastal areas in England. It is in fact a member of the umbellifer family of plants ( which includes parsley, carrots and parsnips).
Here are some which have been candied by Ivan Day of Historic Foods.
You can see I think the resemblance they have to parsnip tips.
It was fantastically popular sweetmeat in the 17th and 18th centuries and used not only as a sweet addition to artificial asses milk , but as an aphrodisiac.
In The Merry Wives of Windsor by Shakespeare, Falstaff calls for them:
Let the sky rain potatoes;
let it thunder to the tune of Green-sleeves,
hail kissing-comfits and snow eringoes ,
let there come a tempest of provocation…
(See: Falstaff, Act 5, scene v,)
and I suppose at his advantaged age he might have needed them.
Next onto the other use for asses ..as a means of transport and of which Jane Austen made much use in her last months at Chawton .
Inevitable I suppose, given Mr Woodhouse’s preference for plain cooking….and Emma’s charitable impulses, but let’s delve into this subject today, shall we?
First, food for invalids.
For a good indicator of the type of food recommended for weak stomachs in this era we can do little better than to look to the advice our old friend Mrs Rundell for her wise advice.
In her book, A New System of Domestic Cookery formed upon Principals of Economy and adapted to the use of Private Families by a Lady a whole chapter is devoted to this type of cooking:
Cookery for the Sick and for the Poor.
In her introduction to the chapter, she sets out her sensible approach to this subject:
The following pages will contain cookery for the sick; it being of more consequence to support those whose bad appetite will not allow them to take the necessary nourishment , thus to stimulate that of persons in health.
It may not be necessary to advise, that a choice be made of the things most likely to agree with the patient; that a change be provided; that some one at least be always ready; that not too much of those be made at once, which are not likely to keep ,as invalids require variety; and that they should succeed each other in forms and flavours.
Jane Austen was obviously very familiar with this type of food for the advice doled out by Emma and Mr Woodhouse in the book neatly coincides with that given by Mrs Rundell.
Here is her recipe for Water Gruel:
Put a large spoonful of oatmeal by degrees into a pint of water, and when smooth boil it.
Another way- Rub smooth a large spoonful of oatmeal, with two of water and our it quick; but take care it does not boil over. In a quarter of an hour strain it off: and add salt and a bit of butter when eaten. Stir until the butter be incorporated.
And here are her recipes for preparing eggs:
Mr Woodhouse would no doubt approve:
“Mrs. Bates, let me propose your venturing on one of these eggs. An egg boiled very soft is not unwholesome. Serle understands boiling an egg better than any body. I would not recommend an egg boiled by any body else — but you need not be afraid — they are very small, you see — one of our small eggs will not hurt you…
Emma, Chapter 3
She makes this point about cooks, proving what a treasure Mr Woodhouse has in Serle:
..in many houses a good sick cook is rarely met with: and many who possess all the goods of fortune have attributed the first return of health to an appetite excited by good kitchen psychics as it is called.
Her remaks on providing food for the poor as also very revealing:
Emma, to give her her due, clearly knows a lot about the practicalities of food, and her knowledge is demonstrated in her gift of pork to the Bates.
Emma is often thought of as a spoiled little rich girl with an empty head and list of unread books. But, in her defence, Emma knew exactly how the different cuts of pork should be cooked and what woud be of use to the less prosperous characters in Highbury:
“It is a great pity that their circumstances should be so confined! a great pity indeed! and I have often wished — but it is so little one can venture to do — small, trifling presents, of any thing uncommon — Now we have killed a porker, and Emma thinks of sending them a loin or a leg; it is very small and delicate — Hartfield pork is not like any other pork — but still it is pork — and, my dear Emma, unless one could be sure of their making it into steaks, nicely fried, as our’s are fried, without the smallest grease, and not roast it, for no stomach can bear roast pork — I think we had better send the leg — do not you think so, my dear?”
“My dear papa, I sent the whole hind-quarter. I knew you would wish it. There will be the leg to be salted, you know, which is so very nice, and the loin to be dressed directly in any manner they like.”
Emma, Chapter 21
Mrs Rundell’s advice on porkers is pertinent:
Porkers are not so old as hogs; their flesh is whiter and less rich, but it is not so tender. It is divided into four quarters. The fore-quarter has the spring or fore-leg. the fore-loin or neck , the spare rib and griskin. The hind has the leg and loin.
Her advice regarding the Loin is:
Loin and Neck of Pork: Roast them.
But as regards the leg……
To boil a leg of Pork
Salt it eight or ten days; when it is to be dressed, weight it; let it lie half an hour in cold water to make it white: allow a quarter of an hour for every pound and half an hour over ,from the time it boils up; skim it as soon as it boils, and frequently after. Allow water enough .Save some of it to make peas-soup. Some boil it in a very nice cloth, floured; which gives a very delicate look .It should be small and of a fine grain. Serve peas-pudding and turnips with it.
Mr Woodhouse would surely have approved of Mrs Rundell’s style, I think:
“That’s right, my dear, very right. I had not thought of it before, but that was the best way. They must not over-salt the leg; and then, if it is not over-salted, and if it is very thoroughly boiled, just as Serle boils our’s, and eaten very moderately of, with a boiled turnip, and a little carrot or parsnip, I do not consider it unwholesome.”
Emma, Chapter 21
Here are a few pieces of sensible advice from Mrs Rundell’s General Remarks and Hints on Providing Food for the Poor:
I promised a few hints, to enable every family to assist the poor of their neighbourhood at a very trivial expense; and these may be varied or amended at the discretion of the mistress…
When the oven is hot, a large pudding maybe baked and given to the sick or young family; and thus made the trouble is little;…
Shades of Miss Bate’s twice baked apples…
I found in the time of scarcity ten or fifteen gallons of soup could be dealt out weekly at an expense not worth mentioning even though the vegetables were brought .If in the villages about London abounding with opulent families the quantity of ten gallons were made in ten gentlemen’s houses there would be a hundred gallons of wholesome agreeable food given weekly for the supply of forty poor families, at the rate of two gallons and a half each.
What a relief to a labouring husband, instead of bread and cheese, to have a warm comfortable meal! To the sick ,aged and infant branches how important and advantage! More less to the industrious mother whose forbearance may have a larger share frequently reduces that strength upon which the welfare of ah family essentially provides.
It rarely happens that servants object to seconding the kindness of their superiors to the poor: but should the cook in any family think the adoption of this plan too troublesome ,a gratuity at the end of the winter might repay her if the love of her fellow creatures failed of doing it a hundred fold….
If you are at all interested in the domestic food as described in Emma, then I can think of no better book to read than Mrs Rundells cookery book. And luckily for us, Persephone Books have recently issued a very reasonably priced and beautifully produced edition of the 1816 edition of this book. It’s not very often I really do urge you to buy a book (Really !?!) but I would urge everyone to buy this ;-)
The conversation was here interrupted. They were called on to share in the awkwardness of a rather long interval between the courses, and obliged to be as formal and as orderly as the others; but when the table was again safely covered, when every corner dish was placed exactly right, and occupation and ease were generally restored…
Emma, Chapter 26.
Dear,dear….what would Mr Conset say about the Cole’s staff ,who are not doing a very accomplished job at the dinner party in front of the assembled Great and Good of Highbury?
He was a chef who wrote The Footman’s Directory and Butler’s Remberancer, published in 1823, and in it gave strict and minutely detailed instructions for the correct setting of the dinner table and how to manage it all with style.
The first two courses would have seen the table laid with a green baize cloth put underneath a white damask linen one, to prevent the table from becoming marked with heat marks from the hot dishes served in the first and second courses.
There was, or so it seems to me, ample opportunity for the staff to make mistakes and appear clumsy.
Here is an example of a grand first course from The Housewife’s Instructor by Henderson.
And here is an examle of the types of dishes that would follow in a grand second course:
Let’s look at Mr Consett’s directions for laying the cloth:
In putting on the cloth, let the table be dusted ,and the green one put on first.. then take the linen one , observing to have it the right side outermost ; this you may easily tell by the hemming and the fold of it: be likewise particular in having the bottom of the cloth face the bottom of the table, as in most families they have some sign woven in their table-linen, such as their crests or coats of arms. If the pattern be baskets of flowers, the bottom of the basket must be towards the person who sits at the bottom as the design ought likewise to go exactly down the middle of the table.
This is what he has to say about the removal of the first course:
As soon as you receive the signal for removing the first course, take the small knife tray with a clean knife-cloth in it, and take all the carving knives, forks and spoons which have been used, form off all the dishes, before you attempt to take the dishes. Observe when you take off the knives forks and dishes to begin at the bottom of the table and take the knives etc from the left-hand side of the dish, and go regularly round, removing from the sides as you go down the table; then when you come to the bottom where you began, put down your tray and begin removing the dishes form off the table in the same way you did the knives, forks etc.; remove the bottom dish first , then the side, top and the other side: as you must consider in taking off an putting on, you should lose no time, nor be running backwards and forwards anymore than you can help; let your dishes be taken off and put on in a systematic order so that you make no bustle and confusion in the room;br quick but quiet in your movements; as you take off the dishes put them in a large tray which of course you have ready and if ther is no one to take them downstairs for you do it yourself; empty your tray as quick as possible and but the second course on it; but be not in too great a hurry as you may spill the gravy or break the dishes but be no longer than you can help in carrying the things up and down.
It sometimes happens when there have been but four dishes for the first course there have been six for the second;be particular in putting them on; have the bill of fare in the tray on the sideboard then you will be able to look at tit and prevent making mistakes as it is reasonable to think that ladies and gentlemen like to have the dishes put on the same way which they have contrived for the things to answer each other.
If you were to pay attention in settling the dishes in the tray you could place them in it as they are to go onto the table;this certinaly would be an advantage to you and you may esily do so when you have all the dishes up; begin to put them on in the same order as you took the others off, the bottom dish first , then the left side, and top etc. ; be very particular to have them in a proper line with each other and at equal distances from the sides and ends of the table.
When you have put them all on, take the covers from off those which are covered then be ready to wait on the company: when you see they are finishing the second course let the cheese plates be put before them as you change the others, a small knife and if there is a salad a fork also should be put in the plate.
He then makes these remarks about the removing of the cloth:
After the first and second courses have been removed, and the cheese eaten- and surely there would be cheese at the Cole’s dinner party,for we know they served it to Mr Elton at one of their “experimental” men-only dinners- the dessert could then be served :
…as soon as the company have done with the cheese, remove it from the table; then take all the things quite off, both dirty and clean; have a spoon( if there is not a proper table–brush) with a plate, and take off all the bits of bread, then with a clean glass-cloth and another plate, brush all the crumbs off the cloth; as soon as this is done put round the finger –glasses, one to each person. If you have not got the desert ready before you put the finger–glasses on, you had better get it while they are using; during that time, likewise, remove as many of the things as you possibly can out of the room. As soon as the finger –glasses are done with , remove them; then take off the cloth with the green one also ,and put them out of the room at once, other wise it is very likely in your haste you may fall over them; when you have removed the cloths, if the hot dishes have drawn out the damp, take a cloth and wipe it off ,but do not do it with a dirty cloth as this will not be pleasant for the company to see…As soon as you have wiped the table , put the desert on; put the dessert dishes nearer the middle of the table as you did with the meat etc., etc., as they are smaller.
Observe the same rule in putting on the dessert as the other courses, unless there are more dishes in the dessert then in the other courses; in this case , you may put on the dessert dishes top, middle and bottom before you put on the sides; when they are all put on then put on the sugar basin and the water jug, between the top and bottom dishes and middle one in the same line; then put the cut-glass rummers between the two side dishes and the middle two on each side; then put the wine decanters on at the bottom of the table, next to the gentlemen, but if there be none but ladies, put the wine near the one who sits at the top. Let four table spoons be laid to serve the dessert with and if there be a cake, let a knife be put with it; next put on the dessert plates and two wine glasses to each person; and when the dessert is all set out be as quick as you possibly can in removing everything out of the room except the clean glasses in the side board, the cruet stand and the clean plate ;the clean knives forks and plates on the side table may also be left; but remove all the dirty plates, knives , forks, beer, toast and water etc.etc. All things of the eating and drinking kind should be removed before you leave the dining room; but let it be done quickly and with as little noise as possible as not to appear all in a bustle and confusion when leaving the room, for a good servant is to have everything in the room ready when called for ….The sooner you leave the room after the dessert is put on the better; never loiter about the room when the company are drinking their wine; some servants that I know will be rattling the knives and forks and removing all the clean glasses etc etc from the dining rooms before they leave it, but this is quite unnecessary. You may leave the sideboard and side table to look ornamental without much trouble or loss of time.
I could imagine that staff unused to such formalities would be a little awkward in performing these tasks seamlessly. We know that the staff are very inexperinced for not only is the dining room a new addition to the Cole’s house but they have never attempted to entertain on this scale before:
The Coles had been settled some years in Highbury, and were very good sort of people — friendly, liberal, and unpretending; but, on the other hand, they were of low origin, in trade, and only moderately genteel. On their first coming into the country, they had lived in proportion to their income, quietly, keeping little company, and that little unexpensively; but the last year or two had brought them a considerable increase of means — the house in town had yielded greater profits, and fortune in general had smiled on them. With their wealth, their views increased; their want of a larger house, their inclination for more company. They added to their house, to their number of servants, to their expenses of every sort; and by this time were, in fortune and style of living, second only to the family at Hartfield. Their love of society, and their new dining-room, prepared every body for their keeping dinner-company; and a few parties, chiefly among the single men, had already taken place.
I know Id hate to try it…..and I feel for those poor inexperienced staff…..
Mrs. Weston proposed having no regular supper; merely sandwiches, &c. set out in the little room; but that was scouted as a wretched suggestion. A private dance, without sitting down to supper, was pronounced an infamous fraud upon the rights of men and women; and Mrs. Weston must not speak of it again.
Emma, Chapter 29
An infamous fraud indeed! After the exertions of a ball , refreshment had to be provided, surely ;-)
Jane Austen does not really give us many details of the supper served at the Ball at the Crown .What little we do know is related by our ever important informant, Miss Bates:
This is meeting quite in fairy-land! Such a transformation…..Upon my word, this is charming to be standing about among such friends! And such a noble fire! I am quite roasted. No coffee, I thank you, for me — never take coffee. A little tea if you please, sir, by and bye, — no hurry — Oh! here it comes. Everything so good!”
I never saw any thing equal to the comfort and style — Candles every where. ..Well, this is brilliant! I am all amazement! could not have supposed any thing! Such elegance and profusion! — I have seen nothing like it since — Well, where shall we sit? where shall we sit? ..Dear Jane, how shall we ever recollect half the dishes for grandmamma? Soup too! Bless me! I should not be helped so soon, but it smells most excellent, and I cannot help beginning.”
Emma, Chapter 38
To find out what was served at balls in the early 19th century we cannot turn to homely cookery books like Mrs Rundell’s New System of Domestic Cookery. No, we have to turn to far more fancier selections.
The Housewife’s Instructor was first written by William Henderson. It was a best seller and appeared in many editions. The revision overseen by Jacob Christopher Schnebblie contained his suggestions for a ball supper suitable for twenty people.
Jacob Christopher Schnebbelie had been the principal cook at Melun’s Hotel in Bath and Martelli’s Restaurant at The Albany, in Piccadilly, London.
This place is still in existence :here is another view of it taken from inside the courtyard. The Albany has a connection with Jane Austen, in that Henry Austen’s bank’s offices and headquarters were at Number 1, the Courtyard at The Albany between the years 1804-1807.
The building was divided into a series of apartments which were inhabited by officers, professional men and unmarried members of the aristocracy and the gentry. It was (and still is )a fearsomely smart address.
Here are his suggestions for the first course:
Do note the repetition of the dishes: the male diners would have served themselves and their female partners without the need to pass dishes over the table. And do remember that all these illustrations can be enlarged merely by clicking on them: it helps to see the detail.
We know from Miss Bates speech, above, that soup was served at the Crown supper , so it seems the redoubtable Mrs Stokes made an even grander effort than these smart metropolitan suggestions in rural Surrey. Little wonder Miss Bates thought herself blessed to be there.
Here are his suggestions for the dessert:
The Pines mentioned above are, of course, pineapples: a very special, expensive and rare fruit.
I am so glad that Mrs Weston was rightly prevailed upon by Emma and Frank to provide a grand repast for their friends and neighbours at that ball. Perhaps, after all, it did resemble this one …..
(Funeral Procession by Thomas Rowlandson, circa 1810 )
The great Mrs. Churchill was no more…
Mrs. Churchill, after being disliked at least twenty-five years, was now spoken of with compassionate allowances. In one point she was fully justified. She had never been admitted before to be seriously ill. The event acquitted her of all the fancifulness, and all the selfishness of imaginary complaints…
Short letters from Frank were received at Randalls, communicating all that was immediately important of their state and plans. Mr. Churchill was better than could be expected; and their first removal, on the departure of the funeral for Yorkshire, was to be to the house of a very old friend in Windsor, to whom Mr. Churchill had been promising a visit the last ten years..
Emma, Chapter 45
So, poor Mrs Churchill who ruled her family with an iron fist, died in Richmond, in Surrey, after apparently really having been ill all the time. It always makes me smile that as soon as his domineering wife is dead, Mr Churchill suddenly appears free enough to be able to visit an old friend, whom he had been promising to visit for ten years! How wickedly funny Jane Austen is in those passages from Chapter 45….
On to more serious matters…..The funeral was to be in Yorkshire at the great Enscombe estate. And really we would have expected nothing else…I can imagine Mrs Churchill resting forever in some great mausoleum like the one at Castle Howard ( also in Yorkshire)
But could a corpse be transported a journey of at least 200 miles? Let’s see shall we?
In “The English Way of Death” by Julian Litten, there are some descriptions of 18th century funerals, rather in the grand manner, where the dead body was to be transported some distance for burial. The story of Edward Colston is a very interesting one.
Edward Colston died at his home in Mortlake in Surrey, near London in 1771. His funeral instruction were to the effect that his dead body was to be taken to Bristol and after having been paraded through the streets of the town he was to be buried in All Saints Church.
The journey in 1771 would have taken 6 days, involving five overnight stays at inns( and while on the road luncheons and breakfasts) for 16 attendants who attended the corpse. Together with stabling for 20 horses, shelter for the funeral car and the three mourning coaches which followed it. An extra room was taken at each inn for the corpse to lie alone, in state each night.
But before the body could embark on this journey, the Archbishop of Canterbury had first to be applied to, in order for him to give permission for the corpse to be transported from the parish in which Colston died- in the Surrey diocese -to the parish in Bristol in which he was to be buried.
The whole funeral cost £513…an enormous sum. It was also not unknown for coffins to be transported by river and canal was well as by road.
By the time Jane Austen was writing Emma, funerals for the gentry and middles classes of people were, in the main, organised by professional firms of undertakers. They were suspected of insisting on elaborate mourning rituals to increase their profits sometimes ignoring the wishes of the deceased, a situation that reached its peak in the Victorian era.
The cost and details of one funeral of a person known to Jane Austen has been transcribed by Deirdre Le Faye and published in Volume VII of Bath History (1998) and this, indeed, reflects the conflict between a desire for a simple funeral and the reality of unnecessary ritual and cost. The account of the costs of the funeral of Mrs Lillingston, a friend of the Jane Austen’s aunt and uncle, the Leigh Perrots in Bath, who left Jane Austen a legacy of £50 in 1806 (which said sum which was enough to pay all her living expenses for one whole year) makes for interesting reading.
The Bath undertakers, Ballans and Bradley of Bond Street, presented their detailed account of 8th February 1806 for her funeral costs, and though it was supposed to be done in the plainest manner according to Mrs Lillingston’s wishes, it still entailed providing expensive mourning for all Mrs lillingston’s old servants, and four horses to pull the hearse and the following mourning coach,which was thought to be essential by the undertakers. In her will Mrs Lillington had asked for only two horses to be used. The final bill for this “simple” funeral amounted to £115 and 12 shillings.
So though it was undoubtedly expensive, Mrs Churchill’s corpse could most certainly be transported back to her Enscombe estate, at least 200 miles along the Great North Road from London, provided that expense could be met (and I’m sure it could) and the Archbishop of Canterbury provided his permission.
On a slightly different tack…I think it might now be appropriate to mention that funeral arrangements and customs were slightly different in northern England and Yorkshire, where Enscombe is situated, than in other parts of the country.
A really quite quaint and interesting habit of distributing special funeral biscuits and hot red wine to the mourners existed in the North of England throughout the 17th, 18th and into the 19th centuries.
The biscuits served at northern funerals came in a variety of shapes and sizes and textures. In the 18th century/early 19th century the most fashionable type resembled Naples or Savoy biscuits, which were similar to the crisp sponge finger type biscuits -manufactured under the commercial term Boudoir or LadyBiscuits– which can be brought from confectioners shops and supermarkets today and are usually used to make the spongebase of puddings like tiramisu or trifle.
Do look at the following extract from The Gentleman’s Magazine (1802) Volume I, p 105:
At the funeral of the richer sort…they had burnt wine and Savoy biscuits, and a paper with two Naples biscuits sealed up to carry home to their families. The paper in which these biscuits were sealed ( always with black sealing wax-JFW) was printed on one side with a coffin, cross bone, skulls, hacks, spades, hour-glasses etc…
Many confectioners specialised in producing them and here are some illustrations of the wrappers which have been preserved in various museum collections in the north,and are included in Laura Mason’s book, Food and the Rites of Passage, published by the fabulous Prospect Books:
(Do note you can enlarge all these illustrations in order to see the detail, merely by clicking on them)
Sometimes mourners were met at the deceased’s house by servants prior to the funeral procession leaving for the church and were then presented with the biscuits and wine. In Lincolnshire port or sherry was the preferred drink. Sometimes the wrapped packs of biscuits were simply left on a table in the house, so that mourners could carry them to the church, each taking a package as they left with the funeral procession.
A recipe for the biscuits was published in Chesterfield, Derbyshire in 1816 in S. W. Stanley’s book The New Whole Art of Confectionery:
Take twenty-four eggs, three pounds of flour, and three pounds of lump sugar , which will make forty eight finger biscuits for a funeral.
As Mrs. Churchill was most definitely “of the richer sort” I feel sure the mourners at her funeral would have gone away clutching some funeral biscuits in a fancy wrapper, together with appropriate sentiments, and sealed with black sealing wax, obtained from the swankiest confectioner in Yorkshire.
What does it mean when Jane Austen tells us that when Mr Elton dined at the Coles, they ate some cheese? Was it at all special? Why did he mention the type of cheese by name? And what did that say about Mr Elton(boo, hiss):
Mr. Elton was still talking, still engaged in some interesting detail; and Emma experienced some disappointment when she found that he was only giving his fair companion an account of the yesterday’s party at his friend Cole’s, and that she was come in herself for the Stilton cheese, the north Wiltshire, the butter, the cellery, the beet-root and all the dessert.
Emma, Chapter 10
Let’s take a look at the individual cheeses mentioned, shall we?.
This is a very traditional English cheese. It is a blue veined cheese made from full cream milk, forming its own crust or coat, made in a tall, cylindrical form.
The main outlet for the sale of this cheese was The Bell Inn ,a coaching inn on the Great North Road( which was the main route in Jane Austen’s era from London to York).
The Inn was situate in the village of Stilton in Huntingdonshire. The inn is still in existence but due to modern country boundary changes it is now in Cambridgeshire. I can highly recommend a visit ;-)
The man who popularised it, was Cooper Thornhill, the inn’s landlord during the mid-1700s. It was thought that the cheese was first made by Thornhill’s sister-in-law, a housekeeper in Quenby, Leicestershire. But recent research has discovered that it was also made in the village of Stilton itself. This has led to some uproar in the rather strange world of Certification Trade Marks and EU Protected Designation of Origins (PDO’s) but that does not concern us here ;-)
Mites and all, he served it at the Bell and it was thus named after the village.Mites…and maggots. Yes, indeed. Those who have cast iron stomachs… do read on. The following extract about Stilton is from Daniel Defoe’s s Tour Through The Whole Island of Great Britain (1724-27):
Silton is a town famous for its cheese which is called our English Parmesan and is brought to the table with the mites and maggots around it, so thick that they bring a spoon with them for you to eat the mites with, as you do the cheese
It became very popular with hunters( the area around Stilton is known for its fox-hunting associations, with many a famous pack established there) and travellers going to and from town(London) on the Great North Road. And through the influence of this aristocratic patronage, was sold as a delicacy in London in the late 18th/early 19th centuries.
Because it was made only at Stilton, the cheese had to be transported around the country to be enjoyed, and this accordingly made it quite expensive. The Coles therefore were serving a delicacy ,and also one that had travelled a good distance to reach their dining table at Highbury in Surrey.
On to North Wiltshire Cheese.
North Wiltshire was famous from the 16th century for its production of cheese which was made on the dairy farms in the northern part of the county. Chippenham, Warminster and Swindon had famous markets which sold only cheese, to both locals and travelling merchants.
The north-western district of Wiltshire is particularly famous for its cheese, formerly sold under the name of Gloucetser, but now in sufficient esteem to be distinguished under its own name. Cattle are likewise fattened in these parts; and great numbers of swine are reared.
(See: England Described etc (1818) by John Aitkin )
The cheese was of excellent quality and in part this was attributed to the particular method of dairying in Wiltshire which allowed for consistency in temperature and method. At this time, the 18th century, the milk of Long-horn cattle was used; these have long since been replaced by modern dairy breeds, but in Jane Austen’s era Wiltshire cheeses were known for their intense flavour and density.
Small cheeses, known as Wiltshire Loaves, and larger ones, similar in size to Gloucesters, are both recorded as existing. These were much more expensive than the conventional flat circular farmhouse cheese. At this time ( the end of the 18th century) Wiltshire cheese sold for 45-50 shillings a hundredweight ,as opposed to 27-28 shillings per hundredweight for the normal flat farmhouse cheese.
The difference in prices reflected the way in which the cheese was made. The cheese took longer to mature than normal owing to its density, thereby causing valuable extra loft space to be taken up while the ripening cheese was stored.
As with Stilton , this cheese had to be transported from its locality in the West of England to Highbury in Surrey for the Coles to enjoy it, and this would have added to its expense.
So : no wonder Mr Elton mentioned that he had been served with both these cheeses.
The Coles were living in a rather exalted middle class fashion.They did not serve locally made farmhouse cheeses when they entertained,but bought expensive cheese. Emma ., silly little madam that she is(I can say this with affection for she is my favourite of all Jane Austen heroines!)fails I think to spot that the Coles( whom she considers unworthy of her attention) really are coming up in the world, and their consumption of elite luxuries- like regional cheese from different counties to their own and new piano(even if it is uncertain there is anyone in the Coles household who can play the instrument!)- are good indicators of this :
“I declare, I do not know when I have heard any thing that has given me more satisfaction! It always has quite hurt me that Jane Fairfax, who plays so delightfully, should not have an instrument. It seemed quite a shame, especially considering how many houses there are where fine instruments are absolutely thrown away. This is like giving ourselves a slap, to be sure! and it was but yesterday I was telling Mr. Cole, I really was ashamed to look at our new grand pianoforté in the drawing-room, while I do not know one note from another, and our little girls, who are but just beginning, perhaps may never make any thing of it; and there is poor Jane Fairfax, who is mistress of music, has not any thing of the nature of an instrument, not even the pitifullest old spinnet in the world, to amuse herself with. I was saying this to Mr. Cole but yesterday, and he quite agreed with me; only he is so particularly fond of music that he could not help indulging himself in the purchase, hoping that some of our good neighbours might be so obliging occasionally to put it to a better use than we can; and that really is the reason why the instrument was bought — or else I am sure we ought to be ashamed of it. We are in great hopes that Miss Woodhouse may be prevailed with to try it this evening.”
Certainly their table is spread with some of the finest produce, if the cheese they serve is an indication.
Emma ought to be careful,in my very humble opinion. Her tiny little world, which consists of her family and Mr Woodhouse’s favoured companions, is not really wide enough for her to appreciate that the society in Highbury is on the move. Silly blinkered girl.
And what does this all say about Mr Elton: that he is keen on good cheese? Perhaps. But I think Jane Austen meant us to realise that it demonstrates more probably,that he is easily impressed with show and display. And he likes a rich lifestyle as demonstrated by the Coles who can put on a rather good display of expensive food due to their new-made wealth.Faced with the luxuries the rich can command, he is in rapture.
Qutie the little materialistic snob, isn’t he? (Boos, hiss)
“Ah! poor Miss Taylor. She would be very glad to stay.” There was no recovering Miss Taylor — nor much likelihood of ceasing to pity her: but a few weeks brought some alleviation to Mr. Woodhouse. The compliments of his neighbours were over; he was no longer teased by being wished joy of so sorrowful an event; and the wedding-cake, which had been a great distress to him, was all eat up. His own stomach could bear nothing rich, and he could never believe other people to be different from himself. What was unwholesome to him, he regarded as unfit for any body; and he had, therefore, earnestly tried to dissuade them from having any wedding-cake at all, and when that proved vain, as earnestly tried to prevent any body’s eating it. He had been at the pains of consulting Mr. Perry, the apothecary, on the subject. Mr. Perry was an intelligent, gentlemanlike man, whose frequent visits were one of the comforts of Mr. Woodhouse’s life; and, upon being applied to, he could not but acknowledge, (though it seemed rather against the bias of inclination,) that wedding-cake might certainly disagree with many — perhaps with most people, unless taken moderately. With such an opinion, in confirmation of his own, Mr. Woodhouse hoped to influence every visitor of the new-married pair; but still the cake was eaten; and there was no rest for his benevolent nerves till it was all gone.
Emma, Chapter 1
From the beginning of this novel we are thrown amid the turmoil weddings can cause. Mr Woodhouse’s antipathy towards matrimony is admirably displayed in his attitude towards the consumption of the most important part of a wedding breakfast-the wedding cake. Poor Mr Woodhouse-so distressed by the mere sight of it.
What would Poor Miss Taylor’s Wedding cake have been like? Let’s see shall we?
Wedding Pies-fruit loaves encased in pastry or elaborate marchpanes made of marzipan- were served at weddings throughout the 16th and 17th centuries, and the tradition of a bride pie containing a glass ring, survived in Scotland well into the early 19th century. The idea of the glass ring was very similar to the bean found in the old Twelfth Night Cake- and it would be used give an indication not of the King for the night but of the next person to be married. Whosoever found it was the chosen one …
However from the mid 18th century a new style of confection arrived on the scene : The Bride Cake, which began to be known around 1800 as a Wedding Cake.
The earliest printed recipe for a bride cake that we know of was created by that extraordinary woman, Elizabeth Raffald.
Elizabeth Raffald was an entrepreneur supreme.
She was born Elizabeth Whittaker, in Doncaster, Yorkshire in 1733, and worked as a housekeeper to several families, the last of which were the Warburton’s of Arley Hall in Cheshire. This was where she met and married their gardener, John Raffald.
It would appear that on their marriage in 1763 both their employments with the family were terminated ( a not uncommon situation) and the newly -weds moved to Manchester, where Elizabeth kept a confectioner’s and perfumer’s shop while her husband ran a market stall selling vegetables, for as his family were the possessors of many market gardens in the area, they could keep him supplied with his stock in trade.
Together they eventually took over the running of inns; first, The Bull’s Head Inn in the Market Place in Manchester , and then the King’s Head Inn in Salford, complete with a 40 foot long assembly room. This was where Elizabeth honed her culinary skills which had been learned while she was in service : her she ran a cookery school where she undertook the training of young ladies, and where she began collecting and inventing recipes and eventually publishing her book “The Experienced English Housekeeper” , which was dedicated to her old employer, Lady Warburton( a smart commercial move)
It was an instant success, reprinted many times, and though it was much copied –as we shall see below- it made her a wealthy woman.
She also opened, again in Manchester, the first Registry for Servants, and compiled two editions of her influential and successful “Directory of Manchester”
She also wrote another book on midwifery.
Sadly , her husband developed a drinking problem and despite all her hard work and success, he ran up heavy debts.
She was in the process of preparing a third edition of her Directory to begin to replay these debts when in April 19th 1781 she suddenly died of a “spasm”, which in our understanding probably means she suffered a stroke. She was buried at Stockport Parish Church.
In her book The Experienced English Housekeeper (1769) she gave this account of how to cook cakes in general- do note her interesting remarks about wooden garths or hoops being preferable to tin ones:
She then gives her recipe for what eventually translated into the type of wedding cake eaten at most wedding in England for the past 250 years( though the fashion has changed somewhat recently);
The cake she recommended is then covered in a layer of marzipan, -possibly a hark back to the age of the marchpanes of the 16th and 17th centuries, which were made of marzipan , cooked in an oven briefly to dry and them gilded with designs and conceits and because of their association with wedding feast , the marzipan became known a “ love” or a “matrimony”.
She then recommends that on top of the marzipan layer, icing –basically what we now know as Royal Icing- is spread over the marzipan covered cake :
Elizabeth Raffald’s recipe for her Bride Cake marked a departure from the old Bride Pies which were basically dough cakes made with fruit and risen with yeast. Though she used dried fruits( though not as much as in modern recipes) her cake eschews years and has eggs as its raising agent.
These great cake were certainly the ones Jane Austen referred to in Chapter 1 of Emma. William Henderson in his recipe book, The Housekeepers Instructor or New Universal Cook, of 1806
gave this recipe, which was you can see is virtually identical to Mrs Raffald’s.
His only departure from her text to is give more detailed cooking instructions-send it to a moderate oven– probably due to the advances in cast iron range ovens that were available to him and other cooks of the period.
Would the cake have been plain or was it decorated? Debate still rages in the historical food world on this point, but some evidence from good old Parson Woodforde throws some light on this vexed question.
James Woodforde was a not very remarkable Anglican parson, living in Norfolk in his parish of Weston Longeville but his magical legacy to us is his detailed dairy of his life ,habits, travels and food which he compiled for over 45 years. This is what he has to say about wedding- cakes:
June 1st 1795.
..Mr Custance brought us the Morn’ two Maccarel. Dinner to day, Maccarel & Shoulder of Veal. Mr and Mrs Bodham sent over to enquire after us this Morning from Mattishll-Want to see us. Mr Custance sent us this Evening a large piece of a fine Wedding Cake sent from London to Mr C on the marriage of Miss Durrant (Daughter of Lady Durrant) and Captain Swinfen of Swinfen Hall in the County of Stafford, eldest Son of____Swinfen esq. Very curious devices on the Top of the Cake
(See Dairy of A Country Parson Edited by John Beresford, Volume IV pp200-201.)
Ivan Day in his chapter Bride Cup and Cake in Food and the Rite of Passage edited by Laura Mason, points out that Mrs Frazer, confectioner of Edinburgh, gives details of how to decorate a Plumb Cake with such devices, in her book:
(I do apologise for the rather tatty appearance of this frontispice_the rest of the books is perfect, but the frontispiece is in a dreadful condition).
Ivan therefore concludes that a Bride cake might well have looked like a pale version of a great decorated 12th night cake, decorated with pastillage decorations, formed by using boxwood moulds as we saw in our post in Twelfth Cakes, here.
(Here is my view of our Twelfth night Cake suitably manipulated to look white-well, white-ish)
And it was most probably white, though late in the 1820s there was some indication- notably by “Mistress Margaret Meg Dods”-
that the bride cake could also be pink, just like the recipes given for Twelfth Night Cakes by John Mollond and Duncan MacDonald.
The Victorians changed all that and great fruit cakes, covered with marzipan and white royal icing and icing decoration became the norm for weddings in England until very recently.
I find it fascinating to see how the tradition of the Bride/Wedding cake and the Twelfth Night Cake morphed together: and of course given the difficulty and expense of making pastillage decoration it is no surprise that the making of a wedding cake eventually became the sole preserve of professional confectioners.
So the you have it, Miss Taylors Wedding cake, a thing not dissimilar to the one I had at my wedding 20+years ago.
With its richness, no wonder Mr Woodhouse was concerned. But thank goodness for the good sense of Mr Perry, which reigned supreme ;-)
There was a strange rumour in Highbury of all the little Perrys being seen with a slice of Mrs. Weston’s wedding-cake in their hands: but Mr. Woodhouse would never believe it.
Emma, Chapter 1
The end of the Christmas Season in Jane Austen’s era was marked on Twelfth Night by many with a celebration, which often included games, charades, punch and the all important Twelfth Night Cake.
Celebrations on Twelfth Night had long been a tradition in England dating from the medieval period. The celebrations- or revels- of Twelfth Night had always incorporated elements of disguise, elaborate display and social role reversal, often led by a Master of Ceremonies or a Lord of Misrule, but more often by the Bean King, so-called because he was elected by him discovering a dried bean cooked in his chosen slice of the Twelfth Night Cake. His Queen Consort was similarly discovered: she was the woman who found a dried pea in the cake.
This topsy-turvy world where the “king’ and “queen” could be the lowest members of the household, empowered to give out orders to their betters for the duration of the night survived after the Interregnum and the attempts to ban such festivities, but in a slightly changed form.
Samuel Pepys wrote about the great expense of his Twelfth Night Cake ( it cost him 20 shillings in 1668). His cake was cut into twenty pieces to be distributed among his guests, but no bean or pea was concealed within it. The “king “ and “queen” and other characters were found by guests picking slips of paper containing names of their characters from a hat.
The characters varied, and often took their inspiration from popular books or plays.
During Jane Austen’s life time, the celebration of Twelfth Night was at the height its of popularity. And during the 1790s sets of “characters” were available to purchase from enterprising stationers, and above is one example. They were cut up and chosen from a hat, the person having thus chosen having to maintain their “character” all though the evenings party.
Fanny Knight, Edward Austen Knight’s daughter and Jane Austen’s niece, wrote about some of her Twelfth Night Celebrations at Godmersham, the Knight’s country estate in Kent. Here is her report of the 1809 Twelfth Night Party:
…after Dessert Aunt Louisa who was the only person to know the characters…took one by one out of the room and equipped them, put them into separate rooms and lastly dressed herself. We were al conducted into the library and performed our different parts. Papa and the little ones from Lizzy downwards knew nothing of it and it was so well managed that none of the characters knew one another ..Aunt Louisa and L.Deeds were Dominos; F.Cage, Frederica Flirt (which she did excellently); M.Deeds, Orange Woman; Mama, Shepherdess; Self Fortune Teller; Edward, beau; G, Irish Postboy; Henry Watchman ;William, Harlequin; we had such frightful masks that it was enough to kill one with laughing at putting them on and altogether it went off very well and quite answered our expectations.
Though by Jane Austen’s time the cake was no longer used to assist in the choosing of characters, it was still and important part of the proceedings. They were costly and complicated to make properly and many people if they could manage to afford them bought them from confectioners shops.
In towns it became a tradition for the highly decorated cakes- garlanded with sugar paste- pastillage– or Plaster of Paris figures and crowns-to be displayed in confectioners shop windows which were illuminated small oil lamps. In the winter evenings people would go from shop to shop admiring the displays.
The first known recipe for a Twelfth Night cake is given in John Mollond’s recipe book of 1803 (this is the 1808 edition):
And here it is:
This was the recipe we followed at Ivan Day’s Taste Christmas Past course which I attended in the summer. The cake was a light fruit cakes, yeast risen, which had a similar texture and taste to the mixture used in German Stollen cakes today.
Lets see how it was made, shall we?
First you have to prepare your hoop :these were the fore-runners of cake tins, most often made of wood, and had to be lined with cartridge or brown paper smothered in softened butter, to prevent the cake burning and sticking.
The yeast is prepared and mixed with the dry ingredients.
Then it is put in font of the fire to rise, covered with a damp cloth.
When cooked and cool it is decorated.
A paste of marzipan is coloured with cochineal and covers the cake.
Then the important decoration begins. Or in reality it began a few days before for the tiny crowns ,which always were part of the decoration of this cake, have to be made in advance.
They are made from moulded sugar paste –or pastillage- made from a mixture of icing sugar and gum dragon or tragacanth.The moulds are made of box wood and are extremely fine grained, which makes them a perfect medium for fine carving.
This is the mould we used to create the crowns, and as you can see all the component part are here in one exactly carved mould.
The pastillage is worked into the mould and pressed down very hard to “take” the impression well.
The excess is cut off using a sharp blade,
and the completed piece removed from the mould by tapping it sharply on a hard surface
I can testify from my experience on the course that this is no easy exercise! No wonder people bought them from confectioners.
Once all the component parts are made,(above are the purple “velvet” cushion for the crowns) the cake can be decorated with the assembled crowns of coloured sugar paste, and edged with borders of roses
You can hopefully see from this close up just how beautifully intricate are the moulded pieces of pastillage .
These crowns can them be guided and painted and additional pastillage decorations can be added to suit.We ran out of time on our very hectic but fabulous course,and Ivan Day finished the cake after we had left to rest! This is the beautiful end result and I thank him for permission to use this image here:
So there you have it – Twelfth Night Regency Style,and as perhaps Jane Austen celebrated it. Sadly the tradition of celebrating Twelfth Night complete with character and cakes in England dwindled in the mid 19th century and now is virtually unknown. The Christmas Cake eaten in England today has more in common with the bride cakes of Jane Austen’s era (as we shall see in a few days time when our Emma season of posts begins) but I thought you might enjoy this excursion into this old celeration.
This is the first in a series of posts about Jane Austen and Servants, looking at the roles of servants in her novels and in turn what their roles entailed in a Georgian household.
We hear a lot about housekeepers in Jane Austen’s works. Mr Knightley’s Mrs Hodges sounds a redoubtable woman, cross at his sending Jane Fairfax the last apples from his store, but described by her admiring employer as clever, or at least as clever as the Elton’s housekeeper , Mrs Wright:
I will answer for it, that mine thinks herself full as clever, and would spurn anybody’s assistance
Emma Chapter 42
Wright herself is shown to be full of professional rivalry unchecked by her appalling employers, and holds Mrs Hodges reputation as “cheap” . On that fateful visit to Southerton Court in Mansfield Park we meet Mr Rushworth’s housekeeper who finds a soul mate in Mrs Norris(*shudder*). Of course the housekeeper we know best is the wonderfully voluble but correct Mrs Reynolds in Pride and Prejudice, the venerable servant at Pemberley House full of affection for her employer and discreet scorn for the dastardly Wickham.
What exactly did the role of housekeeper entail?
Her role in a household was described with minute exactness in Samuel and Sarah Adams’s book, The Compelte Servant (1825). As might be imagined the Housekeeper was the most senior female servant.
… she is the locum tenens, the Lady Bountiful, and the active representative of the mistress of the family; and is expected to do, or to see done, everything that appertains to the good and orderly management of the household.
She was responsible for the provisioning of food and spices and linen in the household:
The situation of a housekeeper, in almost every family, is of great importance.-She superintends nearly the whole of the domestic establishment,-has generally the control and direction of the servants, particularly of the female servants-has the care of the household furniture and linen-of all the grocery-dried and other fruits, spices, condiments, soap, candles, and stores of all kinds, for culinary and other domestic uses.
She was also in charge of the Still Room- that most fragrant of places, much preferable to the heat and bustle of the kitchen-where she would make cosmetics remedies, and preserves:
She makes all the pickles, preserves, and sometimes the best pastry.-She generally distils and prepares all the compound and simple waters, and spirits, essential and other oils, perfumery, cosmetics, and similar articles that are prepared at home, for domestic purposes…
The Housekeeper now (after dinner has been served-JFW)begins to find herself at leisure; by this time too, the maids will have done the principal part of their work above stairs, and the cook, kitchen maid , and scullion, have washed up, and cleared away every thing, and cleaned up the kitchen.-After tea, the provident housekeeper will begin to think about tomorrow; evening being the best time for preparing all things that are likely to be wanted soon.-Small quantities of spices should be pounded and ground, and laid by in bottles, well corked, ready for use.-Much less spices are necessary, in gravies, &c. when thus prepared, than when boiled whole.-Raisins may be stoned, if wanted next day.-Currants may be washed, picked, and perfectly dried.
White sugars should be broken, or pounded, rolled with a bottle, and sifted. Some of the oranges and lemons, to be used for juice, should be pared, and the rind put by to dry; and of some, when squeezed, and the pulp scraped out, the rinds may be kept dry for grating.
This would not apply to Mrs Reynolds at Pemberley, but in households where there was no house-steward, the housekeeper was responsible for all items of domestic expenditure and marketing:
In families where there is a house-steward, the marketing will be done, and the tradesmen’s bills will be collected, examined, and discharged, by him; but in many families the business of marketing and of keeping the accounts devolves on the housekeeper. It is therefore incumbent on her to be well informed of the prices and qualities of all articles of household consumption in general use; and the seasons for procuring them, in order that by comparing prices and qualities, she may be able to substitute those that are most reasonable, but equally to her purpose, and best attainable, for others that are most costly or more scarce.
She was also responsible for ascertaining that the household was not being swindled by unscrupulous suppliers( remember that in the 18th and 19th centuries adulteration of food stuffs was rife) :
But, by whomsoever the provisions may be bought, it behoves the housekeeper to examine them as they come in,-to see that in weight and measure they agree with the tickets sent with them,-and to make the necessary arrangements, in conjunction with the cook, for their due appropriation
When the food for the family was actually prepared and ready to be sent up to the dining room, the housekeeper’s responsibilities increased, overseeing the butler’s arrangements:
The etiquette of the table being arranged by the bill of fare, previously made out, and the dishes laid in order below stairs; it is the province of the housekeeper, when dinner is served up, to see that the butler has placed them properly on the table above; this requires a quick glance of the eye, and a correct taste to measure distances,-and to see that the dishes accord with each other, and thereby form a pleasing, inviting, and well-grouped picture
In some households she had to be au fait with the art of carving- a skill not contemplated much today, but in Jane Austen’s era it was a skill that both masters, mistresses and senior servants had to acquit themselves well in or betray ill-bred manners:
In the situation she will have to carve, and as she will occasionally be required to assist the cook in dissecting a dish to be sent up stairs, it is indispensably necessary that she be proficient in the art of carving: and besides, to carve meat well, is a great saving. It would argue prudence and economy in her, to see that the pieces of bread which are brought down stairs, be eaten at this table, or in the servants’-hall, and it would be extravagance to suffer new bread to be eaten below stairs.
She was also responsible for the moral tone of the household of servants in her charge, as such it was recommended that:
She ought to be a steady middle-aged woman, of great experience in her profession, and a tolerable knowledge of the world.
For the tone of the household reflected upon her conduct:
In her conduct, she should be moral, exemplary, and assiduous, as the harmony, comfort, and economy of the family will greatly depend on her example; and she must know, that no occurrence can be too trifling for her attention, that may lead to these results, and whereby waste and unnecessary expense may be avoided.
When the entire management of the servants is deputed to her, her situation becomes the more arduous and important. If servants have hardships to undergo, she will let them see, that she feels for the necessity of urging them. To cherish the desire of pleasing in them, she will convince them, that they may succeed in their endeavours to please her. Human nature is the same in all stations. Convince the servants that you have a considerate regard for their comforts, and they will be found to be grateful, and to reward your attention by their own assiduity: besides, nothing is so endearing as being courteous to our inferiors.
Female servants who would pursue an honest course, have numberless difficulties to contend with, and should, therefore, be treated kindly. The housekeeper in a great family, has ample means of doing good; and she will, doubtless, recollect that it is a part of her duty to protect and encourage virtue, as the best preventive from vice.
Mrs Parkes in her book, Domestic Duties (18125) combined practical domestic advice and conduct book strictures. Domestic Duties was written as a series of conversations between the inexperienced Mrs L and the older and much wiser Mrs B, and has this to say about the qualifications necessary to be a housekeeper:
Trust-worthyness is an essential quality in a housekeeper; but if she be not as vigilant as she is honest she cannot discern her duty well. As she is the deputy of her mistress, she should endeavour to regard everything around her with the keenness an interest of a principal, rather than the indifference of a servant..
She also had this advice for the employer,which contradicts the oft held view that elite women in this era had little practical “hands on” experience of housekeeping in their own households::
Even if you should be perfectly satisfied that your housekeeper is a woman of great integrity you will still find it desirable to fix your eye continually upon her that her vigilance and integrity may not relax for want of this incitment. Symptoms of neglect on her art should never be over looked as they would tend to throw the whole house into confusion and irregular habits.
This is a situation of which the famed Mrs Rundell was aware ,as she wrote in her book A New System of Domestic Cookery:
There was a time when ladies knew nothing beyond their own family concerns ; but in the present day there are many who know nothing about them
A elite woman who know much about her domestic concerns was Susannah Whatman, as portrayed her by Rommney:
She was the wife of James Whatman,
proprietor of the famed Turkey Mill paper mill in Kent which supplied most of the famous artists of the day. She left to us a housekeeping manual prepared as advised by the wise Mrs B in Domestic Duties
Mrs B: Have you provided yourself with a cookery book?
Mrs L : Certainly .I have purchased Mrs Rundells and the Cooks Orabcle.How could I go on for one day without them? Yet my study of these important books is not always satisfactory, not are the effects produced from them at all equal to my expectations..
Mrs B… as it is not always well to follow these receipt books implicitly I recommend you to form one for yourself …
Susannah Whatman in her manual for the instruction and use of her staff at Turkey Court and then at Vinters,which was her home till her death in 1814, provides many details of her housekeepers duties which other manuals omitted:
The housekeeper washes and irons her own small things and her Mistresses .A board at Vinters has been put up for her in the mangling room that the heat might be avoided in summer.
The housekeeper mends her master’s silk stockings , ruffles his shirts and new collars and risbands them. All the linen looked over in the Store room Monday morning and stains taken out etc. Housekeeper to put any stitches in Mr Whatman’s muslin neckcloths that Mrs W has not mended for him…The first thing a Housekeeper should teach a new servant is to carry her candle upright. The next thing is those general directions that belong to “her’ place in particular such as not setting the brooms and brushes where they will make a mark and all those common directions.
A housekeeper by practise must acquire so quick an eye that if she comes occasionally into a room that is cleaning she must see at once if it is going on properly…
The payment for this onerous and important work in a household was not that great:
The Salary of the Housekeeper is from twenty-five to fifty guineas per annum, dependent on the extent of the family, and the nature of the business she undertakes.
Note that a House Steward would expect to receive remuneration of between £100 -£250 per annum and perhaps more. A butler could expect to earn £50 to £80 per annum in large households. Hmmm……..
But of course a housekeeper could expect to receive an addition to her income in grand households, in the form of gratuities earned by showing guests round the house as Mrs Reynolds does in Pride and Prejudice. And we shall look at that aspect of a housekeeper’s role in our next post on the role of the housekeeper in Jane Austen’s era.
We have very little knowledge of the food served at Randalls when Mr and Mrs Weston hold a Christmas Eve dinner for their surrogate family the Wooodhouses and the Knightleys-and Mr Elton in Chapters 14 and 15 of Emma. We are told that a saddle of lamb is included in the fare:
With such sensations, Mr. Elton’s civilities were dreadfully ill-timed; but she had the comfort of appearing very polite, while feeling very cross — and of thinking that the rest of the visit could not possibly pass without bringing forward the same information again, or the substance of it, from the open-hearted Mr. Weston. So it proved; — for when happily released from Mr. Elton, and seated by Mr. Weston, at dinner, he made use of the very first interval in the cares of hospitality, the very first leisure from the saddle of mutton, to say to her —
“We want only two more to be just the right number. I should like to see two more here, — your pretty little friend, Miss Smith, and my son — and then I should say we were quite complete. I believe you did not hear me telling the others in the drawing-room that we are expecting Frank? I had a letter from him this morning, and he will be with us within a fortnight
So we are left somewhat to our own devises to imagine what else would be on the table.
Duncan Macdonald, in common with many of the writers of cookery books in this era, gives seasonal bills of fare in his book ,The New London Family Cook(1809), suggesting dishes for four categories of tables: Table I- small family dinners of two courses, Table II -grander family dinners,Table III – a single course dinner, and Table IV- very grand dinners of two courses.
As it is a special occasion therefore I have selected Table IV fare for December to suggest what might have been eaten at that special meal:
Most dinners of this era consisted of two courses, the second course was a mixture of sweet and savoury dishes. On special occasionas a desert- fruits,nuts and sweetmeats- would have also been served in addition, and so I have decided that the gregarious and generous Mr Weston would have served one too..Here are Macdonald’s suggestions for a small winter dessert:
One of the dishes served in MacDonald’s first course is a sirloin of beef. At Christmas ,especially in the north of England this was often served with hackin- a Christmas pudding cooked in an animal’s intestine or stomach-usualky a sheep or ox . Beef and goose were the favoured meats at Christmas in Jane Austen’s era, not turkey.
Spit roast meats were the glory of the English kitchen,and the English cooks’ ability to spit roast was envied throughout Europe. It is an art and a difficult one to master. Let’s see how it was done….as we did on Ivan’s Days Christmas Foods of the Past Course, earlier in the summer
First take your sirloin and thread it carefully on an iron spit to set before a good fire.
You have to carefully negotiate the centre of the meat with the spit to ensure that as it turns around on the spit, it cooks evenly.
While it is cooking you can either be high-tech and use, as Ivan Day does in his Georgian kitchen, a clockwork spit ,as modelled here by my friend ,Farah:
This magical labour saving contraption had to be wound every 30 minutes or so ,for the clockwork is unwound by a weighted chain( the weight is an old cannon ball,which you can just see hanging behind Farah’s shoulder); gravity forced the mechanism to work. The sound of this ticking away and being re- wound is very atmospheric…
Or if you were in Bath you might have used a turnspit dog….
Bath was the last place in England which used these on a regular basis: the turnspit dog was a special breed, now extinct…
Or if you had none of these devices then you would have turned the spit by hand. I’ve done it and its a very , very hard and skilled job
and very hot as you can see. Here is my friend, Katherine Cahill author of Mrs Delays Menu’s Medicines and Manners working very hard here roasting a suckling pig in Ivan’s kitchen in the heat of the summer….
The beef did not need constant attention if the clockwork pit is turning it gently in front of the fire-freeing the cook for other tasks…
..but sometimes the beef needed to be moved closer or further away from the heat in order that it cooked evenly and did not burn.
While the beef is slowly roasting in front of the fire it is time to make a hackin,which ,as I explained above was a form of plum or Christmas pudding cooked in the intestines of animals- and, in the north of England, was served with the meat, not as a separate sweet pudding.Here we used lambs stomach….
They had to soak for a long time in water-which was changed repeatedly in order to clean them and rid them of their slightly cheesy smell.
Here is the pudding stuffed stomach, wrapped in muslin ready to be cooked
.We also made puddings in the form of a ball , wrapped in a floured pudding cloth- an art that has mostly been lost today:
and put one pudding in a mould..all variations that were in use in the long eighteenth century.
This is Macdonald’s recipe which is very similar to the one we used on our Christmas Past course:
Here are eggs, lemons, candied citrons,spices including nutmeg
Raisins, currants and a good Georgian glass of brandy:
The puddings were boiled or baked for hours before they were ready to serve. Sometimes as here the puddings cooked in the intestines-known as Hackin -were sliced and placed under the roasting beef to soak up the juices , dropping from the beef
The beef was here covered with cartridge paper to prevent the outside from burning….
We didn’t eat the hackin cooked in the lambs intestines, but we devoured our cannon ball-shaped pudding and sliced it to serve with our beautifully cooked beef.
Tomorrow..the sort of alcohol that made Mr Elton the type of man known as a U.I.B. (Unsafe In Coaches)….
Yesterday we considered the Yorkshire Christmas Pie which would most certainly have been among the cold pies weighing down Mrs Musgrove’s festive trestle tables at Uppercross:
On one side was a table occupied by some chattering girls, cutting up silk and gold paper; and on the other were tressels and trays, bending under the weight of brawn and cold pies, where riotous boys were holding high revel; the whole completed by a roaring Christmas fire, which seemed determined to be heard in spite of all the noise of the others.
(Persuasion ,Chapter 14)
Today we are going to consider the other pies that would have made up the number on those groaning tables, Mince Pies,(see above ), familiar to all in the UK for they are still eaten today at Christmas.
However today they are rarely made with real meat: this was most definitely an option in Jane Austen’s day.
Here are some recipes from Mrs Rundell’s New System of Domestic Cookery (1819) which I have written about before:
And some from Duncan MacDonald’s book, The New London Family Cook Book (1809).
MacDonald is of interest to Austen devotees, for he was a tavern cook in London and, moreover, the cook to the Bedford Tavern in Covent Garden the haunt of John Thorpe and General Tilney in Northanger Abbey:
“Know him! There are few people much about town that I do not know. I have met him forever at the Bedford; and I knew his face again today the moment he came into the billiard–room. One of the best players we have, by the by; and we had a little touch together, though I was almost afraid of him at first: the odds were five to four against me; and, if I had not made one of the cleanest strokes that perhaps ever was made in this world — I took his ball exactly — but I could not make you understand it without a table; however, I did beat him. A very fine fellow; as rich as a Jew. I should like to dine with him; I dare say he gives famous dinners. But what do you think we have been talking of? You. Yes, by heavens! And the general thinks you the finest girl in Bath.”
(Northanger Abbey, Chapter 12)
Beef or Neats tongue(Ox tongue) were the favoured meats in this pie,which had its origins in the 15th century.
But, there were other ways of preparing them, both meat free : with lemon mincemeat, or mincemeat made without meat Macdonald and Mrs Rundell give recipes for this type of mincemeat. Below are MacDonald’s:
Mince pies were eaten throughout the 12 days of Christmas,and the cook would be busy in the days before the season began making them in advance.
As you can see from the recipes given here, they were normally made with a casing of shortcrust pastry. But in Yorkshire they used puff pastry,as we can see here in Mary Ellen Best’s illustration:
So, Frank Churchill living with his grand relatives in Yorkshire would have been used to eating these at Christmas and not the short crust kind more likely to be found in Mrs Musgrove’s great hall.
This book has been in print for some time( it was first published in 2003) but I thought I would recommend it to you here , now I have the opportunity so to do , and because I find it is one of the best books written on food in the long eighteenth century.
It is published by Prospect Books and Tom Jaine who runs the company should be knighted for services to food history. His catalogue of wonderful books make for rewarding and fine reading: most of them in his present an past catalogue are to be found on my book shelves, and I can highly recommend them to anyone keen to learn about the practical details of cookery performed in a long gone era.
Gilly Lehamn’s book is an extract from her doctoral dissertation. Despite its academic nature it is a very readable book, and is not dry as dust. Like most of my favourite historians she refers to Jane Austen as a source( though not as frequently as Amanda Vickery!) and that can’t be a bad thing. I do tend to favour a writers who appreciate Jane Austen’s accuracy I recording life in the late 18th can early 19th century.
This book will teach you all you really need to know about the food styles of the 18th century( the rage for French food versus plain English fare),how it was eaten and how recipes etc were disseminated throughout the 18th century.
Though she concentrates on the cookery books of the era, she also give us fabulous information(which is hard to find in books or on the net) on the authors of these books and their readership, detailing the types of person- from grand mistress to servants –who was intended to be the reader of the books.
She takes pains to tell us about the Tavern Cooks , like John Farley, Collinwood and Wollams (see their portraits above from my copy of The Universal Cook) celebrity chefs whose popular books were “ghost written” by a hack journalist: nothing really changes does it?
This book also provides , in one volume, delicious detail about the way meals were eaten,manners, customs, mealtimes, the ever changing time for diner throughout the century and what that said about your status, etc., etc. This helps explain Jane Austens despairing remark when writing to her sister Cassandra who was staying with Edward Knight at Godmersham in Kent, who was of course as Ms Lehman notes ”the rich member of the family”:
We dine now at half after three & have done diner I suppose before you begin-We drink tea at half after six.-I am afraid you will despise us.
The illustrations are few but what few there are ,are interesting, as in the reproduction of this frontispiece to Hannah Glasse’s1775 edition of The Art of Cookery:
When Tom Jaine announced the publication of this book, he predicted that “This is a biggy”. I can only agree….
We do tend to forget, in an age when every food-stuff one could possibly desire is readily available all year round, how special seasonal food was to people in the past. We can buy strawberries all year round, Jane Austen could not.
And unless she knew someone rich enough to have an ice house she would not have been able to eat ice cream in the country at any time of her year. In the larger towns- York and London for example- it was available from smart confectioners shops (which were much more like the ice cream parlours of today) such as Negri’s which operated from the Sign of the Pineapple in Berkeley Square, London.
Jane Austen’s rich brother, Edward had an ice house at his home Godmersham in Kent
It was protected by a planting of trees from the heat of the sun, and was sunken into the ground,wherein winter ice from the lakes and ponds on the estate was taken by men and boys using horse drawn carts. The ice was kept safe in the ice house so that it could be used for culinary purposes( for ices,ice creams and Piece Montees but not for the preservation of food by freezing at this point in history).When the last of it finally melted in the late summer heats, no more ice cream, for there would be no more ice till the next winter freeze …
Jane Austen certainly ate ices at Godmersham. In a letter written to her sister Cassandra dated July 1st, 1808 she wrote about forgetting the cares of their normal homely domestic parsimony ( “The Orange Wine will need our care soon”) and instead about enjoying a rich man’s more sophisticated pleasures:
But in the meantime for Elegance & Ease & Luxury . . . I shall eat Ice & drink French wine, & be above Vulgar Economy.
I learnt to make ice cream without a freezer in the Georgian fashion a few years ago at a course on Georgian Food run by Ivan Day of Historic Foods. I thought you might be interested to see the process.
Here is William Jarrin’s recipe for Strawberry Ice Cream from his book The Italian Confectioner (1826) (By the way, do click on it and the other pictures in this post to enlarge them and see the detail)
William Jarrin arrived from Italy via France to work at Gunther’s in Berkeley Square (the successor to Negri’s business) in 1817.
This is his portrait from my copy of the 3rd edition of his book The Italian Confectioner.Mr Jarrin had a sad end to his life, and died as a bankrupt, but he did have a thriving busines with premises at 123 New Bond Street in 1822. More of Mr Gunter later …….You will have no doubt noticed that Jarrin’s recipe is rather silent as to how you actually are to freeze the strawberry cream mixture.
The answer is provided by Mrs Rundell’s concise explaination of the process, this extract being taken from her book, A New System Of Domestic Cookery,which has recently been published as a facsimile edition by Persephone Books;
The salt added to the powdered ice helps take the temperature to well below freezing. What follows are some photographs of the whole process taken whilst I attended the course.
Here is my friend, Katherine Cahill, author of Mrs Delaney’s Menus Medicine and Manners just before she began her hard work on our strawberry ice cream. After you have made your strawberry and cream mixture as Jarrin advised above, you needed to prepare a bucket filled with a mixture of crushed ice and salt as Mrs Rundell advised . On the table to the right of Katherine you can see a pewter canister with a handle . This is the sabotiere, or ice-pot,and it is into this that the strawberry cream mixture is poured.
Here is Jarrin’s illustration of a Sabotiere and bucket, from The Italian Confectioner
The Saboitere is placed in the wooden ice-filled pail…
And the ice/salt mixture is packed carefully around the sabotiere.
After ten or so minutes, the ice crystals form and have to be tapped down from the sides of the sabotiere with the spaddle- you can see it here resting on the lid of the sabotiere.
Ideally ,you should be able to spin the sabotiere in the pail,as Mrs Rundell advises, and the strawberry/cream mixture will be frozen up along the sides of the lead container.
This process is repeated about 3 or 4 times, depending on the mixture. The ice crystals will all be broken up by the spaddle and the mixture will be terribly smooth.
Here is Katherine dextrously working away at scraping the ice crystals from the side of the sabotiere. Once the ice cream is set you can eat it…or if you want you can put it into a mould.
This is a great reeded cone pewter mould, one of many owned by Ivan Day: but this one is rather special …..because the owner was one Mr Gunther, confectioner supreme of Berkeley Square.
You can see his signature engraved into the pewter base. Gunther’s tea shop was where The Regency “Ton” would go to eat ices while sitting in their carriages parked around the leafy square.
Once packed with ice cream, the mould is sealed with liquid lard to keep the ice cream safe from the ice/salt mixture( Yes, I know,but that was all they had).The filled mould would be replaced into the pail in order to set. Sometimes an extra layer of insulation was added-brown or cartridge paper was wrapped around the mould as here….you can see it peeping from the ice .
And here is the wonderful confection, turned out and ready to be devoured. I can confirm it was stunningly fragrant :the best strawberry ice cream I’ve ever eaten,the texture was smooth and fabulously silky. A triumph.
The Georgians didn’t stop at strawberry for they used many wonderful flavourings including elderflower and savoury ones such as parmesan.
No wonder Jane Austen loved eating ices the height of luxury in the country in a non refrigerated age.
This is the first of yet another series-Jane Austen and Food. I will be adding posts to this series from time to time. I do hope you will join me.
This book-a copy of the 15th edition of The Compleat Housewife originally published in 1753- has recently been published by the Chawton House Library, the first in a series of affordable reprints of texts concerned with the domestic side of life in the long eighteenth century.All profits from this series of reprints will go directly towards the Chawton House Library acquisitions fund, helping them to improve and expand the library collection for generations of future readers. One can only approve …..
Do allow me to tell you a little about its author-and be warned , for we only know a little about her…After Elizabeth Raffald , author of The Experienced English Housekeeper and Hannah Glasse, author of The Art of Cookery Eliza Smith(as she is usually called) is one of the best known female 18th century cookery writers.Very little is known about her life apart from the few hints she gives in the Preface to her book:
(Note that the preface above was taken from my copy of her book NOT the copy under review here which is NOT a facsimile)
In it she claimed
‘that for the Space of Thirty years and upwards … I have been constantly employed in fashionable and noble Families, in which the Provisions ordered according to the following Directions, have had the general Approbation of such as have been at many noble entertainments’.
Basically then, she was an housekeeper. Probably, unlike others of her calling more fortunate than herself,-Mrs Raffald notably- she did not leave private domestic service to take up a career as a confectioner or to run a school of cookery.
There are slight hints in her book of an association with the Netherlands, and Lord Montagu has suggested, in the introduction to a facsimile edition of her work published in 1968 that she may have worked at his home, Beaulieu Abbey in Hamsphire:
I was fascinated to find that several of the recipes contained were identical to those in manuscript form in my books. Although it is not known in which great house Mrs E. Smith worked it is more than probable that some of these dishes were orignially created in one of my ancestors kitchens.
(See page 133, A short- title caltolgue of Household and Cookery Books published in the English Tongue 1701-1800 by Virginia Mclean.)
Eliza Smith’s book, though not the first recipe book to be published in England is of interest to historians because it was the first to be published in America-at Williamsburg. It does contain some interesting and innovative recipes. She was among the first cookery writer to include potatoes for savoury dishes, and she even inlcuded one recipe using tea.
This was for a caudle, a hot drink made with ‘strong green tea’, white wine, grated nutmeg, and sugar, thickened with eggs like a custard. It soudns delicious.
Her book ends with a substantial section of medicinal recipes that she called ‘family receipts’. Some are identified with members of the gentry, but interestingly many more with members of the medical profession. Her knowledge of the technicalities of medicine went beyond what might be expected in a book of typical‘family receipts’ of the time. She died in circa 1732 and her book lived on and eventually went into 18 editions thoughout the 18th century.
She appears to have disliked the fashion for cookery books written by grand men cooks,-cookes to Princes and Kings-as she felt they did not surender all their secrets to the reader thereby enabling them to sucesfuly replicate the recipes .Mrs Bennet, admirer of grand French cooks would have surely been shocked…
(Do note you can enlarge this section of Eliza Smith’s preface simply by clicking on it)
So why should a mid-18th century cookery book interest readers of Jane Austen? Because many in Jane Austen’s not particularly fashionable part of the world would have replied upon recipe books like Eliza Smith’s for both their fare and for their medicine. As Gillian Dow of Chawton House Library and Southampton University writes, in the introduction to the book:
Austen’s letters to Cassandra are a rich source for piecing together female domesticity in the early nineteenth century. One can, however, have too much of a good thing: Austen famously writes, after a visit from her brother Edward to Chawton in September 1816,
‘Composition seems to me Impossible, with a head full of Mutton Joint and Rhubarb’.
Austen’s major preoccupation at Chawton was, after all, not the running of a household, but rather the publication, revision and composition of her six novels, all of which were sent out from Chawton to be published between 1811 and1818. In these classic works of English literature, the way in which the domestic informs the narrative intrigues a twenty-first century reader.
Would Betty’s sister, an excellent housemaid who works very well with her needle, have done well as a lady’s maid for the Dashwoods in Sense and Sensibility? Can we ever have such an intricate understanding of the variety and merits of strawberries as the party at Donwell Abbey in Emma? It is to the literature of Austen’s own period that we must turn for answers to these, and many other, vexing questions. For those who wish to understand Mr Woodhouse’s discourses in praise of gruel in Emma, Mrs Bennet’s anxiety when there is not a bit of fish to be got and Lizzie Bennet’s preference for a plain dish over a ragout in Pride and Prejudice, these reprints of rare texts from the Chawton House Library collection will have much to offer. What precisely were the ‘usual stock of accomplishments’ taught to Henrietta and Louisa Musgrove at school in Exeter in Persuasion, and why does Lydia gape at Mr Collins’s reading of Fordyce’s Sermons in Pride andPrejudice? Some answers will be found in Chawton House Library reprints of conduct literature. And for a true understanding of what it might mean for Fanny Price to be scorned by her better-dressed cousins for having only two sashes in Mansfield Park, for Henry Tilney to understand muslins particularly well in Northanger Abbey, and indeed just how Lucy Steele might have gone about trimming up a new bonnet, with pink ribbons and a feather, in Sense and Sensibility, instruction will come from reprints of works on eighteenth-century dress and fashion.
I couldn’t agree more: for that is my rasion d’etre here at this blog, after all ….
My only real gripe with the book is that is not reproduced in facsimile: but it is being sold at a very reasonable price ( it is a hardback book and prettily produced) so such minor quibbles should be kept in proportion.
I really am looking forward to seeing what other texts will be published in this series. The library at Chawton is not only stocked with interesting fiction but has many, many copies of recipe, conduct , instruction and gardening books. I know that every time I have visited it has made my mouth water with anticipation…. And I hope you find me bringing this to your attention worth while.