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Mistletoe perils….

Lovesick maidens……..

Its Christmas Eve, the carols are being sung and the mince pies are baked…the house is full and so its time to say Goodbye for a while and  to Wish You All a Merry Christmas.

There will be no more new AustenOnly posts till New Year’s Eve, but to entertain you during the Christmas Break I will be posting some images each day from my 1906 edition of Christmas At Bracebridge Hall

This was the story that helped keep Georgian and older Christmas traditions alive in England, and which was written by the American author, Washington Irving. Go here to read an old post of mine about him and his links to England (and Maria Edgeworth ,obliquely!) The images are by C.E.Brock, whom many of you will know for his illustrations of Jane Austen’s works.

Today I give you  his illustration of the Squire of Bracebridge Hall, toasting the company with his Christmas Toast:

“With A Hearty Wish of Merry Christmas to All Present”

This is the final part of my series of posts on a Christmas visit to Jane Austen’s House, her beloved Chawton Home. We have already seen inside, downstairs and upstairs and so now let have a look at the garden in winter and the outbuildings.

This is the view of the rear of the house. You can clearly see its basic “L’ shape , plus all the other additions made to the structure over the years.

The building that could be clearly seen from Jane Austen and Cassandra’s bedroom was the Bakehouse, a very important part of the Chawton Cottage domain.

Just outside the bake house was the well….which was needed to provide copious amounts of water

for the laundry,which was done in the Bakehouse too. This is the ‘copper’ :the bricks house a copper container. A fire would be lit underneath and the cottons boiled in the upper compartment, now covered with a wooden lid. I remember my grandmother -who had a similar room  in her domestic offices- having her laundry done in this way by a team of people .As a tiny child I was allowed to watch the complex operation of boiling, mangling and starching. Seems a million years ago now…..

The baking for the Austen household took place here too…..

And the proximity of the well and the copper made the Bakehouse the perfectly practical place for boiling water  for scalding the skins of slaughtered pigs. 18th century self sufficiency sounds delightful but having salted a pig once I can confirm it’s not something I’d like to do on a regular basis. Nor indeed is the time tyranny of always producing bread for a household something I’d like to revert to(I tried that once by hand for a few weeks and gave up:then I bought a bread maker!)

The other occupant of the Bakehouse is Mrs Austen’s donkey carriage which I have written about here in a previous post. Its interesting to note that Jane Austen in her final illness didn’t relish driving the cart, which would accommodate two not very large people. She had a saddle made for the donkey and prefered to use this as a sort of Georgian mobility scooter, and this enabled her to still walk with Cassandra around the lanes she loved so well, being a confessed “desperate walker”.

To the rear of the Bakehouse are new additions to the museum complex. New rooms where lectures and receptions can be held. The museum has been in need of these facilities for years and I am so glad that they now have a splendid space in which to raise funds and educate.

If we go under the great yew tree at the side of the house we then arrive at the garden proper…..

…past the entrance to the house and the Gothic window…..

To look out onto the garden, covered in snow… looking towards the lane that leads to Chawton House.

And the lovely Regency- style tree seat…a pleasant spot in summer but chilly now….

If we turn back toward the house, this time we shall enter by the door on the left……

…into the newly refurbished kitchen……

With its restored range

…where the Austen’s meals would have been prepared…..

And where the laundry would have been ironed…..

And the griddle where scores would have been made

Some early 19th century pearlware in the “Two Trees” pattern..waiting for some Twinings tea……

This is the view from the kitchen towards the Bakehouse and the old barn which is now the entrance to the museum and a wonderfully stocked shop,where certain purchases were made for next year’s AO Great Anniversary Giveaway (D.V.)

The kitchen was restored with the help and excellent advice of Peter Brears,whose new book about jellies I reviewed here last week. And there are some wonderful early 19th century jelly moulds on show in the kitchen on a small sideboard…

Including a lovely pineapple…….

Martha Lloyd’s recipe book is of course one of the treasures of the museum. Her recipes must have been prepared in this room. It’s all rather wonderful to think that her recipes and the room are now all  in working order and available for us to see, food being such an important part of Jane Austen’s novels and letters.

If we leave the cosy kitchen and the garden we look out onto the road that now leads to the Selbourne road, with the Greyfriars pub on the right….

And we come to the front of the house ,where the Austen’s blocked up one of the windows in order to give them more privacy. And where there are now two plaques: one commemorating Mr Carpenter who gave the house to the Jane Austen Memorial Trust.

And this rather beautiful tablet with its apt wording:

Jane Austen

lived here from 1809-1817

and hence all her works

Were sent to the world

Her admirers in this country

and in America have united

to erect this tablet.

Such art as hers

Can never grow old

And that ends my Christmas jaunt around Jane Austen’s House Museum for this time. I thought you might like to see it in its winter and Christmas finery,a change from the summer pictures we see all the time. I am planning to go back next year,so there will be some more conventional images for you to see then ;)

Parlour games were played throughout Christmas and during the 12th Night celebrations in Jane Austen’s era.

One favourite at Godmersham Park was Bullet Pudding, as described by Fanny Knight, Jane Austen’s niece, in a letter written to her friend, Miss Dorothy Chapman of Faversham:

Godmersham Park, 17 January 1804

…I was surprised to hear that you did not know what a Bullet Pudding is, but as you don’t I will endeavour to describe it as follows:

You must have a large pewter dish filled with flour which you must pile up into a sort of pudding with a peek at top. You must then lay a bullet at top and everybody cuts a slice of it, and the person that is cutting it when it falls must poke about with their noses and chins till they find it and then take it out with their mouths of which makes them strange figures all covered with flour but the worst is that you must not laugh for fear of the flour getting up your nose and mouth and choking you: You must not use your hands in taking the Bullet out.

Here is an illustration by Francis Hayman of the game which was a favourite throughout the 18th into the 19th, century but not, I daresay, with the chambermaids who would have been charged with cleaning the resulting mess. This  picture  shows the moment when the bullet fell:

Bullet pudding was also on the menu of seasonable activities Fanny enjoyed two years later at Christmas in 1806:

Different amusements every evening!
 We had Bullet Pudding, then Snap-Dragon, &
. . . we danced or played at cards

What was snap- dragon? It was another parlour game, but one specifically played in winter in the dark, for it involved  picking  raisins and almonds out of a punch bowl of flaming spirits, usually brandy. The blue flame of the lit brandy would have looked spectacular in a darkened room, very similar to effect producted by the tradition of flaming the Christmas Pudding with brandy.

In his Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1811) Francis Gosse defined the game  as follows:

Christmas gambol: raisins and almonds being put into a bowl of brandy, and the candles extinguished, the spirit is set on fire, and the company scramble for the raisins

Though brandy does not burn at a particularly high heat it was still possible to be scorched and  the point of the fun was to watch peoples expressions as they darted their fingers through the flames, picking out the fruit or nuts. Jolly.

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.

This is Issac Cruickshank’s satirical view of a Twelfth Night party in 1794- enlarge the picture to take a look at the saucy verse to get the gist of his barbed wit.

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 part of the mould that is going to be used has to be prepared with a dusting of cornflower, to try to prevent the pastillage  sticking to the 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.

We know that Mr Weston is a gregarious man , and as a host  for a party I think he might be  perfect- constantly replenishing drink and encouraging jollity…(though I admit, his gregariousness in everyday life might begin to pall……)

We also know, however, that Mr Elton partook a little too much of his hospitality, for he became emboldened by the wine he had consumed and, in that dreadful carriage ride home to Vicarage Lane, proposed  to an astounded Emma:

And the bell was rung, and the carriages spoken for. A few minutes more, and Emma hoped to see one troublesome companion deposited in his own house, to get sober and cool, and the other recover his temper and happiness when this visit of hardship were over…Isabella stept in after her father; John Knightley, forgetting that he did not belong to their party, stept in after his wife very naturally; so that Emma found, on being escorted and followed into the second carriage by Mr. Elton, that the door was to be lawfully shut on them, and that they were to have a tête-á-tête drive. It would not have been the awkwardness of a moment, it would have been rather a pleasure, previous to the suspicions of this very day; she could have talked to him of Harriet, and the three-quarters of a mile would have seemed but one. But now, she would rather it had not happened. She believed he had been drinking too much of Mr. Weston’s good wine, and felt sure that he would want to be talking nonsense….

But Mr. Elton had only drunk wine enough to elevate his spirits, not at all to confuse his intellects.

(Emma, Chapter 15)

So what made Mr Elton a man who was …. Unsafe in Carriages?

In addition to wine I think it highly likely. as this was a special occasion, that Mr Weston would have provided punch for his guests  for toasting purposes. Punch was traditionally used as a genial drink to be taken in company in Jane Austen’s era.

Punch was phenomenally popular during the long 18th century. It developed as a drink as a result of the opening up of trade between Europe and the Far East. Punch derived its name from the Persian word  Panj and the Hindu word Panch, both meaning five-referring to the number of ingredients used in the drink .

It was a originally a strong mixture of arrack, water, lemon juice, sugar and spices.  Arrack was  a distilled alcohol made from the secretion of rubber trees in Goa, or if made in Batavia, it was a distilled sprit made from rice and sugar.

The records of the East India Company actually show that not many  barrels of arrack were imported  to England during the long 18th century: the English  used brandy or eau de vie instead, realizing that it was not merely intended for use as a fuel for keeping chafing dishes or kettles warm( like a methylated spirit burner)as it had been in the 17th century, but that it could, in fact, be consumed as an fine alcoholic drink.

Punch was traditionally served in ceramic punch bowls which were  imported into England by the East India Company specifically for this purpose from the 1690s onwards. This is one from my collection dating from the mid to late 18th century:

The custom of sharing of a punch from a communal punch bowl takes its inspiration from the old Christmas custom of Wassailing, shown here in an illustration from Washington Irving’s book The Keeping of Christmas at Bracebridge Hall:

Punch was drunk from glass or metal-silver or silver gilt- punch cups, like these early 19th century (circa 1800) examples:

Not that in England punch was always consumed at room temperature ( unlike in Colonial America where many recipes for punch called for the use of ice).

Here is John Notts’ recipe for  Punch Royal from his Cooks and Confectioners Dictionary of 1726:

And one for chamber maids….which is interesting and not a little saucy in its intent:

Mrs Rundell in her New System of Domestic Cookery (1819) records the fashion for milk punch

Punch was an expensive and time consuming drink to prepare. The rind of citrus fruit had to be carefully removed in a spiral for decorative purposes; the juice of citrus fruit lemons orange or limes- had to be squeezed by hand and sieved of its pips through a muslin strainer;  the sugar and spices-expensive commodities both -had to be mixed in correct proportions and finally the expensive spirits added.

The spiral cut rinds of oranges were traditionally dangled  in and over the edge of the bowl, as prepared by me on  Ivan Day’s Christmas Past course;

And  you can see from this section from A Punch Party by Thomas Patch circa 1760, that the butler is holding an immense porcelain punch bowl complete with sprial rinds….

and again, in this engraving of a more intimate but riotous punch party…..

Towards the end of the 18th century drinking punch in this manner communally from a bowl- was seen as a slightly old fashioned thing to do : the fashion in very smart society  was for the passing not of ceramic bowls around the mahogany dining table, but for sliding bottles stands made of precious metal in various designs, and shimmering and expensive cut crystal decanters of individual spirits glittering in the candlelight ~ as shown in this sideboard at Fairfax House in York,

set up according to the directions given  in Thomas Consett’s book The Footman’s Directory and Butlers Rememberancer (1823)

That is why Mrs Bennet betrays her  old-fashioned habits when she orders a bowl of punch to be served to the servants at Lydia’s wedding in Pride and Prejudice…

“I will go to Meryton,” said she, “as soon as I am dressed, and tell the good, good news to my sister Phillips. And as I come back, I can call on Lady Lucas and Mrs. Long. Kitty, run down and order the carriage. An airing would do me a great deal of good, I am sure. Girls, can I do anything for you in Meryton? Oh! here comes Hill! My dear Hill, have you heard the good news? Miss Lydia is going to be married; and you shall all have a bowl of punch to make merry at her wedding.”

The taste for  drinking punch still remained fashionable, even if it was not served in a bowl, but in individual glasses. As a method of conspicuous consumption  it still remained popular as the ingredients here, for the recipe for the Prince of Wales Punch, demonstrates how very expensive it could be:

Three bottles of Champagne, tw of Madeira, one of Hock, one of Curacao, one quart of Brandy, one pint of Rum, and two bottles of selzer water, flavoured with four pounds of bloom raisins, Seville oranges, lemons,white sugar candy and diluted  with iced green tea instead  of water.

I tasted this on the Regency Cookery Course I  attended at Ivan Day’s Historic Foods in Cumbria,and it was delicious. But potent. No wonder Mr Elton was emblodened.

If you would like to hear what happens on a Taste of Christmas Past Course,  go here to listen to an Episode of Radio 4’s Food Programme which followed some people on one  of Ivan’s courses.

And I take my leave of you till after Christmas,a season which for us ends just after New Year  with the return to the office and to colleges and schools. But in Jane Austen’s era  the end of the season was Twelfth Night-a time for revelry and great cakes, like the one below:

And that will be the subject of my next post.

So it  only remains for me to wish you all a Merry Christmas  with a view of Sir Joshua Reynolds Nativity...

and to hope to “see” you all again, on Twelth Night (January 6th!)

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:

And here is the second course….

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.

Unconventional today, but delicious, I am happy to confirm.

Tomorrow..the sort of alcohol that made Mr Elton the type of man known as a U.I.B. (Unsafe In Coaches)….

Among the pies on Mrs Musgrove’s festive tressel tables is some brawn, a dish probably very unfamiliar to us today:

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…

(Persuasion, Chapter 14)

The term originally meant the flesh of a wild boar and, then by extension, the preserved meat preparation made therefrom. It is interesting to note that well before the long 18th century the ‘boar pig’ used for making brawn was a tame, and not a wild, animal.

The term “brawn” later came to have the more general meaning of the fleshy part of a hind leg of an animal, not necessarily a pig. And by Jane Austen’s time the term “Brawn” really meant just a kind of potted meat and it was most often referred to in recipe books of the era as “Sham” or “Mock brawn”

This is Mrs Rundell’s recipe,taken from my 1819 edition of her New System of Domestic Cookery. Do note she does not use only a cut of belly-pork but “neat’s feet”,and by that she means the feet of Ox:

Susanna Carter in her book, The Experienced Cook (1822)

gives slightly more detailed instructions:

As Ivan Day of Historic Foods writes:

This spectacular English special occasion dish was also garnished with elaborately carved citrus fruits. Brawn was a kind of pickled pork prepared from domestic boar meat poached until very tender in a souse of wine, vinegar and spices. The cuts of boned meat, which were called collars, were cooked for such a long time that they were tightly wrapped in linen parcels to stop them disintegrating. When they cooled, they became firmer as a result of the jelly released in the cooking process. Collars of brawn could be kept for a number of weeks in the souse. To leach the brawn was to carve it into thin slices. This now extinct dish had been a mainstay of English cookery since the late medieval period when it was usually served with mustard at the beginning of a meal.

Here is a brawn prepared and ready to be soused in its linen fillet:

And here is a finished brawn decorated in the  old fashioned way with accompanying rosemay “tree” covered in snow (really whipped egg white),which though the traditional manner of serving a brawn in the  early 18th century ,as advised by Robert May in his book The Accomplish’d Cook ,

may still have held sway in the Musgrove’s old fashioned household.


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.

Immediately surrounding Mrs. Musgrove were the little Harvilles, whom she was sedulously guarding from the tyranny of the two children from the Cottage, expressly arrived to amuse them. 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 he heard in spite of all the noise of the others… It was a fine family-piece.

(Persuasion, Chapter 14)

What sort of cold pies would Mrs Musgrove be serving to all and sundry as they come to pay their Christmas visits to the Mansion House at Uppercross? Most certainly she would have and a large Yorkshire Christmas Pie sitting on that trestle table.

This Yorkshire Pie was made by Ivan Day of Historic Foods and I thank him for his permission to use his  photograph  here.

From Yorkshire originally, where there was a thriving trade at Christmas sending the pies around the country as gifts in the festive season, they were great pies filled with many different kinds of meat, intended to feed many people over many days. The concept  was to cut off the crust lid,  chop up the cooked meat within,serve everyone to some of each of he different  the meats,then recover the remaining meat with clarified butter and re- seal the crust lid, to serve more people another day.

They were traditionally served on the Fest of Stephen- the 26th December-and afterwards.

And whilst some were made in the North of England, recipes were published for them so that people living all over the country, if they could afford the ingredients, could make them in their own kitchens. It took a skilled cook to make them prior to the days of pie moulds, for these pies had to be raised by hand.

The picture above shows an early 19th century Christmas Pie , on the right behind the jug, raised by hand, as recorded by the amateur artist, Mary Ellen Best. She was a Yorkshire woman, so we can therefore assume that this pie was authentically decorated and recorded. This was the template for Ivan’s  example of the Yorkshire pie, above. This picture is her still life of Christmas food, which shows us not only great examples of the Yorkshire Christmas Pie but also of Yorkshire ‘s unique version of Mince Pies (the smaller pies in the picture on the plate in front of the Yorkshire Pie),which were always made with puff pastry. More on them tomorrow…

Back to Christmas Pies. Here is Richard Briggs’s version. Briggs was a real Tavern cook of the Temple Tavern, London

and his book was published in 1794, perfect for our period.

As you can see the pie is expensive and complicated to prepare because of the sheer  amount of meat it contains. The size can be calculated by the fact that  a whole bushel of flour ( over 50 lbs!) is recommended to be used in this recipe for the  pie’s pastry. Let’s see how we made our version in the summer on Ivan Day’s Christmas of the Past cookery course (note our version was slightly later than Jane Austen’s era, the form inspired by Mrs Marshall’s Cookery Book  of 1880

..but the filling and the crust were similar to the Richard Briggs recipe).

So, here is the step by step way to make an authentic Yorkshire Christmas Pie…

Make a forcemeat with minced veal, minced pork, breadcrumbs, parsley, mace and nutmeg.

Make your paste ( pastry) ..a communal activity……

Knead the paste, roll it and line a tin that has been  previously coated in melted lard.

Line the pastry with the forcemeat mixture…

Begin to add the boned meats….goose, chicken

..duck, grouse….

..turkey…..

Add a final layer of the forcemeat mixture….

Cover the pie with your paste….

And begin to decorate it….

We emulated Mrs Marshall’s example and added leaf upon leaf…..

Don’t forget to make holes for the steam to escape during the long cooking period….

Decorate with a pastry rose….

And get ready to put it in the oven for , in this case, 4 hours.

And the next day here is the cooked Christmas Yorkshire Pie

Carefully remove the rose and add  liquid gelatine  to help preserve the meats…

Et voila! All done…

For curiosity’s sake we cut the pie in half to see what it looked like. Spectacular, frankly. As I have explained above this would not have happened  in Mrs Musgrove’s house :the lid would have been carefully removed and re-sealed every time a serving-to many people- was made.

Tomorrow…Mince Pies.

Well if she did, it didn’t look like this illustration,above.

This shows the tree as decorated at Windsor Castle for the Duchess of Kent (Queen Victoria’s mother) and the royal children in 1850.

The current research suggests that Queen Caroline ,the wife and Queen consort of George III may have been the first to introduce the custom into the country circa 1780. Certainly around 1820 another  Queen Caroline, Caroline of Brunswick who was  married to George IV had a member of her household erect a tree at Windsor ( Windsor was the place where traditionally the royal family celebrated Christmas) This was remarked upon by  A. J. Kempe  in his 1836 edition of The Loseley Manuscript:

We remember a German of the household of the late Queen Caroline (1781-1812) at Windsor making  what he termed a Christmas tree for a juvenile party at Christmas. The tree was the branch of an evergreen fixed on a board. Its boughs bent under the weight of gilt oranges, almonds etc and under it was a neat model of a farmhouse surrounded by figures of animals. The forming of a Christmas tree is, we believe, a common custom in Germany.

This is the type of tree that Fairfax House recreate every year in their Keeping of Christmas exhibition.

It is a holly branch, set on a board,  decorated with preserved candied fruits and spirals of paper inscribed with uplifting messages: Joy to the World,etc.

Under the tree is a sugar paste scene of the nativity, surrounded by a low latted fence.

A very different article than the Victorian one , I am sure you will agree.

The poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge visited northern Germany in 1798 a recounted seeing similar trees decorating homes at Christmas there for his local newspaper The Friend (1809-1818).In his experience the  tree was decorated with small candles  and  coloured paper hanging from the twigs of the branches. (A deadly combination….) But it was sufficiently novel for him to comment,which suggests that the custom had not yet been adopted by  less exalted homes in England than those inhabited by the royal family.

That situation seems to have changed by the mid 1820s-1830s . From this date Christmas trees were sent to London markets for sale.

This print shows the stage coach the Norwich ” Times” delivering Christmas goods to the London markets. It is James Pollard’s print The Approach to Christmas and the coach is shown laden with  trees( which have no roots and have been sawn clean at the trunk,and therefore must be destined to be used as decorations) It is shown proceeding along the Mile End Road  into London from Norwich to its final destination, the Bull Inn at Aldgate in the city. Note the coach has no passengers but instead is filled with goods to sell and parcels to deliver. A more economic project at this time of year.

So could Jane Austen have decorated such a tree? Sadly I think the answer is no ,but that  had she lived  into the 1820s the answer would have been in the affirmative. I think she just missed out on this fashion taking hold.

Tomorrow  not only do we commemorate her birthday but we also begin to consider the sort of festive food Jane Austen may have eaten and also wrote about in her novels. Do join me….

So far we have discovered that Christmas season in Jane Austen’s time was not a damp squib but a rather vibrant affair.

Lets see how Georgian and Regency homes were decorated for the season.

The tradition of using evergreens  to brighten the home at the darkest time of the year began in the pagan era: at the time of the winter solstice throughout Europe  bonfires were lit and  houses were decorated with evergreens. The Roman celebrating the feast of Saturnalia , held at the same time of year, used evergreen garlands to decorate their homes.

Whilst therefore the use of evergreens at this time of year as a decoration in the home was clearly pagan in origin , the early Christian Church cheerfully adopted this practise, and legitimised the plants,giving them Christian association-with the one exception of mistletoe. The ban on this plant which had Norse and Druidical associations continued throughout the  18th and early 19th century.

Holly was easily  adopted by the church as a symbol of the crown of thorns, the red berries were a poignant reminder of Christ’s blood. Ivy was held to symbolise  fidelity . Not so mistletoe ,which had distinctly risqué  associations…with kissing games.

(Boughs of mistletoe-a parasitical plant-growing in trees in the park at Burghley House,Lincolnshire)

It was therefore thought not at all holy and  not quite genteel. As Washington Irving in The Keeping of Christmas At Bracebridge Hall records

The mistletoe with its white berries hung up to the imminent peril of all the pretty housemaids.Teh mistletoe is still hung up in farmhouses and Kitchens at Christmas; and the young men have the priviledge of kissing the girls under it picking each time a berry form the bush. When the berries are all plucked the priviledge  ceases.

Here is picture of  a Georgian Kissing Bough as  used at Fairfax House in York as part of their decoration for their annual Keeping of Christmas exhibition, when the town house of  Lord Fairfax is decorated as it would have been for the Christmas season.

In this household- a strict Catholic one- the mistletoe was firmly relegated to the servants quarters and the kitchen

Here is one such kitchen maid about to be taken advantage of by a unscrupulous chimney sweep:

(The Chimney Sweep gives Betty her Christmas box crica 1800 by Bowles and Carver.)

And it was not just grand houses that were decorated: as Cesar de Saussure commented

On this festival day churches, the entrances of houses, rooms, kitchens and halls are decked with laurels, rosemary and other greenery.

This illustration shows the interior of an inn circa 1800- note the evergreen sprigs in the individual panes of the windows and the bunch of mistletoe hanging from the ceiling:

But let’s go and view the  Christmas decorations of a rather grand town house, Fairfax House in York . Every year this museum, dedicated to the domestic history of the 18th century, celebrates the Keeping of Christmas in an exhibition, decorating these  fine rooms with evergreens and festive food as they would been in the  late 18th century.

First, the entrance hall and staircase hall decorated with holly trophies on green ribbons, standard bay trees ,and garlands of holly and bay around the stairs and columns:

The Library, set with an old-fashioned Georgian Breakfast in honour of the season with Cheese, Mince Pies, and a  Yorkshire Christmas Pie- more on those later….


The Dining Room….

Bedecked with evergreen garlands and spectacular sugar sculpture…

An indication not only of the confectioners art,but of the wealth of the host,sugar begin an expensive commodity in the era, imported from the West Indies and subject to tax

More on this later-and I should like to than Ivan Day for his kindness in allowing me to use these pictures of the sugar sculpture,  above.

and finally to the salon where the grandest entertaining took place, decorated with swags and garlands of evergreens.

We know that Permbelry House had a saloon, and I’m sure that Elizabeth Bennet when welcoming the Gardiners to Pemblerley for the season had made sure that Mrs Reynolds and her staff had decorated it in a similar manner.

I would have thanked you before, my dear aunt, as I ought to have done, for your long, kind, satisfactory detail of particulars; but, to say the truth, I was too cross to write. You supposed more than really existed. But now suppose as much as you chuse; give a loose to your fancy, indulge your imagination in every possible flight which the subject will afford, and unless you believe me actually married, you cannot greatly err. You must write again very soon, and praise him a great deal more than you did in your last. I thank you, again and again, for not going to the Lakes. How could I be so silly as to wish it! Your idea of the ponies is delightful. We will go round the Park every day. I am the happiest creature in the world. Perhaps other people have said so before, but not one with such justice. I am happier even than Jane: she only smiles, I laugh. Mr. Darcy sends you all the love in the world that he can spare from me. You are all to come to Pemberley at Christmas. — Yours, etc.”

(Pride and Prejudice,Chapter 60)

The eagle-eyed amongst you will have noticed that at Fairfax House they have the forerunner of our Christmas tree on display on a table in the salon.

Would Jane Austen have known a Christmas tree?

Lets see tomorrow, shall we?

Yesterday we saw that Christmas did exist in Jane Austen’s time and that many elements of it are still recognisable in today’s English celebrations.

At the time she was writing Persuasion, she described what for her was an old -fashioned Christmas as enjoyed by the Musgroves at Uppercross:

The Musgroves came back to receive their happy boys and girls from school, bringing with them Mrs. Harville’s little children, to improve the noise of Uppercross, and lessen that of Lyme. Henrietta remained with Louisa, but all the rest of the family were again in their usual quarters…Immediately surrounding Mrs. Musgrove were the little Harvilles, whom she was sedulously guarding from the tyranny of the two children from the Cottage, expressly arrived to amuse them. 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 he heard in spite of all the noise of the others. Charles and Mary also came in, of course, during their visit; and Mr. Musgrove made a point of paying his respects to Lady Russell, and sat down close to her for ten minutes, talking with a very raised voice, but from the clamour of the children on her knees, generally in vain. It was a fine family-piece.

(Persuasion, Chapter 14)

Jane Austen famously and quite deliberately portrayed Mr and Mrs Musgrove as old fashioned- people:

To the Great House accordingly they went, to sit the full half hour in the old-fashioned square parlour, with a small carpet and shining floor, to which the present daughters of the house were gradually giving the proper air of confusion by a grand piano forte and a harp, flower-stands and little tables placed in every direction. Oh! could the originals of the portraits against the wainscot, could the gentlemen in brown velvet and the ladies in blue satin have seen what was going on, have been conscious of such an overthrow of all order and neatness! The portraits themselves seemed to be staring in astonishment.

The Musgroves, like their houses, were in a state of alteration, perhaps of improvement. The father and mother were in the old English style, and the young people in the new. Mr. and Mrs. Musgrove were a very good sort of people; friendly and hospitable, not much educated, and not at all elegant. Their children had more modern minds and manners…

(Persuasion, Chapter 5)

it is no wonder then that they hold open house  at Christmas in quite the old style that  William Wynstanly recommended, complete with groaning tables of food( on which more later in the week)laid out for all to enjoy.

That such  country hospitality was not in fact in danger of declining but was vibrant in the early parts of the 19th century,was a sentiment shared by an American visitor to England in the Regency-the author ,Washington Irving.

He  was a frequent visitor to Birmingham in Warwickshire during the first twenty years of the nineteenth century, living for two years in its vicinity, staying with his sister Sarah and her husband, Henry van Wart,the founder of the Birmingham stock exchange.

He made many visits to Aston Hall, a Jacobean Mansion which at that time was no longer  in the possession of the Holte family who built it but  was then leased to James Watt Junior , son of James Watt one of the prime movers of the Industrial Revolution.

Aston Hall seems to have cast a spell on Irving,as it did on the writer Maria Edgeworth, another of James Watts junior’s guests, who wrote as follows of the old mansion in 1820:

..we were engaged to breakfast at Mr James Watt’s at Aston Hall. You remember the fine old brick palace? Mr Watt has fitted up half of it so as to make it superbly comfortable ; fine  hall, breakfast room,Flemish pictures, Boulton and Watt at either end. After breakfast we went all over the house; the banqueting room, with a most costly frightful ceiling and a chimney piece carved up to the cornice with monsters one with a nose covered with scales one with a human face on a tarantula’s body. Varieties of little staircases and a garret gallery called Dick’s haunted gallery ;a blocked up rooms called the king’s room then a modern dressing room with fine tables of  Bullocks making – one of wood from Brazil-Zebra Wood no more of it to be had for love or money.

But come on to the great gallery, longer than that at Sudbury-about one hundred and thirty six feet long and at the farthest end we come  to a sort of oriel separated from the gallery only by an arch and there the white marble bust of the great Mr Watt struck me almost breathless…as I looked  down the closing lines of this superb gallery…..

I know how they feel as I volunteered there some years ago and cherish the time I spent there.

Irving  was dismayed to think that the  old ways of celebrating Christmas in England that he experienced were  going to disappear( a theme common with most writers on Christmas I find: it’s a festival for looking back ,standing still and not looking forward , it seems to me).He wrote about his  discovery of how an English country Christmas could be celebrated in the early part of the 19th century in six chapters of his book the Sketch Book of Geoffrey Canon Gentleman first published in 1819.

(This is the frontispiece of my copy of the 1906 edition, illustrated by Brock.)

The  Keeping of Christmas at Bracebridge Hall– a place clearly based on Aston Hall, was later published ( in England by John Murray) . From the evidence of this book, the  Christmas season as celebrated in the countryside was a vibrant and living custom and not one that was in decline,and that it had an historical basis. Note that the name of Bracebridge was a name associated with the builders of the hall, the Holte family and that James Watt junior leased the hall from one of them, Adam Bracebridge :

Nothing in England exercises a more delightful spell over my imagination than the lingerings of the holiday customs and rural games of former times. They recall the pictures my fancy used to draw in the May morning of life when as yet I only knew  the world through books and believed it tobe all that poets has painted it: and they bring with them the flavour of those honest days of yore, in which perhaps, with equal fallacy I am apt to think  the world was more homebred.socail, joyous than at present.I regret to say they are daily  growing more and more faint being gradually worm away by time …


The English from the great prevalence of rural habit throughout every class of society, have always been fond of these festivals and  holidays which agreeably interrupt the stillness of country life;and they were in former days  particularly observant of the religious and social  rites of Christmas….Shorn however as it is of its ancient and festive honour,Christmas is still a period of delightful excitement in England.  It is gratifying to see that  home feeling completely aroused which holds so powerful a place in every English bosom.


He went on to describe a Regency country  Christmas full of the elements we discussed yesterday : evergreen decoration, mistletoe, great feasts, dances, blazing fires, merriment, quoting copiously from 17th century writings to illustrate the historical antecedents of the festivities he found.

He also added this interesting footnote, which confirms that  in the countryside-which was where most people gathered to celebrate christmas if they could-Christmas was indeed a vibrant celebration:

At the time of the first publication of this paper the picture of an old-fashioned Christmas in the country was pronounced by some as out of date. The author  had afterwards an opportunituy of witnessing almost all of the customs above described existing in unexpected  vigour in the skirts of Derbyshire and Yorkshire where he passed the Christmas holidays. The reader will  find some notice of them in the author’s account of his sojourn at Newstead Abbey.

He in his turn inspired Charles Dickens,who cheerfully acknowledged his debt to the writings of Washington Irving, and that they inspired his book of A Christmas Carol and the descriptions of  the Christmas Festivities in Dingley Dell, the  haunt of Mr Pickwick as follows:

“I say, gentlemen, I do not go to bed two nights out of seven without taking Washington Irving under my arm upstairs to bed with me”

Dickens recognised that the type of Christmas Irving recorded was in decline  in the industrial towns of mid 19th century England. No one  was allowed to celebrate for 12 days( gatherings were  by the pressure of commercial and industrial life, reduced) and in towns and cities festive food such as poultry  etc was scarce and expensive. Thus it was really the pressure of life  in towns of the mid 19th century, subject to  industrial and commercial concerns, and that industrial urban society such pressures produced which was in danger of losing sight of the old country Christmas customs , not  the country society Jane Austen inhabited.

Tomorrow we shall look at the sort of decorations you might find in a well to of  home of the period-Pemberley House for example. Do join me won’t you…

Over the past  ten years or so I have had many people remark to me that Jane Austen didn’t write about Christmas because Christmas was not a major celebration or a family centered celebration in the Regency period. Furthermore that Christmas did not become a major family celebration in England until the Victorian Period, brought on by Dicken’s popular book, A Christmas Carol.

To which I reply….Ermm…no, not really.

Jane Austen celebrated a slightly different Christmas to the one we now know, but the evidence is that she, along with her family and friends,  still celebrated it. She certainly wrote about it in her novels.

Let’s take a look at the history of Christmas in England throughout the Long Eighteenth century to understand  what was the historical background to Jane Austen’s  celebrations.

Christmas was a vibrant celebration in England until the Interregnum or the period of the Commonwealth in the mid 17th century, when Charles I had been deposed and beheaded and England was governed by Puritans. The Puritans disliked Christmas because of it Popish and heathenish  history, and most of all because of its associations with consumption of extravagant food, drink, dancing and  theatrical productions.

Philip Stubbes  neatly summed up the Puritan view of Christmas in The Anantomy of Abuses , written sixty years before the English Civil war took place :

More mischief is then committed than in all the year besides, what masking and mumming, whereby robbery, whoredom murder and what not is committed? What dicing and carding, what eating and drinking, what banqueting and feasting is then used, more than in all the year besides to the great dishonour of God and impoverishing of the realm?

Puritans also believed there was no  scriptural justification for the celebration of Christmas, as nowhere in the Bible does it mention that  the Nativity of Christ should be observed as a festival. They saw no factual or scriptural basis  for Christ’s birth date being designated as the 25th December. They believed that Christmas was nothing more than  a pragmatic festival  created by the early Catholic Church as a means of incorporating, and thereby making holy, the pagan winter solstice celebrations: as a result observance of these festivals was seen by them to be Popish especially as it exualted the  religious standing of the Holy Family and,  importantly, emphasised the role played in the Nativity by The Virgin Mary.

Between 1644 and 1647 the Commonwealth Parliament introduced a series of measures all designed to curb the excesses of the populace during the Christmas season. These were met with much initial resistance. So on the 24th December 1652 Parliament issued a Proclamation  which effectively banned Christmas and the celebration of it along with  the other “Supersitious Festivals” of Easter and Whitsun. It decreed that  from that date it would be illegal  to observe

The five and twentieth day of December commonly called Christmas Day

in any way whatsoever. And  in addition, it was illegal to use

Any Solemnity in Churches upon that Day in respect thereof.

Christmas as a holiday was effectively abolished. Markets were ordered to be  kept if the fell to be held on the 25th December, shops were to remain open : all persons were ordered to go about their normal business on pain of fines or imprisonment.

The act specifically ordered the country’s sherrifs and Justices of the Peace to enforce the new ruling vigorously.

For example, the Mayor of the town of Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk  issued a local proclamation to  explain the working of the law:

...the ordinance of the most Honourable Parliament is to be strictly enforeced. Christmas Day and all other superstitious festivals  should be put downe. There should be no prayers nor sermons in the churches on the said 25th December and whosoever shall han at his door any rosemary, holly or bayes or other superstitious herb shall be liable  to the penalties decreed by the ordinance….and whosoever  shall make or cause  to make either plum pottage or nativity pies is hereby warned that it is contrary to the said ordnance…

Public disturbances  resulted…

But understandably this ordnance and its enforcement gradually lessened  the amount of people prepared to continue these celebrations and face the consequences. After the Restoration of Charles II in 1660 (hurrah!)  the old habits began to resurrect themselves,though in a changed manner. Samuel Pepys wrote about his  delight at celebrating Twelve Night, though  characteristically found himself  worrying about the cost of the expensive cake. Others took steps to actively promote the old customs.William Wynstanley , for example, was so worried about what he saw as the decline in the  continuity  of the old customs that he promoted their resurrection not only by personal example but by disseminating  writings explaining them.

They were published not under his own name but under the name of Poor Robin,and the series of Poor Robin’s Almanacs were full of the history of the old Christmas celebrations, illustrated with examples from his own family’s experience of keeping Christmas even during the ban imposed by the Puritans, together with seasonal lore, culinary tips and snippets of London and,local to him, Essex- based gossip.

He wrote  about Christmas for 38 years, publishing an almanack every 12 months. He believed that the Feast of the Nativity   should be a time of

Much mirth and mickle glee

when everyone ought to rejoice  the birth of Jesus and for his sake

give liberally to the poor

In honour of the season  families and friends should gather together ,usually in the country, emulating the

Boon brave Squires of the Golden Age

who always returned to the country from town for the Christmas season, to keep open house for all and sundry, lavishing Charity on the poor while also begin punctilious in observing their religious duties.

He decreed that all homes   should be  decorated with

Hollys and Ivys ,Bays, Laurel and Rosemary

with roaring log fires  in every room and

a jolly blaize in every hall

For the entertainment of guests

good nappy ale

should be on tap throughout the twelve days of Christmas  the tables of the rich should groan under the weight of
Chines of Beef,Turkies, geese ducks and capons and on the side board there should be  a plentiful supply of Minc’d Pies Pumb Puddings and Frumetnery.

He encouraged the playing of old Christmas games  such as Hood Man Blind( Blind Man’s bluff) Hot Cockles, Shoe the Wild Mare and Hunt the Slipper. He also recommend the resumption of carol singing and story telling And to hold dances on Christmas Day,New Year’s Eve or Twelfth Night and have

The whole company young and old footing it lustily  to the merry sound of pipe and fiddle.


He was extremely successful in his campaign. By the 1700s Christmas was once again established and celebrated in traditional fashion in England. Cesar  de Saussure  writing to his family in Switzerland in the first quarter of the 18th century described the  re- established Christmas customs as they were observed in  England between 1725-1729:

Christmas day is the great festival of all Christian nations  but on that day the English have many customs  we do not know of. They wish each other a Merry Christmas and A Happy new Year; presents are given  and no man may dispense with this custom.On this festival day churches, the entrances of houses, rooms, kitchens and halls are decked with laurels, rosemary and other greenery. Everyone  from the King to the artisan eats soups and Christmas pies.The soup is called Christmas porridge and is a dish few foreigners find to their taste…as to Christmas pies everyone likes them and they are made with chopped meat ,currants, beef suet and other good things. You never taste these dishes except for two or three days before and after Christmas and I cannot tell you the reason why.

And if you consider the weight of evidence of the celebrating of  the Christmas Season in Jane Austen’s novels and  letters and   those of her niece, Fanny  Knight, all the above elements are mentioned in one way or another….as we shall see  over the next few days.

But in my  next post, I  shall consider why  the Christmases as enjoyed by  people in the early nineteenth century were recorded for us by the America author  Washington Irving ;-)


Over the course of the next week I shall be posting a series of posts  about Jane Austen and Christmas before I take a festive break from blogging to enjoy time with my family and friends…and my new Kindle ;-)

So do join me to discover that , surprise, surprise, Charles Dickins did not “invent” Christmas….the type of pies that Mrs Musgrove served at the mansion house at Uppercross during Christmas….How Pemberley might have been decorated…..To discus if Jane  Austen might possibly have decorated her own Christmas tree…..to learn how to make a Twelfth Night Cake, and how to enjoy it in the Georgian way.

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