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You might like to go and view the new post on the Jane Austen House Museum blog, which has an example of Mrs George Austen’s humour: she writes a whole recipe for a bread pudding…in verse.
Go here to see it: I find it fascinating to see just how much word play was part and parcel of normal life in the Austen family, as evidenced by this recipe . Anyone who was slow-witted would have felt rather out of place in that household, don’t you think?
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 ;)
Only recently did I notice that Ivan Day of the Historic Food website has begun to write a blog. So, naturally, I simply had to share it with you….Here, below, is one of my photographs of Ivan slicing a home cured ham taken when I attended his Georgian Food course, set in his 18th century Cumbrian kitchen:
Historic Food Jottings was launched in August, and I think it will prove to be another treasure trove for enthusiasts of the history of food. Treasures to be found so far are Ivan’s magnificently elaborate Twelfth Night cake for this year, which is to be raffled on behalf of a local Cumbrian charity:
You will recall I had a magical time making one of these fabulous creations on Ivan’s A Taste of Christmas Past course.
Another post gives the story of how Ivan recreated Elizabeth Raffald’s second course as illustrated in her book, The English Housekeeper for the Rienzi House Museum at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston:
Here is a fascinating but short video where Ivan describes the food used in the recreation:
You can learn how to make a Solomon’s Temple in Flummery , below, which is one of Mrs Raffald’s dishes, and which features in the display above.
Ivan has very forthright views on the accuracy of reports on historical food, and his remarks on The Great British Bake Off and Sophie Dahl’s Mrs Beeton programme are very entertaining and pull no punches. So, if you are looking not only for a good read on fascinating historical items but also for some trenchant comments, then this is the blog for you!
In our last post we posited the entirely plausible theory that, had Colonel Brandon wanted to eat a curry at Delaford it was probable that his cook would have known how to prepare a British version of a dish he may have eaten in the East Indies.
Today we shall look at the possibility of the Colonel enjoying a far more authentic version of curry, at what was most probably the first Indian restaurant in London. He could, had he so wished, eaten authentic Indian cuisine at The Hindostanee Coffee House which was established at George Street, just off Portman Square in London in 1809 by Sake Dean Mohomet.
Dean Mahomet was born in India, at Patna in 1759. In 1769, aged 11, after his father’s death, Mahomet followed in his father’s footsteps and joined the East India Company Army as a camp follower of Godfrey Baker who was an Irish Cadet.
He rose to the rank of subedar,which was the equivalent of the British rank of Lieutenant, but he let the army in 1782, aged 23 to accompany his patron, Captain Barker, who had been dismissed from the army. In 1784 Mahomet arrived at Dartmouth and then journeyed on to Ireland where he spent several years with the Baker family in Cork. It was here that he met his wife, Jane Daly, who was said to have been from an Irish family of “rank”. In 1786 they eloped, got married then returned to Cork where they set up home and had several children.
Mahomet moved to London around 1807 and took up residence in Portman Square which was then a fashionable area popular with Nabobs, who were the well off ex-British administrators in India returned to their homeland. In 1809 he opened what is now considered to be the first Indian restaurant in London – The Hindoostanee Coffee-House – at 34 George Street, Portman Square.
This is a section from my copy of Smith’s New Map of London (1809) annotated with an arrow which shows the approximate position of the coffee-house.
His coffee-house, like many other so-called coffee houses of the day, did not serve coffee: no, he served what would then have been considered very exotic fare, Indian cuisine and, within his restaurant, he created an Eastern ambiance wich distinguished it from all the other coffee houses in town.
His advert for the restaurant which appeared in The Times described what he could offer to a discerning pubic:
Hindostanee Coffee-House No. 34 George Street Portman Square- Mahomed, East-Indian informs the Nobility and Gentry he has fitted up the above house , neatly and elegantly, for the entertainment of Indian Gentlemen, where they may enjoy Hoakha, with real chinese tobacco,and Indian dishes, in the highest perfection, and allowed by the greatest epicures tone unequalled to any curries ever made in England with choice wines and every accommodation, and now looks to them for their future patronage and support,and gratefully acknowledges himself indebted for their former favours and trusts it will merit the highest satisfaction when made known to the public.
Apparently, the Coffee house was decorated with a range of paintings including some of Indian landscapes, showing scenes of sporting activities. The sofas and chairs in the coffee-house were made of bamboo. With that and the presence of the hookas, for patrons to smoke tobacco mixed with Indian herbs, it must have been a very exotic location in which to eat a meal.
Sadly, Dean Mohamet’s restaurant was not a total success. As Michael Fisher explains:
To be profitable… public houses either had to generate a loyal and substantial clientele, or to have a prime location, drawing many occasionally visitors…By the time Dean Mohamet began his enterprise the Jerusalem Coffee House (in Cornhill far closer to the City of London financial centre) already held the patronage of European merchants and veterans of the East Indies. The elite of the Portman Square neighbourhood, including the wealthy Nabobs, had their own private kitchens where their personal tastes would be satisfied; they could easily hire Indian servants or smoke in an Indian style regularly. Therefore the relatively exclusive location of the Hindostanee Coffee House and its novel and specialised cuisine and ambiance meant that its start-up costs exceeded Dean Mohamet’s limited capital.
(see The Travels of Dean Mohomet:An Eighteenth Century Journey through India, edited by Michael J.Fisher(1997))
The failure of the coffee house meant that Dean Mohamet had to file for bankruptcy and had no further association with the business. The Hindostanee Coffee House continued to trade and eventually did manage to generate a loyal clientele. It is thought the it continued to trade from its original premises at 34 George Street until 1833.
So this may indeed have been somewhere that Colonel Brandon might have patronised, while staying in St James Street when on his visits to London.
Poor Dean Mohamet failed in this particular enterprise but this is not the end of his story. In 1814 he moved from London to Brighton where he and his wife eventually established Mahomed’s Baths on the sea front, shown below as it was in 1821
My copy of the Guide to the Watering and Sea Bathing Places (1827) by John Feltham has this entry for his establishment:
These baths are kept by a native of India, and combine all the luxuries of the Baths of the East. They are adapted either for ladies or gentlemen and the system is highly salutary in many diseases, independent of the gratification it affords, particularly to those who had resided in the East.
And here is an advertisement for teh baths from Pigots National Directory of 1826
It was here that Dean Mohamet practised his Indian method of vapour baths and shampooing, which we would probably recognise now as some form of Indian Head Massage. He offered:
The Indian Medicated Vapour Bath (type of Turkish bath), a cure to many diseases and giving full relief when every thing fails; particularly Rheumatic and paralytic, gout, stiff joints, old sprains, lame less, aches and pains in the joints
In Brighton he was of course patronised by George IV who seems to have been fascinated by all things from the East. Dean Mohamet was a warrant holder as Shampooing Surgeon to both George IV and his brother, William IV. Here is Dean Mohamet pictured in his court robes, depicted standing proudly before the exotic facade of the Brighton Pavillion, George IV’s seaside folly, which you can just see to the left of the portrait:
So, there you are. The really intriguing story of Dean Mohamet and the first real Indian restaurant in London. Dean Mohamet wrote a book of his experiences, The Travels of Dean Mohamet published in 1794. And while this is a very interesting book, for me the sadness is that he stopped writting once he arrived in Ireland. The story of his marriage, his business enterprises in London and Brighton are not chronicled, and his experiences in england and Ireland must have been extraordinary It would have been fascinating to read of his experiences. You might like to note that the social importance of the Hindoustanee Coffee House has been recognised by Westminster Council and in 2005 a Green Plaque was placed on the present building at 34 George Street to recognise and record its existence:
In Sense and Sensibility we are told that Colonel Brandon served in the East Indies and, for the British Army at that time, this most likely would have meant being on active service in India. In chapter 31 the poor Colonel recalls to Elinor Dashwood what happened to the woman he loved while he was away:
My brother had no regard for her; his pleasures were not what they ought to have been, and from the first he treated her unkindly. The consequence of this, upon a mind so young, so lively, so inexperienced as Mrs. Brandon’s, was but too natural. She resigned herself at first to all the misery of her situation; and happy had it been if she had not lived to overcome those regrets which the remembrance of me occasioned. But can we wonder that with such a husband to provoke inconstancy, and without a friend to advise or restrain her, (for my father lived only a few months after their marriage, and I was with my regiment in the East Indies), she should fall? Had I remained in England, perhaps — but I meant to promote the happiness of both by removing from her for years, and for that purpose had procured my exchange. The shock which her marriage had given me,” he continued in a voice of great agitation, “was of trifling weight — was nothing — to what I felt when I heard, about two years afterwards, of her divorce. It was that which threw this gloom, — even now the recollection of what I suffered — “
Living in the East it is entirely possible that Colonel Brandon might have developed a taste for eating highly spiced food. If, on his return to England he had wanted to continue eating curries, could he have expected his staff at Delaford to have been able to recreate one? The answer, rather surprisingly, is, yes. It is really interesting to note that the first recipe for curry published in an English cookery book appeared in 1747.
Above, is the frontispiece to the first edition of The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, by a Lady, produced in facsimile by Prospect Books. It was in this edition of her famous book that Hannah Glasse gave this first printed recipe in English, for a curry:
You can enlarge this image along with all the others in this post, simply by clicking on them. The method given for this particular curry has a lot in common with a modern Biriani- with the rice being cooked in with the sauce, not served separately. But the most interesting point to note is the very few spices used in Mrs Glasse’s recipe. She uses only pepper and coriander seeds which have been toasted.
By the time Martha Lloyd complied her collection of household remedies and food recipes in her Household Book things had moved on a little. Martha Lloyd was, of course, Jane Austen’s great friend and one of the cluster of ladies who lived together with her at Chawton Cottage from 1809 onwards. This is a picture of her as an older woman and as Frank Austen, Jane Austen’s brother’s second wife:
Her book dates from the late 18th to the early nineteenth century, and is now in the collection of the Jane Austen’s House Museum in Chawton, where I took this photograph of it, last year:
Her recipe for curry is a far more complex item than Mrs Glasse’s version, and is called A Receipt to Curry after the Indian Manner:
Cut two chickens as for fricasseeing, wash them clean and put them in a stew pan with as much water as will cover them, with a large spoonful of salt sprinkle them and let them boil till under covered close all the time, skim them well; when boiled enough take up the Chickens and put the liquor of them in a pan, then out half a pound of fresh butter in the pan and brown it a little, put into it two cloves of garlic and a large onion sliced and let these all fry till brown often shaking the pan, then put in Chickens and sprinkle over two or three spoonfuls of curry power, then cover them close and let the chickens do till brown frequently shaking the Pan, then put in the Liquor the Chickens were boiled in and let all stew till tender. If acid is agreeable squeeze the juice of a Lemon or Orange into it.
The curry powder she refers to was most probably not a proprietary brand which could be brought in the shops, though Alan Davidson the food historian in his Oxford Companion to Food thought that:
Commercial mixtures had been available to cooks in Britain from late in the 18th century but seems not to have been a common article of commerce until later.
Certainly it is true that in the 1796 edition of Hannah Glasse’s book, the recipe for curry required curry powder to be added to it. But this does not mean that a commercially produced powder was always used, because recipes for curry powder exist in cookery compilations of the era. In Martha’s case she was most probably referring to another recipe in her book. Her recipe for curry powder appears to have originated from her aunt, Mrs Jane Fowle. Mrs Fowle was not only Martha’s aunt but was also the mother of Thomas Fowle, who had been engaged to Cassandra Austen, Jane’s sister. Sadly, he died in 1797 before they could marry, of yellow fever, while accompanying his kinsman, Lord Craven, on service in the West Indies.
Her recipe for Curry Powder, or as she terms it, Curee Powder, is as follows:
Take of Termeric (sic) Root and Galangal Root each half an oz. Best Cayenne Pepper a quarter of an oz. Let the Termeric and Galangal be reduced to a fine powered separately, then mix them with the other articles and keep for use. N.B. two oz of Rice powdered tone mixed also with the other ingredients.
Galangal root is a member of the ginger family, and it is fascinating to note that this exotic ingredient was available to purchase to these ladies living in the early 19th century. The roots of turmeric and galangal were most probably not bought fresh, as they can be today, but were more likely to have been bought already roasted and dried so that powering them could take place in a pestle and mortar.
An authentic curry powder originating from southern India was most likely to have included the following: coriander cumin and mustard seeds, red and black pepper, fenugreek, turmeric and the possible additions of cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and chickpeas, all roasted and then ground to a powder. So you can see, by comparing the two , that the British attempts at curries in the early parts of the 19th century, were rather tame things. My family are curry aficionados and I have attempted to recreate Martha’s recipe. Using my own version of Mrs Fowle’s curry powder it produces a very nice, sweet tasting dish, but it is not very authentic, in my family’s rather strongly given opinion.
However, it is fascinating to me that as early as the late 18th century Jane Austen and the members of her family circles were eating such an exotic dish,and approved it so much that they took the trouble to write it down and most probably enjoyed it in the dining room at Chawton Cottage, seen below in one of my terribly short videos.
Next, where Colonel Brandon could have gone to eat a more authentic version than the one his cook at Delaford might have tired to recreate for him.
But in the meantime for Elegance & Ease & Luxury . . . I shall eat Ice & drink French wine, & be above Vulgar Economy.
So wrote Jane Austen from her rich brother’s home, Godmersham Park in Kent, in a letter to her sister Cassandra dated July 1st, 1808.
Ice creams, iced drinks and iced displays were only available to the wealthy and well to do in Jane Austen’s era. As Ivan Day writes in the book under review here today:
When ice cream first appeared in Britain in the seventeenth century, it was a luxury enjoyed solely by the inhabitants of royal palaces and noble households. For two hundred years it remained an upper-class treat…
Ices could only be made on estates that possessed the luxury of an ice house- a place where, in the cold winter months, ice from lakes was stored to use throughout the year to make cold drink, puddings ( ice creams and iced waters) and decorative iced table-pieces.
There, deep under the earth, the ice- the Harvest of the Winter Months- as Elizabeth David termed it, was stored throughout the year until it had all gone, usually in late summer. Note the lake/pond ice itself was not eaten, as that would have been disgusting. It was used, usually with the addition of salt, to make other things freeze and chill.
From the mid 18th century ices also could be bought- at a price- from smart confectioners in the larger towns in England, such as the famed Gunther’s in Berkeley Square..
It is really no wonder then that Jane Austen relished the ease and elegance and luxury of her brother’s home, drinking French wine( not their usual home-bred effort ) and eating those rare ices. Something she would not normally have had access to in her little village in Hampshire.
Today’s book under review is a concise but very well written history of the ice cream in Britain. Ivan Day, the author, is, as you know, one of the foremost food historians in England. I have been lucky enough to attend some of his food courses and have been spellbound each time we have made ice cream in the Georgian manner, without the need for any modern refrigerators.
Here we have my photograph of some strawberry ice cream we were making in the 18th century way, in Gunther’s own pillar mould, set to freeze in a mixture of ice and salt, within a wooden pail.
This book, published by Shire, is fascinating. It covers, of course, periods both before and after the Georgian era, but has enough material to interest us, and for its price( £6.99) is amazingly good value. The chapters on ice houses and how the ice was gathered and stored are clear and concise. The chapter on Georgian ices is fascinating, the range of flavours on offer makes today’s ice cream manufactures offerings seem tame.
Above in an illustration from the book, is Frederick Nutt’s handwritten list of ice cream varieties dating from 1780. They include sweet ices; Burnt Ice Cream( flavoured with caramel), Burnt Almond, and Damson, together with savoury flavours, for example, Parmesan Cheese.
Ivan gives copious amounts of information as to how these ices were made, served at tale and consumed. The history of the development of ice cream recipes is entertainingly written, tracing the developments from the first known English recipe, written by Lady Anne Fanshawe who lived from 1625-1680. Ivan has an immense collection of original recipe books from this era until the turn of the last century, and plunders them in this small book to provide vivid illustrations as to how these early ices were made. The book is well and appropriately illustrated and the examples of ices made by Ivan, from his truly astounding collection of ice cream moulds, are simply breathtaking:
A nice touch is the addition to the book of recipes taken from Frederick Nutt’s list, above, all adapted for use in modern ice cream makers. I can thoroughly recommend this detailed and well written overview of the history of creating and eating ice cream and I am sure that you will enjoy it.
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:
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 ;)
The festive season is nearly upon us, and so I am prompted to write about festive things in the main for the next couple of weeks before the big day itself…and things don’t get much more festive than jellies, those stalwarts of many a children’s party. Even wunderkind chef, Heston Blumenthal used one in his Victorian Feast last year- this is a slightly -ahem-“adult” video, so do be warned……
And as I haven’t written a book review or about food in the past few weeks I thought I would combine the two now in a review of a newly published book, Jellies and their Moulds by the renowned food historian, Peter Brears.
References to jellies in Jane Austen’s works are few. They were obviously served at Fanny’ Price’s Ball at Mansfield Park, for Mrs Norris ‘spunges’ the leftovers the day after the ball, supposedly to feed an ailing housemaid (a likely story):
It was a heavy, melancholy day. Soon after the second breakfast, Edmund bade them good–bye for a week, and mounted his horse for Peterborough, and then all were gone. Nothing remained of last night but remembrances, which she had nobody to share in. She talked to her aunt Bertram— she must talk to somebody of the ball; but her aunt had seen so little of what had passed, and had so little curiosity, that it was heavy work. Lady Bertram was not certain of anybody’s dress or anybody’s place at supper but her own. “She could not recollect what it was that she had heard about one of the Miss Maddoxes, or what it was that Lady Prescott had noticed in Fanny: she was not sure whether Colonel Harrison had been talking of Mr. Crawford or of William when he said he was the finest young man in the room— somebody had whispered something to her; she had forgot to ask Sir Thomas what it could be.” And these were her longest speeches and clearest communications: the rest was only a languid “Yes, yes; very well; did you? did he? I did not see that; I should not know one from the other.” This was very bad. It was only better than Mrs. Norris’s sharp answers would have been; but she being gone home with all the supernumerary jellies to nurse a sick maid, there was peace and good–humour in their little party, though it could not boast much beside.
And recently when I was visiting the Jane Austen House Museum I was pleased to find this collection of early 19th century porcelain jelly moulds in the newly restored kitchen:
We are justified in writing about them, therefore. *The author heaves a sigh of relief*.
Having made 18th century jellies on Ivan Day’s Regency Food Course, I can confirm that in the Long Eighteenth century they were then a far more sophisticated and exciting food, and were used in many different ways, much more exciting than the pedestrian way we use jellies now, and this is a point that becomes immediately clear on reading the introduction to this book:
Jellies are unique in their range of physical properties. Although they are virtually tasteless, they can instantly absorb any chosen flavour drawn from fruits and spices, as well as readily dissolving sugars, wines and spirits throughout their mass. Having no texture of their own, they can take on those of creams ,cereals,fruits purees, ground nuts and many other things or they can be whipped into foams. They can also be used to embed fresh, preserved or candied fruits or still custards and other jellies of contrasting flavour and colour. Being colourless at the outset they immediately take on the widest variety of tones, tinctures and degrees of opacity as imparted by all manner of edible liquids and colourings. They have no shape of their own but take on the shape of any mould or vessel into which they are poured. This list of attributes is already impressive but has yet to include their most important and unique characteristics. The first of these is perfect transparency..the second is dynamic movement, the wobble factor always a delight to the eye. The third …is their capacity to slowly release their flavours and textures into the mouth, prolonging the pleasure and appreciation of ingredients which otherwise would be more rapidly swallowed.
This book, which covers the history of jellies from medieval era to the 20th century is part of Prospect Books’ superb English Kitchen series of books. Go here to see a wonderful 12 Days of Christmas Page of some of the books in the series,which are on offer . These are all reasonably priced, scholarly, interesting and readable books and Peter Brears’ book on jellies, the latest in the series, is no exception.
I had the extreme pleasure of hearing Mr Brears ( seen below in his black cap before an impressive array of jellies that he made in the kitchen at Petworth House) talk on the subject of the Georgian Kitchen and the Domestic Offices in a grand Georgian House at the Costume Society’s symposium on Life in a Georgian Town which was held in Bath in 2005. He is a superb communicator, and has a wonderful grasp of all the intricate detail of his subject. If you ever get the chance to hear him talk, my advice is to go. Just go.
The book is not solely concerned with our era, but the chapter on Georgian Jellies is 34 pages long and gives in great detail a plethora of recipes from the era for such wonderful and now sadly forgotten confections such as playing card jellies, a nest of eggs jelly, moon and stars in jelly and Oranges en Rubans or Jellies a la Bellevue. These are, in fact, small clementines or tangerine skins filled alternately with red wine jelly and white flummery, shown below in an illustration from the book….
…and below you can see, in one of my photographs of them taken by me on the Regency Cookery Course, just how these beautiful jellies are made, layer upon layer producing the striped effect,then once they are completely set, they are cut open to reveal the jolly stripes.
Peter Brears is also a very accomplished artist, and throughout the book has illustrated jellies and moulds in exquisite detail in black and white pen and ink drawings. In the Georgian Jellies chapter he gives detail information on wooden, tin and porcelain jelly moulds which were all in use throughout the era.
Below is his delicious drawing of a selection of jelly moulds made by Josiah Wedgwood (please do click on the illustration to enlarge it and see the amazing detail)
This is a suburb little book, an ideal and inexpensive stocking filler for anyone interested in the foods of the past, and especially for anyone interested in the very different and accomplished jellies of the Gregorian era. It is written in Mr Brears’ usual lucid, knowledgeable and enjoyable style. It is illustrated profusely and with brio. It is a gem. Buy it.
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 ;-)
As most of you know I’m a big fan of Ivan Day’s historic cookery courses which he holds at his lovely farmhouse in Cumbria. I’ve been lucky enough to attend to three of them and feel the urge to go back…….
Fiona Lehey has just blogged about her experiences on the Georgian Sugarcraft and Confectionary Course and I thought you might like to share the experience. Go here to see some more visions of sugary loveliness, fit enough even for Mr Darcy’s table.
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 .
So , now we know what the structure of General Tinley’s kitchen at Northanger might have resembled….we really ought to consider what modern gadgets the General might have in his deceptively ancient kitchen…no turnspit dogs or crones tending spits of roasting meats, that is certain.
No, he had a full staff- I love the image of footmen slinking around corridors,out of their livery….
The number of servants continually appearing did not strike her less than the number of their offices. Wherever they went, some pattened girl stopped to curtsy, or some footman in dishabille sneaked off.
So..what wonderful devices would these staff be using in this very busy kitchen(for woe betide any meals being served late in this particular household)…Let’s see…
He would most probably have installed an up to the minute range oven. Though they are often thought of as being essential items in a Victorian kitchen, cast iron ranges were in fact innovations of the Georgian period.
They really needed coal to fuel them- wood or turf burned on open hearths. And it wasn’t until the development of the railway system in Britain in the 1840s that the use of cast iron ranges –large or small- became widespread with the easy availability of coal, which was then easily transported about the whole country.
This is the trade card of Underwood and Co, who were ironmongers in Bristol from 1812 to 1828, and so might have supplied the General with his ovens at Northanger, which was situated in the nearby Severn estuary plains of Gloucestershire. They operated from Charles Street which at the time contained some of Bristol’s finest shops.
The kitchen grate they illustrate here has a hot plate on the right and a perpetual oven on the left. The advert also shows smoke jacks-which did away with the necessity for scullions or dogs turning the spit- roasted meat. These kitchen ranges were capable of generating great heat,and were designed to undertake the task of boiling and roasting. The original ranges, dating from the late 18th century had no provision for delicate cooking -making sauces or simmering- and eventually a stewing stove was introduced combining a kitchen gratw with ovens in order to have all the elements one needed to cook in one place.
John Farley in his book The General View of Agriculture in Derbyshire (1813) wrote of the history of the development of range cookers as follows:
About the year 1778 cast iron ovens began to be made at the Griffin Foundry now Messrs Ebenezer Smith and Company and to be set by the side of the grates at the public houses and some farm houses as to be heated by the fire in the grate when a small damper in the flue is drawn and about ten years after square iron boilers with lids were introduced to be set at the end of a fire grate and these have spread so amazingly that there is scare a house without these even of cottage of the first class…
Thomas Robinson patented a range in 1780 and it looked like this:
As you can see the closed oven was heated by the fire burning around one of its walls. This made for a very uneven heat,and this fault was not effectively remedied until the second quarter of the 19th century.
So what could the General’s oven range have looked like? Would it have resembled one of these above?
Now we know, for Jane Austen tells us, that the General was a fan of Count Rumford’s inventions. We are told that instead of seeing massive open hearths in the drawing-room, the view that struck Catherine’s Morland’s disappointed eyes was a Rumford fireplace:
An abbey! Yes, it was delightful to be really in an abbey! But she doubted, as she looked round the room, whether anything within her observation would have given her the consciousness. The furniture was in all the profusion and elegance of modern taste. The fireplace, where she had expected the ample width and ponderous carving of former times, was contracted to a Rumford, with slabs of plain though handsome marble, and ornaments over it of the prettiest English china.
Northanger Abbey, Chapter 20
What she saw was a Rumford hearth. Here is a caricature of Count Rumford standing before one of his fireplaces,which made more economic use of fuel-the heat as you can see was directed into the room and did not dissipate into a large hearth and up to the chimney:
America- born Benjamin Thompson, Count von Rumford, lived from 1753-1814. He not only invented this efficient fireplace, but also in his book, Essays Political Economical and Philosophical (1802) he wrote about many topics and the tenth essay deals with the Construction of Kitchen Fireplaces and Kitchen Utensils.
He was of the opinion that each cooking vessel should have its own separate closed fireplace, the door , its grate and ash-pit should be fitted with a draught controlling register and its flue with a damper. Fireplaces over 8 to 10 inches in diameter should be fueled from openings just above the level of the grate , smaller ones being fed from the top. Portable boilers and stew pans should be circular and suspended deep inside the fireplace . All boilers or stew pans should have well insulated lids preferably of double tinplate construction.
Here is an engraving of his patent kitchen stove,
And this is a clearer drawing of it:
The principle behind this strange looking contraption was that by finely controlling the fires, food could be cooked at just under boiling point- thereby making the food tender, juicy and more flavoursome than conventional ranges which could dry out the meat etc. .His stove also was very economical with regard to fuel-for the boilers and stew pans were completely sunk within their fireplaces, thus not much heat escaped ,and all as used effectivley.
These stove were as you can see very complex to operate. There were a total of fourteen individual fires which of course meant that there were fourteen draught controls, fourteen individual cooking vessels and 14 dampers to oversee. And that was probably their downfall for by 1840 they were quite forgotten. They were sold from 1799 by a Mr Sumner, an ironmonger, of New Bond Street London. And he installed one of these fantastical ranges in his own kitchen there, where it could be seen in action by prospective customers. Shades of modern Aga showrooms….
He sold 260 of these ovens,and similar success was reported by outlets for the stoves in Edinburgh and provincal cities. But by the mid 19th century, they had completely fallen out of favour.
So that could be what General Tilney’s stove looked like….I pity the poor harassed cook, frankly, working in the heat and under the stress of being on time-for the General certainly loved punctuality.
So what else would the General have had in his up to the minute kitchen?
I have to include this illustration of an early 19th century plate warmer: I think it is fabulous:
I do hope the General had at least one of these ;-)
I love the fact that by mentioning Rumfords- with the possibility of not only the Count’s fireplaces but his stoves being in use at Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen agains demonstrates to us just how to the minute she was.
If you would like to read more about innovations in the early 19th century kitchen and more of the type of gadgets the General may have had in his kitchen than I can do no better than recommend this book, from where some of the information for this post has been taken: Over A Red Hot Stove ,edited by Ivan Day and published by Prospect Books.
This is a fascinating collection of essays based on papers presented at the 19th and 20th Leeds Symposia on FoodHistory held between 2004 and 2005. It is quite technical and intricate and probably only for the food history obsessive like myself, but if you want to learn in great detail about the development of kitchen ranges, Ox roasts, the massive roast beef prepared at Windsor Castle, the history of clockwork jacks and how to bake in a beehive oven, then this book is for you.
Yesterday we explored the kind of kitchen that Catherine Morland hoped would be on display at Northanger Abbey…poor soul.
What she finds is the complete opposite of what she expected: all her hopes, based on her readings of horrid novels, led her to believe abbeys were staffed by a few ancient servants and meals were cooked in similarly ancient mouldering rooms:
With the walls of the kitchen ended all the antiquity of the abbey; the fourth side of the quadrangle having, on account of its decaying state, been removed by the general’s father, and the present erected in its place. All that was venerable ceased here. The new building was not only new, but declared itself to be so; intended only for offices, and enclosed behind by stable–yards, no uniformity of architecture had been thought necessary. Catherine could have raved at the hand which had swept away what must have been beyond the value of all the rest, for the purposes of mere domestic economy; and would willingly have been spared the mortification of a walk through scenes so fallen, had the general allowed it; but if he had a vanity, it was in the arrangement of his offices; and as he was convinced that, to a mind like Miss Morland’s, a view of the accommodations and comforts, by which the labours of her inferiors were softened, must always be gratifying, he should make no apology for leading her on. They took a slight survey of all; and Catherine was impressed, beyond her expectation, by their multiplicity and their convenience. The purposes for which a few shapeless pantries and a comfortless scullery were deemed sufficient at Fullerton, were here carried on in appropriate divisions, commodious and roomy. The number of servants continually appearing did not strike her less than the number of their offices. Wherever they went, some pattened girl stopped to curtsy, or some footman in dishabille sneaked off. Yet this was an abbey! How inexpressibly different in these domestic arrangements from such as she had read about — from abbeys and castles, in which, though certainly larger than Northanger, all the dirty work of the house was to be done by two pair of female hands at the utmost. How they could get through it all had often amazed Mrs. Allen; and, when Catherine saw what was necessary here, she began to be amazed herself.
Before we discuss the modern kitchen, I think we ought to consider the domestic offices which so baffled Catherine ;what would they have been like?
Northanger Abbey is clearly built around a quadrangle, and the modern block of domestic offices makes up one whole side. Katherine is used to having only a scullery and some pantries at home at the rectory at Fullerton:she is not used to the way the domestic offices of the rich were arranged in the late 18th /early 19th centuries.
Let’s see if we can try and envisage what the General’s Domestic Offices looked like…..
This illustration is taken from my copy of The Country House Kitchen by Pamela Sambrook and Peter Brears, and shows the type of rooms that amazed poor Catherine. Do remember, all the illustrations here can be enlarged by clicking on them)
There are two plans, showing two sets of domestic offices. The basement floor of Harewood House in Yorkshire the homes of the Lascelles family,
and Newnham in Oxfordshire built 1759-71.
The codes for the rooms are as follows:
BH- Bake House
BP- Butler’s Pantry
K – Kitchen
L – Larder
SR -Steward’s Room
ST- Still Room
VG -Ventilation Gap
At Petworth in Sussex,
…this was the plan of the domestic offices which were built in a block separate to the main house:
You can clearly see that a large, rich household required more than a scullery and pantries to support its exalted way of life.
And of course all this impressive newness set amidst an old abbey might have been inspired by Jane Austen’s knowledge of and visit to such a place-Stoneleigh Abbey in Warwickshire– which she visited in 1806.
The Austen ladies-Jane and Cassandra plus Mrs Austen- went there to accompany their cousin, the Reverend Thomas Leigh to ensure his inheritance to the property. You can see from my photograph above that behind the classical frontage of the house there is a range of ancient, medieval buildings which were part of the original abbey.
Here is a drawing of that range:
This is a plan drawn up by architects to the trust which converted Stoneleigh into a number of individual residences, and you can see that Stoneleigh is also built- like Northanger- around a quadrangle :
Mrs Austen left us a magically detailed letter -dated August 13th 1806- to her daughter-in-law, Mary Austen, second wife of James, and she found while exploring the abbey she thought inextricably of Gothic imagery:
Behind the smaller drawing room is the state bed chamber, with a high dark crimson velvet bed: an alarming apartment just fit for a heroine…
And she found the sheer size of the place, especially the domestic offices, almost intimidating: I say almost for I think very little intimidated Mrs Austen:
We can now find our way about it, I mean the best part; as to the offices (which were the old Abbey) Mr Leigh almost despairs of ever finding his way about them. I have proposed his setting up directing posts at the Angles.
And the range of breakfast food available to them, quite astounding:
At nine in the morning we meet and say our prayers in a handsome chapel, the pulpit etc now hung with black. Then follows breakfast, consisting of chocolate coffee and tea, plumb cake, pound cake, hot rolls cold rolls, bread and butter and dry toast for me. The House-Steward (a fine large respectable looking man) orders all these matters.
I think Jane Austen turned her experience of Stoneleigh Abbey upside down when writing Northanger Abbey . At Stoneleigh there was an ancient range of buildings completing the quadrangle ( unlike at Northanger ) and also an amazing number of domestic offices. I must admit to loving this section of Northanger Abbey, where poor old Catherine’s imagination is stymied at every turn. Her limited domestic experience is confounded by what she sees at Northanger: to imagine that large households were managed by two female embers of staff- her impression of life in an abbey is of course based on her reading of her horrid books-is not wise.Even that dullard Mrs Allen had doubted they portrayed real life! Poor Catherine is about to receive an almighty shock when she goes hunting around Mrs Tilney’s bedroom….letting her imagination run riot, so that it impinges on real life…not a good idea.
How inexpressibly different in these domestic arrangements from such as she had read about — from abbeys and castles, in which, though certainly larger than Northanger, all the dirty work of the house was to be done by two pair of female hands at the utmost. How they could get through it all had often amazed Mrs. Allen; and, when Catherine saw what was necessary here, she began to be amazed herself.
Now we have seen exactly what constituted a grand range of domestic offices , tomorrow what we shall explore what modern innovations were available in General Tilney’s kitchen…which was only a tiny part of the Northanger Abbey Domestic Offices.
From the dining–room, of which, though already seen, and always to be seen at five o’clock, the general could not forgo the pleasure of pacing out the length, for the more certain information of Miss Morland, as to what she neither doubted nor cared for, they proceeded by quick communication to the kitchen — the ancient kitchen of the convent, rich in the massy walls and smoke of former days, and in the stoves and hot closets of the present. The general’s improving hand had not loitered here: every modern invention to facilitate the labour of the cooks had been adopted within this, their spacious theatre; and, when the genius of others had failed, his own had often produced the perfection wanted. His endowments of this spot alone might at any time have placed him high among the benefactors of the convent.
Northanger Abbey, Chapter 23
The relentlessly improving hand of the General at Northanger reigns down on Catherine’s wild imaginings about abbeys: she is very soon disabused of her romantic notions as she tours the Abbey with the General in Chapter 23.
We will look at the improvements the General may have added to his kitchen tomorrow, but today I’d like to try and imagine what Catherine Morland would have liked to have seen, instead of being confronted by a gleaming range of very modern conveniences.
I think she might probably have imagined a room that looked something like this:
This is the rather magnificent kitchen not of an abbey, but of Burghley House in Lincolnshire the home of the Cecil family.
It is one of the oldest parts of the building, built circa 1555.
The ceiling, as you can see, is appropriately fan vaulted, and has a very tall roof- complete with glazed lantern. This enabled the smoke and fumes from the large kitchen fires, necessary for the cooking of the meat for the household, to rise and escape.
It also has some other “Gothic”-touches : the massive oil painting of a butchered oxen…
…and a chimney fire breast decorated with skulls…how horrid.
These were the skulls of turtles ..used for making turtle soups….
And placed above, a stern warning notice from His Lordship to the staff …Would you join the company of skulls if you disobeyed? *shudder* It brings to mind shades of Mrs Norris, frankly. How horrid
And what would be cooking in this dark and mysterious place?
(Do please click on the video to make it play)
On a spit hand in front of a roaring blaze, turned by some small child or dog?
Served on a large platter?
Of course, Catherine saw none of this……what she did see, we shall discover tomorrow…..
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 …..
Or perhaps this post should be entitled William Larkin’s strawberries…or even Mrs Elton’s:
Mrs. Elton, in all her apparatus of happiness, her large bonnet and her basket, was very ready to lead the way in gathering, accepting, or talking — strawberries, and only strawberries, could now be thought or spoken of. — “The best fruit in England — every body’s favourite — always wholesome. These the finest beds and finest sorts. — Delightful to gather for one’s self — the only way of really enjoying them. Morning decidedly the best time — never tired — every sort good — hautboy infinitely superior — no comparison — the others hardly eatable — hautboys very scarce — Chili preferred — white wood finest flavour of all — price of strawberries in London — abundance about Bristol — Maple Grove — cultivation — beds when to be renewed — gardeners thinking exactly different — no general rule — gardeners never to be put out of their way — delicious fruit — only too rich to be eaten much of — inferior to cherries — currants more refreshing — only objection to gathering strawberries the stooping — glaring sun — tired to death — could bear it no longer — must go and sit in the shade.”
I adore this stream of consciousness passage from the hateful Mrs Elton’s lips.
Jane Austen wrote about strawberries in Emma with a connoisseurs eye. She certainly knew of the varieties available in the early 19th century.
The story of the cultivation of the strawberry in England is quite interesting. Let’s look at it…
From medieval times till the 18th century, the only strawberries available for cultivation in England were the woodland strawberries, Fragaria vesea which was native to England. Plants were collected from the wild and planted into kitchen gardens .They came in two types-white and red. The fruits were very small, quite unlike our modern varieties, but similar to the Alpine Strawberries of today:
Thomas Tusser in his book Five Hundred Pointes of Good Husbandrie Newlie Augmented (1557) lists that variety as being the only one available for cultivation in England at the time.
(Alpine Strawberries in an 18th century tea bowl)
Improvements by careful breeding with other varieties from abroad began to be made during the 17th century.
The woodland strawberry was eventually crossed with the hautbois strawberry- Fragaria elatio– which was introduced to England from Europe. By 1642 another variety was added to the stock, when the woodland strawberry was interbred with a much better flavoured variety from Virginia , Fragaria Virginiana
The strawberries were still small in size compared to modern varieties, and it was not until the late 18th century that a large fruited strawberry was obtained by cross breeding with the Chilean strawberry, Fragaria Chilensis, which originated in South America.
At first, though breeding with this strawberry produced large fruit, the resulting strawberries had poor flavour and whitish fruits.
It was not until 1806 that a plant of this type was produced which bore large red, well flavoured strawberries which are comparable in size and flavour with the ones we know today: it was known as “Chili” ,and is one of the ones mentioned by Mrs Elton.
The only varieties current in the early 19th cenury that she failed to mention were the Carolina, Fragaria Carolinensis and the Pineapple strawberry.
They are both listed in a gardening book of the era, Every Man His Own Gardener (1809).
Jane Austen may have been familiar with this book for one, in a different edition, was to be found in her brother Edward Knight’s library at Godmersham:
The author, ,John Abercrombie was the son a of a nurseryman and market gardener, from Edinburgh in Soctland.
Trained by his father, he left Scotland to come south to work for George III’s mother Princess Augusta in London at her residences in Leicester House and Kew, between 1751 and 1757.
He was invited circa 1764 to write a gardening book by Mr L Davis a bookseller and Oliver Goldsmith. He agreed on condition that Goldsmith would overlook his manuscript. Goldsmith refused to do so saying that Abercrombies’ style was best suited to his own subject.
Abercrombie eventually wrote the text of Every Man His Own Gardener, which as you can see from the title page, above, is a truly comprehensive gardening book of the late 18th and early 19th century.
But, cannily realizing that he needed to market it in a manner to be attractive to the snobbish world, he paid the Duke of Leeds head gardener, Thomas Mawe, £20 to pose as the author. Every Man etc, appeared in 1767 under the title of Mawe’s Gardener’s Calendar. The book was a great success, and eventually, in 1776, Abercrombie added his own name on the title page as joint author with Mawe. The book continued to be issued, in revised editions, until 1879.
John Abercrombie did not actually meet Mr Mawe until after the publication of the second edition, when Mawe invited him to Yorkshire. They remained friends, and collaborated on another book, The Universal Gardener and Botanist (1778).
Interestingly , two years after Jane Austen died a strawberry of fine quality was introduced by Thomas Andrew Knight (a pioneer of large scale systematic strawberry breeding)…and it was called Elton!!No relation I am glad to say…
And it was good thing that the strawberry picking party at Donwell was not real for Cassandra Austen ,Jane Austen’s sister, seems to have been rather keen on them. As Jane remarked in her letter of 1811:
I had the agreeable surprise of finding several scarlet strawberries quite ripe – had you been at home, this would have been a pleasure lost!
Emma could not help laughing as she answered, “Upon my word, I believe you know her quite as well as I do. But, Mr. Knightley, are you perfectly sure that she has absolutely and downright accepted him. I could suppose she might in time, but can she already? Did not you misunderstand him? You were both talking of other things; of business, shows of cattle, or new drills; and might not you, in the confusion of so many subjects, mistake him? It was not Harriet’s hand that he was certain of — it was the dimensions of some famous ox.”
Emma, Chapter 54
Emma is probably the most domestic and also the most agriculturally concerned of all Jane Austen’s novels.
Reading it we are given an insight into the world not only of the well- ( or lesser) to- do villager of southern England in the early 19th century but also that of early 19th century farmers-great and small.
The relationship between Mr Knightley, owner of the established and grand Donwell Abbey estate and his young tenant Robert Martin of Abbey Mill Farm is that of almost equals. It is one of two professional farmers constantly looking to improve their land and yields and being interested in all things modern, swapping forward-looking information in the realm of husbandry and and livestock.
And of course at this time in the early 19th century, when improvements in the feeding and breeding of livestock was of great national import, it would have been inevitable that intelligent men like Mr Knightley and Robert Martin would, on every meeting, have been keen to compare recorded findings of the Agricultural Reports( of which more later) and to discuss every new development.
So, when Emma jokes with Mr Knightley -above- that he may have misunderstood when Robert Martin was telling him the news of his engagement (at last!) to Harriet Smith, it is really only half a joke, the reality was ( and still is, in my experience) that when two farmers get together the subject inevitably turns to the weather, breeds and yields.
So what is this famous Ox Emma mentions?
The answer is that it most probably was a reference to this magnificent animal, as here depicted by George Stubbs.
The Lincolnshire Ox was a Shorthorn prize bull, bred at the village of Gedney in Lincolnshire by John Bough in November 1782 and subsequently owned by John Gibbons of Long Sutton, Lincolnshire, a neighbouring village.
The Ox was to put it quite simply…massive.
It was 6 feet 4 inches tall and weighed 205 ½ stone-some 2,880 lbs. Having grown to this enormous size in Lincolnshire where his fame began to spread by repute, the ox was taken to London where it was put on show to paying spectators from February 1790 , first at the Lyceum in the Strand and then briefly at the Duke of Gloucester’s riding stables in Hyde Park. This royal interest in the ox earned it the title ‘The Royal Lincolnshire Ox . A handbill advertising the ox on show at the Lyceum stated:
This uncommon Animal was bred at GEDNEY, in the county of LINCOLN, in November 1782, and fed (without oil-cake) by Mr JOHN GIBBONs of Long Sutton, in the said county: all judges agree, that he is much the LARGEST and FATTEST ever seen in England; being 19 hands high, and 3 feet 4 inches across the hips; his beef and tallow are computed to weigh 2800lb. He is so remarkably docile, that great numbers of Ladies view him every day.
It was finally slaughtered in April 1791. And even after the ox was sold for slaughter the proud purchasers -London butchers-continued to exhibit parts of the beast.
The great public curiosity shown in this mammoth ox was typical of the contemporary interest in agricultural improvements , as reflected in the conversation between Mr Knightley and Emma.
Even though the Lincolnshire Ox was an exceptional animal, its weight of over a ton was a dramatic improvement on the average 400 lbs meat yield of cattle a century before. It was, therefore, living proof of the power of progress in feeding and breeding techniques.
Mr Gibbons, the proud owner, prior to the beasts demise and on advice taken from Sir Joseph Banks- another Lincolnshire landowner and of course one of the foremost men of natural science in the late 18th/early 19th century- commissioned George Stubbs, England’s leading painter of animals, to paint the ox in March 1790.
The portrait of the ox, incidentally one of the earliest exhibition animals to be painted, includes the ox’s owner, Mr Gibbons, and a fighting cock. This was also probably owned by Mr Gibbons and is thought to have won him the ox in the first instance: the ox being the prize in a cock-fight.
The fame of the ox was spread further by the distribution of prints of the painting. George Townly Stubbs engraved the print of the painting, which sold approximately 500 copies selling at half a guinea a print. Among the names on the subscription list were members of the royal family, the Duke of Orléans and several members of the British aristocracy. This fame had certainly spread to Surrey-and Hampshire by the time JAne Austen was writing Emma.
So there you are, Emma’s famous Ox, a tribute to the good husbandry of the improving farmers of late 18th/ early 19th century England. Typically though it was a famous beast- famous enough for Emma to recall hearing about it , or perhaps seeing a print of it- it did not register enough on her conciousness for her to recall it was a Lincolnshire ox.Of course once she became a farmers wife ( albeit a rather grand one) and Mistress of Donwell, her interest in matters agricultural might have improved ;-)