Category Archives: Eliza Smith

A Holiday House Party in Regency England

by Lauren Gilbert

The holidays are a time when people want to gather with friends and family. When possible, people travel for the holidays, often spending a few days or more.  This is not a modern phenomenon.  House parties were popular during the Regency era as well, and one’s visitors generally stayed for a length of time, possibly as long as a month or even more.  For example, Jane Austen’s sister Cassandra travelled to Godmersham Park for Christmas at the home of their brother Edward Austen-Knight in 1798; she was there long enough to receive several letters from Jane.  The Marquis and Marchioness of Abercorn entertained a large party at their country home, The Priory, at Christmas in 1804.  The planning and logistics of that time were rather different from ours. 

The holidays themselves were more numerous.  The Christmas season started with St. Nicholas Day, celebrated on Dec. 6, when small gifts would be exchanged.  Next came St. Thomas’s Day, observed on Dec. 21, which was marked with charitable giving.

Christmas Eve was a day to gather greens and decorate the home, and guests would have been included in these activities.  These decorations included wreaths (the making of which included rosemary and laurel as well as greens) and a kissing bough (which probably would have included mistletoe).  Fruit such as oranges and apples could also be included (cost would have been a consideration for oranges, as citrus was quite expensive). Christmas Day celebrations would have included attendance at church services (weather and health permitting).  A special dinner would be planned and served.  Gifts would be exchanged.  There would be music, including Christmas carols.

Next up was Boxing Day, which was also St. Stephen’s Day, celebrated the day after Christmas.  On this day, gift boxes and the day off were extended to the servants, if any.   (Meals would be planned for cold collations)

New Year’s, of course, was celebrated, and could entail small gifts.  12th Night was celebrated on Jan. 6, marking the official end of Christmas season. A party with games, dancing, and possibly a masquerade was held when possible; a 12th night cake and hot spiced wine could be served.  The greens were pulled down and burned for good luck. 

As we can plainly see, a number of matters had to be carefully considered.  A spur-of-the-moment decision to dine out was not an option.  There was no television or electronic entertainment available.  Even with staff, a hostess had to consider a number of factors.  First and foremost were the numbers of guests.  There could be people coming and going throughout the entire month, some arriving as others leave, some staying throughout the month.  Juggling rooms, linens, and so forth would be serious business. 

The next issue would, of course, be food.  Food choices of the time would rely heavily on what was available seasonally, and often to regional tastes.  While the wealthy and upper middle class could indulge in imported or hot house comestibles, most food choices would have depended on what was available seasonally.  Elizabeth Raffald included a helpful list of every thing in season each month of the year in her THE EXPERIENCED ENGLISH HOUSEKEEPER. 

The Christmas Day dinner menu could include two or possibly three courses.  A first course could include a fish dish, such as turbot with shrimps and oysters, soup, sausages, and meat or fish pies.  Brawn, one of Jane Austen’s favourites, was also popular. The second course would often include roast beef, goose and/or pheasant, another soup such as a shell-fish bisque, and possibly some roast duck.  A dish of fruit, such as apples, pears and grapes, would also appear, with sweets such as a pear tart.  These courses would be supplemented with vegetables such as carrots, parsnips, celery, beets, spinach, and forced asparagus.  Various pickles were also popular.  A third course could include savouries, more sweets, dried and fresh fruits, and nuts including chestnuts, walnuts, and hazelnuts.

Favoured sweets at this time of year would include mince pies, steamed Christmas pudding and gingerbread.  Festive beverages would include syllabub, various wines, wassail (a concoction of beer, sherry, sugar, and spices) and ale.  Coffee, tea and hot chocolate were also popular.  After dinner, the gentlemen might have remained in the dining room, enjoying more wine and spirits, while the ladies (and gentlemen who chose) withdrew to drawing room for tea (or port or sherry or other wines). 

As so many of these holidays involved gift giving amongst the household or to the community, the hostess had to know who would be present at what time to be sure everyone was considered.  Gift giving was a delicate matter.  Unmarried men and women did not exchange gifts usually, unless courting, engaged, or related by blood.  Gifts were often created.  Handwork, including knitting, embroidery, and painting, was often employed.  Such objects could include embroidered slippers, handkerchiefs, and bookmarks, handmade lace, etc.  Quilled paper was also a popular craft, and cabinet makers sold objects such as boxes, wine bottle coasters, picture frames and more for young ladies to decorate with their paper filagree work.  A drawing or painting of a favourite view or animal would have been another option.  A handmade gift of this nature would have shown a degree of intimacy, so recipients must have been carefully weighed. 

If finances permitted, one could shop for Christmas gifts as well.  Items such as books, sheet music, fancy or decorative boxes, supplies for writing or arts and crafts would be unexceptionable for friends; perfume and fans, jewellery (particularly hair jewellery), and similar objects would have to be judged cautiously, as those could be considered more personal, and potentially improper.  Much care had to be given in selecting appropriate gifts for family as well as guests for the appropriate days, carefully weighing cost, relationships, and the potential for misunderstanding.

Entertainment was of great importance.  One would not want one’s guests to be bored.  Meals, and evening entertainments such as cards, dancing and so forth were obvious.  However, the hours in between also had to be considered.  If a musical instrument was available, it would need to be tuned and ready for use.  Sheet music would be desirable.  Singing was also popular.  Books and periodicals would help guests fill time.  Weather permitting, walks in the neighbourhood or on the grounds would have been enjoyed.  If the weather permitted, there could have been ice skating.  Depending on the size of the establishment and the means, all manner of activities could be possible.  Games were always possible, and it would be up to the hostess to have suggestions and any necessary pieces or costumes available.  Age would, of course, have been a consideration.  Plans would have to factor in gifts, entertainment, and menus for any children in the household during the holiday.

As we can see, the Regency era house party would have required serious logistical planning.  Even with staff, the hostess would be the arbiter of decisions regarding food and entertainment, and the delicate matter of appropriate gifts.  Making sure that guests were accommodated as people arrived and departed, or arrived and stayed for the duration, required detailed planning for laundry as well as space.  In houses with servants, Boxing Day brought other challenges, as servants had that day off.  Cold meals would have to be planned, as well as other matters considered.  Budgetary considerations for food, beverages, and gifts were also significant.  Even for a smaller household expecting only intimate family, expectations had to be managed and planning was crucial. 

Sources include:

LaFaye, Deirdre, ed. JANE AUSTEN’S LETTERS. Fourth Edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.

Raffald, Elizabeth.  THE EXPERIENCED ENGLISH HOUSEKEEPER. Lewes: Southover Press, 1997.

Smith, Eliza. THE COMPLEAT HOUSEWIFE. First ublished 1758.  Facsimile edition published London: Studio Editions Ltd., 1994

English Historical Fiction Authors blog. “A Regency Christmas Feast” by Maria Grace, posted Dec. 10, 2013.  https://englishhistoryauthors.blogspot.com/2013/12/a-regency-christmas-feast.html ; “Twelfth Night” by Lauren Gilbert, posted Dec. 10, 2011. https://englishhistoryauthors.blogspot.com/2011/12/twelfth-night.html

Random Bits of Fascination blog.  “Regency Holiday Gift Giving” posted Dec. 15, 2018 by Maria Grace. https://randombitsoffascination.com/2018/12/15/holiday-gift-giving/

The Regency Redingote blog.  “Quill-Work or Quilling?” by Kathryn Kane, posted April 17, 2015.  https://regencyredingote.wordpress.com/2015/04/17/quill-work-or-quilling/

Images-Holly Christmas Card https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Holly_Christmas_card_from_NLI.jpg Public Domain ; Still Life of a Roast Chicken, a Ham and Olives on Pewter Plates with a Bread Roll, an Orange, Wineglasses and a Rose on a Wooden Table by Osias Beert https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Still_Life_of_a_Roast_Chicken,_a_Ham_and_Olives_on_Pewter_Plates_with_a_Bread_Roll,_an_Orange,_Wineglasses_and_a_Rose_on_a_Wooden_Table.jpg Public Domain

British Newspaper Archive. Morning Post, Thurs. Nov. 29, 1804, p. 3, London, England; Oracle and the Daily Advertiser, Fri. Nov. 30, 1804, p. 3, London, England. https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/

This post is part of the Regency Romance Fans Christmas Party on Sunday, Dec. 12, 2021 from 3:00 pm to 9:00 pm. I am giving an e-book of my latest novel, A RATIONAL ATTACHMENT, to a U. S. reader. Visit the Regency Romance Fans Facebook page to enter the giveaways and interact with authors, including me at 5:00! Here’s the link: https://www.facebook.com/groups/934474906612465

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Filed under 19th century England, Christmas, Cookbooks, Cooking, Eliza Smith, Giveaway, Home entertainment, Regency era

The Comfort of Soup

My post on the English Historical Fiction Authors Blog…

800px-dinner_at_haddo_house2c_1884_by_alfred_edward_emslie

It’s officially autumn (even though the temperatures do not reflect it where I live), and my menu planning is making a seasonal shift. As temperatures cool and winter approaches, a richer and more sustaining menu appeals. Soup is a favourite of mine for this time of year. An ancient dish, I suspect it evolved as soon as man figured out how to put edible things in a pot of water over heat. Soup is featured in virtually all culinary traditions and, of course, is a significant part of food history in Great Britain. As a history enthusiast, I enjoy reading details of normal life, including food, whether I’m reading fiction or non-fiction, as it gives an immediacy and life to the material.

Peasant fare, elegant fare, or invalid fare, soup was a staple of the British diet. Early cookery books don’t show as many recipes for soup as for other dishes. I suspect this is because it was assumed that individuals already knew how to make the standard daily dish for the household, made from local ingredients to personal taste. THE FORME OF CURY, a cookbook from c. 1390 (originally a scroll showing authorship by “the Chief Master Cooks of King Richard II”), contained some soup recipes designed to be served to the nobility. The names frequently included “soppes” or sowp” as the dish was served over bread. One was “Fenkel in Soppes” ….

To continue reading, please go HERE

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Filed under Cooking, Eliza Smith, England, Hannah Glasse, Mrs Rundell, The Forme of Cury, THE COMPLEAT HOUSEWIFE

Harvest Time

An English Harvest Home by Samuel Hieronymus Grimm 1776
(Wikimedia Commons)

I grew up in an area where apple orchards were easy to find. Late August, September and October were beautiful months where the various fruits and other crops ripened and were gathered, leaves changed and hayrides were the order of the day. I remember riding with groups of friends in wagons filled with hay that were pulled by horses or tractors. These were usually late afternoon or evening events and frequently ended with bonfires where marshmallows were roasted, apples crunched and apple cider was drunk. Although not a traditional harvest celebration, it’s easy to see these activities as a continuation of harvest celebrations in general.

The blessing of a good harvest has been celebrated for thousands of years by all cultures. Pagan rites were adapted into Christian celebrations. In England, Lammas was celebrated on August 1 to celebrate the wheat harvest. (“Lammas” comes from the Anglo-Saxon hlaf-mas which means “loaf mass”.) It was also known as the Feast of First Fruits. The English Catholic Church celebrated this until Henry VIII separated the Church from Rome. The harvest festival evolved to a local tradition, celebrated with local customs, and not necessarily on an annual basis. Even the date could vary, with the traditional August 1, Michaelmas (September 29), or the harvest moon (falling in September or Oct, depending on the year) all as possibilities. Whenever the celebration fell, it was a time of feasting on foods in season, in appreciation for a time of plenty. One fairly common tradition was the Harvest Cake, which was distributed to farm workers after the harvest was done.

I looked for recipes for a traditional English harvest cake that might have been available during the Georgian era. To my surprise, instead of heavy cakes loaded with apples, nuts and cinnamon, I found that seed cakes were popular. Made with caraway seeds, these seeds were symbolic of the wheat harvest. I found two recipes for seed cake in The Compleat HOUSEWIFE by Eliza Smith (my copy is a facsimile of the 16th edition which was first published in 1758). Although not specifically designated a harvest cake, it is easy to see that it would serve a large group. The recipe for “A good Seed-Cake” includes 5 pounds of flour, 4 pounds of sugar, 4 pounds of butter, a pound and a half of caraway comfits (candy-coated caraway seeds, about the size of a grain of rice), a half-pound of candied orange peel and a half-pound of citron. When mixed and put in the “hoop”, it was baked in a quick oven for 2 to 3 hours. This would yield a big cake! I can see that a few cakes like this would serve a lot of people, especially as part of a feast. (It’s interesting to note that caraway comfits were popular in Elizabethan time as a digestif, the anise-flavored seed being recognized as beneficial for indigestion and flatulence.)

As summer ends and autumn draws in, I think it is almost instinctive to think of the seasonal foods: apples, root vegetables, heartier dishes, and desserts to match. Last year at Christmas, I baked my first fruitcake and plan to do another this year. Maybe this year, for Thanksgiving, I will try a seed cake with plenty of caraway seeds. There is something so satisfying about bring old customs into my modern celebrations.

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Filed under Cooking, Eliza Smith, Georgian England, recipes, THE COMPLEAT HOUSEWIFE

Fruitcake for Christmas

Recently, I posted about my secret fondness for fruitcake, and my intention to make one this year. Well, I did it, and it was a success! I went through several cookbooks, searched on-line for a recipe, and finally selected Alton Brown’s Free Range Fruitcake (find it HERE: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/free-range-fruitcake-recipe/index.html). I did not follow it exactly (some differences in the fruit used, the liquid used to soak the fruit, and the nuts) but the method worked extremely well, and the fruitcake is delicious! Moist, dense, spicy, packed with fruit and nuts. My husband, who ducks and runs when fruitcake is mentioned, tasted it and liked it. (He ate the whole slice!) Here it is:

Fruitcake! 001

I’m so glad I made this cake, and plan to make it again. Not only is it delicious, but it’s part of a tradition going back hundreds of years. From Eliza Smith’s “Plumb Cake” in The Compleat Housewife and Hannah Glasses “Rich Cake” in The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy to fruitcake of today, the ingredients and methods are strikingly similar. Baking from scratch is a special pleasure, one I had almost forgotten as I do it so seldom. Friends and family, who knows what may be in that Christmas gift next year? Just taste it before you make that face – I promise you’ll be pleasantly surprised!

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Filed under Christmas, Cooking, Eliza Smith, recipes, THE COMPLEAT HOUSEWIFE, thoughts

The Hum of Summer

Moth by Eleazar Albin 1720

It’s summertime, and the air is full of buzzing and humming (not to mention whining and slapping noises!). I have purple porterweed blooming by my door. One early morning, I was absolutely entranced by the cloud of white butterflies that flitted from bloom to bloom. It was amazing and exquisite to watch. The same bush attracts honey bees; not so exquisite (and sometimes a little scary when they buzz up to me when I go out), but the hum of bees as they busy themselves in the flowers is still an important element of summer. I do like honey so I give the bees plenty of room.

Then, there are those other summer visitors: flies, mosquitoes, fleas, and more. Not to mention that ancient scourge, bed bugs! How to eliminate pests without affecting the pleasant and beneficial insects, or ourselves, has been a concern down through time. While some of the earlier remedies are rather off-putting, others are pleasant as well as effective.

An infallible Receipt to destroy Bugs in Eliza Smith’s THE COMPLEAT HOUSEWIFE is a concoction of egg whites and quicksilver (mercury) at the rate of 1 ounce of quicksilver for every five or six eggs. These ingredients are mixed well, and beat together in a wooden dish with a brush until the quicksilver is barely visible. This is applied to the cleaned and disassembled bedstead (brushed clean, not washed). The mixture must be rubbed into all cracks and joints and allowed to dry. You cannot wash the bedstead afterwards. According to the recipe, the first application will destroy the bugs; if not, a second application will finish the job. This is clearly a remedy for the loathsome bedbug. However, we now know that mercury is highly toxic. The idea of leaving an emulsion of egg white and mercury on a bed is almost as distasteful at the bug itself; I was also not attracted by the idea of not washing the bedstead before or after the application. (The old fashioned remedy of burning the bed suddenly seems more reasonable!) Don’t try this at home…

It’s so much pleasanter to think of lavender and its many uses. It is a wonderful insect repellent. I had excellent results using it to deter silverfish and other fabric-loving bugs that loved to lurk in my laundry room in a previous residence. No matter how I cleaned or what I used, the little wretches would reappear, until I made lots of little lavender bags and tucked them into the backs of shelves, in corners and so forth. They never came back. Dried lavender, alone or mixed with other herbs such as rosemary, not only gives clothes or linens stored in closets, chests of drawers or other storage containers a wonderful smell; it discourages moths as well. So much more pleasant than moth balls, and not poisonous!

A few drops of lavender oil or essence in water makes a very soothing solution; it can soothe a slight burn and helps relieve an itch. A Jane Austen Household Book with Martha Lloyd’s Receipes contains a recipe for Lavender Water, and instructions “To Make A Sweet Pot” which seems to be a potpourri which contains violets, roses, thyme, lavender and other flowers and herbs. A health food store I frequent carries a wonderful lavender witch hazel solution. Culpeper’s COMPLETE HERBAL & English Physician credits lavender with numerous healing virtues. If nothing else, a spray of lavender water on a pillow creates a lovely and soothing atmosphere for a good night’s sleep. You won’t even notice all that humming!

Take a look at:
Hickman, Peggy. A JANE AUSTEN HOUSEHOLD BOOK with Martha Lloyd’s recipes. 1977: David & Charles Inc. North Pomfreet, NY.

Culpeper, Nicholas. Culpeper’s COMPLETE HEREBAL and English Physician. 1981: Harvey Sales-reproduces from edition published in 1826.

Smith, Eliza. The Compleat HOUSEWIFE. 1994: Studio Editions Ltd., London, England. First published in 1758.

Image: Wikipedia Commons http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/9e/Albin_Eleazar_Moth_1720.png

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Filed under bugs, Culpeper's Herbal, Eliza Smith, herbal, History, Jane Austen, lavender, recipes, summer, THE COMPLEAT HOUSEWIFE, thoughts