The Jane Austen Fest in Mt. Dora, Florida is coming up next month, on February 11-13, 2022. The action begins Friday, February 11, in the afternoon and goes on into Sunday afternoon. Speakers, workshops, a fashion show and, of course, tea! I have the honor of speaking on Saturday morning, February 12, at 9:00 am, and will be presenting “What’s Love Got To Do With It? Jane Austen and the Unmarried State.” There will be several speakers, including Elizabeth Paquette, who will be speaking at 3:00 pm on Saturday, on “Medicine in Jane’s Era: Doctors, Illnesses and ‘Cures'”. It promises to be a fun and informative weekend in a delightful town. For more information, visit the website here: https://janeaustenfest.com/events/schedule
Category Archives: Entertainment
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.
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
I’ve been reading old newspaper articles from the British Newspaper Archives set in 1813. I’m working on a non-fiction book about seven women who were powerhouses in Regency-era England, and have been looking for details about their various lives and activities. When writing anything set in Regency-era England, it is difficult to avoid the Season in London. Many of us read novels about the social activities of members of the highest level society, and try to imagine what it must have been like: glamorous, romantic, magical. The popularity of Jane Austen’s novels and their adaptations have fueled this interest. When I ran across several articles about balls and other social events, it gave me a different view of what holding a major ball actually entailed for the hosts.
On a winter night in early 1813, a ball was held in a mansion in Mayfair. The bare outlines of the events were these: approximately 500 guests starting arriving about 10:00 that evening, dancing commenced at 11:00, supper was held at 2:00 in the morning (Tuesday morning), after which dancing resumed until 5:00. The last guest departed at 6:00 in the morning. That is an 8-hour party. While one realizes that many of the guests probably came and went throughout the evening, one must presume that the host and hostess, at a minimum, were there all night long. This doesn’t take into account last minute activities earlier in the day: checking arrangements with staff, getting dressed, etc. Even with a full roster of servants at the ready, this must have been an incredibly long and exhausting event, as the host and hostess must have been constantly on the watch to be sure all went as it should: guests properly entertained and served, unexpected tensions smoothed, and indiscretions (or outright scandals) avoided. Somehow not quite the glamorous, care-free event one envisions…
Although the back-breaking labor of preparations and clean up was performed by servants, the host and hostess had the ultimate responsibility for the successful entertainment of their guests. No small endeavor, especially as social occasions of this nature were more than just fun. A ball of this nature advertised one’s status in the world not only for one’s self but one’s family in general. Its success (or otherwise) could affect reputations. Social events of this nature were also used for other matters, including discreet meetings of political colleagues, who were also frequently members of the same social set, and families considering judicious marital alliances to advance the respective families’ interests. Many issues and concerns simmered under the surface of what, at first glance, was an evening of entertainment. An event of this nature, then, became as much a serious business campaign as a social occasion.
On a completely different note, don’t forget that Books at the Beach is coming up in Clearwater, Florida from October 21-October 24. Lots of authors will be there, and it promises to be a fantastic book festival. Unfortunately, I will not be there, but recommend it highly. Visit Eventbrite for ticket information here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/books-at-the-beach-2021-tickets-131262115521?fbclid=IwAR2K_5BGTZLWCJDlHzZZMz1i3eVQnpOUpaMELX0NOMsfU4sRUjCqmUMzhjg
I enjoy cooking shows, and was a fan of the Two Fat Ladies. In series 2, Clarissa Dickson Wright made a salmon dish based on a recipe from Robert May’s cookbook. Her version of the recipe is included in THE TWO FAT LADIES RIDE AGAIN, written by Clarissa Dickson Wright and Jennifer Paterson. During the episode, Clarissa gave a little information about Mr. May which intrigued me. Since I also enjoy old cookbooks, when I ran across a facsimile of Mr. May’s work, I ordered it and it arrived today. I’ve learned that he was born in 1588. His father was cook for Lord and Lady Dormer, and taught Robert how to cook. Robert was sent to Paris by Lady Dormer, where he studied cookery for five years before returning to become cook in the Dormer’s kitchen under his father. After several years passed and Lady Dormer died, Robert went on to cook for other nobility. He died in 1664.
Mr. May’s cookbook, THE ACCOMPLISHT CHEF OR THE ART AND MYSTERY OF COOKERY was first published in 1660 in London. He was chef for noble households (primarily Catholic) during the reign of Charles I, the English Civil War and Parliamentary era, and into the reign of Charles II. In today’s terms, Mr. May was something of a celebrity chef. Robert’s cookbook is very large, and includes his own recipes (as well as some borrowed from others, to whom he apologized). I obtained a copy of the 5th edition published in 1685, which is pictured above. The cookbook was dedicated for the use of master cooks and young hopeful cooks. It addressed carving and serving, and contained bills of fare for each season and special days, The recipes were arranged in alphabetical order and the book contains a useful table of contents.
In perusing Robert May’s cookbook, I was able to find a recipe that I believe may be the one which inspired Clarissa Dickson Wright’s adaptation. (It must be said that hers, being geared for the modern cook, seems simpler to prepare as quantities are clear and it is designed for 4 people.) It involves cooking a thick cut of salmon from the middle of the fish in red wine with slices of orange, orange juice and spices and served with toast points. I have not yet attempted this dish, due (in part) to the logistics of acquiring the right cut of fish in my area. However, it sounds very different from other salmon recipes I’ve seen and I want to try it. It could be a delicious dish for a special occasion dinner. Robert May’s cookbook itself is another treasure, with its insight into another era.
May, Robert. THE ACOMMPLISHT COOK OR THE ART AND MYSTERY OF COOKERY. A facsimile of the 1685 with foreword, introduction and glossary supplied by Alan Davidson, Marcus Benn and Tom Jaine. 2012: Prospect Books, London. Reprinted 2018. (See recipe on page 232.)
Paterson, Jennifer and Dickson Wright, Clarissa. THE TWO FAT LADIES RIDE AGAIN. Clarkson Potter/Publishers, New York. Originally published in 1997 by Ebury Press in Great Britain. (See recipe on p. 39.)
As noted before, I really enjoy old cookbooks. The information they contain tell us so much about life in earlier times. Not only do they tell us what people ate and how their food was prepared, they contain information about medicine, sanitary concerns and other things. For some time, I have wanted a copy of that stalwart of the Victorian home, MRS BEETON’S BOOK OF HOUSEHOLD MANAGEMENT. Finally, a facsimile of the original volume published in 1861 surfaced. Not only does it contain the original material, including illustrations, the print matter is enlarged so it is easier for me to read. (I am increasingly appreciative of larger print.) It is a rather bulky volume, but a delight to read none the less.
One of the things I particularly like is Mrs. Beeton’s list of foods in their seasons. She divided them into categories (Fish, Meat, Poultry, Game, Vegetables and Fruit), then discussed what is available each month, including commentary on possible quality. For example, in February, she listed several fish that were still available for purchase in February but were not as good as they were in January, as well as other fish that were not subject to that concern. While other books have similar information, Mrs. Beeton’s seems to be more detailed. This kind of information can bring a story to life in many ways, ranging from a dialogue between characters about what to buy to a detail about a character’s favorite dish. If nothing else, it gives an author confidence about the accuracy of the details in the story.
The illustrations are black and white drawings, and the use of the illustrations is interesting as well. Mrs. Beeton included drawings of the ingredients before cooking (herbs, chickens, trees, etc.) as well as pictures of the final dishes.
For example, in the section of recipes for chicken, she included pictures and details regarding different varieties of chicken. See below:
I’m sure this was intended as a help to the ladies of the house, but it’s very interesting to the modern reader as well.
This is a useful and fascinating addition to my library. I look forward to using it.
Beeon, Mrs. Isabela. MRS BEETON’S BOOK OF HOUSEHOLD MANAGEMENT. Originally published in 1859-61 in monthly supplements to S. O. Beeton’s The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine. First published by S. O. Beeton in 1861 as one volume entitled THE BOOK OF HOUSEHOLD MANAGEMENT. Enlargement: London: Chancellor Preess, 1982, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987.
Illustrations are scanned from my personal copy.
On Jane Austen’s London blog, Louise Rule considers March weather and a fascinating cook book from 1812. There are a couple of recipes as well if you want to experiment!
My post on the English Historical Fiction Authors Blog…
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” ….
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I do enjoy old books, especially cookbooks, so you can imagine how pleased I was to find The Virginia House-wife by Mary Randolph on a Friends of Library sale shelf, waiting to go home with me. This little gem includes a facsimile of the first edition of Mary’s cookbook as published in 1824, with supplemental material from the 1825 and 1826 editions. Historical notes and commentary by Karen Hess, a culinary historian, which is extremely useful. Being particularly interested in English history, it is fascinating to see recipes typical to 17th and 18th century English cookbooks still in use. Even more fascinating is seeing these recipes amended and adapted based on other culinary influences (French, African Creole, etc.) and ingredients available in the colonies as well as typically English ingredients. An interesting note is the number of vegetables for which she has recipes. Her recipes are organized by food type (i.e. Port, Bee, Vegetables, etc.) so her book is fairly easy to find one’s way around. One rather confusing matter is the inclusion of grains, fruits, desserts and mixed dishes in with vegetables, but the index at the front is very clear so they are easy enough to find. At the end is a section entitled “Dishes for Lent,” making it simple for cooks to find inspiration on what to cook during this religious season of year. This is a delightful little book, and one I will enjoy using as a reference. I may even attempt one or two of Mary’s recipe’s.