To Dress Broccoli

The soup, ladled from a large tureen, was nameless and savourless, but Miss Gateshead and Mr. Cranbrook, busily engaged in disclosing to one another their circumstances, family histories, tastes, dislikes, and aspirations, drank it without complaint…The mutton, which followed the soup was underdone and tough, and the side dish of Broccoli would have been improved by straining…
Night at the Inn, Pistols for Two (1960)
by Georgette Heyer

Photo by Zsuzsanna Kilian

Georgette Heyer is acknowledged as one of the most respected Regency historians in the world of fiction authors. Her novels are as full of Regency customs and cant as they are daring sword fights, flights to Gretna Green and comic turns of phrase. Her collection of short stories, Pistols for Two, is no exception.

Amused by the description of the poor inn fare served in Night at the Inn, I was curious enough to search for a period recipe. I finally found one in one of my favorite Regency Era cookbooks, A New System of Domestic Cookery, by Eliza Kettelby Rundell (1806).

Despite my children’s protestations that Broccoli is not a “real” food at all, rather a product of scientific gene mutation and not intended by God for the table, the truth is that it is an ancient vegetable, perfected (some may say) by the Romans and eventually introduced to England in the mid-18th century by Peter Scheemakers; which is why I decided to “dress Broccoli.”

The “recepit,” to dress Broccoli, seems simple enough, though the innkeepers in Heyer’s tale could have benefited from this advice from Hannah Glasse, author of The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy (1747):

“Most people spoil garden things by over boiling them. All things green should have a little crispness, for if they are overboil’d they neither have sweetness or beauty.”

Always good to remember, with or without the toast.


 

Laura Boyle is fascinated by all aspects of Jane Austen’s life. She is the proprietor of Austenation: Regency Accessories, creating custom hats, bonnets, reticules and more for customers around the globe. Cooking with Jane Austen and Friends is her first book. Her greatest joy is the time she is able to spend in her home with her family.

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