Jane Austen Nuncheon
10 Weird and Wonderful Things you Probably Don’t Know About her World
For more than two hundred years, Jane Austen’s books have remained best-selling classics – smart and witty glimpses into the drawing room of the day that never seem to fall out of fashion. However, despite being renowned for her social commentary, as a novelist Jane Austen focused on the story and emotions of her characters, rather than the wider world they inhabited. She also worked on the rather modest assumption that her readership would consist entirely of women from her time and social class, all of whom needed very little contextual explanation. If only she knew!
So, to coincide with the anniversary of her best-loved novel, Pride and Prejudice, Country House Library thought we’d take a journey back to a time when women wore crinoline and men looked dashing on a horse, and explain a few of the things about her world that you might not know. The first of these: a Jane Austen nuncheon.
1) Breakfasts Were Large
As it was common for Jane Austen’s contemporaries to get up at 8am and occupy themselves for a couple of hours before eating – for instance a man might work, whilst a woman might sew, breakfast usually didn’t happen until around 10 o’clock. When they did eventually sit down to eat it would also probably consist of leftovers from the previous day’s dinner, for example in Mansfield Park they start the day with, ‘cold pork bones and mustard’. Yum!
2) Afternoons Hadn’t Been Invented Yet
In Jane Austen’s time, the entire period between breakfast and dinner at 4pm was called morning, whilst any time after that became evening. Knowing this puts many of the timeframes described in her books into focus, and all those long hours tramping around wet fields that Elizabeth and Jane Bennet somehow manage to squeeze into their morning during Pride and Prejudice, suddenly make a lot more sense.
3) Dinner was a Social Statement
Exactly when you choose to sit down to dinner indicated how ‘on trend’ you were. For instance in Pride and Prejudice, Jane tells us that the Bingley’s dined at 6.30pm, and had we been of her time we would have understood that by insisting on a fashionably late dinner time they were actually showing off how sophisticated they were, not to mention sending the Bennet family a clear message – ‘compared to us you are socially inferior, country yokels’.
4) Anyone for Nuncheon?
Afternoon wasn’t the only thing that hadn’t been invented yet, neither had lunch. Instead, Jane Austen’s contemporaries would snack on whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted between breakfast and dinner, with cold meats playing a big part once again. This kind of on-demand grazing was referred to by Willoughby in Sense and Sensibility as ‘nuncheon’.
5) Call me Sir, Child!
In the Regency period it was normal to call your parents Sir, Ma’am or Madam, rather than Mother or Father. From reading Pride and Prejudice, we can tell Elizabeth and her Father are incredibly close, but by calling him Papa she is actually making a break with the social norms of the time, causing 19thcentury readers to instantly recognise her as an unconventional character.
6) Don’t Talk to Me (First)
The 18thcentury’s complex rules of speech didn’t just apply to children and parents, and one that stands-out to modern readers is that a person of a lower social status must never speak first to someone considered higher than them. When Mr Collins gets this rule wrong in Pride and Prejudice, we are meant to see him as lacking in social skills, and therefore a poor choice as a husband.
7) Sewing was Big
Clothes at the time were expensive, and had to be mended and remade many times over. Whilst a servant might do the boring bits, the ladies themselves had to do any high-end finishes and embroidery and would also sew and mend for the men in their lives. For instance, in Mansfield Park, upon hearing that her brother Sam has successfully got into the Army, a delighted Fanny Price embarks on a veritable sewing marathon to get the many bits of his uniform ready in time.
8) You had to Teach Yourself
Female children were traditionally given very little formal education, and often had to pick up their father’s books and educate themselves. Given the basic level of education they had to start with, and how dry and technical the books of the time were, this was no easy task, and when you consider that Jane taught herself more-or-less everything she knew, it’s even more remarkable that she pretty much invented the modern novel.
9) And Pay to Work
Whilst aristocratic ladies were busy reading and sewing, most aspiring gentleman were busy chasing the most fashionable position of the day – Army Officer. As a job this was made even better by the fact that they rarely did anything, with all the real work done by their sergeants, leaving them free to preen and flirt. This would have been well known during Jane’s time, and a beautifully subversive element in Northanger Abbey is how General Tilney and his two eldest sons spend so much time self-identifying by their military titles, despite lacking any ability whatsoever.
10) And Finally – Money
When reading Jane Austen’s books, we get a sense of who the richest characters are from the reactions of those around them, but we might not understand how rich these people would be by today’s standards. For instance, Elizabeth Bennet’s husband choice number one – Mr Collins, earns £500 per year, roughly equivalent to today’s average UK wage of £24,250 – perfectly fine to live off, but in no way lavish. Mr Darcy meanwhile pulls in a whopping £10,000 a year – over £485,000 in today’s money.
Want to re-read Pride and Prejudice with your new Jane Austen nuncheon knowledge? Country House Library has over 200 vintage Jane Austen titles to choose from, including a beautiful, original 19thcentury copy. You can find them all here and read their Editor’s Picks Here.
By Rudy Caretti
Tea or coffee?
It’s one of the great British dilemmas… Despite our image as a nation of tea lovers, the numbers tell a different story. According to a report by Mintel Coffee UK, about 70 million cups of coffee were sold each day in Britain in 2008. Another report released in 2012 showed that almost every adult in the UK drinks instant coffee. This accounts for about 74% of the population that enjoys coffee. Today, one can find a café in every town with a wide range of different coffees to choose from. People enjoy their coffee while waiting for the train, at the numerous coffee houses, and in their homes.
In Jane Austen’s day, tea-drinking was very much the preferred activity, though coffee certainly features in her novels. Miss Bates in Emma was in no doubt as to her preference: “No coffee, I thank you, for me — never take coffee. A little tea if you please, sir, by and bye…” But it is drunk with appreciation in Northanger Abbey, Sense and Sensibility, Mansfield Park and –on no fewer than six occasions – in Pride and Prejudice.
Britain’s first coffee shop was established in Oxford in 1650. Its name was Angel and was owned by a Jewish entrepreneur called Jacob. Oxford’s community known for its experimental culture and scholarly interests; their coffee houses would later be termed as penny universities. Two years after the inception of Oxford’s coffee houses, London acquired its first coffee house in Cornhill’s St. Michael’s Alley. It soon caught on: by 1675 there were over 3,000 coffee shops in different parts of England.
The atmosphere in these cafes was as much a part of the attraction as the drink. Unlike bars and taverns, coffee shops were seen as places for witty discussions by the highly skilled and erudite. An eclectic group of people would gather in coffee houses to do business, discuss political issues, catch up with the day’s news and so forth. Even if the early shops strived to remain inclusive, the majority of those frequenting the coffee houses were people of high social status. Some famous businesses, notably Lloyd’s of London, were born in coffee houses of the 18th century. Indeed, such was the reputation of coffee houses as intellectual hotbeds that Charles II tried to snuff out the coffee shops in 1675, because the political discussions typically to be heard there were considered possibly subversive. But public outcry led him to withdraw his proclamation against coffee houses.
Also, women were said to be not in favour of coffee houses. Generally, coffee houses were open to all people regardless of their social status, religion or gender. However, discussions held in these forums centered on topics popular with men such as politics, cultural criticism, and business. Women were felt to be an unwelcome intrusion, and as a result, most grievances about coffee houses were registered by women. For instance, there was the 1674 Women’s Petition Against Coffee, which alleged the drink was not only keeping the men away from their homes but also turning husbands into eunuchs and making them “as unfruitful as the sandy deserts where that unhappy berry is said to be brought.”
Thus, by Jane Austen’s time, the more inclusive and domestic habit of tea drinking had achieved social superiority. In fact, the coffee houses had almost completely vanished from the scene by 1830. Many were turned into clubs for the social elite, such as the Athenaeum club on Pall Mall, founded in 1824.
Tea-drinking took over in part because it was easier to prepare at home compared to coffee. Drinkers did not have to visit cafes to enjoy their favorite beverage: they could enjoy as much tea as they desired from the comfort of their homes. Tea drinking was also less controversial than coffee, because it was drunk at home, with the entire family, and not just by men. There was less chance of men conspiring against the government in the company of ladies and afternoon tea! And it was felt that tea did not have the same addictive effects as coffee, (though anyone who witnesses the British on a seaside holiday may well question that judgment…) Women were glad to have their husbands at home for most of the time, and government support for anything that fueled demand for tea contributed likewise to coffee’s decline. The British East India Company, which was among the first to introduce coffee in Britain, had by this time developed an interest in tea after sensing stiff competition in the coffee market.
Coffee houses did not disappear completely. However, the unique coffee house culture had disappeared by late 19th century. Just a couple of coffee houses were preserved and continued to be frequented by the cultural elite. Instead of sedition, coffee began to acquire an association with temperance, when reforming movements such as the Salvation Army began operating coffee houses in the later-nineteenth century, as an alternative to alcohol-serving public houses.
Today, we tend to think of tea and coffee as interchangeable: some of us prefer one and some of us prefer the other. But in Jane’s time, and thus in her novels, there is a greater significance behind the choice, with both drinks carrying their own very different sets of meanings and cultural associations.
So – tea or coffee?
Rudy Caretti has more than 15 years of experience in the coffee industry, a passion that started in Italy within the family business and brought him to found Gimoka Coffee UK with a group of friends, who share the same passion.
Since he roasted his first batch of coffee seeds as a teenager, he was fascinated by the many ways it can be processed to get the many different distinctive flavors we all love.
As a coffee connoisseur, Rudy has always been aware of the vital role played by coffee in most people’s social life and he is especially active through the company’s social media and blog. He loves sharing his knowledge with readers around the world, writing and posting articles that range from the coffee brewing techniques to raising awareness of the importance of responsible production to help protect the rights of farmers and protect the environment.
Fine Herbes Abound
One of the joys of April is the appearance of green and growing gardens after the chill of winter. In her quintessential guide to English cooking, The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, Hannah Glasse offers a round of up all the dainties one might expect to harvest this month. She does not offer hopes that one has a garden or tips for growing the garden of fine herbes — these are already assumed– she merely states what might be found in the garden. Estates and even cottages relied on their gardens for fresh produce throughout the year and the lack of a garden was one annoyance of city living.
Martha Lloyd’s Whooping Cough Cure
With Whooping Cough (Pertussis) reaching epidemic levels in recent years, a push to promote vaccination against it has received renewed publicity. As part of the DTP and DTaP (Diphtheria, Tetanus and Pertussis) dose, we now have the ability to avoid these illnesses which were, in Jane Austen’s time, without prevention or cure. Though that’s not to say that there weren’t whooping cough “cures” which were recommended, as you’ll see below.
In some countries, this disease is called the 100 days’ cough or cough of 100 days. The incubation period is typically seven to ten days with a range of four to 21 days and rarely may be as long as 42 days, after which there are usually mild respiratory symptoms, mild coughing, sneezing, or runny nose. This is known as the catarrhal stage. After one to two weeks, the coughing classically develops into uncontrollable fits, each with five to ten forceful coughs, followed by a high-pitched “whoop” sound in younger children, or a gasping sound in older children, as the patient struggles to breathe in afterwards.
Fits can occur on their own or can be triggered by yawning, stretching, laughing, eating or yelling; they usually occur in
groups, with multiple episodes on an hourly basis throughout the day. This stage usually lasts two to eight weeks, or sometimes longer. A gradual transition then occurs to the convalescent stage, which usually lasts one to two weeks. This stage is marked by a decrease in paroxysms of coughing, both in frequency and severity, and a cessation of vomiting. A tendency to produce the “whooping” sound after coughing may remain for a considerable period after the disease itself has cleared up.
Continue reading Martha Lloyd’s Whooping Cough Cure
While researching Cooking with Jane Austen and Friends, I found many recipes that called for lard or suet (the beef alternative). It was often not immediately clear whether or not the authors were talking about straight, diced lard (like the kind used for adding fat and flavor to drier cuts of meat, as in “larding your roast”) or rendered lard, however a trip the local living history museum helped put my questions to rest. A basic rule of thumb when looking at period recipes, if it goes into the food (larding your meat, dicing it for mincemeat, etc.) you are talking about lard straight off the meat, often with tiny bits of meat still attached. If you are using it for frying or in pie crust, basically anywhere you might substitute modern Crisco or solid shortening, use rendered lard.
According to Wikipedia, “Lard is pig fat in both its rendered and unrendered forms. Lard was commonly used in many cuisines as a cooking fat or shortening, or as a spread similar to butter. Its use in contemporary cuisine has diminished; however, many contemporary cooks and bakers favor it over other fats for select uses. The culinary qualities of lard vary somewhat depending on the part of the pig from which the fat was taken and how the lard was processed.
It seems as though everywhere you go today, there are articles, advertisements and public service messages about using, growing or purchasing locally grown produce, dairy and even meat. On my suburban street alone, three families have set up hen houses, and free range chickens are becoming almost as common a sight as cats and dogs around town (of course, it wasn’t until my neighbor added a rooster to her brood that we really began to notice just how farm like our neighborhood had become!) With the local Tractor Supply offering adorable chicks and ducklings for sale each spring, the idea of starting your own brood seems simpler than ever. After all, what’s not to love? They eat kitchen and vegetable scraps, and in return provide unending fresh eggs and the occasional fryer.
I will admit, even I was swept away in the furor of home farming and could not resist the adorable ducklings for sale. Knowing that my sister in law intended on setting up a hen house that summer, I thought that the sweet little Mallard ducklings we found would be a fantastic present for her April birthday.
We only planned to get six.
“How very ill Eliza Bennet looks this morning, Mr. Darcy,” she cried; “I never in my life saw any one so much altered as she is since the winter. She is grown so brown and coarse! Louisa and I were agreeing that we should not have known her again.”
However little Mr. Darcy might have liked such an address, he contented himself with coolly replying that he perceived no other alteration than her being rather tanned — no miraculous consequence of travelling in the summer.
-Pride and Prejudice
Regency ladies, such as Caroline Bingley fancies herself to be, were fastidious about their complexions. The following recipe for “cold cream” would have been a common enough recipe with women spending literal fortunes each year on commercial cosmetics (such as Gowland’s Lotion or Sperry’s Lavender Water) as well as their own home-grown recipes. Cold cream is used not only to clean the skin (especially the face) from cosmetics, dirt and grime, but if left on over night, it will soften the skin, as well. It is also often used on the hands.
The ingredients listed here are not too hard to come by when you consider that white wax was white beeswax and spermaceti— an oily product of the Sperm Whale, is easily substituted with Jojoba oil– a naturally occurring plant oil with curiously similar properties.
—Take 2 ozs. of oil of almonds, one half oz of spermaceti, 2 ozs of white wax and one half pint of water; melt them in a new pipkin, and when all is melted, whip it till cold; then let it lay in a little rose water till you put it in pots.
How to Cook, 1810