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The Regency Wedding Breakfast

During the Regency, weddings were often held first thing in the morning with the bridal couple and their guests returning home to celebrate with a wedding breakfast, a precursor to the modern wedding reception, before departing to their new home, or perhaps on their honeymoon.

A noisy family breakfast...
A noisy family breakfast…

Jane Austen’s niece Caroline (daughter of James) gave a wonderful description of her sister Anna’s wedding to family friend Benjamin Lefroy on November 8, 1814:

“My sister’s wedding was certainly in the extreme of quietness… The season of the year, the unfrequented road to the church, the grey light within… no stove to give warmth, no flowers to give colour and brightness, no friends, high or low, to offer their good wishes, and so to claim some interest in the great event of the day – all these circumstances and deficiencies must, I think, have given a gloomy air to the wedding…Weddings were then usually very quiet. The old fashion of festivity and publicity had quite gone by, and was universally condemned as showing the bad taste of all former generations…. This was the order of the day. The bridegroom came from Ashe, where he had hitherto lived with his brother (the Rector), and with him came Mr. and Mrs. Lefroy, and his other brother, Mr. Edward Lefroy…. My brother came from Winchester that morning, but was to stay only a few hours. We in the house had a slight early breakfast upstairs, and between nine and ten the bride, my mother, Mrs. Lefroy, Anne, and myself were taken to church in our carriage. All the gentlemen walked.”

She continues: “Mr. Lefroy read the service, and my father gave his daughter away. No one was in the church but ourselves, and no one was asked to the breakfast, to which we sat down as soon as we got back…The breakfast was such as best breakfasts then were. Some variety of bread, hot rolls, buttered toast, tongue, ham and eggs. The addition of chocolate at one end of the table and the wedding-cake in the middle marked the speciality of the day...soon after the breakfast the bride and bridegroom departed. They had a long day’s journey before them to Hendon…. In the evening the servants had cake and wine.”

Edmund Blair Leighton, Signing the Register, 1920.
Edmund Blair Leighton, Signing the Register, 1920.

It should be noted, however, that Caroline was writing in later years. There is some disagreement in how early the term actually came to be applied to what was, in earlier times, thought of as a “wedding feast”. Although it is not specifically mentioned in Jane Austen’s novels, based on Caroline’s descriptions, I personally think it was an accepted term in her day. The first recorded mention of a wedding breakfast in print is in the London Times on January 15, 1838, when a book reviewer quotes from The Veteran, by John Harley, ‘C— and his bride returned to the coffee house, where they were received with great kindness the master and mistress who, notwithstanding the short notice, had a comfortable wedding-breakfast prepared for them’. The implication here is, of course, that by 1838, it was a recognized habit of weddings. In Party-giving on Every Scale (London, 1880) the term is given the respect of tradition,

The orthodox “Wedding Breakfast” might more properly be termed a “Wedding Luncheon,” as it assumes the character of that meal to a great extent; in any case it bears little relation to the breakfast of that day, although the title of breakfast is still applied to it, out of compliment to tradition. As recently as fifty years ago luncheon was not a recognized meal, even in the wealthiest families, and the marriage feast was modernized into the wedding breakfast, which appellation this entertainment still bears.

The important pieces, a gathering of family to celebrate the bridal couple, and cake, remain to this day. In addition to sharing this cake with members of the wedding party, families often sent pieces to friends as a gesture of good will and celebration. Jane mentions this sending about of cake in her letters to Cassandra. In the following note, Jane is referring to Catherine Bigg, sister to Harris Bigg-Wither, who was once an accepted suitor of Jane’s. Catherine, at 33, had just married Rev. Herbert Hill, aged nearly 60, a match Jane seems not to have favored (calling her “poor Catherine” in her letters). The mentioned Martha is, no doubt, Jane’s dear friend Martha Lloyd.

“Do you recollect whether the Manydown family sent about their wedding cake? Mrs. Dundas has set her heart upon having a piece from her friend Catherine, and Martha, who knows what importance she attaches to this sort of thing, is anxious for the sake of both that there should not be a disappointment.”
Jane Austen to Cassandra
October 13, 1808

Elizabeth Raffald's recipe and a modern interpretation can be found in Cooking with Jane Austen and Friends, by Laura Boyle.
Elizabeth Raffald’s recipe and a modern interpretation can be found in Cooking with Jane Austen and Friends, by Laura Boyle.

Early wedding cakes were similar to Christmas fruit cakes– heavy, dense with dried fruit, and able to be stored for months and even years to come.

The modern practice of saving the top tier of the wedding cake to be eaten on the couple’s first anniversary is taken from the historic practice of saving some cake to be served at the christening of the couple’s first child (an event which often followed in the first year of marriage). Elizabeth Raffald’s 1794 Experienced English Housekeeper was the first cookery book to publish a recipe for cakes specifically for weddings.

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 (1 amazing husband, 4 adorable children and a very strange dog.)

 

 

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Sealing Your Letters Like a Georgian

Everyone knows the feeling of importance that comes from receiving a hand written letter– especially when decoratively sealed with a specially chosen seal and wax. In Jane Austen’s time, the wax was even sometimes used to hide a coin to pay the postman (thereby costing the recipient nothing; postage was originally paid by the receiver). Traditionally, sealing wax was used to not only seal the letter against tampering, but also to identify the sender, as people maintained personal and family seals for the purpose. The idea of using a personal seal for identification dates from the earliest civilizations and survives today in the form of rubber stamps and embossers. Still, there is nothing quite like a wax seal for adding a bit of Regency elegance to your notes and letters.

Cornelis Norbertus Gysbrechts (1665)
A pile of sealed letters. Painting Cornelis Norbertus Gysbrechts (1665).

The Jane Austen Centre giftshop sells personalized sets of seals and sealing wax in the traditional style, a stick of red wax with a wick. When lit, the flame melts the wax, which is then dripped onto the portion of the letter to receive the seal, before stamping in the pattern with a small metal seal. The whole process is, to a novice, a bit tricky and the results are not always quite as perfect as one would hope.

The Jane Austen Centre's seal and wax set is available in the giftshop.
The Jane Austen Centre’s seal and wax set is available in the giftshop.

I recently received a wedding invitation with just such a seal attached. Considering the tediousness of this exercise when addressing scores of envelopes, I questioned the bride as to how she was able to get each seal so beautifully attached and straightly placed. Her answer surprised me! Thanks to the wonders of the modern age, sealing wax is now available in sticks for your glue gun! Glue guns are a fast and easy way to adhere craft projects, using electric heat to melt fast drying glue for precise application. Some genius, however, discovered how to form sealing wax into a shape usable by the glue gun, allowing for quick, accurate placement of wax on envelope. Naturally, this would be best used for large batches of letters, as the gun takes a few minutes to heat up, but what a wonderful way to streamline even the daintiest bits of old fashioned letter writing. The wax is inexpensively available in a variety of colours.

For more information on Jane Austen’s letter, her use of “Franking” (free postage), wax seals, and crossed writing, visit the Jane Austen’s World blog.

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 (1 amazing husband, 4 adorable children and a very strange dog.)

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The List Lover’s Guide to Jane Austen: A Review

The List Lover's Guide to Jane Austen

The List Lover’s Guide to Jane Austen

I am a list maker. Shopping lists, packing lists, gift lists, to-do lists– you name it. I enjoy the feeling of accomplishment that comes from crossing things off. As I get older and my memory gets worse, I also enjoy knowing that I’m not forgetting things that need to be done. Of course, this creates a new category of things-I-forgot-to-put-on-my-first-list lists, but that’s another story. The story I’m writing about today is the story of Jane and her novels. One might think that a book of lists would be boring. Perhaps even as dry as reading the outline of a lecture– especially for those who already have a good grasp on Jane’s life. The List Lover’s Guide to Jane Austen, however, is anything but dry or boring. Clearly a work of love and dedication, author Joan Strasbaugh has gathered not only what we do know (lists of all locations in each novel, lists of Jane’s residences) but also pulled together an impressive array of, if not unknown, unconsidered variables. There are lists of all of Jane’s relatives that she had contact with during her life. There are lists of neighbors, lists of suitors (both those whose hearts Jane broke and those who broke Jane’s heart), her music, her favourite foods and even her hairstyles! I was hooked.

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Punctuated with period illustrations as well as whimsical original art, the lists are ordered quite methodically (see the “list” of contents at the front of the book) and highlighted with extracts from Jane’s own letters and novels wherever appropriate (most of the book!) I wished that Ms. Strasbaugh had included more of the dates and recipients of the letters, though most were to her sister Cassandra, and the dates can be had by searching either the Republic of Pemberley’s Janeinfo page, which has digitized many of the letters, or by searching through the published Jane Austen’s Letters, edited by Deirdre LeFaye and available from Oxford University Press.

This is not a long read, nor a scholarly one. You might not use it to source biographical information (though the bibliographical “list” provided at the back of the book could probably set you in the right direction) but if you want to learn something new about Jane, or view her works and life in a different light, this book is for you. It should definitely be on your list of what to give the Janeite who has everything!

 

  • List Price: £8.99
  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Sourcebooks, Inc (25 Jun. 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1402282036
  • ISBN-13: 978-1402282034

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 (1 amazing husband, 4 adorable children and a very strange dog.)

 

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Mrs. Weston’s Wedding Cake

In Jane Austen’s day, weddings were often held first thing in the morning, after which the bridal couple and their guests returned home to celebrate with a wedding breakfast like that served to Anna Austen and Benjamin Lefroy in 1814: “The breakfast was such as best breakfasts then were. Some variety of bread, hot rolls, buttered toast, tongue, ham and eggs. The addition of chocolate at one end of the table and the wedding-cake in the middle marked the speciality of the day.”

Though rich fruit and nut cakes had been used for centuries, in 1786 Elizabeth Raffald was the first to publish a recipe for a cake specifically for weddings. The cake was served not only at the wedding breakfast, but also shared with the household servants and sent in pieces to friends and relatives who had not attended the ceremony. These wedding cakes were single tiered, double frosted confections, though by no means small. Queen Victoria’s 1840 wedding cake measured 9 feet around and weighed 300 pounds, although it was only 14 inches high.

A period depiction of Queen Victoria's wedding cake.
A period depiction of Queen Victoria’s wedding cake.

This recipe makes an enormous cake. I have quartered the ingredients and it fit nicely into my 12 ½cm/ 5in deep, 25cm /10in springform pan.

To Make a Bride Cake
Take four pounds of fine flour well dried, four pounds of fresh butter, two pounds of loaf sugar, pound and sift fine a quarter of an ounce of mace the same of nutmegs, to every pound of flour put eight eggs, wash four pounds of currants, pick them well, and dry them before the fire. Blanch a pound of sweet almonds, and cut them lengthways very thin, a pound of  citron, one pound of candied orange, the same of candied lemon, half a pint of brandy; first work the butter with your hand to cream, then beat in your sugar a quarter of an hour, beat the whites of your eggs to a very strong froth, mix them with your sugar and butter, beat your yolks half an hour at least, and mix them with your cake, then put in your flour, mace and nutmeg, keep beating it well till your oven is ready, put in your brandy, and beat your currants and almonds lightly in, tie three sheet s of paper round the bottom of your hoop to keep it from running out, rub it well with butter, put in your cake, and lay your sweetmeats in three lays, with cake betwixt every lay, after it is risen and coloured, cover it with paper before your oven is stopped up; it will take three hours baking. – Elizabeth Raffald, The Experienced English Housekeeper, 1794

454 g / 16 oz / 4 cups Flour

454 g / 16 oz  / 2 cups Butter

454 g / 16 oz / 2 cups Sugar

1/2 tsp Mace

1/2 tsp Nutmeg

8 Eggs, divided

454 g / 1 lb / 3 cups Currants

142 g / 5 oz / 1 cup Slivered Almonds

113 g / 4 oz / ½ cup Citron

113 g / 4 oz / ½ cup Candied Lemon peel

113 g / 4 oz / ½ cup Candied Orange peel

120 ml / ½ Cup Brandy or 1 oz Brandy extract plus Apple Juice to equal a ½ cup.

Whip the whites of 8 eggs to stiff peaks and set aside. With an electric mixer, cream together the butter, sugar and egg yolks.  Once they are combined, fold in the egg whites, brandy or juice and spices. Add the flour a little at a time until it is incorporated. Stir in the almonds and currants.

Preheat the oven to 149° C / 300° F. Generously grease a tall 25cm / 10in springform pan. Spoon ¼ of the batter into the pan and top with 1/3 of the citron, orange peel and lemon peel. Repeat twice more and top with remaining batter.

Bake for 2 ½ hours, top with Almond and Sugar Icings (See Below)

Serves 25

Elizabeth Raffald's recipe and a modern interpretation can be found in Cooking with Jane Austen and Friends, by Laura Boyle.
Elizabeth Raffald’s recipe and a modern interpretation can be found in Cooking with Jane Austen and Friends, by Laura Boyle.

Icings for the Bride-Cake

To make Almond-Icing for the Bride Cake
Beat the whites of three eggs to a strong froth, beat a pound of Jordan almonds very fine with rose water, mix your almonds with the eggs lightly together, a pound of common loaf sugar beat fine, and put in by degrees; When your cake is enough, take it out, and lay your icing on, then put it in to brown. ER

3 Egg whites* or Meringue Powder equivalent

283 g / 10 oz / 2 cups blanched almonds, ground to powder.

1 tbsp Rose Water

454 g / 16 oz / 2 cups powdered sugar

In a food processor, combine the almonds, rose water and sugar and set this aside. Whip the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Slowly add the almond mixture to the egg whites until incorporated. Spread this on the top of your cake as soon as you take it from the oven, and then return the cake to the oven until the top is lightly browned. Cool the cake slightly on a rack. Once the cake is cool enough to touch, slide a knife around the inside edge of the pan to loosen the cake. Remove the edge of the pan and ice the cake with Sugar Icing.

To Make Sugar Icing for the Bride Cake
Beat two pounds of double refined sugar, with two ounces of fine starch, sift it through a gauze sieve, then beat the whites of five eggs with a knife upon  a pewter dish half an hour; beat in your sugar a little a t a time, or it will make the eggs fall, and will not be so good a colour, when you have put in all your sugar, beat it half an hour longer, then lay it on your almond iceing, and spread it even with a knife; if it be put on as soon as the cake comes out of the oven it will be hard by the time the cake is cold. ER

907 g /

32 oz/ 4 cups Powdered Sugar

4 tbsp Corn Starch

5 Egg whites* or Meringue Powder equivalent

Sift together the starch and powdered sugar and set aside. Whip the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Slowly add in the sugar mixture, while the mixer continues to whip the egg whites. If you add the sugar too fast the whites will fall and you will end up with a glaze instead of icing. Continue to whip the icing for a few more minutes until it is the consistency of marshmallow cream. Ice the cake using a large, flat spatula, creating whorls and swirls in the pattern. Allow to stand at room temperature for several hours so that the icing hardens. Decorate with fresh flowers, if desired.

*The consumption of raw egg whites can lead to food poisoning. Use meringue powder as a safe alternative.

Excerpted from Cooking with Jane Austen and Friends, by Laura Boyle. Laura 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 (1 amazing husband, 4 adorable children and a very strange dog.)