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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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Tea Time

In 1662 King Charles II married the Portuguese Infanta Catherine de Braganza. Charles himself had grown up in the Dutch capital, while in exile. As a result, both he and his Portuguese bride were confirmed tea drinkers. When the monarchy was re-established, the two rulers brought this foreign tea tradition to England with them. Tea mania swept across England as it had earlier spread throughout France and Holland. Tea importation rose from 40,000 pounds in 1699 to an annual average of 240,000 pounds by 1708. Tea quickly proved popular enough to replace ale as the national drink of England. It was a hot item and boiling the water made it a safe drink. Tea became the favorite English beverage after 1750.

Tea Service
A Georgian Tea Service

Tea bowl or Tea cup and saucer: Getting a handle on Tea
The first tea cups in England were handless tea bowls that were imported from China and then later copies made in England. The first saucers appeared around 1700, but took some time to be in common use. The standard globular form of teapot had replaced the tall oriental teapots by 1750. Robert Adam’s Classically inspired designs for tea sets popularized handles and other Greek and Roman motifs.

 

Enjoy a selection of delicious teas and treats in our Tea Rooms.

Continue reading Tea Time

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Crawford’s Crumpets for Tea

 

We drank tea again yesterday with the Tilsons, and met the Smiths. I find all these little parties very pleasant.
-Jane Austen to Cassandra
April 18, 1811

If you are traveling to the Jane Austen Festival in Bath this year, you simply must stop by the Jane Austen Centre’s Award Winning Tea Room to sample their amazing selection of Regency delights. Just reading over the menu will have your mouth watering, but what selection will you choose? Will it be Tea with Mr. Darcy or the Austen’s? Perhaps you prefer Lady Catherine’s Proper Tea. Whatever you desire, be it sweet or savoury, you are sure to find it delicious and satisfying!

King Arthur Flour’s Crumpets with Apricot Jam

One delightfully English offering is “Crawford’s Crumpets” (served with butter, honey and your choice of tea) According to An A to Z of Food & Drink (2002) by John Ayto, “The origins of the crumpet are mysterious. As early as 1382, Johy Wycliffe, in his translation of the Bible, mentioned crompid cake, whose name may be the precursor of the modern term, but the actual ‘cake’ itself does not bear much resemblance to the present-day crumpet. It seems to have been a thin cake cooked on a hot griddle, so that the edges curled up (crompid goes back to Old English crump, crumb, ‘crooked’, and is related to the modern English crumple). The inspiration behind its naming thus seems to be very familiar to that of crepe, which literally means ‘curled’. Earliest recipes for crumpets, from the late seventeenth century, continue this theme, standardly using buckwheat flour, and it is not until nearly a hundred years later that crumpets as we know then today beging to emerge…During the 19th century the crumpet–toasted before the fire, its honeycomb of cavities filled with melting butter–established itself as an indispensible part of the English teatime scene.”

Alan Davidson (Oxford Companion to Food, 1999) adds, “The earliest published recipe for crumpets of the kind known now is from Elizabeth Raffald (1769).” Here for your enjoyment, is Elizabeth Raffald’s classic recipe– one which very well might have been served in the Austen home!

To make tea crumpets Beat two eggs very well, put them to a quart of warm milk and water, and a large spoonful of barm: beat in as much fine flour as will make them rather thicker than a common batter pudding, then make your bakestone very hot, and rub it with a little butter wrapped in a clean linen cloth, then pour a large spoonful of batter upon your stone, and let it run to the size of a tea-saucer; turn it, and when you want to use them roast them very crisp, and butter them.
The Experienced English Housekeeper, Elizabeth Raffald, 1769

If you are looking for a more modern take on this classic Tea Time staple, search no further than King Arthur Flour’s, Butter’s Best Friend: Crumpets.

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Let them eat Georgian [Cheese]cake!

georgian cheesecake

Georgian Cheesecake: What came before?

Our journey yesterday went off exceedingly well; nothing occurred to alarm or delay us… At Devizes we had comfortable rooms and a good dinner, to which we sat down about five; amongst other things we had asparagus and a lobster, which made me wish for you, and some cheesecakes, on which the children made so delightful a supper as to endear the town of Devizes to them for a long time.
Jane to Cassandra
13, Queen’s Square, Friday (May 17) 1799

An ancient form of cheesecake may have been a popular dish in ancient Greece even prior to Romans’ adoption of it with the conquest of Greece. The earliest attested mention of a cheesecake is by the Greek physician Aegimus, who wrote a book on the art of making cheesecakes (πλακουντοποιικόν σύγγραμμα—plakountopoiikon suggramma). Cato the Elder’s De Agri Cultura includes recipes for two cakes for religious uses: libum and placenta. Of the two, placenta is most like most modern cheesecakes, having a crust that is separately prepared and baked. It is important to note that though these early forms are called cheese cakes, they differed greatly in taste and consistency from the cheesecake that we know today.

To Make Almond Cheesecakes
Take 1/2 lb. of blanch’d almonds pounded small with a spoonful of orange flower water, a lb of double refined sugar, 10 yokes of eggs well beat. Add the peels of two oranges or lemons (which must be boiled very tender). Then beat in a mortar very fine, then mix them together. Then add 1/2 of a pound of almonds beat fine with orange flower water; 3/4 lb of a pound of sugar, and eggs (half ye whites), a little mace pounded, and a little cream; beat all together a quarter of an hour; bake them in a puff paste in a quick oven.
-From Martha Lloyd’s Household Book

Modern commercial “American” cream cheese was developed in 1872, when William Lawrence, from Chester, New York, while looking for a way to recreate the soft, French cheese Neufchâtel, accidentally came up with a way of making an “unripened cheese” that is heavier and creamier; other dairymen came up with similar creations independently. In 1912, James Kraft developed a form of pasteurized cream cheese. Kraft acquired the Philadelphia trademark in 1928, and marketed pasteurized Philadelphia Cream Cheese which is now the most commonly used cheese for cheesecake.

A Tangerine Georgian Cheesecake

Crust:
1 cup Graham Crackers — Crushed
2 tablespoons Melted Butter
2 tablespoons Sugar

Filling:
2-4 eight-ounce packages Cream Cheese — Softened
2 tablespoons Tangerine Juice
4 Eggs
1 tablespoon Grated Tangerine Peel (or other citrus)
1 cup Sugar

Topping:
1 1/2 cups Sour Cream
2 tablespoons Sugar
2 teaspoons Vanilla
2 tablespoons Freshly Squeezed Tangerine Juice (or other citrus)

Combine first 3 ingredients thoroughly. Press into bottom and sides of 9″ springform pan. Bake 5 minutes and cool; (350 degrees F. oven). Turn oven to 250 degrees F.

Place 1 8-ounce package cream cheese and 1 egg in large mixer bowl; beat thoroughly. Repeat with remaining cheese and eggs, beating well after each addition. Gradually add sugar alternately with juice. Beat at medium speed for 10 minutes. Stir in peel. Pour into crust and bake 25 minutes. Turn off heat; let cake stand in oven 45 minutes and then remove.

Turn oven to 350 degrees F. Thoroughly combine topping ingredients. Let stand at room temperature. Gently spread over warm cake. Return to preheated 350 degree F. oven for 10 minutes. Partly cool on wire rack. Refrigerate overnight.

 

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Wedding Cakes

The compliments of his neighbours were over; he was no longer teased by being wished joy of so sorrowful an event; and the wedding-cake, which had been a great distress to him, was all eat up. His own stomach could bear nothing rich, and he could never believe other people to be different from himself. What was unwholesome to him he regarded as unfit for any body; and he had, therefore, earnestly tried to dissuade them from having any wedding-cake at all, and when that proved vain, as earnestly tried to prevent any body’s eating it.
Emma

In her Life of Charlotte Brontë, Elizabeth Gaskell, references a letter from 1812 that tells how Maria Branwell and her cousin “intended to set about making the wedding-cake in the following week, so the marriage could not be far off.” In Emma, Mr. Woodhouse is appalled by the consumption of such rich food…and in his own house! But what would a Regency Wedding cake have looked like? How was the tradition of a wedding cake even started?

The wedding cake has been part of the marriage ceremony ever since medieval times. Originally they were made of wheat which was a symbol of fertility and prosperity. As a relic of once performed fertility rites, this ‘wedding cake’ would have been thrown at the bride.

Around 1900 years ago the Romans began baking wheat and salt into a small cake to be eaten. During the ceremony the groom would eat part of a loaf of this barley bread and then he would break the rest over his bride’s head. This was taken as a sign of good fortune and a blessing for long life and many children. The guests would try and obtain a crumb for themselves as they too believed they would then share in the good fortune and future prosperity of the couple. It was only the children born to the couple whose marriage had been celebrated this way, that could qualify for high office in Roman culture. Not only did the cake give good fortune to the couple, it insured a bright future for their as yet unborn children.

As the wedding cake evolved into the larger, modern version, it became physically impractical to properly break the cake over the bride’s head. The tradition disappeared fairly quickly, though there were still reports in Scotland, as late as the 19th century, of breaking an oatcake over the bride’s head. It was also reported that in Northern Scotland, friends of the bride would put a napkin over her head and then proceed to pour a basket of bread over her!

In Medieval England, the wedding cake was described as a bread which was a flour-based food without sweetening. The breads were included in many celebratory feasts of the day, not just at weddings. No accounts tell of a special type of wedding cake appearing at wedding ceremonies. There are, however, stories of a custom involving stacking small buns in a large pile in front of the newlyweds. Stacked as high as possible the idea was to to make it difficult for the newlyweds to kiss one another over the top. If the bride and groom were able to kiss over the tall stack, it was thought to symbolize a lifetime of prosperity. Eventually, the idea of stacking them neatly and frosting them together was adopted as a more convenient option.

It is told that later in the 1660’s during the reign of King Charles II, a French chef (whose name is now lost) visited London and was appalled at the cake-piling ritual. The chef, who was traveling through England at the time noticed the inconvenience of piling smaller cakes into a mound and conceived the idea of constructing them into a solid stacked system. This earliest tiered wedding cake utilized short-cut broom sticks to separate it’s layers. Since such an elaborate wedding cake needed to be prepared days in advance and because of the lack of modern refrigeration or plastic wraps, the wedding cake was frosted in lard to keep it from drying out. The lard was scraped off just before serving. In later years, sugar was added to improve the taste of the lard and allowed the lard to be left on the wedding cake as a decorative icing.

Wedding cake of Jessie Woodrow Wilson (daughter of American President Woodrow Wilson), who married Francis Bowes Sayre in a White House ceremony on November 25, 1913.

The wedding cake took yet another course correction when in the 17th Century a popular dish for weddings became the Bride’s Pie. The pie was filled with sweet breads, a mince pie, or may have been merely a simple mutton pie. A main ‘ingredient’ was a glass ring. An old adage claimed that the lady who found the ring would be the next to be married. Bride’s pies were by no means universally found at weddings, but there are accounts of these pies being made into the main centerpiece at less affluent ceremonies. The name Bride Cakes emphasized that the bride was the focal point of the wedding.

Early cakes were simple single-tiered plum (or fruit) cakes, with some variations. There was also an unusual notion of sleeping with a piece of wedding cake underneath one’s pillow which dates back as far as the 17th century and quite probably forms the basis for the tradition of giving cake as a gift. Legend has it that sleepers will dream of their future spouses if a piece of wedding cake is under their pillow.

According to Jessemyn Reeves-Brown of the Costumer’s Companion, “Period cake recipes seem mostly to produce varieties of fruitcake involving large amounts of spice and alcohol as preservatives, which makes sense when you consider that slices of the cake had to survive being sent to absent guests, and that young ladies tucked slivers wrapped in napkins under their pillows so they would dream of their future husbands!”

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s wedding cake was 9 feet around, weighed 300 pounds and was 14 inches high.                     It was served at the wedding breakfast.

The wedding cake as we know it today, with its successively smaller layers, its supporting glass or plastic pillars, fancy hand piped frosting, all came about in 1859, with a confection that commemorated the marriage of one of Queen Victoria’s daughters. As is the case with today’s brides, the celebrities of the time moved the public to emulate their fashions, starting with the wealthiest Victorian families first. Even for the nobility, though, the first multi-tiered wedding cakes were real in appearance only. Their upper layers were mockups made of spun sugar. Once the problem of preventing the upper layers from collapsing into the lower layers was solved, a real multi-tiered wedding cake could be created.

For a white icing, only the most expensive, pure refined sugars could be used; so the whiter the cake, the wealthier the bride’s family must be (as most sugar at the time was browner than today’s refined type). A pure white wedding cake also complemented the bride as the focal point of the wedding, since she too was wearing white as her own symbol of purity.

Martha Washington’s Great Cake
Take 40 eggs and divide the whites from the yolks and beat them to a froth. Then work 4 pounds of butter to a cream and put the whites of eggs to it a Spoon full at a time till it is well work’d. Then put 4 pounds of sugar finely powdered to it in the same manner then put in the Yolks of eggs and 5 pounds of flour and 5 pounds of fruit. 2 hours will bake it. Add to it half an ounce of mace and nutmeg half a pint of wine and some fresh brandy.

Mount Vernon’s curatorial staff tried this recipe out. Since the recipe didn’t specify what five pounds of fruit were to be used, they tried two pounds of raisins, two of apples, and one of currants. The wine chosen was cream sherry. Although Martha apparently made her cake as a single very tall layer (no wonder it took so long to cook), no pan large enough was available to hold all the batter, so two 14″ layers were made and stacked after baking at 350 for an hour and a half. According to their website, such cakes were typically iced with a very stiff egg-white based icing, flavored with rosewater or orange-flower water.

This easier recipe from 1859 provides a lovely white cake suitable to any number of occasions:

Brides Cake
A pound each of flour and sugar, half a pound of butter, and the whites of sixteen eggs,beaten to a stiff froth. Flavor it with rose water.

Rose Butter
Gather every morning the leaves (petals) of the roses that blossomed the day before, and put them in a stone jar in alternet layers with fine salt. After all the leaves are gathered, put a saucer or small plate into the jar, and lay in a good pound of butter,for cake or pudding sauce.It is a very good way of obtaining the flavor of roses,without the expense.

Baked FrostingA pound of the best white sugar, the whites of three fresh eggs, a teaspoon of nice starch, pounded, and sifted through a piece of muslin or a very fine sieve, the juice of half a lemon and a few drops of the essence. Beat the whites to a stiff froth, then add them to the sugar, and stir it steadily until it will stay where you put it. It will take nearly *two hours, maybe more. Dredge a little flour over the cake, and brush it off with a feather. This is to prevent the frosting from being discolored by the butter contained in the cake. Lay it on smoothly with a knife, and return the cake to the oven for twelve to fifteen minutes. From The Young Housekeeper’s Friend, Mary Hooker Cornelius, 1859

Some history provided by Wedding Cakes by Maisie Fantaisie.

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Naples Bisket or Sponge Cake

“You know how interesting the purchase of a sponge-cake is to me.”
Jane Austen to Cassandra
Godmersham: Wednesday, June 15, 1808

During the renaissance, Italian cooks became famous for their baking skills and were hired by households in both England and France. The new items that they introduced were called “biscuits,” though they were the forerunner of what we now consider to be sponge cake. The earliest sponge cake recipe in English was recorded by Gervase Markham in 1615. These sponge cakes weren’t exactly your Betty Crocker behemoths, though – they were most likely thin, crisp cakes, more like modern cookies. Macaroons were developed during this period, as were spiced buns such as the Easter staple, hot cross buns.

Recette pour la Madeleine, by MairieSY, September 19, 2003

By the middle of the 18th century, yeast had fallen into disuse as a raising agent for cakes in favor of beaten eggs. The cooks of the day must have had arm muscles like Schwarzenegger – it takes an awful lot of beating by hand to do what we can accomplish in a few minutes with an electric mixer! Once as much air as possible had been beaten in, the mixture would be poured into molds, often elaborate creations, but sometimes as simple as two tin hoops, set on parchment paper on a cookie sheet. It is from these cake hoops that our modern cake pans developed.

Amazingly, it seems that the idea of cake as a dessert was particularly late in coming. Initially, they were served as a snack with sweet wine, much as madeira cake still is. Large, elaborate cakes would often be made as part of the display for banquets, but these were rarely eaten. The style of eating since the Middle Ages had required a selection of dishes to be on the table all at the same time. These would be removed and replaced with another vast array, but in the mid-nineteenth century the fashion changed and Service à la Russe became all the rage. Now the meal was served by servants, bringing diners individual dishes (similar to modern restaurant service), and while such a performance wasn’t within the reach of most people, it did result in a feature that everyone could enjoy – the dessert course. Now the decorated cake that we all know and love finally put in its appearance.

Sponge cakes are leavened by whipping eggs (whole, yolks only or whites only) with sugar. Whipping air into the mixture is what makes them light. When baked, the air bubbles expand from the heat of the oven and the cake rises.

Among the more popular Sponge cake types are the European styled Biscuit and Genoise, which more often than not are moistened with syrups because of their tendency to be somewhat dry. The right amount of syrup results in soft and tender crumbs, too little can render the cakes dry or tasteless, while too much produces soggy units. Hardcore European versions have liqueur as part of their syrupy additives, resulting in notably enhanced flavors. In both the Genoise and Biscuit, cornstarch replaces some of the flour, causing the cake to be tighter. Superfine sugar is recommended to achieve an extra fine texture.

Naples Biskets use the same batter, but are poured into shaped pans (you can use Madeleine tins) and baked as tiny cakes or cookies.

Naples Biskets
Take 3 Egs both Yolkes & Whites, & beat them in a bason, or wooden Bowle a quarter of an hour, then put to them halfe a pound of Sugar, & beat them together as long againe, ghen put to them 6 Ounces of fine flower & a graine or 2 of muske, being steeped in a spoonfull or two of Rosewater, & bat them well together while your Oven is a heating, & when it is as hot as for Manchett, butter your pans, & put your bread into thme & bakce it, & dry it, & keep it for your Use.
Period recipe, 1698

A modern recipe for Naples Biskets can be found here.

Portions of this article were reprinted with permission from the Medidrome article: The Peerless Cake Baker: The Surprising History of The Cake, by Helen Stringer.

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