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In your Easter Bonnet

Easter is still two weeks away, and yet, somehow the delightful tradition, begun in childhood, of having something new to wear Easter Sunday morning, has me scrambling. The girls (8 and 10 respectively) plead their case last year, not to have to wear gloves and hats to church, but one still feels the need to be turned out fresh and new to celebrate not only the Saviour’s triumph over death, but also spring’s triumph over the cold of winter.

A Wet Sunday Morning by Edmund Blair Leighton.
A Wet Sunday Morning by Edmund Blair Leighton.

In Jane Austen’s novels and letters, Easter is seen more as a time of travel (Mr. Collins to be ordained, Darcy travling to Kent, Mrs. Rushworth staying in Twickenham, along with Jane’s mention of herself, Henry and Edward all traveling at different times during Easter) rather than a season for new clothes. However, the long held habit of beginning a new season with new clothes can be dated back at least to the 16th century, with only a look at Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (“Did’st thou not fall out with a Tailor for wearing his new Doublet before Easter?”) or even the great Samuel Pepys, who wrote:

30 March (Easter Day) 1662
Having my old black suit new furbished, I was pretty neat in clothes to-day, and my boy, his old suit new trimmed, very handsome.

The almanac writer, Poor Robin (1661-1776) notes,
At Easter let your clothes be new
Or else be sure you will it rue.

An image from Atelier de Modistes Le Bon Genre 28, c.1807
An image from Atelier de Modistes Le Bon Genre 28, c.1807

Still, for many the cash strapped maid, a fresh gown might be out of the question, but bonnets could be newly trimmed with ribbons and flowers, and the earliest spring fashion plates were eagerly looked for as a sign of spring to come. This idea was put into popular song in 1933, by the American Irving Berlin, in his musical Easter Parade, when the economy was at a low ebb (as it was during Austen’s era.) With a new hat on, all seems bright and fresh and possible.

In your Easter bonnet
with all the frills upon it,
You’ll be the grandest lady in the Easter parade

The Pink Bonnet by Edmund Blair Leighton.
The Pink Bonnet by Edmund Blair Leighton.

 

Laura Boyle is fascinated by all aspects of Jane Austen’s life. She is the proprietor of Austentation: 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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Hot Cross Buns

I still remember my piano lessons, which began at age three (and ended soon after!) The first song I learned was “Hot Cross Buns”. I recently taught it to my six year old son, when he became aware of these treats, which appeared (ironically) in stores as soon as Lent began.

Hot Cross Buns at Fortnum & Mason, Piccadilly, April 2010, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Hot Cross Buns at Fortnum & Mason, Piccadilly, April 2010, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Hot cross buns!
Hot cross buns!
One a penny, two a penny,
Hot cross buns!

If you have no daughters,
Give them to your sons.
One a penny two a penny,
Hot cross buns!

The commonly known (and now heard throughout my house) cry actually appeared in print no earlier than 1798, published in London in that year’s Christmas Box. An earlier version, however, appeared in 1733 in in Poor Robin’s Almanack, and ran as follows,
“Good Friday comes this month, the old woman runs
With one or two a penny hot cross buns.”

A vintage illustration of a Hot Cross Bun seller.
A vintage illustration of a Hot Cross Bun seller.

The price is stated quite clearly in this verse and remarkably, remained constant for over 200 years—a fact pointed out by Charles Dickens’s son in his 1889 edition of All the Year Round.

Buns marked with a cross on top had been known since the time of the ancient Greeks and the spiced, fruited buns now associated with the name, were once sold throughout England, where the cry of street hawkers could be heard all down the streets. They were, however, by Elizabeth’s newly puritan era considered “too popish” (i.e. Catholic) to be sold on any day except Good Friday (owing to the cross on the top), Christmas, and at burials. Anyone found violating this law forfeited their entire stock of buns for the nourishment of the poor.

On Good Friday, however, Christians who had been observing Lent by self-denial of dairy and egg products, found good reason to rejoice. Christ was raised from the dead and that was cause enough for celebration. The spices used in the buns were reminiscent of those brought by the women to the garden tomb. Somewhat surprising to me was the fact that early crosses in the buns were made of simple cuts, or pastry dough, rather than the frosting which now decorates bakery buns.

To those who had endured 40 days of fasting from such delights, the anticipation of Hot Cross Buns could not be put off past breakfast. In The Life Of Samuel Johnson (1791), which Jane Austen is known to have been familiar with, Boswell writes: “On the 9th of April [1773], being Good Friday, I breakfasted with him on tea and cross-buns …” Later, he notes, “April 18 [1783], (being Good-Friday) I found him at breakfast, in his usual manner upon that day, drinking tea without milk, and eating a cross bun to prevent faintness”.

To quote one slightly post Regency source,

This is the season at which all good Christians devour hot cross buns for breakfast, under the comfortable impression that a religious duty is being performed; and in this instance we are happy to find a spirit of faith and religion in the rising generation, for the little boys devour hot cross buns with a most sacred Gusto, which shows that if there is any virtue in the act, the youth of the present day are the very best performers of the religious duty. It is a most comfortable thing, when any kind of eatable commanded by religion happens to be Nice, and we must say even we feel a holy and comfortable glow come over us, when we feel that we Ought to substitute for the plain baker’s bread, the more savoury, and more sacred substance, called Hot Cross Buns.
‘Figaro In London’, Published 1836

Surprisingly, recipes for Hot Cross Buns are scarce before the 18th Century. The following one is from an 1825 source. A more modern, open source version can be found below it.

TO MAKE CROSS BUNS
Put two pounds and a half of fine flour into a wooden bowl, and set it before the fire to warm; then add half a pound of sifted sugar, some coriander seed, cinnamon and mace powdered fine; melt half a pound of butter in half a pint of milk; when it is as warm as it can bear the finger, mix with it three table spoonsful of very thick yeast, and a little salt; put it to the flour, mix it to a paste, and make the buns as directed in the above receipt … [for common buns … make it into buns, put them on a tin, set them before the fire for a quarter of an hour, cover over with flannel, then brush them with very warm milk, and bake them of a nice brown in a moderate oven] put a cross on the top, not very deep.
‘Five Thousand Receipts’, By Colin MacKenzie, Published 1825

  • 1 cup (240 mL) milk
  • 4 teaspoons (20 mL) water
  • 1 cakes fresh yeast
  • 3 cups (720 mL) all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup (80 mL) sugar
  • 1 teaspoon (5 mL) salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon (1.25 mL) cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon (1.25 mL) nutmeg, grated
  • 1 egg beaten
  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) melted butter
  • 1 cup (240 mL) currants
  1. Heat milk and water to lukewarm.
  2. Crumble yeast. Mix with 1/2 cup (120 mL) flour. Stir in tepid milk/water and mix well.
  3. Cover and set aside in warm place until yeast is active and frothing, about 10 – 15 minutes.
  4. Mix remaining flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg.
  5. Stir egg and butter into the yeast mix, add the flour mixture and fruit. Mix well.
  6. Put dough onto a floured surface and knead. Return to bowl, and let rise until double in bulk, about 1 hour.
  7. Turn onto a floured surface and knead again.
  8. Preheat oven to 375° F (190° C).
  9. Divide dough into twelve pieces and shape into buns. Mark a deep cross on the top of each bun.
  10. Arrange on a baking tray, cover with tea towel, and let rise for 30 minutes. Cook in preheated 375° F (190° C) oven for 15 minutes or until golden brown.

 

Laura Boyle is fascinated by all aspects of Jane Austen’s life. She is the proprietor of Austentation: 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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Jane Austen Silhouette Easter Eggs

‘Tis the season, so they say, for coloured eggs. The children have spent a glorious day trying their hands at spotted, striped and marbled eggs—I had to boil an extra dozen just to give them enough to try all of their ideas! ‘Tis the season for egg salad and deviled eggs, too, I guess. Still, I had an inspiration for these Jane Austen silhouettes and just had to give them a try. To be sure, I think they looked delightfully sophisticated in their black and white state (perfect for popping under a Jane Austen egg cosy, perhaps?) but my daughters were more thrilled with the coloured results.

egg-basket

You will recall, of course, how we have in years past looked at the origins of coloured Easter eggs, as well as last month’s recipe for soft boiled eggs, but I always like to begin with hard cooked eggs. They can be enjoyed later in salads or as is with pepper and salt. My favorite recipe is quite easy—add your desired number of eggs to a sauce pan (white eggs work best for clear colors, but brown and green eggs have a delightful, earthy look to them once dyed as well.) Cover the eggs with water and bring them to a boil. Once the water is boiling, take the eggs off the heat and let them rest for 10 minutes. At that point, sink the eggs into an ice bath to halt the cooking process. If you wish to dye them at this point, dry them off and you are ready to begin.

You may use any dye method you prefer. There are numerous resources online for various combinations of water, vinegar and food dye (or vegetable dyes, if you prefer) I chose the simplest route today, with a premade PAAS kit, following the provided instructions.

Now for the hardest part! I used the 1” size of my Jane Austen silhouette stickers (these can be found in my etsy shop, regencyaustentation.)  Alternately, you can cut a silhouette of Jane from any self sticking source—tape, vinyl adhesive or contact paper. Use the following template as your guide—simply save and print the picture in a 1″ size.

Untitled-1 copy

Stick the adhesive to your boiled egg, making sure to smooth out any wrinkles. Bubbles in the tape will allow dye under and you won’t get clean lines. Once the sticker is adhered, dip the egg in your chosen colour for as long as it takes to get your desired hue. Once the egg has dried, you can remove the sticker for a white silhouette, or leave it on for a dramatic colour contrast.

Laura Boyle is fascinated by all aspects of Jane Austen’s life. She is the proprietor of Austentation: 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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Boiled Eggs for Easter: Dying Methods and Uses

Boiled eggs for easter

An egg boiled very soft is not unwholesome. Serle understands boiling an egg better than any body. I would not recommend an egg boiled by any body else….
Mr. Woodhouse, Emma

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