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Setting Your Table

Mrs. Bennet had been strongly inclined to ask them to stay and dine there that day; but, though she always kept a very good table, she did not think anything less than two courses could be good enough for a man on whom she had such anxious designs, or satisfy the appetite and pride of one who had ten thousand a year. -Pride and Prejudice

Most period cookbooks offered suggested menu ideas for different gatherings and even different months of the year, based on what would be seasonable and fresh at the time. Some cookbooks even contained suggested table settings, like this one, giving hostesses and housekeepers an idea of how to fit so many dishes onto one table. A “remove” indicated just that—after being served, the dish was to be removed and replaced by another during the same course. A family dinner might consist of a single course with fewer dishes to choose from.

A period table setting example

Naturally, it would be difficult to sample every dish on the table. In the event of a dinner party, a gentleman would help himself and his dining partner to whatever dishes were placed in front of him. If something was particularly desired from a different part of the table, a footman would be sent to retrieve the dish. Naturally, this had the potential to create a great deal of noise and confusion during dinner!

In her book, A New System of Domestic Cookery, Maria Rundell suggests that,

“Vegetables are put on the side table at large dinners, as likewise sauces, and servants bring them round: but some inconveniences attend this plan; and, when there are not many to wait, delay is occasioned, besides that by awkwardness the clothes of the company may be spoiled. If the table is of a due size, the articles alluded to will not fill it too much.”

It is certainly something to keep in mind when planning your dinners!

To take one aspect of noise and confusion away, there were rules of protocol to be followed when conversing at the table. During the first course, the conversation would flow to the hostesses’ left (the seat of honor). Once the second course was laid, the hostess would turn to the guest on her right, thus “turning the table” and allowing uninterrupted conversations without anyone feeling singled or left out. As might be expected, far more casual manners prevailed during private family functions.

Adapted from  Cooking with Jane Austen and Friends, by Laura Boyle. Buy online at our Jane Austen giftshop where you will also find our delightful Pemberley Collection Afternoon Tea selection.

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The Cost of Living in Jane Austen’s England

Vulgar Economy

The orange wine will want our care soon. But in the meantime, for elegance and ease and luxury, the Hattons and Milles’ dine here to-day, and I shall eat ice and drink French wine, and be above vulgar economy. Luckily the pleasures of friendship, of unreserved conversation, of similarity of taste and opinions, will make good amends for orange wine.
Jane Austen to Cassandra
Godmersham: Thursday June 20, 1808

Regency CurrencyThe cost of postage had risen in 1784 as the Chancellor of the Exchequer explained that the increases would be on the mail instead of a tax on coal. The income from letters was used to boost the funds of the Government, and the prices were raised again in 1797, 1801, 1805 and 1812.

During the wars against France (1793-1815) the income was regarded as a tax levied to help the war effort, but once Napoleon had been defeated, there was a backlash of feeling against the high rates. By this time, it was often hard to decide if it was worth sending a letter at all: the cost of a letter could be as much as a day’s wages for a working man. It became a matter of importance to get around the cost in one way or another. For instance it was cheaper to send a letter from London to Scotland by the coastal shipping – 8 pence instead of by road which cost 13½ pence (1sh.1½d).

Because the recipient usually paid the cost of the delivery, it was possible to arrange to send an empty letter (or one with an agreed error in the name or address) – so that the recipient would know the handwriting, realise that all was well with the sender, so refuse to accept it, and not have to pay.

To give some idea of comparative costs:
in 1825 on a suggested budget of £250 a year given by Mrs Rundell in her New System of Domestic Economy for ‘a gentleman, his lady, three children and a Maid-Servant’, where food took £2.11.7d a week or £134.2.4d a year, the biggest single item was:

  • 10s 6d a week for butcher’s meat (18 lbs at 7d a pound, or about ½ lb each day)followed by:
  • 7s for beer and other liquors
  • 6s for bread
  • 3s 6d for 3½ lb butter
  • 3s 6d for fish
  • 3s for sugar (4½ lb at 8d a lb) and
  • 2s 6d for tea (5 ozs at 8s a pound)

  • two pounds of candles cost 1s 2d a week in 1825
  • coal and wood 3s 9d
  • rent and taxes were allowed at only £25 a year
  • clothes (for 5) £36
  • the maid £16
  • the education of 3 children £10.10s.

There were small margins for recreation, medical expenses and savings, but although the family probably had more than enough food in total, it devoted only 3d each week a week to milk (2 pints) and 6d each to fruit and vegetables.

However, on an income of £1000 per annum the budget is quite different! Now there is an establishment of 10, for besides the same-sized family there is a cook, a housemaid, a nursery-maid, a coachman and a footman, whose combined wages are £87 a year ; there is also a ‘Chariot, Coach, Phaeton or other four-wheel carriage, and a pair of horses’, costing £65-17s a year in keep. The family consumes 52½ lb of meat a week – a daily allowance of ¾ lb for each person – there is now a guinea a week for drink, and ¾ lb of butter for each person. The smallest items are still fruit and vegetables (9d per person per week) and eggs and milk (4½d per week).*

To put this in a recognised context, in Sense & Sensibility Mrs John Dashwood, trying to dissuade her husband from giving his mother and sisters any money at all, points out that they will be so well off, they will need nothing.

… Altogether, they will have five hundred a year amongst them, and what on earth can four women want for more than that? They will live so cheap! Their housekeeping will be nothing at all. They will have no carriage, no horses, and hardly any servants; they will keep no company, and can have no expenses of any kind!

Only conceive how comfortable they will be! Five hundred a year! I am sure I cannot imagine how they will spend half of it.”

The Dashwood DaughtersBut, if, in addition to feeding/clothing the four ladies of the house, they would have to provide living quarters/food/uniform for the house servant, and if they grew their own food, they would have to employ a gardener – more outlay. Allowing for the fact that they would probably make their own clothes, they would still have to buy the materials. It would not be luxurious living by any standards.

So, it does seem as though the parsimonious Mrs John Dashwood could have convinced herself that her four indigent in-laws could manage with no financial help from their brother.

Ron and Eunice Shanahan have collected British postal history for nearly 40 years. Though their period letters were originally purchased for the postal markings, over the years, the contents of the letters became of as much interest as the postal markings. Eunice writes for Stamp News Australasia, and has managed to sneak a fair bit of social history into the articles. The Shanahans host the Regency Postal Page.

*Taken from John Burnett, A History of the Cost of Living (Penguin Books, 1969)

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The History of the Glass Armonica

glass armonica

The History of the Glass Armonica

“Of all my inventions, the glass armonica has
given me the greatest personal satisfaction”
– Benjamin Franklin

A young lady’s level of accomplishment, during Jane Austen’s day, was in part dependant upon her musical abilities. One of the strangest instruments to gain popularity during the Regency was the Glass harmonica. An example of this can be seen in the 1999 film version of Mansfield Park. Although not mentioned in Austen’s novels, it is a sound that would not have been unfamiliar to her audience.

Listen to Lesley Barber’s interpretation of a period Armonica piece from the Mansfield Park soundtrack.The glass harmonica, also known as glass armonica or simply armonica (derived from “armonia,” the Italian word for harmony) is a type of musical instrument that uses a series of glass bowls or goblets graduated in size to produce musical tones by means of friction (instruments of this type are known as friction idiophones).

Because its sounding portion is made of glass, the glass harmonica is a crystallophone. Sets of glasses struck with sticks as a percussion instrument have existed since ancient times. The phenomenon of rubbing a wet finger around the rim of a wine goblet to make it sing is documented back to Renaissance times; Galileo considered the phenomenon (in his Two New Sciences), as did Athanasius Kircher.

The Irish musician Richard Puckeridge is typically credited as the first to play a set of such glasses by rubbing his fingers around the rims; although it is not entirely certain he was the first, he certainly popularized it. Beginning in the 1740s, he performed in London on a set of upright goblets filled with varying amounts of water. During the same decade, Christoph Willibald Gluck also attracted attention performing in England on a similar instrument.

Benjamin Franklin invented a radically new arrangement of the glasses in 1761 after seeing water-filled wine glasses played by William Deleval. (By this time Puckeridge and his instrument both had perished in a fire.) Franklin, who called his invention the “armonica” after the Italian word for harmony, worked with London glassblower Charles James to build one, and it had its world premiere in January of 1762, played by Marianne Davies.

In Franklin’s version, the bowls were mounted nested on a horizontal spindle and the whole spindle turned by means of a foot-operated treadle. The sound was produced by rubbing the rims of the bowls with moistened fingers. With the Franklin design it is possible to play ten glasses simultaneously if desired, a technique that is very difficult if not impossible to execute using upright goblets. Franklin also advocated the use of a small amount of powdered chalk on the fingers which helped produce a clear tone in the same way rosin is applied to the bows of string instruments.

Some 18th and 19th century specimens of the armonica have survived into the 21st century. Franz Mesmer also played the armonica and used it as an integral part of his Mesmerism.

Mozart’s Adagio for Glass Armonica, along with works by Beethoven, Donizetti, Richard Strauss and Camille Saint-Saëns were composed for the instrument. European monarchs indulged in it, and even Marie Antoinette had taken lessons on it.

The instrument’s popularity did not last far beyond the 18th century, partially because of a strange rumor that using the instrument caused both musicians and their listeners to go insane.

One example of fear from playing the glass armonica was noted by a German musicologist Friedrich Rochlitz in Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung where it is stated that “the armonica excessively stimulates the nerves, plunges the player into a nagging depression and hence into a dark and melancholy mood that is apt method for slow self-annihilation. If you are suffering from any nervous disorder, you should not play it; if you are not yet ill you should not play it; if you are feeling melancholy you should not play it.”

While one armonica player, Marianne Kirchgessner, is known to have died at the age of 39, others (including Franklin himself) lived long and full lives. By 1820 the glass armonica had disappeared from public performance, perhaps because musical fashions were changing — music was moving out of the relatively small aristocratic halls of Mozart’s day into larger and larger concert halls of Beethoven and his successors, and the delicate sound of the armonica simply could not be heard. The harpsichord disappeared at about the same time — perhaps for the same reason.

A modern version of the “purported dangers” claims that players suffered lead poisoning because armonicas were (and some still are) made of lead glass. However, there is no known scientific basis for the theory that merely touching lead glass can cause lead poisoning. On the other hand, it is known that lead poisoning was common in the 18th and early 19th centuries for both armonica players and non-players alike: doctors prescribed lead compounds for a long list of ailments, lead oxide was used as a preservative in food and beverages, food was cooked in tin/lead pots, and acidic beverages were commonly drunk from lead pewter vessels. Even if armonica players of Franklin’s day somehow received trace amounts of lead from their instruments, that would likely have been dwarfed by the lead they were receiving from other sources.

The glass armonica was re-invented by a German glassblower and musician, Gerhard B. Finkenbeiner (1930–1999) in 1984. After thirty years of experimentation, Finkenbeiner’s prototype consist of clear glasses and glasses with gold bands. Those with gold bands indicate the equivalent of the black keys on the piano. G. Finkenbeiner Inc., of Waltham, Massachusetts, continues to produce these prototypes.


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Mrs. Lucas’ Mince Pie Recipe

mince pie

Mrs. Lucas’ Mince Pie Recipe

Did Charlotte dine with you?
No, she would go home. I fancy she was wanted about the mince pies.
-Pride and Prejudice

Although Mrs. Bennet makes a sly jab at Charlotte Lucas for being home advising the staff on how to prepare a mince pie, it is clear that she is a much better manager and housekeeper than either Mrs. Bennet or her daughters are likely to be.
Mince pies are often associated with Christmas, and for good reason. They are the Christmas pies referred to in Medieval times, though these were generally rectangular, to represent the Christ child’s cradle. The dried fruits and spices symbolized the three gifts of the Magi. Many mince pies contained chopped meat as well as spices. The brandy used in the filling acted as a preservative, allowing large quantities to be made up at one time and stored until use. I’ve pared down this recipe to make enough filling for one large pie. If you choose to replace the brandy with juice, use the filling immediately; it won’t store well.


To Make A Mince Pie Without Meat
Chop fine three pounds of suet, and three pounds of apples, when pared and cored, wash and dry three pounds of currants, stone and chop one pound of jar raisins,
beat and sift one pound and a half of loaf sugar, cut small twelve ounces of candied orange peel, and six ounces of citron, mix all well together with a quarter of an ounce of nutmeg, half a quarter of an ounce of cinnamon, six or eight cloves, and half a pint of French Brandy, pot it close up and keep it for use.

• Pastry for 23 cm / 9 in double crust pie
• 2 large Apples, chopped fine
• 225 g / 8 oz / ½ lb of Beef Suet, minced
• 90 g / 3 oz / ½ cup Raisins
• 120 g / 4 oz / ½ cup Sugar
• 60 g / 2 oz / ¼ cup Candied Orange Peel
• 2 tbsp Citron, cut fine
• 1/4 tsp Nutmeg
• 1/8 tsp Cinnamon
• 6-8 Cloves
• 75 ml / 3 fl oz / 1/3 cup Brandy or 1 oz
Brandy Extract and ¼ Cup Apple Juice
Preheat your oven to 220° C / 425° F.

Mix together the suet, apple, raisins and sugar. Add the remaining spices, fruit and
brandy or juice.

Line a deep dish pie plate with pastry, and add the mince filling.

Roll out the remaining crust and cut a pattern in the top to vent the pie. Place the top crust
on the pie and crimp the edges together.

Bake for 35-40 minutes.

Serves 8


This mince pie recipe was excerpted from Cooking with Jane Austen and Friends, by Laura Boyle. Available in our giftshop!

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Blanched Asparagus

I never saw any thing equal to the comfort and style…The baked apples and biscuits, excellent in their way, you know; but there was a delicate fricassee of sweetbread and some asparagus brought in at first, and good Mr Woodhouse, not thinking the asparagus quite boiled enough, sent it all out again.

Now there is nothing grandmama loves better than sweetbread and asparagus — so she was rather disappointed, but we agreed we would not speak of it to any body, for fear of its getting round to dear Miss Woodhouse, who would be so very much concerned!

Asparagus has been used from very early times as a vegetable and medicine, owing to its delicate flavour and diuretic properties. It was cultivated by the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, who ate it fresh when in season and dried the vegetable for use in winter. It lost its popularity in the Middle Ages but returned to favour in the seventeenth century.

Only the young shoots of asparagus are eaten. Asparagus is low in calories, contains no fat or cholesterol, and is very low in sodium. It is a good source of folic acid, potassium, dietary fiber, and rutin. The amino acid, asparagine, gets its name from asparagus, the asparagus plant being rich in this compound.

The shoots can be prepared and served in a number of ways, and are often boiled or steamed and served with hollandaise sauce, melted butter or olive oil and Parmesan cheese. Tall asparagus cooking pots allow the shoots to be steamed gently. The best asparagus tends to be early growth (first of the season) and is often simply steamed and served with melted butter.

Blanched Asparagus

  • 1 saucepan
  • 1 bowl of iced water
  • 1 tray, lined with paper towel
  • 1 set of tongs
  • 1 slotted spoon
  • 1 small knife
  • Salt
  • 1 pound fresh asparagus, washed and trimmed
  • Olive oil or melted butter to taste
  1. Heat the water
    Blanching is a quick way of cooking vegetables while retaining their nutritional values and this technique is especially good for green vegetables. Begin by placing the saucepan on a high heat and fill it with about with 2 litres of water. Now add the salt and bring it to a strong rapid boil. Use 30 grams / 1 oz of salt for every litre / 1.5 pt of water. The salt creates a barrier on the surface of the vegetables and also raises the temperature of the water, sealing in the nutrients.
  2. Blanch the asparagus
    Now place the bowl of iced water next to the pan in preparation for ‘shocking’, the vegetables, later on. Then add the asparagus into the boiling water. Allow the water to come back to the boil then prick them with a small knife to check for readiness. The asparagus should be soft but firm at the same time. Blanching the asparagus for roughly 30-60 seconds is enough for it to be perfectly cooked.
  3. Shock the asparagus in ice water
    Remove the asparagus with your slotted spoon. Place it into the bowl of ice water, to shock the asparagus, for 30 seconds, or until cold. This will immediately stop the cooking process as well as preserve colour, and crispiness. Once removed from the ice, set them aside on the tray lined with paper towel. Keeping them in a cold place will also help to maintain colour and freshness.
  4. Season and serve
    Transfer all your blanched and steamed vegetables onto a serving platter. Season to taste with olive oil, salt and pepper. Your vegetables are now ready to serve. They go wonderfully with any type of meat, can be served with a cheese or herb sauce, or even just as they are.

Reprinted from Wikihow.

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Roasted Pork Ribs

My father furnishes him with a pig from Cheesedown; it is already killed and cut up, but it is not to weigh more than nine stone; the season is too far advanced to get him a larger one. My mother means to pay herself for the salt and the trouble of ordering it to be cured by the sparibs.
Jane Austen to Cassandra

When Mr. Woodhouse talks of killing a porker (Hartfield pork is so superior to any other kind) he is talking of a pig raised specifically to be eaten as pork. Pigs reared to be eaten as ham or bacon would have been fed on a different diet as they were wanted as large as possible; 40-50 pound hams and sides of bacon were not unusual. Porkers were killed when just grown and used fresh or salted.

Roasted Pork Ribs
Take the ribbes of a boor… and parboyle hem tyl thai byn half sothen, then take and roste hem, and when thai byn rosted, take and chop hem and do hem in a pot, and do thereto gode fresshe brothe of beef and wyn, and put thereto clowes, maces and pynes, and raisynges of Courance, and pouder of pepur, and take onyons and mynce hem grete, do hem in a panne with fresshe grees, and fry hem and do hem in the potte, and let hit wel sethe al togedur, and take brede stepet in brothe, and drawe hit up and do thereto, and colour hit with saunders and saffron, and in the settynge doun put thereto a lytel vynegur medelet with pouder of canell, and take other braune and cut smal leches of two ynches of length, and cast into the pot and dreue up tone with tother, and serve hit forthe.

From Carodiac’s Miscellany

Preparing Pork to taste like Wild Boar
This marinade is rather strong, but the result is really quite good. If you like wild boar, this does taste a lot like it. We used ribs, although the recipe calls for a fresh ham leg of pork, not smoked or salted). You need to vary the time you marinade the pork according to its thickness I left the ribs in 24 hours and that seemed to be about right. Marinade for 5-6 lbs pork ribs or leg:

  • 1 cup red wine
  • 4 tablespoons of wine vinegar
  • 2 sliced carrots
  • 1 sliced onion
  • 2 shallots minced
    (or add an extra onion and a touch more garlic)
  • 2 cloves of garlic minced
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 6 parsley stalks
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 1 tsp marjoram
  • 12 whole peppercorns
  • 6 juniper berries
  • 2 tsp saltPut all the ingredients in 8′ sauce pan bring to a boil and simmer 5 minutes.Allow to cool.Put the meat in a deep china bowl and pour the marinade over it. Place in the refrigerator and turn the meat at least once a day. Or, you can put the meat in a boiling or roasting bag with the marinade and turn it once a day. A pork leg should marinate for 4 days.At the end of the marinading period, remove the meat and wipe it off.At this point you can:
    1. Roast the meat as usual (350 degrees for ½ hour per pound).
    2. Place the meat in a roasting bag and cook for the above time.If you wish you can reserve the marinade, mix with the cooking juices and 1 cup of beef stock and add a flour and water paste to make sauce. Boil the sauce for several minutes to evaporate the alcohol

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