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J. M. W. Turner: Painter of Light

Self portrait, oil on canvas, circa 1799 Joseph Mallord William “J. M. W.” Turner, RA (baptised 14 May 1775 – 19 December 1851) was an English Romanticist landscape painter, water-colourist, and printmaker. Turner was considered a controversial figure in his day, but is now regarded as the artist who elevated landscape painting to an eminence rivalling history painting.Although renowned for his oil paintings, Turner is also one of the greatest masters of British watercolour landscape painting. He is commonly known as “the painter of light”and his work is regarded as a Romantic preface to Impressionism. Some of his works are cited as examples of abstract art prior to its recognition in the early 20th century. Joseph Mallord William Turner was baptised on 14 May 1775, but his date of birth is unknown. It is generally believed he was born between late April and early May. Turner himself claimed he was born on 23 April, but there is no proof. He was born in Maiden Lane, Covent Garden, in London, England. His father, William Turner (1745–21 September 1829), was a barber and wig maker, His mother, Mary Marshall, came from a family of butchers. A younger sister, Mary Ann, was born in September 1778 but died in August 1783. Eighteenth century Bethlem was most notably portrayed in a scene from William Hogarth’s A Rake’s Progress (1735), the story of a rich merchant’s son, Tom Rakewell whose immoral living causes him to end up in Bethlem. In 1785, due to his mother (more…)
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Jane-O-Lantern: Picture Your Pumpkin Two Ways

The celebration now known as Halloween has its roots in the Celtic festival of Samhain, one of the four Druid “Bonfire” festivals. Celebrated on November 1, midway between the Autumn and Winter Solstices, some scholars believe that it marked the end of the old year and start of the new. Samhain (pronounced sów-en) was not a god to be worshipped, but rather a term meaning “The End of Summer”. It was at this time that the harvest was brought in, preparations for winter completed, debts were settled and the dead buried before the coming winter. In the highly superstitious Celtic culture, it was also believed that at this time when “a new year was being stitched to the old” the veil between the present world and the next was especially thin, allowing the spirits of the departed, both good and evil to roam.

Because of this belief, October 31 became a highly superstitious night. Some used the opportunity to entreat the dead for guidance in the coming year. Others carried on traditions involving the revelation of one’s sweetheart or good fortune for the coming year. Towards the close of the evening priests and townsfolk, dressed as spirits would parade through the village in order to lead the wandering ghosts back to their resting places. Far from being a burning Hell, the Celtic “underworld” was a place of light and feasting, much more akin to the Christian ideal of Heaven.

As it was also the close of the year, the bonfire, kindled by the priests served an extra purpose. Each villager would let their hearth fire die out that night to be lit afresh by embers from the bonfire, symbolizing a new year and hope for prosperity. During the night of spooks and ghosts, homes would be lit by rustic lanterns carved from turnips (known early on as neeps) beets and rutabagas. Pumpkins would be used later, as they were brought to Europe from the New World in the 17th century. These flickering lights were set out in hopes of welcoming home friendly souls and chasing away the evil spirits who wandered that night.

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Conserve of Roses, boiled

Most roses are edible. Roses are not the only flowers that can be used to add a delicious and exotic taste to all types of dishes. The flavor of roses, however, is distinct and immediately recognizable, and it looks as wonderful as it tastes.

If you are looking to make your Valentine bouquet last just a bit longer, try this recipe, from Hannah Glasse’s 1747 cookbook, The Art of Cookery made Plain and Easy. Below it, you’ll find an updated adaptation.  Of course, if you prefer to try the jam without any effort, several companies do sell their own, ready made versions, as well.

Highly scented roses work best for this project.

Conserve of Roses, boiled
In order to conserve roses, take red roses, take off all the whites at the bottom, or elsewhere, take three times the weight of them in sugar, put to a pint of roses a pint of water, skim it well, shred your roses a little before you put them into water, cover them, and boil the leaves tender in the water, and when they are tender put in your sugar; keep them stirring, lest they burn when they are tender, and the syrup be consumed. Put them up, and so keep them for your use.
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To Dress Broccoli

The soup, ladled from a large tureen, was nameless and savourless, but Miss Gateshead and Mr. Cranbrook, busily engaged in disclosing to one another their circumstances, family histories, tastes, dislikes, and aspirations, drank it without complaint…The mutton, which followed the soup was underdone and tough, and the side dish of Broccoli would have been improved by straining…
Night at the Inn, Pistols for Two (1960)
by Georgette Heyer

Photo by Zsuzsanna Kilian

Georgette Heyer is acknowledged as one of the most respected Regency historians in the world of fiction authors. Her novels are as full of Regency customs and cant as they are daring sword fights, flights to Gretna Green and comic turns of phrase. Her collection of short stories, Pistols for Two, is no exception.

Amused by the description of the poor inn fare served in Night at the Inn, I was curious enough to search for a period recipe. I finally found one in one of my favorite Regency Era cookbooks, A New System of Domestic Cookery, by Eliza Kettelby Rundell (1806).

Despite my children’s protestations that Broccoli is not a “real” food at all, rather a product of scientific gene mutation and not intended by God for the table, the truth is that it is an ancient vegetable, perfected (some may say) by the Romans and eventually introduced to England in the mid-18th century by Peter Scheemakers; which is why I decided to “dress Broccoli.”

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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’. (more…)
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In Love with “La Pomme D’Amour”

Have you any tomatas? Fanny and I regale on them every day…” Jane Austen to Cassandra October 11, 1813  Tomatoes The first tomatoes are beginning to come in from my garden now, and if the green fruit on my vines is any indication of the bounty to come, my family will, like Jane, be “regaling on them every day”. I can’t wait! This is the first year we’ve actually had a successful crop (possibly due to my new raised beds next to the house that actually get watered!!) We’ve also tried a topsy-turvy planter– which looks odd, but seems to be thriving as well. This, at least keeps the cherry tomatoes away from the Early Girls so that we are finally getting large and small versions this year– instead of the cross pollinated medium sized fruits from years past. Of course, tomato season also brings the onset of canning season. In the past we’ve canned peach and strawberry jam, apple sauce, pepper jam, pickles, beets and relish– this year though, I have high hopes of enough fruit to finally can tomatoes. To that end I’ve been reading up on recipes and found a fascinating one in Maria Eliza Ketelby Rundell’s “New System of Domestic Cookery” (originally published in 1806) Ms. Rundell actually boasts recipes for Tomato Sauce à la française (2), à l’italienne (2), Tomato Ketchup (2), Marmalade, Preserves, Stewed Tomatoes, and Preserved Tomatoes for Soup. What makes this list so impressive is that “tomatoes were not grown in England until (more…)
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Lavender Shortbread

Lavender has been traced back to ancient times, and while it was known by many names (including the Biblical “Spikenard”) it was the Romans, who used the flower to scent their baths, who first called it “Lavender” from the Roman (Italian) word lavare, which means, “to wash”. Used in jellies and other foods, as a perfume, aphrodisiac (Cleopatra is said to have used its scent in seducing both Caesar and Mark Anthony) and insect repellent, it is a plant that traveled with the most civilized societies, from the Egyptians, to the Romans to the French and English, eventually finding it’s way to the new world. Today most commonly associated with southern France (i.e. Herbes de Provence) and English country gardens, its sweet fragrance evokes a sunny summer day in a simpler time. When cooking with lavender it’s important to use only organically grown herbs, or those purchased specifically for cooking, from a reputable market or health food store. Find Kelley Epstein’s recipe for these gorgeous shortbread cookies on her blog, www.mountainmamacooks.com Kelly Epstein writes for the food blog,  www.mountainmamacooks.com. Click the link below to find her fabulous Lemon and Lavender Shortbread recipe: Printable Lavender Shortbread Recipe Enjoy these delicious cookies with a cup of tea or glass of milk…or pair them with our Lavender Marmalades and Jams. (more…)
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Bubble and Squeak

Alas! I must leave undescribed the gibier, The salmi, the consommé, the purée, All which I use to make my rhymes run glibber Than could roast beef in our rough John Bull way: I must not introduce even a spare rib here, “Bubble and squeak” would spoil my liquid lay: But I have dined, and must forego, Alas! The chaste description even of a “bécasse;” Lord Byron, Don Juan, Canto XV Bubble and squeak is a traditional English dish made with the shallow-fried leftover vegetables from a roast dinner. The main ingredients are potato and cabbage, but carrots, peas, brussels sprouts, and other vegetables can be added. The cold chopped vegetables (and cold chopped meat if used) are fried in a pan together with mashed potatoes or crushed roast potatoes until the mixture is well-cooked and brown on the sides. It is often served with cold meat from the Sunday roast, and pickles. The meat was traditionally added to the bubble and squeak itself, although nowadays it is more commonly made without meat. The name comes from the bubble and squeak sounds made as it cooks. The earliest printed recipe can be found in  Mrs. Maria Eliza Ketelby Rundell’s 1806  edition of,  A New System of Domestic Cookery: Founded up Principles of Economy; and Adapted to the Use of Private Families.  A New System of Domestic Cookery was the most popular English cookbook of the first half of the nineteenth century; it is often referred to simply as “Mrs. Rundell”. (more…)