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Serle’s Soft Boiled Eggs

220px-Egg_spiral_egg_cupBoiled eggs have been a mealtime staple probably since boiling anything was invented. In fact, egg cups (you know what these are: those adorable little cups perfect for holding hard or soft boiled eggs) have been found during archaeological explorations of Crete dating to as early as the 18th century BC. An early silver version from 74 BC was even found in the ruins at Pompeii.

Soft boiled eggs were, by Jane Austen’s time, not only served at breakfast, as the broken egg shells on the table at Mansfield Park suggest, but also served throughout the day, as a healthy, plain food for children and invalids. In Emma, they are one of the few foods that even invalid Mr. Woodhouse can recommend with grace:

“Mrs Bates, let me propose your venturing on one of these eggs. 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; but you need not be afraid, they are very small, you see — one of our small eggs will not hurt you.”

Soft boiled eggs in adorable cups, with, perhaps, little hats or “cosies” on top are a favorite childhood memory for many. Paired with hot, buttered toast “soldiers” (narrow strips of toast for dunking in the runny yolk) they can make the most important meal of the day a comfort food feast.

soft boiled eggs would look good in this
This silver egg service for 6 dates to 1820 and was recently sold by

To make soft boiled eggs, bring 3 inches of water to a boil in a small sauce pan. Once the water is rolling, turn down the heat to a simmer and add your eggs, allowing them to cook for six minutes (you may wish to set a timer) Remove the eggs to an ice water bath (a bowl of ice water will do) to halt the cooking process while you make and butter your toast. It couldn’t be simpler.

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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Capt Gronow and Sir Harry Smith Write their Memoirs

Captain Gronow:
His Reminiscences of Regency and Victorian Life, 1810-60
By Christopher Hibbit


This is a very difficult book to review as I liked it a lot, but I still have a number of reservations about it – mostly about its editing.

First, let me tell you about Captain Gronow – he was one of life’s observers, and might have slipped through history with only the vaguest of mentions in a few diaries had he not needed to resort to his pen in the 1860’s in order to support himself. He wrote four books which were stacked to the gunnels with anecodotes, slanderous stories and all sorts of gossipy snippets. These were snapped up by his Victorian audience who were keen to read about the sinful vagaries of that bygone era, the Regency.

Christopher Hibbert has done a pretty good job in collecting together some of the better stories and putting them into this one volume. He has also created some sense to the mass of stories by organising them into chapters. These chapters include subject headings like “The Prince Regent, His Family and Friends” and “Rakes, Dandies and Men about Town”. So it makes it an easy volume to browse for those of you reading this for fun.

There are a few things with this book that I do find difficult. The first is that Hibbert never questions the veracity of what Gronow says. There are several apocryphal stories in here which Gronow tells (the one of Brummell’s aunt being milkmaid is one which springs instantly to mind) – which I feel, as the editor, Hibbert should have at least footnoted. Gronow was writing up to 50 years after events, he certainly could not have recalled all the detail and I think that makes it vitally important that the editor check the facts. Indeed, it is probable that Gronow lifted this story straight out of the pages of Brummell’s first biographer – Captain Jesse – anyway.

Secondly – Hibbert should have checked the dates. Gronow mixes up the dates of the battles of Nive and Nivelle. An easy thing to check, and it is not like Hibbert doesn’t know his Peninsular War detail.

Thirdly – while most of Hibbert’s footnoted descriptions of Regency People are very good and succinct – he does make at least one mistake mixing up Frances, Lady Jersey with her daughter in law, Sarah, Lady Jersey.

I certainly do feel that of all the edited volumes of Gronow’s books to come out so far, Hibbert’s is definitely the best. However, unless you have a plethora of Regency Books yourself and understand the times well it wouldn’t be nearly as much fun reading Gronow without a editor to explain some of the events and people Gronow is gossiping about.

Also worth reading: Regency Recollections: Captain Gronow’s Guide to Life in London and Paris

Publisher: Trafalgar Square
ISBN: 1856260135

The Autobiography of Sir Harry Smith 1787-1819

The Autobiography of Harry Smith was written, by his own admission in the same way he lived his life – at a gallop. It is wonderful that they have republished this book because it was first released around the turn of 1900 and so was desparately difficult to get a hold of.

This book is the first, and best volume, of the two that were published posthumously. They cover his military life as an officer in the 95th Regiment from his first disastorous expedition to South America when he was still a teenager through his years campaigning on the Peninsular War (1808-1814), Waterloo and the occupation of France.

His writing style, while stilted to modern ears, does not take long to learn to enjoy and he packs his book with hundreds of anecdotes of various army characters and snippets of life. He is just so good humoured and his stories so energetic without malice that you cannot help but enjoy him.

I know Harry Smith best for his highly romantic and impetuous marriage to a young Spanish girl, following the seige of Badajoz in 1812. Their life together, and her rapid adjustment to the harsh realities of campaigning were fascinating enough to be the subject of at least one historical novel, Georgette Heyer’s book “The Spanish Bride” – but I think I liked reading the original story in Harry and Juana’s word’s better.

There are other truly wonderful biographies from officers of the 95th (which was later called ‘The Rifle Brigade’) in the Peninsular War also available from Amazon, including George Simmon’s, A British Rifleman and John Kincaid’s, Adventures in the Rifle Brigade. But Harry Smith is a gem.

Publisher: Constable
ISBN: 0094797404

Anne Woodley is an Amazon top 500 reviewer as well as the patroness of Janeites, the Internet discussion, as well as mistress of the Regency Ring. Her excellent page, The Regency Collection is a treasure trove of information.

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The Mail Guard

nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds

Starting in 1784, letters sent by Royal Mail traveled by Mail Coach. These were special stagecoaches that carried few or no passengers and were specially guarded. Averaging a speed of eleven miles an hour, they were a great deal faster than other coaches.

The Mail guard wore the Royal livery consisting of a scarlet coat trimmed with gold braid. He was also provided with a blunderbuss, a clock kept in a leather pouch, a horse pistol, and a horn with which to warn other road users as well as to announce the arrival and departure of the coach. The duties of the mail guard, an employee of the post office, were the delivery and safety of the mail and keeping the coachman on time. Every coach carried a locked timepiece and the guard had to transfer the time recorded by that on to a time-bill. The Royal Mail guard had to write in an explanation for any delay witnessed by the Post-master.

In an attempt to avoid bribery and corruption, the Royal Mail paid their guards well, 10s-6d a week (a very large sum then). The Mail guard was also provided with a new hat and scarlet coat with gold braid on every year. They also gave them a good pension when they retired. In addition to this, there were the tips. “The driver and the guard are to be paid at the end of every stage of about twenty miles. This custom [came to have almost] the force of law; and the perquisite is generally demanded as a matter of right. The usual donation, for such it is, is six pence to each, but a shilling and even more is often given, and never refused.*” A silver shilling per passenger was considered normal for a long journey.

The post horn was the recognized signal horn used by all the guards on the Royal Mail coaches. The standard horn issued by the post office was made of tin and three feet long. Hence it was colloquially known as the yard of tin. Guards, however, rather prided themselves on their hornblowing, so they usually provided themselves with instruments made of copper or brass which were more melodious in tone. The coach horn had a peculiar ring to the notes due to the length and shape of the instrument.

The mail coaches traveled the toll roads free of charge so the post horn call was sounded to alert tollgate keepers to immediately open the gate under the pain of a 40 shilling fine should they fail. Some other calls were: clear the road, coming by, pulling up, turning right, and turning left.

The coach horn call alerted the postmasters at pick up sites to have the mail bag ready to toss to the guard. The sounding of the coach horn call also warned ostlers to prepare a fresh team to be hitched to the Royal Mail coach.

Palmer’s idea of using soldiers as guards was not feasible, but the guards employed by the post office served the same purpose. They were good shots, and honorably watched over the mail. Most guards were retired soldiers. With the coming of the mail coach highway robbery of the mails practically ceased.

*From Joshua White’s Letters on England, written in 1810.

Reprinted with persmission Sharon Wagoner, Curator of The Georgian Index. Visit her site for a historical tour through Regency London!

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The Origins of Regency Era Christmas Carols

For many of us, Christmas just wouldn’t be the same without many of the carols that we sing or hear on the radio. I know I start playing Christmas music early on in the fall to try and make the season come a little faster, and last just a little longer. While caroling itself dates back to the middle ages, it had long ago died out with the end of the feudal system. By Jane Austen’s day, Friends and neighbors no longer tramped door to door begging Wassail and bringing good cheer. Here We Come a Wassailing, The Twelve Days of Christmas, The First Noel, Good Christian Men Rejoice and Greensleeves are all traditional Carols from the Middle Ages

By the Regency Period, some hymns were sung in Christmas church services, but the majority of the carols we know today had not yet been written. Though Jane Austen and her family may have sung familiar words, the tunes might not be recognized by modern audiences.

Handel While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks at Night was written by Nahum Tate, in 1700 and first appeared in Tate and Brady’s Psalter in 1702. The now common tune was written by George Frederick Handel in 1728 and arranged in Harmonia Sacra, in 1812.

Adeste Fideles (O Come All Ye Faithful) is commonly thought to have been written in France in 1710, though the first published version (words and music) would not be seen until 1760. It was translated into English by Frederick Oakeley in 1841.

Watts Joy to the World was published by Isaac Watts in his 1719 hymnal, The Psalms of David. Though it was sung in churches from that time, its now “traditional” melody was not written until 1836.

The Hallelujah chorus, written by Handel in 1741 as part of his Messiah Oratorio, was not yet singled out as a Christmas selection. Of the songs that were written, most appeared in poem form, only to receive their tunes during the Victorian era when a push was made to revive old traditions and carols and caroling once again became popular.

Wesley Hark the Herald Angels Sing was composed by Charles Wesley in 1739 as part of his Hymns and Sacred Poems. It was later amended by George Whitfield (1753). The tune that we sing today was written by Mendohlsson in 1840.

Angels from the Realms of Glory was written by James Montgomery, for his Sheffield newspaper, the Iris, on Christmas Eve, 1816. The tune, Regent Square, was written in 1867.

Perhaps the most interesting history we have is the origin of Silent Night, written by Joseph Mohr, in Austria, in 1816. Though not translated into English until 1863, this carol remains one of the most beloved Christmas songs of all time. The story is told how the young priest of Oberndorf, a small town in the Tyrolean Alps, was alone on Christmas Eve when he heard a loud pounding on the door. He opened it to find a woman who gasped out, “Come, a child is born, and the young father and mother want you to bless their home.”

Mohr The Priest started out on a tedious journey up the mountainside, to a small cabin, miles in the distance. After many hours of climbing, he reached his destination and saw within the cabin a repetition of the Nativity scene. The young woman lay on a bed of boughs, and her newborn son lay in a roughhewn cradle made by his Alpine-mountaineer father. The priest blessed the home and left the cabin to make his return journey to the village. His heart filled with song, because of the uplifting impressive scene. Keep his feet in rhythm he made his way down the mountainside. That Christmas night, he stayed up writing the manuscript that would become Silent Night.

Two years later, on another Christmas Eve in 1818, the organ at St. Nicholas Church was damaged due to severe flooding. Mohr knew that in order to have music at their Christmas service, he would have to come up with another form of accompaniment. It was then that he visited his friend Franz Gruber, the town Organist and Schoolmaster. He asked Gruber to compose a tune for his poem and in a few hours a song was born. That night the Oberndorf villagers gathered for their Christmas Eve Midnight Mass and heard, for the first time, Stille Nacht, “Silent Night”, sung by Mohr and Gruber, accompanied by a guitar. The carol was be published in 1820 and carried by Folk singers throughout Austria and Europe. It has been translated into over 120 languages.

Gruber's Guitar
Other stories tell how this song has continued to bring peace throughout the world. During World War I, soldiers lay in trenches on both sides of the battle shivering and thinking of home. “Just before midnight on Christmas Eve (1914) the British noticed small lights being lit and held high in the air. Through binoculars it was noted that the German soldiers were holding up candles on the end of their bayonets, some even held up Christmas trees. Through the piercing silence the British heard a song in the air. One solo voice rang out. Slowly the voice was joined by others. Although the words were in German the tune was quickly recognized as “Silent Night, Holy Night” One by one the brave soldiers ventured out into the “no man’s land” the small pieces of land that lay between the two opposing trenches. The men that just hours before were trying to kill each other were now exchanging photos of loved ones, dehydrated beef, some played ball and others just told stories. When Christmas had ended the men shook hands and went back to their own trenches. A German General stood on the edge of his trench and bowed toward his enemies. A British General saluted towards his enemies.”

Similar tales are told about the Christmas of 1944, during World War II. “Fighting was suspended on many fronts while people around the globe turned to their radios on Christmas Eve to hear opera star Ernestine Schumann-Heink sing “Stille Nacht”. In addition to her status as an international opera star, Mme. Schumann-Heink was a mother with one son fighting for the Axis and another son fighting for the Allies.”

Another soldier, years later, related how, “On 24 December 1944 I was spending my Christmas at a little place called Bastogne, Belgium, with the 101st Airborne Division. As many of you already know the story about the Battle of the Bulge, I won’t go into all the details about how we were surrounded and outnumbered by the German Arm. It was a cold, bitter, dark night and around about midnight surprisingly quiet.

All of a sudden, from the German position, we heard a single voice singings “Silent Night,” in German. Soon more voices were added from the Germans. Suddenly, some American Soldier picked it up and before long most ofd us were singing along with the Germans. This went on for about 5 or 10 minutes and then stopped. A few minutes later we were back at each other, with guns blazing.”

In the middle of the worst battle of WW2 there was Peace on Earth for a few minutes.

Written by Laura Boyle, creator of home of custom made Regency Bonnets and Accessories. Sources quoted include The Cyber Hymnal and Silentnight.web. 

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