Though now the middle of December, there had yet been no weather to prevent the young ladies from tolerably regular exercise; and on the morrow, Emma had a charitable visit to pay to a poor sick family, who lived a little way out of Highbury…Emma was very compassionate; and the distresses of the poor were as sure of relief from her personal attention and kindness, her counsel and her patience, as from her purse. She understood their ways, could allow for their ignorance and their temptations, had no romantic expectations of extraordinary virtue from those, for whom education had done so little; entered into their troubles with ready sympathy, and always gave her assistance with as much intelligence as good-will. In the present instance, it was sickness and poverty together which she came to visit; and after remaining there as long as she could give comfort or advice, she quitted the cottage with such an impression of the scene as made her say to Harriet, as they walked away,
“These are the sights, Harriet, to do one good. How trifling they make every thing else appear! I feel now as if I could think of nothing but these poor creatures all the rest of the day; and yet, who can say how soon it may all vanish from my mind?”
“Very true,” said Harriet. “Poor creatures! one can think of nothing else.”
“And really, I do not think the impression will soon be over,” said Emma, as she crossed the low hedge, and tottering footstep which ended the narrow, slippery path through the cottage garden, and brought them into the lane again. “I do not think it will,” stopping to look once more at all the outward wretchedness of the place, and recall the still greater within.
…The soup was fifty times better than what we had at the Lucases’ last week; and even Mr. Darcy acknowledged, that the partridges were remarkably well done; …
Pride and Prejudice
Onion soups have been popular at least as far back as Roman times. They were, throughout history, seen as food for poor people, as onions were plentiful and easy to grow. The rich flavor of the base is not due just to the broth, but to the caramelized onions (typically, the pot is full of sliced onions, which will shrink down to less than half the volume on cooking). Caramelization, in this case, is the procedure in which the onions are cooked slowly until the melting sugars approach burning temperature, becoming brown. Some recipes suggest a half an hour of cooking time, but many chefs and cooks allow for hours of cooking to bring out the flavors of the onions’ sugars.
A penny bun or a penny loaf was a small bread bun or loaf which cost one old penny at the time when there were 240 pence to the pound. A penny loaf was a common size loaf of bread in England regulated by the Assize of Bread Act of 1266. The size of the loaf could vary depending on the prevailing cost of the flour used in the baking. The nursery rhyme London Bridge Is Falling Down has a version which includes the line “Build it up with penny loaves”. John Earfield hypothesizes that a one penny loaf in Jane Austen’s day would have weighed about one pound.
The following recipe comes from Elizabeth Raffald’s cookery book, The Experienced English Housekeeper, which begins with a dedication to Lady Elizabeth Warburton after fifteen years of service as her housekeeper. One of the most popular cookbook writers of the eighteenth century, she also owned and managed two taverns, a sweet shop, and cooking school. It is different from French Onion soup, which traditionally uses beef broth and sherry or wine (in place of water) and finishes with toast and/or cheese under a broiler. French Onion soup, so the story goes, was created by Louis XIV, who returned to his hunting lodge, famished, only to find the cupboards bare apart from some stale bread, onions and champagne.
This recipe can be followed almost in it’s given form, and produces a lovely warming soup of caramelized onions. The key with this soup is found in the final line, “before you send it up beat the yolks of two eggs, with two spoonfuls of vinegar, and a little of the soup, pour it in by degrees, and keep stirring it all the time one way.” By mixing the egg yolks, vinegar and few spoonfuls of soup together on the side (called “tempering”) you allow the eggs to cook slowly in a liquid form, before being poured into the soup. If you do not do this, the eggs will cook as soon as they are poured into the broth and providing a lumpy, poached egg soup, instead of a smooth thickened soup.
To Make Brown Onion Soup
Skin and cut round ways in slices six large Spanish Onions, fry them in butter till they are a nice brown, and very tender, then take them out and lay them on a hair sieve to drain out the butter, when drained put them in a pot with five quarts of boiling water, boil them one hour and stir them often, then add pepper and salt to your taste, rub the crumbs of a penny loaf through a cullender, put it to the soup, stir it well to keep it from being in lumps, and boil it two hours more; ten minutes before you send it up beat the yolks of two eggs, with two spoonfuls of vinegar, and a little of the soup, pour it in by degrees, and keep stirring it all the time one way, put in a few cloves if you choose it.
– N.B. It is a fine soup, and will keep three or four days.
Elizabeth Raffald, The Experienced English Housekeeper, 1769
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. Historical information about Onion Soup and Penny Loaves and onion image from Wikipedia.com.
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 the 1590s. One of the earliest cultivators was John Gerard, a barber-surgeon. Gerard’s Herbal, published in 1597, and largely plagiarized from continental sources, is also one of the earliest discussions of the tomato in England. Gerard knew the tomato was eaten in Spain and Italy. Nonetheless, he believed it was poisonous (in fact, the plant and raw fruit do have low levels of tomatine, but are not generally dangerous). Gerard’s views were influential, and the tomato was considered unfit for eating (though not necessarily poisonous) for many years in Britain and its North American colonies.By the mid-18th century, tomatoes were widely eaten in Britain, and before the end of that century, the Encyclopædia Britannica stated the tomato was “in daily use” in soups, broths, and as a garnish.”* So much so that by 1813, Jane Austen was regaling on them daily at Godmersham.
To Preserve Tomatoes for Soup
The tomatos should be perfectly sound and quite ripe. Peel them, take out the seeds and lay them in a large wide pan with plenty of pepper and salt. Lat them remain twenty-four hours for the juice to run out; then put the whole into a stewpan, and boil it very gently for an hour and a half, frequently stirring it. Put it into small jars, and when cold, tie them down; small jars are preferable to large ones, as frequent opening would spoil the tomatos.
This recipe calls for “hot packing” the tomatoes and tying the lids tight with paper and string. This, I would strongly discourage– although tomatoes are very acidic and usually keep well, when properly canned, it is important to make sure that you *do* properly can them to avoid botulism (unknown at the time of the recipe’s printing)
If you are unfamiliar with the canning process, pickyourown.org has a wonderful step by step instruction page with photographs for everything. If you are an experienced canner, then this will be an easy recipe to try– I know I’m looking forward to it! The salt and pepper will be a different taste from the garlic and lemon juice used in traditional tomato sauces, and just think of how delicious it will be to whip up some hearty soups this winter using your own canned fruits.
- Since there are no suggestions for number of tomatoes used, it should be noted that 7 large tomatoes will fill 1 quart or 4 half pint jars.
- Peeling the tomatoes is fairly easy with either a vegetable peeler, or by cutting an X into the bottom and scalding them in boiling water for a few seconds. Run them under cold water and the skins will slide right off.
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.
*Quoted from Wikipedia.com
Regency Dinner Parties
– Jane Austen
“The soup was fifty times better than what we had at the Lucases’ last week; and even Mr Darcy acknowledged, that the partridges were remarkably well done; and I suppose he has two or three French cooks at least.”
Mrs. Bennet, Pride and Prejudice
A Regency dinner party was quite an affair encompassing several courses with a multitude of dishes at each. Guests who sat down to eat were faced with soup, meat, game, pickles, jellies, vegetables, custards, puddings- anywhere from five to twenty five dishes depending on the grandeur of the occasion.
The first course would have been soup, which the host would supervise the serving of. When that was finished and cleared away, he would carve the larger joints of meat (mutton, beef, etc.). The Gentlemen of the party would serve themselves from the dishes in front of them, and offer them to their neighbors. If a dish was required from another part of the table, a manservant would be sent to fetch it. Fortunately guests were not expected to try every dish on the table!
When the main course was cleared a small dessert of salad and cheese was put in its place until that was cleared in favor of the second course, which was a variety much like the first including many dishes savoury and sweet. This, in turn, was cleared, the cloth taken away and Dessert was served- usually nuts, fruits, sweetmeats and perhaps ice cream.
At last the ladies would retire to the drawing room to gossip and embroider and chat for about an hour while the gentlemen enjoyed their Port in the dining room. They would then gather for tea and conversation- sometimes cards, and tea again- until the party broke up, quite late in the evening.
A period volume, True Politeness: A Handbook of Ettiquette for Ladies offers the following suggestions:
- The hostess takes the head of the table; the seat of honor for a gentleman is at her right hand; for a lady, it is to the right of the host.
- It is usual to commence with soup, which never refuse; if you do not eat is, you can toy with it until it is followed by fish…soup must be eaten from the side, not the point of the spoon; and in eating it, be careful not to make a noise, by strongly inhaling the breath: this habit is excessively vulgar; you cannot eat too quietly.
- Always feed yourself with the fork, a knife is only used as a divider. Use a dessert spoon in eating tarts, puddings, curres, &c., &c.
- If what you are eating before dessert has any liquid, sop the break and then raise it to the mouth.
- The mistress of the household should never appear to pride herself reagarding what is on her table…; it is much better for her to observe silence in this respect, and leave it to her guests to pronounce eulogiums on the dinner.
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Now we have heard how Mrs. Sedley had prepared a fine curry for her son, just as he liked it, and in the course of dinner a portion of this dish was offered to Rebecca. “What is it?” said she, turning an appealing look to Mr. Joseph.
“Capital,” said he. His mouth was full of it: his face quite red with the delightful exercise of gobbling. “Mother, it’s as good as my own curries in India.”
“Oh, I must try some, if it is an Indian dish,” said Miss Rebecca. “I am sure everything must be good that comes from there.”
“Give Miss Sharp some curry, my dear,” said Mr. Sedley, laughing.
Rebecca had never tasted the dish before.
“Do you find it as good as everything else from India?” said Mr. Sedley.
“Oh, excellent!” said Rebecca, who was suffering tortures with the cayenne pepper.
“Try a chili with it, Miss Sharp,” said Joseph, really interested.
“A chili,” said Rebecca, gasping. “Oh yes!” She thought a chili was something cool, as its name imported, and was served with some. “How fresh and green they look,” she said, and put one into her mouth. It was hotter than the curry; flesh and blood could bear it no longer. She laid down her fork. “Water, for Heaven’s sake, water!” she cried. Mr. Sedley burst out laughing (he was a coarse man, from the Stock Exchange, where they love all sorts of practical jokes). “They are real Indian, I assure you,” said he. “Sambo, give Miss Sharp some water.”
William Thackary, 1848
William Kitchiner, M.D. (1775-1827) was an optician, inventor of telescopes, amateur musician and exceptional cook. His name was a household word during the 19th century, and his Cook’s Oracle was a bestseller in England and America. Unlike most food writers of the time he cooked the food himself, washed up afterwards, and performed all the household tasks he wrote about. He travelled around with his portable cabinet of taste, a folding cabinet containing his mustards and sauces. He was also the creator of Wow-Wow Sauce.
The full title of the book was Apicius Redivivus, or the Cook’s Oracle. It is also listed as The Cook’s Oracle: Containing receipts for plain cookery on the most economical plan for private families, etc. The prefaces promises to “endeavour to hold the balance even, between the agreeable and the wholesome, and the Epicure and the Economist” It includes 11 ketchup recipes, including two each for mushroom, walnut and tomato ketchups, and one each for cucumber, oyster, cockle and mussel ketchups.
The following recipe shows the popularity of Indian in Georgian and Regency foods, the result of the East India Company’s influence on society. According to the researchers at foodandheritage.com, “Currystuff” was a mixture of spices, of which there are many receipts in the old British cookery books. The word curry is derived from the Tamil word kari. Mulaga means pepper and tawny (tanni) means water or broth, hence “peppery broth” is a good translation.
Take two quarts of water, and boil a nice fowl or chicken, then put in the following ingredients, a large white onion, a large chilly*, two teaspoonsful of ginger pounded, the same of currystuff, one teaspoonful of turmeric, and half a teaspoonful of black pepper: boil all these for half an hour, and then fry some small onions, and put them in. Season it with salt, and serve it up in a tureen. Obs. – It will be a great improvement, when the fowl is about half boiled, to take it up and cut it into pieces, and fry them and put them into the soup the last thing.
Find a Modern Equivalent at The Pioneer Woman Cooks
* The pod of which Cayenne pepper is made.
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Though now the middle of December, there had yet been no weather to prevent the young ladies from tolerably regular exercise; and on the morrow, Emma had a charitable visit to pay to a poor sick family, who lived a little way out of Highbury.
With great power comes great responsibility, or so the saying goes, and during the Regency, this adage certainly held true for the “Great Ladies” of the countryside. Certainly, there was an expectation that those who had, would share with those who had not, whether it was in Emma’s gift of a hind quarter of pork to the impoverished Bates’ or her visit to the sickly cottagers. Even so great a lady as Lady Catherine Du Bourgh was not above attending to such charitable visits herself…whether she was wanted or not!
Elizabeth soon perceived that though this great lady was not in the commission of the peace for the county, she was a most active magistrate in her own parish, the minutest concerns of which were carried to her by Mr Collins; and whenever any of the cottagers were disposed to be quarrelsome, discontented or too poor, she sallied forth into the village to settle their differences, silence their complaints, and scold them into harmony and plenty.
The following is copied from a private collection of recipes, circa 1760-1776. Since each housekeeper and cook would have her own favorite recipes copied into a book, it is not surprising that many such anonymous books survive. This soup would, no doubt, be very nourishing, and as it calls for 11 gallons of water, it would feed an army of poor cottagers!
To make Broth for the Poor
An ox head 1/2 peck of peas 2 pounds of oatmeal 4 pounds of onions of leaks do.(ditto)loaf toasted 90 pints of water. Well stewed together.
A Revised Recipe for Home Made Beef Stock
4 pounds Beef Or Veal Bones — Preferably Shank Or Bones
3 quarts Water
1 medium Onion — Coarsely Chopped
1 medium Bay Leaf
2 each Whole Cloves
1 teaspoon Dried Thyme — Crushed
6 each Peppercorns
8 each Sprigs Fresh Parsley
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Place the bones in a roasting pan and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, turning the bones once. Pour off the collected fat. Transfer the bones and the remaining ingredients to a large stock pot. Bring to a simmer and simmer 4 to 6 hours; do not BOIL! Skim the fat off the top and strain through a fine strainer lined with cheese cloth. Refrigerate. Fat will harden on the surface when chilled. Skim the fat from the top surface. This dish may be served as a light soup or used in recipes calling for beef broth.
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Mrs Norris felt herself defrauded of an office on which she had always depended, whether his arrival or his death were to be the thing unfolded; and was now trying to be in a bustle without having anything to bustle about, and labouring to be important where nothing was wanted but tranquillity and silence. Would Sir Thomas have consented to eat, she might have gone to the housekeeper with troublesome directions, and insulted the footmen with injunctions of despatch; but Sir Thomas resolutely declined all dinner: he would take nothing, nothing till tea came — he would rather wait for tea. Still Mrs Norris was at intervals urging something different; and in the most interesting moment of his passage to England, when the alarm of a French privateer was at the height, she burst through his recital with the proposal of soup.
“Sure, my dear Sir Thomas, a basin of soup would be a much better thing for you than tea. Do have a basin of soup.” Sir Thomas could not be provoked. “Still the same anxiety for everybody’s comfort, my dear Mrs Norris,” was his answer. “But indeed I would rather have nothing but tea.”
The French word “pottage” originally meant a “Standing” (heavy or thick) soup, different from “soupe” a mixture of “sops” (bread, gravy, etc.) boiled over a fire. In the following recipe, the duck could easily be replaced by chicken creating something very near today’s chicken soup, perfect for a chilly fall day.
To Make French Pottage
Take 3 ducks & halfe roste ym, then put ym in a pipkin with strong broth, streyned, put in 3 or 4 carrets & as much cabbage as a penny loaf, & a little whole mace. when yr cabbage is tende[r], take up yr rootes & cut ym dice wayes, & put ym in againe, yn p[ut] to ym some strong gravie, a little white wine, & an anchovy or 2, shread small, If you please, you may stew yr ducks in another pipkin in part of yr broth till they are enough, then lay them on yr dish & poure ye cabbage & broth upon ym, & garnish yr dish with fryde parsley & salt.
From Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery
Roasting the fowl before putting it in the soup will give it a lovely flavor. Duck is darker and fattier than chicken, so if you use duck, make sure you skim the top of the soup before serving it. Modern cooks might omit the anchovy as well, if they so desired since it is purely a matter of taste. Clearly the most important part of this soup is a good strong broth to begin it all. Instructions for a wonderful broth as well as several other variations of chicken soup can be found here, at The Pioneer Woman Cooks.
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