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The Beefsteak Club

The Beefsteak Club

The Beefsteak Club is the name or nickname of several 18th and 19th-century male dining clubs that celebrated the beefsteak as a symbol of patriotic and often Whig  (liberal) concepts of liberty and prosperity.

The location of the current Beefsteak Club.
The location of the current Beefsteak Club.

The first beefsteak club was founded about 1705 in London by the actor Richard Estcourt and others in the arts and politics. This club flourished for less than a decade. The Sublime Society of Beef Steaks was established in 1735 by another performer, John Rich, at the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, where he was then manager, and George Lambert, his scenic artist, with two dozen members of the theatre and arts community (Samuel Johnson joined in 1780). The society became much celebrated, and new members included royalty, statesmen and great soldiers: in 1785, the Prince of Wales joined.

1793 press report – "Club" and "Society" are used interchangeably.
1793 press report – “Club” and “Society” are used interchangeably.

At the weekly meetings, the members wore a blue coat and buff waistcoat with brass buttons bearing a gridiron motif and the words “Beef and liberty”. The steaks and baked potatoes were accompanied by port or porter. After dinner, the evening was given up to noisy revelry. The club met almost continuously until 1867. Sir Henry Irving continued its tradition in the late nineteenth century.

The first known beefsteak club (the Beef-Stake Club, Beef-Steak Clubb or Honourable Beef-Steak Club) seems to have been that founded in about 1705 in London. It was started by some seceders from the Whiggish Kit-Cat Club, “desirous of proving substantial beef was as prolific a food for an English wit as pies and custards for a Kit-cat beau.” The actor Richard Estcourt was its “providore” or president and its most popular member. William Chetwood in A General History of the Stage is the much quoted source that the “chief Wits and great men of the nation” were members of this club. This was the first beefsteak club known to have used a gridiron as its badge. In 1708, Dr. William King dedicated his poem “Art of Cookery” to “the Honourable Beef Steak Club”. His poem includes the couplet:

He that of Honour, Wit and Mirth partakes,
May be a fit Companion o’er Beef-steaks.

The club originally met at the Imperial Phiz public house in Old Jewry in the City of London, but finding that venue not private enough, it ceased to meet there, and by 1709 it was not known “whether they have healed the breach and returned into the Kit-Cat community [or] … remove from place to place to prevent discovery.” Joseph Addison referred to the club in The Spectator in 1711 as still functioning. The historian Colin J. Horne suggests that the club may have come to an end with the death of Estcourt in 1712. There was also a “Rump-Steak or Liberty Club” (also called “The Patriots Club”) of London, which was in existence in 1733–34, whose members were “eager in opposition to Sir Robert Walpole”.

Badge of the Sublime Society: a gridiron and the motto "Beef and Liberty".
Badge of the Sublime Society: a gridiron and the motto “Beef and Liberty”.

The Sublime Society of Beef Steaks was established in 1735 by John Rich at the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, of which he was then manager. One version of its origin has it that the Earl of Peterborough, supping one night with Rich in his private room, was so delighted with the steak Rich grilled him that he suggested a repetition of the meal the next week. Another version is that George Lambert, the scene-painter at the theatre, was often too busy to leave the theatre and “contented himself with a beefsteak broiled upon the fire in the painting-room.” His visitors so enjoyed sharing this dish that they set up the Sublime Society. William and Robert Chambers, writing in 1869, favour the second version, noting that Peterborough was not one of the original members. A third version, favoured by the historian of the society, Walter Arnold, is that the society was formed out of the regular dinners shared at the theatre by Rich and Lambert, consisting of hot steak dressed by Rich, accompanied by “a bottle of old port from the tavern hard by.” Whatever the details of its genesis, Rich and Lambert are listed as the first two of the society’s twenty-four founding members. Women were not admitted. From the outset, the society strove to avoid the term “club”, but the shorter “Beefsteak Club” was soon used by many as an informal alternative.

steak and onions copy
Mr. Darcy’s Favourite Beef-Steak” from Cooking with Jane Austen and Friends.

The early core of the society was made up of actors, artists, writers and musicians, among them William Hogarth (a founder-member), David Garrick (possibly), John Wilkes (elected 1754), Samuel Johnson (1780), and John Philip Kemble (1805). The society soon became much celebrated and these men of the arts were joined by noblemen, royalty, statesmen and great soldiers: in 1785, the Prince of Wales joined, and later his brothers the Dukes of Clarence and Sussex became members.

Meetings were held every Saturday between November and June. All members were required to wear the society’s uniform – a blue coat and buff waistcoat with brass buttons. The buttons bore a gridiron motif and the words “Beef and liberty”. The steaks were served on hot pewter plates, with onions and baked potatoes, and were accompanied by port or porter. The only second course offered was toasted cheese. After dinner, the tablecloth was removed, the cook collected the money, and the rest of the evening was given up to noisy revelry.

The Dining Room of the club, from it's Lyceaum days.
The Dining Room of the club, from it’s Lyceum days.

The society met at Covent Garden until the fire of 1808, when it moved first to the Bedford Coffee House, and thence the following year to the Old Lyceum Theatre. On the burning of the Lyceum in 1830, “The Steaks” met again in the Bedford Coffee House until 1838, when the Lyceum reopened, and a large room there was allotted to the club. These meetings were held till the society ceased to exist in 1867. Its decline in its last twenty or so years was due to changing fashion: many of its members were no longer free on Saturdays, being either engaged in events in London’s social season or else away from London at weekends, something much encouraged by the opening of railways. The customary time for dinner had also changed. The society moved its dinner time from 4.00 p.m. in 1808, to 6.00 p.m. in 1833 and to 7.00 p.m. in 1861, and finally to 8.00 p.m. in 1866, but the change inconvenienced the members who preferred the old timing and did not attract new members. Moreover, in Victorian England, its Georgian heartiness and ritual, and old-fashioned uniform, no longer appealed. By 1867 the society had only eighteen members, and the average attendance at dinners had dwindled to two. The club was wound up in 1867, and its assets were auctioned at Christie’s, raising a little over £600.

Thomas Sheridan founded a “Beefsteak Club” in Dublin at the Theatre Royal in 1749, and of this Peg Woffington was president. According to William and Robert Chambers, writing in 1869, “it could hardly be called a club at all, seeing all expenses were defrayed by Manager Sheridan, who likewise invited the guests – generally peers and members of parliament. … Such weekly meetings were common to all theatres, it being a custom for the principal performers to dine together every Saturday and invite ‘authors and other geniuses’ to partake of their hospitality.”

The Liberty Beef Steak Club sought to show solidarity with the radical John Wilkes MP and met at Appleby’s Tavern in Parliament Street, London for an unknown duration after Wilkes’s return from exile in France in 1768.

The Sublime Society of Beef Steaks was re-formed in 1966 and has met continually since then. Several nineteenth century members have lineal descendants among today’s membership, who wear the original blue and buff uniform (of a Regency character) and buttons and adhere to the 1735 constitution whenever practicable. This revival started to meet at the Irish Club, Eaton Square, in 1966, then at the Beefsteak Club, Irving Street, and today meets in a private room at the Boisdale Club and Restaurant in Belgravia/Victoria and, annually, at White’s Club in St James’s, where it is able to dine at the early society’s nineteenth century table and where it also keeps the early society’s original “President’s Chair”, which Queen Elizabeth II gave to the current society in 1969. Although other of the society’s relics (such as the original Grid Iron, Sword of State, Halberts and early members’ chairs, rings, glasses, documents, etc.) have passed down to members of the current society from ancestors in the original society, the current society “leaves such items in safety, keeping less fragile replicas and proxy items for its normal meetings in Central London”. Other early customs of the original society, such as the singing and composition of songs, are also encouraged by the current society.

The Beefsteak Club that today has premises at 9 Irving Street, London, was established in 1876. When it was founded as a successor to the Sublime Society, its members hoped to rent the society’s dining room at the Lyceum. As that room was not available, the club held its first meeting, on 11 March 1876, in rooms above the Folly Theatre in King William IV Street. Two features of the club were, and are, that all members and guests sit together at a single long table, and that by tradition the club steward and the waiters are all addressed as “Charles”.

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Chateaubriand Steak

François-René, Vicomte de Chateaubriand (September 4, 1768 – July 4, 1848) was, in his day, a celebrated author, however his name lives on in the tender beef dish named after him. That he was the inspiration is not in doubt, however, the history of the dish gets muddled from that point on. Was it created by his chef, Montmireil? Was it prepared by the Champeaux restaurant in honor of Chateaubriand’s celebrated 1811 work, Itinéraire de Paris à Jérusalem (Itinerary from Paris to Jerusalem). Still others claim that it derives its name from the famed Chateaubriant beef cattle, raised by the family.

Regardless, this dish, once made from a sirloin, now refers to meat from the tenderest part of a beef tenderloin (the most expensive cut in the whole cow) with a sauce made from broth, butter, shallots, wine and herbs.

Chateaubriand with Bearnaise by FotoosVanRobin from Rotterdam, Netherlands - Chateaubriand with Bearnaise Uploaded by FAEP. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Commons -
Chateaubriand with Bearnaise @ Urola, San Sebastian. 16 April 2007.

The following recipes, from The Royal Cookery Book (Jules Gouffé, 1869) give some idea of the complexity that goes into preparing this classic French dish.

"The
The basic recipe and it’s “footnote”.
Now for the sauce...
Now for the sauce…
Espagnole Sauce, one of Careme's four "Mother Sauces"
Espagnole Sauce, one of Careme’s four “Mother Sauces”
Maitre d'Hotel Butter
And finally, the Maitre d’Hotel Butter.

 

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François-René, Vicomte de Chateaubriand

briandFrançois-René, Vicomte de Chateaubriand ( September 4, 1768 in Saint-Malo – July 4, 1848 in Paris) was a French writer, politician, diplomat, and historian, who is considered the founder of Romanticism in French literature. Descended from an old aristocratic family from Brittany, Chateaubriand was a royalist by political disposition; in an age when a number of intellectuals turned against the Church, he authored the Génie du christianisme in defense of the Catholic faith. His autobiography Mémoires d’outre-tombe (“Memoirs from Beyond the Grave'”, published posthumously in 1849–1850), is nowadays generally considered his most accomplished work.

Born in Saint-Malo, the last of 10 children, Chateaubriand grew up in his family’s castle in Combourg, Brittany. His father, René de Chateaubriand (1718–86), was a former sea captain turned ship owner and slave trader. His mother’s maiden name was Apolline de Bedée. Chateaubriand’s father was a morose, uncommunicative man, and the young Chateaubriand grew up in an atmosphere of gloomy solitude, only broken by long walks in the Breton countryside and an intense friendship with his sister Lucile.

Combourg by Targut - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons
Combourg by Targut – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

Chateaubriand was educated in Dol, Rennes and Dinan. For a time he could not make up his mind whether he wanted to be a naval officer or a priest, but at the age of seventeen, he decided on a military career and gained a commission as a second lieutenant in the French Army based at Navarre. Within two years, he had been promoted to the rank of captain. He visited Paris in 1788 where he made the acquaintance of Jean-François de La Harpe, André Chénier, Louis-Marcelin de Fontanes and other leading writers of the time. When the French Revolution broke out, Chateaubriand was initially sympathetic, but as events in Paris became more violent he decided to journey to North America in 1791. He was given the idea to leave Europe by Chrétien-Guillaume de Lamoigon de Malesherbes, who also encouraged him to do some botanical studies.

In Voyage en Amérique, published in 1826, Chateaubriand writes that he arrived in Philadelphia on July 10, 1791. He visited New York, Boston and Lexington, before leaving by boat on the Hudson River to reach Albany. He then followed the Mohawk trail up the Niagara Falls where he broke his arm and spent a month in recovery in the company of a Native American tribe. Chateaubriand then describes Native American tribes’ customs, as well as zoological, political and economic consideration. He then lets believe throughout few pages that a raid along the Ohio River, the Mississippi, Louisiana and Florida took him back to Philadelphia, where he embarked on the Molly in November to go back to France.

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This experience provided the setting for his exotic novels Les Natchez (written between 1793 and 1799 but published only in 1826), Atala (1801) and René (1802). His vivid, captivating descriptions of nature in the sparsely settled American Deep South were written in a style that was very innovative for the time and spearheaded what later became the Romantic movement in France. As soon as 1916, scholarship has cast doubt on Chateaubriand’s claims that he was granted an interview with George Washington and that he actually lived for a time with the Native Americans he wrote about. The veracity of entire sections of the itinerary Chateaubriand pretended to follow are questioned, notably his passage through the Mississippi valley, Louisiana and Florida.

Chateaubriand returned to France in 1792 and subsequently joined the army of Royalist émigrés in Coblenz under the leadership of Louis Joseph de Bourbon, Prince de Condé. Under strong pressure from his family, he married a young aristocratic woman, also from Saint-Malo, whom he had never previously met, Céleste Buisson de la Vigne. In later life, Chateaubriand was notoriously unfaithful to her, having a series of love affairs. His military career came to an end when he was wounded at the siege of Thionville, a major clash between Royalist troops and the French Revolutionary Army. Half-dead, he was taken to Jersey and exile in England, leaving his wife behind.

François-René de Chateaubriand by Anne-Louis Girodet de Roussy-Trioson, sometime after 1808.
François-René de Chateaubriand by Anne-Louis Girodet de Roussy-Trioson, sometime after 1808.

Chateaubriand spent most of his exile in extreme poverty in London, scraping a living offering French lessons and doing translation work, but a stay in Suffolk (Beccles) was more idyllic. Here Chateaubriand fell in love with a young English woman, Charlotte Ives, but the romance ended when he was forced to reveal he was already married. During his time in Britain, Chateaubriand also became familiar with English literature. This reading, particularly of John Milton’s Paradise Lost (which he later translated into French prose), had a deep influence on his own literary work.

His exile forced Chateaubriand to examine the causes of the French Revolution, which had cost the lives of many of his family and friends; these reflections inspired his first work, Essai sur les Révolutions (1797). An attempt in 18th Century style to explain the French Revolution, it predated his subsequent, romantic style of writing and was largely ignored. A major turning point in Chateaubriand’s life was his conversion back to the Catholic faith of his childhood around 1798.

Chateaubriand took advantage of the amnesty issued to émigrés to return to France in May, 1800 (under the French Consulate), Chateaubriand edited the Mercure de France. In 1802, he won fame with Génie du christianisme (“The Genius of Christianity”), an apology for the Catholic Christian faith which contributed to the post-revolutionary religious revival in France. It also won him the favour of Napoleon Bonaparte, who was eager to win over the Catholic Church at the time.

Appointed secretary of the legation to the Holy See by Napoleon, he accompanied Cardinal Fesch to Rome. But the two men soon quarrelled and Chateaubriand was nominated as minister to Valais (in Switzerland). He resigned his post in disgust after Napoleon ordered the execution in 1804 of Louis XVI’s cousin, Louis-Antoine-Henri de Bourbon-Condé, duc d’Enghien. Chateaubriand was, after his resignation, completely dependent on his literary efforts. However, and quite unexpectedly, he received a large sum of money from the Russian Tsarina Elizabeth Alexeievna. She had seen him as a defender of Christianity and thus worthy of her royal support.

Chateaubriand lends his name to the famous beef dish supposedly created by his personal chef, possibly in 1811.
Chateaubriand lends his name to the famous beef dish supposedly created by his personal chef, possibly in 1811.

Chateaubriand used his new-found wealth in 1806 to visit Greece, Asia Minor, Palestine, Egypt and Spain. The notes he made on his travels later formed part of a prose epic, Les Martyrs, set during the Roman persecution of early Christianity. His notes also furnished a running account of the trip itself, published in 1811 as the Itinéraire de Paris à Jérusalem (Itinerary from Paris to Jerusalem). The Spanish stage of the journey inspired a third novella, Les aventures du dernier Abencérage (The Adventures of the Last Abencerrage), which appeared in 1826.

On his return to France, he published a severe criticism of Napoleon, comparing him to Nero and predicting the emergence of a new Tacitus. Napoleon famously threatened to have Chateaubriand sabered on the steps of the Tulieries Palace for it, but settled for merely banishing him from the city. Chateaubriand retired to a modest estate he called La Vallée aux Loups (“Wolf Valley”), in Châtenay-Malabry, 11 km (6.8 mi) south of central Paris. Here he finished Les Martyrs, which appeared in 1809, and began the first drafts of his memoirs. He was elected to the Académie française in 1811, but, given his plan to infuse his acceptance speech with criticism of the Revolution, he could not occupy his seat until after the Bourbon Restoration. His literary friends during this period included Madame de Staël, Joseph Joubert and Pierre-Simon Ballanche.

After the fall of the French Empire, Chateaubriand rallied to the Bourbons. On 30 March 1814, he wrote a pamphlet against Napoleon, titled De Buonaparte et des Bourbons, of which thousands of copies were published. He then followed Louis XVIII into exile to Ghent during the Hundred Days (March–July 1815), and was nominated ambassador to Sweden.

After Napoleon’s defeat, Chateaubriand became peer of France and state minister (1815). In December 1815 he voted for Marshal Ney’s execution. However, his criticism of King Louis XVIII, after the Chambre introuvable was dissolved, got him disgraced. He lost his function of state minister, and joined the opposition, siding with the Ultra-royalist group supporting the future Charles X, and becoming one of the main writers of its mouthpiece, Le Conservateur.

800px-Charles-Ferdinand-Berry
Charles Ferdinand d’Artois, Duke of Berry (24 January 1778 – 14 February 1820) was the youngest son of the future King of France, Charles X. He was assassinated at the Paris Opera in 1820 by Louis Pierre Louvel, an anti-royal Bonapartist.

Chateaubriand sided again with the Court after the murder of the Duc de Berry (1820), writing for the occasion the Mémoires sur la vie et la mort du duc. He then served as ambassador to Prussia (1821) and the United Kingdom (1822), and even rose to the office of Minister of Foreign Affairs (28 December 1822 – 4 August 1824). A plenipotentiary to the Congress of Verona (1822), he decided in favor of the Quintuple Alliance’s intervention in Spain during the Trienio Liberal, despite opposition from the Duke of Wellington. Although the move was considered a success, Chateaubriand was soon relieved of his office by Prime Minister Jean-Baptiste de Villèle, the leader of the ultra-royalist group, on 5 June 1824.

Consequently, he moved towards the liberal opposition, both as a Peer and as a contributor to Journal des Débats (his articles there gave the signal of the paper’s similar switch, which, however, was more moderate than Le National, directed by Adolphe Thiers and Armand Carrel). Opposing Villèle, he became highly popular as a defender of press freedom and the cause of Greek independence. After Villèle’s downfall, Charles X appointed him ambassador to the Holy See in 1828, but he resigned upon the accession of the Prince de Polignac as premier (November 1829).

The title page for an 1849 edition of  Mémoires d'outre-tombe.
The title page for an 1849 edition of Mémoires d’outre-tombe.

In 1830, after the July Revolution, his refusal to swear allegiance to the new House of Orléans king Louis-Philippe put an end to his political career. He withdrew from political life to write his Mémoires d’outre-tombe (“Memoirs from Beyond the Grave'”, published posthumously in 2 volumes in 1849–1850), which is considered his most accomplished work, and his Études historiques (4 vols., designed as an introduction to a projected History of France). He also became a harsh critic of the “bourgeois king” and the July Monarchy, and his planned volume on the arrest of the duchesse de Berry caused him to be unsuccessfully prosecuted.

Chateaubriand, along with other Catholic traditionalists such as Ballanche or, on the other side of the political board, the socialist and republican Pierre Leroux, was then one of the few to attempt to conciliate the three terms of Liberté, égalité and fraternité, beyond the antagonism between liberals and socialists concerning the interpretation to give to the seemingly contradictory terms.[7] Chateaubriand thus gave a Christian interpretation of the revolutionary motto, stating in the 1841 conclusion to his Mémoires d’outre-tombe:

Far from being at its term, the religion of the Liberator is now only just entering its third phase, the political period, liberty, equality, fraternity

In his final years, he lived as a recluse in an apartment 120 rue du Bac, Paris, only leaving his house to pay visits to Juliette Récamier in l’Abbaye-aux-Bois. His final work, Vie de Rancé, was written at the suggestion of his confessor and published in 1844. It is a biography of Armand Jean le Bouthillier de Rancé, a worldly seventeenth-century French aristocrat who withdrew from society to become the founder of the Trappist order of monks. The parallels with Chateaubriand’s own life are striking. Chateaubriand died in Paris during the Revolution of 1848 and was buried, as he had requested, on the tidal island Grand Bé near Saint-Malo, accessible only when the tide is out.

St-Malo_Tombe_Chateaubriand_2010
“St-Malo Tombe Chateaubriand 2010” by Photo: JLPC /  Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons – mm

For his talent as much as his excesses, Chateaubriand may be considered the father of French Romanticism. His descriptions of Nature and his analysis of emotion made him the model for a generation of Romantic writers, not only in France but also abroad. For example, Lord Byron was deeply impressed by René. The young Victor Hugo scribbled in a notebook, “To be Chateaubriand or nothing.” Even his enemies found it hard to avoid his influence. Stendhal, who despised him for political reasons, made use of his psychological analyses in his own book, De l’amour.

George Brandes, in 1901, compared the works of Chateaubriand to those of Rousseau and others:

The year 1800 was the first to produce a book bearing the imprint of the new era, a work small in size, but great in significance and mighty in the impression it made. Atala took the French public by storm in a way which no book had done since the days of Paul and Virginia. It was a romance of the plains and mysterious forests of North America, with a strong, strange aroma of the untilled soil from which it sprang; it glowed with rich foreign colouring, and with the fiercer glow of consuming passion.

“We are convinced that the great writers have told their own story in their works”, wrote Chateaubriand in Génie du christianisme, “one only truly describes one’s own heart by attributing it to another, and the greater part of genius is composed of memories.” This is certainly true of Chateaubriand himself. All his works have strong autobiographical elements, overt or disguised. Perhaps this is the reason why today Mémoires d’outre-tombe are regarded as his finest achievement.

Images and information from wikipedia.com

 

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Mr. Darcy’s Favourite Beef-Steak Dinner

Mr Darcy’s Favourite Beef-Steak Dinner

“We sate down to dinner a little after five, and had some beef-steaks and a boiled fowl, but no oyster sauce.”
Jane Austen to Cassandra
October 24, 1798

 

Georgian England was famous for its beef. All parts of the animal were used, from the cheeks to the tail, and these in turn were prepared in any number of way: Soups, pies, puddings, sausages, roasts, ragouts, steaks and more.  Many of the recipes are still familiar to us today. This recipe, with its shallot gravy is a delicious take on traditional steak and as a bonus, cooks up in about ten minutes. This is likely to have been one of Darcy’s favourites.

To Fry Beef-Steaks
Take rump steaks, pepper and salt them, fry them in a little butter very quick and brown; take them out, and put them into a dish, pour the fat out of the frying pan, and then take a half a pint of hot gravy; if no gravy, half a pint of hot water, and put into the pan, and a little butter rolled in flour, a little pepper and salt, and two or three shallots chopped fine: boil them up in your pan for two minutes, then put it over the steaks, and send them to the table.
Hannah Glasse: The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy

  • 2- 454 g / 16 oz /1 Lb Rump Steaks
  • 2tbsp Butter, divided
  • 1 tbsp Flour
  • 240 ml / 8 fl oz /1 cup Beef Broth
  • 3 Shallots, sliced in fine rings
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Melt one tablespoon of butter in a large skillet over a medium to high heat. Add your steaks and salt and pepper them to taste. Fry them 3-5 minutes per side, turning once, until they are completely brown and crispy. Remove them from the pan to your serving plate

Add the broth to the pan and allow it to come to a boil. Roll the remaining tablespoon of butter in the flour and add to the hot broth, stirring well to avoid lumps. Add the shallots, salt and pepper to the gravy and boil them all together for 2 minutes. Pour this sauce over the steaks and serve them immediately.

Serves 4

 


Excerpted from Cooking with Jane Austen and Friends by Laura Boyle.

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.