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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 waxantiques.com

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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What would you ask Jane Austen if you could?

New Jane Austen Portrait

New Jane Austen PortraitWhat one question would you ask Jane Austen?

We posed a question on our Jane Austen Facebook site recently, ‘What one question would you ask Jane Austen if you could?’ Well, we got some great answers, here’s a selection;

Sarah obviously acutely aware of the value of a signed novel would ask,  “can you sign my copy of your book?”  We like that one.

More technically, Fatima suggested, ‘I’d ask for the ending of Sanditon.’
On a lighter note Betty suggested, Was the Apple Pie your favourite?

Here’s one from Dorothy who like many others struggled with Jane’s 3rd book – “What were you trying to achieve with Mansfield Park and what went wrong?”

There were a number looking for insights into Jane’s love life and the content of those burned letters to her sister.

Take a look for yourself on our Jane Austen Facebook site. You will find lots of other interesting items to take your fancy.

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Here’s To You: A History of the Toast

His leave of absence will soon expire, and he must return to his regiment. And what will then be their acquaintance? The mess-room will drink Isabella Thorpe for a fortnight, and she will laugh with your brother over poor Tilney’s passion for a month.”
-Northanger Abbey

The term “Toast” didn’t come into being until the 16th century, and possibly earlier (our original source said 17th, but Shakespeare mentions it in Merry Wives of Windsor, so thpbbtt to them!), when it became customary to put a piece of toasted bread or crouton into the drink to either improve flavor, or as sort of a built-in snack. Adding flavorings to wine was nothing new.

Spices, aromatics, honey, raisins, saffron, mint, sea water, rose petals, pepper, violets, resin and a multitude of other additives had been used to alter or improve the flavor of wine (which makes me think that the modern day fruit-flavored wine producers aren’t being all that original . . . but I digress). The toast craze, however, caught on, and soon anything found floating in a drink was called a toast.

“Drinking a toast” to someone or something became immensely popular in the 17th and 18th centuries, to the point of excess. When a gathering would run out of attendees to toast, it became custom to toast absent friends, thus prolonging the drinking. It was during this period, the heyday of the toast, that the position of Toastmaster came into being. A sort of party referee, the Toastmaster’s duty was to make sure that everyone got a fair chance and equal opportunity to offer toasts. Elaborate drinking games and toasting competitions became popular, as well as some rather gruesome customs. Impressing the ladies (or perhaps the other guys) seemed to be the motivation for most of these. Young men would sometimes stab themselves in the arm, mix their blood with their wine and drink it to the their wine when toasting a young woman to prove their devotion and prowess (hmm . . . students haven’t changed much, have they?), and the practice of drinking to a lady’s beauty from her shoe came into being, though I can’t imagine any lady being particularly amused by that.

Predictably, this excess eventually led to a backlash. Anti-toasting movements and laws began to appear, although they were largely unsuccessful. Eventually, the boisterous excess calmed down and toasting became once more an intellectual affair. Toasting clubs began to emerge and toasting evolved into a way to promote moral doctrine and patriotism, making toasting a social custom instead of a drinking one. William Jennings Bryan, a teetotaler himself, once toasted the British Navy with a glass of water, saying, “Gentlemen, I believe your victories were won on water.” British Ambassador rose and toasted, “George the Third, who, like the sun in its meridian spreads a luster throughout and enlightens the world.” He was followed by the French minister, who toasted, “The illustrious Louis the Sixteenth who, like the moon, sheds his mild and benevolent rays on and influences the globe.” Franklin then rose and toasted, “George Washington, commander of the American armies, who, like Joshua of old, commanded the sun and the moon to stand still, and both obeyed.”

We just don’t get great toasts like that anymore. Then again, nobody is asking you to thrust a bayonet in your arm to prove your manhood, so perhaps we should count our blessings.

Reprinted with permission from Scheid Vineyards: The Twisted Vine, Holiday 1999

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The Georgian Breakfast

The elegance of the breakfast set forced itself on Catherine’s notice when they were seated at table
Northanger Abbey

Breakfast, as we know it, was developed during the Regency. Prior to this a late morning meal of tea and coffee, rolls, breads, meats, eggs, etc. was provided around 10 a.m. Upon a visit to Stoneleigh Abbey, Mrs Austen, Jane’s mother, was known to have remarked on the quantity of food at breakfast, listing, “Chocolate Coffee and Tea, Plumb Cake, Pound Cake, Hot Rolls, Cold Rolls, Bread and Butter, and dry toast for me”.

The lateness of the breakfast hour allowed people to run many errands which we would normally consider suitable for later in the day such as a visit to the park or library. While “morning calls” were actually made to friends in the afternoon, other events did take place. Until the late 1880’s, weddings were required by law, to be morning affairs. This paved the way for Wedding Breakfasts- the ancestor to today’s wedding receptions. Breakfast and Wedding cake were served and the party broke up in the early afternoon allowing the couple time to travel to their new home or honeymoon destination.

As the working/Middle class became a greater part of society, mealtimes changed and an early meal around 8 or 9 in the morning was needed to start tradesmen and professionals on their way. This meal would have been eaten in the drawing room or dining room and would have revolved around cakes and breads such as Brioche, French bread, toast, plum cake and honey cake. Tea and chocolate were popular drinks to accompany this meal. In the Austen household, it was Jane’s job to prepare breakfast for the family around 9 every morning. The Austen’s breakfast consisted of pound cake, toast, tea and occassionally cocoa.

Jane often used the hour before breakfast for her own personal time. Her neice, Anna Lefroy describes the routine: “Aunt Jane began her day with music – for which I conclude she had a natural taste; as she thus kept it up – ‘tho she had no one to teach; was never induced (as I have heard) to play in company; and none of her family cared much for it. I suppose that she might not trouble them, she chose her practising time before breakfast – when she could have the room to herself – She practised regularly every morning – She played very pretty tunes, I thought – and I liked to stand by her and listen to them; but the music (for I knew the books well in after years) would now be thought disgracefully easy – Much that she played from was manuscript, copied out by herself – and so neatly and correctly, that it was as easy to read as print.”

Laura Boyle runs Austentation: Regency Accessories. Creators of custom made Regency Hats, Bonnets and Accessories.

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