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Jane Austen News – Issue 140

The Jane Austen News has a wedding reading list this week

What’s the Jane Austen News this week? 


Forget Books Before You Die, Try Books Before You Wed

There are plenty of lists which lay out which books you need to read before you die, but one the Jane Austen News hasn’t come across before is a list of books to read before your wedding day. However, that’s exactly what we’ve come across this week, and we were very pleased to see that Pride and Prejudice made the list of five must-read books.

The majority of the list was non-fiction books, covering a range of subjects, but Pride and Prejudice was included on the list as it “will help you understand the difference between what’s material and essential in every relationship.”

The full list was:

Mindful Relationship Habits by S. J. Scott and Barrie Davenport – this book describes how to stay connected to your spouse even after being together for a long time.

The Kamasutra by Vatsyayana – tips on how to keep your sexual life varied

Every Woman by Derek Llewellyn-Jones – this book talks about female health issues like puberty, pregnancy, and menopause.

It’s Not You, It’s The Dishes by Paula Szuchman and Jenny Anderson – a book highlighting the importance of communication and role-playing.

Pride And Prejudice by Jane Austen – a must for so many reasons!

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Jane Austen News – Issue 53

The Jane Austen News is Dan and Lisa's Wedding

What’s the Jane Austen News this week?   

Pride and Prejudice Comes to Bath 

photo09This week in Bath we had the cast of Regent’s Park Theatre’s touring production of Pride and Prejudice on stage at the Theatre Royal, and we were lucky enough to be able to ask Ben Dilloway who plays Mr Darcy a few questions about performing in the city.

 

JAC: What has been the highlight of embarking on this tour during the 200th Anniversary year so far?

Ben: Bath has to be a highlight. The words of the play flow so easily in such a place and it feels great to have the Jane Austen Centre just around the corner, especially on such an important anniversary year.

JAC: Have you had to fight off many Mr Darcy fans?

Ben: Not as yet! Luckily the Austen crowds are utterly distinguished and keep all extremities of emotion firmly under their bonnets.

JAC:  How does it feel to be performing in Bath, considering its connection to Jane Austen? Has the cast felt a greater sense of connection with her while staying here?

Ben: I would say so, with such a city, steeped in history, its almost second nature to speak these words and adhere to the otherwise seemingly dated social norms.

JAC: How does adapting Pride and Prejudice for the stage add to the story and its themes?

Ben: It’s a real challenge to fit such a huge amount of information from the book into a mere two hours and thirty minutes. It’s certainly added to the energy of everyone’s desires.

JAC: Why do you feel Jane’s work is still important and relevant today?

Ben: If anything it is more modern than old. It talks of timeless things such as love, and debunks the trivial social expectations of the time. 

JAC: Well said. Thanks Ben!

 


New Jane Austen Statue Planned 

_93667520_mediaitem93667519A maquette (a wax or clay model from which a work is elaborated) for a new statue of Jane Austen has been unveiled. The maquette is about two thirds the size of the £100,000 life-sized bronze sculpture which is to be placed in Basingstoke town centre in July to mark the bicentenary of the author’s death.

the team We’re looking forward to seeing the final work and having a look at what similarities the statue has with our own Jane Austen – a waxwork completed by an FBI-trained forensic artist and her award-winning, internationally renowned team in 2014.

The maquette has been made by sculptor Adam Roud who said that he wanted his vision of Jane to have “poise and dynamism”.

She is walking in the square and someone has just said ‘good morning Jane’. She was a real person with her own character and hopefully I can get across she was a headstrong woman of her time, but is relevant to us today because of her novels.


Continue reading Jane Austen News – Issue 53

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The Regency Wedding Breakfast

During the Regency, weddings were often held first thing in the morning with the bridal couple and their guests returning home to celebrate with a wedding breakfast, a precursor to the modern wedding reception, before departing to their new home, or perhaps on their honeymoon.

A noisy family breakfast...
A noisy family breakfast…

Jane Austen’s niece Caroline (daughter of James) gave a wonderful description of her sister Anna’s wedding to family friend Benjamin Lefroy on November 8, 1814:

“My sister’s wedding was certainly in the extreme of quietness… The season of the year, the unfrequented road to the church, the grey light within… no stove to give warmth, no flowers to give colour and brightness, no friends, high or low, to offer their good wishes, and so to claim some interest in the great event of the day – all these circumstances and deficiencies must, I think, have given a gloomy air to the wedding…Weddings were then usually very quiet. The old fashion of festivity and publicity had quite gone by, and was universally condemned as showing the bad taste of all former generations…. This was the order of the day. The bridegroom came from Ashe, where he had hitherto lived with his brother (the Rector), and with him came Mr. and Mrs. Lefroy, and his other brother, Mr. Edward Lefroy…. My brother came from Winchester that morning, but was to stay only a few hours. We in the house had a slight early breakfast upstairs, and between nine and ten the bride, my mother, Mrs. Lefroy, Anne, and myself were taken to church in our carriage. All the gentlemen walked.”

She continues: “Mr. Lefroy read the service, and my father gave his daughter away. No one was in the church but ourselves, and no one was asked to the breakfast, to which we sat down as soon as we got back…The breakfast was such as best breakfasts then were. Some variety of bread, hot rolls, buttered toast, tongue, ham and eggs. The addition of chocolate at one end of the table and the wedding-cake in the middle marked the speciality of the day...soon after the breakfast the bride and bridegroom departed. They had a long day’s journey before them to Hendon…. In the evening the servants had cake and wine.”

Edmund Blair Leighton, Signing the Register, 1920.
Edmund Blair Leighton, Signing the Register, 1920.

It should be noted, however, that Caroline was writing in later years. There is some disagreement in how early the term actually came to be applied to what was, in earlier times, thought of as a “wedding feast”. Although it is not specifically mentioned in Jane Austen’s novels, based on Caroline’s descriptions, I personally think it was an accepted term in her day. The first recorded mention of a wedding breakfast in print is in the London Times on January 15, 1838, when a book reviewer quotes from The Veteran, by John Harley, ‘C— and his bride returned to the coffee house, where they were received with great kindness the master and mistress who, notwithstanding the short notice, had a comfortable wedding-breakfast prepared for them’. The implication here is, of course, that by 1838, it was a recognized habit of weddings. In Party-giving on Every Scale (London, 1880) the term is given the respect of tradition,

The orthodox “Wedding Breakfast” might more properly be termed a “Wedding Luncheon,” as it assumes the character of that meal to a great extent; in any case it bears little relation to the breakfast of that day, although the title of breakfast is still applied to it, out of compliment to tradition. As recently as fifty years ago luncheon was not a recognized meal, even in the wealthiest families, and the marriage feast was modernized into the wedding breakfast, which appellation this entertainment still bears.

The important pieces, a gathering of family to celebrate the bridal couple, and cake, remain to this day. In addition to sharing this cake with members of the wedding party, families often sent pieces to friends as a gesture of good will and celebration. Jane mentions this sending about of cake in her letters to Cassandra. In the following note, Jane is referring to Catherine Bigg, sister to Harris Bigg-Wither, who was once an accepted suitor of Jane’s. Catherine, at 33, had just married Rev. Herbert Hill, aged nearly 60, a match Jane seems not to have favored (calling her “poor Catherine” in her letters). The mentioned Martha is, no doubt, Jane’s dear friend Martha Lloyd.

“Do you recollect whether the Manydown family sent about their wedding cake? Mrs. Dundas has set her heart upon having a piece from her friend Catherine, and Martha, who knows what importance she attaches to this sort of thing, is anxious for the sake of both that there should not be a disappointment.”
Jane Austen to Cassandra
October 13, 1808

Elizabeth Raffald's recipe and a modern interpretation can be found in Cooking with Jane Austen and Friends, by Laura Boyle.
Elizabeth Raffald’s recipe and a modern interpretation can be found in Cooking with Jane Austen and Friends, by Laura Boyle.

Early wedding cakes were similar to Christmas fruit cakes– heavy, dense with dried fruit, and able to be stored for months and even years to come.

The modern practice of saving the top tier of the wedding cake to be eaten on the couple’s first anniversary is taken from the historic practice of saving some cake to be served at the christening of the couple’s first child (an event which often followed in the first year of marriage). Elizabeth Raffald’s 1794 Experienced English Housekeeper was the first cookery book to publish a recipe for cakes specifically for weddings.

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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Sealing Your Letters Like a Georgian

Everyone knows the feeling of importance that comes from receiving a hand written letter– especially when decoratively sealed with a specially chosen seal and wax. In Jane Austen’s time, the wax was even sometimes used to hide a coin to pay the postman (thereby costing the recipient nothing; postage was originally paid by the receiver). Traditionally, sealing wax was used to not only seal the letter against tampering, but also to identify the sender, as people maintained personal and family seals for the purpose. The idea of using a personal seal for identification dates from the earliest civilizations and survives today in the form of rubber stamps and embossers. Still, there is nothing quite like a wax seal for adding a bit of Regency elegance to your notes and letters.

Cornelis Norbertus Gysbrechts (1665)
A pile of sealed letters. Painting Cornelis Norbertus Gysbrechts (1665).

The Jane Austen Centre giftshop sells personalized sets of seals and sealing wax in the traditional style, a stick of red wax with a wick. When lit, the flame melts the wax, which is then dripped onto the portion of the letter to receive the seal, before stamping in the pattern with a small metal seal. The whole process is, to a novice, a bit tricky and the results are not always quite as perfect as one would hope.

The Jane Austen Centre's seal and wax set is available in the giftshop.
The Jane Austen Centre’s seal and wax set is available in the giftshop.

I recently received a wedding invitation with just such a seal attached. Considering the tediousness of this exercise when addressing scores of envelopes, I questioned the bride as to how she was able to get each seal so beautifully attached and straightly placed. Her answer surprised me! Thanks to the wonders of the modern age, sealing wax is now available in sticks for your glue gun! Glue guns are a fast and easy way to adhere craft projects, using electric heat to melt fast drying glue for precise application. Some genius, however, discovered how to form sealing wax into a shape usable by the glue gun, allowing for quick, accurate placement of wax on envelope. Naturally, this would be best used for large batches of letters, as the gun takes a few minutes to heat up, but what a wonderful way to streamline even the daintiest bits of old fashioned letter writing. The wax is inexpensively available in a variety of colours.

For more information on Jane Austen’s letter, her use of “Franking” (free postage), wax seals, and crossed writing, visit the Jane Austen’s World blog.

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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Mrs. Weston’s Wedding Cake

In Jane Austen’s day, weddings were often held first thing in the morning, after which the bridal couple and their guests returned home to celebrate with a wedding breakfast like that served to Anna Austen and Benjamin Lefroy in 1814: “The breakfast was such as best breakfasts then were. Some variety of bread, hot rolls, buttered toast, tongue, ham and eggs. The addition of chocolate at one end of the table and the wedding-cake in the middle marked the speciality of the day.”

Though rich fruit and nut cakes had been used for centuries, in 1786 Elizabeth Raffald was the first to publish a recipe for a cake specifically for weddings. The cake was served not only at the wedding breakfast, but also shared with the household servants and sent in pieces to friends and relatives who had not attended the ceremony. These wedding cakes were single tiered, double frosted confections, though by no means small. Queen Victoria’s 1840 wedding cake measured 9 feet around and weighed 300 pounds, although it was only 14 inches high.

A period depiction of Queen Victoria's wedding cake.
A period depiction of Queen Victoria’s wedding cake.

This recipe makes an enormous cake. I have quartered the ingredients and it fit nicely into my 12 ½cm/ 5in deep, 25cm /10in springform pan.

To Make a Bride Cake
Take four pounds of fine flour well dried, four pounds of fresh butter, two pounds of loaf sugar, pound and sift fine a quarter of an ounce of mace the same of nutmegs, to every pound of flour put eight eggs, wash four pounds of currants, pick them well, and dry them before the fire. Blanch a pound of sweet almonds, and cut them lengthways very thin, a pound of  citron, one pound of candied orange, the same of candied lemon, half a pint of brandy; first work the butter with your hand to cream, then beat in your sugar a quarter of an hour, beat the whites of your eggs to a very strong froth, mix them with your sugar and butter, beat your yolks half an hour at least, and mix them with your cake, then put in your flour, mace and nutmeg, keep beating it well till your oven is ready, put in your brandy, and beat your currants and almonds lightly in, tie three sheet s of paper round the bottom of your hoop to keep it from running out, rub it well with butter, put in your cake, and lay your sweetmeats in three lays, with cake betwixt every lay, after it is risen and coloured, cover it with paper before your oven is stopped up; it will take three hours baking. – Elizabeth Raffald, The Experienced English Housekeeper, 1794

454 g / 16 oz / 4 cups Flour

454 g / 16 oz  / 2 cups Butter

454 g / 16 oz / 2 cups Sugar

1/2 tsp Mace

1/2 tsp Nutmeg

8 Eggs, divided

454 g / 1 lb / 3 cups Currants

142 g / 5 oz / 1 cup Slivered Almonds

113 g / 4 oz / ½ cup Citron

113 g / 4 oz / ½ cup Candied Lemon peel

113 g / 4 oz / ½ cup Candied Orange peel

120 ml / ½ Cup Brandy or 1 oz Brandy extract plus Apple Juice to equal a ½ cup.

Whip the whites of 8 eggs to stiff peaks and set aside. With an electric mixer, cream together the butter, sugar and egg yolks.  Once they are combined, fold in the egg whites, brandy or juice and spices. Add the flour a little at a time until it is incorporated. Stir in the almonds and currants.

Preheat the oven to 149° C / 300° F. Generously grease a tall 25cm / 10in springform pan. Spoon ¼ of the batter into the pan and top with 1/3 of the citron, orange peel and lemon peel. Repeat twice more and top with remaining batter.

Bake for 2 ½ hours, top with Almond and Sugar Icings (See Below)

Serves 25

Elizabeth Raffald's recipe and a modern interpretation can be found in Cooking with Jane Austen and Friends, by Laura Boyle.
Elizabeth Raffald’s recipe and a modern interpretation can be found in Cooking with Jane Austen and Friends, by Laura Boyle.

Icings for the Bride-Cake

To make Almond-Icing for the Bride Cake
Beat the whites of three eggs to a strong froth, beat a pound of Jordan almonds very fine with rose water, mix your almonds with the eggs lightly together, a pound of common loaf sugar beat fine, and put in by degrees; When your cake is enough, take it out, and lay your icing on, then put it in to brown. ER

3 Egg whites* or Meringue Powder equivalent

283 g / 10 oz / 2 cups blanched almonds, ground to powder.

1 tbsp Rose Water

454 g / 16 oz / 2 cups powdered sugar

In a food processor, combine the almonds, rose water and sugar and set this aside. Whip the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Slowly add the almond mixture to the egg whites until incorporated. Spread this on the top of your cake as soon as you take it from the oven, and then return the cake to the oven until the top is lightly browned. Cool the cake slightly on a rack. Once the cake is cool enough to touch, slide a knife around the inside edge of the pan to loosen the cake. Remove the edge of the pan and ice the cake with Sugar Icing.

To Make Sugar Icing for the Bride Cake
Beat two pounds of double refined sugar, with two ounces of fine starch, sift it through a gauze sieve, then beat the whites of five eggs with a knife upon  a pewter dish half an hour; beat in your sugar a little a t a time, or it will make the eggs fall, and will not be so good a colour, when you have put in all your sugar, beat it half an hour longer, then lay it on your almond iceing, and spread it even with a knife; if it be put on as soon as the cake comes out of the oven it will be hard by the time the cake is cold. ER

907 g /

32 oz/ 4 cups Powdered Sugar

4 tbsp Corn Starch

5 Egg whites* or Meringue Powder equivalent

Sift together the starch and powdered sugar and set aside. Whip the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Slowly add in the sugar mixture, while the mixer continues to whip the egg whites. If you add the sugar too fast the whites will fall and you will end up with a glaze instead of icing. Continue to whip the icing for a few more minutes until it is the consistency of marshmallow cream. Ice the cake using a large, flat spatula, creating whorls and swirls in the pattern. Allow to stand at room temperature for several hours so that the icing hardens. Decorate with fresh flowers, if desired.

*The consumption of raw egg whites can lead to food poisoning. Use meringue powder as a safe alternative.

Excerpted from Cooking with Jane Austen and Friends, by Laura Boyle. Laura 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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Host a Regency Tea Party

Regency Tea

Hosting a Regency Tea Party

Anna, the Duchess of Bedford, is credited with creating the ritual of afternoon tea sometime in the early to mid 1800’s as a remedy against the “sinking feeling” she felt between luncheon and the late hour of Court dinners. The practice soon caught on among her friends in the upper class circles and the rest is history.

teapot

Taking tea during Jane Austen’s day was nothing like what the term implied a few decades later with the advent of Afternoon Tea. During the Regency, Tea was produced about an hour after dinner, signaling the end of the port and cigars in the dining room and gossip and embroidery in the drawing room. The lady of the house, or her daughters, if she wished to show them off to advantage, would make and pour the tea and coffee, seeing to it that all guests were served. After tea, the family and any guests might remain in the drawing room to read aloud, sew or play games together until supper (if served) or bedtime.

Sir John never came to the Dashwood’s without either inviting them to dine at the Park the next day, or to drink tea with them that evening.
Sense and Sensibility

If dinner had been late, supper might be replaced by light refreshments served with the tea, such as toast, muffins, or cake. Tea or wine and refreshment of some sort or other would be offered to visitors who stopped by throughout the day. During the Regency, tea was also served at Breakfast and could be found throughout the day at any of the popular Tea Gardens or Tea Shops, which served tea and light refreshments for a small fee.

A formal invitation to tea always implied an after dinner gathering with some sort of entertainment whether games or music or conversation. An evening such as this might end in an informal dance if there were enough partners and a willing accompanist.

teaparty

When having friends to Tea, the most important part is, of course, the tea. Brew fresh tea of the highest quality and serve it with coffee or cocoa if you prefer. Provide an assortment of breads, rolls, cakes, cookies and sweet treats. Use your best china and entertain with a variety of period games and music. Read aloud from the works of Jane Austen and her contemporaries or have each guest read her own favorite passage.

As Anne Elliot says, “My idea of good company… is the company of clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation; that is what I call good company.”

 

If you liked this article about Regency tea parties, and would like to have your own Regency afternoon tea, you might like to have a look at our Netherfield Collection of exclusive teaware.

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Weddings During the Regency Era

regency era wedding

Weddings During the Regency Era

The bride was elegantly dressed; the two bridesmaids were duly inferior; her father gave her away; her mother stood with salts in her hand, expecting to be agitated; her aunt tried to cry; and the service was impressively read by Dr Grant.
Mansfield Park

Say the word “wedding” and most of us think about a bride dressed all in white, half a dozen brides maids (or more), a big bash with loads of guests and a huge cake. But what kind of weddings where common during the Regency era and Jane Austen’s lifetime? Did the bride wear white?

A Family Affair

Royal weddings tend to be big and there was no exception when Princess Charlotte married Prince Leopold in 1816.

As we have been gratified with a sight of the wedding dresses of this amiable and illustrious female, a particular yet concise account of them cannot but be acceptable to our fair readers.

The Royal Bride, happy in obtaining him whom her heart had selected, and whom consenting friends approved, wore on her countenance that tranquil and chastened joy which a female so situated could not fail to experience. Her fine fair hair, elegantly yet simply arranged, owed more to its natural beautiful wave than to the art of the friseur; it was crowned with a most superb wreath of brilliants, forming rosebuds with their leaves.

Her dress was silver lama [lamé] on net, over a silver tissue slip, embroidered at the bottom with silver lama in shells and flowers. Body and sleeves to correspond, elegantly trimmed with point Brussels lace. The manteau was of silver tissue lined with white satin, with a border of embroidery to answer that on the dress, and fastened in front with a splendid diamond ornament. Such was the bridal dress …

The jewellery of the royal bride is most superb; beside the wreath, are a diamond cestus, ear- rings, and an armlet of great value, with a superb set of pearls. The court dresses worn by the royal family and nobility on this occasion were particularly splendid; we are sorry our limits will not allow us to enter into particulars, but we cannot forbear noticing the singular taste and elegance, displayed in the superb lama dress, so beautifully wrought with silver lilies, of the Marchioness of Cholmondeley; we have never before witnessed so charming a combination of classical taste, splendour, and touching simplicity.
La Belle Assemblee (May 1816)

However, most weddings in Jane Austen’s time were private, family affairs. Even fashionable weddings at the church of choice of the day were but sparingly attended, usually only by close relatives or, if in the village church, by the local inhabitants. The bride did have a few attendants, mainly unmarried younger sisters or cousins. The groom commonly had his best man and the witnesses, of course. Usually the bride’s parents attended,as well.

What about the lavish party? Well, there wasn’t always one! Consider Charlotte Lucas’ wedding day in Pride and Prejudice,”The wedding took place; the bride and bridegroom set off for Kent from the church door.”

Most weddings were performed in church after the reading of banns. Unless the couple had a license the ceremony had to be performed in church before lunch time (hence the popularity of the Wedding Breakfast!).

The very rich, like the De Bourghs and the Darcys, would sometimes marry by special license in the family drawing room but it was very costly. Ever socially conscious, Mrs. Bennet exclaims over Mr. Darcy’s fortune, “Ten thousand a year, and very likely more! ‘Tis as good as a Lord! And a special licence! You must and shall be married by a special licence!”

According to Henry Churchyard of the Jane Austen Information Page, “All of Jane Austen’s couples would have been married according to the ceremony taken from the Church of England Book of Common Prayer; Emma Woodhouse refers to the part in which “N. takes M.” for her wedded husband “for better, for worse”. This “Form of Solemnization of Matrimony” has remained almost entirely unchanged from 1662 to the present.”

Bridal Fashions

How common the white wedding dress was during the Regency era is hard to say, but we have some reasons to suspect that it was more prevalent than many may think. Although no bridal fashion prints survive from before 1813, paintings of wedding scenes, such as Highmore’s 1743 illustration for Samuel Richardson’s Pamela, do depict brides in white. Veils seems to have become popular somewhat later in the century so most brides either wore flowers in their hair, a cap or sometimes a hat.

When Jane Austen’s niece Anna married Benjamin Lefroy in 1814, she wore “a dress of fine white muslin, and over it a soft silk shawl, white shot with primrose, with embossed white-satin flowers, and very handsome fringe, and on her head a small cap to match, trimmed with lace.”*

Although bouquets and flowers with personal meanings came into vogue during the Victorian era, flowers and herbs have been used in weddings since the beginning of time as a way of showing love and well wishes to everyone. The first recorded use of wedding flowers dates back to the ancient Greeks. Flowers and plants were used to make a crown for the bride to wear and were considered a gift of nature. Bridesmaids would make the floral decorations including garlands, bridal bouquet and boutonniere.+

Wedding Announcements

The newspaper announcement was, perhaps, the most socially important part of the wedding. Jane Austen, herself, once wrote, “The latter writes me word that Miss Blackford is married, but I have never seen it in the papers, and one may as well be single if the wedding is not to be in print.”

“I suppose you have heard of it; indeed, you must have seen it in the papers. It was in the Times and the Courier, I know; though it was not put in as it ought to be. It was only said, ‘Lately, George Wickham Esq., to Miss Lydia Bennet,’ without there being a syllable said of her father, or the place where she lived, or anything. It was my brother Gardiner’s drawing up too, and I wonder how he came to make such an awkward business of it. Did you see it?”

 


 

Enjoyed this article on weddings in the Regency era? Browse our book shop .

Yvonne Forsling is a culitvator of exoctic Hibiscus and Regency Enthusiast. Visit her site, Yvonne’Space for a look into her passions and talents. Further discussion of Regency colour, as well as many other period plates can be found in the Regency Section of her website.

*Reminiscences by Caroline Austen
+ From Love to Know: Weddings

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Wedding Cakes

The compliments of his neighbours were over; he was no longer teased by being wished joy of so sorrowful an event; and the wedding-cake, which had been a great distress to him, was all eat up. His own stomach could bear nothing rich, and he could never believe other people to be different from himself. What was unwholesome to him he regarded as unfit for any body; and he had, therefore, earnestly tried to dissuade them from having any wedding-cake at all, and when that proved vain, as earnestly tried to prevent any body’s eating it.
Emma

In her Life of Charlotte Brontë, Elizabeth Gaskell, references a letter from 1812 that tells how Maria Branwell and her cousin “intended to set about making the wedding-cake in the following week, so the marriage could not be far off.” In Emma, Mr. Woodhouse is appalled by the consumption of such rich food…and in his own house! But what would a Regency Wedding cake have looked like? How was the tradition of a wedding cake even started?

The wedding cake has been part of the marriage ceremony ever since medieval times. Originally they were made of wheat which was a symbol of fertility and prosperity. As a relic of once performed fertility rites, this ‘wedding cake’ would have been thrown at the bride.

Around 1900 years ago the Romans began baking wheat and salt into a small cake to be eaten. During the ceremony the groom would eat part of a loaf of this barley bread and then he would break the rest over his bride’s head. This was taken as a sign of good fortune and a blessing for long life and many children. The guests would try and obtain a crumb for themselves as they too believed they would then share in the good fortune and future prosperity of the couple. It was only the children born to the couple whose marriage had been celebrated this way, that could qualify for high office in Roman culture. Not only did the cake give good fortune to the couple, it insured a bright future for their as yet unborn children.

As the wedding cake evolved into the larger, modern version, it became physically impractical to properly break the cake over the bride’s head. The tradition disappeared fairly quickly, though there were still reports in Scotland, as late as the 19th century, of breaking an oatcake over the bride’s head. It was also reported that in Northern Scotland, friends of the bride would put a napkin over her head and then proceed to pour a basket of bread over her!

In Medieval England, the wedding cake was described as a bread which was a flour-based food without sweetening. The breads were included in many celebratory feasts of the day, not just at weddings. No accounts tell of a special type of wedding cake appearing at wedding ceremonies. There are, however, stories of a custom involving stacking small buns in a large pile in front of the newlyweds. Stacked as high as possible the idea was to to make it difficult for the newlyweds to kiss one another over the top. If the bride and groom were able to kiss over the tall stack, it was thought to symbolize a lifetime of prosperity. Eventually, the idea of stacking them neatly and frosting them together was adopted as a more convenient option.

It is told that later in the 1660’s during the reign of King Charles II, a French chef (whose name is now lost) visited London and was appalled at the cake-piling ritual. The chef, who was traveling through England at the time noticed the inconvenience of piling smaller cakes into a mound and conceived the idea of constructing them into a solid stacked system. This earliest tiered wedding cake utilized short-cut broom sticks to separate it’s layers. Since such an elaborate wedding cake needed to be prepared days in advance and because of the lack of modern refrigeration or plastic wraps, the wedding cake was frosted in lard to keep it from drying out. The lard was scraped off just before serving. In later years, sugar was added to improve the taste of the lard and allowed the lard to be left on the wedding cake as a decorative icing.

Wedding cake of Jessie Woodrow Wilson (daughter of American President Woodrow Wilson), who married Francis Bowes Sayre in a White House ceremony on November 25, 1913.

The wedding cake took yet another course correction when in the 17th Century a popular dish for weddings became the Bride’s Pie. The pie was filled with sweet breads, a mince pie, or may have been merely a simple mutton pie. A main ‘ingredient’ was a glass ring. An old adage claimed that the lady who found the ring would be the next to be married. Bride’s pies were by no means universally found at weddings, but there are accounts of these pies being made into the main centerpiece at less affluent ceremonies. The name Bride Cakes emphasized that the bride was the focal point of the wedding.

Early cakes were simple single-tiered plum (or fruit) cakes, with some variations. There was also an unusual notion of sleeping with a piece of wedding cake underneath one’s pillow which dates back as far as the 17th century and quite probably forms the basis for the tradition of giving cake as a gift. Legend has it that sleepers will dream of their future spouses if a piece of wedding cake is under their pillow.

According to Jessemyn Reeves-Brown of the Costumer’s Companion, “Period cake recipes seem mostly to produce varieties of fruitcake involving large amounts of spice and alcohol as preservatives, which makes sense when you consider that slices of the cake had to survive being sent to absent guests, and that young ladies tucked slivers wrapped in napkins under their pillows so they would dream of their future husbands!”

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s wedding cake was 9 feet around, weighed 300 pounds and was 14 inches high.                     It was served at the wedding breakfast.

The wedding cake as we know it today, with its successively smaller layers, its supporting glass or plastic pillars, fancy hand piped frosting, all came about in 1859, with a confection that commemorated the marriage of one of Queen Victoria’s daughters. As is the case with today’s brides, the celebrities of the time moved the public to emulate their fashions, starting with the wealthiest Victorian families first. Even for the nobility, though, the first multi-tiered wedding cakes were real in appearance only. Their upper layers were mockups made of spun sugar. Once the problem of preventing the upper layers from collapsing into the lower layers was solved, a real multi-tiered wedding cake could be created.

For a white icing, only the most expensive, pure refined sugars could be used; so the whiter the cake, the wealthier the bride’s family must be (as most sugar at the time was browner than today’s refined type). A pure white wedding cake also complemented the bride as the focal point of the wedding, since she too was wearing white as her own symbol of purity.

Martha Washington’s Great Cake
Take 40 eggs and divide the whites from the yolks and beat them to a froth. Then work 4 pounds of butter to a cream and put the whites of eggs to it a Spoon full at a time till it is well work’d. Then put 4 pounds of sugar finely powdered to it in the same manner then put in the Yolks of eggs and 5 pounds of flour and 5 pounds of fruit. 2 hours will bake it. Add to it half an ounce of mace and nutmeg half a pint of wine and some fresh brandy.

Mount Vernon’s curatorial staff tried this recipe out. Since the recipe didn’t specify what five pounds of fruit were to be used, they tried two pounds of raisins, two of apples, and one of currants. The wine chosen was cream sherry. Although Martha apparently made her cake as a single very tall layer (no wonder it took so long to cook), no pan large enough was available to hold all the batter, so two 14″ layers were made and stacked after baking at 350 for an hour and a half. According to their website, such cakes were typically iced with a very stiff egg-white based icing, flavored with rosewater or orange-flower water.

This easier recipe from 1859 provides a lovely white cake suitable to any number of occasions:

Brides Cake
A pound each of flour and sugar, half a pound of butter, and the whites of sixteen eggs,beaten to a stiff froth. Flavor it with rose water.

Rose Butter
Gather every morning the leaves (petals) of the roses that blossomed the day before, and put them in a stone jar in alternet layers with fine salt. After all the leaves are gathered, put a saucer or small plate into the jar, and lay in a good pound of butter,for cake or pudding sauce.It is a very good way of obtaining the flavor of roses,without the expense.

Baked FrostingA pound of the best white sugar, the whites of three fresh eggs, a teaspoon of nice starch, pounded, and sifted through a piece of muslin or a very fine sieve, the juice of half a lemon and a few drops of the essence. Beat the whites to a stiff froth, then add them to the sugar, and stir it steadily until it will stay where you put it. It will take nearly *two hours, maybe more. Dredge a little flour over the cake, and brush it off with a feather. This is to prevent the frosting from being discolored by the butter contained in the cake. Lay it on smoothly with a knife, and return the cake to the oven for twelve to fifteen minutes. From The Young Housekeeper’s Friend, Mary Hooker Cornelius, 1859

Some history provided by Wedding Cakes by Maisie Fantaisie.

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