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jane austen and food Jane Austen and Food by Maggie Lane is not a cookbook with recipes, but a well-researched, highly informative, and entertaining historical discussion about food, mealtimes, manners, and housekeeping in the age of Jane Austen. Lane examines Austen’s letters regarding food and drink, and how she uses both to define the characters in her novels.

Today, the Jane Austen and Food’s hardcover edition, which was first published in 1995, can be purchased on Amazon in hardcover or paperback for $85 to $129! But the kindle edition from Endeavor Press is available for a mere $2.99 – and it contains the same content as the hardcover and paperback editions. (Keep in mind that kindle apps are available for those who do not own kindles. I have downloaded the book on my iPad and android devices, for example.)

Let me explain what a bargain you will be getting with the kindle version of Maggie Lane’s thoroughly enjoyable and informative book. Jane Austen’s treatment of food yields new insights in which she creates character and establishes her moral values in her novels:

In Steventon, the glebe lands (which added to about 3 acres) supplied the Rectory with pork, mutton, wheat, peas, barley, hops, and oats and hay for the horses. The surplus in produce contributed up to £300 per year to the Austen’s income. They made their own mead and wines and preserved foods that were produced with foods in season. The only commodities that were purchased were expensive items like tea, coffee, chocolate, sugar, spices, and dried fruits.

No gentleman, single or widowed, could run his own home. He depended upon a paid housekeeper to oversee his hearth for good dinners, or, like Mr Bingley, he required a sister to keep house for him. Mr. Rushworth depended upon his mother, while Mr. Collins was in need of a wife.  When Mrs. Austen was kept away in 1770 for a month to look after her sister in childbirth, Mr. Austen wrote that “I must bear … [for] about three weeks longer, at which time I expect my housekeeper’s return.” Jane never took the responsibility of a household completely, although she assisted whenever she was needed. Composing for her was difficult during such times, and she wrote, “Composition seems to me impossible with a head full of joints of mutton and doses of rhubarb.”

In terms of food and its purchase, the Austen’s move to Bath was a shock. Slow transportation changed the quality of the food that Jane and her family were accustomed to, and the very fact that they had to purchase all their produce made them anxious, for they had lost sources of revenue in the form of farm produce, pupils, and Reverend Austen’s clerical stipend. Milk was of a poor quality due to the cows being kept in unhygienic barns, and food, purchased at the bakers, grocers, butchers, poulterers, and fishmongers was quite expensive. In addition, its cost  fluctuated.

Mrs. Austen in particular never lost her love for working in a garden. She did so at Steventon and later at Chawton Cottage, where she dug up her own potatoes and delighted in her flower borders. According to one of her great-grand-daughters: “She wore a green round frock like a day-laborer’s.”

At Chawton Cottage, the Austen women were able to find their footing again, growing their own fruit and vegetables, rearing poultry, keeping bees, baking bread, and making wine and brewing beer. Villagers recalled in later years that their dog, Link, would carry home a pail of milk in his mouth. It must be emphasized that, although Jane Austen worried about financial security, she and her sister and mother were comfortable enough to eat well and, like Emma Woodhouse, to dispense charity to those less fortunate than themselves. If Jane envied others, it was for their freedom from perpetual contrivance. In the sale of her novels, she found some relief from such worry.

In later chapters, Maggie Lane describes the history of tea, coffee, and chocolate, and how these fashionable drinks were imbibed before and during Jane Austen’s day. Austen herself only mentioned chocolate twice in her letters, but Mrs Austen during her visit to Stoneleigh Abbey wrote that their breakfast at her ancestral home consisted of “Chocolate Coffee and Tea, Plumb Cake, Pound Cake, Hot Rolls, Cold Rolls, brad and Butter, and dry toast for me.”

Breakfast, lunch, dinner, and supper are described, but Lane emphasizes that Jane barely mentions these daily events in her letters and novels. She gives scant details, especially as to the preferences of her heroines, most of whom are not concerned with the daily details of food. There are hints here and there in her novels: Willoughby takes porter at an inn during midday, and Frank Churchill imbibes spruce beer on a hot day at Donwell.

Dinner times are moved up as the Regency era progresses. In 1798, Jane writes to Cassandra that they dine at half after three, and by 1808, “we never dine now till five.” This was a gradual shift in dinner-time that took place with most families during this era, although dinner in town (London) was taken fashionably later. In addition, dinners in the early 19th century were far less splendid than those in the latter part of the century. Edward Austen-Leigh noted that there was a “far less splendid appearance than it does now.” By the time Jane wrote Mansfield Park, silver forks emerged, as well as napkins and finger glasses. In 1808 Jane wrote, “My mother has been lately adding to her possessions in plate – a whole tablespoon and a whole dessertspoon, and six whole teaspoons – which makes our sideboard border on the magnificent.”

I could go on and on describing the enormous amount of information in this ebook. Lane goes on to discuss in great detail the attitudes towards food and domesticity in Northanger Abbey, Emma, and Mansfield Park – all of which excited this reader. The characters of Emma Woodhouse, Mr. Woodhouse, Mr. Grant, Mrs. Grant, Mrs. Norris, Mr. Price, and General Tilney are elaborated in great detail in their obsession (or not) with food and general housekeeping details.

tea cups ratingIs Jane Austen and Food worth the cost of $2.99? Oh, yes. Definitely.!I paid so much more for my hardback copy several years ago and do not regret its purchase. I give this ebook a rating of 5 out of 5 Regency teacups.

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Jane Austens World LaneI am continuing this blog’s giveaways in celebration of the 200th anniversary of Pride and Prejudice and 6 millionth visit to my blog with one free copy of the reissue of Maggie Lane’s Jane Austen’s World, courtesy of Sterling Publishing.

Jane Austen’s World takes a look at Jane Austen’s private life and examines the world she inhabited—a time when England was developing into a colonial power, the Napoleonic Wars raged, and the Regency took hold.

Maggie Lane is an active committee member of the Jane Austen Society and has written several highly acclaimed books on the author, including Jane Austen and Food (Hambledon Continuum), Jane Austen’s England (Robert Hale), and Jane Austen’s Family (Robert Hale). She has also appeared on television as a Jane Austen expert.

jane austens world

Like the 2005 reissue (left) this book features a short introduction by Brian Southam and a Jane Austen timeline, and is filled with colored plates and illustrations. Interestingly this reissue was printed and bound in Dubai. The reason I say this is that I found the color in the plates to be brighter. It’s a matter of taste, I know. Some will like these images over the somewhat more subdued color palate in the other edition.

If you already own a copy of the book with the cover on the left  (first published in 1993), be aware that only minor changes have been made. For those who already own the book, this reissue will be the perfect gift for their Janeite friends and relatives.

To Enter the Contest: This contest is open only to those who live in the U.S. Tell us what you want to know about Jane Austen’s world that eludes you or will help you understand her novels better. Contest closes April 3rd. Note: Click here to enter another giveaway on this blog of The Jane Austen Handbook and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. That contest, open to those who live in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, closes April 1st. CONTEST CLOSED. Congratulations, Raquel Muniz!

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Copryright (c) Jane Austen’s World. This post is in honor of Thanksgiving and all the cooks, feminine or masculine, who toil hard in the kitchen to feed their families on this special holiday.

I am sure that the ladies there had nothing to do with the mysteries of the stew-pot or the preserving-pan” – James Edward Austen-Leigh, writing about his aunts, Jane and Cassandra Austen, and grandmother, Mrs Austen, when they lived at Steventon Rectory.

18th century kitchen servants prepare a meal. Image @Jane Austen Cookbook

In 1747, Mrs.Hannah Glasse wrote her historic The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, an easy-to-understand cookbook for the lower class chefs who cooked for the rich. Her recipes were simple and came with detailed instructions, a revolutionary thought at the time.

The Art of Cookery’s first distinction was simplicity – simple instructions, accessible ingredients, an accent on thrift, easy recipes and practical help with weights and timing. Out went the bewildering text of former cookery books (“pass it off brown” became “fry it brown in some good butter”; “draw him with parsley” became “throw some parsley over him”). Out went French nonsense: no complicated patisserie that an ordinary cook could not hope to cook successfully. Glasse took into account the limitations of the average middle-class kitchen: the small number of staff, the basic cooking equipment, limited funds. – Hannah Glasse, The Original Domestic Goddess forum

Hannah Glasse's The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy

Until Mrs. Glasse wrote her popular cookery book (17 editions appeared in the 18th century), these instructional books had been largely written by male chefs who offered complicated French recipes without detailed or practical directions. (To see what I mean, check Antonin Careme’s recipe for Les Petits Vol-Au-Vents a la Nesle at this link.) Like Jane Austen, Hannah signed her books “By a Lady”.

Antonin Careme's cookbook

Mrs. Glasse had always intended to sell her cookery book to mistresses of gentry families or the rising middle class, who would then instruct their cooks to prepare foods from her simplified recipes, which she collected. “My Intention is to instruct the lower Sort [so that] every servant who can read will be capable of making a tolerable good Cook,” she wrote in her preface.

Frontispiece from William Augustus Henderson, The Housekeeper’s Instructor, 6th edition, c.1800. This same picture appeared in the very first edition of c.1791and it shows the mistress presenting the cookery book to her servant, while a young man is instructed in the art of carving with the aid of another book.*

Hanna’s revolutionary approach, which included the first known printed recipe for curry and instructions for making a hamburger, made sense. In the morning, it was the custom of the mistress of the household to speak to the cook or housekeeper about the day’s meals and give directions for the day. The servants in turn would interpret her instructions. (Often their mistress had to read the recipes to them, for many lower class people still could not read.)

In theory, the recipes from Hannah’s cookbook would help the lady of the house stay out of the kitchen and enjoy a few moments of free time. But the servant turnover rate was high and often the mistress had to roll up her sleeves and actively participate in the kitchen. Many households with just two or three servants could not afford a mistress of leisure, and they, like Mrs. Austen in the kitchens of Steventon Rectory and Chawton Cottage, would toil alongside their cook staff.

The simple kitchen at Chawton cottage. Image @Tony Grant

At the start of the 18th century the French courtly way of cooking still prevailed in genteel households. As the century progressed, more and more women like Hannah Glasse began to write cookery books that offered not only simpler versions of French recipes, but instructions for making traditional English pies, tarts, and cakes as well. Compared to the expensive cookbooks written by male chefs, cookery books written by women were quite affordable, for they were priced between 2 s. and 6 d.

Hannah Glasse's practical directions for boiling and broiling

Publishers took advantage of the brisk trade, for with the changes in agricultural practices,  food was becoming more abundant for the rising middle classes. Large editions of cheap English cookery books by a variety of female cooks were distributed to a wide new audience of less wealthy and largely female readers who had money to spend on food. Before Hannah Glasse and her cohort, cooks and housewives  had been accustomed to sharing recipes in private journals (such as Marthat Lloyd’s) or handing them down by word-of-mouth.

Martha Lloyd's recipe for caraway cake written in her journal.

Female authors tended to share their native English recipes in their cookery books. As the century progressed, the content of these cookery books began to change. Aside from printing recipes, these books began to include medical instructions for poultices and the like; bills of fare for certain seasons or special gatherings; household and marketing tips; etc.

Bill of fare for November, The Universal Cook, 1792

By the end of the 18th century, cookery books also included heavy doses of servant etiquette and moral advice. At this time plain English fare had replaced French cuisine, although wealthy households continued to employ French chefs as expensive status symbols.  In the mid-19th century cookery books that targeted the working classes, such as Mrs. Beeton’s famous book on Household Management, began to be serialized in magazines, as well as published in book form.

Family at meal time

Before ending this post, I would like to refer you back to James Edward Austen-Leigh’s quote at top. In contrast to what he wrote (for he did not know his aunts or grandmother well), Jane Austen scholar Maggie Lane reminds us that housewives who consulted with their cook and housekeeper  about the day’s meals still felt comfortable working in the kitchen. She writes in Jane Austen and Food:

“though they may not have stirred the pot or the pan themselves, Mrs. Austen and her daughters perfectly understood what was going on within them…The fact that their friend and one-time house-mate Martha Lloyd made a collection of recipes to which Mrs. Austen contributed is proof that the processes of cookery were understood by women of their class.”

More on the topic:

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Jane AustenSir Walter Elliot, of Kellynch-hall, in Somersetshire, was a man who, for his own amusement, never took up any book but the Barontage; there he found occupation for an idle hour, and consolation in a distressed one – Persuasion

Gentle reader, it is hard to name my favorite books about Jane Austen and her era. Thankfully, Laurel Ann at Austenprose has already compiled her list to wrap up Jane Austen Sibling Week, so I only need to add in my two cents worth. Where Laurel Ann concentrated on pure biographies, I shall mention the picture books that resemble the intent of this blog in both content and form:

Lane Jane Austens WorldJane Austen’s World, Maggie Lane. When I named this blog I had no idea this book existed. Maggie, who knows the period so well, writes about Jane’s life and what daily life looked like for her and her family. The illustrations are lush, and the content is presented on two pages, so that one moves from Courtship to Travel to The Royal Navy and The Picturesque seamlessly. The information is just enough for a casual reader to learn more about the era and to steer a more determined Janeite on a world of Regency era discovery.

Watkins Town and Country StyleJane Austen’s Town and Country Style, Susan Watkins. I purchased this now well-thumbed book in England when it was first published. The cover is a lush photo of a bedroom in Stoneleigh Abbey, the ancestral seat of Cassandra Austen nee Leigh’s family. Themes covered include etiquette, the country house, architectural themes, fashion, and entertainment. The theme of this novel is the architectural settings and interior environments of the Regency era, and its pages linger over images and information about embroidery, gardens, furniture, wallpaper, architectural styles, fashion, etc.

Hughes Hallet My Dear CassandraMy Dear Cassandra, The Illustrated Letters of Jane Austen, Selected and introduced by Penelope Hughes-Hallet. Not only do Jane’s own observations come alive, but the letters are arranged in context of her life and images of the era. The format is excellent and very well done. Not all of Jane’s letters are included in this selection, but I would say that for those who have never read Jane’s letters before, this is a great introduction.

le faye jane austen the world of her novels (2)Jane Austen, The World of Her Novels by Deirdre Le Faye. I find it remarkable that each of these authors have a different perspective of Jane and her life. Yes, there is an overlap of information, but each author brings her own take on Jane to their book. Deirdre spends little time with Jane and her family, and devotes more pages to the novels, their settings, and images that evoke the era and region in which the books were set. Deirdre’s book contains more text and fewer images than the other books, but it is well organized and the illustrations help the reader to understand the unique places in which the novels are set and how they contribute to the story and characters.

Jane Austen An Illustrated Treasury DicksonJane Austen: An Illustrated Treasury by Rebecca Dickson. At first glance this seems like a coffee table book that is filled with illustrations. The book also features removable memorabilia, including handwritten letter, drafts, paintings, and more.  It looks like a fluff piece, because it is so beautifully designed, but the author discusses all of Jane’s novels in context of the age and with images that take your breath away. I found the font in the body of the main text annoying to read, but that is a minor quibble. This is a great gift for a budding Janeite fan in your family.

Obviously, there are many other excellent biographies about Jane Austen that Laurel Ann and I have not mentioned. These are just a few in my collection that the new Jane Austen fan will love. Jane Austen scholars have access to more scholarly works, and there are many new biographies that have been published in recent years. This post ends our Jane Austen Sibling week. Thank you for coming to our blogs to participate in this event. Vic

Our posts in honor of Jane Austen Sibling Week:

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