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Posts Tagged ‘Regency food’

Inquiring Readers: This is the third of four posts in honor for Pride and Prejudice Without Zombies, Austenprose’s in-depth reading of Pride and Prejudice. My first post discussed Dressing for the Netherfield Ball and my second post talked about the dances. This post discusses the suppers served during Jane Austen’s era, and concentrates on what kinds of food and drink might have been served at the Netherfield Ball.

“As for the ball, it is quite a settled thing; and as soon as Nicholls has made white soup enough I shall send round my cards.” – Charles Bingley, Pride and Prejudice

Mr & Mrs Bennet sit down to supper. Notice the lavish bowl of fruit.

The sit-down supper served at the Netherfield Ball in Pride and Prejudice probably occurred around midnight. By that time, people would be famished after their physical exertions or from playing cards nonstop in the card room. They had most likely eaten their dinner between 3-5 p.m. (earlier in the country, and later in Town). Dinners consisted of between 5-16 dishes and could last several hours. The best families would serve up two courses, for a meal’s lavishness depended on the number of courses and dishes that were served. Dishes representing a range of foods, from soups to vegetables and meats, would be spread over the table in a pleasing arrangement and would be set down at the beginning of the meal.

Large Derby porcelain supper dish from Ruby Lane

It is conjectured that by the time the covered dishes arrived from the kitchen and the family and guests were seated, the food had turned cold. Diners would be confined to eating from the dishes placed closest to them. In the Bill of Fare from the Universal Cook, 1792 (Francis Collingwood and John Woollams) one can see the foods that were available in November.

Bill of Fare, November 1792

The evening meal, which also included a dessert course, lasted as long as two hours, leaving the diners sated. Suppers were therefore served quite late and were simple and small in comparison. Often called a “tea board”, this small repast was frequently served on a tray between 10-11 p.m. If more than one person was hungry, a cloth would be laid on a small table, not the dining table, and a limited assortment of cakes, tarts, biscuits, pastries, jellies, cheeses, cold meats, sandwiches, savories, salad, dessert, or local fruits – whatever was at hand – would be made available. (One can imagine how tired the servants must have been, rising early as they did.)

Mr. Darcy observes the Bennet family during supper and is accosted by Mr. Collins

Suppers served at private balls were an entirely different matter for they reflected on the splendor of the event. Balls generally began at 8-9 p.m. and the dancers sat down to a lavish spread at 11 p.m. or midnight. A gentleman accompanied his dance partner into the supper room, which makes one think that it would have been wise for a suitor who wished to further his acquaintance with a young lady to reserve a dance just before the meal.

Jane and Elizabeth at supper

Mr. Bingley most likely served a sumptuous supper on a magnificent table set with his finest china and silver. The food would consist of white soup, which during this time was made with veal stock, cream, and almonds; cold meats, such as chicken or sliced ham; poached salmon; glazed carrots and other seasonal vegetables; salads; fresh fruits;biscuits;dry cake (which meant unfrosted cake, like the pound cake recipe from the Delightful Repast at the bottom of this post); cheeses; short-bread cookies; pies; ice-cream; and trifles. One must not forget that during this period cockscombs and testicles were considered delicacies, and that bone marrow was routinely added to pies for richness. (Fancy Tripe or Trotters for Supper?)

Kitty and Lydia tippling, Netherfield Ball, P&P 2005

Drinks of tea, coffee, lemonade, white wine claret, and red wine (sweet madeira wine was especially popular) were served. Regency cups were filled with punch, negus (wine mixed with hot water, lemon and nougat); orgeat (made with a sweet syrup of orange and almonds); or ratafia (a sweet cordial flavored with fruit or almonds). Port was reserved for gentlemen, though I am not sure that they were allowed to imbibe this liquor in front of the ladies.

A footman holds a tray of drinks, Netherfield Ball, P&P 2005

A private midnight supper at Netherfield was a more splendid affair than the suppers served up at the weekly Wednesday night balls at Almack’s. These subcription dances coincided with the three months of the London social season. Alcohol was not served to discourage drunkenness among gentlemen, who were known to imbibe several bottles of wine per day, and only an assortment of thinly sliced stale bread (which was a day old), dry cakes, lemonade and tea were provided. Simpler balls given by hosts who were not as rich as Mr. Bingley  might offer a little bit of hot supper consisting of six dishes, including salad, dessert, and fruit, and coffee, tea, lemonade and wine.

Trifle, The Delightful Repast

The links to the two recipes in this post were created expressly for us by Jean at The Delightful Repast. The pound cake (dry cake) recipe is one that even I am able to attempt with some success, and Jean’s solution of serving trifle in individual dessert dishes is sheer genius.

The last to leave the Netherfield Ball. Kitty and Lydia sleeping off their drinking. P&P 2005

The Food Timeline shows when meals were served during the Georgian and Regency periods, and how the hours changed.

  • 1780: Breakfast 10AM; Dinner 3-5PM, Tea 7PM, Supper 10-11PM
  • 1815: Breakfast 10AM (leisurely), 9AM (less leisurely), 8AM (working people); Luncheon Midday; Dinner 3-5PM; Supper 10-11PM
  • 1835: Breakfast, before 9AM; Luncheon (ladies only) Midday; Dinner 6-8PM; Supper depending upon the timing and substantiality of dinner

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Making traditional black butter

Inquiring readers: Reader Cora Harrison recently placed this comment on my blog: “In one letter, Jane [Austen] spoke of serving ‘black butter’ with wigeon and that she thought the butter was bad … Poor Jane, I thought. However, in reading a book called The Feast of Christmas I discovered that black butter was not butter at all, but what I would call a fruit cheese, made from equal quantities of apples, blackcurrants or blackberries and less sugar, and then boiled until it sets – and of course, the colour would be black!”

Her comment so intrigued me, that I decided to look up the topic. Jane wrote to her sister on December 27, 1808:

The first pot [of black butter] was opened when Frank and Mary were here, and proved not at all what it ought to be; it was neither solid nor entirely sweet, and on seeing it Eliza remembered that Miss Austen had said she did not think it had been boiled enough. It was made, you know, when we were absent. Such being the event of the first pot, I would not save the second, and we therefore ate it in unpretending privacy; and though not what it ought to be, part of it was very good.”

The recipe for making black butter, or apple butter as it is commonly known today, harkens back to medieval times. After the winter crop was picked, the preserve was made in huge quantities. In the 18th century, twenty percent of Jersey’s arable land was made up of orchards, and the tradition of producing ‘black butter’ or ‘Le Niere Buerre’ became an annual social  and festive occasion.  Jersey black butter was made from cider apples that were slowly boiled over a fire. Women would peel hundreds of pounds of apples, while the men and children would gather enough wood to keep the fire going for almost two days. After the cider was ‘reduced’ by half, apples, sugar, lemon, liquorice and spices were added. The Jersey tradition of making black butter included singing, dancing, and storytelling all through the night and until early morning. Jersey Island black butter is characterized by the addition of liquorice, which made the preserve quite dark. – RecipeZaar & BBC Jersey Black Butter.

According to Food Legends, black butter “contains no butter, the butter in the name being like the cheese in lemon cheese, more a description of the consistency and application of the product than anything else; and second, it is not really black, indeed a great deal of effort goes into avoiding the burning that would change the dark brown mass to black.” The following is likely Jane Austen’s recipe for Black Butter. Traditionally, the preserve is spread on bread, or it can be eaten by itself:

    Take 4 pounds of full ripe apples, and peel and core them. Meanwhile put into a pan 2 pints of sweet cider, and boil until it reduces by half. Put the apples, chopped small, to the cider. Cook slowly stirring frequently, until the fruit is tender, as you can crush beneath the back of a spoon. Then work the apple through a sieve, and return to the pan adding 1lb beaten (granulated) sugar and spices as following, 1 teaspoon clove well ground, 2 teaspoons cinnamon well ground, 1 saltspoon allspice well ground. Cook over low fire for about ¾ hour, stirring until mixture thickens and turns a rich brown. Pour the butter into into small clean jars, and cover with clarified butter when cold. Seal and keep for three months before using. By this time the butter will have turned almost black, and have a most delicious flavour. – Copyright Maria Hubert von Staufer March 1995

Black butter on bread

This recipe, which Cora must have at first thought Jane Austen was referring to, is a black butter that is generally served with fish, such as skate or salmon:

Black Butter: Put into a frying pan the necessary amount of butter, and cook it until it has a brown color and begins to smoke. At this moment add a large pinch of concassed parsley leaves and spread it immediately over the object to be treated. – Chest of Books

More on the topic:

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The Cooks and Confectioners Dictionary, Or, The Accomplish’d Housewifes Companion, By John Nott, Published by Printed for C. Rivington at the Bible and Crown, in St. Paul’s Church-yard, 1723

food-18thJohn Nott, the chef for the Duke of Bolton, who resided in St. Jamess’s Street, wrote this charming introduction to his cookbook, which was published in 1723 and is now in the public domain. A learned man, Nott’s French inspired recipes show that vegetables, such as carrots and new varieties of asparagus and spinach, which were brought from overseas, were becoming more plentiful on tables. He also makes frequent mention of marmalades, blanc-manges, creams, biscuits, and sweet cakes.* The cookbook includes two peacock recipes and a collection of 13 red currant recipes.

He seems to have been a fairly-read and intelligent man, and cites, in the course of his work, many celebrated names and receipts. Thus we have:—To brew ale Sir Jonas Moore’s way; to make Dr. Butler’s purging ale; ale of health and strength, by the Viscount St. Albans; almond butter the Cambridge way; to dress a leg of mutton à la Dauphine; to dress mutton the Turkish way; to stew a pike the City way. Dr. Twin’s, Dr. Blacksmith’s, and Dr. Atkin’s almond butter; an amber pudding, according to the Lord Conway’s receipt; the Countess of Rutland’s Banbury cake; to make Oxford cake; to make Portugal cakes; and so on.- Old Cookery Books, W. Carew Hazlitt, 1902

In regard to the cookbook’s title, it is interesting to note that an extravagant use of sugar in recipes was a sign of the wealth and status, as sugar remained a luxury item for most people until well into the 19th century.** Nott told hostesses who served desserts (there should be as many dishes of dessert as courses offered) to make the table arrangement perfectly symmetrical in design and color, and provided an illustration of the ideal dessert “pyramid”.

Nott included bills of fare for every month of the year. Below is the one he created for January. Note the absence of vegetables.


The Cooks and Confectioners Dictionary, Or, The Accomplish’d Housewifes Companion By John Nott, cook John Nott

Nott’s 18th Century Recipe for Hot Milk Chocolate (said to be rich and delicious):

1 quart milk
4 ounces chocolate without sugar
1/8 ounce fine sugar
1/8 ounce flour or starch
Salt to taste

Mix, dissolve and bring to a boil before serving hot.

Nott’s recipe for a posset, the 18th century version of a nightcap:

“To make a posset: set a quart of milk on the fire; as soon as it boils, take it off, and set it to cool a little; then, having put four spoonfuls of sack [sherry] and eight of ale into a basin with a sufficient quantity of sugar, pour your milk to it; then set it before the fire and let it stand till you eat it.”

More links:

  • Find a recipe at this Historic Foods link for Nott’s lamb pasty and pasty crust. In this 1720’s recipe, the design for the crust was created by Edward Kidder.

*Old Cookery Books and Ancient Cuisine By William Carew Hazlitt, p 49

**Savoring the Past, Shax Riegler


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The diet of the handloom weavers would have been augmented in Ribchester by the nearby agricultural areas which encroached well into the village. Early maps show most homes had gardens, substantial areas of meadow, orchards and open spaces. Around 90% of the agriculture in the parish was permanent grass for rearing cattle, sheep etc and only a very small acreage was arable land, suggesting a good ready supply of meat and dairy produce. Gardens would provide vegetables, fruit and would

19th-century walled kitchen

19th-century walled kitchen garden.

certainly allow for the keeping of poultry and pigs. Game was available legally or illegally, and possibly similarly fish. The traders in the village would provide dry goods, spices etc., or these could have been brought by itinerant traders. In the early 1800’s there was a carrier 3 times a week to Blackburn and twice a week to Preston. From – Ribchester Local History

The above website describes how Ribchester was considered a poor village until the early 19th century, when handloom weaving became the primary activity in the township.
Hand Loom Weaving

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It’s spring, and the Baltimore Sun’s John McIntyre recommends some drinks with the author in his blog: gin with Fitzgerald, tea with Dr. Johnson, and madeira with Jane Austen. He chose madeira for Jane because it is “a little sweeter and lighter than sherry, which would also be suitable.” Other popular fortified wines of the time were sherry and port. Only gentleman drank the latter, as well as claret, an expensive French bordeaux.

The patronesses of Almack’s served orgeat and ratafia, two sugary sweet drinks. Refreshments at this tony establishment were supposed to be insipid, but both drinks have strong flavors.

Orgeat syrup, made with almond extract, sugar, and orange flower water, was (and still is) added as a flavoring to punch, hot chocolate, coffee, sparking water, or cocktails. This thick, sticky, and opaque milky liquid would have been considered too sweet by itself, and a small amount went a long way. A non-alcoholic orgeat lemonade would have consisted of orgeat syrup, lemonade, and soda water, and might well have been the sort of drink served at an Assembly.

Ratafia, which denotes almost any alcoholic or flavored water, could be made in several ways – distilled or with an infusion of fruits and spices. Ratafia’s alcoholic base would have consisted of marc brandy and the unfermented juice of the grape. The length of time for fermentation for this drink varies. A liquer made in mid-December, for example, could be ready to serve two months later on Valentine’s Day. One recipe for dark brown ratafia suggested that it be stored in an oak barrel for at least two years.

Capillaire, another drink of that era, seems similar to ratafia in that it is described as any simple syrup flavored with orange flowers. I was not able to find out more about this drink, other than as a vague reference.

As mentioned above, Mr. McIntyre chose madeira for Jane. This sweet, fortified wine was hugely popular during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, especially in Colonial America. Brandy was added to the wine to stop the conversion of alcohol from the sugars in the grapes.

British laws prohibited the exportation of wines to the colonies except for Madeira. This brandy-laced wine became so popular in colonial America that nearly 25% of all Madeira wine was shipped there. An interesting chemical reaction occurred inside the casks during the long, hot, and rocky sea voyage across the ocean – the wine improved vastly in flavor. “Why these wines, exposed to constant rocking, extreme heat, and the barrels often found soaking in bilge water, were not ruined, is a mystery.” (Into Wine) It was popularly thought at the time that for Madeira to age well, the wine had to cross the equator in order to heat up sufficiently. In those days, as now, the wine was offered as an aparatif, or with cheese or desserts after dinner.

Cordial waters or Liquers d’Italien had enjoyed a long reputation as wholesome, medicinal drinks, and personal recipes abounded. One 1820 recipe for Yellow Escubac included adding the following ingredients:

One ounce of saffron, one ounce of Damascus raisins, one ounce of cinnamon, three pounds of sugar, one ounce of liquorice, one ounce of corianders, three pints of brandy, two pints of water. Pound these ingredients, and dissolve the sugar in two pints of water; put the whole in ajar to infuse for a month, taking care to stir it up every second day, or third at farthest. – From: G.A. Jarrin, The Italian Confectioner (London: 1820)

Unlike Mr. McIntyre, I would have chosen a slightly different drink for Jane, a French wine perhaps, or, as Jane wrote to Cassandra, the orange wine, which would want “our care soon.” Whatever her choice of drink, a lady was not supposed to get drunk or tipsy, but as Dr. Jennifer Kloester allows, in an age that was generous in serving drink, sobriety would not have been easy state to maintain:

In general, upper-class women did not get drunk, although the prevalence of alcohol in society sometimes made this difficult. The arrack-punch served at Vauxhall Gardens was drunk by both men and women, despite a reputation for potency. It was said to have been made from the grains of the Benjamin flower mixed with rum and was freely imbibed on gala nights. Some men preferred to mix their own punch as Freddy did in Cotillion and rum punch (rum, lemon, arrack and sugar), Regent’s punch (various fruits, rum, brandy, hock, Curaçao, Madeira and champagne) and Negus (port, lemon, sugar and spices) were popular brews. Fortified wines such as Madeira and sherry were also popular with men and some women during the Regency but red wines such as claret, burgundy and port tended to be the more exclusive province of male drinkers. Brandy, gin and rum were drunk by upper-class men, although they often chose to drink the rougher forms of these spirits in the less salubrious surroundings of the inns and taverns of the poorer quarters of London. – Georgette Heyer’s Regency World

Learn more about Madeira and other alcoholic drinks that could be served to ladies of the Regency era in these links:

Dance image from Wikimedia Commons.

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