Have you ever wondered about the foods eaten on the occasions mentioned by Jane Austen? For example, what would have been served at the Weston’s wedding breakfast or the Box Hill picnic, both in Emma? What exactly are white soup, negus, and whipt syllabub? Jane Austen would not only have eaten these things; she would probably have had some experience preparing them, since she is know to have helped in the kitchen.
So today, I’m going to share with you my adventures (so far) in cooking like Jane Austen!
Let’s start off with negus, since that was the first Regency recipe I attempted (see original post here) in 20ll, coinciding with my very first book sale!
Negus is a hot mulled wine drink invented in England by Colonel Francis Negus in the 18th century. He died in 1737, but his namesake beverage lived on, remaining a popular fortifier on cold evenings throughout the Regency era. Jane Austen mentioned it twice – once in the fragment The Watsons and again in Mansfield Park, at the ball given in Fanny’s honor.
[Fanny] had only to rise, and with Mr. Crawford’s very cordial adieus, pass quietly away; stopping at the entrance-door… to view the happy scene, and take a last look at the five or six determined couple who were still hard at work; and then creeping slowly up the principal staircase, pursued by the ceaseless country-dance, feverish with hopes and fears, soup and negus, sore-footed and fatigued, restless and agitated, yet feeling, in spite of everything, that a ball was indeed delightful.
I’ve seen more than one recipe, but the one I use contained port wine, lemon juice, water, sugar, and nutmeg. Let’s just say I wasn’t all that impressed with the hot toddy. I actually thought it tasted better when it had cooled.
More recently, I’ve tried a couple of other recipes from a book given to me by a friend – Jane Austen’s Table: recipes inspired by the works of Jane Austen. It’s a lovely book, but purists should know that it doesn’t claim to be 100% accurate to Jane Austen’s day, featuring “…recipes that capture all the spirit and verve of the food of Austen’s world and the Regency era, adapted and reimagined for the modern day.”
I decided to try the white soup first, which is mentioned by Mr. Bingley in Pride and Prejudice in reference to the upcoming Netherfield ball.
“…but 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.”
Genuine white soup was pretty labor intensive, calling for veal stock and copious amounts of ground almonds, which is why preparations had to be made in advance. The modern adaptation of the recipe substitutes chicken stock and omits the ground almonds altogether. (Ingredients: chicken stock, eggs, grated Parmesan cheese, white bread crumbs, nutmeg, salt, pepper, with basil leaves for garnish.) It was good, but someday I would like to try a more authentic version.
My friend made the treacle tarts recipe and shared some with me. Jane Austen mentions gooseberry tarts and apple tarts but never treacle tarts by name in her writings. In fact, this British classic may not yet have been invented. Anyway, although they were pretty good, they weren’t as sweet as I expected. Plus, I didn’t have the whipped cream that the recipe calls for to top them with. And everything is better with whipped cream, right?
Speaking of whipped cream, there’s no shortage of that in my most recent creation: whipt syllabub. Jane Austen doesn’t mention this creamy concoction in any of her novels, but she does more than once in her letters.
[Anna] had a delightful evening with the Miss Middletons – syllabub, tea, coffee, singing, dancing, a hot supper, eleven o’clock, everything that can be imagined agreeable.
This is a simple recipe made up of heavy cream, white wine, lemon juice, and powered sugar, all whipped together and topped with a bit of lemon zest. What’s not to like? Once again, though, I found that to my modern palate it wasn’t sweet enough. So I admit I added more sugar!
That’s as far as I’ve gone to date, but I’ll report back when I’ve tried a few more things. Have you made (or tasted) some of these or other Regency treats? Or do you have any suggestions for what I should cook up next?
Progress Report on Mr. Knightley in His Own Words: Progress has been slow but steady. I now have 53,300 words, 182 pages, and 25 chapters. Basically, this means I’ve got almost 2/3 of the book done, and it should be out sometime late summer or early autumn. To read excerpts, go to previous posts (here and here) and this post at Austen Variations, and thank you for your patience!
I think it’s so neat that you’re trying out these recipes and then sharing your thoughts on them! Your post is making me want to try my own hand at some old recipes…now to find ones that kids will like too. 🙂
That will be a good trick, Alyssa. Glad you’re feeling inspired, though! And thanks for your comment. 🙂
I’m not a fan of too sweet so would probably have liked the treacle tart and the syllabub! Many years ago Marks & Spencer used to sell a black cherry syllabub which I think was made with Crème Fraiche and was totally delicious. I love almonds but I’m not sure I’d have been a fan of the white soup.
Well done you for trying these.
Thanks for stopping by, Glynis! That black cherry syllabub sounds divine. I can imagine several other flavors to try. 🙂