Eat, Read, and Live Like Jane Austen 

                   Castle Comb, photo by Olivier Collet

by Guest blogger Jane Sandwood

Tea time is an important English tradition. It was a big part of life during the Regency period and is still valued today. If you love Jane Austen, you might be curious as to what her typical dining habits were – as the saying goes, “You are what you eat.” Combine your love of tea time and sweet treats with your love of Jane Austen books, and immerse yourself into the traditions of the time. You’ll make your next book club meeting a sweet affair. 

The Regency period was focused on enjoying a range of sugary treats, but this wasn’t just because people in the era had a sweet tooth – it was because sugar played an important part in the country’s development so it was available to everyone. Sugar even featured in Austen’s novel “Mansfield Park” in which one of the characters, Sir Thomas Bertram, is a sugar baron. 

Here are some treats that Jane Austen and others would have loved during the Regency period. 

Honey Cake 
Breakfast during the Regency era would have been based around cakes, which sounds wonderful. A favourite choice was honey cake, perhaps because of its simplicity. You can make a delicious honey cake with just three ingredients: eggs, honey, and spelt flour. You could even add spices to the cake, which were quite popular during the period, such as saffron and ground ginger. Be sure to serve the cake with tea and hot chocolate, which were both typical beverages to be enjoyed with breakfast during the era.

Famous Bath Buns. My friend’s hand is nearby to show how big the buns are.

Bath Buns 
If you want to feel closer to Jane Austen while reading her works, eat bath buns. These were one of her preferred treats. Bath buns are sweet rolls made from dough with sugar sprinkled on top. There are different varieties, such as buns with candied fruit peel or raisins inside them, which makes them sound a bit like hot cross buns. You can make delicious bath buns with milk, flour, dried yeast, sugar, butter, and caraway seeds which were also popular during the Regency era. In fact, these seeds that taste like anise were also used in recipes for breath fresheners.

Bakewell Tarts

Tarts photo by Hisu Lee

These tarts are said to have been invented at The Rutland Arms in Bakewell, a hotel in which Jane Austen stayed in 1811 and where she wrote “Pride and Prejudice.” These tarts were a custom during the Regency period – and are still delicious today. Made with shortbread pastry, and layers of jam, flaked almonds, and frangipane, they’re sure to be loved by your guests. You can make an easy Bakewell tart recipe in half an hour.

Try to imagine Jane Austen penning her most famous novel while baking and feasting on these tarts. Who knows? They might inspire you to write a cookbook or work of fiction set during the period…
You know that reading Jane Austen’s novels is a treat itself, but adding the pleasure of eating Regency desserts which the novelist enjoyed during her life is even more enjoyable. Escape modern life with some Regency treats and your beloved copy of “Pride and Prejudice.” It’s a double pleasure to savour.

 

Gunter’s Tea Shop

Negri’s business card

One of the fashionable places to visit in Regency England was Gunter’s Tea Shop in Berkley Square. Gunter’s was originally a sweet shop called The Pot and Pineapple, so named because the Pineapple was a symbol of confectioners, something only the rich could afford.

William Gunther. Note the fashionable pose.

The proprietor, an Italian pastry cook named Domenico Negri had a successful business making wet and dry sweetmeats. His shop also offered candied fruits, cakes, syrups, biscuits, delicate sugar spun creations, and most notably, ices. The Pot and Pineapple flourished, and Negri eventually took on a partner, James Gunter. Eventually, Gunter became the sole owner and changed the name to Gunter’s Tea Shop in 1799.

Ices were frozen in pewter or led molds in whimsical shapes such as fruit, vegetables, animals, a wedge of cheese, and even cuts of meat! These treats came in flavors the modern palate would find odd—parmesan and Gruyere cheeses, artichoke ice cream, coriander, cinnamon, and cloves. Flower flavors also graced these fine dishes in violet, orange flower, jasmine rose, and elder flowers.

                        Berkley Square, 1813

By the Regency Era, Gunter’s had become so fashionable that those lucky few in the Beau Monde, many of whom resided at Mayfair, frequented the establishment. After going for a carriage ride at the park during the fashionable hour, many gentlemen took the ladies they were courting to Berkley Square to visit Gunter’s. They eventually formed the tradition of enjoying their sweets outside the confectionary in the Square. It seems that Gunter’s Tea Shop was the only establishment where a lady mindful of her reputation could be seen eating alone with a gentleman not related to her without calling into question her reputation. Waiters took orders from customers in their carriages, ran across the street to fetch the sweets, then raced back, dodging traffic, while carrying cold dishes filled with molded ices already beginning to melt.

Berkley Square, 2017, the site where Gunter’s is believed to have been located

Gunter’s was also known for its catering business and was a coveted wedding cake maker. In 1811, the Duchess of Bedford’s and Mrs. Calvert’s ball suppers featured the shop’s confectionary, and in 1889, Gunter’s made the bride cake for Queen Victoria’s granddaughter, Princess Louise of Wales.

Sadly, Gunter’s closed their doors in 1956, but continued to have a catering business in a new location for another twenty years.

Here is a photo I took of Berkley Square. The store, Sexy Fish, now sits in the location where it is believed Gunter’s once delighted those with a sweet tooth.

My heroes and heroines often frequent Gunter’s and I sometimes wish I could taste the ice right along with them!

 

Sources:

http://www.historicfood.com/Georgian%20Ices.htm

http://www.regrom.com/2008/09/27/regency-hot-spots-gunters/

https://janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/tag/gunters-tea-shop/

http://www.georgianindex.net/Gunters/gunters.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gunter%27s_Tea_Shop

 

English Afternoon Tea, Jane Austen Style

English tea with clotted cream

Tea is a time-honored tradition, and to me (an American), nothing says British Custom like afternoon tea. While most of us may think of High Tea as an upper class  tradition dating back hundreds of years, I discovered something else entirely.

Tea in the afternoon didn’t actually become common until the 1700’s. By the Regency Era, the custom had long-since caught on and the upper class had afternoon tea about four o’clock, which was before the fashionable time to promenade in Hyde Park if one was in London. Afternoon tea included, of course, tea served hot. Also served with tea, one would find small finger sandwiches (thin and crust-less, thank you), biscuits (which the Americans call cookies), seedcake, and small cakes—not petite fours, at least, not during Regency but small cakes sometimes called fairly cakes with butter icing, which, from what I’ve been able to tell, were probably not much bigger than mini cupcakes. There has been much discussion among Regency enthusiasts as to whether scones with jam and clotted cream (also known as Devonshire cream) were served during the Regency or if that become more common during the Victorian era, when High Tea became such a grand affaire.

Food with tea probably evolved because the upper classes ate dinner at the fashionable time of about eight o’clock at night, and since many had not yet adopted the custom of luncheon or nuncheon, they probably needed that small meal in the middle of the day. Personally, I like a small meal in the afternoon even though I do eat lunch. I would have made a great hobbit with with custom of eating “elevensies” and lunch and afternoon tea, etc. But I digress.

 “High Tea” developed during the Victorian era. Some accounts say that high tea, served later in the day at about five or six o’clock, originated with the lower classes but I don’t understand how they could come home from work for high tea and then return to work for a few hours and then go home again for dinner. *shrug* Plus, tea was expensive.

At any rate, High Tea is a more filling meal than afternoon tea. High tea usually comes with white and brown bread, meats such as roast pork, fish like salmon, scones, an assortment of sweets such as cake pie, trifle, lemon-cheese tarts, sponge cake, walnut cake, chocolate roll, pound cake, currant teacake, curd tart, macaroons, a variety of cheeses, jellies, as well as butter or clotted cream.

According to Laura Boyl in her article “Tea Time” on the Jane Austen website, the different names are derived from the height of the tables where the meals were served. Low tea is served on a table, which in the United States would be called “coffee tables.” High tea is served on the dinner table.

Because the characters in my Regency romance novels all hail from the upper class, or end up there eventually, I will focus on afternoon tea because that’s what they do every day, unless they are fighting pirates or running for their lives or battling villains, of course.

 Most sandwiches in the UK are traditionally made with a very thin white bread, generously buttered with potted paste. The potted paste could similar to deviled ham, but also could be a fish paste–salmon, for instance, very thinly spread. I guess they liked their pleasures small, thin, and bite-sized. 

Tea was (and still is, sometimes) served in a china or silver pot accompanied by slices of lemon or milk. They never put cream in their tea or it would ruin the flavor. According to Regency researcher and author, Kathryn Kane, tea leaves used during the Regency were chopped much more coarsely than those used today. The large size required that the tea be steeped for a longer period, but it also made it easier to strain the used leaves from the tea after it had been steeped. There was a special implement included in many tea services used to clear the strainer at the base of the spout of the tea pot, or to strain the used leaves out of each cup before it was served. You can find more detail at: http://regencyredingote.wordpress.com/2013/11/08/the-mote-skimmer-a-specialty-tea-accessory/

tea 2However, Regency author Grace Kone, who is British, told me that if it’s done correctly, the tea leaves stay on the bottom, with just enough pouring out to make a scattering of leaves for fortune-telling. (It sounds very Harry Potter, doesn’t it?) Grace said she has never in her life strained leaf tea. Other British friends such as author Janis Susan May Patterson use something called a tea ball, which is small metal case into which she places the tea leaves. These are also known as ‘tea eggs.’ Other friends pour their tea into their cups through a silver tea strainer, like the one in this picture:

Here is a recipe, courtesy Regency author, Miranda Neville, for cucumber sandwiches:

Very thinly sliced white bread (or whole wheat if you insist on being healthy but really, why bother?). I use Pepperidge Farm Very Thin

Good quality unsalted butter

English cucumbers (about† one and a half per loaf of bread)

Salt

1. Slice the cucumbers very thin. Put them in a colander mixed up with some† salt, weigh them down with a plate, and leave them in the sink to drain for an hour or two.

2. Wash the salt off and pat dryish with a dish towel.

3. Butter the bread.

4. Put two layers of cucumber slices in each sandwich and press flat with your hand so it all sticks together, preferably without becoming totally squashed.

5. Cut off the crusts (very important). With a big sharp knife cut each sandwich into four – triangles, squares, or strips, your preference.

And from “The Royal Pavilion at Brighton a booklet A Choice Selection of Regency Recipes you can  now make at Home” here is a recipe for macaroons.

Macaroons.
1 large egg white
2 oz ( 55 g) ground almonds
2 oz (55) g caster sugar
a few drops rose water
1-2 drops almond essence
about 12 slivered almonds =-optional.

Heat the oven to 160C/325F/gas3 

Line as baking sheet with baking parchment paper. Whisk egg white until stiff. Using a large  metal spoon, fold in  the ground almonds, sugar, rosewater, and almond essence.  Mix until blended  into a smooth thick paste.

Using a teaspoon, put blobs of  the mixture on the lined baking sheet, leaving space between them to allow for expansion during cooking. Flatten with the back of a spoon. If you like you can top each with a sliver of almond.  Bake for about 20 minutes until light golden brown. Transfer to wire rack and leave to cool. Makes about 12.

Sounds yummy, doesn’t it?

Jane Austen TeaI think for my next book launch I will have afternoon tea.  In fact, I may not wait that long. I may just have a tea party just because it’s a fun and sort of a girly thing to do. I’m not a traditional tea drinker because I don’t use a lot of caffeine, so I may deviate from tradition and have herbal tea in my cup. But having tea is great fun. I attend an annual Jane Austen tea in Salt Lake City, UT with some of my Jane Austen geeky friends such as Sarah M. Eden. We have high tea, so we had lots of food (including non-traditional fruit and veggies) and we eat at small dinner tables with chairs. We all dress up and did our fair fancy.

tea 3We even have some period entertainment such as a poetry reading, a soloist, and a flutist. It was so fun! 

Have you ever had afternoon tea?