Over the next three years we'll explore the world of Jane Austen through the foods and dining experiences familiar to her. From Honey Mead to Bath Buns and plain dishes to ragouts, we'll study foods associated with her life, letters and novels. By understanding and recreating these foods, we can enjoy a certain level of intimacy with the author—much like that of sharing a meal with our closest family and friends. By joining us on this journey, we hope that you may indeed feel like you are Dining with Jane Austen.
Summer Brings Thoughts
of Orange Wine
A simple phrase from Jane Austen’s summer letter to her
sister Cassandra fills my imagination with busy domestic scenes. Jane is
writing in June of 1808, so the Austen kitchen must surely have been abuzz with
winemaking activity four months earlier, seeding the author’s thought...
"The Orange Wine will want our Care soon."
Picture the Georgian kitchen in the “commodious old-fashioned house of Castle Square” in Southampton.
It’s January or perhaps February at the home of Jane’s brother and sister-in
law, Captain Francis and Mary Austen. The household has grown to include Jane, her
widowed mother, her sister Cassandra, and their close friend Martha Lloyd.
In Jane Austen’s time there was a short three-month window
when the nubby-skinned Seville Oranges arrived from Spain in bustling cities
like London and Bristol. These oranges were known for their tartness, and the
33 called for in the recipe would need to be offset with 36 sweet or “China”
oranges. There were 15 lemons that needed to be peeled and juiced along with
the oranges…and there were 30 pounds of Lisbon sugar cones to scrape into fine granules
using the back of a knife.
We don’t know if the Austen women who once oversaw the
making of mead, beer and wine at Steventon were suddenly tempted to grab a
paring knife and peel some fruit. We do know that they would have been familiar
with the provisions and process required to create Orange Wine.
At the time Jane writes Cassandra, the wine had been
fermenting in a cask for four months, presumably in the cellar of the Castle
Square house. Jane knew it would soon be time to strain the wine and clean the
cask of any scum produced by the fermentation process. Brandy and additional
sugar would be added to the wine when it was returned to the clean cask.
Bottling would take place later in the year.
Orange wine makes it appearance in another of Jane’s
letters—one written just six months before her death. Ironically, she mentions
gaining strength through the winter and proclaims herself “not far from well.” Seems like an opportune time to request the recipe for some memorable wine!
So from Chawton cottage in January of 1817, an invigorated Jane
writes her friend Alethea Bigg for the receipt for “some excellent orange Wine at Manydown Park, made from Seville
oranges.” Her request is made rather coyly as a postscript saying, “The real object of this Letter is to ask
you for a Receipt, but I thought it genteel not to let it appear early.”
One source claims the receipt written in Martha Lloyd’s
household book is the Manydown recipe. A different source credits the recipe to “Mrs. C. Fowle," an Austen family friend living 45 miles to the north of Southampton in Kintbury. During
the Austen’s years at Southampton, Jane writes of several exchanges of food
gifts with the Fowles—including a brace of birds, a pair of soles and a hamper
of apples. It’s likely recipe exchanges occurred at this time as well. Source material is coming to me from Jane Austen's House Museum, so stay
tuned for the answer to this mystery!
Since today’s households do not usually include winemaking
equipment and casks, I’ve simplified the following recipe to an unfermented
version of the original. Conversations with my local winemakers will hopefully
result in a faithful recreation of the original receipt. –JG
(Adapted from Martha Lloyd’s Household Book)
3 cups sugar (21 oz / 600g)
4 cups water (32 oz / l liter)
1 cup brandy (8 oz / 250 ml)
Wash oranges and lemon thoroughly then cut each in half.
Using a citrus reamer or the back of a spoon, press and squeeze out both the
juice and pulp into a large bowl or glass jar. Add the reamed fruit halves to
the extracted juice and pulp.
Place sugar and water in a medium saucepan. Stir to dissolve
sugar. Heat to boiling. Boil one minute then pour over reamed fruit. Cover and
place on a sunny bench or other warm spot for two hours.
Strain through a sieve placed over a bowl or large pitcher.
Cover and chill several hours.
To serve, measure 2 Tbsp. (1 oz / 25 ml) of brandy into a glass
then top with 1/2 cup (4 oz / 125 ml) of the citrus juice. Serves 8
© Julienne Gehrer
For an Austen Family Dinner
Would your typical Friday dinner be suitable to serve an
unexpected guest? Certainly Jane Austen felt no shame when Mr. Lyford, the
local apothecary, joined the Austen family for dinner on Friday, 30 November
In writing her sister Cassandra the next day, Jane mentions:
Mr. Lyford was here
yesterday, he came while we were at dinner, and partook of our elegant
entertainment. I was not ashamed at asking him to sit down at table, for we had
some pease-soup, a sparerib, and a pudding.
Jane could take
comfort in the caliber of the Austen family dinner in several respects. First,
the number of dishes served reflects the traditional middle class meal both in
content (meat and pudding) and variety (three dishes). Unlike meals served at the great houses from
which Jane modeled Rosings, Pemberley and Netherfield, the Austen’s meal fits
the expectation of a clergyman’s family dining alone. Had the Austens expected
company, the Steventon table may have boasted upwards of six dishes, but not
the dozens seen in film adaptations portraying the dining habits of landed
gentry. In Gervase Markham’s The English
Huswife (1615), this family standard was exalted for the practice of
moderation and economy—something Miss Bates would have been required to
practice and Sir Walter Elliott would have done well to learn.
A second reason to take pride in the family dinner is that the
featured sparerib was undoubtedly fresh. Pigs were usually slaughtered in
November, indeed a letter written to Cassandra not two weeks earlier declares,
“We are to kill a pig soon.”
Finally, puddings were a familiar and welcome sight at 18th
century dinners. The versatile and filling staple could be created in a myriad
of sweet or savory versions, all sure to fill a diner’s stomach should the
quantities of meat seem inadequate.
Two period cookbooks within the Austen family circle include
a variety of pudding “receipts.” Both Martha
Lloyd’s Household Book (Jane Austen’s House Museum) and The Knight Family Cookbook (Chawton
House Library) include a recipe for New
College Pudding or Puddings, the
oldest documented pudding in England. Although each manuscript titles the dish
differently, both recipes result in small fried puddings similar to today’s
fritters. These recipes have been adapted for modern use. Serve the puddings warm
and with total confidence if Mr. Lyford stops by.
New College Puddings
(Adapted from Martha
Lloyd’s Household Book and The Knight Family
6 oz. stale white bread
1/3 cup sugar
2 oz. currants
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/8 tsp. salt
1/3 cup butter, softened
1/2 tsp. rose water (vanilla may be substituted for modern tastes)
Vegetable oil for frying
In a heavy frying pan or skillet, slowly heat the oil to 350
degrees as you make the pudding batter.
Using a grater or food processor, grate the bread into fine
bread crumbs. Place in a mixing bowl and stir in the sugar, currants, nutmeg
Add the softened butter and begin to fold in. In a separate
bowl, beat the eggs and stir in the rose water or vanilla. Add the egg mixture
to the breadcrumb batter and stir well.
Drop the batter one heaping teaspoonful at a time into the
hot oil. Fry in small batches allowing at least an inch of space between
puddings. Turn puddings while cooking to brown evenly. Remove from oil and
drain on a paper towel while the next batch cooks.
If desired, sprinkle puddings with additional sugar. Serve
warm. Makes 6 to 8 servings. --JG
© Julienne Gehrer
Jane Austen's Taste
For Toasted Cheese