In her letters, we see Jane Austen taking great pleasure in food, a passion unequaled by her major heroines except perhaps Emma. All together, these letters are the nearest record we have to a food diary. To prepare the food Jane Austen mentioned, research was conducted in Chawton, England with two cookbooks close to the Austen family circle: Martha Lloyd’s Household Book and The Knight Family Cookbook.
Janeites may already be familiar with Martha Lloyd’s Household Book of nearly 100 handwritten “receipts” and a number of home remedies collected by Jane Austen’s intimate and longtime friend. Martha Lloyd lived with the Austen women at Chawton Cottage and, years after Jane’s death, married her widowed brother Frank. Visitors can see the book safely encased at Jane Austen’s House Museum. Recreating recipes from this book may be as close as one can get to dining at the cottage with Jane Austen.
© Jane Austen's House Museum
Research has also been conducted with The Knight Family Cookbook at Chawton House Library. This is collection of 434 handwritten “receipts” from the relations that adopted Jane Austen’s elder brother Edward. This cookbook manuscript bears an inscription from Thomas Knight:
“This book I brought from Chawton and gave it to my sister Mrs. J. Knight, on whose death it was returned.” --T K 1793
© Chawton House Library
Unless a more relevant artifact is discovered, recreating recipes from this book is the nearest way to experiencing the dishes Jane Austen may have enjoyed at the family estates of Godmersham and Chawton House.
The foundation of this project was formed by cataloging the food references in Jane Austen’s letters, a process greatly assisted by the works of Deirdre Le Faye and Maggie Lane. Also cataloged were the 99 recipes from the Martha Lloyd’s Household Book and the 434 recipes from The Knight Family Cookbook. The material from these three sources was then cross-referenced. Where the content intersected is where the cooking began.
About the Author
Julienne Gehrer is a Life Member of the Jane Austen Society of North America and a member of the Metropolitan Kansas City Region. She is a retired Editorial Director for Hallmark Cards, Inc. where she developed products for over 30 years. Julienne is the author of two books: In Season: Cooking Fresh From the Kansas City Farmers' Market and Love Lore: Symbols, Legends and Recipes for Romance. She is the creator of three board games including Pride and Prejudice—the Game. Julienne has spoken at several JASNA conferences and regional events on several topics including, Did Jane Austen Prefer a Plain Dish to a Ragout? and Jane Austen and 18th Century Cooking Wisdom. Although she admits a preference for modern kitchens, Julienne has cooked period foods over the open hearth of the 1858 John Wornall House Museum.