Austen Chat: Episode 8
February 1, 2024
Jane Austen & Food: A Visit with Julienne Gehrer
Photo © Julienne Gehrer
From roast mutton to white soup, pickled melon to Bath buns, Jane Austen and her characters enjoyed a variety of fascinating foods. To learn more about Georgian-era cuisine and culinary practices, we invited food historian Julienne Gehrer to the table to guide us on a gastronomical journey through Austen's world. Julienne, who has spoken and written on Jane Austen and food for more than a decade, provides glimpses into the daily life of our favorite author you won’t want to miss.
Julienne Gehrer is an author, journalist, and food historian who has presented at numerous JASNA AGMs and regional events. Her speaking engagements include several with Jane Austen’s House, and collaborations with chefs for “A Jane Austen Literary Dinner” and “A Cheese Tour of Jane Austen’s England.” Her articles have appeared in Persuasions, Texas Studies in Literature and Language, and LitHub. Recent books include Dining with Jane Austen and Martha Lloyd’s Household Book: The Original Manuscript from Jane Austen’s Kitchen (Bodleian Library, University of Oxford). The latter brings the historic Martha Lloyd’s Household Book out from Jane’s kitchen and into our hands as an annotated facsimile version.
Show Notes and Links
Many thanks to Julienne for appearing as a guest on Austen Chat! You can learn more about her Jane Austen culinary adventures or contact her through her website, Dining with Jane Austen.
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Listen to Austen Chat here or on your favorite podcast app: Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and other streaming platforms.
Credits: From JASNA's Austen Chat podcast. Published February 1, 2024. © Jane Austen Society of North America. All rights reserved. Music: Country Dance by Humans Win.
This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity and readability.
Breckyn: Hello, Janeites, and welcome to Austen Chat, a podcast coming to you from the Jane Austen Society of North America. I'm your host, Breckyn Wood, from the Georgia Region of JASNA. Friends, if you're already feeling snacky, you might want to go grab something to eat while you listen to this episode, because my guest today is food historian Julienne Gehrer, and she's going to help us root around in Jane Austen's pantry. As an author and journalist, Julienne has published many articles and books about Austen, including Dining with Jane Austen and Martha Lloyd's Household Book: The Original Manuscript from Jane Austen's Kitchen. She has also given talks and presentations at multiple JASNA Annual General Meetings and at Jane Austen's House in Chawton. From roast mutton to white soup, pickled melon to Bath buns, Julienne knows it all and is the perfect guide for our gastronomical romp through Austen today. Welcome to the show, Julienne.
Julienne: Thank you, Breckyn. I'm happy to be here.
Breckyn: Okay, so before we tuck in, let's start with our “Desert Island” segment. You're stranded on a desert island, and you can only have one Austen character as your pen pal. Who do you choose and why?
Julienne: Well, I'm afraid I've been spoiled by years spent with Jane Austen's letters, so the correspondent I would choose is Jane herself. I find the author's writing altogether even more captivating than any one of her magnificent characters. Please don't get me wrong. I'm passionate about Anne Elliot, Elizabeth Bennet, and many others, but to rewrite the metaphor, why buy just the milk when you can have the lovely cow?
Breckyn: Of course.
Julienne: Apologies to Jane, but she was a country girl, so hopefully she won't mind.
Breckyn: It's true. I'm sure she loved cows. That's wonderful. That's kind of cheating, but I like it, so I'm going to allow it, Julienne. I think that's outside-the-box kind of thinking that we like on this podcast. Okay, so, Julienne, before I read about you and your work, I didn't know much—Well, I didn't know Martha Lloyd at all. So, tell us a bit about her and her relationship with Jane and the Austen family.
Julienne: Sure. Martha was a lifelong friend of Jane Austen, and the two met when Jane was just 13, living at Steventon. Martha's mother rented Deane Parsonage from Jane's father, the Reverend George Austen. Martha and her sister, Mary, became fast friends of Jane and her sister, Cassandra. Martha actually lived with the Austens beginning in 1806 at Southampton with the family of Captain Francis Austen, Jane's brother, and eventually moved along with the Austen women into Chawton Cottage in 1809. She lived at the cottage with Jane as Jane wrote or revised all her major novels. Martha continued to live at the cottage for a decade after Jane's death and eventually married the widowed Frank Austen. All told, Martha spent most of her adult life living under an Austen roof. And I've calculated that nearly half of Jane's letters make mention of Martha.
Breckyn: Oh, wow.
Julienne: Their relationship was so close that Jane describes Martha as, "the friend and sister under every circumstance." And what adds even more weight to those words is the fact that Jane wrote them to her very own sister, Cassandra. I think that speaks volumes.
Breckyn: Yeah, definitely. And all this time I've always been picturing Jane and Cassandra and her mother in their little cottage. You know, these women—it always makes me think of Sense and Sensibility, their situation. And I think most people don't know that there was another woman there who was as close to Jane as a sister. So, Martha Lloyd—I'm really glad she's being brought to the surface more. And you wrote about her household book. So, tell us, what is a household book, and why did Martha keep one, and what does it tell us about Martha?
Julienne: Yeah, the household book really became the standard repository for essential information to run someone's home. You can consider it the 18th-century Google or Siri. The book itself could take a variety of forms, different sizes, different lengths, but each held content important enough to record over time and retrieve on nearly a daily basis. I mean, at this time, the vast majority of household books were recorded by women. I have seen a few recorded by men. And each woman sculpted the content to fit her family's needs. Typically, household books from this era are a mix of culinary, household, and medicinal receipts or recipes. And Martha signaled her intent by inscribing the inside cover of her book with the words "cookery interest." What this tells us about Martha is that she expected to run a home and that her favorite sphere in the domestic domain was culinary. She and I would agree on that, as well as a love for Jane Austen.
Breckyn: And so, you've written that "by simply paging through Martha's household book, we can catch glimpses of Jane Austen living between the lines." That's really lovely. I love that. Could you elaborate on that a little bit?
Julienne: Sure, sure. And thank you. That phrase sprang up from my first encounter with Martha's manuscript. To be honest, I was reluctant to touch it. It seemed so fragile. But with some encouragement, I started carefully turning the pages, and the content seemed instantly familiar. There were family names I had encountered in Jane's letters: Fowle, Bridges, Dundas, Terry, Knight, and, of course, Austen, along with foods mentioned in her writing, both fact and fiction, from toasted cheese to white soup. I felt like I was seeing Jane's life from a new vantage point, as if I were peeking inside the window of Chawton Cottage and watching the women go about their everyday lives. From that moment, I was intrigued with Martha's book and, I'd say, determined to draw out every possible connection to Jane Austen. I told the house director at the time that they really should publish it. And, well, here we are.
Breckyn: And so that was your project? That was your idea? Did you travel to Chawton to work on this?
Julienne: I traveled to Chawton to experience Martha's book and to research on it for years. But the actual writing of the book was done here, my home in Kansas City, using my notes. And then we did the rest with the Bodleian Library over the Internet.
Breckyn: What is it like holding a book that you know Jane Austen would have also held?
Julienne: Oh, it is incredible. You feel like the proverbial fly on the wall.
Breckyn: Are there any marginalia from Jane, or are they all in Martha's hand?
Julienne: It's in Martha's hand, as well as who I'm assuming is Frances Sophia. So that's one of the adult daughters of Francis Austen, who lived at the home, Portsdown Lodge, that Martha and Frank shared, along with Frances Sophia. So, I don't think—most of the marginalia is Martha's, but there is another hand, and I think it's Frances Sophia. I wish it were Jane, but no.
Breckyn: No, I know. Wouldn't that be exciting?
Breckyn: So, was Austen much of a cook? How hands-on was she in the kitchen?
Julienne: I'm so glad you asked this, because the question comes up frequently in my lectures, so I actually should just add it as a staple part of any talk.
Breckyn: A "Frequently Asked Question."
Julienne: Exactly. And the answer is both yes and no. We all know that Jane preferred the pen to the paring knife. You know the famous quote, "composition seems to me impossible with a head full of joints of mutton and doses of rhubarb." So, like the Bennets in Pride and Prejudice, the Austens employed a cook, but Jane and Cassandra clearly knew their way around the kitchen. Jane practically brags about this in a letter to Cassandra, mentioning some black butter that was not set up properly. She can't resist adding, "it was made, you know, when we were absent." So, obviously, she thinks the two of them could have done better.
Now, Mrs. Austen would have raised her girls with the proper knowledge to manage all aspects of the household, and that would include cooking, preserving, baking, and brewing. She anticipated that her girls would either marry or perhaps keep house for one of her brothers, as Caroline Bingley did for Charles Bingley in Pride and Prejudice, or Cassandra often did for brother Edward in real life, especially after his wife passed away. Jane Austen's domestic knowledge runs rampant through her writing—something I enjoy in my lectures and something I spelled out in one topic, "Jane Austen's Kitchen Wisdom."
Breckyn: And so, is it true that she only was in charge of the breakfast because her family wanted to give her time to write? I think I've come across that in biographies about her.
Julienne: You know, that seems part of the inherited wisdom of Jane Austen, that she was responsible for the tea and the toast in the morning—the daily breakfast at Chawton Cottage. And we know that early on, she had the keys to the wine stores and the sugar at the home in Steventon. So, she had responsibilities, but, no, she was not really cooking. And, yes, it's part of the tradition that she had just the breakfast, so that would give her more time for her writing. I don't know if that was the perception at the time or if that's, like I said, the handed-down wisdom, but we're grateful that they did.
Breckyn: Okay, so that might be apocryphal, but it does seem that her family was very supportive of her writing, right? Her father, her brothers. And so, it makes sense that maybe the women would also take some extra work so that she could focus on her writing.
Julienne: Absolutely. And they would enjoy it, too. I mean, she would read drafts out loud to the people in the house, and one of those people was Martha. So, she heard these words before anyone else did. I think that's a fascinating aspect of—I don't know about you, but when I'm writing, sometimes I'll bounce a phrase off of someone in the room. I even did that when I was employed at Hallmark. We would constantly—we'd call it "a hallway survey"—go down the aisle and talk to someone and see how they perceived what we were writing. So, I imagine Jane did that, too. And how lucky the person who was there!
Breckyn: Yes. All those women in the cottage were all her beta readers, which is really fun. Okay, Julienne, let's get this out on the table now: is Regency food gross? Did the dishes made according to the recipes—did they actually taste good? Because to a modern palate, specifically mine, which is used to sugar and MSG and Cheetos, stuff like cold tongue and cow's foot jelly does not sound super appetizing.
Julienne: Well, I would say that most of the period recipes do indeed taste good, but you have to remember that we cannot transport our palates back to a different era. Try as we might, we're not used to large quantities of mace on mushrooms and nutmeg on beef. But you better believe those Austens had a sweet tooth. Charles Austen recorded plenty of sweets he purchased at the local confectionery. And Jane herself quipped, "you know how interesting the purchase of a sponge cake is to me." So, she's right with you in loving something sweet. Now, if Jane's favorite toasted cheese stayed under the hot salamander a bit longer, it could have well tasted like Cheetos, you know, cheese that goes crunch. For myself, I don't like to play up the gross factor of period recipes. Let's remember that snout-to-tail eating is enjoying a culinary resurgence for both gastronomic and environmental reasons. Those secondary cuts fill all the best sausages and have done so for centuries. And the gelatinous material derived from boiling cow's feet is a basic thickening agent, tasting nothing like the meat. It simply provided the structure for the fruit-flavored jellies we now call Jell-O.
Breckyn: Yes. So, they used everything at hand, right? They used whatever they could.
Julienne: Absolutely, sure.
Breckyn: So, what do the recipes in Martha's household book tell us about Jane Austen and her family? Were they eating plain English fare, or are there other influences on the recipes? This is the rise of the British Empire, so are there curries or spices coming up?
Julienne: Well, that's a very full question, so get comfy. This is going to take a few minutes.
Julienne: All right. So, Jane's dinner table and Martha's recipes reflect typical middling-sort life, what we would call middle class. Jane's references to the components of a very typical dinner in one of her letters includes some pea soup, a spare rib, and a pudding. Many times, just three or four items. But even in the middle class, there was a certain cachet to dishes with a French flair. So much so that some traditional English dishes were essentially rebranded with French titles, like a simple mutton stew might be revised a bit and then reappear with the elevated title of a ragoût mouton. Remember snobby Mr. Hurst in Pride and Prejudice who slights Elizabeth Bennet for preferring a plain dish to a ragout? At Netherfield he wanted to be seen above his company, taking the culinary high road. When he's back home, I wonder if he might sup on some good old British beef in a suet pudding. Who knows?
Certainly, there is a difference between classic British fare and French fare, and the upper classes clearly imitated the dining style of the French court, referring to it as dining à la française. Guests entered the dining room to a table preset with the first course arranged symmetrically. To transition to the second course, certain dishes were removed and replaced with others, maintaining the perfect symmetry of the table. We see such a scene with dinner at the Coles in Emma, and such would be the case at Rosings or Pemberley. We can imagine a table at Godmersham Park set this way based on the many serving dishes included in the Knight family china that Edward ordered from Wedgwood's London showroom, with the lozenge pattern that Jane described in her letter from 1813.
Now, you mentioned some specific ingredients. If you were to source every single ingredient mentioned in Martha's book, your shopping trip would span the globe. Yes, you'd get rice from the Carolinas and sugar from Caribbean plantations via Lisbon. Both were the products of enslaved people. You would also get goods from what we would consider fair trade, such as oranges and raisins from Seville, pipe macaroni from Italy, medicinal tree bark from Peru, curry and turmeric from Asia. However, the vast majority, and indeed the principal ingredients mentioned in Martha's recipes, were grown, raised, or produced locally: eggs, cream, butter, pork, poultry, mutton, beef, and venison. Fruits were often from the nearby orchards or bushes. Vegetables and herbs were harvested from the kitchen garden. The broader story is that if you cook extensively from Martha's book, which I have, you'll do a fine job at supporting local agriculture. And, if you don't keep bees, make cheese, or brew beer like the Austens did, you can support those local artisans as well.
Breckyn: And you mentioned before, snout-to-tail eating is enjoying a revival. And so, are all those things that you mentioned, right? Eating locally. I feel like so many people I know suddenly have bees in their backyard, or have chickens, and that's very popular right now. And people are appreciating that more.
Julienne: Absolutely. And if you look back at Steventon and really go back and read all of Jane's letters and all the references to what they have there on site, it really is the epitome of a self-sustaining farm. And what are our chefs doing? They are shortening the distance from fork to plate.
Breckyn: Okay, so we know that Jane Austen isn't one to waste words. When she mentions something, she does it for a reason. So, when she mentions different foods in a novel, is she making a point about the characters and their circumstances? And if so, can you give us a few examples?
Julienne: Sure. Well, I'm certainly familiar with Austen's very intentional use of specifics. But the extent to which that practice applies to food is really fodder for discussion. Certainly, Mrs. Bennet assumes Darcy can afford to employ French chefs. And the snooty Mrs. Elton is appalled at the lack of ice at social gatherings at Highbury. Likewise, the fresh fruits at Pemberley imply the presence of a hothouse. But I don't think that Jane Austen went so far as to use fruit to symbolize sexual attraction, or that she mentions Willoughby's hasty lunch of cold beef and a pint of porter to say something about his being a true Englishman. I know it's tempting to read into every detail, but I think we should kind of hold back.
Breckyn: I don't think that's really her style anyway.
Julienne: No, I don't think so either. Rather, when Austen mentions specific foods and food practices, we see why she's considered the best chronicler of 18th-century life. If Austen had not made the Netherfield ball contingent upon when Nicholls had made enough white soup, I think the dish might have faded out of memory. When Austen references poultry keeping, as she does in four of her novels, she documents a traditional female duty while she comments on the characters' varying degrees of success. When she portrays both inferior and superior household management, she scrutinizes all levels of society, from the haphazard Mrs. Price to the precise Lady Catherine de Bourgh. In both Austen's letters and novels, we see the wealthy landowners practicing stewardship through food gifts. Whether it's a brace of birds from Chawton Great House to Chawton Cottage or a hindquarter of pork from the Woodhouses to the Bates women. To me, this is part of the richness of Austen's domestic detail.
Breckyn: My husband likes to watch the movies with me, and we are always quoting that, "Pork, Mother! Pork!" from the Gwyneth Paltrow version of Emma. They're talking extensively—Miss Bates is talking about the beautiful hindquarter of pork that the Woodhouses have sent her.
Julienne: Absolutely. And that example is really—I've got that in Dining with Jane Austen, and I may have even dropped it into Martha's book. But that pork example is rife with Jane's knowledge, because in a few short paragraphs, you've got many examples of butchering terms, cooking style, food preservation. And Jane knows all this, so she can imbue her characters with this knowledge. So, she doesn't need to be in the kitchen to tell you she knows how to direct the cook. And Emma would, too, running the household for her husband.
Breckyn: Right, yeah, because with that, they eat some of it immediately, and then they salt some of it, and then they talk about a lot of different things to do with that hindquarter of pork, like you mentioned.
Breckyn: There are so many different ways to dress it and preserve it and take care of it. So, in Dining with Jane Austen, which you just mentioned, you've converted some of the recipes so that they work for modern cooks. I imagine that was a difficult task. What were some of the challenges that you faced when you were converting them?
Julienne: Each period recipe is its own unique puzzle. And, yes, I converted 75 of them for Dining with Jane Austen. Some are from Martha's book, and some are from the Knight family cookbook. And there's a charm to reading phrases like "a bundle of herbs" or "as much beaten pepper as will lay on half a crown." But then you have to translate those variable quantities for people who are used to standardization. Even in Martha's time, the size of a lump of sugar varied from cook to cook. So, converting period recipes is hugely experimental. Now, if you read many manuscripts, you get used to irregular and phonetic spellings. You can almost hear the regional accent in "colender" for "colander" and "salary" for "celery." There are abbreviations we no longer use, inventive contractions, and there's the challenge of everyone's unique handwriting. I'm concerned that we might be losing a future generation of historians if we don't continue to teach cursive. Even those of us who are used to period documents can get it wrong. I mean, at first, I had "a good cheesecake with lard," and then later I discovered it was "a good cheesecake with curd." As in curds and whey.
Julienne: Yeah. And then after a bit more scrutiny and additional research, I changed "butter buns" to "Bolton buns," named for a nearby town. I mean, sometimes your first look at the handwriting should not be your last. You see things differently. Staying in the 18th-century mindset doesn't even solve all the problems, because recipe writers could omit key ingredients, like rennet for separating the curds and whey for cheese, or ale yeast for baking bread. Sometimes omissions are based on assumptions. The cooks knew what to do. Other times, they're just simple mistakes. Oh, gosh, and there's no digital thermostat to a beehive oven, so I needed to acclimate to the time-honored baking sequence that makes use of an oven first at peak heat and then as it gradually cools down.
Breckyn: Yeah, I imagine that cooking was a much—I mean, of course, it's still a skill now, but there are so many skills that you don't really need anymore, like how to build a fire and maintain it in an oven, and how to use an oven that isn't maintaining its temperature the entire time, and cooking different things in different spots in the oven. It just sounds like a headache. It sounds complicated.
Julienne: Absolutely, yes. Yet some people do that in a pizza oven. They get the heat just right, they push the tinder material to the back, and then they use the hot stone. So, I mean, people still do it. You don't have to be a period cook to do it. But can you imagine regulating the heat of the oven by determining how much the door is stopped up? No, it's mind blowing.
Breckyn: Also dealing with all of that heat blasting at you in the middle of summer and things like that. And you talked about, we have standardization now; of course, we've got teaspoons and tablespoons and cups and things like that. But even, I would say in the past ten years, kitchen scales have become really popular, especially with everyone doing their sourdough bread and stuff like that. I have a kitchen scale, and if a baking recipe online does not mention weights, I'm like, skip, go to the next one, because I don't want to have that variation. I want to know exactly how many ounces or exactly how many grams, and it's amazing. I love it. My kitchen scale is my favorite kitchen tool, I would say, but very different than what they're dealing with in the Regency era.
Julienne: I agree. I first bought a kitchen scale when I started converting recipes, and now I use it all the time. I don't go as far as to weigh my eggs. I know some people do that, and I know that there's a degree of variance, but I do get the scale out quite often, and I'm amazed.
Breckyn: Yeah, it's such a useful tool. So, I'm grateful for the many advances that we've had in the kitchen since Austen's time.
So, I get the impression that eating raw fruits and vegetables wasn't as common back then as it is now. Is that true? Because one of the few examples I can think of is when they pick strawberries at Donwell Abbey in Emma. But even when they talk about apples from Donwell, Miss Bates bakes them twice. And, of course, the hypochondriac Mr. Woodhouse bakes them three times before they're considered wholesome to eat.
Julienne: Well, I have to tell you, we can't put an exact figure on the consumption of raw versus cooked fruits and vegetables. But Austen has examples of both in her writing. The cooked foods are very prominent, and some examples of raw foods include the pyramid of fruit at Pemberley: grapes, nectarines and peaches. The celery root at the Hartfield ball in Emma (it's by the Stilton), the salad Lydia arranges or dresses at the coaching inn in Pride and Prejudice. And in Jane's letters, tomatoes. She said, "Fanny and I regale upon them daily." That's in one of the letters from Godmersham. Now, I think raw fruits and vegetables were not as prominent, not because of preference, but because of a prevailing lifestyle. Flash forward to the Victorians, who had better food preservation with ice boxes and canning jars, invented, I think, in 1853, and faster and broader food distribution through the railroads. I mean, in the Georgian era, if you ate all the fresh produce, then you'd have nothing to preserve and sustain you through the winter. Jane jokes about spying a ripening strawberry, a pleasure that would have been lost if Cassandra had been there to snarf it up.
So, I think strawberries are a favorite of Cassandra's. Perhaps there would have been enough berries to make jam. Now, when the garden produced only a small crop of currants, Jane mentions having to buy some for making their current wine. So, you see, the fresh crops were preserved for future use. If you ate them straight away, what would you eat come January? So, period cookbooks are filled with dried peas, gooseberry cheese, pickled cucumbers, pickled melon, and endless fruit wine.
Breckyn: So, what is pickled melon? Is it sweet or does it turn into, like, a pickle?
Julienne: It's funny, it's a bit savory. And my husband does not like cantaloupe, but he likes the pickled cantaloupe melon. There are mustard seeds in it. It's got a bit of spice to it, and I think that is the part that he enjoys. Now, I can't tell you how long it keeps. I mean, I did it for the recipe, and then I kept it in the refrigerator. It was really the flavor I was after.
Breckyn: So, what have been some of your favorites in this exploration of Regency-era food? Do any come to mind of things that you ate and you were just like, "That is delicious"?
Julienne: Oh, gosh. Well, we love the simple toasted cheese. The pickled cucumbers are really good, the pickled melons, but I like pickly salad stuff. And my daughter, I used to call her queen pickle, because she likes extra pickles on every burger. The sponge cake is good. There are lots of foods that we really enjoy. There are a few foods that we don't enjoy, and I have to say it's because we have a different palate. We are just not used to mace, which is the outer covering of the nutmeg; it's dried and then ground. It's very pungent, and you rarely see it in modern recipes. Occasionally it comes out. I think Martha Stewart uses it in her mashed potatoes. But it has a very distinctive flavor, and the quantities are huge. I mean, some recipes call for an entire nutmeg ground. I mean, you could never do that.
Julienne: Plus, the time it would take.
Breckyn: That would take forever.
Breckyn: To grind an entire nutmeg by hand.
Julienne: Absolutely, yeah. Part of one of my talks is to talk about the hidden work. I mean, even if you had a prep cook to the regular cook, some of this would take so long to prepare. And if you think about macarons—and there's a nice macaron recipe in the Knight family cookbook—so, you have to beat the egg whites by hand, and that would take the better part of an hour. I think I did calculate that; it was exhausting.
Breckyn: The muscle that you need. The forearm and biceps strength.
Julienne: Yeah, absolutely. Julia Child could have done it. She held her own at Le Cordon Bleu. But then you also have to think about the sugar. And the typical amount of sugar was a loaf, and a loaf was about a 13-pound chunk of sugar cone, usually. They'd call a loaf, it was a cone shape, but they'd call it a loaf. Yeah, for the average family, it was 13 pounds. So, you'd have to whack it off with probably a sugar hammer or sugar nips, like scissors. Then you'd have to put it in the mortar and pestle and grind it up. Well, for something like macarons, you want pretty finely ground sugar. So, this was a huge affair. And, of course, the Knights had Godmersham, and there was space, and there was probably a separate area devoted to the culinary world as opposed to the open-hearth cooking. So, you had the time and the space and the staff to deal with this. Martha would have just purchased it at a confectionery somewhere, probably in Winchester.
Breckyn: So, everybody, go home and kiss your KitchenAids and your blenders and your food processors and say, "Thank you. Thank you for saving me these hours and hours of work."
Julienne: And your bag of refined sugar and your powdered sugar.
Breckyn: Everything that you can just buy ready-made.
Julienne: I will date myself by saying that sometime when I was a child, I can remember seeing a powdered sugar box with two X’s on it. And, of course, that's the Roman numeral for 20: XX. And there was some period cookbook I came across that said to beat the sugar 20 times. And I thought, "That's it! That's where that came from!" These culinary moments are big ahas to me, and other people find eureka moments in other things. To me, they're in the kitchen.
Breckyn: Yeah. No, I've never heard of that. So, that was like a fineness gradient, that two X's. Is that what that means?
Julienne: Absolutely. That would be the finest possible grinding that you could have by hand.
Breckyn: Yeah. Using a mortar and pestle to make your own powdered sugar.
Julienne: Well, just the pepper that I referenced. It's funny, because when we were editing my manuscript for Martha's book, one of the food historians—and I worked with several—First, I had a proofreader back me up on everything handwritten, and then Deirdre Le Faye did the same thing. She was great. I asked her to do the introduction, which she agreed to. And then, of course, I realized that if she was going to do the introduction, she wanted to be proud of every word of my manuscript, which I greatly appreciated, and we had a great collaboration. I would like to write on it someday, because I think this was truly her last project before she passed away. Anyway, so, excuse me. She was dear to me, as she was to many people, and she encouraged scholarship. If you worked hard, she held you in high esteem. God forbid if you were a slovenly scholar, though. Oh, boy! Anyway, but the pepper. I had one food historian say, "No, that can't be right." And, so, I said, "You load the pepper on this size diameter." And by the way, a Georgian coin changed diameter in the period of the various King Georges.
Breckyn: Oh, great.
Julienne: So, you had to make sure you were dealing with the contemporary coin to Martha and her book. And that was a 30-year span. And then you couldn't just shake out ground pepper; you had to grind it in a mortar and pestle, so the flakes are rather large. So that's how I converted the pepper in that recipe. It's kind of maniacal, but I do think it's fascinating.
Breckyn: Yeah, no, I can't imagine the beginning of that recipe. It's like, "First, find a Georgian-era coin, specifically from 1789. Then load your pestle." This is a multi, multistep process. And how long were you working on it? I imagine it took you years to convert all these recipes.
Julienne: Well, Dining with Jane Austen—it took several years. I wanted to have it published for 2017, so, the anniversary of Jane's death. And I can't remember when I started converting recipes. I think it was back in 2012, as I was doing other things and articles, etc. So, on and off for a great period of time, well over a decade. And then for Martha Lloyd's Household Book, I didn't do much conversion because I had done that for Dining with Jane Austen. So, then the scrutiny on every letter form of the manuscript was critical, as well as reading a number of other household books, which, again, I had done over time. When you mentioned the sequence, by the way, of "First, take a Georgian coin," which would be funny if it started that way; I would love that. We should do fake recipes. It would be fun.
Breckyn: Oh, yeah.
Julienne: But something that I noticed, too, in the period recipes is there's no sequence that we are used to. I mean, we write recipes now and even the Georgians did, excuse me, even the Victorians did in the sequence in which you would want to do them. Well, in the Georgian recipes, you can read on through, and at the end then it says, "And then take some gravy." Well, who has gravy sitting around? Well, maybe the Georgian cook did. And the gravy could be a thick sauce. It could also just be the runoff from the joint that's over the fire, right, at the present time. So, it's kind of like, well, now you tell me. Or one of the recipes went on for paragraphs, and it said, "But at first, blah, blah, blah," I'm thinking, "Well, now you tell me."
Breckyn: I guess when you're handwriting things, you can't just cut, copy and paste, and move it. It's like, well, I didn't think about it until six steps in, so here we go.
Julienne: Well, that's another funny point, because in Martha's book there are several things crossed out and you can see that in the facsimile version from the Bodleian is that it looks like things were started and then crossed out, and it could be mistakes were made, or it could be that Martha realized, "Oh, I already have that." There also are a number of recipes for fish sauce. And you think, well, how many of those do you need? And I started to wonder. A couple of them appear before Frank Austen's fish sauce. So, I'm starting to wonder, is she thinking, "Oh, I'll write this down, because he's giving it to me," and she's being nice to him and she likes them and she loves the Austen family. You know, but she really doesn't need it. She's got plenty.
Breckyn: She's just humoring him.
Julienne: Yeah, exactly.
Breckyn: So, one thing that we haven't mentioned yet is drinks. Is it true that people are not really drinking water at this time for safety reasons?
Julienne: Yes and no. Yes and no.
Breckyn: Ok. What were some of Austen's favorite drinks? And were tea and coffee really the only nonalcoholic options at the time?
Julienne: Good question. Again, get comfy. It's a little bit of a long answer.
Julienne: So, a very common beverage was small beer. It had such a low alcohol content that you could have a glass at every meal and not feel any effect from it. So, yes, it was consumed by children and the servants, so it wouldn't affect their duties. It also had some nutritional value, so it was really a part of the meal and not just something to wash the food down. Jane herself loved mead. It's the most-often mentioned beverage in her letters, which include reports of the honey production from Cassandra's bees. And, of course, honey is the principal ingredient in mead. Even at Godmersham, when Jane had arguably superior beverages like port, Madeira, she finds herself thinking of the mead very often, as she says. Now, Martha's favorite drink was spruce beer, and Jane made sure to have it on hand when Martha returned from visiting her sister. I think the reference to spruce beer in Emma is really an homage to Martha, because Jane wrote Emma in its entirety when both women were living at Chawton Cottage.
Now, tea and coffee you mentioned, yes, were some of the nonalcoholic choices, along with thick and pricey hot chocolate and refreshing fruit shrubs made from preserved fruit syrups and, often, water. So, I'm getting to answer your water question, which brings me to your question of potable water. The answer depends on where you were at the time. There's nothing black or white in this era. There are shades of gray. Now, certainly the water in cities could and was spreading disease, but Jane lived most of her time in a rural setting. So, there was a water pump at her girlhood home in Steventon. It was there long after the house was gone, and people would go visit the land and just see the pump. She also had a pump at the courtyard at Chawton, and it's still there. So, she had access to well water and underground streams. Now, we can read recipes where water was used to make not only those fruit-based beverages, but medicines, and some of those are in Martha's book. So not all water sources were tainted.
Breckyn: I have recently been reading Jane Austen's juvenilia just because I've read her books so many times, so I want to explore all of her writings. And she is obsessed with drunkenness in the juvenilia. People are passing out drunk in all of her stories, everyone is drinking too much, and it's very funny, right? And she plays it for comedic effect. But I'm trying to think of examples in the novels. You mentioned that she talks about mead a lot in her letters. Are people drinking mead in the novels? People aren't really getting terribly drunk. In the movies, it seems like Mr. Hurst is always passed out drunk or taking a nap on the couch or something. What are they drinking in the novels?
Julienne: Well, in the novels, you do see the spruce beer. There's plenty mention of claret and Constantia wine.
Breckyn: Oh, yeah.
Julienne: I think what you point out in the juvenilia is not only just drunkenness, but generally excess. Excess food, excess shopping. The Beautifull Cassandra: think of how she reacts to having to pay the bill, and she topples over the pastry cook. So, everything is in excess. And Jane herself as a writer is going to an extreme. And then over time, you see her pull back and use moderation.
Breckyn: Hone her craft.
Julienne: Exactly! So, in a sense, she's getting it all out. I mean, I can remember my earlier writing. Oh, gosh, so embarrassing. It sounded so darn stuffy. And I remember a professor telling me, "Yeah, we're trying to beat that out of you." But it's kind of like I had to go through that to pull back and get a little personality in what I was doing. Well, Jane just did the opposite. She went wild and then pulled herself back.
Julienne: I had to pull myself out a bit. So, it's just interesting to see. And every once in a great while—don't know if you've noticed this—but every once in a while someone comes out with some theory that Jane didn't write all her own stuff. It happens with Shakespeare too. Yeah, yeah. But I think that person, whoever's making that claim, is not looking at the letters. You can pluck some of those phrases out of the letters and pluck nearly the same phrase out of a novel.
Breckyn: Same with the juvenilia. There are phrases and even characters. There's a proto-Catherine de Bourgh in there. There's a proto-Darcy. They're definitely her ideas in embryo in the juvenilia that emerge later in her novels.
Julienne: It's Jane's test kitchen. I mean, it's just wonderful. Yeah, I love to see the progress, and of course, we all wish we had many more years of Jane, but I don't know if something else will ever surface. I'm even just hoping for a letter or two.
Breckyn: Yeah, I'm always hoping that they'll find it in somebody's attic or something like that. Julienne, this has been so much fun. Thank you so much for talking with me today. Where can listeners go to learn more about your books and other work?
Julienne: Oh, thanks for asking. Well, my most recent title, Martha Lloyd's Household Book, was published by the Bodleian Library, University of Oxford. So, it's available on their website as well as Blackwell's in the UK. Plus, there's Barnes and Noble and the University of Chicago Press, both here in the States. And it's on Amazon, pretty much everywhere. You can just Google Dining with Jane Austen or my name and other books and articles should come up. And if you want to contact me with any questions, feel free. Go to my website, which is diningwithjaneausten.org, and I will respond to you as quickly as I can.
Breckyn: Great. And if you want to meet her in person, go to the AGMs, right? Julienne can often be seen there. Well, thank you so much, Julienne.
Julienne: Thank you, Breckyn.
Okay, friends, it's time for another nugget of JASNA news. You know, it's not too early to think about JASNA's AGM this fall. For a sneak peek at what we can expect, we've invited Jennifer Weinbrecht, co-coordinator for the event, to share some of the latest developments and news. Thanks for joining us today, Jennifer!
Jennifer Weinbrecht: Thank you for inviting me. JASNA's AGM is one of the highlights of the year for a lot of members, and many start planning months in advance. So, I appreciate being able to give listeners a preview of what's on tap for the 2024 conference and help them save the date and start planning. This year, we'll gather in Cleveland, Ohio, October 18-20, to explore Jane Austen's origin story. Every superhero has one, right? Our theme this year is "Austen Annotated: Jane Austen's Literary, Political, and Cultural Origins.”
We've invited five eminent plenary speakers to anchor the conference: our keynote speaker Amanda Vickery, Peter Sabor, Patricia Matthew, Thomas Keymer, and Susan Allen Ford. We've also planned some don't-miss special sessions, including an evening of Regency fashion fun with fashion historian and author Hilary Davidson. And we've selected 27 breakout speakers with talks that cover a wide range of topics. There will be something for everyone.
Of course, we'll round out the AGM program as we do every year with English country dance classes, workshops, an emporium, a Saturday evening banquet and ball, and tours in Cleveland and the surrounding area.
Iris: That all sounds terrific, Jennifer. What should members do if they want to join you in Cleveland this year?
Jennifer: First, they should download and study the preview brochure. We sent members a link to the PDF in an AGM Update email, but the link will also be posted in the show notes for this episode.
Second, make your reservations now at the conference hotel, the Hilton Cleveland Downtown. The room black opened on January 31, and the rooms are going fast. If you aren't able to reserve the nights you want right now, keep trying. Every year there are people who release rooms they reserved in the months before the AGM.
And third, keep an eye on our 2024 AGM website. We'll be posting more details in the coming months before conference registration opens on June 19. The URL for the AGM site is jasna.org/agms/cleveland2024/welcome.php.
The more the merrier at a party, so we hope you'll join us in person or livestream the AGM online as we explore Jane Austen's origin story in 2024.
Breckyn: Now it's time for, "In Her Own Words," a segment where listeners share a favorite Austen quote or two.
Bob Newell: Hi, I'm Bob Newell, and I'm from the Hawai'i Region of JASNA. I'd like to share with you one of my favorite Jane Austen quotes, which comes from one of her letters. "There is a monstrous deal of stupid quizzing and commonplace nonsense talked, but scarcely any wit." I love this quote because it describes a situation faced all too often by us Janeites. How many times have you made a witty remark, only to be met, at best, with blank stares? All the more reason to delight in associating with other Janeites, when witty remarks are met not only with understanding, but appreciation.
Breckyn: Well, that's it for this episode. Thanks for listening, Janeites. If you're interested in joining the Jane Austen Society of North America or learning more about its programs, publications, and events, you can find them online at jasna.org. That's J-A-S-N-A dot org. Join us again next time, and in the meantime, I remain yours affectionately, Brecken Wood.