I was happy to see that Austen in August is back this year, and if you haven’t done so already, check out all the posts over at The Roof Beam Reader.
Readers might notice that Jane Austen never spends much time actually describing the food people are eating in her novels. But even though we might not actually “see” the food, there are a lot of times when we see her characters around food. In Emma, we have the memorable picnic scene. In Pride and Prejudice, Mrs. Bennett compares her own food more than once to that served by Lady Lucas. In Sense and Sensibility, food is one of the ways in which Austen shows us the lowered social status of the Dashwoods once they move into the cottage. And in Persuasion, Anne’s sister is quick to point out to her family and friends that dinners are not fashionable in Bath, a convenient way to hide the fact that there’s no money for fancy food. In the BBC adaption of Pride and Prejudice, it’s a lot of fun to see Mr. Collins’ desire to lecture conflict with his desire to eat.
With this in mind, I was especially curious to read Pen Vogler’s Dinner with Mr. Darcy. While it is first and foremost a cookbook, Vogler includes a lot of background information to help the reader understand the importance of food in Austen’s writing. She also describes anything from seating arrangements and the changing mealtimes during Regency England to kitchen gardens at the time, which I found fascinating. In addition, she has adapted the included recipes to use ingredients that are much easier to find today than the original ones. And, of course, the entire book comes with beautiful pictures that make you want to start cooking and baking right away. So far, I have only tried the fresh pea soup, which was wonderful (although mine didn’t come out as vibrantly green as the one shown in the book). Next will be the Lemon Cheesecakes (which will probably also not look as nice as the ones in the book, but as long as they taste good, no one will mind).
There are a few recipes I will probably never try (like eggs in jelly, which do not look appetizing to me, and thus I spare you the picture), and I am not sure when I’ll get to a butcher to buy veal bones for white soup, but overall, I was happily surprised by how accessible the recipes in this book are. Now I know what to picture in my head the next time I re-read Jane Austen’s novels and come across a food reference.