I thought it would be fun to blog about a project I decided to do this year. I’m going to make as many of the recipes in the Jane Austen Cookbook by Maggie Black and Deirdre Le Faye, as is practical. Not that there is much practical about this project but I do love to cook and bake so here goes. I did a similar post on the Austen Authors blog last week but have expanded it here.
Food historian Ms Black and Austen biographer Ms Le Faye used the actual recipe book kept by Martha Lloyd, a friend of the family who lived with Jane, Cassandra and their mother at Chawton Cottage. Martha was the sister of Jane’s eldest brother’s wife and ultimately (after Jane’s death) married Francis (Frank) Austen, another of Jane’s brothers. In an effort to give Jane as much time as possible to write, the other ladies of Chawton Cottage handled the majority of the household chores. Jane’s only responsibilities were to help prepare breakfast and maintain the tea and sugar stores. Tea and sugar were so valuable that they were kept under lock and key. Jane had the key. Martha’s book included food recipes as well as medicinal and cosmetic ones.
The well-known Jane Austen scholar and biographer wrote the text in the book, while Maggie Black updated the chosen recipes for modern kitchens. When I make the recipes I follow them to the letter the first time but very often will add my own touches (which I will include here) for follow-up trials.
My first foray into Regency cookery was a simple dinner using things left over from my holiday meals. I had a few pieces of beef tri-tip and a few mini potatoes so I chose to make Jugged Steaks with Potatoes (page 54). Martha’s recipe was
Jugged Steaks with Potatoes
Take rump steakes, beat them well, pepper and salt them, then take a soup-pot, put at the bottom a little fresh butter, a row of stakes, a row of potatoes and so on till tis full, then fill some gravy or broth just enough to cover it, let it stew for three hours, then strain it all off and skim all the fat from it, thicken it up with butter and flour, then put it over the steakes again, give it one boil up, and taste if salt is enough.
The modern version with my own flourishes is
Take several pieces of uncooked beef, rump steaks, chuck steaks – I used tri-tip. I cut them about 3/4 of an inch thick and pounded them. I believe this recipe came about to use the lesser and tougher parts of the beef. Neither Martha’s or Maggie’s recipe suggests browning the meat, but I did simply because I prefer the flavor of browned meat even if I’m going to stew it. I opted not to put the butter in the bottom of the casserole dish but rather a bit of olive oil. Obviously not as flavorful but I just don’t need the extra fat. Something that was not much of a consideration in Regency England. I then layered the meat with the sliced potatoes. The second time I made this dish I added a sliced shallot and a few sprigs of thyme from my garden. Martha’s recipe calls for gravy or broth which would no doubt have been homemade but I was lazy and used canned beef stock to cover the meat and potatoes. I then baked it in a 275º oven for a couple of hours; just until the meat was tender.
I removed the meat, potatoes and shallots and left them on a plate to cool a bit before wrapping and refrigerating them. I tossed the thyme out. I strained the stock and put it in the refrigerator to chill. I left it in all night and was able to remove virtually all the excess fat from the surface. I then measured three cups of the stock and heated it to boiling. I creamed together 4 tablespoons of unsalted butter and 4 tablespoons of flour and added the mixture to the stock. I turned the heat down and allowed it to thicken, stirring with some frequency (I used a whisk), salt and pepper to taste. I have a toaster oven and used it to reheat the meat and potatoes but I’m pretty sure a microwave would work as well.
I poured the gravy over the meat and lightly buttered the potatoes but ultimately put gravy on them as well. I served it with steamed broccoli (which as you can see, I cooked too long). It was, all in all, a tasty meal which I served with homemade bread. I used my easy pull-apart dinner rolls recipe and created a loaf. It worked fine but I think next time I’ll use a loaf pan. The bread makes very nice toast for breakfast, and while I haven’t tried it, I suspect it would make great french toast.
For a cake to have with tea, which was generally served about an hour after a meal, I chose one I’ve made several times and is wonderful.
Mrs. Perrot’s Heart or Pound Cake
A pound of sugar well dried and sifted apd of new churn’d butter beat into it with a wooden slice, till they become an oyl, in about ½ an hour, then add 8 egges very lightly beaten with half the whites, a tea cup mountain a nutmeg grated and a small bit of cinnamon sifted, keep all stirring till ye oven is ready (which must be made pretty hot, but ye first heat let go a little off as they are apt to be over coloured) have ready a pd of flour well dried and no lumps as that makes em heavy, and mix it with ye rest just as its going into ye oven. If you chuse currants ¾ of a pound well washed & pick’d to be strew’d over them just as they are put into your tins.
I’m going to put this in recipe form so it’s easier for you to follow should you want to try this wonderful, dense cake.
The instructions included here are not the ones from The Jane Austen Cookbook, they are what I do. One of the things that isn’t in the recipe, is soaking the currants in the wine, something I do because I want to but not doing it will not alter the overall cake. Dried fruit and be a bit too chewy so soaking softens them. You can use hot water but since the wine is going into the cake why not use it. I do pop it in the microwave for 30 seconds or so which helps the currants absorb it a bit faster.
Now I know this is a bit more time consuming but it will make a much better cake; sift the dry ingredients three times. It makes the cake not quite as heavy and it disperses the spices and salt more evenly so there aren’t pockets of spice. Same thing with putting the currants (sans wine) in the dry ingredients. It will coat the fruit and spread it out more evenly in the batter.
The recipe in the book does not recommend removing it from the pan to cool but I pretty much do that with everything because if you leave it to cool in the pan the bottom of the cake will cake damp which is something I prefer not to do.
It calls for Malaga or Madeira wine, I used Madeira because I was unable to find Malaga.
So here it is and it is well worth the effort to make.
For the Austen Authors post I wrote a short bit with Jane. Some of you might recognize the setting as I wrote it as though it belonged in Yours Affectionately, Jane Austen. Didn’t want to bore anyone so I’ve included it here if you’d like to have a look. Dinner at Chawton Cottage