Dinner at Chawton Cottage

stone wall-resized-600.jpgThe low-lying rock wall was cool under her, shaded as she was by overhanging tree branches. The sun inching its way to the western horizon reminded her that it was time to start for home. Slowly Jane rose and looked through the opening created by the tree branches that arched overhead. She imagined the brilliant light accompanying the opening and closing of the portal that brought Mr. Darcy into her life and then out. Her brother’s groom, Simmons went through the portal, too and returned with the vivid telling of his adventure in the twenty-first century. More than once she thought about making the trip, but fear always stopped her. Mr. Darcy had repeatedly expressed concern that his entrance into Chawton 1810 from the twenty-first century would alter her life in some way, which would also alter the lives around her. The fear that she might be responsible for affecting her family and friends in unknown ways kept her from venturing through the portal, for what was, after all, no more than a flight of fancy.

Her mind drifted to the dinner at Chawton Great House when her brother Frank confronted Mr. Darcy several times. As befits a true gentleman, the Virginia horseman had been able to disarm Frank’s attack without causing embarrassment to Edward or his guests. Frank had been so suspicious that Jane was afraid he’d do something rash and ultimately did chase the American out of the country and as it turned out, back to his own time. One of the things she would love to have seen was Darcy in his own element. Of course, his element now included the woman he loved. She heaved a deep sigh and turned to home.

MignonetteThe pungent scent of Cassandra’s mignonette, as she stepped through the garden gate, assailed her senses; Jane preferred the more delicate lilacsfragrance of the syringa. The bright green leaves of the syringa bushes filled a far corner of the garden since the flowers had faded with the heat of summer. Jane passed the gooseberry bushes, her mother’s favorite and the first things she planted after they moved to Chawton Cottage. The ground underfoot was soft where she met Maggie coming out of her mother’s kitchen garden. The housekeeper’s basket held several small stocks of broccoli.

“Are those for dinner, Maggie?”

“Yes, Miss Jane, these young shoots should be very tender.” Jane agreed and continued through the garden.

“’afternoon, Miss Jane.”

“Good afternoon, Browning.” The house man was coming from the stable after feeding the donkey.

In her room, Jane slipped her gloves into her bonnet and left them on the bed. Originally dinner was to have been a bit of a celebratory meal with the return of her mother, sister and their friend Martha, but alas it would be a solitary event instead. Her mother remained at Steventon recovering from a cold. Martha, visiting friends in London, had been delayed. Cassandra was waiting at Godmersham for her brother, Henry who would accompany the two women to Chawton. Until then, Jane was alone.

While Jane spent the next few hours with pen in hand, Maggie completed preparations for her dinner.JuggedSteakinPot

She set the copper pot containing layers of meat and potatoes on the hearth. While the meat reheated she made gravy by bringing the liquor to a boil, then adding butter and flour, stirring it as it thickened.

Maggie sliced two pieces from a loaf of freshly baked bread and served it with the meat, potatoes, gravy and broccoli that she cooked a bit longer than she would have liked, but it would do. After seeing to Miss Jane, she returned to the kitchen and served herself a plate, as well.

MarthaLloydMaggie would have used Martha Lloyd’s book of recipes and housekeeping tips. Martha was a family friend (her sister was married to Jane’smartharecipe eldest brother, James) who lived at Chawton Cottage with Jane, her sister and mother. She handled much of the domestic responsibilities at the cottage which allowed Jane time to write. Martha’s original book is on display at The Jane Austen’s House Museum in Chawton, England.

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