Tag Archive | Regency Romance

The Regency Meal, or Food, Glorious Food

Hanna GlassThere is something wonderful about food. Why else would we watch shows about cooking, buy cook books, and even enjoy reading (and writing) about food. Regency England was also an era that enjoyed its food.

There was interest enough in food skills that by 1765 Hanna Glasse’s The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy had gone into nine editions, selling for five shillings if bound. (Back then, one could buy unbound books and have them custom bound to match the rest of the books in one’s library.) Hanna’s book remained popular for over a hundred years. However, her recipes can be difficult to translate into modern terms–the quantities often seem aimed to feed an army, as in this recipe for ‘An Oxford Pudding’:

“A quarter of a pound of biscuit grated, a quarter of a pound of currants clean washed and picked, a quarter of a pound of suet shred small, half a large spoonful of powder-sugar, a very little salt, and some grated nutmeg; mix all well together, then take two yolks of eggs, and make it up in balls as big as a turkey’s egg. Fry them in fresh butter of a fine light brown; for sauce have melted butter and sugar, with a little sack or white wine. You must mind to keep the pan shaking about, that they may be all of a light brown.”

I’ve yet to try this recipe, and when I do I’ll probably substitute vegetable oil for suet, but it does sound tasty.

Amounts in older cookbooks are also often confusing to the modern reader, often listing ingredients to be added as handfuls, as in the rue, sage, mint, rosemary, wormwood and lavender for a “recipt against the plague” given by Hanna Glasse in The Art of Cookery made Plain and Easy.

Brighton KitchenThe time spent on making these recipes could also be considerable. This was an era when labor was cheap, and if one could afford servants, they could provide that labor.  The Prince Regent’s kitchen in Brighton was fit for a king of a chef, and large enough to allow an army of cooks, pastry chefs, under cooks, and scullery maids. It also sported windows for natural light as well as large lamps, and pillars in the shape of palm trees to carry on the exotic decor of the rest of the Brighton Pavilion. Elaborate dishes could be concocted both for the well and the sick.

Shank Jelly for an invalid requires lamb to be left salted for four hours, brushed with herbs, and simmered for five hours. There are few today who have time for such a recipe, unless they, too, are dedicated cooks.

Sick cookery is an item of importance as well for this era. Most households looked after their own, creating recipes for heart burn or making “Dr. Ratcliff’s restorative Pork Jelly.” Coffee milk is recommended for invalids as is asses’ milk, milk porridge, saloop (water, wine, lemon-peel and sugar), chocolate, barley water, and baked soup. (Interestingly, my grandmother swore by an old family recipe of hot water, whisky, lemon and sugar as a cough syrup, and that’s one recipe I still use.)

As interest expanded, and a market was created by the rise of the middle class, other books came out. Elizabeth Raffald had a bestseller with The Experienced English Housekeeper. The first edition came out in 1769, with thirteen subsequent authorized edition and twenty-three unauthorized versions.

Dinner_FromMrsHurstDancingIn 1808, Maria Rundell, wife of the famous jeweler, came out with her book A New System of Domestic Cookery for Private Families. This book expanded on recipes to also offer full menu suggestions, as well as recipes for the care of the sick, household hints, and directions for servants. This shows how the influence of the industrial revolution had created a new class of gentry, who needed instructions on running a household, instructions that previously had been handed down through the generations with an oral tradition. The rise of the “mushrooms” and the “cit”, merchants who’d made fortunes from new inventions and industry, created a need for their wives and daughters to learn how to deal with staff and households.

Any good wife had much to supervise within a household, even if the servants performed much of the actual work.

A household would make its own bread, wafers, and biscuits, brew its own ale, distill spirits, and make cheese. In the city, some of these would be available for purchase. Fortnum and Masons specialized in starting to produce such ‘luxury’ goods (jams and biscuits, or what we Americans would call cookies).

In London, wines would be purchased from such places as Berry Brothers, a business still in existence as Berry Bros & Rudd. Establish in the late 1600’s at No. 3 St. James’s St., the store initially supplied coffee houses with coffee and supplies. They expanded into wines when John Berry came into the business due to marriages and inheritance. Berrys went on to serve individuals and London clubs such as Boodles and Whites with coffee, wines, and other goods. They put up their ‘sign of the coffee mill’ in the mid 1700’s, and Brummell as well as others used their giant coffee scale to keep an eye on his weight and keep his fashionable figure.

Laura Wallace offers more information on wines and spirits of the Regency (http://laura.chinet.com/html/recipes.html. She notes Regency wines: port, the very popular Madeira, sherry, orgeat, ratafia, and Negus, a mulled wine. Other wines you might find on a Regency dinner table include: burgundy, hock (pretty much any white wine), claret, and champagne (smuggled in from France).

For stronger spirits, Brandy was smuggled in from France. Whiskey, cider, and gin were also drunk, but were considered more fitting for the lower class. (Whiskey would acquire a better cachet in the mid to late 1800’s, due to the establishment of large distilleries and after it again became legal. The Act of Union between Scotland and England in the early 1700’s and taxation drove distillers into illegal operation. After much bloodshed, and much smuggling, the Excise Act of 1823 set a license fee that allowed the distillery business to boom.)

For weaker fare, ale, porter, and beer were to be found in almost any tavern, and would be brewed by any great house for the gentlemen. Water as a beverage, was often viewed with deep suspicion, wisely so in this era, but lemonade was served.

As Laura Wallace notes on her site, “port, Madeira and sherry are heavy, ‘fortified’ wines, that is to say, bolstered with brandy (or some other heavy liquor). Port derives its name from the port city of Oporto in Portugal. Madeira is named for an island of Portugal…

“Madeira is particularly noted as a dessert wine, but is often used as an aperitif or after dinner drink, while port is only for after dinner, and historically only for men. ‘Orgeat’ is… ‘a sweet flavoring syrup of orange and almond used in cocktails and food.’ Ratafia is…a sweet cordial flavored with fruit kernels or almonds.”

In the country, a household functioned as a self-sufficient entity, buying nothing other than the milled flour from the miller (although many great houses might also grown their own wheat and mill it), and perhaps a few luxuries that could not be produced in England, such as sugar, tea, coffee, chocolate, and wines that could not be locally produced. Fish could be caught locally; sheep, beef, and pigs were raised for meat as well as hides and fat for tallow candles; chickens, ducks, and other tame birds were raised for eggs and for their feathers (useful things in pillows); wild birds, deer and other game could be hunted on great estates; bees were raised for honey and wax candles of a high quality; breweries and dairies were found on every estate, and every house would have its kitchen garden with vegetables and herbs. Berry wines could be made in the still room, along with perfumes, soaps, polishes, candles and other household needs. Many of the great houses also built greenhouses or orangery to produce year round, forcing early fruits, vegetables, and flowers, and providing warmth for the production of exotics such as oranges and pineapples. (The concept of heating with local hot springs had been introduced to England by the Romans, and was still around in Regency Era, and many new innovations were also being introduced for better heating and water flow into homes.)

For a gentlemen who lived in the city without a wife or a housekeeper, cheap food could be purchased from street vendors in London, but most meals would be taken at an inn, a tavern, or if he could afford it, his club. Many accommodations provided a room, and not much more, with the renter using a chamber pot that would be emptied into the London gutters, and getting water from a local public well (and this shared water source accounted several times for the spread of cholera in London). Cheaply let rooms had no access to kitchens. Hence the need for a good local tavern, or to belong to a club.

According to Captain Gronow, remembering Sir Thomas Stepney’s remarks, most clubs served the same fare, and this would be, “‘the eternal joints, or beef-steaks, the boiled fowl with oyster sauce, and an apple tart.’” From this remark about the poor quality of food to be had, the Prince Regent is said to have asked his cook, Jean Baptiste Watier to found a dining club where a gentleman could have a decent meal. Headed by Labourie, the cook named by Waiter to run the club, it served very expensive, but excellent meals. It was no wonder that a single gentleman might well prefer to perfect his entertaining discourse so he might be invited to any number of dinners at private houses.

As with all eras, in the Regency, meals provided a social structure for life.

a simple mealTo start the day in London, a fashionable breakfast would be served around ten o’clock, well after most of the working class had risen and started their day. The Regency morning went on through the afternoon, when morning calls were paid. In London, five o’clock was the ‘morning’ hour to parade in Hyde Park. A Regency breakfast party might occur sometime between one and five o’clock in the afternoon.

During morning calls, light refreshments might be served.  Ladies might have a ‘nuncheon’ but the notion of lunch did not exist. Also, the lush high tea now served at most swank London hotels actually originated as a working class dinner, and was perfected by the Edwardians into an art form, but was not a Regency meal.

In London, the fashionable dined between five and eight, before going out for the evening. This left room for a supper to be served as either a supper-tray that might be brought into a country drawing room, or as a buffet that would be served at a ball. Such a supper would be served around eleven but, in London, this supper could be served as late as nearly dawn.

Country hours were different than city hours. In the country, gentlemen would rise early for the hunt or to go shooting. Breakfast would be served after the hunt, with only light refreshments offered before hunting. These hunt breakfasts might be lavish affairs, and if the weather was good, servants might haul out tables, silverware, china, chairs and everything to provide an elegant meal. Again, tea might be taken when visitors arrived in the country, and this would include cakes being served, along with other light sweets.

Dinner then came along in the Regency countryside at the early hour of three or four o’clock. This again left time in the latter evening for a tea to be brought round, with light fare, around ten or eleven. A country ball might also serve a buffet or a meal during the ball, or a dinner beforehand.

From the Georgian era to the Regency the method for serving dinner changed. “…as soon as they walked into the dining-room they saw before them a table already covered with separate dishes of every kind of food…,” states The Jane Austen Cookbook.

Family MealThe idea was that with all courses laid on the table, those dining would choose which dishes to eat, taking from the dishes nearest. It was polite to offer a dish around. Food in History notes, “It was a custom that was more than troublesome; it also required a degree of self-assertion. The shy or ignorant guest limited not only his own menu but also that of everyone else at the table. Indeed, one young divinity student ruined his future prospects when, invited to dine by an archbishop who was due to examine him in the scriptures, he found before him a dish of ruffs and reeves, wild birds that (although he was too inexperienced to know it) were a rare delicacy. Out of sheer modesty the clerical tyro confined himself exclusively to the dish before him….”

This style of serving dinner was known as service à la française. During the Regency this was replaced by service à la russe in which the dishes were set on a sideboard and handed around by servants.

Every Book Has Two Stories

TheCardrosRubyThere are two stories for every book–the story in the pages, and the story behind the pages. For The Cardros Ruby, it’s story is a long one, but I’ll shorten it up.

Back in the day I’d written a story–this one–and it was good enough to final in RWA’s Golden Heart for Best Regency. That delighted me, and I went to Hawaii (and I doubt RWA will ever have a conference there again, since most of us really wanted to be on the beach and not in conference rooms). The book didn’t win, but a good friend (made at the conference), won and went on to sell–this book didn’t sell.

Now there are always many reasons why a book might not sell, even a very good book. Back then the choices were traditional Regency publishing with strict word counts of under 70K, and Historical Regency romance, but those were going hot, and have since even gone hotter. This book didn’t fit either marketing category–it’s a long traditional Regency (with a bit of a mystery in it, but not enough to make it a mystery). So it was a book without a marketing category–that used to be death for any book.  It was doomed to a shoebox life.

These days, thank heavens, it’s a different world. So…an edit later, a read through by others, and a cover, and it’s now finally out in the world.

The Cardros Ruby is–I hope–a bit of a throwback to the days when novels could be novels–when a romance could have some action, some history, some mystery, and just be a great read. Hopefully, it’s all that.

A Man with a Dark Past…

After leaving home years ago amid scandal, Captain Desford Cardros has returned home to mend his wounds, and settle an old score with his brother. But he is drawn to a beautiful woman whose brother is the target of mysterious accidents. Now Cardros must choose between repayment for past wrongs, or a love that could be his salvation.

A Lady Whose Future is Uncertain…

Helena Seaford is ready to do anything to protect her only brother, even trust a scoundrel. But will she hold to her an upbringing that intends her to be a lord’s wife, or will passion lead her into scandal?

 A Deadly Secret to Hide…

As a killing frost holds everyone prisoner in the Yorkshire country, a fragile alliance will be tested by old secrets and lies. Ultimately, the truth may be found in the story of what did happen to the Cardros Ruby five years ago?

EXCERPT

Cardros had a dislike for being of use. Army life had taught him that always meant doing something stupid and generally dangerous. Over the years, he had learned to salute and say, “Yes, sir,” and do as he thought best given the circumstances. He had not, however, learned to master his dammed curiosity. It tugged on him now, pulled like a cat with yarn to unravel. He knew he would do better to ignore it. “My dear girl, my reputation precedes me, as your aunt has said, so you must know I’m no gentleman.”

Her eyebrow quirked high again, and her mouth twitched as if she might have something to say, but she bit back the words. She had a light dusting of freckles across her nose—very unfashionable—and they no longer stood out on too-pale skin. She stared at him for a moment, her gaze direct, leaving him uneasy, feeling as if she could see through to his thoughts, to the old hurts that he took care to hide from the world. But that was only a fancy, for she pokered up again with proper manners.

“I presume too much on your time. Of course, despite aiding Havelock, you have no real interest in our troubles.”

He let out a breath. If she had pressed, he would have resisted, but this sudden capitulation—this retreat—left him with the ingrained desire to pursue. A withdrawal needed to be followed. However, he kept his tone flippant—he wanted his options left open.

“Will it help if I say I do find my interest in you growing by the minute? Probably not such a good thing for you, but shall we take that drink and see what develops?”

Crossing the room to the decanters, his stride stiff and shortened, he wondered what she thought of his limp. Damaged goods, no doubt. Less than a full man. She said nothing, however, of his injury and asked instead, “Did you happen to see my brother’s accident?”

“I didn’t, but I should think his horse slipped in the mud. Now, you owe me an answer—why on earth did my mother drag you here? I assume she must be in residence and did so, for I can’t imagine why else you’d be visiting. It’s a dull place in the best of weather.”

He poured brandy for himself, almost poured her wine, but thought better of it, so a splash of brandy to steady her nerves as well. He brought the glasses back, put them on a side table where the sharp aroma wove into the room along with the comfort of wood smoke. He settled himself on the couch next to her, and thought she looked to be carrying on an internal debate.

She sat with her hands tightly intertwined, her eyes downcast, and a frown tugging her brows flat on her forehead.

He almost reached out to smooth the lines forming, but he wasn’t quite certain of his ground yet. Always best to scout the area before choosing to engage in a skirmish. Stretching out his bad leg, he took up his brandy and sipped. Ah, good to see Ian hadn’t drunk the cellars dry of the good French cognac. The golden liquid warmed his insides like a Guy Fawkes bonfire. He couldn’t let such drink go to waste.

Picking up the second glass, he nudged her arm with it. She glanced at it as if he was offering poison.

“You may trust me on one thing—this will help,” he said.

She took the glass with a challenge in her eyes, and tossed it back as if it were water. “My grandmother raised my brother and I, and she’s Scottish. We know how to drink.”

“Well, in that case…” he rose, refilled both glasses and came back. Clinking glasses with her, he offered a toast, “To mending old wounds, and making new ones.”

 

 

Writing Workshops

I’m just starting up the Writing the Regency Workshop online for Outreach International Romance Writers, which works well since I just gave a talk on this at RWA National Conference, too. This had me thinking about what is it that folks need to get right, and I also asked the RWA Beau Monde Chapter about what they thought. Here’s the short form answer:

1 – Basic History. Even if you’re doing alternate history, you need to know some of the basics because this informs the characters–people live within the context of their world, and it helps to know what events formed their parents and grandparents and their family.

2 – —Titles & Class System.  Gossford Park is great to help us Yanks get an idea of a nuanced class system–Americans are used to rich/poor and something in between and that’s about it. Getting this right can be tricky since titles evolved over more than a thousand years, but it’s important–nothing can throw a reader out of a story faster than a title that makes no sense.
—3 – British Sensibilities.  BBC America is a big help here, so is being an anglophile.  This one is another tricky spot since you can end up with characters who don’t seem as if they’ve ever been near England.
—4. Legal Stuff.  If your story premise has anything to do with inheritance or marriage laws, it’s time to break out the research books and make sure the basic premise works. If that doesn’t work the whole story can fall apart on you.
5. —Society’s Attitudes. The 1800′s are similar to our world, but it’s also a different era–and while your characters may rebel against this, they should know what they’re up against. Folks back then knew about a woman’s place, and a man’s place, and that there were no teenagers, just adults and children. All of this can affect your characters.

6. Social/Personal Constraints. Honor mattered, so did duty–and while some folks might shrug those off, others did not and it said a lot about a character who did not take these to heart. This is also the stuff that makes for great conflict so it’s wonderful meat for a writer.

Now, of course, there’s lots more to know–but those are the big ones. We’ll get into the rest in the workshop.

Regency Coin — What Did it Cost?

Proper ConductIn Proper Conduct, the heroine spends a good deal of time worrying about money that is not there, particular after her father spends nearly 1,000 pounds on a horse.  Not an excessive sum to someone such as the Prince Regent, whose racing stud farm cost him 30,000 pounds a year.  But all these numbers seemed to need a bit perspective.

We also have to remember that back in the 1800′s England was not on a decimal system–you had to know your farthings, pennies, and shillings. And coins were far more common for use than any paper money. Banknotes–slips of paper that promised payment for a set amount–were initially issued by individual banks. In the late 1600′s the Bank of England was established and by the late 1700′s their notes were viewed as being as good as gold (or silver). But Scottish banks issue their own notes until the mid 1800′s, and other private banks o issue their own notes until the mid 1800′s, and the last English private banknote was issued in the early 1900′s.

Banknotes began to be standardized in the mid 1700′s, with ten and five pound notes appearing. These were all hand-lettered and signed–and 1821 banknotewere viewed by many with deep suspicion. A coin, after all, was to hold the value of itself within it’s metal. And for many, a bit of gold or silver in hand was better than any promise given in a bit of paper. Banknotes were much easier to forge than any coin–another good reason for anyone to prefer payment in solid coin.

So we look to coinage as the most common form of currency.

In the Regency, we have as the main coins denominations:

  • Farthing – four farthing made a penny
  • Penny or Pence – twelve pennies (or twelvepence) made a shilling
  • Shilling – five shillings made a crown
  • Crown
  • Pound – twenty shillings made a pound
  • Guinea – twenty-one shillings made a guinea

In ledgers, a pound is often written with the pound mark–£. Shilling is written as an “s” or a slash mark, as in 6/ is six shillings. And a penny is written up as “d” for denarius, a Roman silver coin that had the same value as the English penny. So 4d is four pence.

Coinage in use in the Regency included:

  • Gold for one, two, five and half-guinea coins
  • Silver for one, two, three, four, and six penny (or pence), shilling, and crown coins
  • Copper for half-pence and farthing coins

Two-penny coins were called tuppence. And there were all sorts of slang names for coins including a quid (pound), a bob (shilling), and a goldfinch (guinea).

Due to a shortage of copper and silver coins in the late 1700′s, firms began to use tokens to pay wages.  There was also a growth in payments by foreign coins at this time.

The annual expenses of a great house could run between 5,000 and 6,000 pounds a year including housekeeping, repairs, stables, parklands, gardens, home farm costs, servants, and taxes.

Mrs. Whitney’s  Boarding School for Young Ladies at Buckingham cost twelve guineas a year, and one guinea extra if tea and sugar were required to be served.

In Bath, one paid two guineas were paid for subscription balls, five shillings for concert tickets, and ten shillings sixpence for a subscription to the booksellers.

With an income of 400 pounds a year, one could employ two maids, one groom and keep one horse in London.  On 700 hundred a year, one could have one manservant, three maids and two horses.  With an income of 1,000 pounds a year, one could have three female servants, a coachman, a footman, two carriages and a pair of horses in London.

There were three to four hundred families whose income was over 10,000 pounds a year, due to vast land holdings (hence, these were called “The four hundred” — it was a small world at the top).

During the London season, the lease on house in the West End could cost as much as 1,000 pounds.

Anyone with a debt of twenty pounds or more could be sent to debtor’s prison.  However, a member of Parliament could not be imprisoned while Parliament was sitting.

The capital to secure an estate was approximately thirty times the desired income–so, if you want to make 1,000 pounds a year, you need 30,000 to secure the amount of good land that could produce such an income.

The Earl of Egremont saw a rise in income due to land rentals from 12,976 pounds in 1791 to 34,000 pounds in 1824.

In Somerset (where Proper Conduct is set) 30 acres for let went for 35 pounds per annum, with the tenant paying all taxes except land tax.

In 1801, a 100-acre estate in Sussex sold for 3,500 pounds.

In 1804, due to the silver shortage, the Bank of England issued light-weight token silver coins for one shilling, three shilling and six pence coins.

From 1811 to 1812, an estimated 250,000 people lived comfortably on more than seven hundred pounds a year each.  A half million shopkeepers made a hundred and fifty pounds a year each, two million artisans lived on the edge of poverty at 55 pounds per annum, and one and one half million laborers earned only 30 pounds a year each.

In 1813, a cow fetched about 15 pounds at the market, while a ewe went for 55 to 72 shillings.

In 1816, a new British one pound coin made of gold, the sovereign, began to be produced.

In 1820, 1,100 years after the first English silver pennies were minted, the last British silver pennies were minted.

Christmas Stories

It’s Dicken’s fault–he started the trend. Now, maybe there were Christmas stories around before A Christmas Carol (favorite film version being the one with Alistair Sim), but Dicken’s became the one trotted out every year with the trees and holly and mistletoe. And why fight success. But I actually never set out to write a Christmas story.

Under the Kissing BoughUnder the Kissing Bough started life as a short story. It was supposed to be about 100 pages, and I actually didn’t start out with a time of year, but I did want to see if I could do a novella. I’d been writing a lot of novels and hadn’t done any shorter fiction in a long time, and I actually really, really like the shorter format. It’s a challenge to work in, but can be rewarding. I forgot one thing–you cannot do a short story with lots of characters. Not and do all the characters any kind of justice.

You see, I love to give every character a ‘star turn.’ I think of them all as actors, and every actor–even ones with bit parts–loves to have that great screen moment with wonderful dialogue that moves the story (and the audience). All this mean that with large families (heroine has two sisters, and her parents; hero has father, two brothers, and a former love interest who is now married), I knew that by page seventy, no way was this story ever going to fit into 100 pages. So I put it aside.

And then my then editor at Kensington asked if I’d like to do a holiday book–a Christmas story. “Sure” is always the immediate answer I provide in such situations. And then I had to figure out what I could do for Christmas. Because I can’t just stick on some holy and call it holiday. To me, if an element is not important in the story–and to the characters–it’s got no business being stuck in.

This mean research–as in I needed to dig into English Christmas customs (not difficult since I had a grandmother from Yorkshire and a lot of handed-down family traditions). And I dug out my short story to take another look.

The December setting suited my characters very well–I’d already set up a ‘marriage of convenience’ story (always a wonderful plot to use for historical fiction). Now I could weave in the holiday customs, make them part of the plot and the story (because, in England, you really, really need a very good reason to get married in the cold of winter). There were a few things I couldn’t quite fit into the story due to the limitations of page counts (from the days when that mattered so very much in print)–as in it would have been fun to do more with Twelfth Night celebrations. But I did get other things in there that I loved adding.

And I ended up with a Christmas story.

I’m toying this year with rereading it. I don’t often reread my own work. When you’ve spent a long time writing and revising, another read seems more of a burden than a treat. But it would be fun to do another holiday story. Mmmm…maybe Guy Fawkes day.