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When The New Year Was New

Did you know that January 1 wasn’t always January 1? The grandparents and parents of our Regency heroes and heroines would have known a year when January 1 followed March 24. What’s more, that year they would lose a whole eleven days that September.

Until 1752 Britain and the British Empire, including the American colonies, still followed the Julian Calendar, established in the time of Julius Caesar, which made the year 365 days long and used leap years, but the calendar had an error that made the Spring equinox drift from its date of March 21. Two hundred years earlier, though, astronomers convinced Pope Gregory to change to a calendar based on the  solar calendar that kept the equinox on March 21, important, because that was how they calculated when Easter would be.

Most of the Catholic countries adopted this Gregorian calendar in the 1500s, but Britain refused to switch to that “papist” system. You can imagine how confusing using two different calendars could be to travelers and traders.

And how disruptive changing the calendar would be to birthdays, festival days, paydays, dated contracts–any number of things.

In 1752 in Britain, March 25 became January 1, the start of a new year. But more adjustment was necessary to bring things in line with the Gregorian calendar, so Wednesday September 2, 1752, was followed by Thursday September 14, 1752, “losing” eleven days.

In 1752 William Willett of Endon bet that he could dance non-stop for twelve days. He started dancing on September 2, danced all night and stopped the next day–Sept 14. Twelve days! He won the bet.

The Whigs, who were more progressive and were convinced by the science of why the change was needed, supported the change. The conservative Tories were opposed and protested under the slogan, “Give Us Our Eleven Days.”

In 1755 Hogarth released a satirical print called An Election Entertainment depicting a tavern scene with some bawdy Whigs celebrating while Tories outside protested, “Give us our eleven days.” Apparently, though, citizens did not really riot in the streets believing they’d lost eleven days, as many believe. Hogarth’s print is thought to have contributed to this idea. 

If you’d like to learn more about the differences in the Gregorian and Julian calendars, here’s the Wikipedia link.

“Sweets for the sweet” –Regency Confectionary

Did they or did they not have chocolate sweets in the Regency period? (I have seen authors fight over this!) What kind of sweets DID they have? In my new book, Her Perfect Gentleman, the heroine conceives the idea (wisely or not) to involve much of the village of Little Macclow in a project to make sweets for the wedding everyone has come there to attend. Researching this part of the story was an interesting rabbit hole!

I found a great resource to help me, a “confectionary” cookbook from 1789 with newer editions in 1807 and 1809. It is called The Complete Confectioner (Or, the Whole Art of Confectionary with Receipts for Liqueures, Home-made Wines, etc. the Result of Many Years Experience with the Celebrated Negri and Witten, by Frederic Nutt, Esq.

This remarkable tome (available in Google Books) includes 38 recipes for biscuits—that’s cookies, to us Americans—including chocolate ones made of chocolate, egg whites and powdered sugar, like meringues. No flour, which interests me to try them since I have allergies and must stay gluten-free.

There are also six types of wafers, and ten flavors of drops—including chocolate, so there WAS a type of chocolate candy in period, just not the kind we think of as “chocolates” today. Filled chocolate candies such as we eat today were first displayed to the world in 1851 at the Great Exhibition in London at the Crystal Palace, well past the Regency decades.

The Regency chocolate drops were just like the “chocolate nonpareils” you can still get today, named for the white sugar beads that coat them. Have you eaten chocolate nonpareils? Wikipedia says: “a round flat chocolate drop with the upper surface coated with nonpareils. Ferrero makes a variety marketed as Sno-Caps. In Australia, these confections are commonly known as “chocolate freckles“, or simply “freckles“. Nonpareils are also sold in the United Kingdom as “Jazzies“, “Jazzles“, “Jazz drops” and “Snowies” (the latter being of the white chocolate variety). The coating of nonpareils is often referred to as “hundreds and thousands” in South Africa and the UK. The Canadian company Mondoux sells them as “Yummies“. So if you want Regency sweets and don’t want to make them, buy yourself some of these!

The book also covers eight kinds of jelly (and six jams), essences for ices, seventeen flavors of “waters” to serve at routs (including lemonade), 32 flavors of ice cream (including chocolate, but also “burnt almond” and “parmesan”), plus a whole section on “water ices” (I think similar to sherbert?), all sorts of fruits preserved in brandy, and a large section on preserved fruit both wet, candied, or dry. Beyond all this yumminess, Nutt also offers the promised recipes for liqueurs and wines, along with a small number of cakes and sweet puddings, plus illustrations for laying out a dessert course on tables for different numbers of guests.

Nutt’s book also has a whole section on “Prawlongs.” I read it with interest, having no idea what they were. I soon discovered other mentions spelled “prawlins” and guessed that perhaps it was an alternate spelling of pralines. According to an article on the history of the famous New Orleans pecan praline (here), the Praline is named after the 17th century French diplomat César duc de Choiseul, Comte du Plessis-Praslin (1598 or 1602-1675). One theory is that Plessis-Praslin’s personal chef Clement Lassagne was the actual inventor, and the sweets were gifts for the duc’s lovers. If you consider the French pronunciation of Praslin, I think Nutt’s spelling “prawlong” may have been phonetic.

These first pralines were made with a combination of caramel and almonds. However, Nutt’s recipes include pistachios, filberts, or almonds covered with caramelized sugar syrup, AND he also used the method with slivered lemon and orange peels, orange flowers, and chunks of Seville oranges!! So it may mean in the 18th century, at least in England, pralines (however you want to spell them) may have meant caramel-coated whatever-you-want! And the practical early settlers of New Orleans adapted the French recipe to pecans, since that’s what they had.

I have to say, without the aid of candy thermometers that are so helpful for today’s cooks, I am in awe of how period cooks managed to turn out sweets without always burning the mixture or undercooking it. Would you be brave enough to try a recipe from 1809? Have you ever tried to recreate an authentic period dish?

Her Perfect Gentleman releases on Thursday (Dec 15th)! Can we wish my characters, Christopher and Honoria, a happy book birthday?

I Wished for White Christmas

Recently Buffalo, NY (where my mother grew up) had a historic snow storm of 80 inches falling over four days, so much so the Buffalo Bills game had to be played in Detroit. No wonder my mother never wanted to move back to Buffalo! Here in the Washington, D.C. area we’re mostly lingering in the 50s F still. But as I looked for inspiration for my blog today, I came across an old Risky Regencies blog of mine from 2009 when we had our own record-breaking December snowstorm. We managed two feet of snow, but that was more than enough to shut down the whole DC/VA/MD area.

In the past three or four years (ever since I bought a snow blower) we’ve had very little snow. But we’re now in the Christmas season and, though I’m not ready for it to be cold now, it really would be nice to have a white christmas.

In that spirit, I’m adapting that 2009 blog for today.

One nice thing about snow is it covers all the dirt and darkness in a blanket of pure white, everything becomes quiet and life, of necessity, slows down. Here’s a photo of that 2009 snow, taken from my upstairs window.

One can almost imagine what it would be to live in the country in Regency England when it snowed, to take walks through the wood, perhaps even to go skating on the pond or zipping over to your neighbor’s house in a horse-drawn sleigh.

Of course, a Regency winter walk might be like this:

And zipping along in a vehicle, might be more like this:

In the newspaper you might read about stories like this one from the 1814 Annual Register:

Extraordinary Instance of the Sagacity of a Dog.—Mr. T. Rutherford, of Long Framlington, was, about a fortnight ago, overcome in a snow storm, near Alnwick, and fell. In this state he was exposed to all the horrors of the night, till seven o’clock in the morning. His faithful dog at this time observing a shepherd at a small distance, used every exertion to attract his attention, such as howling, going from and returning to the spot where his master lay. This induced the shepherd to follow the dog’s motions. Mr. Rutherford was found, (then covered by the snow,) carried to a neighbouring publichouse, and, after five hours’ exertion, life was restored, and he is now quite well.

On the other hand, one might have a lovely Regency Christmas, eating Christmas pudding, drinking wassail, playing Christmas music on the pianoforte, dancing or playing cards.

Tell me, do you also pine for a white Christmas?

I wish all my fellow Riskies and everyone else a very happy holiday season!

Marmion
by Sir Walter Scott

Heap on more wood! – the wind is chill;
But let it whistle as it will,
We’ll keep our Christmas merry still.

At long last! Her Perfect Gentleman (Book 3 in Gail’s current series)

Book Three in my village of Little Macclow sweet Regency series, Her Perfect Gentleman, has taken me two years to wrestle into submission, but some books are like that! Characters don’t always cooperate, plotlines don’t always gel, and the fun twists and surprises can make you wait a long time to discover them. However, Her Perfect Gentleman has just gone up for pre-order on Amazon! It will release on December 15 at its full price, but if you read on Kindle, you can save by ordering now at the reduced pre-order price. https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0BMLQCLSW

Maybe one day the other distributors will get on board with this, but as far as I know that option isn’t available yet. The book will be “wide” (available in multiple formats at multiple distributors) once it releases.

She is the worst thing that could happen to him. He might be the best thing that could happen to her. How will two hearts on such opposite tracks find their way to true love?

The last thing Christopher Haslitt needs or wants is another involvement with a high-ranking lady. He is still trying to repair both his heart and his reputation after last season’s disaster left him branded as a fortune hunter. Five days in Little Macclow for his best friend’s wedding should be only a brief delay on his path. But he hasn’t counted on spending it with five unmarried daughters of earls, one of whom has her sights set firmly on him!

Lady Honoria deRaymond finds Mr. Haslitt more attractive and charming than any other gentleman of her acquaintance. What’s more, his perfect manners include overlooking her tendency to be impulsive and not always quite proper. She knows the rules; she just has trouble sticking to them. Marriage to a high-ranking peer, as her family expects for her, will mean a highly visible life of constant pressure to conform and behave properly. Could Mr. Haslitt, a baronet’s son, be her means to escape such a fate? Can she possibly win his heart in just five days? When she returns to London, her one chance to forge a different future may be gone.

Sweet with a little sizzle, the Tales of Little Macclow are linked by a common setting and recurring endearing characters. They follow a shared chronology and, while best read in order, they are complete stand alone romances that will warm your heart.

Little Macclow—a village tucked away and maybe touched by magic…at least the magic of love.

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Secretly Bound to the Marquess – Diane’s latest!

An emotional Regency reunion story

One passionate night
A seven-year-old secret…
Widowed Lady Eliza Varden must endure one more ball before she can politely return to the country. Only her last dance brings her face-to-face with Nathaniel, the new Marquess of Hale. It’s been years since their steamy encounter, but the spark between them is as alive as ever. Yet Eliza knows it’s not just their mutual attraction that binds them now… But is she ready to risk her independence with the truth?

From Harlequin Historical: Your romantic escape to the past.

My latest, Secretly Bound to the Marquess, was released October 25 and had received some very nice reviews. Here’s a sample:

Gaston (Lord Grantwell’s Christmas Wish, 2021) puts her own deftly crafted spin on the popular secret-baby trope in her latest cleverly conceived Regency historical, and her insightful way with characterization will win over readers who like their romances served up with a generous measure of historical realism. John Charles, Booklist

Five Stars! In her latest historical romance, Diane Gaston lets doubts and schemes repeatedly cause heartache for a woman and man who only want to be loved….. SECRETLY BOUND TO THE MARQUESS is packed with believable situations, very interesting characters, and a noteworthy storyline filled with colorful descriptions.— Amelia Richards, Goodreads

Four Stars! Diane Gaston, much to the delight of her readers, knows scandal. Once again, this wicked author has written a tale that kept me glued to the pages, wondering how the main characters would save face. (Reputation means everything in the Ton.) The story was worth losing sleep for. A lovely tale, villains to enjoy hating, a child to lighten moods and give you an occasional smile, and an unending love. What more could you ask for in a romance? And all of it unfolds in such a way that only Diane Gaston can tell. Excellent! — Detra Fitch, Huntress Reviews

What the reviews and back cover blurb do not tell is that this completely heterosexual reunion and secret baby romance also gives the reader a glimpse into what it must have been like to be gay during the Regency (even though the crucial gay characters never actually appear in the book). Homosexuality in the Regency was considered a sin and a crime punishable by hanging. Just a rumor of being gay could ruin a man and his family.

I must give credit to Louisa Cornell. It was her 2020 workshop given to the Regency Fiction Writers that inspired and informed the history in this book. I’ve told her her workshop was worthy of a college course!

What do you think? Is touching on the topic of  the Gay Regency in a Regency Romance welcome or too much of a risk?

 

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