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Eating Ice Cream
My dear Cassandra,—I take the first sheet of fine striped paper to thank you for your letter from Weymouth, & express my hopes of your being at Ibthorp before this time. I expect to hear that you reached it yesterday Evening, being able to get as far as Blandford on wednesday.—Your account of Weymouth contains nothing which strikes me so forcibly as there being no Ice in the Town; for every other vexation I was in some measure prepared; & particularly for your disappointment in not seeing the Royal Family go on board on tuesday, having already heard from Mr Crawford that he had seen you in the very act of being too late. But for there being no Ice, what could prepare me?

(from Jane Austen’s letters, 14 September 1804)


As it’s so hot here that my brain is slowly melting (the majority of houses in this part of the world don’t have AC), I thought we could talk about desserts. Ice creams in particular. (And I certainly feel for poor Cassandra—no ice cream! Gah!) (Why is there no ice cream in my freezer?!!?!?)

Last November Myretta wrote a post about ice houses and how ice cream was made in the Regency period, while in a post in April Rose showed us an ice-pail, in which ice cream was brought to the table. (Wait, you don’t eat it straight out of the bowl? Because homemade ice cream is, like, the best thing in the world!)

When I looked up various ice cream recipes from the Regency period, I was quite surprised to see that a lot of recipes call for putting the cream with the sugar and/or jam/fruit puree directly into the freezing pot. In my experience, it’s easier to use a thick custard as the base for ice cream: it’s creamier from the get-go & thus freezes more easily (though admittedly, there’s always the danger that you end up eating the custard before you get around to making the ice cream…).

In The Complete Confectioner, Frederick Nutt describes the historical method of making ice cream: the freezing pot with the ice cream base is put into a pail packed with ice and salt and rotated until the base has frozen. Nutt also elaborates on the difficulties and pitfalls of making ice cream: “[D]o not be sparing of salt, for if you do not use enough it will not freeze” (from the 1807 edition, which you can find on Google Books). And there’s nothing more frustrating than when your ice cream won’t freeze!

I’ve long loved Nutt’s book, and the section on ice creams is particularly awesome. For not only does he suggest adding a little cochineal to give your ice cream a pretty color, but he also lists 32 (THIRTY-TWO!!!!) different recipes, with flavours ranging from raspberry ice cream to biscuit ice cream to Parmasan ice cream. That’s a man after my own heart!

In contrast to poor Cassandra in Weymouth in 1804, many of Jane Austen’s characters get to enjoy ice cream. In Northanger Abbey Maria Thorpe tells Catherine, the heroine, about an outing the day before:

“—that they had driven directly to the York Hotel, ate some soup, and bespoke an early dinner, walked down to the pump–room, tasted the water, and laid out some shillings in purses and spars; thence adjoined to eat ice at a pastry–cook’s, and hurrying back to the hotel, swallowed their dinner in haste, to prevent being in the dark; and then had a delightful drive back, only the moon was not up, and it rained a little, and Mr. Morland’s horse was so tired he could hardly get it along.”

A rather more exciting visit to a pastry cook’s can be found in The Beautiful Cassandra, one of Austen’s very early works:

“She then proceeded to a Pastry-cooks where she devoured six ices, refused to pay for them, knocked down the Pastry Cook and walked away.”


And now please excuse me while I go & rummage in the freezer in the hope of finding some hidden carton of ice cream.

Posted in Food | 1 Reply

Two weeks ago, I finally wrote “The End” on the rough draft of my next book, Listen to the Moon, out in January. (It’s book 3 in my Lively St. Lemeston series, starring Toogood and Sukey, the valet and maid from book 1.) Woooo!

But when I say rough, I mean ROUGH. Part of my process for going from “rough draft” to “clean draft I can send to my friends with only a minimum of shame” involves looking up a lot of words in the Oxford English Dictionary (thank god, the Seattle Public Library has a subscription) to see if they were in use during the Regency.

One word I looked up was “epergne.” I had the vague idea this was some kind of large silver thing used as a centerpiece on a dinner table. Maybe a vase? But I discovered to my surprise that it is a “centre-dish, or centre ornament for the dinner-table, now often in a branched form, each branch supporting a small dish for dessert or the like, or a vase for flowers. (From our quots. it appears that the earlier use was chiefly to hold pickles.)” !!!

The relevant quotations are:

1761 Bill of Fare in Pennant London (1813) 562, 2 Grand Epergnes filled with fine Pickles.[…]
1804 Verses to Dr. Warton in Ann. Reg. 928 [His pupils present him with an epergne on his resigning the head-mastership of Winchester, hoping that it may remind him ‘of “Pickles” left behind’].”

[ETA: I want to clarify that this doesn’t mean epergnes were ONLY used to hold pickles. Another quotation, from 1779, mentions using one for sweetmeats. But I think the 1804 quote makes the strength of the association clear.]

Of course, this is slightly less limiting than it might sound to us—while “pickles” have come to refer primarily to pickled cucumbers, in the Regency it could mean any pickled dish. Take a look at “Pickle” in the index of Hannah Glasse’s Art of Cookery to get an idea of the possible variety! Ox palates, red currants, walnuts, and “elder shoots in imitation of bamboo” are just a few of the most picturesque recipes.

Epergne by Thomas Pitts, London, 1761. Image credit: Daderot via Wikimedia Commons. Notice the pineapple topper! We’ll be talking more about pineapples later.

This got me thinking about other kinds of dishes with specific purposes that have passed out of fashion. A few of my favorites:

1. The seau à glace, or ice-pail, used for serving ice cream at table. Assembled, it looked like this:

Flight & Barr, Worcester, 1782-1802. Image credit: Daderot via Wikimedia Commons.

The lid is filled with ice, and the central bowl can be lifted out and the bottom of the pail filled with more ice. In this way ice cream can be kept cold on the dinner table for up to four hours (!), if salt is added to the ice. To see one in use, scroll to the bottom of Ivan Day’s wonderful page on Georgian and Victorian ice cream (and look in the left sidebar for a picture of one completely disassembled).

If you’re as charmed by this dish as I am, some helpful soul has assembled an entire Pinterest board of them, and they’re all wonderful!

2. The turtle soup tureen. “Turtle dinners,” or dinners at which turtle soup was the central dish, were a popular form of lavish entertainment in the second half of the eighteenth century and the early nineteenth.

(They were especially popular at civic celebrations like the Lord Mayor’s Feast, etc. The association was strong enough by 1834 that I came across this quotation from Blackwood’s Magazine in the OED in the entry for “swallow, v.”: “Dosy, who sate in open-mouthed wonder, swallowing them [sc. his stories] down as a common-councilman swallows turtle.”)

I also read a quote (which I can’t now dig up but I’ll give it another shot this afternoon) about one enthusiastic candidate’s wife attending five turtle dinners in a week as part of campaigning for her husband during the 1754 general election. Oy!

You can read more about this custom (and about where all the turtles came from) in this article.

(Mock turtle soup was created to cheaply imitate the fashionable delicacy. As Wikipedia says, “It often uses brains and organ meats such as calf’s head or a calf’s foot to duplicate the texture and flavour of the original’s turtle meat.” Heinz used to make a canned variety that only went out of production in the 1970s—you can see a picture of a can as well as some old recipes here.)

Anyway, special tureens were made shaped like turtles to hold the soup. I’ve seen them now and then in museums; the article linked above contains a photo of a splendid example in silver at the Minneapolis Institute of the Arts.

3. And possibly my favorite for sheer whimsy…the pineapple stand! The pineapple was a fad luxury item in eighteenth and early nineteenth century England in rather the way tulips were in 17th century Holland. By the Regency the initial craze, which led to things like the building of a giant stone pineapple-shaped conservatory, had passed…

a stone greenhouse with a huge stone tower shaped like a pineapple

The Dunmore Pineapple, built by the Earl of Dunmore in 1761. Image credit: Davidw82, via Wikimedia Commons.

…but pineapples remained a popular display of wealth and glamor. Whole pineapples were used as table centerpieces (and sometimes were taken away again by the caterers at the end of the night without being eaten!). This blog post contains two beautiful examples of porcelain pineapple stands by Spode, one from 1813 and one from 1820, with an explanation of their use. These are clearly designed for the whole pineapple to stand in the center surrounded by sliced pineapple, as is this lovely boat-shaped stand, but some, like this cut glass one…clearly are not.

Honorable mention goes to the Solomon’s Temple pudding mold, popular for nearly two centuries. You can see pictures of a variety of molds AND, incredibly, a video of the finished pudding wobbling comically, at this awesome blog post by Ivan Day, who explains, “Because it is made of flummery, which is a kind of opaque milk jelly, the central obelisk wobbles and cavorts in a most entertaining manner, while the four little cones shake, rattle and roll in a very naughty way.”

What’s your favorite single-purpose serving dish? Teapots? Salt and pepper shakers? Gravy boats? Tell me all about it!

Posted in Food, Regency | 10 Replies

Hi all! Huzzah, this is my first post as an official Risky! I am so happy to be here. 😀

The hero of my current WIP Listen to the Moon (readers of Sweet Disorder may remember him as Nick’s pun-hating valet Toogood) has recently taken a job as butler in a vicarage. Now, one of the tasks of a butler is to oversee the wine cellar. As The Complete Servant (published in 1825 by husband-and-wife butler/housekeeper duo Samuel and Sarah Adams) puts it:

The keys of the wine and ale cellars are specially kept by him, and the management of the wine, the keeping of the stock book, and also of ale in stock, or in brewing, are in his particular charge. This duty he generally performs in the morning before he is dressed to receive company, and he then brings out such wine as is wanted for the day’s use. It is his duty to fine* wine as it comes in the pipe**, and to superintend the bottling, sealing it himself, and disposing it in bins so as to know its age and character. While these duties and those of brewing are in hand, he leaves the parlour and waiting duties to the under butler and footman.

* Fining is the process of adding stuff to wine that attaches itself to unwanted particles in the wine; they can then be removed together or allowed to sink to the bottom of the keg or cask. It ensures your wine doesn’t look like this:

640px-Sediment_in_winePhoto Credit: Monica Yichoy via Wikimedia Commons.

** A pipe is a traditional English wine cask size, equal to about a hundred and twenty-five gallons, or half a tun.

I wanted to write a scene set in the wine cellar, but I know almost nothing about wine except that I like to drink it. So I checked out some of the helpful tips and recipes in The Complete Servant.

I loved the long list of equipment “To Fit up a Cellar of Wines and Spirits.” Then I tried reading some methods of fining wine.

To fine Port Wine

Take the whites and shells of eight fresh eggs, beat them in a wooden can or pail, with a whisk, till it becomes a thick froth; then add a little wine to it, and whisk it again[…]If the weather be warmish, add a pint of fresh-water sand to the finings. Stir it well about; after which put in the finings, stirring it for five minutes; put in the can of wine, leaving the bung out for a few hours, that the froth may fall: then bung it up, and in eight or ten days it will be fine and fit for bottling.


To improve White Wines

If the wine have an unpleasant taste, rack off one half; and to the remainder add a gallon of new milk, a handful of bay-salt, and as much rice; after which take a staff, beat them well together for half an hour, and fill up the cask, and when rolled well about, stillage it, and in a few days it will be much improved.

If the white wine is foul and has lost its colour, for a butt or pipe take a gallon of new milk, put it into the cask, and stir it well about with a staff; and when it has settled, put in three ounces of isinglass made into a jelly, with a quarter of a pound of loaf sugar scraped fine, and stir it well about. On the day following, bung it up, and in a few days it will be fine and have a good color.

Well. Now I was well and truly grossed out! Truly, the past is another country, I thought.

Shows what I know. While inorganic finings are also widely used these days, Wikipedia says: “The most common organic compounds used include egg whites, casein derived from milk, gelatin and isinglass obtained from the bladders of fish.”

Yes indeed. Even dried oxblood powder (a popular traditional fining for red wine) is not entirely a thing of the past. Yes, it had already mostly gone out of fashion when it was banned by the EEC in 1997 due to concerns about mad cow disease–but even after that some wineries were caught breaking the ban!

In theory, only trace amounts of finings remain in the final bottled wine. But although I could find no anecdotal evidence of folks allergic to milk having a reaction to drinking white wine, in 2007 the Scientific Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies of the European Food Safety Agency published their finding “that milk and milk products used in winemaking may trigger allergic responses”! (A helpful blog post on the subject is here.)

I think the tip that horrified me the most, though, was this one:

To convert White Wine into Red

Pour four ounces of turnesole rags* into an earthen vessel, and pour upon them a pint of boiling water; cover the vessel close, and leave it to cool; strain off the liquor, which will be of a fine deep red inclining to purple. A small portion of this colours a large quantity of wine. This tincture may either be made in brandy, or mixed with it, or else made into a syrup, with sugar, for keeping.

* “A violet-blue or purple colouring matter, obtained from the plant Crozophora tinctoria, formerly much used for colouring jellies, confectionery, wines, etc., and later as a pigment[…]Coarse linen rags are steeped in the juice, and then dried and exposed in vats over an ammoniacal mixture; hence the designation turnsole in rags.” –The Oxford English Dictionary

In those countries which do not produce the tingeing grape which affords a blood-red juice, wherewith the wines of France are often stained, in defect of this, the juice of elderberries is used, and sometimes log-wood is used at Oporto.

Now that’s just cheating.

Posted in Food, Research | 11 Replies
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