On Muffins

This past week, I witnessed an absolutely ridiculous attack on American writers (specifically) of Regency-set romances. A couple of English people declared that American writers as a whole simply didn’t know what they hell we were talking about and maybe we should visit England to gain a clue. What was their proof? Muffins. Americans keep putting MUFFINS in their books and no one in England has ever heard of a muffin, English or otherwise. These are not a thing. English people do not eat them. Never have. Never will.

When I responded that they were good enough for Jane Austen and Hannah Glasse, I got blocked.

English muffins, being cooked by me.

So, in case any of you need it, here is my Defense of Muffins in Georgian Fiction:

Firstly, here is the infamous Muffin Man himself, hawking his wears way back in the 1750s.

London Cries: A Muffin Man by Paul Sandby (c. 1759)

Oh, what is this? Is this the famous author Samuel Richardson writing of an Englishman eating muffins for breakfast? Clearly this cannot be…

The History of Sir Charles Grandison by Samuel Richardson, 1765

What do I spy with my little eye? Why it’s a record of the cries of the street vendors of London in 1777. What are they hawking? Muffins!

A Set of London Cries, 1777

Whatever can this be? Is it a political poem about Fox and Pitt involving toasted, buttered muffins? How un-English can you get!

A political ditty, 1803

Oh, look. Even that scallywag David Garrick is in on hoodwinking poor Americans into thinking muffins existed.

The Guardian by Garrick, 1805

The rhyme that you are all probably familiar with, recorded in a manuscript c. 1820.

Clearly one can not trust a book entirely devoted to the baking of bread! What rapscallion time travelled back and inserted an entire second on the anachronistic muffin?

A Treatise on the Art of Making Good and Wholesome Bread, 1821

How dare Maria Edgeworth write characters who love muffins! Surely this must be a mistranslation (from English into English!).

Maria Edgeworth, Early Lessons, 1825

I don’t know who this “Lady” is, but clearly she is not to be trusted as her domestic guide includes fake things like muffins. Muffins which no Englishman has ever heard of, let alone eaten.

The New London Cookery and Complete Domestic Guide, by A Lady, 1827

I am trying to determine when the English went off the muffin, leaving themselves with only the crumpet for comfort. Oscar Wilde features them in his work. So do P.G. Wodehouse, Agatha Christie, and Dorothy Sayers. In fact, they appear to have been Lord Peter’s favorite food.

One of MANY mentions of muffins in the Lord Peter Wimsey books.

My food history friends blame the depredations of WWII. Rationing has much to answer for when it comes to British cookery. Whatever the reason for the disappearance of muffins in the UK (at least according to Hawt Take UK Twitter), please rest assured that they were beloved and clearly being consumed at least up until WWII.

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Hot Walls & Orangeries: Regency Solar Technology

Passive solar heating is a “hot topic” these days (no pun intended). Did you know it was being used on Regency estates and even 150 years before the period? (Rabbit hole warning!!)

I asked my fellow members in the Regency Fiction Writers about the availability of citrus fruit in remote Derbyshire in April 1814. I asked because many of the Regency recipes I have seen require oranges or lemons as part of the ingredients, and the characters in my current wip, Her Perfect Gentleman, needed some for a project. These fruits grow best in places like Spain, Italy, the Caribbean or Florida, and I wondered how much the Napoleonic Wars disrupted these imports.

An interesting discussion followed and uncovered some wonderful sources. The answer was: not as much as you might think, because the trade was so important and the Royal Navy made sure to protect the shipping trade routes. But I still wondered how far north the distribution of imported fruit would reach, and how far from the main cities and towns. I was reminded that some of the very wealthy might have orangeries on their estates, and their surplus would be sold. But how common were orangeries, and how far north could they still be effective?

The earliest orangeries began as shelters created to protect fruit trees being grown against south facing “fruit walls” in gardens. The use of fruit walls in northern Europe to create a micro-climate for growing fruit dates to the mid-16th century, not coincidentally about the same time as the start of the so-called “Little Ice Age” (c. 1550-1850). A Swiss botanist named Conrad Gessner observed in 1561 how well the sun-heated warmth of a thick south-facing wall improved the ripening of figs and currants. Such a wall, built of brick or stone, both absorbs heat and reflects sunlight during the day and releases heat during the night, which in cold seasons could protect against frost.

English fruit wall –(PD Wikimedia Commons)

Intrepid fruit growers experimented to improve the effectiveness of fruit walls, adding canopies of thatch (or glass, later on) or woven mats or canvas curtains that could be drawn over the fruit trees to protect them from rain, hail or bird droppings, for instance. When techniques to create panes of clear glass came out of Italy, growers began to make cold-frames to start seedlings early and also to tilt frames with panes of glass against the fruit walls to increase the solar heating effect, protect the trees from winds or other weather and extend the growing season.

The Dutch were particularly adept at innovations in improving the solar growing techniques and were the first to build actual framed glass enclosures along the fruit walls, creating the first “orangeries.” They also began to add other heat sources to supplement the sun, including small stoves inside the enclosures, for example. They also were the first to try building channels within the fruit walls themselves for artificial heat to supplement the sun, developing what became known as a “hot wall” (not to be confused with certain portions of the fortifications at Portsmouth harbour which also bear this label!).

“Fan” style espaliered pear tree (PD: Wikimedia Commons)

From this common point, the further development of orangeries and hot walls diverges. The French, who discovered improved yields by training their fruit trees or vines along their fruit walls in the method known as “espalier,” also had entire towns adopt fruit walls as an industry. But their walls produced mostly peaches or grapes, not citrus.

Orangeries, meanwhile, began to be built as separate facilities, designed by landscapers and architects not only to shelter citrus fruit trees but also as places for entertainment, a way to show off a luxury only the very wealthy could afford. Walkways, statuary, fountains, even grottos were added features among the citrus trees, although the buildings needed to be long and narrow to allow light from the windows to reach all the way into the space. The buildings were often designed to echo the architectural style of the main house. As interest in exotic plants grew, the function of orangeries’ micro-climate expanded to offer shelter and display for such other choice and tender specimens.

Orangery at Kensington Palace, 1704 (PD: Wikimedia Commons)

Some early examples still exist: the orangery at Kensington Palace designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor was built for Queen Anne in 1704 and featured a heated floor. The orangery built at Versailles in the 1680’s was the largest in Europe, designed to hold Louis XIV’s 3,000 orange trees.

Orangery at Versailles (PD: Wikimedia Commons)

Dyrham Park in Gloucestershire has one designed to hide the view of the servants’ quarters from the main house. Built in 1701, it had, like all orangeries at this early period, a solid roof. Humphrey Repton is credited with replacing the slate roof with a glazed one in 1801, about when the technology to do so first began to be feasible.

The Kew Gardens orangery was designed by Sir William Chambers in 1761. At the time, it was the largest in England, but it wasn’t very successful because of low light levels. Its orange trees were removed to the Kensington Palace orangery in 1841 and renovations were made to the building at Kew. Orangeries can be found at more than a dozen estates managed by the National Trust, and many are now used as cafes or restaurants, their many windows and bright light still providing very pleasant surroundings.

Orangery at_Belton_House_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1498894 (Wikimedia Commons)

Many private estates that chose not to build an orangery boasted a fruit wall as part of their gardens, however. In England, the added expense of building these in the form of “hot walls’ was often worthwhile because of the colder climate, especially in northern counties. The earliest hot walls were heated by fires actually lit inside the flues, in addition to the sun. Later, the supplemental heat came from small furnaces located at intervals along the back (north) sides of the walls. They were common enough to be described in detail in Phillip Miller’s Gardener’s Dictionary in 1754.

Interior hot wall flue at Croome Court, by Amanda Slater from Coventry, West Midlands, UK, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The science of creating a successful hot wall is quite impressive, requiring different thicknesses of bricks or stone for various parts of the structure, support for the channels that run through the structure, plastering of the interior heat channels to facilitate cleaning them, and stove chimneys built at regular intervals as part of regulating the heat. Some wall chimneys were fitted with ornamental chimney pots made of Coadestone. Specially skilled masons as well as the expensive custom-made materials were required to construct them. However, none of this provided enough warm shelter to grow citrus successfully in mid-to-northern England without fully enclosing the space. From extant accounts, it appears that the fruits most commonly grown on fruit walls were peaches, nectarines, and Morrell cherries.

How many estates had hot walls is not known. Fruit walls were a labor intensive, high maintenance undertaking, and hot walls added a second layer of labor to maintain and clean the heating system itself as well as to monitor and regulate the heat. The need for hot walls declined as railroads came along, for improved transportation made importing fruit cheaper. Many of the walls were left derelict and were later torn down.

Portion of the hollow hot wall at Eglinton in Ayreshire, showing flue opening blocks at three levels, which could vent or be used for cleaning. (PD: Wikimedia Commons)

The article on JSTOR cited at the end of this post lists specific estates where hot walls have been recorded: Yorkshire (17), Cheshire (5), Lancashire, (1), and Essex (1). Probably half a dozen more are mentioned in the text also, including Staffordshire (1), Norfolk (1). Wikipedia mentions the one at Croome Court, Worcestershire, as well as two in Scotland in its article on walled gardens. Recent interest has sparked some research and increased awareness that may contribute to more “remains” of old hot walls being recognized and recorded as time goes on.

Improved technologies in the 19th century led to changes in the orangeries rather than their demise—no doubt why more remain to be seen today. But as orangeries became “greenhouses” with more and more glass, they became less and less energy efficient. They lost the balance between heat absorbing, insulating materials like brick and stone to offset the sunlight-providing glass and relied more and more on artificial heating, especially piped hot water. Today, the newest trend in greenhouse agriculture is heading back towards using solar power for both heating and regulating light.

If you’d like to learn more about these early growing technologies, I recommend the following articles:




(Hot Walls: An Investigation of Their Construction in Some Northern Kitchen Gardens by Elisabeth Hall)

Or simply see Wikipedia (see “Orangery” and/or “Walled Garden”) for an overview on these!

Posted in Daily Life, Food, Gail Eastwood, History, Research, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Sneak Peek

I had a grand plan…I was going to do the cover reveal for the re-issue of my Ripe series. Alas, life got in the way for my cover designer, so we’re a tad behind. But I do have a sneak peak at part of the cover for RIPE FOR SCANDAL.

I’m seriously in love with this cover, and I can’t wait to show you the while thing next month. I’ll be doing the typography this weekend and getting all three books off to thr formatter ASAP so they can be re-re-released in April.

Beau and Garath.

I have some exciting news as well: Scribd will be releasing the series in audio, which I’m really excited about. Audio is something readers ask for all the time, and I’m so glad that they’ll finally have the chance to enjoy the books in the format they prefer.

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Real Regency Heroes: Olinthus Gregory

Just in time for “National Pi Day” on 3/14* (not National “Pie” Day—Jan 23), I’d like to introduce to you one the Regency era’s finest mathematical minds, Dr. Olinthus Gilbert Gregory. I fell in love with him first just for his name, I must confess! But he turned out to be a fascinating fellow—well, at least to me! Read on to see if you agree or not.

Part of my fascination, I admit, comes from the missing bits in his story that are links in his path to success. Someone ought to put together a proper biography of the man! Olinthus Gregory rose to prominence from humble beginnings, not an easy feat in the rigidly structured English society of the Regency. He was born in January of 1774, the son of a shoemaker and his wife, the eldest of four children, in Yaxley, Huntingdonshire (now Cambridgeshire). I find nothing more about his early life other than the names of his siblings who were all sisters, and the fact that one (Sophia) died in 1783, when Olinthus was nine. I would love to know where his parents came up with the name Olinthus for their son!! Did a simple shoemaker and his wife have any knowledge of Olynthus, the son of Heracles, or the ancient Greek town that bears this name? The misspelling suggests they might merely have heard it somewhere and liked the sound.

18th century Yaxley must have had a school, or else Gregory was tutored, but either way he must have shown an aptitude for serious study since he was sent to study in Leicester for ten years with Richard Weston, a botanist, mathematician and writer who ran a boarding school there. That city is about 45 miles by road from Yaxley. Was there a Yaxley schoolmaster who recommended this? How old was Gregory when he left home for this? I could find no dates. One must admire his parents for recognizing (we assume) that he was meant for greater things than simply taking on his father’s trade.

Like Gregory, Richard Weston rose from humble beginnings, starting out as a “thread-hosier” according to Wikipedia, but it seems he moved to London for a time and while there nurtured his interest and knowledge of plant science and made connections through the Society for the Arts. His first written works were published during those years. His published output continued without pause after he moved back to Leicester, which no doubt influenced Gregory’s ambition to write and publish. Gregory’s first work, Lessons, Astronomical and Philosophical, for the Amusement and Instruction of British Youth, was published in 1793, when he was 19 years old, and became a popular text used in schools.

He was still studying with Weston at this point in time. Was it through Weston that Gregory acquired the patron who made his publication possible? According to a biography of Gregory at https://mathshistory.st-andrews.ac.uk/, Gregory was helped by John Joshua Proby, 1st Earl of Carysfort, who was a fellow of the Royal Society and also held high political office at the time. Perhaps more significantly, given the way things worked in that era, the Proby family had been lords of the manor near Yaxley (Elton Hall) since 1617. A local lad rising to prominence may have been easy to bring to the earl’s notice.

Charles Hutton By William G. Jackman – Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=179750

Weston encouraged Gregory to submit mathematical problems to be published in The Ladies Diary, an annual magazine devoted to such puzzles. Gregory also wrote a treatise in 1794 on “The Use of the Sliding Rule” that was never published, but it brought him to the attention of a new mentor, Charles Hutton, a professor of mathematics at the Royal Military Academy in Woolwich.

Sometime between 1796-98 (sources vary) Gregory moved to Cambridge. He served briefly as the editor of the Cambridge Intelligencer, a radical paper, and set himself up as a teacher of mathematics, the start of his academic career. He also opened a booksellers shop in Cambridge, married Rebecca Marshall in Yaxley in 1798, and pursued his writing. Did Weston, Carysfort, or Hutton encourage or help to make any of these connections?

Gregory fathered a son and a daughter with Rebecca. With this family to support, no doubt he was extremely grateful when three things came his way in 1802: 1) Hutton recommended him for an appointment as a mathematical master at the Royal Military Academy in Woolwich; 2) he was named editor for The Gentleman’s Diary, and 3) his next major work, A Treatise on Astronomy, was published, dedicated to Hutton.  (Like The Ladies Diary, The Gentleman’s Diary was a recreational annual published as a supplement to an almanac and offering mathematical problems and enigmas for readers to solve.)

He received an honorary Masters Degree from the University of Aberdeen in 1806, published the 2-volume work A Treatise of Mechanics, theoretical, practical and descriptive, dedicated to Lord Carysforte, and continued to teach at the RMA as a master until 1807. In that year, his wife died, Hutton retired, and Gregory, at age 33 a widower with two children under age 11, was elevated to the available professorship.

By Stephen Craven – This file was derived from: Former Royal Military Academy – entrance – geograph.org.uk – 971943.jpg, CC BY-SA 2.0,https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16365270

Gregory received a second honorary degree in 1808, that of Doctor of Law, which allowed him to be addressed as doctor. The following year he married his second wife, Anne Beddome, with whom he fathered another daughter and two more sons between 1811-1817. He became the editor of The Ladies Diary in 1819, a position he continued for another 20 years. He also continued as a professor of mathematics and became chair of the academy’s mathematics department in 1821.

While best known for his knowledge and teaching of mathematics, Gregory’s interests were far-ranging, as can be seen by the work on astronomy. Besides mathematical subjects, he also published works on natural philosophy, mechanical physics, and even music and religion—it seems almost anything involving systems interested him.

Public Domain

Nor did he limit his curiosity to the written word. He also performed scientific experiments dealing with astronomy and also sound. The best known of these was carried out at Woolwich to determine the velocity of sound by firing mortars, guns and muskets at various distances from observers. His results (1100 feet per second) have held up well under modern scrutiny with our far more advanced methods of measurement: according to the University of St. Andrews web bio, the speed of sound in dry air at 20° C is 1125 feet per second.

Gregory received many honors for his accomplishments and was co-founder of, most prominently, the Royal Astronomical Society, and also the Woolwich Institution for the Advancement of Literary, Scientific and Technical Knowledge. He was a member of a great many literary and philosophical societies as well and served on boards with other scientific greats of this period, including John Herschel, Charles Babbage, Henry Colebrooke, and Thomas Colby. He remained in his position at Woolwich until he retired in 1838, at which time he was quite ill. He is said to have suffered with illness for the last ten years of his life, but notably he died in 1841, just three years after he retired, at age 67.

In his farewell RMA address in 1838, his devotion to education, and indeed to the very ideals of the Regency period, is abundantly clear, for he tells the first year academy students:

            The genuine object of all sound education is the development of the intellectual, the moral, and the bodily faculties of man; or, as it has been sometimes more tersely expressed, the improvement and application of head, heart, and limb. The system of education in the institution in which you have the honour to receive instruction, embraces all this. The blame will be your own, and it will through life be the subject of regret, if any of you quit this Academy without having acquired the manners of a gentleman, the principles of a man of honour and high and pure morality, the ornamental facilities of an artist, and a competent store of literary and philosophical knowledge.

*National Pi Day seems an appropriate time to salute this “real Regency hero” for the success he made of himself and the hundreds if not thousands of young minds he helped to shape. National Pi Day was started in 1988 and is on March 14 each year because 314 are the first three digits in pi.

If you need a review: pi is the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter, represented by the Greek letter Pi because it is actually an irrational number (a decimal with no end and no repeating pattern). Depending on how far towards infinity you wish to go, the value may be written as 3.141592654…, or shortened to simply 3.14 or the fraction 22 over 7.

Calculations of pi go back 4,000 years and early on were largely based on measurement. It was the Greek mathematician Archimedes who first used an algorithmic approach to calculate pi. But the concept wasn’t called “pi” until 1647, when English mathematician William Oughtred named it in his publication Clavis Mathematicae. He chose this particular Greek letter because it is the first letter of the Greek word “perimetros,” which means “circumference.” But no one has ever solved the perennial puzzle of pi: If pi is the number of diameter lengths that fit around a circle, how can it have no end?

Posted in Daily Life, Gail Eastwood, History, Regency, Research, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Quilting and Patchwork in the Regency

I’ve heard quite a few people say that patchwork quilting is an “American thing” and came out of the Civil War. I have no idea where this comes from, but I’m here to tell you that patchwork quilts were a thing in the Regency (they would probably have called them “pieced coverlets”). In fact, Jane Austen, her sister Cassandra, and their mother made an absolutely gorgeous patchwork quilt that is on display at Chawton. It’s made in the English paper piecing method (where you sew each bit of fabric around a paper form and then join all the little bits together with whipstitches before removing the paper).

Patchwork Coverlet, made by Jane Austen and family.

Per the Jane Austen Museum, in May 1811, Jane wrote to her sister Cassandra, “have you remembered to collect pieces for the Patchwork? — we are now at a standstill.” The quilt uses 64 different fabrics for the hundreds diamond shaped squares, and many of them are “fancy cut” to show off the design to its fullest. If you’re a quilter and feeling like a real challenge, you can get a free copy of the pattern to recreate Jane’s quilt here.

And quilting/piecing wasn’t limited to furnishings. I think most of us are familiar with matelasse quilted coverlets (whole-cloth quilts) and with the 18th century petticoats that were made in the same fashion. But there are also examples of pieced clothing. Like this absolutely amazing banyan (images are Open Access from The MET).

Man’s banyan, c. 1812-1820

I’ve been doing a little quilting lately, myself. Nothing as ambitious as Jane’s quilt, but fun and pretty. I recently finished this one in a fabric called “Whimsical Romance” for my friend Jess (the artist who does my covers, and who is busy right now getting the new covers for my Ripe series ready). The parts that look white are actually text from A Midsummer’s Night Dream.

My quilt for Jess
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Regency Valentines

References to Valentine’s Day go back to early times. Chaucer mentions it, and so does Shakespeare. By the 1600’s, giving gifts or tokens to ladies seems to have become a common practice, mentioned by the diarist Samuel Pepys.

During the Regency era, parties and cards as we think of them now still were not part of celebrating Valentine’s Day, but unmarried admirers did send tokens, hand-made cards, letters, verses from poetry, etc. In fact, it seems that for young swains courting young ladies, such recognition of the day was de rigueur. No pressure, right?

To help those who lacked a talent for composing poetical messages, publishers were quick to fill the void, issuing pamphlets like The Young Man’s Valentine Writer (1797), filled with romantic verses which could be copied out by those with little poetic skill and sent to their sweethearts.

That sending such missives and cards was common practice seems clear when we consider this tidbit from the Morning Chronicle of February 15, 1815:

Yesterday being Valentine’s day, the whole artillery of love was put into requisition. The Postmen were converted into Cupids, and instead of letters upon business, carried epistles full of flames, darts, chains, and amorous declarations.

Before the advent of machine-made cards, what would a Georgian or Regency Valentine have looked like? Here is an example of the folded paper “puzzle-purse” style of Valentine, dated February 14, 1816.

Below is another example of a typically folded hand-made paper card, decorated with watercolor, from Edmund Hemming to Anne Wilkes of Bidford-on-Avon, Warwickshire, dated 14 February 1820, courtesy of English Folk Art.

The design features hearts & arrows, flowers, and lovebirds. The main central design, when unfolded, shows the fashionable young couple in arms, standing beneath two trees (symbolically entwined), with a house on the left (a happy home), and a church on the right (wedding bells).

The love token includes romantic verse, ‘On you depends my future peace, One kindest look one tender sign, Shall bid my every trouble cease, Come then and be my Valentine’.

However, there were all sorts of craft approaches: pinwork (piercing paper to make the designs), cutwork (like making paper snowflakes, cutting the paper to make it have lacey designs), quill-work, and also non-paper options, to create love tokens made of any kind of material you can think of! The one at left is just lavishly illustrated in watercolors.

If you are ambitious or creative enough to want to try to make a Regency-style Valentine, I found the patterned examples below which were copied in the 1880’s from Georgian Valentines, one dated 1785. There were no directions, so you’ll have to sort out the fold lines and the order in which to make the folds for yourself. If you have experience doing origami, that will undoubtedly help!

Paper was expensive in this period, and so was postage. And there were no envelopes! You might find this video about letter-folding in the Regency helpful!  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qwyEERi-hyA 

I hope you enjoyed this glimpse of true romance in our favorite time period. Whatever your pleasure, I wish you a Happy Valentine’s Day!

Posted in Daily Life, Gail Eastwood, Holidays, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 2 Comments


As in “shaking like a”. Heyer made this phrase a part of my Regency vocabulary, but in my early days as a reader I really had no idea what a blanc’mange was (let alone that it was pronounced “bla-manzh”). When I looked it up (cause I’m that kind of reader) the description made it sound something like a Jello®-mold from my childhood, and that was good enough for me. I could picture it. When I look at period sources I find descriptions such as: “its face . . . quivered, without ceasing, in a very alarming manner, being, it seems, of a paralytic sensibility like blanc-mange” and “He shook, moreover, like a plate of blanc-mange”.

The English Art of Cookery (1788) contains multiple recipes for blanc’mange. The first begins “Take a calf’s foot, cut it into small pieces, put it into a sauce-pan with a quart of water . . . boil it gently, and skim it well, till it is of a very strong jelly.” Making my own gelatin is going a little too far even for me. The other two recipes begin with “isinglass”. This is a fish-based collagen. Per Wikipedia: “Prior to the inexpensive production of gelatin and other competitive products, isinglass was used in confectionery and desserts such as fruit jelly and blancmange.” I opted to use commercial gelatin, as it aligns closely with the first recipe’s requirements and is easy to obtain. Someday I’ll order isinglass…

The English Art of Cookery (1788)

The next big challenge was to decide what to do about the fact that all the recipes call for bitter almonds. Bitter almonds are poisonous (they can yield cyanide) and aren’t available in the United States. My options were to use almond extract or apricot seeds. Neither is perfect, but I went for the extract, as that should give the true flavor (almond extract being made from bitter almonds).

The English Art of Cookery (1788)

Speaking of flavor, the fact that the recipes all call for two or three laurel (bay) leaves seems a bit odd to me, but I went with it (many of the cake recipes call for them too). And then there are the suggestions for how to color the blanc’mange: “When you want to colour your Blanc’mange green . . . put in a little spinach juice . . . If you wish to have it red, bruise a little cochineal and put in; if yellow, a little saffron; if violet colour, a little syrup of violets”. I opted to make a yellow one, mostly because I have a large stash of saffron from my trip to Morocco.

Most modern recipes for blancmange look NOTHING like the period ones. They tend to call for milk thickened with cornstarch. But I did manage to find one that starts with gelatin (from The British Shoppe) and I used it as a starting place.

My recipe

2 envelopes unflavored gelatin
2 cups half-and-half, divided
1 1/3 cups sliced almonds
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1 stick cinnamon
zest of ½ lemon
½ tsp coriander seeds
2 bay leaves
Pinch of saffron (optional)

Place 1 c. of the half-and-half and almonds in a blender, and process until smooth. Strain through a sieve into a medium saucepan; discard solids. Stir in sugar, spices, zest and extract and bring to a boil, turn down to a simmer and stir constantly. Heat the other cup of half-and-half and stir in the gelatin. Add the gelatin mixture, stirring until gelatin dissolves; remove from heat. Place your mould or bowl in an ice-filled bowl. Strain into the mould to remove the spices and let it sit until it cools. Place the mould/bowl in the refrigerator until set (4 hours or over night).

The result? It’s actually good! It’s a milky-sweet-almond base slightly odd undertones but everyone liked it. Many of us thought it would be better with fruit or a fruit sauce. It has a sort of dry texture (it’s vaguely cheese-like, sort of like panna cotta, which makes sense once you look at panna cotta recipes) cries out for a fruity sauce. I’ve made it pretty regularly for holiday dessert, and it’s always well-received (especially when topped with a tart fruit compote).

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January Reflections: New Year’s Resolutions in the Regency?

A man is shown seated with his hands on his thighs. He looks pensive. Above and to the the left of him are the words, "I can't believe it's been a year since I didn't become a better person."

Are you one of the people who make resolutions every January? I confess I am not –I often just carry on with unfinished goals from the previous year. But is the practice of New Year’s resolutions a modern one, with our recognized focus on self-improvement and achievement? Did people in the Regency era take the time to reflect on their past years and did they make resolutions, too? If they did, was their focus the same as ours?

A quick dive into the history of New Year’s resolutions reveals that the practice dates back at least 4,000 years (if not longer, if it may be ascribed to human nature!). The ancient Babylonians, with their agricultural culture, recognized and celebrated the start of each new year when the growing cycle renewed at the spring equinox (circa March 20 on the modern calendar). Their twelve-day celebration, called Akitu, signaled the start of the farming season, a time to crown or renew loyalty to their king, and also the time to promise to pay their debts. One common resolution, according to some sources, was the returning of borrowed farm equipment! Starting the new year “right with others” was believed to insure good fortune for the seasons ahead.

The Romans adopted the same practices, including the making of resolutions, with the same timing until about 46 A.D. when Julius Caesar introduced the Julian calendar. He set the start of the year as January, named after Janus, the forward and backward-facing Roman god of doorways and gates, beginnings and endings, forward planning and backward reflection. Sacrificing to the god and promising to be better people were meant to bring good fortune just like the Babylonian resolutions, but a stronger emphasis on moral character was added by the Romans.

When Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire in the 4th century, religious practices replaced resolutions and anything else associated with the pagan Roman customs. For instance, the Feast of the Circumcision was set to be observed on January 1 with prayers and fasting, rather than the revelry that non-Christians indulged in.

small image taken from a medieval manuscript shows orange vines with large leaf shapes, and among them a small figure of a peacock with crested head and distinctive broad tail featuring the "eye" decorated tail feathers.

Over the following centuries the changes met with varying success, however. During the Middle Ages, a sort of New Year’s resolution was made by knights who would renew their vow to chivalry by making their annual “Peacock Vow”–placing their hands on a peacock (cooked or not) during the last feast of Christmastide (usually Twelfth Night) and recommitting to the moral and social code of conduct.

According to historian/author Bill Petro, by the 17th century “the Puritans urged their children to skip the revelry and spend their time reflecting on the year past and contemplating the year to come. In this way, they again adopted the old custom of making resolutions. These were enumerated as commitments to employ their talents better, treat their neighbors with charity, and avoid their habitual sins.”

But “New Year’s Resolutions” as an identified thing was still not the common concept it is today.

In the 18th century, making resolutions (other than those creating laws and regulations) was a firmly entrenched practice, especially among the religious. In 1710 we can find the writer William Beveridge, in his treatise “Private Thoughts Upon Religion, Digested into Twelve Articles,” writing: “And how, then, shall I be able, of myself, to resolve upon Rules of Holiness, according to the Word of GOD, or to order my Conversation according to these Resolutions….”

Black and white portrait image of Jonathan Edwards wearing a white wig with rows of even curls. He has a pleasant face with a long nose and small mouth, smiling slightly. He is dressed in a buttoned black coat and wears a white neck stock with dual front tabs.

A decade later (1722-23), the young Puritan-raised American theologian-to-be Jonathan Edwards wrote down his resolutions over the course of two years after his graduation from Yale University. He created seventy of them altogether, that he tried to review on a weekly basis. But young Puritans were trained to practice self-examination and introspection, indeed, as were entire congregations.

Edwards’s resolutions are often compared to the resolutions penned by another noted American of the period, Benjamin Franklin, whose resolutions (published in his Autobiography) for guiding a good life numbered merely thirteen.

Color portrait of Benjamin Franklin, 1783. A heavy-set older man with receding hairline at the top of his head but shoulder-length hair that covers his ears. He is showing signs of age: baggy skin beneath his eyes and under his chin. His lips are very thin. He wears a gray suit (coat and waistcoat) with matching gray buttons, a narrow white cravat around his neck, tucked in, and white ruffles from his shirt extend out through the unbuttoned top section of his waistcoat.

According to George S. Claghorn (Editor, Letters and Personal Writings (WJE Online Vol. 16) ): “Both men agreed on the value of making resolutions, evaluating their effectiveness, and following them lifelong. And the resolutions show that the two were united on the importance of speaking the truth, living in moderation, helping others, and doing one’s duty. Each counseled himself (and others) to avoid sloth, make good use of time, cultivate an even temper, and pray for divine assistance; and each offers an energetic, thoughtful approach to life.” However, as the writer points out, Edwards’s focus was on producing “a soul fit for eternity” and Franklin’s was on producing “a good citizen” of this world.

John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement, was an 18th century influence on practicing New Year’s resolutions. In 1740 he created a new worship service he called the Covenant Renewal Service, most commonly held on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day. It became the root of the “watch services” still held by some evangelical Protestant denominations today, and included praying and making resolutions for the year ahead instead of indulging in revelry.

Apparently, a Boston newspaper from 1813 featured the first recorded use of the phrase “New Year resolution,” although it seems clear the concept itself was already common. The article states:

“And yet, I believe there are multitudes of people, accustomed to receive injunctions of new year resolutions, who will sin all the month of December, with a serious determination of beginning the new year with new resolutions and new behavior, and with the full belief that they shall thus expiate and wipe away all their former faults.”

In fact, one source claims that as early as the 17th century there were jokes about people failing at their intentions to become better in some way in the coming year.

I would say it’s safe to say yes, in the Regency decades people were commonly making (and breaking) New Year’s resolutions, even if they didn’t call them that, for in that time period the “multitudes” of Americans doing so were still generally aping whatever people in the United Kingdom were doing.

Were they making resolutions to lose weight, give up drinking, or get more fit? These “self-improvement” promises are typical of modern times. The top New Year’s resolutions for 2021 were “living healthier 23% of people, getting happy 21%, losing weight 20%, exercising 7%, stopping smoking 5%, reducing drinking 2%. In addition, people resolve to meet career or job goals (16%) and improve their relationships (11%).”

In Regency times, for one thing, most people were more fit and got more exercise in the normal course of everyday life. Their resolutions were much more likely to be outward-looking: about their relationship to others and the world around them, and to have a moral imperative attached: to be more charitable, for instance. If you had lived during the Regency, what do you think your resolutions might have been?

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Lord Grantwell’s Christmas Traditions

In researching Lord Grantwell’s Christmas Wish I came across some new-to-me Regency Christmas traditions. I’ve blogged about Regency Christmases before, like here at Risky Regencies in 2016, when Bound By a Scandalous Secret was a December release.

I mentioned things like Regency households did not have Christmas trees or send Christmas cards. Santa Claus came later, as did singing Silent Night. They did exchange gifts, decorate with winter greenery, and have special Christmas food. You can read the whole blog here.

Lord Grantwell’s Christmas Wish was set in Yorkshire, so a couple of new traditions popped up in my research.

The first was a tradition involving the lighting of the yule log. To bring good luck, a large log was brought in on Christmas eve to burn constantly in the hearth until it has completely burned itself out. Before supper, when the yule log is burning, all other lights are extinguished, everyone is silent, and the youngest one present must light two special candles from the yule log while everyone makes a wish. The wish must be kept secret or it will not come true. In my book it is Anna, the youngest of Lord Grantwell’s wards who lights the candles. And, of course, along with everyone else, Lord Grantwell makes his wish.

Another Yorkshire tradition I discovered took place on Christmas morning. For more good luck, on Christmas morning, before anything was taken out of the house, something green must be brought in, usually a leaf from an evergreen. Grant charges Anna and her brother William with this task.

Did you know there were different versions of The Wassail Song? Even though I was not absolutely sure the Wassail Song was sung in the Regency, I played upon the differences.

Here’s an excerpt from the book:

“You are forgetting something, m’lord,” Thompson said. 

“Forgetting something?” He was puzzled. “What?” 

“The wassailing song,” Thompson said.

Anna’s face fell. “I do not know the wassailing song.” 

“No?” Grant touched her cheek. “We will sing it for you.” He began and the servants joined in:

We’ve been a-while a-wandering,

Amongst the leaves so green.

But now we come a wassailing,

So plainly to be seen. 

For it’s Christmas time, when we travel far and near,

May God bless you and send you a happy New Year….

He paused. “Miss Pearson, why are you not singing?” 

She shook her head. “That is not the song I know.”

“That is the wassail song,” he insisted. 

“No,” she countered with a smile. This is the wassailing song.

 She sang: 

Here we come a-wassailing

Among the leaves so green;

Here we come a-wand’ring

So fair to be seen.

Love and joy come to you,

And to you your wassail too;

And God bless you and send you a Happy New Year

And God send you a Happy New Year…

“No. No. No,” he protested. The words were slightly different. The tunes were slightly different. He led the servants in the second verse:

We are not daily beggars,

That beg from door to door,

But we are neighbors children,

Whom you have seen before…

Lillian stopped them. “That is the third verse,” she said. “Here is the second.” 

Our wassail cup is made

Of the rosemary tree,

And so is your beer

Of the best barley.

He joined her in singing the refrain—his refrain along with hers, and they all continued singing verses with identical lyrics, Lillian’s differing version making a sort of harmony while the refrains sung together became a jumble. 

He and the others ended the song, but she kept singing. One last verse.

Her singing slowed and she held her gaze on his:

God bless the master of this house

Likewise the mistress too,

And all the little children

That round the table go.

When she mentioned children she walked over to William and Anna and put her arms around them. Grant joined them as they sang the refrains one last time with the children trying to join in. 

And God send you a Happy New Year…

Here’s the Yorkshire version:

Here’s Lillian’s more familiar version:

Love and Joy come to all of you from the Riskies….and to you your wassail, too!

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More Regency Refreshments

Over the weekend, a friend asked for my handout from the Regency Refreshments workshop I did a few years ago. After digging it out for her, I thought I’d share something for Thanksgiving.

When I had the idea to give a Regency Refreshments Workshop, I thought it might be wise to begin experimenting with recipes early. My experience with making food for re-enactments has taught me that it often takes several attempts before something satisfactory is achieved, mostly because period recipes are so vague (few precise measurements combined with instructions like “bake in a slack oven” means that it’s easy to get it wrong).

I started looking through period cookery books, and found that quite a few of the recipes were familiar: Gingerbread, Puffs (meringues), Pound Cake, Macaroons. Others were familiar only because of trips to England or from books: Sally Lunn Buns, Bath Cakes, Blanc’mange. Some had seemingly familiar names, but upon closer inspection bore little resemblance to the modern dish bearing the same name:  Cheesecakes, for example. Georgian “cheesecakes” (sometimes called Maids of Honour) are baked inside a puff pastry shell, rather like a modern Danish. And some have a colloquial English-ism to them that might elude a modern American reader, such as Plum Cake. “Plum” means “currants” or “raisins”, not plums or prunes as one might assume. I had certainly always pictured a sticky, sweet cake, not a dry little cake filled with currants.

And then there’s the fact that my goal here is slightly different than the one I usually have when cooking for a re-enactment. Normally, I’m attempting to make something period that appeals to a modern palate. Here, I’m trying to recreate the period flavors as accurately as possible. A new and challenging twist, sometimes requiring a bit of real hunting when it comes to ingredients . . .

The first thing I did was gather numerous extant period cookbooks. This was easy thanks to Google Books. With a plethora of options, I quickly found I had to limit myself. So I randomly chose three books to concentrate on, making forays into other sources only when my main selections failed to deliver at least two recipes for the dish being studied.

The first is The English Art of Cookery, according to the Present Practice; being a Complete Guide to all Housekeepers, on a Plan Entirely New (1788) by Richard Briggs, “many years cook at The Globe Tavern, Fleet-Street, The While Hart Tavern, Holborn, and Now at The Temple Coffee-House.”

The second is The Universal Cook; And City and Country Housekeeper (1806) by Francis Collinwood and John Wooliams, “principal cooks at the Crown and Anchor Tavern in the Strand—late from the London Tavern.”

The third is A Complete System of Cookery, On A Plan Entirely New; Consisting of an Extensive and Original Collection of Receipts, in Cookery, Confectionary, etc. (1816) by John Simpson, “cook to the late and present Marquis of Buckingham.”

I also consulted Mrs. Beeton’s Dictionary of Every-Day Cookery (1864 edition), Lobscouse & Spotted Dog: Which It’s a Gastronomic Companion to the Aubrey/Maturin Novels by Anne Chotzinoff Grossman and Lisa Grossman Thomas (ISBN: 0393320944) and Tea With Jane Austen by Kim Wilson (ISBN: 097212179X). I figured if they’d already done the legwork, why do it all over again?

One thing which I think you’ll notice right away is the enormous amount of time most of these recipes would have taken to prepare under period circumstances (i.e. no electric mixer and no gourmet grocery in which to procured the basics). Many of the cakes take several hours just to beat the batter. And quite a few recipes require you make a basic ingredient first, be it gelatin or boiled down citrus fruit or blanched almonds. And then you still have to grate and shift the sugar (which comes in solid cones). Odds are your heroine is not undertaking to make her sweetie a cake while they’re stranded alone in a hunting box (unless it’s a ruse to avoid him!).

Seed Cake

Seed cake seemed just different enough from pound cake that it was worth making on its own. The variations are also quite different from one another. The 1788 one calls for yeast and allspice, while the 1806 one is leavened only with eggs and has spices similar to those in the pound cake recipes. The 1816 book has no recipe for “seed cake”, but it does have one for “savory cake” which is very similar in its general make up, except that it does not call for any spices or seeds

The Universal Cook (1806):

Since I have a modern kitchen with a Kitchen-Aid Mixer®, I chose to make the “rich” version. It also seemed to me that this version would be the most dissimilar to the pound cake in texture. I made this cake up following the directions from 1806 to beat the egg whites and egg yolks separately. It appeared that all this beating in of air would add loft to the cake (as with a sponge cake). What I missed in my initial reading was the fact that after you’ve gone to all the trouble of beating in air, you beat the batter some more when you combine the eggs with the butter and sugar, and then some more when you add the flour. All that beating knocks the air right out of the egg whites.

Just for comparison’s sake, I made up a second batch which I mixed in a more “pound cake-like” manner (cream butter and sugar, beat in eggs one at a time, add everything else and call it a day). It came out exactly the same as the one I took all the trouble to do in stages. So the recipe I’ll share with you is the easy version:

1 cup unsalted butter, softened

3 cups flour (not self-rising)

2 cups sugar

5 large eggs

1 TBL allspice

1 oz caraway seeds

Preheat oven to 350° F.  Coat your pan (almost any kind of baking dish from a bunt to a spring mold will work) with a LOT of Baker’s Pam® or similar product.

Beat together butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Reduce speed to low and add half of flour. Add the allspice and caraway seeds. Then add all of the remaining flour. Beat for 3-5 minutes, until well combined and satiny. Pour batter into pan and rap pan against work surface once or twice to eliminate air bubbles.

Bake until golden and a wooden pick or skewer inserted in middle of cake comes out with a few crumbs adhering (about 1 hour). Remove from oven and invert onto the rack to cool.

Serve with a period sauce (wine sauce is great with it) or with something like Devon triple cream. It needs something to give it a little moisture. It goes great with an digestif wine like sherry, port, or Madeira.

My friends’ reactions really ran the gamut: some loved it, some thought it would have been better with poppy seeds or cardamom* (and I agree, those flavors would have suited a modern palate much better than the caraway seeds), some hated the anise flavor, I thought it had a slightly medicinal flavor, but wasn’t unpleasant, especially with a glass of sherry. And it tastes even better the next morning and goes great with a cup of tea.

The bottom line is that it turned out to be a slightly dry, very dense, not too sweet, caraway-flavored, cake.

*I do find cardamom used in period recipes, but never in cakes. It always seems to be in cordials and the like for the sick room. Same with poppy seeds.

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