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At the Frampton household, we are preparing for my son’s seventh birthday party. Tomorrow, we will welcome six of his friends to our house for some party games, sandwiches, and ice cream cake (my son doesn’t like traditional cakes–they’re just “bread with frosting.”) Tomorrow night, the Spouse and I will be opening a bottle of wine. Related? You tell me.

Birthdays have been celebrated since the 1st century BCE, although the practice waned and was brought back during the sixteenth century (and some cultures still do not celebrate birthdays, but you can read all about that by following the birthday link).

As I was thinking about birthdays, I thought about Regency period books, and realized I hadn’t read about many birthday celebrations (besides the reigning monarch’s, but that’s a special case), although they must have existed. For the research wonks out there (Amanda? Diane? the rest of the Riskies? Anyone else?), what were the common birthday practices? Did people get presents? Was there cake? Pin the tail on the Prinny?

What birthday traditions do you like? If you were a Regency lady, how would you like to celebrate your special day?


Posted in Regency | Tagged | 6 Replies

December 16th has more than one birthday of interest to us Regency-ers. Along with Austen, it’s also the birthday of Beethoven, born in 1770. Five years before Jane. (It’s also the birthday of my mother, but that’s probably only of interest to me, who still has to find her a present. Jane and Ludwig aren’t quite as picky).

I had hoped to make this post about Jane’s own interest in the music of Beethoven. After all, we know she enjoyed music, and that he was one of the leading composers of the era. Alas, according to the Jane Austen Memorial Trust, which has cataloged over 300 pieces of music-related material belonging to Jane, she owned very little by Beethoven (or Mozart, or Handel, or any of the other composers we listen to most today). She owned a lot of pieces by such non-household names as Pleyel, Dibdin, Sterkel, and Kotzwara. So there goes my theme. But here are a few other little factoids I found on my search!

In 1811, Jane Austen published “Sense and Sensibility”; Beethoven first performs his Piano Trio in B-flat
In 1813, “Pride and Prejudice”; Wellington’s Victory
1818, Mary Shelley publishes “Frankenstein”; Beethoven the Piano Sonata #29 (Hammerklavier) (not Austen, I know, but interesting!)

The 1995 version of Pride and Prejudice featured some Beethoven. At the Phillips’ party, Mary plays “Nel cuor non mi santo”. At Pemberley, Georgiana plays “Andante Favore.” And according to the 2005 Pride and Prejudice website, the score was inspired in great part by Beethoven’s piano sonatas, and performed by pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet with the English Chamber Orchestra in that sort of style. I couldn’t find any info on “real” Ludwigian pieces they might have used, but they did use Purcell at the Netherfield ball.

I also saw that at the Jane Austen Evening our own Cara will be attending in January, there is a visit from “Herr Beethoven” scheduled as well.

Happy birthday, Jane and Ludwig! Hopefully some of you will have other nuggets of factoids to share.

Here at Riskies, we just finished celebrating our blog birthday celebration! This week is Risky Megan’s birthday, plus another friend of mine is having her birthday party tomorrow night (note to self: go buy card!), so birthdays are on my mind today. And what’s the best part of a birthday? (besides getting bookstore gift cards, that is…) Cake of course! So I was curious and looked up a very brief history of the birthday cake…

It seems that our idea of a birthday cake dates to around the middle of the 19th century (the Victorians liked to do everything up big–weddings, funerals, birthdays), but cake associated with special occasions goes back to the ancient Greeks. In Greece and Rome, cakes that resembled flat rounds made with nut flour, leavened with yeast and sweetened with honey, were served at important birthdays and weddings. Candles seem to have come from this time as well, since it was believed that covering a cake with lighted candles made it glow like the moon (so it was often an offering to Artemis, virgin huntress goddess of the moon). It’s also thought that the smoke from the candles could carry prayers to the gods–maybe a precursor to our idea of the birthday wish?

In parts of Germany in the 15th century, some savvy bakers hit on the idea of making special one-layer cakes for customers’ birthdays. By the 17th century, the upper classes had cakes much like our own idea of a proper birthday cake–multi-layered, icing, decorations. Elaborate birthday parties seem to be a Victorian thing–the Victorians really liked doing everything up big (weddings, funerals, etc). In the Regency, birthdays would be celebrated but in a more low-key way–a special dish at dinner maybe, cakes, gifts like handkerchiefs or books. But a well-known personage’s birthday was always more elaborate. A letter written in 1799 by Goethe says, “…when it was time for dessert, the prince’s entire livery…carried a generous-size torte with colorful flaming candles – amounting to some fifty candles – that began to melt and threatened to burn down, instead of there being enough room for candles indicating upcoming years, as is the case with children’s festivities of this kind…”

Oh, and the song “Happy Birthday” became popular in the early 20th century (it first appeared in print in 1912). Now it’s the number one most recognized song in the English language…

Here is a recipe for a black forest chocolate cake I always like on my birthday! (but I’ll have to wait a while for it, since my big day is not until January…)


  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup strong brewed coffee, cold
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 (21 ounce) can cherry pie filling
  • 1/2 cup cherry liqueur
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour two 8 inch cake pans. Make sour milk by combining milk and vinegar. Set aside.
  2. Sift together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, oil, coffee and vanilla. Stir in the sour milk. Gradually beat in the flour mixture, mixing just until incorporated.
  3. Pour batter into prepared pans. Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Allow cake layers to cool completely before filling.
  4. To make the cherry filling: Combine the cherry pie filling and cherry liquor. Refrigerate cherry mixture until chilled, then fill cake

Of course, if you feel like going the opposite direction, there is always Cake Wrecks for inspiration. I love that site!

What do you do on your birthday? What’s your favorite kind of cake?

Yours Truly: Jane!

Jane Austen: Good morning. Is it morning? Do you know the date?

YT: Yes, but I’m not telling you on account of you might be shocked how long it’s been since the last time you were sitting around yakking. By the way, it’s your birthday tomorrow.

JA: It is? How lovely. Thank you so much for mentioning my special day–

YT: Right. Special day. Before we talk about your fav cake and shit, can I ask you a question?

JA: (looking a bit shocked) Of course.

YT: You had doors in your house back in the Regency, right?

JA: Certainly.

YT: Good. What did they look like? Because I need to know. I’m trying to write this scene—

JA: You’re an authoress? What a coincidence. I too–

YT: Yes, but only if we define writer as someone who procrastinates any actual writing until there’s nothing left of her soul except panic and the need for caffeine, sugar and cocoa butter and who when she’s freaking hyped up on the stress with like smoke coming out of her ears before she actually gets decent words on the page, finally does something you could call writing. Sort of. Does that sound familiar to you at all?

JA: I think I’m getting a call. (Digs in her reticule.)

YT: They didn’t have cell phones when you were writing. So listen, about Regency doors. I have this scene where the hero and heroine are in this room and they’re alone, but one of them wants to leave, I can’t decide who yet, but that doesn’t actually matter. The point is whoever tries to open the door, when they do that the handle falls off and they get temporarily stuck only I don’t know if they had door knobs back then.

JA: Door knobs?

YT: Crap. Did they have door knobs? Do you know who invented the door knob? Because actually, when I Google, the results are unclear.

JA: Google?

YT: Yes. Google. A search engine. 

JA: But it’s misspelled.


JA: I beg your pardon?

YT: Door knobs, Jane. Concentrate.

JA: Perhaps there were door knobs as early as 1820 but I can’t be sure because **cough** I was not alive in 1820.

YT:  I’m thinking I may have to email the Antique Doorknob Collectors of America or buy one of their books, but I don’t know which one to get. Ack!

JA: Americans collect doorknobs?

YT: Some of us are obsessed. OMG! Look at those doors and hardware. So pretty!

JA: Oh Em Gee?

YT: I’m swooning. Look!

JA: Where is my vinagrette?

YT: You know what I really hate?

JA: Spanx?

YT: Pictures that look exactly on point that have no date. Seriously. There should be a rule that whenever you post a picture of something old you’re REQUIRED to say what date the really old thing was made. You can’t just say, Victorian, or 19th century or back in the olden days. There should be a rule that you have to GIVE THE YEAR!

JA: Could we go back to talking about cake?

YT: Sure. If you want.

Pegasus Cake

Happy Birthday, Jane!

JA: Who’s Emma?

PS. Was I supposed to do a contest thinggee? OK. Comment and I’ll figure out a prize. Not cake, though.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 24 Replies

November 2 marks the birthday of Marie Antoinette! She was born at the Hofburg Palace in Vienna in 1755, the 15th child and last daughter of Empress Marie Theresa, and was described as “a small but completely healthy Archduchess.”

The details of her life are well-known, thanks to myriad biographies and several films, and we still seem drawn to her tragic story today. It’s amazing the variety of merchandise out there! Here is just a few I found on a Very Important Research Trip through the Internet…

Marie Antoinette t-shirts (this one is from Cafe Press!)

Action figures (with Ejector Head Action)

Paper dolls

Barbie as Marie Antoinette (she is kind of pricey, but I would totally buy one right now if I could!)

If you go to Etsy and type in “Marie Antoinette” (but be careful! I quickly found myself spending hours on Etsy…) you will find all sorts of items. There’s jewelry:

Like this ring

Cards and stationery

And costumes

Ebay (another classic time and money suck!) has lots to choose from as well! Like this antique Sevres figurine (going for a mere $22,000!)

The official Versailles website has all kinds of pretty to look at! (And I can personally attest that their gift shop is marvelous! These are just a few of the items they carry)

What items would you get if you needed a Marie Antoinette collection in a hurry? Whose birthday would you like to celebrate? (This one seems ideal for, well, cake…) Do you like Barbies? (and if anyone really wants to get me a Christmas gift, I would totally accept that MA Barbie!!). What kind of cake would you order for Marie Antoinette? (I vote for strawberry cake with white icing and pink roses)

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | 10 Replies
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