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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?

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).

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.



Have you been out to dinner at a nice restaurant lately? When you told your friends, did they look at you with pity and then gossip about you behind your back? Is your reputation ruined? How times change, LOL!

The fact is, during the Regency in England, dining out as a social event the way we know it was not done. The very concept of the modern restaurant was still in its infancy –it evolved in France (of course?) in the later 18th century and had not successfully caught on yet in England. But there was a glimmer on the horizon, and a few eating establishments were heading in the right direction. (I’ll come back to these near the end.)

People did “eat out”, of course. You could obtain a meal in a tavern, pub, or an inn or a fine hotel, particularly if you were traveling. You could purchase specific foodstuffs from street vendors, but that wasn’t a “meal.” And any of these were, in general, patronized out of necessity or convenience, not for pleasure. There were no menus offering choices –only perhaps, a list of what was to be served. Generally only the simplest inexpensive meats and vegetables were served, except for a few taverns that catered to a specific well-heeled (male) clientele.



If you were an upper-class male, you could enjoy a meal at your private club. The food offerings might be somewhat more elegant, but would still be limited. You ate what they served, at the time they served it. Men could also patronize the coffee and oyster houses, which often served other food in addition to their main focus. For females to dine in public was quite shocking, however, unless in a coaching inn, and if you were of the upper class, you would still insist on a private parlor.

Part of the stigma, of course, came from the fact that acceptable households employed their own cooks. Why would you prefer to eat out when you could eat in? “Dining out” socially meant going to dinner at someone else’s private home, eating food prepared by their cook instead of yours.

Another part of the stigma was the idea of rubbing elbows with the hoi polloi –the general public. Not done! People forced to “eat out” were the poor who had no cook, and often, no kitchen at all. Taverns were noisy and crowded, with communal tables. “Even a moderately well-to-do person would have preferred to order food delivered to a private home or a room at an inn or hotel or an elegant salon rented for the occasion…” (1)

No wonder your friends viewed you with pity! What calamity caused you to need to eat out? And if you were female in mixed company, oh, dear. Shocking!

These social aspects of dining out offer a clue to why the modern restaurant was born in France (and why England resisted). The French Revolution brought in sweeping social changes that coincided with some new developments. “Restaurant” originally meant a type of meat soup, like consommé or bouillion, used medicinally as a “restorative”. In 1765 a bouillion-seller had opened a shop with tables where ailing customers could sit and eat their soup. Different customers required different types of restoratives, so the idea of individual customized servings was introduced. Others copied the idea. In the early 1780’s a man named Beauvilliers, the former chef of the Count of Provence, carried the conceit further and opened the first real restaurant with small individual tables and a menu listing individual choices with prices.

In 1786 he opened the first “luxury” restaurant in the Palais Royale, featuring mahogany tables with white tablecloths, trained waiters, chandeliers, a wine list and an extensive menu of fine food choices. That same year, the Provost of Paris issued a proclamation officially recognizing and authorizing these new types of establishments. These developments paired with a ready supply of cooks and servants no longer employed by the artistocracy, the dissolution of the guilds that had restricted how and by whom food could be prepared, and a customer base of displaced provincials without families in Paris, journalists and businessmen, a newly important middle class. Two different principles were suddenly wedded in a successful new way to do business –the personal tastes, budget and choices of the individual now controlled the purchase of a meal, while the egalitarian social climate celebrated that “Eating [well] was no longer the privilege of the wealthy who could afford to maintain a cook and a well-supplied kitchen.” (2)

Dining Out-3estates_2Within ten years there were more than half a dozen restaurants in Paris, and “dining out” was accepted practice there enough to provide the basis for a political cartoon about the 3rd Estate in France (above), entitled “Separate cheques please”:


Rules with Glass Ceiling

Rules with Glass Ceiling

Meanwhile, back in London, the oldest still-surviving restaurant in London, Rules, was started in 1798, on Maiden Lane in Covent Garden. Although at first it was simply an oyster bar, as their website states: “Contemporary writers were soon singing the praises of Rules’ “porter, pies and oysters”, and remarking on the “rakes, dandies and superior intelligence’s who comprise its clientele”.

Two other London establishments might challenge the “oldest” claim by Rules, but one (Wilton’s, opened 1742 as a seafood street stall, 1805 as an oyster room) has changed locations and nature many times, while the other (Simpson’s Tavern) is more of a pub, and ancient pubs are not rare anywhere in England! Note ladies were not admitted to Simpson’s Tavern until 1916.

Simpson’s-in-the-Strand (not related) was founded in 1828 primarily as a chess club/coffee house/smoking room (“The Grand Cigar Divan”). They are still famous for serving meats at tableside from antique, silver-domed carving trolleys, a practice said to have evolved to avoid interrupting the play during chess games.  Simpson's history

You can see these were not yet exactly “restaurants” in the Parisian sense at the time they opened their doors. The modern form of “dining out” really didn’t take hold in Britain until the mid-Victorian era, when the swelling ranks of the new middle class provided an enthusiastic customer base for it.

Have you written or read characters who needed to dine out for one reason or another? Are you surprised to know what a big difference existed between customs in Paris and London during this time period? Have you ever eaten at any of the London restaurants mentioned, or have a favorite restaurant there to share?

Sources quoted:

(1) “The Rise of the Restaurant,” Food: a Culinary History, Jean-Louis Flandrin & Massimo Montanari

(2) Oxford Companion to Food, Alan Davidson [Oxford University Press:Oxford] 1999)

For further reading online:

Also, check out:

A History of Cooks and Cooking, Michael Symons [Universtiy of Illinois Press:Urbana IL] 1998 (p. 289-293)


I was going to do this awesome dress thing (see below) when I came across this. Oh. My God. I busted a gut. Here it is in six parts. I’ve only embedded the first, but have given you links to the other 5.

You MUST watch this. Really.

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

Here’s the pretty dresses

Although many of these gowns and photographs should be familiar to anyone who has studied Regency fashion, did you know there’s an entire YouTube Channel for this?

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