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Tag Archives: Regency

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.

Romancelandia thrives on strange pets, but the creatures authors give their characters are by no means stranger than those real people kept during the Georgian era. There was a large menagerie at the Tower of London, that included apes, leopards, lions, even a polar bear that was let loose (on a long chain) to hunt fish in the Thames. Many wealthy people kept private menageries, or strange pets.

The Moose
George Stubbs
1773
Wikicommons

William Wilberforce, the abolitionist politician, had a domesticated menagerie of foxes and hares and hedgehogs that roamed about his house. In 1824, Wilberforce founded the first animal welfare society in the world. The Duke of Richmond kept a famous collection of animals that people traveled far and wide to view. He had everything from lions and tigers to bears (too many bears!) and even a moose. One of my favorite stories about his collection is when he tried to acquire a sloth, but ended up with yet another bear (this reminds me of the people in China who keep ending up with bear cubs with they try to buy Tibetan Mastiffs).

Sr

I received your letter I am obliged to you
for it. I wish indeed it had been the sloath that
had been sent me, for that is the most curious
animal I know; butt this is nothing butt a
comon young black bear, which I do not know what
to do with, for I have five of them already. so pray
when you write to him, I beg you would tell
him not to send me any Bears, Eagles, Leopards,
or Tygers, for I am overstock’d with them already.

I am Dear Sir,
Your Faithfull
humble servant
Richmond.


Another pet that is dear to my heart, and that I may have to someday make use of, is Gilbert White’s tortoise, Timothy. Timothy had originally belonged to Gilbert’s Aunt Snooke. White inherited the tortoise from his aunt in 1780 and it lived with him for the rest of White’s life (Timothy outlived White as well as the aunt). Timothy was reportedly a great favorite in the village and during the summer months would range all over White’s five acre garden. Timothy hibernated during the cold English winters (and this clearly didn’t harm him as he lived a good, long life).

There are documented races in London parks between cheetahs and greyhounds. There was an emporium in the London docks that specialized in exotic animals. There was a constant influx of odd animals brought ashore by sailors and brought home by travelers. Everything from elephants to giraffes to dodo birds. To date, I’ve made do with dogs, but someday I just might have to go with something a little stranger…

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