The first in a series of Penguin Cooks blogs, here’s one of our resident food experts, Pen Vogler, telling us a little about the food featured in some of Jane Austen’s earliest works.
Next year, Jane Austen’s juvenilia will be published in Penguin Classics for the first time. It may seem odd to be trumpeting this on a food blog, but the young writer delighted in culinary obsessions. Foremost of foodies in the juvenilia is Charlotte Luttrell of Lesley Castle (written when Jane was 16) who, broiling, roasting and baking her sister’s wedding feast, is appalled to hear of the groom’s life-threatening accident; “Good God!” (said I) “you don’t say so? Why what in the name of Heaven will become of all the Victuals?” Her sister is too afflicted to even eat a chicken wing.
The Georgian dinner table hosted some strange dishes and I wonder if the vile-sounding “fried Cowheel & Onion” which comes in her lampoon, The Visit, was a riposte to some adult attempt to make her eat it. A more acceptable treat is joked about by the twelve-year-old Jane whose The Beautiful Cassandra, “proceeded to a Pastry-cooks where she devoured six ices, refused to pay for them, knocked down the Pastry cook and walked away.”
Even I baulk at fried cow’s heel, but I have had a lovely time cooking my way through dishes that Jane mentions in her novels and letters. As a young woman, left in charge of the housekeeping, she writes with relish about ordering braised ox-cheek and indeed it is gorgeous; melty and tender and just the thing for a cold day.
Brought up, as she was, on meat from her father’s livestock, ‘haricot mutton’ is another Austen favourite that deserves to be restored to the contemporary table. And who wouldn’t agree with her that “Good apples pies are a considerable part of our domestic happiness”.
Dinner with Mr Darcy: Recipes inspired by the novels and letters of Jane Austen is published by Cico books, £16.99 in hardback.
Pen Vogler is the editor of Penguin’s Great Food series. If you enjoyed the above, read more on her blog, Pen’s Great Food Club, where she describes cooking with recipes from history. For more foodie updates, follow her on Twitter / @penfrompenguin