Thursday, 30 April 2015

Keats, Cooks and Castles... The Top 5 of April

Spring is in the air so enjoy the howling gale, lashing rain and settle back with the most popular posts of April 2015!

Cooking for a Prince
Christina Alexander recreates some recipes fit for Prinny!

Keats, Endymion, and Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine
Join Mimi Matthews for a tale of critics and poets...

Camp Followers in the Peninsular War
Susana Ellis takes a look at the fascinating lives of the women who went to war.

Tales from the 18th Century Old Bailey
News of my second book with Pen and Sword!

The Wentworth Castle Rotunda
I took a trip to witness the results of a remarkable restoration project...

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Tales from the 18th Century Old Bailey

As regular salon visitors will know, I am currently hard at work on my first non-fiction book, Life in the Georgian Court, which will be published by Pen and Sword Books in 2016. This is a dream come true for me, and I'm thrilled and completely delighted to let you know that another dream has come true hot on the heels of the first!

In 2018, Pen and Sword will publish another of my non-fiction works, Tales from the 18th Century Old Bailey. The book will offer a peek into the annals of the most famous criminal court in the world, in what must arguably be the most tumultuous century in British history. In an era when the Bloody Code sent thousands of men and women to the gallows and saw children transported to the far side of the world for what seem now like the most trivial of wrongdoings, an appointment with the judges of the Old Bailey was the last thing any self-respecting miscreant wanted to receive!

From bloody murder to impulsive shoplifting via not so dandy highwaymen and the real stories behind Mother Clap’s Molly House, a microcosm of Georgian society passed through the Old Bailey as tragic prostitutes and murderous hangmen alike found themselves standing before the bench.

It will be my gruesome delight to share these tales and more with readers, as well as the grisly details behind the terrible punishments those convicted might face. As you can imagine, I really cannot wait to bring these stories to readers, so keep your hand on your purse and your wits about you... there are villains about!

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

The Historical Fiction Reader Survey

Today I welcome MK Tod with news of the Historical Fiction Reader Survey; please do read on and see how you can help!


Announcing the 2015 Reader Survey

Writers and readers – a symbiotic relationship. Ideas spark writers to create stories and build worlds and characters for readers’ consumption. Readers add imagination and thought along with their backgrounds and attitudes to interpret those stories, deriving meaning and enjoyment in the process. A story is incomplete without both writer and reader.

What then do readers want? What constitutes a compelling story? How do men and women differ in their preferences? Where do readers find recommendations? What are their attitudes to pricing or their favourite reading blogs? These and other questions have been the subject of two previous reader surveys.

ANNOUNCING A 2015 READER SURVEY designed to solicit further input on reading habits, historical fiction preferences, favourite authors and, for the first time, favourite historical fiction. THE SURVEY WILL BE OPEN UNTIL MAY 14. 

If you are a reader or a writer, please take the survey and share the link [] with friends and family and on your favourite social media. Robust participation across age groups, countries, and other demographics will make this year’s survey even more significant. Those who take the survey will be able to sign up to receive a summary report when it becomes available.

Highlights from prior surveys:
  • HISTORICAL FICTION IS MAINSTREAM: Less than 2% of participants said they rarely or never read historical fiction.
  • GENDER MAKES A DIFFERENCE: Women and men differ significantly in their reading habits and preferences and their views of historical fiction.
  • AGE MAKES A DIFFERENCE: Those under 30 have different preferences for genre and time period
    and have different patterns of consumption and acquisition.
  • SOCIAL MEDIA IS HAVING A BIG IMPACT ON READING: Social media and online sites play an increasingly significant role for those choosing, purchasing, and talking about fiction.
  • BOOK BLOGS ARE VERY POPULAR: 1,473 participants listed one, two or three favourite blogs.
  • GEOGRAPHY: Responses to questions such as the use of online tools for recommendations and purchasing and preferred setting for historical fiction varied by geography.
  • PRICING: Sadly, readers are pushing for low prices. For example, 60% want e-books at $5.99 or less and 66% want paperbacks at $10.99 or less.
  • ONLINE BOOK CLUBS ARE GAINING POPULARITY: 21% belong to online clubs while 15% belong to clubs meeting in a physical location
  • VOLUME OF BOOKS READ MAKES A DIFFERENCE: for example, high volume readers have different expectations for book reviews, a higher interest in tracking their books, and higher usage of online tools and social media to augment their reading experience.

Participate in this year’s survey by clicking the link and please share the URL with others

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her latest novel, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE is set in WWI France and is available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. Her debut novel, UNRAVELLED: Two wars. Two affairs. One marriage. is also available from these retailers.
Mary can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.

Written content of this post copyright © MK Tod, 2015.

Monday, 27 April 2015

Musical Monday: Beethoven Take Two

A little while ago, I started the week with a blast of Beethoven. It seems that the music struck a chord in salon visitors and you have asked for more, so here is a second take of Beethoven to see you into Monday!

Sunday, 26 April 2015

A Salon Digest

Once again it's time to take a look back at the week here in the salon, so settle back with a cup of tea and enjoy!

Musical Monday: Franz Danzi
The melodies of Franz Danzi, a man who mixed with musical royalty.

Keats, Endymion, and Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine
A critic takes aim, by my guest, Mimi Matthews.

Cromwell vs Poldark, by my guest, MJ Logue.

Take a trip to Barnsley for a stunning restoration project.

As the salon passes its 500,000th pageview, a look back at the most popular posts of all time.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Take a Georgian Outing

Recently, three guest posters have invited readers to attend Georgian and Regency events in Canada and England.

Since those opportunities are swiftly approaching, I thought this was an opportune time to remind you of the wonderful opportunities available, should you fancy dining, dancing or dallying with a highwayman!

A Regency Ball in 21st Century Canada
There's still time to attend Regency dance classes and a marvellous ball in Canada; even if you can't attend, Tara Rout's post contains some beautiful images of previous events and a short film showcasing the experience!

Georgian Dining Academy
If you're in London, you could hardly do better than join City of London guides and glorious Georgians, Miss Kitty Pridden and Miss Tina Baxter, for the Georgian Dining Academy. In the historic surroundings of Simpson's Tavern you'll enjoy the finest 18th century dining and entertainment the city can offer!

Gallows Bait
Tony Rotherham is offering readers the chance to be part of an exciting new film, telling the true story of Dick Turpin. Not such a dandy highwayman after all, roles are available in front of the camera as well as behind; this is a fantastic opportunity to be involved in the film from the very beginning!

Friday, 24 April 2015

An All-Time Countdown

This week the salon ticked past its 500,000th page view so I thought I would look back at the five most popular posts (using not very scientific methods!).

Thank you all for visiting the salon, sharing these stories and your own and keeping the glorious Georgian world alive with your enthusiasm and passion for history

An Execution for Blasphemy: Thomas Aikenhead
In Edinburgh, a young man faces the noose..

The Scandalous Matter of La Reine en Gaulle
A portrait of Marie Antoinette causes a scandal...

The Marriage of Napoleon and Marie Louise
A fateful union!

A Twist of Fate for Dick Turpin
A trip to the post office proves fatal for the famed highwayman...

Floating to Jamaica: Matthew "Monk" Lewis is (Not Quite) Buried at Sea
What became of the notorious author's corpse?

Thursday, 23 April 2015

The Wentworth Castle Rotunda

Recently I took advantage of the lovely weather to leave behind the noise and bustle of Gin Lane and head for Wentworth Castle, a recently restored property and deer park in Barnsley. I was on a mission to visit the deer park and Rotunda and I wasn't disappointed!

Wentworth Castle and grounds is a grade 1 listed landscape first founded in 1708, when Thomas Wentworth purchased Stainborough Hall and set about remaking it to his own specifications, renaming it Wentworth Castle. When Thomas died, the estate passed to his son, William, who commissioned ever more fashionable renovations and saw the grounds fashionably restyled.

The Rotunda, before restoration 

A gentle stroll through the deer park brings on to the unrestored Serpentine and the Rotunda, which began construction in 1739 and was completed three years later, although it had first been planned as far back as 1708. Modelled after an Ionic temple, Thomas had seen the Temple of Vesta at Tivoli during his grand tour and wanted to recreate something very similar at Wentworth.

The interior of the Rotunda is a single room where the family would hold dinner and entertainments whilst beneath ground another room would allow servants to prepare refreshments, ensuring that guests were kept fed and watered despite being away from the main house. Sadly, as the centuries passed the Rotunda fell into a state of acute disrepair and was at risk of demolition. Happily, £280,000 later, the Rotunda was fully restored in 2010.

And after!

The entire interior of the Rotunda was rebuilt, its black and white marble geometric floor relaid and a new roof put on top to protect it from the elements. It is a truly beautiful building set amid breathtaking grounds; I heartily recommend it for a day out!

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

A Salon Guest: Rehabilitating the Romantic Roundhead

Today we step back a little further in time in the company of MJ Logue, who is setting out to rehabilitate the Romantic Roundhead!


I have an axe to grind - or more specifically, I have a 36" munitions quality Birmingham steel cavalry backsword.

This "Poldark " thing is starting to really irritate me. The scarred, brooding, manly hero, galloping across the cliffs on his stallion, yet in touch with his social conscience.... oh, will you give over with that stuff! (And we will not mention the strange swirls of body hair, nicely clipped like a prize poodle. And we all know what happened to poodles in the 17th century.... Prince Rupert's prize battle-poodle being knocked on the head at the battle of Marston Moor!)

Aside from the fact that poor Aiden Turner looks like a heroin addict - grey and red-eyed and sweaty, with the skin-tone of elderly bread dough - in the publicity material in my local branch of Waterstone's, I keep looking at Ross Poldark and thinking - I mean really? What do you have that Hollie Babbitt doesn't have? Or even, heaven help us, Hapless Russell - and he's got a better scar?

Perhaps it is that I'm a romantic realist. Perhaps I like my heroes to be men that I might like to spend time with. I like to think that when I close the book, or when the credits roll, that relationship in which I have invested my emotional energy is plausible enough to continue - that my hero will not pick up his wild bachelor ways again when the novelty of his marriage wears off. That, if you like, he is a sufficiently well-rounded creation to be not only convincingly tormented, but convincingly happy. Not necessarily well-balanced - let's be honest, none of my lads are entirely wired up right - but real. Prince Rupert, bless him, never had a loving long-term relationship in his life, apart from possibly with his dog. But there he is in portraits, spaniel-eyed and brooding, the sort of fierce and passionate figure that turns up in popular fiction seething with suppressed emotion, just needing the right woman to set him on the path of happiness.

And then there's Thomas Fairfax, married to the same woman for almost twenty years (they were married in 1637 and he was buried alongside her in 1657 - her date of death is unknown) in domestic felicity. No arguing Black Tom's passion and ferocity: he just happened to be a sweetheart at home. With particularly fine eyes. Oliver Cromwell, giving his loving wife Elizabeth what-for for not writing enough letters to him while he was away from home, and sending his love to his little daughters. John Lilburne, and his wife's continuing ferocious battles to have him released from his various imprisonments, though it cost her her health, her children and her liberty.

But Roundheads are repulsive, right? Dour and humourless and godly and boring, somewhat prone to random acts of zealotry - that's not romantic, surely.

The thing with Puritan love poetry - though Puritan and Parliamentarian are not, regardless of popular belief, synonymous - is that it is not sexy. There you go, it's said. If you want unbridled lust, go read the Song of Solomon, it's full of it. (Godly = boring. Hmm.)

What it is, is loving. And not in a sweet, over-sentimental way. Read the poems of the Puritan poet Ann Bradstreet - "To My Dear and Loving Husband". Her faith is still there, underpinning her love and, yes, her desire for her husband, but they are a couple: not for her romantic uncertainty, or the agonies of self-doubt. The underlying relationship between husband and wife is rock-solid. Lucy Hutchinson's Elegies on her husband (and I know, I know, it's Lucy Hutchinson, and I cannot abide that mewling hagiographer.... but) celebrate a very real marriage between two real people, not a sexually-driven liaison or an idealised Classical fantasy. Even Fairfax's poems on the death of his wife express factual, rather than romantic, sentiment. As a good Christian man of his time, he is sure that she has gone on to a better place. As a husband, he misses her physical presence most fiercely. Lady Anne Fairfax was notoriously not beautiful. Her husband, then, celebrates the unbeautiful - praising a lack of beauty as indeed a virtue, where good looks provoke vanity and envy. There was a man who knew what side his bread was buttered on...

"All Creatures else on Earth that are 
Whether they Peace affect or War
Males their Females ne'er oppress 
By the Lion safe lies the Lioness 
The Bears their Mates no harm procure 
 With Wolf the she-Wolf lies secure 
 And of the Bull the Earth which tears)
The tender Heifer has no fears 
But men then these more brutish are 
Who with their wives Contend & jar" - Thomas Fairfax

Now, I don't know about you, but any man who promotes an ideal marriage as a peaceful co-existence between a man and a woman, is all right in my book!

Even the Puritan marriage manuals support the kind of attitudes we'd approve of today. Sexual compatibility and mutual pleasure are a gift from God, and a man and a women who do not take pleasure in each other are not likely to make a happy marriage. I quote the section of Gataker's Marriage Duties with which my lapsed Puritan boy Hollie proposes to his Het - 
"And this is a necessary effect of love. For what a man loveth most, he desireth most; and what he desireth and affecteth most, that he most delighteth in. Which that a man may the better do, he must remember that as every Christian man may assure himself that his present estate, what ever it be, is best & fittest for him: so a Christian married man is bound to believe and to persuade himself, not that his wife is the wisest, or the fairest, or the best conditioned woman in the world; but that she is the fittest wife for him, that God hath allotted him, and therefore rest himself contented in her & satisfied with her, and live with as much alacrity & cheerfulness with her as may be. And as parents love and delight in their children, not because they are fair or wise and witty, but because they are their children & and therefore howsoever seeing better parts in others, they could be content to change quality for quality, yet they will not exchange child for child: so a man is to love & delight in his wife even for this cause because she is his wife, and howsoever it may be he could wish some of her parts bettered, yet to rejoice in her as they are. " 

Gataker, and his contemporaries, promoted love and marriage as a responsibility, \not a thing to be taken lightly. If you were a married man (or woman - you will note the manual is every bit as specific as to the man's duties to his wife as the woman's to her husband) it was not only your pleasure, but a serious undertaking, to make your spouse content. None of this wispy Cavalier flitting about the place idolising assorted females and writing poetry to their underclothing, but a very down-to-earth and practical guidance - the marriage as a microcosm of the wider commonwealth. You love her. She loves you. Great. That's marvellous. But the purpose of marriage, as stated in the Book of Genesis, is about companionship - Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” Genesis 2:18 - before procreation. Friendship and affection, not lust. Lust's good, and sexual intimacy is a vital part of marriage, but it's not the be all and end all, because  now the hard work starts, building your life together. It's not about hearts and flowers - it's about he and she, and building up a rock-solid bulwark of love and faith and joy in each other's company. It may not always be easy, and it may not always be comfortable, but it is your duty before God and man to keep that love alive.       

Love and faith. Oliver Cromwell, writing home from Scotland to ask his Elizabeth to give "his love to the dear little ones; I pray for grace for them. I thank them for their letters: let me have them often." Thomas Fairfax, prizing virtue above beauty, in a somewhat back-handed compliment to his plain, brown, beloved wife. 

Beauty's frail brittle good

Which  Sickness Time Age do blast

The Rose Lilly in face that bud

Hardly are kept seldom last

What hath she then to boast on Save

fragile life timely grave

Beauty where sweet Graces fail

May be Compared unto this

goodly ship without her sail

spring her fragrant flower do miss

day wants Sun or Torch its Light

shrine wants Saint or Starless night

But how doth Nature seem to smother

The Virtues of this lonely Flower

Who is of wanton Lust the Mother

Of toying Vanity a Bower

Enemy of Peace the Fount where Pride do swim

Th' Incendiary of Strife of Passion's Magazine

What, then, is the more romantic? The gallant poet with a girl (with increasingly far-fetched names, Lucasta) in every garrison, swearing eternal loyalty to the cult of Unattainable Beauty, or the steadfast husband determined that come what may, he must honour both his marriage vows and his duty? No, if you want a real man - not a boy in love with a romantic ideal, but a trustworthy, decent, honourable, loving man - you wouldn't go far wrong with a romantic Roundhead. 

Though to be fair, Babbitt's Company has got both a gallant poet and a steadfast husband, so no need to make that decision just yet….

About the Author

When I'm not twiddling my thumbs in 1642, I can often be found embroidering with intent with the Wardour Garrison, fiendishly baking with the 32nd Cornwall Regiment of Foot, or all of the above with the Vikings.

I have three cats - Aubrey, Maturin and von Tribbling - and I live in West Cornwall.

Other than cake and embroidery and a previous career writing BDSM vampire porn under the name of Martin Ten Bones (I like Neil Gaiman, and it paid the bills) I have precious little to say for myself.

Other than - "I had rather have a plain, russet-coated Captain, that knows what he fights for, and loves what he knows, than that which you call a Gentle-man and is nothing else. "

Thank you, Oliver Cromwell!

Written content of this post copyright © MJ Logue, 2015.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Keats, Endymion, and Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine

It's my pleasure to welcome Mimi Matthews and the tale of Keats, Endymion, and Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine.


Nearly 195 years after John Keats’ death, even the most non-poetic amongst us can still quote the first line of Endymion: “A thing of beauty is a joy forever…

Yet, upon its release in 1818, Endymion was so harshly reviewed by Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine that Lord Byron was prompted to write that the sensitive Keats had been “snuffed out by an article.”

And what an article!  Between referencing the “imperturbable driveling idiocy of Endymion” and snidely referring to Keats as “Johnny” and “Mr. John,” John Gibson Lockhart (writing for Blackwood’s) took jabs at Keats’ education, his middle-class upbringing, and even his former career as a licensed apothecary.  According to Lockhart, Keats was an “ignorant, unsettled pretender” and an “uneducated and flimsy stripling…without logic enough to analyze a single idea, or imagination enough to form one original image.”  He closed his scathing critique with the following prediction:
We venture to make one small prophecy, that his bookseller will not a second time venture 50 quid upon anything he can write.  It is a better and a wiser thing to be a starved apothecary than a starved poet; so back to the shop Mr. John, back to plasters, pills, and ointment boxes.
For a time, Keats considered doing just that, giving up his poetry and returning to Edinburgh to resume his medical studies.  Ultimately, with the support of a small circle of friends, he continued writing and, in spite of poor reviews and even poorer health, went on to produce some of his finest work, including such masterpieces as Ode to a Nightingale, Ode to a Grecian Urn, and Bright Star.

Sadly, Keats career was not destined to last.  On February 23, 1821, just two and half years after the Blackwood’s article, he died in Rome of tuberculosis.  He was only twenty-five.  Convinced that the critics had hastened his demise, his friends, Joseph Severn and Charles Brown, added the following words above the brief epitaph that Keats had requested for himself:
This Grave contains all that was Mortal, of a YOUNG ENGLISH POET, who on his Death Bed, in the Bitterness of his heart, at the Malicious Power of his enemies, desired these words to be Engraven on his Tomb Stone: Here Lies One Whose Name Was Writ in Water.
Did the critics drive John Keats to an early grave?  Some of his contemporaries certainly thought so.  Yet in the end, Keats was not killed off by one critique.  Nor was his name writ on water.  Instead, his work has immortalized him.  He lives on as one of the most beloved and well-known of the nineteenth-century English Romantic poets.

And John Gibson Lockhart?  Well, I would venture to guess that if it were not for his connection with John Keats, most of us would not even know who he was.

Author Biography:

Mimi Matthews is an author of contemporary and historical romance.  She is a member of Romance Writers of America and The Beau Monde and is currently under contract with a New York literary agency.  In her other life, she is an attorney with both a Juris Doctor and a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature.  She resides in Northern California with her family – which includes an Andalusian dressage horse, a Sheltie, and two Siamese cats.

Written content of this post copyright © Mimi Matthews, 2015.

Monday, 20 April 2015

Musical Monday: Franz Danzi

Franz Ignaz Danzi (Schwetzingen, Germany, 15th June 1763 – Karlsruhe, Germany, 13th April 1826)

Today we mark the melodies of Franz Danzi, a man who mixed with musical royalty. Applauded by Mozart and a contemporary of Beethoven, Danzi came from a musical family and enjoyed a rich career as both composer and Kapellmeister to Frederick I of Württemberg.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

The Salon Digest

Once again it's time to take a look back at the week here in the salon, so settle back with a cup of tea and enjoy!

Celebrate the birth of an iconic Georgian artist!

Avellina Balestri examines the life and legacy of Sir John Moore.

The chance to soak up some Georgian culture...

Christina Alexandra recreates a feast fit for prinny!

Calling all thespians! Your chance to appear in a new film about Dick Turpin and his notorious gang.,,

Saturday, 18 April 2015

The Best of the Georgian Web

It's time to take a peek at the best of the Georgian web this week; settle back and have a browse!

I've been out and about once so once again it's a short "Best of" with a start of the week bias, but still plenty to enjoy...

Edging the Competition
Surgical instruments in the 18th century.

A grisly tale...

A wonderful new site from the Sorbonne.

Those words written very different from their pronunciation…

Napoleon's Children
The illegitimate offspring of an emperor.

Friday, 17 April 2015

Gallows Bait

The legend of Dick Turpin and the Gregory Gang has passed into English folklore, with highwaymen remembered as dandy fellows cutting a dash through the lush countryside of the 18th century. Now, a new film is going to redress the balance and show that Turpin and the Gregorys were not so dandy but, in the words of one of its creators, "the scum of the earth".

Gallows Bait will film across the UK next year and the creative team are looking for people who are passionate about the Georgian era to be a part of the project and even appear on camera. If you fancy attending the hanging of Dick Turpin and the notorious gang or recreating the sights and sounds of the long 18th century, Tony Rotherham would love to hear from you as he's helping to bring this exciting project to life. 

Casting for the central roles is currently underway but professional performers are invited to get in touch regarding the pivotal roles of Dick Turpin, Matthew King and Elizabeth Brazier. In addition, the production team invite anyone who thinks they can help to bring Gallows Bait to the screen to get in touch!

The team can be contacted via Tony at; don't miss out on the chance to bring Turpin's story into full-blooded life!

Thursday, 16 April 2015

A Salon Guest: Cooking for a Prince

Today it's a pleasure to welcome Christina Alexandra to the salon and she brings with her a very tasty example of historical cookery. Christina's website can be visted at and I really do encourage you to gad over there!


Prince Regent’s Fête of 1811

As a writer of historical romance, the time period often becomes a character in itself. The language, the dress, the society with its mores and strictures, the lack of what we think of as can’t-do-withouts (indoor plumbing, anybody?). It all plays a roll in making the story believable, even if it is fictional.  So much of what makes us glad we live in a modern world also makes the Georgian and Regency time periods a fun place to “visit” and write about.
One of the most fun parts of writing historical fiction is the research.  There was so much advancement in science, technology, medicine, law and social reform during that time, you can truly pick any current topic in the news today and find a way it was relevant in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

If there are three things I truly enjoy in the world, they are food, history and writing.  When – in my ongoing procrastination quest for research – I happened to stumble onto Historical Food Fortnightly, I immediately became intrigued.
The rules are simple:
  1. Pick a challenge to accept.
  2. Research it to find a historic recipe that fits the challenge, including providing sources when available.
  3. Recreate it as close as possible using modern equipment, documenting it as you go along.
All of history is fair game, provided it is prior to 1960 and no recipe is off limits.  As a writer of Regency Romance, I tend to keep my recipes in the late Georgian and Regency periods.  After all, what better way to learn about history than to eat it?
The Challenge: Foods served at notable events in history
"The Prince of Wales Gothic Conservatory at Carlton House" via
“The Prince of Wales Gothic Conservatory at Carlton House” via
For this challenge, I chose the Prince Regent’s Fête of 1811.  By late 1810, it was appeared King George III was suffering from madness and would not recover.  Parliament determined he could no longer sanely serve as monarch and enacted the Regency Act of 1811. This gave George Augustus Frederick the title of Prince Regent. Prinny, as he was referred to, was an extravagant man, prone to large spending and rich, lavish meals. On June 19, 1811 he held a fête at his London residence, Carlton House. While advertised it as a celebration of King George III’s birthday, this affair was really a way for the Prince to celebrate his ascendancy to power as Regent. It is reported that no fewer than four-hundred guests attended dinner alone and a specially constructed dinner table was needed to seat every single one.
The table itself was a sight to see, two-hundred feet in length, it was situated in the conservatory attached to the back of Carlton House. It boasted a channel running down the center in which live fish swam from one end to the other. It is rumored that it held more than thirty-six dinner courses.

The Recipe:
While I could not find a menu for that particular event, I was able to find one for another lavish party the Prince Regent held at Brighton in 1817. That menu listed four courses of fish including La matelote au vin de Bordeaux. According to Google translator, this is stew with Bordeaux wine. That is a nice, vague dish! Lucky for me, the Jane Austen Cookbook has a recipe for Sole with Wine and Mushrooms.

The Date/Year and Region:  
London, England  June 19, 1811

How Did You Make It:
Everything called for and ready to go.
Everything called for and ready to go.
The recipe is really quite simple.  While the ingredient list looks quite extensive, the first two-thirds are required only to make the broth. While the broth is cooking, there is ample time to prep the other ingredients. The mushrooms available to me locally were fairly large, about two inches in diameter, and needed to be cut into smaller pieces. I also had time to create the beurre manié. This is a mixture of equal parts flour and softened butter, similar to a roux, but does not require the either ingredient to be cooked. Once all ingredients are prepared and the broth is finished, this recipe takes mere minutes to complete. Everything gets added to a large skillet or pan – I used a 12-inch enamelled cast iron skillet – in order to build the sauce. Once the sauce is made and begins to thicken, add the fish and simmer until cooked. The sole filets were no more than a half-inch thick and took no more than two minutes per side. Once done, the fish was carefully lifted out of the pan – it is very delicate and had a tendency to break apart if handled too roughly – and plated. I served my fish with broiled asparagus, a vegetable that was popular during that time.

Time to Complete: 
From the time I accepted the challenge to the evening it was made and served, a total of about two weeks went by. I spent days agonising over which event I would choose. When I finally settled on the Regent’s Fête, it was another day or so to find the menu and a corresponding recipe. Actual hands-on time from the date I purchased my ingredients to the time the meal was cooked was only two days.
Total active cooking time was about twenty minutes (not counting the broth).

Total Cost:
About $45 for the entire meal.
Fresh sole filet: $25
White Bordeaux: $11
Fresh asparagus $3
Fish base: $6
The fish was the most expensive part of the meal. The recipe called for two pounds of sole filets. I could have purchased them at the local grocery store, but opted to get them at a local(ish) fish market where the quality was outstanding. I mean, if I’m going to go through the trouble of recreating a meal and serving it to guests, I want to use the best quality ingredients I can. Lucky for me, the fish was on weekly special and had an additional percentage off on Wednesdays.  :)

How Successful Was It?
Oh how I wish you could have been in the house to smell this dish!  It turned out amazing. Simple, tasty, and much easier than I originally thought after I studied the recipe. The recipe states it serves 4-6 people and that was very accurate. There were five adults for dinner that night and judging by the fact there wasn’t a scrap of fish left and all the sauce had been scraped from the bottom of the skillet, I’ll count it a success!

How Accurate Is It?
I used the Jane Austen cookbook for my recipe. It has a varied assortment of recipes for different occasions. What I like about this book is that it shows the original recipes and the modern version of the same recipe. The original recipes are very…interesting…to say the least. There are no measurements or cooking temperatures. Modern chefs took the recipes and recreated them with modern techniques and equipment, actual measurements and cooking temperatures.
The Jane Austen Cookbook
The Jane Austen Cookbook
Modern cooking methods aside, and not counting for the modern interpretation of a 200 year old recipe, I think I did okay with sticking to the historical accuracy of the recipe. Though, I must confess, I didn’t actually make the fish stock.
Unless you purchase an entire fish and clean, descale and debone it yourself, it is hard to find the required parts to make the fish stock. Required parts being bones and head. Sole is a large flat fish and the only way to purchase it is already cut into filets. This works for me since, as much as I love fish and meat, I don’t like handling it raw (long story, ask me sometime…). So I opted to use packaged fish stock. Or I tried to, at least. The problem is that there is no such thing as packaged fish stock in any of my local grocery stores. Not even the fish department where I purchased my sole had any.
However, there is a lovely product called “Better than Bouillon”. I’ve used it before as an alternative to bouillon cubes and prefer it for it’s flavor impact as well as the fact that is is made of natural ingredients and contains no nasties like MSG or heavy preservatives. I knew there was a poultry and a beef version, but I was very excited to find a fish version. So I tweaked the broth a bit. I used the bouillon base and added the fresh herbs, peppercorns and lemon zest the recipe called for.  If you do go this route, there is no reason to add salt, as the bouillon has a good deal of salt already in it. Also, in regards to the broth, I did not use the blade mace that it calls for. Blade mace is hard to find in stores and since I didn’t have the time to wait for it to come by post, I opted instead ground mace. I estimated the amount (not knowing how big a blade of mace is) and used about a third of a teaspoon for a two and half cups of broth.
While not exactly a dinner for 400, I was lucky enough to get a chance to cook this meal for company. Dearest Sister and Brother in Law were visiting that week with the kids. Brother in Law is a chef by profession and was eager to see how the dish turned out. While it was a little intimidating making dinner for someone whose training and career is cooking professionally, it was well received by all. If all challenges are this tasty, I can’t wait to try some more. I already have the next two lined up.

Click here for the recipe.

Written content of this post copyright © Christina Alexandra, 2015.