Monday, 10 June 2019

Being Mr Wickham

I'm thrilled to finally announce my super secret project. On 15th September Bath's fabulous Jane Austen Festival will host the premier of Being Mr Wickham, my theatrical writing debut, starring Adrian Lukis (who else!?) as Jane Austen's quintessential rogue. 

Mr Wickham may be a little older, but is he any wiser?

"Written off as a rake and reviled as a rogue, join George Wickham on the eve of his sixtieth birthday to discover his version of some very famous literary events. From childhood games at Pemberley to a run-in with Lord Byron, via marriage to Lydia and just a little bit of matchmaking for Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy, Mr Wickham is ready to set the record straight."

The performance will be followed by a Q&A with Adrian and me. 

This is an absolute dream come true moment for me - I'm still pinching myself!

Tickets go on sale soon, but I couldn't keep it to myself a moment longer!

You can also catch the show as the finale to Stamford Georgian Festival on 29th September. Click here to book!

Thursday, 30 May 2019

Dear Jane

It's my pleasure to welcome Allie Cresswell, who's visiting the salon to consider the matter of history in the works of Jane Austen.


Jane Austen’s novels are loved today, in part, for the sense of history they evoke; those elegant drawing rooms and the graceful life-style of Regency ladies within them - such a far cry from our stressed and utilitarian, tech-driven world. The courtly, restrained attentions of well-dressed gentlemen - the suppressed passion of a clasped waist or a kissed hand, or even the meaningful glance across a crowded ballroom, is so much more romantic than the sex-obsessed world of today.
The erudite conversation; wots nt 2 luv?  
And yet when Jane Austen wrote her novels they were not historical, they were contemporary. She described the times in which she lived; her comments - on behaviour, morals and manners - were on her own here and now.
In fact there is little actual history in any of her books. With one notable exception she makes no reference to politics, real-life figures or tangible events and so it is practically impossible to place her novels in any exact time frame. Persuasionis the exception. Captain Wentworth mentions the year in which he took his first captaincy and Admiral Croft brings the news of Napoleon’s escape from Elba. It is hard to know why she tended to avoid real-life references; perhaps she thought them irrelevant or thought she could not mention them without making comment which might alienate some readers. More likely, politics and world affairs were considered no business for women’s minds, a state of affairs upon which, we can be sure, Miss Austen would, privately, have had much to say.
There is no clue as to when the events in Emma take place but as I set about writing the stories of Mrs Bates, her daughtersand granddaughter in my Highbury Trilogy I felt I needed to place them accurately in time. Lieutenant - later Captain - Weston is active in the militia in the first two books of the trilogy; what conflicts at home and abroad might he have been embroiled in? Well, of course, it depends upon exactlywhen we’re talking about. Angus Fairfax (Jane’s father) enlists as a surgeon; where might he have been posted? It begs the same question. Placing the books in world and British history posed further questions - about social history, for instance; In Mrs Bates of Highbury Mrs Bates is widowed and finds herself penniless. How much - or, how little - money did a person need in 1780s England to survive? The answer, I discovered, was around £50. The Other Miss Batesis set in Brighton - what was it like there, in 1781? I found that it was in the very infancy of its popularity, the health-giving effects of sea-bathing (and seawater drinking) having only just been identified. It would be some years before the Prince Regent made the place into the hub of fashionable society that it would later become.  In Dear JaneFrank Churchill, denied university by his clinging aunt, sets out on a Grand Tour. But my timeline had brought me to around 1814 when the Napoleonic war was still being fought. Travel to Europe would have been impossible so poor Frank has to make do with the Scottish highlands and islands instead.
Jane Austen’s books do seem to take place in something of a bubble; the outside world barely impinges. The drawing rooms and shrubberies, card-parties and country dances are their own world, albeit imbued with exacting standards of behaviour and clearly-defined strata of social hierarchy. At the time at which she was writing their mores would have been well understood and perhaps needed no explanation. To us, however, two hundred years later, they need placing in some wider context and to me, it seemed important to get the details right. Not just because there will inevitably be readers who will be offended by historical inaccuracies and in a hurry to point them out to me, but for the integrity of the books themselves. Any jarring inaccuracies would spoil the illusion which fiction creates. At the same time I had to be true to Miss Austen’s world and to her characters; to tamper with them would have been out of the question. They, for me, provide history of equal importance to any real-world events which may have been taking place just off-stage and I was determined to reflect and incorporate them with the same faithfulness. How successful was I? Well, you, dear reader, must be the judge.
To be in with a chance of winning a copy of Dear Jane, simply click on the link below!
About the Author
Allie Cresswell was born in Stockport, UK and began writing fiction as soon as she could hold a pencil.

She did a BA in English Literature at Birmingham University and an MA at Queen Mary College, London.

She has been a print-buyer, a pub landlady, a book-keeper, run a B & B and a group of boutique holiday cottages. Nowadays Allie writes full time having retired from teaching literature to lifelong learners. Most recently she has been working on her Highbury trilogy, books inspired by Jane Austen’s Emma.

She has two grown-up children, two granddaughters and two grandsons, is married to Tim and lives in Cumbria, NW England.

You can contact her via her website at or find her on Facebook.

About the Book
The final instalment of the Highbury trilogy, Dear Jane narrates the history of Jane Fairfax, recounting the events hinted at but never actually described in Jane Austen’s Emma.

Orphaned Jane seems likely to be brought up in parochial Highbury until adoption by her papa’s old friend Colonel Campbell opens to her all the excitement and opportunities of London. The velvet path of her early years is finite, however and tarnished by the knowledge that she must earn her own independence one day.

Frank Weston is also transplanted from Highbury, adopted as heir to the wealthy Churchills and taken to their drear and inhospitable Yorkshire estate. The glimmer of the prize which will one day be his is all but obliterated by the stony path he must walk to claim it.

Their paths meet at Weymouth, and readers of Emma will be familiar with the finale of Jane and Frank’s story. Dear Jane pulls back the veil which Jane Austen drew over their early lives, their meeting in Weymouth and the agony of their secret engagement.

Monday, 6 May 2019

Jane Austen at Gunnersbury Park

Join me for a wonderful night in London!

Jane Austen and the King of Bling, Gunnersbury Park, 4th June 2019
£10 (including a glass of wine)

This lively talk delves into the sometimes shocking, always scandalous, private life of ‘the first gentleman of England’. It suggests why Austen boldly declared she ‘hated’ this monarch even after she was his honoured guest at London’s most prestigious address. The other side to this saucy Sovereign was a man who championed Jane Austen and her works which secured the Regent his very own dedication from the author he adored.

To book, click here!

Monday, 29 April 2019

The Scandal of George III’s Court - Paperback Release

It's no secret that I love a good scandal, so I'm thrilled to announce that my latest non-fiction release, The Scandal of George III's Court, is available in paperback now. You can but it from Pen & Sword at the link below, or your favourite bookseller!

Buy the paperback from Pen & Sword 

From Windsor to Weymouth, the shadow of scandal was never too far from the walls of the House of Hanover. Did a fearsome duke really commit murder or a royal mistress sell commissions to the highest bidders, and what was the truth behind George III's supposed secret marriage to a pretty Quaker?

With everything from illegitimate children to illegal marriages, dead valets and equerries sneaking about the palace by candlelight, these eyebrow-raising tales from the reign of George III prove that the highest of births is no guarantee of good behaviour. Prepare to meet some shocking ladies, some shameless gentlemen and some politicians who really should know better.

So tighten your stays, hoist up your breeches and prepare for a gallop through some of the most shocking royal scandals from the court of George III's court. You'll never look at a king in the same way again...

Buy it now from Amazon

Tuesday, 23 April 2019

The Ghost Garden

I am so excited to announce the release in paperback and ebook of The Ghost Garden, a brand new, 1920’s-set ghost story written by me and Eleanor Harkstead. The Ghost Garden is the first book in our new series, The de Chastelaine Chronicles, and we hope you enjoy it!

You can hear more about the book and how it came to be in the latest episode of our podcast, Gin & Gentlemen!

The Ghost Garden
Within the tangled vines of a forgotten garden, can a blossoming new love overcome an ancient evil that threatens both the living and the dead?

After losing her brother in the trenches of the Great War, Cecily James is a prisoner of Whitmore Hall, the respected but remote boys’ school where her brutish husband reigns as headmaster. With its forsaken walled garden, a hauntingly tragic past, and midnight footsteps heard from an unoccupied clocktower, it is a place where the dead are rumored to walk. 

Whitmore Hall is a place filled with mysteries and as a ghost garden emerges from the sun-bleached soil, long-buried secrets cry out to be told. 

When new teacher Raf de Chastelaine blunders into an impromptu seance, Cecily finds an unlikely and eccentric ally. In a world of discipline and respectability, barefoot Raf is unlike any teacher Cecily has ever met. With his tales of the Carpathian mountains and a love of midnight gardening, he shakes Whitmore Hall to its foundations. Could there be more to Raf than meets the eye? And as he and Cecily realise that their feelings run deeper than friendship, dare they dream of a world beyond Whitmore Hall?

As Cecily and Raf team up to unite long-dead lovers and do battle with an ancient evil that has long haunted Whitmore Hall, Cecily finds her chance of happiness threatened by her tyrannical husband. But is the controlling headmaster acting of his own free will, or is he the puppet of a malevolent power from beyond the grave?

Tuesday, 2 April 2019

The Burford Family and Non-Conformism

It's a pleasure to welcome back Alison Botterill, with a tale of non-conformism...


Stephen Williams, a little-known,but significant member of the Strict Baptist church at Little Prescott Street, Goodman’s Fields, Whitechapel, was a prosperous glover, linen draper and textile printer with businesses in Stratford, Essex and in the City of London.    It is assumed that he was born in Wiltshire but the precise place or date of his birth are unknown.  His Freedom of the City of London papers of 1741 give his father’s name as Enoch Williams of Charlton Horethorne, yeoman (deceased).  In 1746 Stephen married Catherine Mason in Godstone, Surrey, but none of their four children, all baptised at St Mary Woolnoth Church in the City of London, survived him. 
In 1738 he “gave account of his dealings with God” and following his baptism he was accepted into full membership of the church at Little Prescott Street.  The subscription records for LPS show that between 1757 and his death in 1797, he contributed 10 guineas annually, which constituted over half of each year’s total contributions.   In 1756, he accepted the call to become a Deacon of the church and his name appears regularly in the minute books as one of those required to oversee and discipline unruly members, including Thomas Burford ‘of the Bank’ whose misdemeanours have already been described, courtesy of Madame Gilflurt.   
Stephen Williams was influential in the appointment of two of the ministers at LPS, the first being Samuel Burford [c. 1726-1768], then Minister at Lyme Regis and a relative of Williams’ brother-in-law and business partner, John Burford.  The minute books show that James Fall had been proposed to take the deceased Samuel Wilson’s place, but in an election held in 1753, votes against his appointment narrowly outnumbered those in favour by four.  The minutes show that Stephen Williams voted against Mr Fall’s appointment and it is quite possible that Williams had Samuel Burford in mind for the post, Williams’ sister Hannah having married into the Burford family.  However, despite doubts shown by some members of the congregation, which were to lead to James Fall setting up his own church at Little Alie Street, the minutes state that on 27thApril 1755 The Church unanimously chose him [Burford] and thought proper to give him a call.
After Samuel Burford’s untimely death at the age of 42, leaving a wife and eleven children, a provincial minister Abraham Booth was appointed following the recommendations of Stephen Williams and two other Deacons who had travelled to Nottinghamshire to assess his suitability for the role of leader of such a wealthy and educated congregation.    Booth was to build upon the work of Samuel Burford under whose leadership the church had enjoyed considerable prosperity.  Burford was buried at Bunhill Fields and on his headstone was recorded :
His virtues need no stone to show
full well his friends his merits know; 
While living was by all beloved 
by all regretted when removed

The extended Burford family continued to support the church at Little Prescott Street well into the 19thcentury and helped spread the Baptist doctrine to other parts of the country.  In 1782 Edward Burford sought permission to leave the congregation, along with Peter and Ann Anstie, to establish a church at Preston where they had already begun to introduce new and high quality textile printing processes at the Mosney Print Works in Walton-le-Dale.   In 1798 LPS gave leave to Thomas Burford and seven others to form a new church at Mare Street, in Hackney.
Stephen Williams’ religious devotion was not simply limited to his support of the church at Goodman’s Fields.  Among the charitable interests he supported, with both his time and his money, were The Society for Promoting Religious Knowledge Among the Poor, The Baptist College in Rhode Island, Dr Wheelock’s Indian Charity School and The Orphans’ Working School in City Road.   In 1783 became joint treasurer of the London Baptist Education Society and in 1793 he was named as one of the Deputies for the Civil Affairs of Dissenters.    Such philanthropy was made possible through his successful businesses which included the substantial calico-printing works at Stratford, Essex, in what is now known as Burford Road, and a wholesale linen-drapery no.27 Poultry, in the City of London, where he lived for much of his long life.  Plans for Williams’ renovation of the property, drawn up by architect George Dance in 1760, can be seen at the London Metropolitan Archives. 
The death of Stephen Williams, aged 86, was reported in The Gentleman’s Magazine’s Obituaries of Remarkable People in June 1797.    Notwithstanding his  investment of £10,000 in the Government’s Loyalty Loan shortly before his death, his remaining wealth was considerable.   His will (PROB  11/1294) details many family bequests totalling approximately £30,000 with freeholds and leases in the City of London and Stratford, with the calico printing works bequeathed to his Williams and Burford nephews. The strength of his religious convictions is borne out by other bequests, including £2000 to The Particular Baptist Fund in London, £100 to Rev. Abraham Booth, £100 to the Deacons of the Congregation of Protestant Dissenters for use among the poorer members of the church, £200 to the Widows’ Fund for the relief of the widows of poor dissenting ministers, £100 to the Congregational or Independent Fund in London and £200 to the Orphan Charity School, City Road, Islington.
He was buried at Bunhill Fields on 17thJune 1797, at a cost of £5. 5s. 6d, in the vault which already held the remains of his wife and children, who had predeceased him by several years.   

© Alison Botterill & Fiona Duxbury

Monday, 18 March 2019

Gin, Ghosts and a New Website

I'm super excited to make a few announcements today.

The first is to let you know about a new website for my co-written fiction at Though I'll still announce new releases here at the salon, if you want all the tea on the fiction I write with Eleanor, you'll find it there. If you want to keep up to date with my Georgian nonfiction, you're in the right place right now, and will still be the place for all my long-18th work.

This leads me nicely into my next announcement, because I'm a smooth sort like that. If you want to keep up with what Eleanor and I are up to, we're now podcasting at, or your favourite podcastsite - just look for Gin & Gentlemen and enjoy!

Finally, we're super excited to let you know that The Ghost Garden is now available for preorder. Just read on for more information about this ghostly tale.

Within the tangled vines of a forgotten garden, can a blossoming new love overcome an ancient evil that threatens both the living and the dead?

After losing her brother in the trenches of the Great War, Cecily James is a prisoner of Whitmore Hall, the respected but remote boys’ school where her brutish husband reigns as headmaster. With its forsaken walled garden, a hauntingly tragic past, and midnight footsteps heard from an unoccupied clocktower, it is a place where the dead are rumored to walk. 

Whitmore Hall is a place filled with mysteries and as a ghost garden emerges from the sun-bleached soil, long-buried secrets cry out to be told. 

When new teacher Raf de Chastelaine blunders into an impromptu seance, Cecily finds an unlikely and eccentric ally. In a world of discipline and respectability, barefoot Raf is unlike any teacher Cecily has ever met. With his tales of the Carpathian mountains and a love of midnight gardening, he shakes Whitmore Hall to its foundations. Could there be more to Raf than meets the eye? And as he and Cecily realise that their feelings run deeper than friendship, dare they dream of a world beyond Whitmore Hall?

As Cecily and Raf team up to unite long-dead lovers and do battle with an ancient evil that has long haunted Whitmore Hall, Cecily finds her chance of happiness threatened by her tyrannical husband. But is the controlling headmaster acting of his own free will, or is he the puppet of a malevolent power from beyond the grave?

Tuesday, 19 February 2019

A Late Summer Night's Dream

We’re super excited to announce that our newest novella, A Late Summer Night’s Dream, is now available worldwide! Read on for more details and an excerpt.


Among Oxford’s dreaming spires, can a widowed professor and a wide-eyed scholar make their own dreams of love come true?

Simeon Shakespeare is living his academic dream. As an Oxford scholar, he spends his days in libraries and whiles away his nights at the theater. A mix-up over a seat number leads to a very awkward first act, but that’s nothing compared to what happens when the lights go up.

Professor Anthony Meadows is finished with love. Shattered by the death of his husband, he divides his time between his book-lined study and Oxford’s theaters. The last thing he needs is an annoying research student bickering with him over who should sit where.

When Anthony and Simeon discover they have more in common than a shared love of the Bard, it looks as though the stage is set for romance. Yet with the memory of Anthony’s lost love keeping the professor from moving on, can Simeon’s love mend his broken heart?


Simeon pulled the ticket out of his pocket as he ran up the steps of the theater. Thanks to the bloody traffic in town, he was almost late for curtain up. He checked his seat number again and hurried through a door from the foyer into the busy auditorium. The house lights went down almost as soon as he found his row.

“Excuse me…sorry.” His seat would have to be right in the middle of the row, wouldn’t it? Best seat to have, but not if you turn up late.

With only the green glow of the emergency exit lights to guide him, Simeon found his way to the empty seat. He squinted at the ticket and—someone is in my seat!

A tall someone who Simeon could barely see in the dark.

Music began to fill the auditorium, an overture before the play began. Through the strings and brass, Simeon hissed, “You’re in my seat!”

Someone tutted, perhaps the lady who was craning to peer around Simeon at the stage. Why was she so keen anyway? The curtain was still down—she was hardly missing the action.

At Simeon’s words, the man who occupied his seat peered up at him through the gloom and asked in a cut-glass whisper, “I’m sorry?”

Simeon wafted his ticket at him—not that he’d be able to see it in the darkness. “You’re in my seat.” Something in the way the man had spoken made Simeon add, without a hint of sarcasm, “…sir.”

“Sit down,” the lady hissed, patting Simeon’s arm with her rolled program. The interloper in his seat reached out one hand and tapped his finger on the empty seat beside him. His seat, the seat he should be in, not Simeon’s central seat.

“Sit down,” the man echoed in that same plummy whisper, dismissive and disinterested. “I’m in my seat.”

Simeon sighed in annoyance. “You’re not—you’re in mine! I chose it on purpose, and you’re sat in it!”

“What number seat are you looking for?” He asked it as though Simeon was the most unimportant creature in the universe, with the same throwaway condescension of his worst undergraduate professors. His hand remained on the empty seat and he said, “This is seventeen.”

“Yes—seventeen! That’s my seat. Look—look at my ticket, for heaven’s sake!” Simeon held it closer to the man’s face.

His nemesis tapped the empty seat again and he told Simeon, “This is seventeen, I’m in sixteen and—”

“Fifteen,” the woman snapped, patting him a little more forcefully with her program. “Now sit down, you bloody hooligan!”

Simeon popped forward the collar of his denim jacket, a move he had learned long ago from old films. “Hooligan? I merely wish to sit—”


Simeon dropped down into the empty seat and looked at his ticket again. His was seventeen, and that was definitely the empty seat.

“Sorry,” he whispered. “How embarrassing—but it’s so dark, I…”

Yet his neighbor didn’t offer him so much as a glance, merely gesturing with one hand, a flick of the wrist that commanded silence. A faint glare of light reflected for a moment from the jeweled cufflink that peeped out from beneath the sleeve of the man’s jacket, then Simeon’s attention was caught by the curtain which, thank God, was finally beginning to rise.

This isn’t going to be an awkward three hours at all, is it?

Not at all.

Simeon was soon carried into the play. The scenery was gorgeous, and he overlooked the unimpressive acting because whoever was playing Theseus—if only Simeon had had time to grab a program—was a thoroughly delicious silver fox. As he settled into seat seventeen, Simeon became aware of a scent from somewhere nearby—a very pleasant cologne. The kind that Theseus would wear, in fact. Manly. Distinguished. The cologne of a mature man, who—

Christ, it isn’t the grumpy sod sat beside me, is it?

Simeon peered at him from the corner of his eye.

It wouldn’t be him. He had the voice and manner of an old-school toff. Lord knows this city has enough of them, and none of them wear cologne like that. Oh, for his own Theseus wearing that cologne.

Simeon forced himself to concentrate on the play, even though the energetic young actors didn’t hold much interest for him. But with any luck, Theseus would turn up again as Oberon, King of the Fairies.

A man can dream.

Before Simeon had time to lament the departure of Theseus too much, the curtain fell and the house lights came up. The interval. He really could do with a drink. Perhaps he should do the decent thing and apologize to the man who hadn’t been in his seat?

“Look, sorry—I don’t suppose you’d like to—?”

He glanced round at the man who’d sat so quietly beside him in the dark and held his breath as he looked at him.

The woman who had weaponized her program shot Simeon a pointed, disapproving look before bustling from the row. It was only then that he realized the couple weren’t together at all. In fact, as the woman departed, the man in seat sixteen was gazing fixedly at his program and clearly trying to pretend that Simeon didn’t exist.

Bloody hell, how could I have been so stupid?

The man in seat sixteen was gorgeous.

A head of thick blond hair, stranded with silver, and a strong jaw. Tall. Nicely dressed—far more nicely than Simeon. The man in seat sixteen seemed to have made an effort for going out to the theater, with a shirt and tie and three-piece suit.

And he was wearing that damn cologne.

Simeon turned in his seat and grinned him. “Mate—look, I’m going to grab a drink. Do you—can I get you something by way of apology? Least I can do.”

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

The Least Appetizing Meals in the World?

Catherine, thank you for hosting us here at A Covent Garden. I enjoyed writing about menageries when I stopped here in 2017 for Mendacity & Mourning, and on this visit, Justine has delved into the culinary history of the regency period and what appeared on the dining tables of the rich, poor and the in-between classes. Hint: Nothing went to waste!

The Least Appetizing Meals in the World?

Epicurean Delights, from head to tail, in Regency Cookbooks and Menus

In our novella The Most Interesting Man in the World, Bingley is an extremely enthusiastic consumer of all manner of Regency-era dishes, including but not limited to: venison, ragouts, parsnips, sausages, creamed potatoes, apple compote, Gorgonzola, meat pies, and cream cakes. He also occasionally takes a sip or two of brandy, but only when he must. Other than the apples, which he eats because they remind him of Jane, he eats no fruit and no green vegetables. We also see and hear about sweet treats such as tarts, ices, various puddings, whipped syllabub, and ginger biscuits. But how true to life is Bingley and Darcy’s diet as described in the story?

The answer is that some of it is historically accurate, but not all. People of Bingley and Darcy’s social class truly did eat many of these things, usually with a healthy dose of cream mixed in just to make sure they got arteriosclerosis if they lived long enough. 

Ingredients: the same and different, near and far

The English Regency-era diet was more restricted than ours today, not least because it was, for the most part, locally sourced and thus seasonally dependent. There was no produce imported from Spain or North Africa, for example, as there is in the UK today. It was too expensive to transport many foodstuffs except for the smallest, most easily preserved, and most exotic kinds very far, especially given the lack of refrigeration. French cooking was of course of interest to wealthier people, and Italian pasta also made frequent appearances in the form of macaroni and vermicelli. Upper-class kitchens had ingredients from all around the British Empire, including such items as soy (mushroom sauce with galangal and spices) and tea from India, ketchup (a catch-all word for sauces inspired by East or Southeast Asian condiments), and Jamaica pepper. Coffee and chocolate were imported and readily available, as well as other foods from the New World. Greenhouses were not uncommon, and sometimes they were used to grow fruits and vegetables that were not native to England from imported seeds. One famous example is the pineapple, which readers of historical fiction will know was such a rarity that hostesses could rent themto use as centerpieces, passing them along until they rotted and finally got eaten. 

But the Regency diet was more varied than ours in that it included many ingredients that people in the Anglo-American world rarely eat now. During the early 19th century, English people ate every edible part of every animal and plant because to do otherwise would be wasteful, just as people do in less affluent countries and regions of the world now. Why throw away a perfectly good chicken’s foot, or grind it up for cat food, when you could eat it with some sauce and enjoy the chewy ligament and get some needed fat from the skin? Recipe books are full of animal parts most of us no longer eat, such as heads, organs, and umbles (entrails, especially of a deer). Regency-era people ate a lot of sweetbreads, which are the thymus gland and pancreas of a calf or lamb. Cookbooks are also full of animals and plants that today’s city-dwellers have neither heard of nor thought to eat: hares, pheasants, snipe, lamprey eels, etc. They also preserved foods that we rarely do because we instead can, refrigerate, or freeze them. People pickled things like grapes, walnuts, green apples, and pork in substances such as vinegar and liquor; they dried fruit and vegetables and made sausages out of just about everything. 

To market 

Food shopping could be a crap shoot, or maybe something more like Russian roulette, especially for city dwellers who did not grow or raise any of their own food. Regency-era household-management reference books for women often contained long sections about how to choose the best items at market so as to avoid purchasing spoiled food that would make family members sick. For example, The Housekeeper’s Domestic Library; or, New Universal Family Instructor in Family Economy, Containing the Whole Art of Cookery in All Its New and Fashionable Varietiesby Charles Millington, 1805, offers some tips for identifying a nice piece of veal:

In the days before there was inspection of meats and other foods, it was up to consumers to make sure the food they purchased was not rotten, dirty, or spoiled. Making the right choice could be a matter of life and death.

Once the ingredients were purchased, it was time to cook. But, as we might expect in a very hierarchical society, of course not everyone ate the same things.

Who ate what?
As in the present day, what people ate was to a large extent determined by their social class and income. We can get a sense of what particular people ate from looking at cookbooks designed for people of those different classes. The books also provide us a window onto the many things people consumed then that probably seem extraordinarily unappetizing to most of us now. 

Bread for the poor
Poorer families in the city had the least varied and least nutritious diets. They usually ate coarse bread and butter as their staple food, supplemented with broth, vegetables that stored well such as cabbage or potatoes, and sometimes a bit of bacon if they were lucky, but very little other meat. They might have eaten some fresh fruit or vegetables in season, if they could afford them. It was no wonder that so many poor people were malnourished and unhealthy. Families in the country, though, would have had more variety depending on what they grew or raised themselves. Whether in the country or the city, poor people did not have much need for or access to recipe books. Most were illiterate and got their recipes from an oral tradition rather than from books.

More variety for the middle classes
It is with middle class families’ culinary practices that things start to get more interesting. These families enjoyed more variety and higher-quality ingredients, and had the luxury of being more concerned with how food was going to taste, too. 

Rather than relying only on what was at the market, middle-class families even in the city sometimes kept small gardens of their own to provide variety and freshness. Household management texts often included information about how to instruct a gardener in keeping a kitchen garden, matching the seasonal produce from the garden with recipes for dishes appropriate for a particular time of year. 

Ladies’ cookbooks offer us some insight not only into individual recipes, but into how the dishes were to be served together to make a pleasant meal. Consider The Lady’s Assistant for Regulating and Supplying the Table: Being a Complete System of Cookery, by Mrs. Charlotte Mason, a Professed Housekeeper, Who had upwards of Thirty Years Experience in Families of the First Fashion. Mrs. Mason offered ideas for family menus, or “bills of fare,” of between five and eleven dishes.

“Collops” refers to slices of meat, usually bacon, and udder is pretty self-evident. It is hard to tell from this menu which season the meal is appropriate for, because spinach and peas both might have been canned. 

A seven-course meal for the family, once again featuring greens that might have been fresh or preserved, and two kinds of meat, including brisket that was pickled and then boiled for good measure:

And an eleven-course meal:

Notice that there are three sweets in this meal. Jaune Mange is a form of blancmange, a milk pudding thickened with isinglass (a collagen from fish swim bladders) that could be served, like Jell-O, in shaped moulds. Jaune Mange is tinted yellow with the addition of orange juice and eggs.

Hashed calf’s head likely strikes terror into the hearts of today’s readers, but in the spirit of wasting nothing, calf’s head appears frequently in Regency-era cookbooks. Mrs. Mason’s book gives instructions on how to prepare calf’s head boiled, hashed, stewed, roasted, collared, and served in a turtle’s shell in a dish called Mock Turtle. Here is one example of how to cook a nice calf’s head soup:

The head would still have contained the brain, tongue, and eyeballs. Imagine that staring up at you from the dinner table. 

Readers interested in learning more about dishes made from what may strike us as unlikely animal parts might wish to take a look at Mrs. Mason’s recipes for forced (stuffed) cocks-combsand a lovely ragout (finely-chopped meat stewed with vegetables) of pig’s feet and ears

You may have noticed that many of the dishes include more herbs and spices than we might have expected, given English cuisine’s reputation for blandness. Some recipes in these cookbooks even include garlic. More common flavorings, though, as seen in the recipes above, were onions, marjoram, cloves, thyme, pepper (both black and cayenne), celery, parsley, laurel leaves, cinnamon, mace, ginger, mint, tarragon, chervil, and horseradish. It is also common to find recipes calling for lemons, Seville oranges, currants, and shallots, as well as anchovies and oysters for flavoring.

Opulence for the very wealthy
Middle class fare, as we have seen, was all about taste, and not so much about presentation. That changed when it came to food that people in the highest echelons of society ate. The upper classes went to absurd lengths to eat the rarest, the most precious, and the most elaborately prepared foods as a way to display their cosmopolitanism, wealth, and good taste.

The Prince Regent and other very wealthy people might have eaten dishes like the ones described in The Imperial and Royal Cook: Consisting of the Most Sumptuous Made Dishes, Ragouts, Fricassees, Soups, Gravies, &c., Foreign and English: Including the Latest Improvements in Fashionable Life, by Frederic Nutt, Esq., 1809.

Consider how many ingredients, steps, and skills went into producing Nutt’s Chartreuse, which is a mixture of meat and vegetables prepared in a mould, in this case lined with bacon.

Similarly, here is an example of a very complex dish with rare ingredients: a salmon stuffed with an eel, anchovies, eggs, and butter, and served with truffles and morels. Fit for a king, perhaps, but also sounding rather like a turducken or gooducken.

Considering that Darcy was a member of the highest levels of society--perhaps among the top 400 families in all of England based on his income--it seems likely that many of the dishes he would have dined on at Pemberley or in town are similar to those in Nutt’s Imperial and Royal Cook. In contrast, as we have written him in our novella, Bingley has a taste for simpler middle-class fare like that found in Mrs. Mason’s book, a somewhat gauche preference that may expose his family’s roots in trade for all to see. Poor Bingley. No wonder he needs instruction from the most interesting man in the world.

If you are interested in finding more late 18th century and early 19th century cookbooks, check out the website Savoring the Past


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The Most Interesting Man in the World written by JL Ashton and Justine Rivard
What has gotten into Fitzwilliam Darcy lately? 
Charles Bingley, a jolly fellow who relies on his great friend’s impeccable judgment in all things, is determined to find out. What could explain Darcy’s ill humour and distraction? Or his uncharacteristic blunder of speaking Greek to a horse who only understands Latin? Not to mention that shocking book accident! Certainly, it has nothing to do with Elizabeth Bennet, the sister of Bingley’s own angel, Jane. Bingley is certain of it. 
What was really going on behind the scenes at Netherfield, Pemberley, and Darcy House, and just what did those men talk about over billiards and brandy? In this novella, Bingley sheds a little light on keeping company with the most interesting man in the world, and shares his own musings on puppies, his dreadful sisters, and the search for true love. Prepare to be shocked, delighted, and confused by a Charles Bingley the likes of whom you’ve never met before.

Author Bios:
Justine Rivard is a very serious college professor who has no time for frivolity or poppycock of any kind. She strenuously objects to the silliness found in this story and urges you to put the book down at once before it gives you ideas. You are invited instead to join her in the study for a lecture about her extensive collection of whimsical 18th-century animal husbandry manuals.

J.L. Ashton, on the other hand, is a very unserious writer of Jane Austen variations you might have read (A Searing Acquaintanceand Mendacity & Mourning) and collector of recipes she will never attempt. She encourages a general lack of decorum and has a great appreciation for cleft chins, vulnerably brooding men, and Instagram accounts featuring animals. Especially cats. Also foxes. 

The Most Interesting Man in the World Blog Tour ScheduleFebruary 11 /Austenesque Reviews/ Character Interview
February 14/Margie’s Must Reads/ Book Review
February 16/Just Jane 1813/ Meet the Authors  
February 18/Babblings of a Bookworm/ Guest Post
February 22From Pemberley to Milton/ Character Interview
February 24 /Diary of an Eccentric/ Book Review 
February 26 /My Vices and Weaknesses / Book Excerpt
February 28 / More Agreeably Engaged/ Guest Post