“What would Elizabeth Bennet have eaten?” should not really be a question dwelt upon by an historical fiction author writing about the 17th century. However Elizabeth Bennet is my spirit animal. I’m a huge Jane Austen fan.
When I head to La Muse Writers Retreat in France the DVD of Pride and Prejudice always accompanies me. I also own the films of Lost in Austen and Persuasion. Any overnight guest usually has to endure a viewing of Austenland too.
So when the food writer The Greedy Wordsmith Claire Davies asked me along to an event called Dinner with the Darcys, I was as quick on the uptake as Mrs Bennet denying Jane the carriage.
“She looked on the whole scene with delight”
Our instructions were to assemble in the atmospheric bar of the Talbot in Malton, near York. Our select group of seven would then be escorted to a dinner of recipes researched from the 18th century.
I was expecting to head to someone’s house. But not York House, next to the Talbot. During my teenage years this Grade I listed building was a crumbling, haunted house of a near ruin. However recently it’s been renovated and now hosts weddings in the expansive marquee at the back, with amazing views over the River Derwent and beyond.
So we were going to eat Georgian food in a room that had once been a Georgian kitchen. Reader, my head nearly exploded with the ‘meta’ of it all.
360 degree tour of the Georgian kitchen
“Call Hill!” – The menu
Our hosts Birds on the Loose Sue and Gilly explained there were three courses, but we would serve ourselves. Here’s the menu:
Dinner with the Darcys
Raised meat pie
Friggise of chicken
Savoury herb pudding
Carrots and beans dressed the Dutch way
A fruit jelly and flummery
Pies and Pomegranates
The white soup had the consistency of really thick gravy. We ate it from soup bowls that had been prepared with a slice of lemon and pomegranates. Not really what I was expecting but they proved to be the perfect foil to the richness of the soup.
The raised meat pie was a thing of beauty. It was alternate layers of pork and venison. Mindful of the rest of the meal to come, we tried to keep the slices small.
Carnivores, it was as delicious as Elizabeth’s retorts to Lady Catherine de Bourg in the prettyish sort of wilderness at Longbourn.
Stuffing and Scrumptiousness
I vaguely remembered fricassee being halfway between being a stew and a sauté. This friggise of chicken had been poached in butter and was melt in the mouth perfection.
The savoury herb pudding was like a giant stuffing ball. However the ratio of herbs to breadcrumbs was probably about 90% to 10%. Sue listed the herbs included and I think I heard mace, nutmeg, parsley, rosemary…
Apparently the Georgians weren’t big on potatoes but this more than made up on the carb front.
We’d been pondering what “the Dutch way” with the vegetables would be. Someone theorized it was because the carrots were orange as grown by the Dutch, rather than the traditional purple or white then grown in England.
Au contraire. It’s because they were cooked in butter. Of course. Not to be outdone, the cauliflower head was dripping in cheese like the King of How To Make Vegetables Unhealthy But Irresistible.
Hands up anyone who thought flummery was a word to describe for banal or vacuous conversation? Turns out we’re correct. However it’s also the name for a dessert made with beaten eggs, milk, sugar and cream. Which is begging for a video – voila!
An entire dessert would probably have been too sickly. But our clever chefs had added it as a layer to a fruit jelly and decorated it with edible flowers.
I’d been eyeing it up like Lydia looking at Wickham, so couldn’t wait to dive in. On this occasion appearances didn’t deceive. This dish was probably my favourite, especially as it was so satisfying to give it a wobble!
The apple charlotte was more like a cake and rather Charlotte Lucas (translation for non-Austen fans: quite bland). However the Whipt syllabub of cream with a hint of sherry was divine. All this softness was counterbalanced by the crunchy Shrewsbury biscuits.
Retire to the drawing room?
After dinner we had a hearty walk up the staircase to the unrenovated rooms on the first floor used for storage.
This was the perfect after dinner treat for a history geek like me. There was original, unrestored wooden panelling everywhere and of course views through Georgian sash windows. Heaven.
Digestion and Delight
The real question isn’t “What would Elizabeth Bennet have eaten?” but “How was Elizabeth Bennet not the size of Pemberley given her diet?”
It’s obvious that the Georgians loved their dairy products. Butter, cheese and cream figured heavily. But there were also some unexpected flourishes such as the pomegranates.
So should you find a portal into the 18th century à la Lost in Austen, go! But maybe try to smuggle in a pair of trainers. And copious medication if you’re lactose-intolerant.
Follow in my food steps
Sue and Gilly love cooking and love researching history. There are many of these wonderful supper clubs in the pipeline. ‘A Dickens of a Christmas Dinner’ was talked about…
Make sure you follow their Birds on The Loose Facebook page for all the latest details.
You can also hire them to cook for you for special events. This would be the perfect surprise for a history fan and their friends. Or perhaps a historical fiction writing club? They’re great fun and love to talk about their processes and research. Take a look at the Birds On The Loose website for more.
Thank you and good night
It was a truly magical evening. I may not get to dance at Netherfield, but at least I was able to taste Regency living for a few hours.
About the author/epicurean
H.J. Reynolds has written an historical action adventure about Royalist spies in Oliver Cromwell’s England. Can fledgling agent Lady Laurette Miles stop a traitor who could bring down the cause of the exiled King, and her own fragile hopes, forever?
She is now seeking a literary agent. Contact her at helen[at]hjreynolds.co.uk