Imagine eating white soup with Mr. Darcy, roast pork with Miss Bates, or scones with Mr. Collins! Just thinking of those dishes transports me back into the scenes in Jane Austen’s novels and makes me smile. In Dinner with Mr. Darcy, food historian Pen Vogler examines Austen’s use of food in her writing, researches ancient Georgian recipes, converting them for the modern cook.
Even though Austen is not known for her descriptive writing, food is an important theme in her stories, speaking for her if you know how to listen. Every time we dine with characters, or food is mentioned, it relays an important fact that Austen wants us to note: wealth and station, poverty and charity, and of course comedy. While poor Mr. Woodhouse frets over wedding cake in Emma, Mr. Bingley offers white soup to his guests at Netherfield Park in Pride and Prejudice, and Aunt Norris lifts the supernumerary jellies after the ball in Mansfield Park, we are offered insights into their characters and their social station.
In Austen’s letter, she writes to her sister Cassandra about many domestic matters: clothes, social gatherings, and food. When she mentions orange wine, apple pie and sponge cake we know it is of importance to her.
“I hope you had not a disagreeable evening with Miss Austen and her niece. You know how interesting the purchase of a sponge-cake is to me.” – Jane Austen in a letter to her sister Cassandra, 15 June 1808
Vogler has combed Austen’s novels, letters and juvenilia pulling out dishes and researching them in contemporary cookbooks from the Georgian era. The sections are cleverly arranged: Breakfast with General Tilney; Mrs. Bennet’s Dinner to Impress; Pork and Apples: An Autumn Dinner with the Bateses; Jane’s Family Favorites; The Picnic Parade; Tea and Cake; The Ball at Netherfield; An Old-fashioned Supper for Mr. Woodhouse; Christmas with the Musgroves and Other Celebrations; Gifts, Drinks, and Preserves for Friends and the Sick at Heart. The recipes have been converted for the modern cook and look sumptuous from the numerous full-color pictures. I am dying to try Sally Lunn Cakes, a recipe from the famous bakery and tea shop in Bath, everlasting syllabub, ragout veal, Mrs. Austen’s pudding, rout cakes, white soup, flummery, and many others. Several of the recipes have been adapted from Martha Lloyds household cookbook, Jane’s dear friend and confidante, who lived with the widowed Mrs. Austen and her daughters from 1807 until her marriage to Jane’s widowed elder brother Sir Francis Austen in 1823 at the age of 62! The bibliography in the back is also a great resource for those interested in Georgian cooking and its history.
While there are other scholarly books devoted to Georgian cooking focusing on Jane Austen such as The Jane Austen Cookbook, by Maggie Black and Deidre Le Faye (1995) and Jane Austen and Food, by Maggie Lane (1995), which we will be reviewing next month, Dinner with Mr. Darcy will appeal to the average cook who wants to experience what Austen and her characters ate and enjoyed, and discover why Austen’s choice of food and dining was so important to the plot development. The recipes are both simple and elaborate and the ingredients are available to most, even in the colonies! So if you are ready for your own picnic at Box Hill or supper at Pemberley, Bon appetite!
5 out of 5 Stars
Dinner with Mr. Darcy: Recipes Inspired by the Novels and Letters of Jane Austen, by Pen Vogler
Cico Books (2013)
Hardcover (160) pages
Note: My copy of Dinner with Mr. Darcy was in US measurements, but the publisher also makes a UK edition. Which version you receive depends upon the point of origin.
Cover image courtesy of Cico Books © 2013; text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2014, Austenprose.com
I agree wholeheartedly with this review. I got this book shortly before Christmas and reviewed it for the P&P challenge. I made the gingerbread. It has caraway seed and is really interesting and delicious. I’m looking forward to trying a few of the other recipes.
When you review this cookbook and those to come, it would be helpful to know if the measurements and terms are those common to American cooks or English cooks.
Good point Ruth. My apologies for the omission. My edition was in US measurements, but I know that there is a UK edition too. What edition you receive depends on what country it is ordered from. The publisher sent me a review copy from England.
What an interesting topic. I look forward to reading more about this.
this is soo cool! I’ve never heard of it before.
I had this as a surprise gift last Christmas (and trust me, I am very hard to surprise when it comes to Austen related gifts!) and I LOVE it. The blending of the historical recipes, extracts from Jane Austen’s letters and novels and present day interpretations of those recipes is just perfect. Can’t wait to throw my first Austen inspired dinner party!
Great review, really enjoyed reading it and wholly agree with the 5-star rating!
Thanks for your input and praise for the book and my review Cassandra. Since I know you live in the UK, I am assuming that your copy was in UK measurements? Just curious. The publisher sent me a copy in US measurements.
It has both as far as I can see: pounds and kilos for meat, cups/mm and ounces/grams?
This was so interesting! I plan on looking for thus one and attempting a receipe!
This sounds fascinating. I love cookbooks in general, and historical cookbooks are even better!
As an ‘average’ cook, this sounds fun! Might lure me a little more into the kitchen! I’m so glad there is a section for tea and cake–what a great selling point.
More to the point–I am enjoying your redesigned site. Very chic!
This sounds like just the sort of cookbook I like! Thanks!
Great review, Laurel Ann. The book sounds wonderful and so do the recipes! YUM! Thanks for sharing your thoughts and pics.
OH! so adding this to my books-to-buy wish list!