Jane Austen’s Table: Recipes Inspired by the Works of Jane Austen, by Robert Tuesley Anderson — A Review

From the desk of Tracy Hickman:  

One of my favorite Austen quotes from her letters concerns food: “I shall eat ice and drink French wine and be above vulgar economy.” This was penned in anticipation of a visit to Godmersham, where her brother Edward provided luxuries beyond Jane’s regular fare. From the white soup that Mr. Bingley’s kitchen staff prepare for the ball at Netherfield, to the picnic at Boxhill in Emma, food sustains the characters Austen created, as it sustained the author herself. But food also demonstrates social status and can reveal personality quirks, such as Mr. Woodhouse’s neurotic concern about what and how much is being eaten by his friends and neighbors. What better way to enjoy a bit of Jane Austen’s world than by creating a dish or drink that might have graced her table or that of her characters?

Regency Spirit Adapted for Modern Taste

In Jane Austen’s Table, author Robert Tuesley Anderson presents recipes inspired by the works of Jane Austen. The brief introduction clearly lays out the sources of information about food in Jane Austen’s world, both real life and fictional.

“In this book, we…bring readers a sumptuous array of recipes that capture the spirit and verve of the food of Austen’s world, but adapted and reimagined to suit our modern taste for lighter, healthier, more convenient dishes (Regency dishes were often labour- as well as calorie-intensive!). Here you will find modern recipes for everything from Mansfield Wood Roast Pheasant and Mary Musgrove’s Meat Platter to Dr Grant’s Sandwiches, from General Tilney’s Hot Chocolate to Rout Cake and Donwell Abbey Summer Berry Delice. The recipes are arranged according to the principal Georgian meals—breakfast and dinner—accompanied by additional chapters devoted to Nuncheons, Tidbits & Picnics; Ices, Cakes & Puddings; and Routs and Balls.

While we may not have the leisure, time, or money of an Emma, an Elizabeth, or even an Elinor to dine in truly ‘Jane Austen’ style, a little of its opulence and a little of its romance can never really go amiss at our modern meals. This book will show you how.” (7)

Visual Appeal to the Senses

Jane Austen’s Table provides over 70 recipes, with the majority being relatively simple and easy to prepare. If you’ve ever seen facsimiles of Martha Lloyd’s collection of recipes or 18th or 19th-century cookbooks, you may have been intimidated their unfamiliar format and terminology. This is where Jane Austen’s Table bridges the knowledge gap exceedingly well. In addition to the clarity and simplicity of the instructions, the visual design of the book creates a cheerful and appealing atmosphere with full color photographs of nearly every recipe and lush botanical illustrations of flowers and berries throughout. Each section is introduced with several paragraphs of text, setting the stage for the recipes that follow. Black and while illustrations of Regency life are generously peppered throughout the pages, another example of how Jane Austen’s Table expertly integrates modern recipes with the manners and customs of Jane Austen’s time.

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Food for Thought

Short literary and cultural essays in each section lend greater depth to Jane Austen’s Table. Rather than merely seeking to re-imagine the food and drink of the Regency era, Mr. Anderson examines the ways that eating and drinking in Austen’s novels reveal nuances of the characters’ lives.

“Good health and a healthy appetite go hand in hand in Austen’s novels. Her heroines—when flourishing—eat in moderation and without worrying too much about what they are eating and what they are not. Catherine Morland, the youthful, zestful heroine of Northanger Abbey, is blessed with ‘a good appetite’ and eats just what she wants to, when she is hungry. The heroines’ good constitutions—and well-regulated appetites—are also conjoined with a taste for fresh air and exercise. Often, they are determined walkers, visiting friends and neighbours on foot, enjoying scenic strolls (Catherine) or traipsing, like the best of the Romantics, through the natural world (Marianne Dashwood)…We might go so far as to claim that appetite, exercise and mental health are the three points of a Jane Austen ‘well-being triangle’—if any one of these is lost, the others suffer, too, and overall well-being is compromised. When out of sorts, her heroines begin to display a more problematic relationship with food. For example, when Marianne in Sense and Sensibility begins to pine for Willoughby, her appetite dwindles and she becomes thin and wan, losing her youthful bloom…Austen’s message in her novels—of having a good appetite spurred on by exercise but all the while disentangling appetite from emotion—is a challenging one, but remains relevant to our human flourishing today.” (32–33)

Essays include “Food & Austen’s Flourishing Heroines” excerpted above, “Picnicking Regency Style,” “Food at Sea,” “Cookbooks & Receipt Books,” and “Assemblies, Routs & Balls.”

The Proof is in the Pudding

I cannot think of a more pleasant way to immerse myself in Jane Austen’s world than through the creation of food and drink inspired by her works. Jane Austen’s Table is a feast for the eye as well as the mind, and a perfect gift for any Janeite. Robert Tuesley Anderson’s knowledge of Regency life coupled with a light, conversational tone in the recipe notes delivers a thoroughly enjoyable reading experience. For example, his notes for Whipt Syllabub:

“Syllabub—a glorious concoction of cream, wine, sugar and lemon—was clearly a great treat in the young Jane Austen’s life, as it turns up twice in letters in her unfinished novel Lesley Castle, written perhaps in 1792 when she was just sixteen. In one of the letters, Miss Charlotte Lutterell writes of how her sister has run up to her to impart some bad news, ‘her face as White as a Whipt syllabub’, and, in another, her friend Miss Margaret Lesley writes of her brother that he has a heart ‘as delicate as sweet and as tender as a Whip-Syllabub’. Both instances perfectly sum up the attraction of a well-made syllabub—a glass of pale, sugary, frothy scrumptiousness, with an alcoholic kick to boot—childish and adult all at the same time.” (112)

Head to the Kitchen

I thoroughly enjoyed Jane Austen’s Table and found myself repeatedly daydreaming about the various dishes I wanted to try. I enjoy cooking and baking, but do not consider myself a foodie, so the emphasis on modern day adaptation and easy-to-follow instructions inspired me to head into the kitchen to test a few recipes myself. If you’d like to know more, leave a comment and I’ll be happy to fill you in on my informal test kitchen results.

5 out of 5 Stars


BOOK INFORMATION

  • Jane Austen’s Table: Recipes Inspired by the Works of Jane Austen, by Robert Tuesley Anderson
  • Thunder Bay Press (March 8, 2022)
  • Hardcover, eBook (160) pages
  • ISBN: 978-1645179139
  • Genre: Literary Cookbooks

ADDITIONAL INFO | ADD TO GOODREADS

We received a review copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Austenprose is an Amazon affiliate. Cover image courtesy of Thunder Bay Press © 2022; text Tracy Hickman © 2022, austenprose.com. 


Hello Dear Readers, 

Do any of the recipes look tempting to you? I think that the Summer Berry Delice looks amazing. Which one would you make first?

If you enjoy cooking and are inspired by literary themed cookbooks, Austenprose highly recommends Jane Austen’s Table. 

Drop us a line below and share your thoughts on this review and what you are currently reading! We would love to hear from you!

Laurel Ann Nattress, editor

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